What does the Bible actually teach about marriage? What about divorce? Does it address remarriage? As we continue our series, “Summer on the Mount,” Todd Wagner walks us through Matthew 5:31-32, covering those very three things: marriage, divorce, and remarriage.
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What does the Bible actually teach about marriage? What about divorce? Does it address remarriage? As we continue our series Summer on the Mount, Todd Wagner walks us through Matthew 5:31-32, covering those very three things: marriage, divorce, and remarriage.
Good morning. How are we doing, friends? We are in the middle of something called the Summer on the Mount, which, of course, is our effort to walk you through this thing called the Sermon on the Mount, which isn't just a thing. It's when God himself came crashing onto earth and said, "Listen. Y'all have left me and left my ways. I love you, and I want it to go well with you, but you have to stop changing my commands through your traditions and understand what the truth is. The commands are good, but you need to be corrected in your understanding of them so you conduct yourself in a way that will cause it to go well with you."
I don't know what you think of when you think of God, but if you think of anything less than a loving Father who wants to rescue you from the foolishness of your own way and believing about him that he's here to rip you off and not getting your mind right to believe that he has really come to set you free, you've been deceived if you believe anything less than the goodness of God and his desire for you to walk in a life that could only be described as a life of blessing.
That's the way Jesus starts. The first time God shows up on earth and we don't have to listen to prophets and Pharisees and godly leaders but we can listen to God himself, he starts with, "Do you want to be blessed? Then let my Spirit inform your life. Do you want to be blessed? Then mourn over your sin and your deciding what is right apart from me.
Do you want to be blessed? Then harness yourself to my shepherding and leadership and hunger after more of my righteousness and be merciful and pure in heart. Do you want to be blessed? Be a peacemaker. Do you want to be blessed? Then suffer for my kingdom's sake. Be citizens of the kingdom, and live with a kingdom ethic."
That was God's plan from the very beginning for his people: that there would be a kingdom of priests, that we would walk together in the love he created us to walk in and we wouldn't be imprisoned to sin. But this is earth. Heaven's will is not yet done fully here, so God needs to rescue us, show us what love looks like, not just through telling us what the truth was but by modeling unfailing, unspeakable, unrelenting love.
So God comes here, and he's going to correct our false understanding of some of the commandments, and he's going to model for us love. Even though we don't live lives worthy of the King, the King would give himself for us so he can make us righteous through his own provision. What a God.
The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus telling us the characteristics of believers and how they conduct themselves in light of their belief. It's kingdom living for kingdom people. It's a new ethic, and we have to break free from the confusion of the old. Today, we're going to look at what Jesus said about marriage and divorce, specifically, and it's going to be hard teaching, but here's the thing: what Jesus says about divorce is not confusing; it's pretty clear. That doesn't make it any easier; it just makes it clear.
There has been so much distortion through our traditions, through our corruption of the command that has led to a lot of heartbreak. I'm going to ask you to do me a favor today as I teach this text. I'm going to ask you to, just for a moment, not think I'm talking to you about your specific story and your specific experience. I just want you to listen to what God says. Once we listen to what God says, then we can come back and wrestle together with your story.
I want to just lay this out as we look at what Jesus says about divorce. My desire is that you would first focus on what he says about marriage and what he says about reconciliation. When we get a good grip on what God says about what marriage is and whose marriage is and that his heart for us, as his people, is to reconcile, then we can move and go, "Okay. So what do we do with this divorce topic?"
I think you're going to see Jesus is very clear, and you're going to see that our traditions, just like the traditions of the first-century Pharisees and Jews, have blocked what God intended for us, and it hasn't gone well for us. Now, there are a couple of principles I want to lay out as we get started and take a look at this together.
The first one is simply that the best way to interpret Scripture is with Scripture. So what you're going to see me do is after we read Matthew 5:31-32, I'm going to take you to other places in Scripture, because what you don't want to do is find one verse and then hope it means this and just stop right there.
You're going to have to go and look at the full context of what God says. The context of every verse is the paragraph it's in, the chapter it's in, the book it's in, the testament it's in, and all 66 books in the Bible. God is giving us revelation, so we have to make sure we interpret Scripture with Scripture.
Secondly, I want to remind you this is a message for kingdom people about kingdom living. None of us live the way the King wants us to. This is earth, so his will is not yet done fully here. Some of you guys have experienced divorce. There's nobody in this room who hates heroin more than people who have been addicts to heroin, there's nobody in this room who hates alcohol more than alcoholics, and I believe there's nobody in this room who hates divorce more than those who have suffered through a divorce, who are children whose parents divorced.
You're going to see why God hates divorce. And God does hate divorce, but I want to make it very clear: God does not hate divorcees. God hates sin, but he doesn't hate sinners. God demonstrates his love for sinners in that while we were still stuck in our trespasses and sins, Christ died for us. I want to tell you, if divorce is part of your story, God doesn't hate you. He hates the treachery of divorce.
Now a lot of us have been touched by this. Statistics tell us that up to 41 to 50 percent of every first-time marriage ends in divorce, depending on what study. It's 41 to 50 percent of first-time marriages end in divorce. If you go to second marriages, it jumps up to 67 percent. You get to third marriages, and it's almost 75 percent of third marriages end in divorce. One of the things we have to deal with is our traditions as a people, and by that I mean even the churches.
In 1960, America embraced this idea of what's called no-fault divorce, which means you can get divorced for almost any reason. You're going to find that's always a very popular ethic for leaders to take, and it hasn't gone well for us since we've embraced this no-fault divorce idea. Jesus says there's always fault in divorce. Sin is always the reason for divorce. It always has been. It always will be.
