Scripture: “It was also said, Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” Matthew 5:31-21 ESV
Observation: Matthew connects this short passage to the preceding pericope regarding lust and adultery (see yesterday’s Daily Focus) with the Greek conjunction de. Thus, as theologian D.A. Carson contends, “The Old Testament not only points toward insisting that lust is the moral equivalent of adultery (vv.27-30) but that divorce is as well” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, p.152).
How so? In this male-dominated society of the ancient Near East, the husband alone maintained the right to serve his wife a writ of divorce. Over time, the grounds for invoking divorce, which initially pertained to indecency (see Deuteronomy 24:1-4), expanded to dissatisfaction. Thus, in Jesus’ day, a husband could easily manipulate the law to pursue his lustful desires for another woman. Consequently, remarriage under this scenario would constitute adultery in the eyes of the Lord.
Of note, regarding the former spouse, women often would not survive during this time in ancient Israel unless they pursued marriage with another man. Thus, Jesus states that the former husband makes his divorced wife commit adultery. To clarify, Christ does not point the proverbial finger at the castoff former wife but at her selfish ex. Also, Jesus adds that one legitimate reason to divorce is sexual immorality. (Matthew uses the Greek word porneia, best translated as fornication). Fornication involves any sexual perversion contrary to loving, mutually-consenting intercourse between a husband and wife (see Yesterday’s Daily Focus regarding internet pornography).
Takeaway: What Christ has in view here is the sanctity of marriage. Bypassing the errant interpretation of “indecency” held by conservatives and liberals alike, Jesus appeals to the intent of marriage: a permanent union of a man and a woman into one flesh (Genesis 2:24). Indeed, Yahweh instituted marriage before organized religion, thereby demonstrating its priority. But more to the point, God “hates” divorce (see Malachi 2:26) because it tears apart what he has blessed: a holy union that mirrors his desired relationship with us.
The Apostle Paul helps us understand the significance of marriage as it pertains to our Gospel: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her… therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:25, 31-32 ESV). Here, he tells us that God instituted marriage to foreshadow a greater reality of the intimate relationship between Christ and his church founded on sacrificial love.
Yet, we live in a fallen world where marital infidelity destroys marriages and causes far-reaching collateral damage to loved ones. Still, when couples persevere breaches of love and security and seek help to forgive and grow closer to God and each other, the Gospel shines ever so brighter. But this requires self-sacrifice (of time, control, and egos) and can only be sustained by deepening our understanding of Christ’s grace and love for us. And when we persevere, the rewards reach far beyond the marriage’s survival. Indeed, Christ-centered marriages:
- witness the Gospel of grace to others;
- grant us a foretaste of the intimate union and joy we will have with our Triune God;
- teach us how to love others sacrificially in ways that enrich our lives; and,
- bring out the best in ourselves and others.
Granted, it takes two to tango, but if we are committed to our relationship with Christ first and foremost, he will guide us through the challenging times and bring healing to our souls and our marriages.
Pastoral Note: The above discussion does not pertain to dire circumstances where one spouse inflicts abuse on the other. The abused spouse should always take action to protect themselves and their children, even if the marriage eventually fails, for such persistent and unrepentant abuse is tantamount to marital unfaithfulness.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son, who, being committed to you in all manners of life, brought reconciliation and healing to us. And we thank you for the institution of marriage, ordained and blessed by you. So would you please help us commit ourselves first to you, our Triune God, our spouses (if married), and all others with whom you call us to build a Christ-centered relationship? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling