Lesson 84—October 4, 2015
Audio Commentary by Life Focus Teacher David Daniel
Divorce (Where Preachers Fear to Tread)
Scripture: Matthew 5:31-32; Matthew 19:3-9
Lesson Goal: To gain a better understanding of the biblical truth concerning divorce.
The many confused and conflicting ideas in our world about the biblical teaching on divorce are not caused by any deficiency in God’s revelation, but by the fact that sin has clouded men’s minds to the straightforward simplicity of what God has said. When people read God’s Word through the lenses of their own preconceptions or carnal dispositions, a confused and perplexing picture is the possible outcome. The confusion is not with God but with man. In many churches the problems of divorce are minimized or ignored (MacArthur).
For many churches, and for many pastors, divorce is certainly one of those areas where preachers fear to tread. For many, the subject of divorce is often confusing and painful. As we look at today’s lesson, it is my prayerful desire to be neither confusing nor hurtful. I want us to study the subject of divorce from a biblical perspective, not from the perspective of our own preconceived notions and ideas. We are going to study Jesus’ words concerning divorce. Without causing confusion, one very simple truth concerning divorce is that what society says and teaches is not what Jesus teaches. The very permissive nature of this 2015 culture does not alter the biblical teaching of Scripture.
As we look at this very important subject and dig into the Holy Scriptures, allow me to share one last important point: I do not speak or write for pastors in general. I can only speak as one pastoral shepherd. My desire not to hurt or cause unnecessary pain for anyone reading this lesson is what makes this an area where preachers fear to tread. I have witnessed the heartache and pain of divorce as a pastor and as a pilgrim on this journey of life. It is not my desire to cause any wounds or to reopen the hurts and pains of old wounds. As a writer, I find myself in complete agreement with the words of John Stott:
I confess to a basic reluctance to attempt an exposition of these verses. This is partly because divorce is a controversial and complex subject, but even more because it is a subject which touches people’s emotions at a deep level. There is almost no unhappiness as poignant as the unhappiness of an unhappy marriage, and almost no tragedy as great as the degeneration of what God meant for love and fulfillment into a non-relationship of bitterness, discord and despair. I hope I shall write with sensitivity for I know the pain which many suffer, and I have no wish to add to their distress. Yet it is because I am convinced that the teaching of Jesus on this and every subject is good—intrinsically good, good for individuals, good for society—that I take my courage in both hands and write on.
May God Himself be our guide as we study the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:31-32.
• Why is divorce such a difficult subject?
• Why does the subject of divorce often cause deep emotional feelings to be stirred?
• When dealing with passages on subjects such as divorce, how should we (followers of Jesus) handle our responsibilities as students of God’s Word?
• What does it mean to be genuinely sensitive, with the love of Jesus Christ, when reading, studying and discussing such topics as divorce?
(VV31-32) This section begins with Jesus’ words: “Furthermore it has been said” or “Again it has been said.” These words are again a reference to the Old Testament Mosaic regulations of the law (see Deuteronomy 24:1). We should also study verses 21 and 22, in light of more detail given by Jesus in Matthew chapter 19. Notice in Matthew 19:3, the Pharisees came to test Jesus with a question concerning divorce. Their intent was to trap and discredit Him. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason (or cause)?
The question, as posed to Jesus, was brought forth out of controversy concerning divorce in the rabbinic schools of Jesus’ day. There were those who were extremely rigid and said that divorce was not permissible under any circumstance or for any reason. And there were those of the opposite school who held an extremely lax view which said that divorce was permissible and could be granted for any reason or for no reason at all. In Matthew 19:3, the Pharisees came to test Jesus to see with which rabbinic school He would align and agree with.
Once again, Jesus did not teach by the authority of any rabbinic school or Jewish traditionalism. He taught “as one having authority,” His own authority. “But I say to you…” (v32). He was not interested in debate or alignment with any Jewish rabbinic line of thought or teaching. Jesus spoke on His own authority.
(V32) “that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality (fornication) causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.”
Along with Matthew 5:32, please read Matthew 19:3-9.
