been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of
— Matthew 5:31
Studies consistently show that around 50 percent of American marriages end in divorce. Ever since “no-fault” divorce laws were passed in the 1970s, divorce rates have gone through the roof. There’s no doubt that making divorces easier has made them more common.
And you might be surprised to learn that divorces were just as common in Jesus’ day. Many Jewish rabbis taught that God approved of divorce … at least, when it was the husband’s idea. They taught Israelite men that there were all sorts of legitimate reasons for a husband to divorce his wife: if she was a lousy cook, if she lost her good looks and her nice figure, or if the husband found another younger woman who was more attractive than she was. According to many rabbis, ALL of these were acceptable and biblical reasons for a husband to divorce his wife.
But Jesus says, “NOT SO FAST!”
In his great Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5:32). Now, is Jesus saying what we think he’s saying? Is he actually saying that some wives who are having sex with their husbands are committing adultery with their husbands? Yes, he is. Is he actually saying that some husbands who are having sex with their wives are committing adultery with their wives? Yes, he is. How is that even possible?
In this passage, God says that a divorced woman must never remarry her first husband after being married to another man. This example of Jesus’ higher standard is actually piggybacking off of his previous example dealing with adultery: “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (v. 28). Long story short: The Pharisees believed they were obeying the 7th Commandment flawlessly. They were convinced that they did NOT commit adultery. But Jesus reveals that they were adulterers in their hearts because of their lust. And in verse 32, he reveals that they were adulterers with their bodies because, as they had sex with their new wives, they were cheating on their old wives whom they didn’t have God’s permission to divorce in the first place.
Jesus gives an expanded version of his teaching on divorce in Matthew 19:3-9. In this passage, Jesus takes his listeners all the way back to Genesis 2—the day God created marriage. Jesus reminds us that God’s original design and plan for marriage was for one man to be married to one woman for life. God would seal their wedding vows, and nothing short of death was to tear them apart: “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matt. 19:6).
Jesus gives us only one legitimate, God-allowed reason for a divorce: adultery. And the Apostle Paul gives one more God-allowed reason in 1 Corinthians 7:10-16: physical abandonment by a non-Christian spouse. However, if there is physical or sexual abuse of any kind in your marriage, you need to separate immediately. If your safety or your kids’ safety is at risk, get out. But separation doesn’t automatically mean that divorce is your next step. If there are NOT biblical grounds for divorce, you should work on your marriage—from a safe distance.
There are other questions that we don’t have time to answer: What if my husband is a jerk? What if my wife is an addict? What if my husband is in the clink? What if I don’t love her anymore? In this sinful world of ours, we are always looking for excuses for getting out of our commitments. But if you are married, I encourage you to be true to the vows you made on your wedding day to love, honor and cherish him/her for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. It won’t be easy, but with God’s help, you can successfully fight for your marriage.
Dane Davis is the Pastor
of Impact Christian Church. Please join us for our in-person worship service Sundays at 9 a.m. at
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