Marriage is a Covenant Before God
Matthew Lesson #107
January 31, 2016
“Father, again we express our gratitude to You because of Your grace in our lives. All that we have and all that we are is due to You, and You have provided us with such a salvation whose depths and breadths is beyond anything we can imagine. You have made us complete in Christ, and You have in Your grace provided everything we need to be cleansed from sin and to be justified. And for that we are grateful.
Father, now as we open Your Word that You have revealed to us, we pray that as we study we might come to understand Your will more fully and more accurately, and that we might be reminded of Your grace towards us and of the way in which you still expect a high standard from us, that we might live as members of Your royal family. And we pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
Open your Bibles this morning to Matthew 19. At this point in Matthew we come to one of the central passages in Scripture addressing the issue of marriage. Often, as you’ll see probably in the heading of your Bible, the emphasis is usually placed on marriage and divorce, but the real point here in terms of Jesus’ answer is He’s addressing the biblical standard for marriage.
As we will see, He’s in this time period of training the disciples. He’s training them for their future ministry that will come during the Church Age. So it’s during this time that He is going to be emphasizing what the standards will be for Christians and the standards for Christian marriage.
This is one of those topics that can be pretty tough for some people. I realize that in any congregation in any audience today there are a large number of people who’ve been divorced or many others who’ve been deeply touched by divorce, maybe your parents or your children or your grandchildren. Often this subject is quite sensitive to people who have gone through divorce.
We live in an age where many people, many Christians, have gone through divorce for many different reasons, some legitimate, some perhaps not so legitimate, and many have remarried. In our mobile society often this is not something that is known.
You may look around, and you may know people in this congregation and not have any idea what may have gone on in their past, and that’s fine. We move around, but I want you to understand that as we look at this topic, we’re not looking at it to create any guilt or to focus on anything that is judgmental.
We have to always be reminded that God is a God of grace. God always meets us where we are. Fail as we might time and time again, God never says you need to get back to Point A before I’ll start dealing with you in grace again. He always meets us where we are and always provides for us.
God is a God who forgives. He is a God who renews us, and He gives us new beginnings, and He enables us to begin to grow and to blossom wherever we are as we learn to walk with Him.
So as we look at this topic of marriage, it’s not about looking back to whatever problems or failures or mistakes we may have made, but it’s about helping all of us understand what God’s standard is for marriage. For those of us who are married to remind us of the significance and the importance that God places on marriage.
We live in a culture that has gradually diluted and minimized and reduced the significance of marriage to the point that one reason the divorce rate is down isn’t because people are happier in marriage; it’s because they’re just not getting married. They’re just living together. So if you just live together, you’re not going to have any divorce statistic when you break up.
We need to understand God’s viewpoint on marriage, so that we can strengthen our own marriages, and perhaps in one way or another for those around us, we can encourage them with the doctrine from the Scripture that is accurately based on the Word of God.
One thing I want to emphasize, and we’ll emphasize again and again, is that we live in a world where there are certain legalists who have made certain sins, whether it’s divorce or remarriage or homosexuality or adultery or drunkenness or whatever it might be, they’ve made these certain taboos that if you commit those sins then somehow you are outside the pale of God’s grace and God’s forgiveness.
The Scripture is very clear that every sin was paid for on the Cross, that no sin is worse in relation to God than any other. Some do have worse consequences in our lives than others.
Also, there may be some here who are considering divorce, as well as others who may be wondering if they can remarry. There’s some here who may have family members who are going through difficult times in their marriage, and so we need to understand the truth of God’s Word.
We need to be reminded that when it comes to something related to divorce and remarriage, that these are very personal.
When someone’s gone through a divorce, this is an extremely difficult and painful circumstance. Just teaching about the subject, just talking about it, sometimes can bring up memories that we have sought to lock away somewhere so we don’t have to focus on them. But God’s grace is such that He is able to help us to grow through those challenges and through those difficulties as we come to realize the forgiveness of God.
Whatever is passed is passed. This is about understanding what God expects of us from this point on, that we can move forward in our Christian life, and that we can pursue, continue to pursue the standard of God in our lives.
One thing that we need to be aware of, and a lot of times folks who are going through difficult circumstance in their marriage are not always aware of, there’s always the lie that somehow seeps into our soul that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. But I have yet to find grass on the other side of the fence that doesn’t need to be cut, doesn’t need to be fertilized, and doesn’t need to be taken care of. So there’s just this lie that somehow it can be different. We need to be careful about that.
Divorce is arguably the most disastrous, the most painful, the most destructive and devastating thing that you can go through in your life. It’s like an IED that goes off and just keeps exploding down through the years following.
It all depends on how large your family is. If you have a large family, if you have children, it not only reverberates through your in-laws, through your children, but maybe even down to your grandchildren.