God knows that when you live in sin and you live outside of what God's intention for you is, it doesn't lead to a life of blessing. God wants it to go well with us. So I want to teach you a biblical kingdom ethic so you, as the King's people, can experience blessing. We can be forever thankful that we have a God who treats adulterers and fornicators and disobedient sons and daughters with an unfailing covenant love.
What God asks us to do when we learn that love is to model it for the world. God's intention for marriage is that it's permanent on earth, exclusive to a man and a woman, and illustrative of Christ and his church. That's marriage. Marriage is permanent on earth, exclusive to one man and one woman, and illustrative of Christ and his church.
Let me just say this. Here's what's so interesting. Our friends in the LGBTQ community have rightly confronted the church and said, "Oh, you guys think marriage is just between one man and one woman and it's permanent? Well, how come there's so much divorce amongst you? You guys don't care about marriage. You pick and choose your little favorite sins, and you want to make what we're doing sin, but you don't make what you're doing sin."
Let me be very clear. Marriage between anything other than a male and a female is sin. Sexual relations with anything outside of the covenant commitment between a male and female in marriage before God is sin, but the church has turned its back on God's definition of marriage and endorsed serial monogamy.
It is a fact that if you are a nominal Christian… The problem with America is there's nominal Christianity that is rampant. Your likelihood to experience a divorce is almost 20 percent higher if you are a Christian in name only. If you are a churchgoer, a church attender, but not a Christ follower, you're 20 percent more likely to get a divorce than people who don't even go to church, than just a moral pagan.
You're 30 percent less likely, sociologists tell us, to get a divorce if you are regularly involved with religious activities. They say if three times a week you're doing religious activities, you're 30 percent less likely than society to get a divorce, but most people who are around religious activity or religious institutions are nominal only, so divorce has been rampant in the church, and rightly have we lost our moral authority. We're going to try to regain it this morning.
Can I tell you how you bring your divorce rate to zero? The way you bring your divorce rate to zero is you live in a covenant relationship with another person who's broken in spirit and is sick and tired of doing what seems right to them and mourns over the fact that they have gone their own way that has led to death, who says:
"God, I want to saddle up with you, and you direct me. I want to hunger and thirst after your righteousness, and I want to be merciful, like I've received mercy. I want more of your heart, God, to be my heart. I want to be a reconciler, continually, day by day, and I want to suffer for your kingdom's sake." You marry somebody like that and the divorce rate goes to zero. If the two of you pursue that ethic together, you'll dance in the minefields of marriage.
I want to start by doing this. This is kind of fun. These are called Chuck Taylors. I wore them up until I was probably about in seventh or eighth grade. Basketball shoes were not really a thing. I mean, NBA players… We all wore Chuck Taylors. I remember that. Chuck Taylor was actually a semi-pro basketball player who traveled around the country in the early twentieth century. When he got done playing basketball, he went to work for Converse shoes, and he sold a lot of these, so they named a shoe after him.
But that's not why I'm talking about Chuck Taylor shoes. I'm talking about Chuck Taylor shoes because of this. This is the sole of a Chuck Taylor shoe. You'll see it has this interior square checkerboard pattern, but around it you see all of these vertical lines. Those vertical lines, you might think, are there to help give you a good grip on a basketball court. I would tell you if you ever wear Chuck Taylors on a basketball court, you will know that's not why they're there.
They're there because there is this thing called import taxes. They've been in the news a lot this week. They're called tariffs. There's a 20 percent tariff on every athletic shoe that is imported into our country. Twenty percent on athletic shoes, and 98.4 percent of all athletic shoes are made somewhere else. So, you pay a lot for your Jordans because you have a 20 percent tariff on them.
The good folks at Converse realized that was a problem. They couldn't sell these shoes, which now were no longer really a part of the basketball world but had become kind of a fashion statement, unless they came up with some creative way to engineer the shoe to avoid the tariff. It's actually a thing, this thing called tariff engineering.
What you see right here outside of this little rubber sole is what looks like a bunch of very small nubs that stick up. It's compressed felt. It turns out that what makes something not experience an import tax of 20 percent in America is that you don't make an athletic shoe; you make a slipper. It turns out what makes something a slipper is if you have a certain percentage of felt on the bottom of the shoe.
So, what they did is they put exactly the amount of felt around the shoe to avoid the import tax. That's tariff engineering. Here's what's interesting about that: tariff engineering might allow you to escape the US government's ire, but truth engineering does not allow you to escape our Lord's intention.
What is going on in the Sermon on the Mount is there has been a lot of truth engineering. Let me remind you, as we begin to walk you through this, what Jesus is going to do is say, "You guys have truth-engineered my intention." He's walking you through, basically, the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth commandments in Matthew, chapter 5, verse 21, all the way down through verse 48.
He brackets this little section by saying, "Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you're not getting into heaven. These guys who tell you they're righteous, with all of their little laws and rules and interpretations of them, are not righteous. You have to be perfect like your heavenly Father is perfect, and here's the kingdom ethic for kingdom people. If you want to be righteous, this is what righteousness means."
So he gives you this. In Matthew 5:21, he gives you a command, and he quotes the sixth commandment: "Thou shalt not murder." Jesus uses something six different times in this section. He says, "You have heard it said…but I say to you. You have heard it said…but I say to you." What he's doing is saying, "You have truth-engineered God's intention, but I'm telling you, that's not going to get you past the tax of sin.
So, here's how you should live if you're in relationship with me so that it will go well with you. It doesn't go well with you if you simply don't murder one another with all your backbiting and hateful, malicious living and your slander and your irreconcilable differences. No. Kingdom people are diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. You're not righteous just because you don't put a knife in some guy's back."
