Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology

Divorce and the Permanence of Marraige

Sermon on Matthew 19:6

by Rev. Adrian Dieleman

Date Preached: August 10, 2003
Verse: Matthew 19:1-12
Subject: Divorce

Perhaps you saw this item in the newspaper a couple of years ago:

Topic: Divorce
Index: 666
Date: 8/2003.101
Title: Free Divorce

A church was holding an auction to raise money. It appealed for donations of goods and/or services. A divorce lawyer approached the church and offered to donate a "free divorce." He had trouble understanding why the church turned down his offer.
Somehow this lawyer did not realize that the church of Jesus Christ is opposed to divorce.

I Marriage is for Life
A When we turn to Matthew 19 we are told that Jesus "left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan" (vs 1). Galilee was under the rule of King Herod Antipas. Herod had recently married Herodias, the divorced wife of his brother.

"Some Pharisees came to [Jesus] to test him" (vs 3). They asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?" (vs 3). Needless to say, in the light of Herod and Herodias, this was a loaded question.

B There were two lines of thought among the Pharisees in regards to divorce. Some Pharisees interpreted the Law as allowing divorce for any and every reason: marital discord, incompatibility, the burning of supper, and even the desire to marry another woman. Other Pharisees interpreted the Law as allowing divorce for only one reason: the finding of something shameful about a woman. The Pharisees hoped that Jesus would take one side or the other on how the Law ought to be interpreted when it comes to divorce.

Some of you perhaps have noticed that Matthew 19 talks only of husbands divorcing their wives. At the time of Jesus divorce was only a man's privilege or right; men could divorce their wives but women could not divorce their husbands.

C In His reply Jesus quotes from the first two chapters of Genesis:
(Mt 19:4-6) "Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' (5) and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? (6) So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."

What does this reply of Jesus tell us? We are told that marriage was instituted by God at the dawn of history. When we look at the opening chapters of Genesis we read there how God took the man He had formed and put him into the garden He had planted, to work it and take care of it (Gen 2:8,15). We don't know for how long Adam was at work in that Garden before God announced something was missing or lacking in his life. The Lord God said,
(Gen 2:18) It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.
Who can forget the picture of God bringing all the animals and birds to the man to see if any of them would be a suitable helper and companion? But, "no suitable helper was found" (Gen 2:20b). You all know what God did next: how He took one of Adam's ribs and from it made woman and brought her to the man as a "suitable helper" and companion (Gen 2:21,22).

Like Adam, most humans today search for a suitable helper, a companion who is their equal. On this earth and in this life we, like Adam, can find that companion, that suitable helper, in a member of the other sex. As it was in the beginning, man and woman are still made for each other.

According to an ancient legend, man and woman were originally one. However, in the course of history, they were somehow separated, cut in half. From that time to now each one is seeking his lost part in order to be united again. The Jewish rabbis of old have a saying which puts it this way:
The man is restless while he misses the rib that was taken from his side, and the woman is restless until she gets back under the man's arm, from where she came.
The ancient myth and Rabbinic saying are profoundly true. Some today may smile at the story of how woman was made from man's rib yet, to say the least, it shows us the nature of the relationship between a husband and a wife. Somehow, in someway, a husband is incomplete without his wife; and, somehow, in someway, a wife is incomplete without her husband. Man and woman, husband and wife, they are given to each other by God as a suitable helper and companion for each other so that, as Jesus puts it, "they are no longer two, but one" (Mt 19:6a).

We learn in grade school that 1 + 1 = 2. But the rules and logic of mathematics do not apply to the marriage relationship. God says that if you take one woman and add one man, you still have one. In marriage 1 + 1 = 1. Marriage is a bond which blends and binds two together in one. Each receives what the other is. In the words of Jesus, "they are no longer two, but one." They are "one flesh." From the moment of marriage husband and wife move to become one.

What is this "one fleshness," this "two-in-oneness"? It means that every single facet, every segment, of the husband's and wife's being is affected by the marriage union. There is a blending of body, soul, spirit, emotions, psychology, hopes, and even dreams. In this life there is no other earthly relationship which is as close and as powerful as the relationship between a husband and a wife. In this life there is no other earthly relationship which has the ability to build up or tear down, to exalt or debase, to enable or hinder as does the relationship between a husband and a wife.

This oneness does not mean that God designed husband and wife to be identical. Nor does this oneness mean that a couple always sees blissfully eye to eye. In the literal sense God's creation of a "suitable helper" means "a completing, a counterpart, a complementing, of the other." In marriage this means that the husband and wife fill up the empty spaces in the other's life, they complete each other. But you can't be completed with what you already have. You need something different from yourself to do the completing.

Man and woman, husband and wife, we belong to each other. We are one flesh.

D God has made husband and wife "one flesh," a "two-in-oneness." Therefore, says Jesus, "what God has joined together, let man not separate" (vs 6). Man and woman, husband and wife, we belong to each other, and we belong to each other for life until death do us part. To anyone who reads the New Testament, there can be no doubt about this that marriage is a lifelong commitment. In every instance where the marriage bond is broken, someone commits a great moral wrong and is a breaker of God's law.

Those who take their marriage vows seriously and look to God for happiness and guidance know that they are married for life; they know that there is no way they can walk out on each other.

So let me say to every married couple, and to every engaged couple, and to every person contemplating marriage:
Hold on to each other. Hold together even when the light seems to have gone out, even when the magic seems to have gone, even when your future together looks dark and dull. Stay together even though it hurts.
No crew gives up the ship because of an occasional storm. When you think of it, a Christian marriage should be like a diamond. A diamond, you know, is nothing but a piece of black coal that has been subjected to enormous pressure and heat. But in that pressure and heat a lump of black carbon is turned into a thing of brilliant beauty and strength. Likewise, a Christian marriage should be strengthened and beautified by the inevitable struggles and trials of this life and not destroyed.