If you have children and go through a divorce, then your ex-spouse is going to be a part of your life, the father or mother of your children, is going to be very much a part of your life for as long as you or they are alive.
The larger the family, the larger the impact. So just because you get a divorce decree does not mean that’s the end of the relationship with your ex-spouse.
Sadly in some cases, there will be misery and heartache as a result that will never go away. Some people will think that, “Oh, if I just get that divorce, everything will be okay.” And that too is part of a lie.
All of us have witnessed the destruction of divorce, both personally as well as in terms of our nation. I want you to think a little bit about what has happened to our culture in relation to how our culture views divorce.
Since the 1970s in the advent of no-fault divorce, the institutions of marriage and family have fragmented to the point of such destruction that it is destroying our nation. The basic foundational institutions that support a nation are all threatened simply because the marriage and the family have fallen a part in our culture.
I can think back before 1965 when I was a kid that it was a rare and shameful thing for someone to go through divorce. In fact, I was always told that my grandfather had died when my dad was young, and I didn’t find out until I was almost 50 years old that my grandmother was divorced, not once but maybe three times. I only found out about the other two after I talked to a distant, distant cousin just a couple of years ago. Sometimes getting hold of some distant family member doesn’t always bring you the best news.
When I was young, maybe I was eight years old, I think it was in the third grade, my best friend down the street, I hadn’t seen him in a couple of days. My parents sat me down one night to break the news to me. The fact that his parents were getting a divorce was such monumental news that this was time for a little family meeting to get together to explain what was happening and its seriousness.
That was probably the first time I ever truly knew of a divorce, and by the time I graduated from high school in 1970, I probably knew of only five or six people that were part of a divorce. A couple of my friends in school had parents that were divorced. One had a single mom. There were two or three others I knew at church that had been divorced, but that was it!
But ten years later, by 1980, almost half the marriages in this country were ending in divorce. That is a monumental cultural shift. And most of those were going through divorces for no reason other than somebody’s personal, lustful desires. Or they just needed to find themselves. Or they just needed to find some fulfillment.
But it didn’t have anything to do—most of those failed marriages—didn’t have anything to do with the biblical exceptions for divorce.
The collapse of marriage in this country has destabilized this country in more ways than we can imagine. It’s destabilized it in terms of personal finances. Those of us who know people who have gone through divorces have seen them lose almost everything they have financially, if not to the divorce lawyers, then to their ex-spouse. And it’s wiped out wealth again and again and again.
This has had a devastating effect on the national economy. It’s had a horrible impact on education and its cost. The courts are just flooded with cases, not to mention the individual personal problems that have developed in terms of people’s psychological wellbeing.
And, what can take place in terms of business and productivity when you have an employee who is so distracted by their personal trauma that they can’t do their job well.
In fact, one sociologist commented that there is no problem in our country that can trace its way back to a stable, peaceful, structured, functional home. Think about that.
Divorce is a cancer from which almost all of our social evils derive when we think about what is going on in our culture.
In the 1960s we rejected absolutes. We took prayer out of school. We started removing God out of the culture, and the role of Christianity in our culture began to be more and more marginalized, so that without an anchor in absolute right or wrong, the divine institutions began to crumble in the late ’60s.
A lot of what we see going on in government today is the result of the collapse of an understanding of the divine institution of government and nationalism that took place in the ’60s generation. Personal responsibility began to collapse.
When personal responsibility collapses, marriage is going to collapse because when people aren’t taking accountability for their relationship, their marriage, and their personal lives, then that’s going to have a devastating impact on those.
So we saw the divine institution of personal responsibility begin to fall apart. And that dominoed through marriages and families, and now through society.
Without moral absolutes, moral permissiveness reigns supreme.
And that has impacted the church. Just as we studied when we went through the book of Judges or you listened to the series on the book of Judges, when a culture goes into moral relativism, it always impacts the Christians.
Christians, believers in the Old Testament, and Christians today, have always mirrored the values of the culture out of which they come.
But that violates the promise of God. The hope of Scripture is that God is the God of redemption, and that He is the one who transforms cursing into blessing.
He’s the one who can redeem those corrupted divine institutions through, first of all, recognizing that Christ died for sins, and personal regeneration and personal redemption.
Through spiritual growth, God can transform an irresponsible person into someone who is responsible; someone who is self-centered and self-absorbed into someone who is productive spiritually, focused upon Christ and His life and growing to maturity, so that his character reflects the character of Jesus Christ.
It is the grace of God that enables marriages between two corrupt, fallen, nasty, self-centered Christians to be transformed together to serving Christ and glorifying Him in their relationship.
It is through the grace of God as people submit to the Word of God that cultures transform.