He goes on in Matthew 5:27. He said, "You have heard that it was said…" The seventh commandment: "You shall not commit adultery…""It's not just enough to not sleep with a woman who's not your wife. Don't live lustfully toward other people. Don't do everything but intercourse with another person. When you're asked the question, 'Did you have sexual relations with that woman?' don't say, 'Well, it depends on what is this.' That doesn't work with me. That's truth engineering."
"But I say to you if you even look at somebody with lust in your heart, you've already violated my intention for you to pursue purity and oneness with one another. So remove anything that is causing you to be tempted to move away from the wife of your youth and from your intended love for one another." Now watch. In verse 31, he's going to get into the topic of marriage. He's going to say, "You have heard it said…" but he doesn't quote a commandment.
Actually, if he was going through the commandments, the very next one would be, "Thou shalt not steal." What he's going to say is, "You guys quote Moses when he commands you that when you send a woman away to give her a certificate of divorce, but what you're really doing is you have legalized wife swapping with your truth engineering. You're stealing another man's wife. You're stealing my intention of what I wanted the marriage covenant to be, and I will have none of it."
This is a radical idea Jesus is teaching. It was so countercultural… I just want to say to you this morning what I'm teaching is going to be very countercultural. It's even Christian countercultural, because the church, in its desire to be empathetic and relevant, has truth engineered. We have dumbed down God's intention for marriage, and today, because we have a loving God, he is going to walk us back toward what he intends us to see marriage is.
We're going to see that we have been imposing our will on the text, and we have been taking things to mean what we want them to mean so we can do what we want to do, and it doesn't go well with us. I don't know if you've looked at the implications on a society with the breakdown in family and marriage fidelity, but it is tragic and legion in its effect.
In fact, children of parents who divorce are four times more likely to divorce. They're more prone to abuse. They're more prone to poverty. They're more prone to imprisonment. There is nothing good that comes with divorce. I know you're sitting there going, "Well, he doesn't know my story." I want you to listen to me. Even in the midst of your divorce, God hates it, because it's treacherous what has been done to you.
One of the things I want to insert here is that we have to break our little mindset that there are only two options, that you either stay miserable and married or you get divorced. There's another option. That option is that we begin to live with a kingdom ethic, and that's what Jesus is here to do: teach us his ethic.
So let's watch this, and I'll explain to you why Jesus inserts a non-commandment here that, again, leads to us, in effect, stealing and wife swapping from one another and stealing God's intent for us. Matthew 5:31: "It was said, 'Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce…'" Well, where was that said? It was said in Deuteronomy 24. I'm going to read to you what that is about.
It is about, basically, sin being in the camp and the nation of Israel, in an oppressive, patriarchal system, having men who had basically truth-engineered God's intention for purity and for there not to be infidelity to legalize wife swapping, where they could move in and out of relationships with women that was treating them treacherously that God said was an offense to him. So Moses said, "Here's what we're going to do."
"When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her…" That word indecency is the word that caused the Pharisees to write volumes on what it meant for you to no longer see a wife with favor because she's indecent to you. There were two major rabbinical schools that existed during the times of Christ. Think Harvard. Think Yale.
Rabbis would often call people to follow them, and the quality of the student is what made the rabbi revered. If the rabbi asked you, you got some sense of value by being one of that rabbinical school's selected students. These two major schools were Shammai and Hillel. Shammai basically said, "Indecency can only be defined as a person who's involved in a sexual act outside of marriage where there is a witness. If you see that happen, then you can write her a certificate of divorce."
Hillel said, "No. No. No. Not true. If she doesn't have favor with you anymore because she's indecent to you, she can be indecent because she gained too much weight since the marriage. She can be indecent because that woman is more decent in your eyes. She can be indecent because she burnt the toast. She can be indecent to you because she talks too loudly. She can be indecent because she doesn't do the laundry the way you want to do the laundry, and you can put her out."
Now which of those two rabbinical schools do you think was the most popular during the time of Christ? The one that basically said, "Hey, if you think she's indecent, put her out." Moses was saying that was pretty popular during his time as well, so he said this. This is what you have to do. "When you find this indecency in her, you should write her a certificate of divorce and put it in her hand and send her out from the house, and as she leaves this house and goes and becomes another man's wife… I want you men to know this.
If the latter husband she has married because you turned her out turns against her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband who took her to be his wife after you sent her out even dies, then her former husband (you) who sent her away is not allowed to take her to be his wife again, since she has been defiled, for that's an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the Lord your God has given you as an inheritance. We're not going to legalize wife swapping."
That's what they were doing. They were saying, "You're indecent to me. I don't want to be an adulterer, so I divorce you." They would go over here and marry this woman, but go, "You know what? I kind of like her meatloaf better than yours, and she is the mother of my children, and I do kind of like the way she runs the house even though she's loud, so I divorce you and go back to this woman over here." They were legalizing wife swapping.
By the way, this is not just something that Jews during the time of Moses did. Even within Sharia law today, in Islam today, if you're a Shia Muslim, there's something called nikah mut'ah, which is basically pleasure marriage, where you can have an imam who will tell you that what you can do is have a contractual marriage with a woman for an hour or two hours or a day, where you pay her some dowry, which is a fee, and you can have relations with her for the time frame you arrange.
So it's not prostitution; it's marriage, and then the marriage is dissolved at the level of the contract, and then you can return to your previous wife. If you're a Sunni Muslim, it's called nikah misyar, which is basically traveler's marriage. "We would never expect a man to be faithful to his wife when he has to travel and do business to faraway lands, so we let him have a relationship with a woman while he's traveling, but it's only during that time."
