“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
31 You have been taught that a man who divorces his wife must write out divorce papers for her.[g] 32 But I tell you not to divorce your wife unless she has committed some terrible sexual sin.[h] If you divorce her, you will cause her to be unfaithful, just as any man who marries her is guilty of taking another man’s wife.
“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfil to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
Jesus’ words here in the Sermon on the Mount, have a particular target. He is challenging a flagrant disregard for marriage.
Mostly men, in his community, are twisting the original Old Testament law around marriage and divorce to make things easier for themselves.
In Deuteronomy 24:1-14, Moses acknowledges that divorce does happen. He gives a way in which a marriage, if it absolutely must, can end with some semblance of dignity, and less pain, particularly for the woman.
- If the husband wants to end the relationship for whatever reason, he must at least provide his wife with an official certificate of divorce. This tells everyone in town that this woman has not been unfaithful or done anything wrong.
- The certificate also acknowledges the seriousness of the break. Once that break is made, Moses says there is no coming back to the relationship. Marriage is a gift. Breaking it is a big deal. You can’t simply pretend nothing has happened and no damage has been done.
‘Divorce’ in Jesus’ community is done by ‘abandonment’. Married men are simply abandoning their spouse in the pursuit of a bit of ‘fun’ on the side, and then turning up back home pretending that was OK and wanting the so called ‘marriage’ to continue! Either that, or they are simply shooing their wife away quietly so they can carry on with another woman and attract no blame.
Same in Luther’s day. In a sermon on this text in 1530, Luther describes this total disregard for marriage. Men (mainly) ended their marriage as quietly as possible. You just abandon your wife and kids for another woman. If the woman was married, it was just a matter of getting that other husband to give her up to you without it being said that the he had made her do that.
Basically, Luther says, “in matters of marriage and divorce everyone acted pretty much as he pleased, without being ashamed or having a bad conscience about it”.
Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 21: The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 21, pp. 92–93). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
What’s the issue? Luther puts it well;
“We have no right to make marriage a free thing, as though it were in our power to do with as we pleased, changing and exchanging. But the rule is the one Christ pronounces (Matt. 19:6): “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”
Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 21: The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 21, p. 94). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
So, Jesus speaks into this total disregard of God’s gift of marriage. He calls people back to God’s life-filled intention for marriage; a life-long relationship of partnership with intimacy, and with trust, joy and blessing. Jesus affirms the truth that;
- God is the creator and giver of this fundamental human gift. Life-long faithful loving union of male and female is part of the fabric of this life on planet earth – from tribes in the PNG highlands to the wedding celebrant in the Barossa winery. (Genesis 1:27,28; 2:18–24; Matthew 19:3–9; Augsburg Confession 16 and 28; Apology 23.9).
- Marriage is the union of a man and a woman. I know Australia has decided otherwise, and there is a huge issue to talk about there, but not now. This union excludes all other people. It is publicly and voluntarily entered into for the whole of life (Matthew 19:6; 1 Corinthians 7:39).
The purpose of marriage is;
- to unite one man and one woman so that they become ‘one flesh’; partners in life, best friends to face the world together. In this relationship the each one is the complement of the other (Matthew 19:5)
- for those couples called to parenting (not all couples are), marriage is the place to produce children and to nurture them within the framework of a family (Ephesians 6:1–4)
- to provide a safe place for a man and a woman to have the closest trust and intimacy possible between two people (including sexual but not only sexual) (1 Corinthians 7:2,3).
God wants this gift to bring life. He protects the gift by forbidding unfaithfulness (10 Commandments, Ex 20:14). Most challenging for the people hearing this Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that unfaithfulness can be in the twinkling eye across the room, not just actual sex. It is a heart matter.
Oh, but don’t we know that marriages break. Christians get divorced too. I know plenty of people to whom this terrible pain has happened, including people I love in my own family. The pain is so deep and damage so extensive.
Marriage is a beautiful gift for all people. Any cheapening of it; any easy selfish or trivial use of it where we act like we get to use this gift any way WE decide is not how it is at its best.
Jesus calls to hang on to it at all costs. If this relationship if troubled can be saved by any means, then do it. It all needs to come to genuine repentance and forgiveness. That is God’s Plan A for all of life, not just marriage.
But as we know, couples cannot always find the way to true reconciliation.
Jesus obviously knows this. He concedes divorce as a last resort on two grounds; unfaithfulness/abandonment, and an unworkable differences because of faith in him.
- Matthew 5:32; unless a partner has committed some terrible sexual sin.
- Matthew 19:9; unless he/she has committed some terrible sexual sin.
- Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:15, “But if the unbelieving partner separates/leaves, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound. It is to peace that God has called you”.
Why is marriage hard?
When his friends asked him, “If God said that what he “puts together no one should ever separate” then;
“Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?”
“It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so”. (Matthew 19:7-8)
That is the heart of the problem – the human heart.
