This morning, I’d like us to work through a very difficult subject – marriage and divorce. Marriage is probably one of the hardest things we do in life. There are obvious challenges; ups and downs. Divorce has affected some of the people that we love the most; even yourselves. I’d like us to walk through these subjects from a “red-letter” perspective. What did Jesus say about marriage and divorce and why is Jesus perspective on marriage and divorce so revolutionary? And as Jesus followers – disciples with undiluted devotion to Jesus – how do we make Jesus’ worldview our own?
Jesus openly speaks about sex and the sexual lifestyle of disciples. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus starts this conversation but in Matthew 19 he goes deeper in response to being tested and backed into a corner by the religious leaders.
In the third verse the Bible states, “Some Pharisees …” (which means very religious people), “…came to Jesus to test him. They asked is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” The Pharisees were referring to SLIDE Deuteronomy 24:1. “If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce…then he is able to send her away with a certificate of divorce.” Jesus doesn’t stop at Deuteronomy. He goes all the way past Deuteronomy to Genesis, stating God’s original intent for marriage. In Matthew 19:8, Jesus states, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard but it was not this way from the beginning.”
The Bible is descriptive. It reveals the consequence—the brokenness of sin. When Jesus says in Matthew 19:4, “Haven’t you read…,” he’s quoting right out of Genesis, “…that at the beginning, God made them male and female…”
Have you ever heard the expression, “Opposites attract?” There’s a good reason for that saying—it is God’s design for us. He created counter-balance. A lot of what frustrates us in marriage is the other person’s counter to what we need in our lives, creating the tension for God to make us holy. We are only holy (whole) in the image of Christ.
What we see in marriage is that as males, we don’t try to be females, and as females, we don’t try to be males. God made us unique and different. There is to be a creative, collaborative counterbalance to one another making us the people God wants us to be.
In Genesis 2:18 we’re told that it’s not good for man to be alone, so God created a helper. When I really looked at the Hebrew meaning of the word, helper, what it does not mean is subservient—that she’s in my life to do my laundry and cook my food. Listen up men, this is going to get you because it got me…it means, “A stronger one coming along to help the weaker one.” Helper does not mean someone that is subservient, rather someone who is stronger—not in physical strength, but as someone who helps us to be stronger than we would be alone
As we recall Jesus teaching the Pharisees, in Genesis 1:27, it says, “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them. Male and Female he created them.” Together, we are a visible expression of God’s love. Without Melissa, I’m only half a picture of God’s love. She brings the other half of the picture and together we represent a visible expression of his love.
In marriage, we can see how we are supposed to be a creative counter balance in each other’s lives. Your spouse is not there to make you happy; but holy. Together, we are the demonstration of God’s visible love. Marriage is this relationship that’s based on a deep, mutual respect and trust.
Going back to the Pharisees’ question about divorce, Jesus explains he’s not about divorce. He’s about bringing marriage back together. There were two schools of thought in Judaism (always directed to men). Hillel, the rabbi, said you could divorce your wife for any reason. If she ticks you off because she burns breakfast that is enough to write a certificate of divorce. Shemaiah held the other school of thought. He said the only reason you could get a divorce is for marital infidelity. What is the intention of God? Jesus says, “Haven’t you read?” In other words, for Jesus, the authority for all things including marriage is the word of God.
As Christ followers, we make the Bible our authority for life. Jesus said, “Haven’t you read that in the beginning the creator made them male and female 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. So they are no longer two, but one, therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
You see marriage is more than a social contract. It is a God-union. Christ followers have a different standard of marriage. We believe marriage reveals the very nature of Christ and His love for the church. Whether we know it at the time or not, when we make those vows, it is something God creates and joined together. What God joins together human beings do not have the power to separate. Divorce was never in God’s created design. I can put it this way: Divorce was never in the mind of God. God never thought of divorce. Go to the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi 2:10. Our covenant with God depends on our covenant with each other, as demonstrated through marriage. It says, “Why do we profane the covenant of our ancestors by being unfaithful to one another?”
My faithfulness or unfaithfulness in my relationship with Melissa in this oneness which God created is one with my covenant–my faithfulness with God who made it. It is not Melissa and I who made a social contract. Marriage is a God connection…a God union…what God has joined together.
When I break covenant with her, I break covenant with God.
My covenant relationship with God is dependent on my covenant relationship with Melissa.
This may be hard to hear, but we have to look at what God says. We must acknowledge God as the authority for our understanding of marriage before we ever get into the issue of divorce. Divorce should be almost non-existent among God’s people. Recognize I said almost…we will get to that in a few minutes.
Marriage is not a social contract. It is a God union. You belong to each other in body and spirit. In other words, it is impossible to separate the physical from the spiritual. Sexual intimacy needs to occur within the bounds of a marriage relationship because you cannot separate spiritual from physical. There is no such thing as casual sex. God has made us one.
God demonstrates his unfailing love for you and I through the healthy experience of a man and woman created in his own image who demonstrates relentless and unfailing commitment to each other. Marriage is sacred and must not be betrayed or violated. Marriage reflects the Lordship of Jesus. We were bought at a price. He paid for us on the cross. We can’t take that lightly. When Jesus says he is Lord, we need to answer “yes” even if we disagree or don’t understand. Jesus as Lord knows what is best for us. His word is given as our guidance, protection and provision.
So Jesus prioritizes marriage between one man and one woman as a sacred covenantal relationship which must be taken seriously in light of the lordship of Jesus. But Jesus goes further. Matthew 19:7, Jesus said, “What God has joined together, let no one separate.” Then the Pharisees said, “Why did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” In the Bible, we have both – that divorce is nowhere in God’s plan, that God hates divorce, but we also know that a prophet of God permitted divorce. Why do we see that?
Moses permitted divorce because of hardness of heart. In the beginning, it was not this way. “Anyone who divorces his wife except for sexual immorality and marries another woman commits adultery.” That is hard, so let’s break it down. The health of marriage depends on the commitment of both persons – “What God has joined together.”
When one is committed and the other is not committed that is called hardness of heart. It takes two parties to sustain a healthy relationship. Jesus makes the case that sexual immorality does not necessarily equate divorce. Only when there is a lack of forgiveness of either party is that considered hardness of heart. Saying you are sorry is not the same is saying you repent. Repentance is change of direction. If one party continues to practice infidelity that is considered hardness of heart. Hardness of heart is destructive and murderous to any relationship. What does this hardness of heart look like?
Adultery–when we forget we are human beings and our most important sexual organ is our mind. We are different from animals because we have the ability to make choices and keep promises. Adultery means falling back to live out passions and wants, instead of living out the image of God. Adultery is broken trust. It can be healed and the relationship can be restored.
Abuse–hardness of heart. I want to say this: So many times I see a person stay in an abusive marriage because he or she knows God hates divorce, but God hates something more than divorce and that is hardness of heart. Abuse can be verbal, physical or spiritual–all are destructive.
Hardness of heart occurs when there is no repentance, no equal respect and no honoring the image of God in the other person. Even though God hates divorce, he allows divorce because he desires the preservation and health of the person being abused.
True to form, Jesus speaks Kingdom of God values and lifestyle into a world and lives that are broken. These are hard words. Jesus doesn’t pull punches. He is more interested in changing our hearts and aligning our lives with his. How would our relationships change if we were obedient to what Jesus said?