That's still practiced within certain sects of Islam today. God says that's a tragedy, whether you call yourself a Jew or whether you call yourself a Muslim or whether you call yourself a Christian and you just divorce and remarry and divorce and remarry and have serial monogamy. God says that's not the intention.
So, Jesus, in this Sermon on the Mount, is saying, "You've heard the law of Moses, the Ten Commandments, and then you also heard what Moses did because you weren't reconciling. You didn't remove temptation, so you treated your wife treacherously." It's interesting. We're going to get next week to where Jesus picks it up in the eighth, ninth, and tenth commandments, and he's saying, "You shall not bear false witness" (that's number nine).
He says, "Here's the reason you're not faithful to your wife. It's because you say, 'Well, if I make a vow and I didn't make the vow by evoking the temple or I didn't make a vow by evoking the name of God or I didn't make a vow by evoking the city of Jerusalem, therefore, it wasn't a serious vow, so I can break it.'" Jesus says, "No. Don't play these games with 'I swore by the temple' or 'I swore by Jerusalem.' Let your yes be yes and your no be no."
The reason you divorce is because you don't reconcile, because you're lustful, because you don't mean what you say you mean, and because you covet and want something else. Right in the middle of these commandments that we break, we have a breaking of relationship. Let me tell you, the very first casualty of sin was relationship.
The reason our marriages are not what they are meant to be today and the reason there's treachery and sadness in the land is because we're not kingdom people living with a kingdom ethic toward one another. We're acting murderously, and Jesus is here to correct it, because he loves us and wants it to go well with us.
Before I get back and explain what Jesus is going to say as he quotes and develops Deuteronomy 24… We're going to see another spot where Jesus is questioned about this. I want to take you one more place and show you something in Malachi 2:13-17. God is not a fan of ceremonial religion. Sometimes I'm asked to be a part of weddings, and they want to get married in a church, and I'm like, "Guys, you aren't committed to God. You're not committed to spiritual things."
"Oh yes, we are! We want God to bless our wedding."
"Okay. Well, God blesses your wedding when you're people who walk in his blessing. You're already involved in some activities that are a violation of God's intention for blessing for you."
"I know, but we want to get God to be involved."
"Let me just tell you something. God is going to be involved when you humble yourself, mourn over your sin, and say, 'Lord, I'm going to saddle up and ride with you,' and you hunger and thirst after righteousness. You're not doing that in your premarital living with one another. You're not seeking God. You're sleeping together or you're not committed to his level of purity. Why do you want God to bless it now?" They go, "Well, because we want God in our marriage." "Well, then get God in your single life."
We say this all the time. People don't have marriage problems; they have single people problems they carry into marriage. I just have this conversation with people who go, "Well, Todd, do we have to be as committed to Jesus as you if we're going to get married in a church?" I go, "No, you have to be committed to God for him to bless it. Let me ask you a question. Do you just want the spouse of your child to go through a public ceremony where they make vows and they do an American wedding, where they're serious about a wedding, when they really have no intention of being committed to the marital vows you think are appropriate?
Do you want them just to go through the order of service and then on Monday say, 'I don't care what I did. I just did that order of service because you wanted the order of service. I'm going to live the way I want after I get married'? Do you want that?" They go, "Of course not." I go, "Well, then what makes you think God is any different than you?"
God doesn't want to be invited to some order of service if there's no heart behind it. Watch. This is exactly what he says in Malachi 2:13-17. "This is another thing you do…" He's telling Israel, "This is why you're not experiencing my blessing. You guys are playing games. You have this truth engineering that is not truth at all."
"…you cover the altar of the Lord with tears…""O God, why aren't you blessing us?" "…with weeping and with groaning…""O God, why is our country falling apart? Why are we all so sad? You no longer regard our offerings or accept the fact that we go to church after 9/11 or we go to church even every week."
But we have a traditional view of what we do after we go to church, which is basically we explain away that God doesn't really want us to be kingdom people, so we don't truly live in relationship with him, and we kind of have a conduct that's inconsistent with the correction he gave us. Watch. Here's one example. He says, "You want me to give you an example of why I don't listen to your tears and your worship songs?"
"Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant." Watch what he says. By the way, this is one of the most difficult verses in the entire Old Testament to interpret here in verse 15, but I'll tell you what I think it means.
It's kind of a wooden translation, but it says, "But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit." What he's saying is, "If you had even just a little bit of the Spirit of God in you, you wouldn't do this to your covenant love." "And what did that one do while he was seeking a godly offspring?"
Again, it's kind of confusing, cryptic language. I don't know if it's because we've lost the meaning of an idiom for the day or some would say that maybe a scribe got something wrong and it could possibly mean it's because you no longer are one-flesh people, which wouldn't change the ultimate meaning.
What God basically is saying is, "Hey, listen. You're not going to have a godly offspring if you're not committed to a godly marriage. You don't have any remnant of the Spirit because you have truth-engineered what I meant by marriage. You make it just this thing you can break when it gets uncomfortable for you." Watch what he says.
"'Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth. For I hate divorce,' says the Lord** …'and him who covers his garment with wrong…'"** This is what it means. Do you remember in high school how you'd get a girlfriend, you'd take your letter jacket, and you'd cover her in your letter jacket?
What it basically is saying is "Yeah, you cover her in your letter jacket, and then you stab her to death and treat her treacherously, and your garment is covered with blood, because you're one flesh with her. You said, 'Come here. I'll protect you. You'll be mine,' and then you treated her treacherously."