If our culture were to go back to a biblical foundation, we would solve the problems that we face in the economy. We would solve the problems that we face in education. We would solve the problems we face in government, and all of these different things.
We need to be reminded that at the height of this political season. The Iowa caucuses are tomorrow. Did anybody forget that? How can we? But there is no political party, there is no political platform, there is no political policy or piece of legislation that can fix the problems of our society, because it wasn’t a lack of these things that caused the problems.
It is a spiritual failure. It is a rejection of the divine institutions. It is a rejection of the absolutes of the Word of God.
The only thing that can truly transform the culture that we live in and solve these problems is for individuals to re-focus on the redemptive grace of God and the provision of His Word.
But of course that presupposes that they focus on the Cross, that people turn to the Cross and trust in Jesus Christ, humble themselves before God, recognizing that there’s nothing we can do to save ourselves, but Jesus Christ did everything.
That’s why understanding the doctrine of marriage, which will include the doctrine of divorce and remarriage is so critical, and why we need to take a couple of weeks to work our way through this passage.
People have so many questions. This week it was great to have Jim Myers staying at my house, and we talked a lot about these things. I’m always pleased, and I don’t know why I’m surprised at times, we may not talk about certain things, and then we start talking about them, and we just see eye-to-eye on so many things.
I said, “Well, Jim, what do you do when people ask you a question about what do you think the Bible teaches about divorce and remarriage?”
He said, “I look at them and I say, ‘You don’t have enough hours to listen to what I have to tell you.’ ”
The scriptural teaching is really complex. Now a lot of people don’t realize that, but it’s interesting how the number of verses that are involved in this, not specifically in this passage, but correlations to it, involve real translation challenges in the original languages.
For those of you who think that, “Oh, if you just know Greek and Hebrew, it solves the problems.” No, it just moves the problem into another sphere. Language is language, and language is finite, and that always surprised a bunch of guys when they’d show up in first year Greek and realize, “Wait a minute! Knowing Greek doesn’t solve the exegetical problems? It may solve some, but then it can create others.”
It is complex. There are a lot of things to deal with, and there are some things that I am not going to go through all the details and get everybody lost in the weeds of the exegetical and grammatical issues. I’m just going to give you the results of it, but that’s what we have to do is go through this and understand what it is that God says.
So as we approach this study—and this morning is mostly an introduction—we’ll get into a couple of verses, but I want us to learn to think about this topic biblically. Some folks here who are still maybe struggling with some personal issues related to divorce need to understand it in a much more personal way.
First of all, let’s think about three basic things that we need to remember:
1. First of all, God’s standard for marriage, divorce, and remarriage is a divine absolute. It’s not any different from any other divine absolute that many of us fail to reach time and again, okay? That’s not a justification for failure. That is a recognition of reality—that we are fallen creatures who live in a fallen world, but God establishes these standards for our lives.
That means that God’s standards are not to be minimized. They’re not to be diluted, and they’re not to be rationalized away just because they are difficult. We don’t do that with other standards—we do in some ways, but not like we do perhaps in this area.
For the believer, God’s standards in the spiritual life are not difficult. You’ve heard me say many times they are impossible!
But God has given us His Word, His written Word, and His living Word, and He has given us a helper, a PARAKLETOS, the Holy Spirit who indwells us and fills us. If we walk with Him, He will give us the strength and the ability to solve the problems. Maybe not in two weeks or two months or even two years, but God the Holy Spirit will enable us to obey God’s Word.
2. The second point: Just as in spiritual failure in other areas of our lives, if we’ve failed spiritually in this area, then it is not an unforgivable sin. It doesn’t sideline you from spiritual service for the rest of your life.
You don’t become some sort of second-class citizen because you’ve had failure, you had a sinful divorce and a wrong remarriage.
It’s extremely important to realize that if personal sin was involved in any previous marital failure, then this is not a special category of sin.
The way some pastors and theologians talk about it though, it puts a load of guilt and legalism on a lot of people, and they seem to think that they have been permanently sidelined from the Christian life.
But that is not true. Others teach in error that that puts you in a permanent state of adultery if you remarry because of the wrong reason. That’s just not what the Word of God teaches at all! All this is based on a false, legalistic, and pseudo righteousness that grows out of a lack of grace orientation.
But on the other hand, we have to recognize that within a lot of context, there are people who just abuse grace, and they get into such difficulties in—it’s not just in marriage, they get into difficulties in other areas of life, and they just say, “Well, I’m just not going to persevere in obedience. I’m just going to sin, and I’ll confess my sin and just move on.”
And that’s just licentiousness. That’s antinomianism. That does not honor God, and that does not allow us to see the grace of God work to transform a situation, whether it’s difficulties with somebody you have to work with, whether it’s raising a difficult child, whether it’s dealing with difficult parents, whether it’s living in an oppressive and repressive government that’s hostile to Christianity.