Someone suggested once, "There never was a marriage which could not have failed and there never was a marriage which could not have succeeded." You see, the elements of disharmony and breakup are present in every marriage. But for those who love God and each other, no sickness should be able to weaken marriage's unity, no ill fortune should be able to shake marriage's foundations, no hard times should be able to snuff out marriage's love, and no tragedy should be able to diminish marriage's one-fleshness.

E What happens when there is marital conflict and discord? What happens when husband and wife just can't seem to get along? Do you know what the Bible says? The Bible calls for repentance and forgiveness. Repentance and forgiveness are the basis for Christian living. Unless there is a willingness to confess sins and to forgive sins there can be no community, fellowship, or one-fleshness in marriage. The marriage partners are to admit and confess the sins, faults, and shortcomings which have caused the tensions and fights and quarrels. They are also to forgive each other for sins, faults, and shortcomings. Even in the case of adultery or other forms of sexual infidelity the sinned-against partner is called to forgive. And, a refusal to forgive constitutes as great a sin as does the adultery.

Marriage, as instituted by God, is a permanent one-fleshness, a permanent two-in-oneness, a permanent companionship, between a man and a woman. Thus, marriage partners are not to divorce each other; rather, they are to be reconciled to each other.

The Pharisees asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?" And Jesus answers, "What God has joined together, let man not separate."

II Divorce and Remarriage
A The Pharisees quickly followed their first question with another one:
(Mt 19:7) "Why then," they asked, "did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?"
They refer here to Deuteronomy 24:1. Jesus replied,
(Mt 19:8) "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.
Notice how Jesus corrected the Pharisees here: Moses did not command divorce as they said; he only permitted divorce. Divorce was permitted only because of the hardness of their hearts. It is because husbands and wives are sinful, it is because they are unable to repent and forgive, that divorce was allowed. "But," as Jesus said, "it was not this way from the beginning" (vs 8b). In the beginning, as already mentioned, it was one man and one woman in a God-ordained permanent one-fleshness.

B Many people point to "marital unfaithfulness" or adultery as the one exception to the rule of no divorce. After all, in verse 9, Jesus seems to indicate this is an exception to the "no divorce rule." Some people even refer here to a Biblical ground for divorce. Scripture, however, never provides or intends to provide people with a justification for divorce.

Take a close look at verse 9. Take out the exceptive clause and what remains is a declaration that emphasizes the permanence of marriage:
(Mt 19:9) I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife ... and marries another woman commits adultery.
Allow me here to make a comment on grammar and sentence structure. In any language the main clause always carries more weight than the exceptive or secondary clause. In verse 9 the main clause says very clearly that divorce and remarriage constitutes adultery; the main clause teaches us that marriage is permanent.

C Let's take a closer look at the exceptive clause. What does Jesus mean when He says, "except for marital unfaithfulness"? In the Bible "marital unfaithfulness" does not refer to "mental adultery" or "verbal abuse" or "emotional neglect" or "physical abuse." Yes, all of these are wrong and should not be found in any marriage, yet they are not what Jesus means by "marital unfaithfulness." Furthermore, "marital unfaithfulness" refers not to a one-time or even a two-time act though this too is certainly wrong. As I said before, in such situations we are called to repentance and forgiveness.

What, then, does Jesus mean by the phrase "marital unfaithfulness"? The Greek word "porneia" refers to persistent, unrepentant, physical, sexual acts outside of the marriage relationship. Divorce and remarriage on the part of the sinned against partner is not to be condemned when there is actual, physical, repetitious, and unrepentant acts of sexual infidelity; in other words, divorce and remarriage is not to be condemned only when someone repeatedly and unrepentantly commits acts of sexual infidelity. Notice, I didn't say "divorce is permitted." Rather, I said "divorce is not to be condemned when someone repeatedly and unrepentantly commits acts of sexual infidelity." The Bible does not permit divorce; it only prevents us from condemning it in certain situations. Here, as elsewhere, the emphasis of Jesus falls on the permanence of the marriage bond. And, the Lord wants every effort to be made for the marriage partners to be reconciled. Every attempt must be made to lead the sinning partner to repentance and the sinned against partner to forgiveness. Among the redeemed, among God's people, no sin should have the power to automatically destroy the marriage bonds. God's forgiving love is always greater than the greatest sin. The power of God's forgiving love to heal and restore broken relationships is always greater than the power of sin to destroy and end relationships.

It is only when one partner engages in actual, physical, repetitious, and unrepentant acts of sexual infidelity and when all attempts to reconcile fail that we may not condemn the sinned against person for divorce and remarriage. All other instances of divorce and remarriage constitute sin.

I remember a woman whose husband was caught in adultery. The woman wanted to immediately file for divorce on the grounds of her husband's "marital unfaithfulness." When she refused to make any effort at reconciliation the consistory rightly appointed two elders to work with her unforgiving attitude.

D Sad to say, but the vast majority of all divorce and remarriage goes against the Biblical guidelines. What do we say to church members who are party to this?

We need to point to what Scripture says about the forgiveness of sins. All our sins can be and are forgiven by God through Christ when we repent of them. Those involved in a divorce and/or remarriage that runs contrary to God's will can be assured of God's forgiving love if they repent.

God's plan for marriage is a life-long relationship of love and faithfulness. None of us has the power to live up to this within ourselves. Not one of us are able on our own to keep the promise to love, honor, and cherish no matter what the circumstances of life. Only the powerful grace of God allows any of us to live up to this. Therefore, husbands and wives, how I pray that you seek from God what you need in order to be loving and faithful.


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