Or even if it doesn't mean you put it on her, it just means when you murder your wife, when you speak poorly about your wife, when you don't reconcile with her, when you lust after another and you murder that relationship, you're just like anybody who gets involved with a murder. Her DNA and her blood is all over you.
You walk out, and you are a person who the whole world can see is not a man who treats a woman the way a woman should be treated. This is some tough teaching. He says right here, "Take heed to your spirit that you don't live this way. Don't say you're my people and not be committed to my love."
"You have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet you say, 'How have we wearied Him?' In that you say, 'Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and He delights in them…'""You think I am blessing people or you bless people who don't do what I say, and when you cry out to me, 'Where is justice, God? Why aren't you taking care of us?' I'm looking at you going, 'Where's justice when you take a vow and you don't fulfill it?'"
Can I just share this with you? This is relevant in this way. You can't drive around right now, today, in our city without coming across little rainbow flags everywhere. Let's just remember what a rainbow was originally meant to be. A rainbow was God's covenant sign that he would never destroy sinful humanity again by flood, but he did say, "I'm going to judge sinful humanity, this time not by flood but by fire. Don't call evil good. Don't redefine love."
As I told you, that's not just something the homosexual community has done. It's something we have done…we. Prayerfully not here, prayerfully not us, but too many Christians have done. I tweeted this out: "I'm driving around town. I'm walking to restaurants. I'm seeing Pride Month 2019 flags everywhere, and it helps my prayer life, because I pray for a land that calls evil good and good evil. We have an opportunity, church, to speak the truth in love. Hearty approval of wrong is not love." Then I put down Romans 1:32.
Romans 1:32 says, "…and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them." Watch what I said. "Please, before you hate me or 'Amen' me, read verses 29-31." Actually, we'll even go up farther than that. Before you go, "Amen. We're not going to give hearty approval to those LGBTQ people," there are some other things God doesn't want us to give hearty approval to.
Specifically, in verse 27, it says, "…men abandoned the natural function of the woman…" What's the natural function of a man with a woman? That he would cherish her and honor her and not be oppressive in his strength over her, that he would tell her he's committed to her and stay committed to her, that he would make a vow and keep it, that he wouldn't be murderous and lustful.
"…and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts…" That's not just, I think, homosexuality. That's men saying, "Hey, no-fault divorce." That's men saying, "Hey, send her out if she's indecent and get you another wife and leave her as a grass widow. Leave her as somebody you despise to kind of make her own way. Make her marry somebody else and re-covenant with another person when she was already covenanted with you. Make her an adulterer." That's indecent.
"…and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error." Don't just think AIDS. Don't just think suicide rates and drug use and abuse within the homosexual community. Think about the due penalty of our error because we have not held to a covenant view of marriage. They're both there. You don't believe me? Just watch what he starts to say.
In verse 28, it says, "And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind…" We're going to watch now. Here comes the depraved mind. "…to do those things which are not proper…" Here come the things which are not proper. "…being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil…"
That you would tell a woman you're going to be there and you're not there. You tell somebody you're going to love them until death part you and you don't do it. You're full of envy. "I want another wife." You're murderous and slanderous and strife-speaking and deceitful in your speech, with malice. You're gossips. "You should know what she's like. You would have divorced her too."
"…slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving…" Jesus says, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another." Aren't we glad God loves us in our infidelity? "…unmerciful…" Aren't we supposed to be merciful as we've received mercy? "…and although…"
See who the they is now? "…although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things…" Those things we just read, not just homosexuality, which is wrong. There are a whole lot of things the church has embraced as, "Yeah, just move on. God wants you to be happy." Well, the blessed way comes when we don't do the evil of destroying God's intention for marriage.
Watch this with me, folks. We can be grateful that there were some people who listened to Jesus speak, and they wanted to have a conversation with him about what he meant, so they questioned him. When Jesus was tearing through the Sermon on the Mount, he wasn't interrupted at this particular point, but the Pharisees, largely the persuasion of Hillel but also Shammai, when they heard that he said even the righteousness of the Pharisees wasn't enough, they went, "Hey, we're not going to change our tradition; we're going to kill you and your speaking of truth." And that's what they did. They came after him.
A little bit later, they went back, and they took this conversation Jesus had in Matthew 5:31-32… Actually, I need to finish reading that. "** Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce ***…"* I'm going to tell you something here, because it's going to come back up. Jesus says, "I say to you, this is the truth."
"…that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity…" The word there is porneia, which is illicit sexual activity. It's not just unfaithfulness in marriage. It could be with a prostitute. It could be before you're married. It could be anything that isn't God's intention for keeping the marriage bed undefiled.
It says when you leave a woman for any other reason than her adultery, you make her an adulteress. "…and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery." You're like, "Todd, are you telling me that Jesus says anytime you divorce a woman, unless she's already an adulteress, you divorcing her makes her an adulteress?" I'm going, "That's exactly what Jesus is saying."
Now watch this. I'll prove it to you. In Matthew, chapter 19, picking up in verse 3, it says, "Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him…" They weren't really looking for truth; they were trying to set him up to be accused of being against one of these two larger camps. So they come up and ask, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?"
Because Hillel thought, "Yeah! If she's indecent because she's loud and gained weight and is not as good-looking as that other decent woman, then you can divorce her." Shammai says, "No. No. Only if she's caught in the act of infidelity with a witness." "So, is it permissible to divorce a wife?" I want you to watch Jesus' response here. He has already told us that if you divorce a woman for anything other than adultery you're going to make her an adulterer.