The thing about the Apostle Paul, if the Lord Jesus Christ had come to him between the time he accepted Christ on the road to Damascus and the time that his eyes were opened in Damascus, and the Lord Jesus Christ said, “Here’s what I’m asking you to do. I want you to make this decision right now. You’re going to be shipwrecked a number of times, the Jews are going to beat you with rods 39 times on numerous occasions, you’re going to be thrown into jail, you’re going to be beaten, you’re going to be abused, you’re going to have to sleep on the ground a lot, you’re going to be disrespected and devalued day in and day out, and this is going to go on for the next 40 years of your life. Are you ready to follow Me?”
“Yeah, you made a commitment to get into this marriage, and this marriage is not going to be what you thought it would be. And you may not feel fulfilled, and you may not feel happy, and you may not feel appreciated …”
“… And you may be dealing with somebody that is always irritating you, aggravating you, and upsetting you, and just doesn’t think the way that you think …”
“… But to glorify Me, I want you to stay in that marriage because there’s not a true reason, justifiable reason, to get out of that marriage. Are you willing to do that?”
But see? That’s one area of suffering and difficulty and challenge in this life that is set before some. Other people have challenges in health. Some have challenges in economics and finances. Others have challenges in many other areas, but the Lord calls us to walk with Him through the valley of the shadow of death.
So suffering and difficult challenges, remember, they don’t indicate you’re out of God’s will. Maybe they indicate as they did for Paul that he was in God’s will.
3. Third thing we need to remember is that there are absolutes that enable people to go into marriage. These absolutes enable people to go into marriage realizing there are no easy outs. That means you’re going to stick with it.
I knew a guy one time—he was Japanese I think, and he was reared in Japan, and I think that had a lot to do with this because in our culture by the 1980s (as we’re going to see this morning if I get there), marriage is fundamentally a contract. Your word is your bond. It is a contract. It is a covenant before God. Your word is your bond.
Now if you lived in a pre-1960s America, you understand that your word is your bond. You are to be faithful to your word no matter what.
But once we get into an era of moral relativism, then contractual obligations, covenantal responsibilities, are easily rationalized.
You want to see the end result of that? The end result of that is that you have the Word of God Church in Kiev, Ukraine, signing a contract with the Bratislava Hotel that they can meet every Sunday for a year.
But then somebody else comes along sometime during that year and says, “I want to rent that space for the whole day, and you’re going to make more money.”
So what happens? If you’re in a culture of relativism, contracts and covenants become meaningless when they’re not convenient, and so the manager picks up the phone and calls the church and says, “You can meet there this Sunday, it’s your last Sunday.”
You can’t build stability in a society, and you can’t build stability in a marriage if you don’t have a view of a covenant that you’re going to absolutely have to be faithful to. That’s the standard.
So having absolutes enables people to realize that there are no easy outs, and to work through the problems.
A lot of people give it lip service. I’ve been a pastor for a lot of years now, and I’ve seen a lot of stories. I’ve seen it with some close friends. I’ve seen it in the lives of a lot of people.
They go in with their rose-colored glasses on, and as soon as they hit a couple of speed bumps, it’s like “how can I find an out?” That’s part of what’s going on in this chapter and a part of the background is the views of the Pharisees, but we’ll get there eventually.
But we have to remember some basic principles:
1. First of all, you have to remember that there are no perfect marriages. There are no perfect people. That person you married, as long as they’re walking with the Lord, they can be a wonderful productive person that you enjoy very much. Same thing applies to you as well.
But if that person is letting their sin nature have free reign, it doesn’t matter how wonderful they are the other times, it’s not going to be real pleasant. Same goes for you when you let your sin nature go.
That’s why a lot of people get this idea, “Well, there’s one right, special person for me.” But that right, special person has a nasty, corrupt, unclear sin nature. And when that’s reigning, it doesn’t matter how nice it might be when things are good. When you get two sinners who are operating on their sin natures, nothing good ever comes out of that.
So you have to remember that whomever you marry … I have a principle that if you’re falling in love with somebody, you need to fall in love with their sin nature. If you can’t be compatible with their sin nature, then you better not marry that person because that’s when things get really nasty is when their sin nature gets free reign.
So you not only have to learn to love when they’re walking with the Lord, but you have to make sure you can live with them when they’re not, because sometimes they may go through a period where they’re not for a long time.
That’s what happened to this guy I mentioned a minute ago. I think it was because of his background coming out of a Japanese culture that his wife left him, and Lord knows what happened during the intervening nine years, but he wouldn’t divorce here.
She had, and I think she’d given him every reason to. But he would not do that because he had made a commitment, and she came back to him.
Americans don’t have the patience for that. They don’t have that sense anymore of “I gave my word; my word is my bond. I’m going to stick it out.”