• How did Jesus respond to the question asked by the Pharisees in Matthew 19:3? Please read the scripture and answer prayerfully.
Jesus responded to the issue of divorce by stating the importance and sacredness of marriage. He refers back to the creation of male and female and to the God-given institution of marriage. This passage speaks of the importance and permanence of the marriage relationship. Jesus very clearly defines marriage between a man and a woman, intended by God to be a lasting, permanent union.
Thus marriage, according to our Lord’s exposition of its origin (Matthew 19:3-6), is a divine institution by which God makes one two people who decisively and publicly leave their parents in order to form a new unit and become one flesh (Stott).
As we study Jesus’ words concerning marriage, we must once again reemphasis the importance of the truth and of God’s ultimate intent for marriage—to be one man and one woman for a lifetime.
• Why are the words “until death do you part” placed in our marriage vows?
In Matthew 19:7, the Pharisees then offer a second question to Jesus: “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce and to put her away?” Once again, we see the Pharisees misinterpreting the law. In fact, in this passage they outright blow it. The Pharisees state that Moses commanded to give a certificate of divorce. It was not a command; it was rather a provision given by Moses. God did not command divorce; He allowed it under certain circumstances. In Matthew 19:8, Jesus tells why this provision was made in the first place: “because of the hardness of your hearts.” The basic cause that brings about divorce is the hardness of the human heart.
In both Matthew 5:32 and 19:9, Jesus teaches that marital un-chastity, sexual immorality, and fornication (all defined as sex between two persons not married to each other) are biblical grounds for divorce. Although these constitute biblical grounds for divorce, please let me help you to understand that, even in these cases, divorce is not commanded. That we are commanded to, or must, divorce an unfaithful wife or husband is never found in Scripture. “To the contrary, there are biblical examples of extending forgiveness to the adulterous offender (Genesis 38:26; Hosea 3:1; John 8:1-11)” (Hinson).
Jesus taught that divorce is allowed on the grounds of marital un-chastity. In this case, divorce dissolves the marriage and leaves the innocent party free to remarry.
A Word of Testimony—from my heart to each of you in Live Focus class
It is my heart’s sincere desire and prayer to help each of us understand the importance and sanctity of marriage. In the culture of our society, determined to become the authority on such matters as home and marriage, it is of absolute importance that we establish our understanding of the Word of God. Our understanding of the importance, definition and sanctity of marriage is established by the Holy Scriptures.
As we think in terms of marriage and divorce, let us always remember that God’s ideal plan for marriage was, is, and forever shall be, one woman and one man (leaving father and mother) becoming one flesh (cleaving) together for a lifetime. No society, culture or government has the authority or right to ever change this (“therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate, put asunder”). We should be reminded that divorce is not God’s ideal for marriage; in fact, God does not want divorce for us (Malachi 2:16).
In marriage, divorce, and so many other areas of life, we sometimes fall short of God’s ideal for us. This does not excuse us nor relegate our understanding and responsibilities. But let us all remember the forgiveness and unconditional love of God which is available to all when we fall short. When we genuinely repent of our sins, we find the forgiveness of God. Genuine repentance, with a pure and honest heart, brings us to the place to receive the riches of God’s grace and forgiveness. I lovingly remind us all today that divorce is not the unpardonable sin that some legalistic traditionalist have made it to be. When we fall short, as we all do, let us remember the words of 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
For further study, read 1 Corinthians 7:12-16. In this passage, Paul gives another biblical ground for divorce. If an unbelieving spouse desserts or divorces a believer, the believer is no longer bound.
As I close, I want to share with you two specific ministries Mars Hill Baptist Church is offering to help and encourage those who are suffering the pains of divorce. During Launching Out Discipleship on Sunday evenings, Ms. Kathy White is leading a study called DivorceCare, a Bible-based divorce recovery support group. The goal of DivorceCare is to help individuals deal with the hurts of divorce, to discover hope for the future, and experience God’s healing. A second ministry is offered to single-again ladies during the Life Focus hour on Sunday mornings. This class, known as “Soul Sisters,” meets each Sunday to learn, grow, and help each other as they study God’s Word together.