I want you to be careful that you don't assume Jesus ever says if a woman commits adultery or a man commits adultery you have to divorce them. Nowhere in the Scripture are we ever commanded to divorce. The exception clause is not an expectation clause. Can I say that to you again? The exception clause is not an expectation clause. The expectation is reconciliation and remaining committed to the marriage covenant. That's what kingdom people do.
Watch this. "I'm going to love you the way Christ loves the church." How much does Christ love the church? Well, he'll never leave her or forsake her. Well, what if the church is unfaithful? What if the church is adulterous in its affections? Man, aren't we all? Aren't we glad God has an unfailing covenant love for us? "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another." This is a kingdom ethic for kingdom people.
Jesus' exception clause is because of the way society was set up back then, a woman whose husband left her was going to starve. She was going to be a widow and have no ability to provide for herself unless she married another guy. "When she marries another guy, you're making her commit adultery, because you left her because she no longer found favor in your eyes and was indecent. You're making that woman commit adultery."
The exception clause is not an expectation that you would leave her even if she was unfaithful. Now watch this. "Jesus, is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?" I'm going to read you Jesus' answer, and you tell me if you think the answer is "yes" or "no." Here's his answer: "Have you not read…" This is a classic Jesus response.
"Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two…" What God has made one, you can't un-one. "So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate."
What is his answer? "Jesus, is it permissible for a man to divorce his wife for any reason?" "No." God doesn't want that to happen. It's treacherous. Whoa! Follow-up question. Here's the second question in this little dialogue: "Well, if that's the case, then why did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?" Watch what Jesus says.
"Hey, listen to your own question. Moses didn't command you to divorce her. Moses, because you're sinful, oppressive people playing games and stealing and wife swapping, commanded if you send a woman away to tell why you sent her away. If it's because she's loud, gained weight, you like that other person more, then you don't stigmatize her by making it look like she's an adulteress when she's not. You write down why you're divorcing her. You tell the world it's because you're a treacherous, oppressive, lustful, irreconcilable man and that woman is a victim of your treachery."
Jesus would say, "Hey, marriage is mine. Divorce? That's on you. That's not my invention. All I did is when I saw you guys doing it because of your traditions I said, 'No, no, no. We're not going to do that. You're going to tell the world why you're doing it and not make women and children suffer under your little games.'"
He says, "Because of your hardness of heart…" The word for hardness of heart that would be in one word would be sin. "…Moses permitted…" He didn't command you to divorce. He commanded you to give a certificate of divorce when you did it and say why you sent her away. "…but from the beginning it has not been this way. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for [porneia] …" Again, that's not even infidelity. That means anything. If you want to be faithful, that could just basically mean…
Listen. We're all adulterers. Go back to Matthew, chapter 5, where Jesus says, "You've heard it said that you shouldn't commit adultery. I say to you if you look at a woman with lust in your heart, that's sexual immorality." Then Jesus comes back. If the exception clause is porneia, which is the Greek word that's there in Matthew 5 and also in Matthew 19, then everybody has permission to divorce, because all of us have lusted in our hearts.
Would you say that's an acceptable permission? Because you're dealing with a flawed human you can just walk away? We'd have divorces every five minutes. The language here he uses… "When you divorce her, except for the fact that she's already immoral, you make her an adulteress." In other words, it doesn't say she becomes an adulteress. You make her commit adultery. It's like a passive verb. You put it on her. You cover the garment in blood.
That woman is going to remarry, and she's going to un-one because you left her to become one with another. She has not already done that. You're making her do that in that society. Jesus says, "I want nothing to do with that. That's not my covenant love." Do you see this? I want to say again the exception clause is not an expectation clause. He's just saying, "This is just what's happening, people."
Now the disciples are listening, like, "What? What? You mean we're supposed to be committed all the way? Like, when we say we're going to love somebody, we're going to love them no matter what they do? Man, if that's the case, it's better not to marry." I'm like, "I'm so glad they said that." Right? Jesus hears his disciples, because the Pharisees are kind of done now, but the disciples go, "Hey, Jesus, question! If that's what we're getting into when we get married, it's better that we shouldn't marry."
Watch what Jesus does. He doesn't go, "Oh, well, boys, let me walk that back a little bit." He doesn't walk it back at all. Here's what he says: "Not everybody can accept this. Not everybody knows I'm a good King. Not everybody knows I want it to go well with you, so they get truth engineering going, and they find churches that are going to say, 'God wants you to be happy. Just move on. It's okay.' They find teachers in accordance with their own desire and lose all moral authority in society.
Look, guys. Some people are born… It's tragic. Because sin is in the world, some people are born and don't have fully developed sexual organs. We call them eunuchs or hermaphrodites. They're made that way, if you will, by God. It's a tragedy. In this broken creation, God is permitting that some people are born that way from their mother's womb where they can't function sexually. There are others who are made eunuchs by men."
In other words, typically, guys who had a harem who were living ungodly lives would put people to watch over the harem, and so they wouldn't mess with the harem they made them eunuchs, which is basically a steer, a castrated bull. Then he says, "And some are eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven."
They're not driven by their sexual desire or their need to go and satisfy their flesh in a relationship. No. They made a commitment to a woman that they would love her until death parts them, and when that woman breaks their heart, they're going to stay committed, just like Christ is committed to the church. That's the kingdom ethic. The world is going to go, "What kind of love is that?" and you're going to say, "Well, it's the kind of love God has for me in my unfaithful, adulterous heart." They go, "That's crazy." "Well, I'm the King's servant."
Jesus says, "He who is able to accept this, let him accept it." Do you see what Jesus is calling people to? He's basically saying, "If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. When you make a covenant commitment, make a covenant commitment."