Now that may not be true for everyone, but he understood that principal. We’ll get into some of these things as we go through the study, but I’m just setting it up.
Marriage vows usually include phrases like this— and I’m adding one I’ve decided, and talked it over with Myers this morning. I had a flash of insight. It will give you a whole new perspective on what happens when two people get together. Usually they say something like this, that it’s for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, good times and bad.
What people hear is this: FOR BETTER or for worse, FOR RICHER or for poorer, GOOD TIMES and bad, IN HEALTH and sickness, all right? That’s what they hear when they’re standing there in front of you.
They never hear the negatives, but you’re standing there, and you’re really saying you are promising that you’re going to love, honor, and cherish this person in the worst times and the poorest times, in the unhealthiest times.
I had a great example in my dad. My dad and my mother had been married for four years when my mother got polio. She was in a wheelchair for the rest of her life and depended on him to take care of a lot things for her. And he never looked back.
Many men would have figured out some way to take a hike at that point, but the vow is in the hard times, in the tough times. You’re going to stick it out and you’re going to be there.
But the category that I’m going to add is not only is it for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, good times and bad time, sickness and health, but in carnality and spirituality.
Don’t you think that will work? You’re going to love them no matter how carnal they get. Now that just puts a whole reality twist to the whole vow.
2. Second thing we need to remember is that it takes two people to make a marriage, but it only takes one person to destroy a marriage. One person operating on negative volition can take a hike, and no matter what the other person does, it may have nothing whatsoever to do with the other person. One person can destroy it.
However, recovery is always possible, but to recover, it’s going to take two to make it work.
3. Third thing: no matter how wonderful a relationship is between two people when they’re both applying doctrine and walking in the Spirit, when they’re both operating on the sin nature, it can be a disaster.
That’s one reason that people need to be in Bible class all the time, constantly reminding themselves of what the standard is and the faithfulness of God.
4. Fourth thing is many people have thought that there’s one right person for them. There are a lot of problems with that view, but even if you believe that, you have to recognize that that one right person can be just the worst person in the world when they’re operating on their sin nature.
5. Fifth, by God’s grace, redemption allows each of us to live above the control of our sin nature. Both husband and wife who are walking together in the Lord will grow closer to each other as they grow closer to the Lord. As a result of that, they’re going to have a relationship that is truly redeemed by the grace of God. That’s what Ephesians 5 is all about.
6. And lastly, marriage is one of the tools that God uses to sanctify us. Think about that—that you’re married to that person with a sin nature in order for both of you to learn to walk with the Lord a little better and not to give in to your selfish desires.
You can’t be truly selfish if you’re married to somebody. And you as a man, you have to love your wife as Christ loved the church. Or as a wife, you have to submit to your husband as unto the Lord. Both of those commands run 180 degrees counter to your sin nature.
So as we look at this study, what I want to do is first go through the passage verse by verse, connected to some other passages because there’s Old Testament quotes here, so we have to go there, and understand what is going on. There’s a lot going on here.
Second, we’re going to expand the study to see what the Bible teaches in other passages, Deuteronomy 24, 1 Corinthians 7, and a couple of others.
And third, we’re going to attempt to develop a wisdom framework for handling situations that are not addressed specifically in the Scripture.
I made a list of some basic questions that need to be answered and that hopefully we will answer. These are the kind of questions that most of us ask.
First of all, does Jesus intend in these two references, in Matthew 5 and 19, does He intend to provide an exhaustive answer to the question related to marriage and divorce? Some people say, “Yes.”
The problem with that is in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul gives other information. He gives additional information.
So that tells us that Jesus is not trying to provide an exhaustive answer to the divorce and remarriage question, He’s simply answering the question that the Pharisees are asking Him.
He’s not saying everything there is to say. He’s not giving a universal principle because Paul adds something later on.
He is truly answering the question. He gives some universal principals, I’m not denying that; but He is also not giving an exhaustive answer.
Second thing that we need to address is do the statements by Jesus and Paul provide the only basis for divorce and remarriage?
Now that’s a much tougher question. Do these two statements by Jesus and Paul provide the only basis for divorce and remarriage, or are they providing a framework of case law?
See, the Old Testament Law, the 613 commandments in the Mosaic Law, are based on case law. They don’t address every issue. They address, give us a parameter that addresses, sets the boundaries for an issue.
But all the other things that come up, like questions that often come up in many circumstances and situations, aren’t covered in Scripture.
Like what happens if your spouse is involved in criminality? What if they’re going downstairs and they’ve got a meth lab?
What if they’re abusive? What if they’re an alcoholic? What if they have a problem with gambling, and they’re wiping out all the family’s resources and money and everything and destroying the family?