But what grace. Even though this beautiful life-long relationship of repentance and forgiveness, of intimacy and meaning is God’s Plan A for those called to be married (not all are), he is aware that it can and does break. It breaks because we have a heart problem.
There is hope today for anyone who has ever failed at marriage or failed at anything! There is hope when you have been wronged and damaged and when you have done the wrong and caused the damage.
Our heart problem of loving things and people more than God, seeking life in everything but his promises and power, doubting his forgiveness and not living in it has been healed and can be healed by the forgiveness won for us by Jesus.
Forgiveness for the married, the adulterer and the divorced that has been hard won for you is here.
And what about being married again? Is it OK in God’s eyes? It seems not, or at least not easily or automatically, as if nothing has happened.
There is no automatic approval given for the re-marriage of divorced people (Matthew 5:32, 19:9 and 1 Corinthians 7:15). Divorce always brings the possibility of unfaithfulness into play. No one is squeaky clean when divorce happens.
“If you divorce your wife, you will cause her to be unfaithful, just as any man who marries her is guilty of taking another man’s wife. (Matthew 5:32)
“And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery”. (Matthew 19:9)
Many divorced Christians, take this word at face value. They will never marry again. They believe that it is wrong for Christians who have had their chance at marriage and failed, to marry again. They say that Christian leaders/pastors should not re-marry people. I can see why they would hold this firm line – to obey the Lord, protect the gift of marriage from more abuse and avoid more pain!
But this is not just any person speaking about marriage. This is Jesus, God himself, The Bridegroom of his Bride, the church.
In his sermon by the sea, Jesus is upholding the Old Law. He says it is not to be discarded. But he also says, “You have heard it said……but I now say……”. He is doing something new with that old Law, and it is NOT making a whole new Law. He knows that would lead to the same dead end it did before he came.
He says he came to FULFILL the old Law, not make us live by a new set of laws.
How? He himself is keeping God’s Law perfectly. He will, live the perfect life we heart patients could not live, and die a perfect death that we could never die. He will do this by his heart of love for us.
Like a couple on their wedding day, Jesus on that cross publicly and voluntarily commits to a life-long relationship of love with us; in blood. He does call us his Bride!
There are Christians who have been through the deep pain of divorce who have fully acknowledged their fault before the other and before the Lord, done all they could to reach some kind of true reconciliation with their estranged partner, who never expected to or wanted to marry again.
And then to their great surprise they have met someone they love and who loves them. They have sat with me and given all thanks to Jesus for this unexpected new gift of partnership. They cannot believe that Jesus would be so good to them after they have been so bad at marriage! They cannot stop thanking him for this second chance. want to honour him and each other by getting married.
Would Jesus say, ‘No. Too late. You had your chance and you blew it”. If he treated me this way in any of my many wrongs, I would have no life, no chance, no joy and no hope for my many failures and their pain.
I hear him say, “Repent and believe the good news of my Father’s grace. Take marriage deadly seriously. If you want to re-enter relationship covenant of marriage, then do it my way”.
Re-marriage is no easy thing, and it is not automatic. But it is possible in Jesus’ grace.
No divorced person I know got married to get divorced. People make mistakes. They hurt each other. Sometimes they own their part in it and sometimes they just keep on blaming. Either way, divorce, unfaithfulness, the loss of partner through death…. all just hurt.
Jesus takes our hurt to his cross and removes it. He affirms marriage as his beautiful gift of life and love for us. He hates it when marriage is broken.
He lays down his life for broken people and their broken marriages. He offers new beginnings.
He calls us to live in his forgiveness in marriage and out of marriage. Sometimes he allows a new marriage for a divorced person. Sometimes he does not.
Either way, he loves his Bride, his church of broken and yet new people. Either way, he loves you, no matter the pain, the loss, the wrong, the damage.
Begin again in the grace of the Groom today. As he says, with him, “all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
FOR MORE THINKING AND PRAYING…..
It is our responsibility as Pastors and friends to ask many questions of divorced people seeking to marry again; not to judge them but to help them find the truth and be healthy and aware in any new relationship.
For divorced people seeking to enter marriage again we ask questions like:
- Does the divorced person know and want to live in God’s good will for marriage? Have they heeded the warnings Jesus gives about cheapening marriage, making adultery and divorce easy? Do they fully appreciate the destruction this brings upon people – especially children? ( I think most people do actually innately know this)
- Is the attitude of the divorced person to their former spouse one of respect, and genuine concern for the wellbeing of that person?
- Has the divorced person shown genuine repentance for their part in the failure of the previous marriage and do they enter this new possibility with a deep commitment to repentance and forgiveness in Christ as the only way to live faithfully in marriage for Christians?
- Has the person done the right things in making sure their ex-spouse is OK financially, legally and socially?
- Has the divorced person seriously considered remaining unmarried as a way of serving the Lord?
- Is the person having a good go at removing and correcting those factors which contributed to the divorce.
- Does the person’s prospective partner have some grasp of all this and some commitment to learn God’s will for marriage and how great a gift it is?