Can I just say this to you? A couple of things. To my single friends, listen to me. Single friends, this is why we beg you to not just marry some guy because you meet him at The Porch or he carries his Bible to church. No. You want to find a guy who is already well married to God, somebody who has said, "You know what? I'm going to leave the world. I'm going to cleave to God. I'm going to hunger and thirst after righteousness. I'm going to become one with God. His will will be my will. His way will be my way."
You watch him be faithful in his relationship with God. You watch him, when he breaks the covenant of purity and honoring God, repent and seek forgiveness and be restored to God. You watch him love God and be well married to God, and then in the midst of that, if you're well married to God, the two of you can continue to pursue God together. That's the kind of marriage which will be a blessing to you.
That's why he says, "Oh, please, don't be unequally yoked. Don't just find some nominal Christian, because nominal Christians are 30 percent more likely to divorce than good pagans." It's why when I'm marrying couples and I'm walking them through premarital counseling, I say, "Hey, guys, first of all, let's just talk about your fidelity to God right now. How are you guys doing in your purity with one another?"
"Well, you know, we're struggling."
"Okay. What do you mean by struggling?"
It usually means, "Well, the world thinks it's ridiculous to be pure before you're married. You have to try it on before you really do it. We're not going to sleep together, but we're doing a lot. We're doing maybe more than we should."
I go, "Wait a minute. I thought you guys knew that the only thing that was going to make this marriage work was if you married somebody who was poor in spirit, who mourned over their sin, who said, 'God, I'm going to saddle up and ride with you and be gentle and meek and let you lead me,' who hungered and thirsted after righteousness. Do you guys think what you're doing is righteous?
If you don't, then why are you going to keep doing it? Especially why are you going to keep doing it and say you want God to bless your marriage? You're marrying somebody who doesn't want what God says is going to be the blessed way already." I say to couples all the time, "You just need to know you're marrying a girl who doesn't care what God thinks, and you're marrying a guy who doesn't care what God thinks. He's going to do what he wants to do."
That's why premarital sex is such a tell. Probably on the other side there are going to be some times you're not going to want them to do some things, but they're going to say, "Well, why does it surprise you that I'm not going to really do everything God wants me to do or now you want me to do, because in my previous marriage to God I didn't do what he wanted me to do and you didn't do it with me either, so now I'm just going to do what I want to do over here." Don't be surprised. It's likely going to show up again on the other side.
So, what do you do if you're struggling with that? You repent, you confess, you make no provision, you remove the temptation, you date in the daylight, you date in couples, and you move toward purity. You say, "I know the world would say it's okay for us to jack around, mess around, feel each other up, but God doesn't, and I want to show you I'm serious about God, and when I'm serious about God, you can be sure I'm going to be serious about not treating you treacherously."
Here's the other thing I do. By the way, if you haven't noticed yet, I'm a buzzkill to invite to your wedding. I just am, because here's what I'll do. When I'm going to marry a couple, I go, "Okay. Here are the vows: 'I, Todd, take you, Alex (my wife's name), to be my lawful wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, in sickness or health, and forsaking all others, I will keep you only to myself as long as we both shall live…unless you sleep with the mailman or you gain too much weight or you just nag me a little bit too much or…'"
Have you ever heard a guy say that? How about this? "I, Alex, take you, Todd, to be my lawful wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, in sickness and health, for better or worse, and forsaking all others, I will keep you only to myself…unless you just look at porn a little too much, unless you're mean, unless you raise your voice at me, and then I'm out." You've never been to a wedding where anybody put an exception clause to covenant love. No. They all sit there and say, "I will love you as Christ loves the church," and we make a mockery of God.
So, when I'm marrying couples, I say, "Let's just put it in. What's the thing that's going to make you feel like you can send her away, that she's indecent to you, that you no longer have to love her with Christ's unending love? Let's put it in your vows. Let's tell the world and God that that's all you're committed to." I have never had anybody take me up on it. They always go, "No, no, no. We want the Jesus church vows. We want those."
I'm like, "Me too, man. Me too, but I want you to be Jesus church people, because it will go well with you if you are. Are you two modeling that you're committed to that already? Then let's go. Let's run to the altar. Let's honor him." So, what do we make of all of this? What do we do? Let me run you through a few basic questions.
"What should I do if I'm contemplating divorce today, Todd? You don't know my story." Now we're going to get to your story. First of all, I would just say go to re|engage this Wednesday. It's an easy next step. By the way, that's true… The goal of marriage is oneness. The goal of marriage is not just being un-divorced. Being un-divorced is not kingdom success.
God wants you to cherish and honor and move toward each other in oneness. He wants your marriage to be a delight and an honor to him in the way you seek the welfare of one another. Go to re|engage. It's an easy next step. There is nothing we have not seen God restore when people get poor in spirit, pure in heart, merciful, peacemakers. God shows up.
If you're contemplating divorce, hang in there. Get help. There's hope. I know you don't believe me. I know you think your circumstances are really unique. I'm just saying hang on; it's worth it. "You don't know my story, Todd!" You're right. I don't know your story, but I've heard enough stories to see and to be convinced that there's no marriage that's outside of God's reach. "Well, you don't know my husband!" The moment you believe Jesus can't change your husband, you've become practically a nonbeliever.
I just want to say this. "What should I do if I'm being abused?" Get safe. Get safe immediately. It's not loving to let somebody abuse you. You should call it sin and treachery. That's what it is. You should remove yourself from the presence of that person. You should pray for repentance for that person. You should not go back to that person unless, as you walk with God's people, they are committed to repenting and reconciling, and make sure others see that.