What do you do in circumstances like that? Those are the fun ones that pastors have to deal with because they’re not specifically addressed in Scripture.
Third question, does the Bible treat the marriage union as an unbreakable, indissoluble covenant, or is the marriage covenant, as significant and permanent as it should be, still a breakable covenant?
See, what we have is some people that teach that marriage is a permanent, ontological union that can never be broken. And even if you get a divorce in divorce court, you’re still married in God’s eyes. That’s their view. So we have to look at that and see what the Scripture says about that.
Sometimes people take the translation in this particular chapter in Matthew 19:6—look down at the last statement that Jesus makes in verse 6. He says, “Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”
“Let not man separate” is an imperative verb. That means this is something you ought not do.
If it was in the indicative mood, it would mean this is something you can’t do.
But there are people who translate that as if Jesus is saying you can’t separate them. He isn’t saying that. He’s saying this is something so serious, this is so significant you ought not do it because the ramifications are going to be bad. The bombs are going to go off.
So the third question, do we have accurate translations of some of these key verses on the subject? Often you’ll hear people quote from Malachi 2:16, “God hates divorce.”
Several years ago I was in Russia. Jim and I were sitting around, and we were talking about problems in Russian synodal text, and there are a lot of them. They translate the word “righteousness” with the word “pravda” (truth). Now, you have imputed truth? Is that what gets you saved? You change that word and you’ve got a lot of problems, especially in Romans.
But Malachi 2:16 was translated, “If you hate your wife, divorce her.” We thought, “Wow! That’s a real mistranslation, isn’t it?” Out of the seven or eight translations of the extremely difficult and ambiguous Hebrew in that verse, that is one of the top four ways you can translate the Hebrew. Isn’t that interesting?
I don’t think that’s what it’s saying, but it’s possible, and at least some people go with that, so it’s not so farfetched. That’s the only point I’m making. It’s not as farfetched as some people think.
I’ll tell you one thing. Most English translations say God hates divorce or I hate divorce, and I’ve been digging into this thing and reading technical monographs on the Hebrew of this for the last three or four days, and that’s not what it’s saying.
We’ll get into that. That will be kind of interesting. It doesn’t mean that God is justifying divorce or being permissive. It’s just that that isn’t what it’s saying in that context.
Fourth thing is we need to say something about what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7 in terms of desertion, as well as deal with contemporary situations and what gives a parameter for dealing with these other areas.
Then the last thing is that we need to realize that in our times there are basically three views that you’ll find in any given evangelical church. I can go to evangelical scholars who are conservative, who are not trying to in any way become permissive or invalidate the text or any of those things, and you’ll find these three views:
- That God doesn’t allow for divorce or remarriage in any situation, maybe separation but that’s it.
- Second view is that divorce is allowable but remarriage is only under limited circumstances.
- And then there’s a third view that divorce is legitimate when the marriage seems not to work and any divorce allows for remarriage.
So we can live in an era when you can find 15 conservative, biblical experts on any side of this question, but I find few that have taken the time to really, truly, profoundly study this. I’ve been looking at this for about 30 years.
The bottom line is this: No matter what has happened in your past, no matter what decisions you’ve made that are bad, wrong, immoral, foolish, selfish, whatever, Christ paid the penalty for those sins, and there’s forgiveness at the Cross.
After we’re saved, there is still forgiveness, and we can move forward. God will wipe the slate clean when we confess our sin, and we can go forward from that point.
Second thing we have to recognize is God has communicated, and He is intended to be understood, and so we can, I believe, understand what is going on.
Now as we get into Matthew 19, I have just a little bit to cover this morning because I knew that introduction would take a while, we recognize what has happened here is part of this section from Matthew 13 to Matthew 22 where Jesus is training The Twelve.
He’s on His way to Jerusalem.
He is going to, along the way, increase His condemnation of the religious leaders. They’re going to react to them, and He’s going to use those reaction conversations to teach critical points to His disciples.
So in Matthew 19 He’s going to teach about marriage and divorce, and also in relationship to children as we get a little further on.
What we see here at the beginning is that they try to set another trap for Him. That’s important to understand—that when they set up this question, they’re trying to entrap Him.
They’re not coming from a position of intellectual curiosity, “we really want to know what the truth is here.” They want to set a trap, bait a trap, and catch Him in the trap in some way.
So we read, “The Pharisees also came to Him.” It is a participle of purpose there in order to test Him. That’s what they’re doing. They’re trying to test Him, to catch Him, to trap Him in some sort of misstatement.
Basically they’re saying, “What should happen here?”
In pharisaism, there were two schools of thought basically. One was you can divorce your wife for any reason—we’ll look at what it says in the text in a minute—for any reason you want to; she burns the toast in the morning, if she talks too loud, any reason whatsoever.
