Jesus has been both instructing and illustrating about greatness in the Kingdom, and great crowds began to follow him. The religious charlatans, understanding their power was slipping, came to Jesus with a theological test: if marriage is a divine ordinance – and it is – then what about conflicting instruction from Moses allowing for divorce. How can both be true? Jesus now begins to instruct on the obstacles to faith and living in an honorable way in the Kingdom.
3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason? 4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’[a] 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’[b]? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Matthew 19:3-6.
1. Marriage: The Biblical Model. From the beginning of creation, the model is clear – we are made for relationships. Men and women are made for each other. They meet a need for each other not otherwise met within our design. Adam’s delight in Eve was immediate and was blessed by God. From that ordinance, in the garden of Eden, all of the human race – sons of Adam and daughters of Eve - came. And in marriage, God intended for the greatest of joy and fulfillment to be something of heaven on earth – joys of family and generations, marked out as examples of the grace and mercy of God. So what happened?
2. Divorce: The Demise of God’s Plan. But, as with sin in the garden, that plan was and is not followed. As such, Moses allowed an exception. Moses (aka God) permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. God’s provision for marriage and family was broken by sin. The fallout led to broken relationships, divided families, and disputes that tore apart Israel and now the church.
3. Divorce Now: A Narrow Exception. Lest we misconstrue the Mosaic exception, Jesus brings his listeners back to the heavenly model: anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another, commits adultery. This exception, porneia in the original language, is sexual infidelity. It has a broader application to other abuses in marriage and the family but is not broad and is not lighthearted. In other words, for someone to contemplate divorce, it should only be applied after serious and prolonged consideration. It is not unusual in my practice that a client only seeks out legal advice on this subject after years of consideration and attempts at counseling and reconciliation.
4. How Narrow is the Exception? Really, really narrow. The Rabbinic teaching was simply that if a man did not approve of his wife, he merely clapped his hands three times, exclaiming "I divorce you" and it was done. The disciples clearly understood how narrow was this exception, such that the person who never married both avoided this prospect of eventual adultery and set him or herself apart for Kingdom work remaining single.
This subject is personal to me twofold: first, because I have been divorced and remarried, without the above biblical exception, meaning my remarriage was sinful and not honorable, and secondly, because of my work as a family law attorney, attending now to hundreds of divorces over my 30-year career. For the first, I have been forgiven as to my remarriage but recognize the continuing consequences of divorce in relationships and in the family. In that, I am responsible for those consequences and pray daily for grace and mercy among my family and people. And to the second, as a Christian attorney, I am obligated to provide not only the legal standards for divorce but, when asked, remind my clients of the biblical instructions of this and other related passages. This is not an easy subject, and the humility of being a child in the Kingdom while seeking wisdom is always our fallback.
This, then, is the human model and dilemma. We know what is right, we often do not do what is right, and the only further damage is to apply self-deception to refuse to own up to our sin and seek available remedies. Of course, no one is without sin. We all stumble in many ways (James 3:2), and to even look on a woman with lust is adultery – 27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’[a] 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:27-28 . The issue is not sinners vs. non-sinners. The issue is understanding God’s standard, being reminded of our need for redemption and grace, and staying at the feet of Jesus in our pilgrimage and walk. Next week, another obstacle to spiritual growth – riches and wealth. Stay well.
- John Moore