Don't have the syndrome that sends you back to the batterer and back to the batterer and back to the batterer. You stay there committed and let God go to work, but don't stay there and be abused. You have to reject the lie that would say to you that you only have two options, which are to stay miserable and married or get divorced. There's a better way. There's another option.
"Well, Todd, what do I do if I've divorced and remarried?" Confess what you've done. Be very specific. It's adultery. Ask God to forgive you. Embrace the truth of what you've done and ask God's forgiveness. Do the same thing you did when you were unfaithful to God and you became a believer. Confess your sins. He is faithful and just to forgive your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness.
You have to embrace the really difficult truth that "I lived treacherously. I said one thing and I did another." Don't look for a loophole. "Is there an exception clause?" No. Here's the loophole: Get right with God through confession, repentance, grace, and humility. Own it. Call it what it is. Quit fighting. Quit justifying. Quit telling the story. Just go, "I didn't do what God wanted me to do. I tainted my King's name." Oh, how great the grace and love of God is.
"Does this mean God won't bless my next marriage? Does this mean God is going to ruin this marriage?" No. You're not blessed because you deserve it; you're blessed because he's a God who blesses us. God doesn't let us earn blessing. We are blessed when we walk in obedience and humility and wisdom with him. Obedience is the blessing.
"Should I divorce my wife I'm currently married to or my husband I'm currently married to?" No. You took a vow. Don't commit a sin to make a previous sin right. Just own it. Go back to your children, to those families, to your ex-spouse. Get on your knees and just say, "I didn't know how to love."
I talk to couples all the time that say the same thing to me. They say, "Todd, if I would have loved my first wife or my first husband the way I'm working diligently right now, as a follower of Christ, to love the second one, I never would have been divorced. I wouldn't have split holidays and confused kids." So, what do you do if you divorced and remarried? Own it.
"If I'm divorced and I'm considering remarriage, what should I do?" Here's my hope for you: that you would take some time off and lean deeply into Jesus and see his heart for marriage and reconciliation and that his grace is really a sustaining grace. Show people the sufficiency of Christ. Show people the love of God.
This is why, again, unless your name is Hosea, don't marry a Gomer. It's going to hurt you. But that's what Hosea did. Hosea was called by God, "You're going to marry this girl." Who's Gomer? Gomer was a girl who gave herself away to prostitution. She had children with other guys. Hosea even paid the prostitution fees. He supported her, and when she came back, he bought her back and redeemed her for the price of a gored slave.
The world said, "Hosea, what are you doing?" He goes, "I'm modeling for you God's love for Israel and God's love for his people." "That's crazy!" God's love for us is crazy. You go, "Todd, that's a really hard teaching." I just would say to you, "Not all men can accept this statement but those to whom it has been given." Jesus is saying, "I give it to my kingdom people."
"Todd, that's really hard." I know it's hard, but I want you to see that his grace is enough. I pray that you would learn to live by that grace. My prayer for you would be you'd fall so deeply in love with Jesus you'd start to say, "Lord, not my will but your will be done. I'm going to be a eunuch for the sake of the kingdom of heaven."
Some of my favorite people at this church, some of my heroes in the faith are folks who have been treated treacherously by their spouse and are fulfilling their marriage covenant vows when the whole world is saying, "No, man. God wants you to be happy. Move on. Move on. Move on." God does want you to be happy, but the blessed way is his love.
I would just say, after spending years, and I mean years with Jesus, if you're still convinced there's freedom there for you to get remarried, call it what it is. You're breaking the marriage vows. You're going to commit adultery, and you're going to go that direction. Just call it what it is. Don't play games. Being divorced does not prevent you from being a person who represents the King's heart.
Somebody might say, "Well, Todd, if I'm divorced, is this church for me?" Yes, this church is for sinners. I am so unfaithful to the Lord. I've been unfaithful to my wife with lust. So I haven't slept with a prostitute or slept with another man's wife. I've been unfaithful by the definition of Matthew, chapter 5. I'm a sinner who needs God's grace and mercy and prayer and redemption and a wife who's committed to me and spurs me on to love and good deeds.
When my tone is abusive, she says, "Todd, I'm going to widen the circle. We don't want to speak to each other that way." We're going to reconcile. Every day we're going to be peacemakers. We're going to be merciful because we've received mercy. We're going to get after this thing, and we're going to model Christ's unending love. Some of you guys have been treated treacherously, and you have a chance to model that love still, to have an alien love, a supernatural love, the love you said in Jesus' name you would have.
Father, I pray for my friends in this body, that we would not just throw out idle words and make ourselves feel good. This is a hard teaching, Lord, but I thank you that you are a gracious God and that we have everything necessary to love the way you have loved as we depend on and abide with you, but, Lord, apart from you, we can't do it. There's just no way.
Would you forgive us, though, for truth-engineering because it's just easier and more popular and even seems loving to not make marriage what you have made it? Lord, we repent. We see what you made marriage, and we see what it has done to kids. We see what it has done to our society. We've called evil good. Will you forgive us?
Would you help us to be kingdom people? Would you forgive those of us who have never been divorced and have never committed adultery but are not pursuing oneness? Would you restore a high covenant view of marriage, that we would run to oneness together and get on our knees and pray and seek your will for our lives?
For my single friends, Lord, may they leave this world and cleave to you and become one with you and never align themselves with anybody who's an adulterer in their intimacy with you. May they find somebody else whose heavy direction of their life is toward purity and righteousness so they can have the marriage you want them to have.
Help us to be your people. Help us to live with a kingdom ethic as your kingdom people. We love you. We thank you for grace. We need it all. Thank you that we're your church and you love us with an unfailing love, amen.