Then the other view was the view of the School of Shammai, and that was not only can you only divorce for the cause of sexual immorality, but you have to divorce for the cause of sexual immorality.
So they want to catch Jesus, “Which side are you going to come out on?” And Jesus isn’t going to come out on either side.
Now this is from the Mishnah. The Mishnah records this little section in here from “The House of Shammai”—he was a well-known rabbi—and this was one school of interpretation of Deuteronomy 24. This is what they’re setting up here when they say, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?”
The background here is the House of Shammai said “a man should divorce his wife only because he has found grounds for it in un-chastity” but Shammai said you have to divorce.
In the ancient world, in Greco-Roman law, in most ancient near-eastern law, as well as the view of Shammai, if there was sexual immorality, you had to divorce. That was mandatory. And divorce always carried with it the right of remarriage.
So reading on here under “B,” “since it is said, Because he has found in her indecency in anything” (Deuteronomy 24:1).
The House of Hillel—this is the other side—said, “Even if she spoiled his dish”—she burns the toast, spills the milk—“since it is said, because he had found in her indecency in anything.”
Rabbi Aqiba says, “Even if he found someone else prettier than she, since it is said, and it shall be if she finds no favor in his eyes.”
In Ketubah 7:6, a legitimate reason for divorce was listed as giving a husband untithed food—you didn’t give 10% to the synagogue, to the temple; uttering a vow and not fulfilling it; going out in public with your hair unbound; speaking with any man in public. See, that was just about any reason you want to.
What this reflects is a low view of marriage. This is why when Jesus addresses this, Jesus changes the focus.
We’ll look at Deuteronomy 24, but scholars’ almost universal consensus is that Deuteronomy 24 isn’t giving any basis for divorce.
It is recognizing what is going on if there’s a legitimate divorce and then the wife is legitimately divorced and she remarries, that she’s not to come back to the first husband—and we’ll deal with some of those issues later on—but it wasn’t giving the conditions or the basis for divorce in the law. It just recognized that it did.
The scholarly consensus states that according to William Heth, “the intent of this casuistic law is neither to authorize divorce, nor to stipulate its proper ground, nor to establish its requisite procedure. Rather its sole concern is to prohibit the restoration of a marriage after an intervening marriage.” That’s what Deuteronomy 24 is looking at.
So what Jesus says is, “Okay, what you guys are doing is you’re using Deuteronomy to find a loop hole so you can get out of a marriage. But let’s go back to the original intent of marriage, and we’re going to go to Genesis, and we’re going to go to Genesis 1 and 2.
“And He answered and said to them, ‘Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning “made them male and female.” ’ ” That’s a quote from Genesis 1:26–28, “God said let Us make man in Our image and He made them in His image; male and female He made them.” So that is a quote from Genesis 1.
Scholars today say that Genesis 1 is from one creation story, Genesis 2 is from another creation story, but Jesus quotes from Genesis 1 in Matthew 19:4, and He quotes from Genesis 2 in Matthew 19:5, showing that they have equal authority in His eyes. So He doesn’t see them as conflicting stories or that there are any contradictions between the two.
So what this is emphasizing is that there is a foundation of a covenant here. Now the question is—and I’m going to have to quit on this because we’re running out of time—is the marriage covenant permanent and indissoluble? Or can it be broken?
I’ll give you basically three lines of evidence for why it can be broken:
First of all, because Deuteronomy 24:1 assumes that it can be broken legitimately, and that the wife that is sent away and given a writ of divorce can remarry.
So if it’s never able to be divorced, if it’s a permanent ontological, indissoluble union, that even if they are granted a divorce from a judge, they are still married in God’s eyes, then Deuteronomy 24 could not ever authorize a writ of divorce and recognize its legitimacy. Deuteronomy 24:1 does recognize that legitimacy.
Another is in Jeremiah 3:8 in conjunction with Hosea 2:9—that God divorces Israel, but He reserves the right to remarry Israel with a new covenant.
The third comes from this passage in John 4:16. This is where Jesus is talking to the woman at the well. In that conversation, as He’s sitting there, Jesus says to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”
The woman says, “I have”—present tense—“I have no husband.”
And Jesus said to her, “You have well said”—in other words you’re speaking the truth—“You”—present tense—“do not have a husband. However, you have had five husbands”—past tense.
Now if those husbands were still married to her in God’s sight, then Jesus would have said you still have five husbands. But the fact that He said you have had five husbands recognizes that those marriages ended. He doesn’t recognize that they have continued.
And He says, “For you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have”—not only have you had five husbands, but you’re shacked up with the one you’ve got right now, and you’re not legally married. So that recognizes that there is under certain circumstances a legitimate basis to break that covenant.
Marriage is a covenant before God.
Malachi 2:14 states, “Yet you say, ‘For what reason?’ ” This is a condemnation of Israel related to their divorces. “Because the Lord has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant.”
This is a covenant. A covenant is really technically, I often talk about it like a contract, but it’s a little more serious than just a contract.
This is what happens in Genesis 2:23–24, “And Adam said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’ ”
Notice the quote ends at verse 23. There’s no quote in the Hebrew, but it’s legitimate based on syntax.
Who is speaking in Genesis 2:24? Moses is speaking. Moses is making an application to the Jews that are before him on the plains of Moab. He says, “Therefore”—because of this—“a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
The word there AZAV, meaning “to leave,” is a word that is used again and again in terms in covenant passages. It’s used to describe the impermanence of something, that somebody can leave and shift their loyalty. That’s the basic nuance is shifting loyalty.
He talks about it in Deuteronomy 31:16. Moses says, “Behold you will rest with your fathers; people will rise and play the harlot with the gods of the foreigners of the land, where they go to be among them, and they will leave Me, they will forsake Me”—see, it’s showing a shift of loyalty, and that’s what’s supposed to happen in marriage.
Even when the couple still lives at home, because that often happened in the Middle East—they stayed in the same home with the parents, but they were to leave. It’s a mental attitude, not necessarily a physical reality. They are to shift their loyalty from their parents to one another.
In Ruth, it’s used here when Boaz says to Ruth, “You have left your father and your mother and the land of your birth”—you’ve shifted your loyalty.
Genesis 2:23–24, “Then a man shall be joined to his wife”—that’s the word DAVAQ. I didn’t underline it, but “be joined” is the word there, and it means to cling. This word also is used in covenant passages.
Now the point of this is when two people stand before God and make their vows, they are entering into a distinct covenant witnessed by God. They are saying that God is my witness. I fulfill this vow.
In our culture we have really perverted the application of this next commandment I’m going to show you.
The commandment in Exodus 20:7 says, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.”
Most people think that means “I’m not going to say Jesus as a curse word.” “I’m not going to put God in front of damn.” That is such a minimalized application of this. And by minimalizing it, the real weight of this commandment gets lost.
This is when you’re standing in court, and you swear on the Bible and say, “So help me God,” you are making the same kind of statement, and if you are not taking that seriously, and you’re calling upon God as a witness of your oath, and you don’t mean it, that is taking the Lord’s name in vain. That is its primary meaning.
So when we reduce it to these other trivial circumstances, then we forget what it means that when we make an oath before God, if we break it, that’s taking the Lord’s name in vain.
Look at what the passage promises, “For the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.”
This is the significance in the passage dealing with God’s redemption of marriage, “Husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.”
Then the quote that comes up here in verses 29 and 30 is right out of Genesis 2, “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it”—why? “Because we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.”
This is what Adam said, “She is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” Our loyalty is to one another. God is our witness that this is what’s going to happen.
Marriage is a covenant before God that ought to be preserved at whatever cost. That’s the point Jesus is making. He allows for exceptions, but there’s a difference between saying what are the exceptions and making that the focus, and being reminded that this is where your priority needs to be—is making it permanent. The priority is not making sure there are loopholes. It’s a different focus.
The other way in which Jesus is disagreeing with the School of Shammai is Shammai said you had to get divorced if there was adultery, if there was sexual immorality.
Jesus is saying, “You can, but that’s not the standard.” The standard is, what did Jesus say to Peter a couple of chapters back? Forgiveness, seventy times seven.
That’s why when Jesus gets through with this, the disciple says, “Who in the world can do this? This is hard.” Yeah.
With our heads bowed and our eyes closed.
“Father, we thank You for Your grace, because even though things are hard or impossible, we know that Your grace enables us and strengthens us to fulfill our vows, to have good marriages, to walk with You. We know that only by walking with You in the power of the Holy Spirit can we fulfill the standards that you’ve set for us in our Christian life.
Father, we know there are some here who may not be sure of their salvation or certain of their eternal destiny. This is your opportunity to make that sure and certain. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except by Me.” By that He means that He is the only way. Only by trusting in Him and Him alone can you have eternal life.
This is your opportunity to trust in Him in your soul, in your thinking. If you believe Jesus died for your sins, that instant you’ll be justified, regenerated, and you will have eternal life. It can never be taken from you. This is the good news of Christianity, the gospel of Christianity.
Father, we pray that You would challenge each of us in terms of our own spiritual life and spiritual walk. For those who are married that this is a high standard, and that we are to love our wives as You have loved us, as husbands. And wives are to submit to us, and we’re to love one another and submit to one another, and we’re to grow close to You because only in Your power and Your grace can we truly mirror Your character in our individual lives and in our marriages.
And that is the strength of the church and the strength of our nation.
And we pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.”