God’s Common Grace in Divorce

The following is an excerpt from the novel i have been writing over the past month. The theme of the novel is marriage, relationships, grace, and love. The temporary title of the book is, The Book of Love, but i’m contemplating officially calling it, Stronger than Sin. The chapter that follows has been heavily edited from its form within the novel to better fit the sermonic form of this website.

And yes, i wrote a whole sermon into my novel. It will play in at several plot points in the story, so it is necessary. Also, for clarification: the referred to below is a character from the novel, not me.

The technical exegesis that supports what follows can be found here: Until Death Do Us Part: Matthew 19:1-12 exegesis.

All Scripture references in the following excerpt are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Copyright © 2001 by Crossway.

Comment below with your thoughts on what follows.

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Today’s Text

Matthew writes in Matthew 19:1-12, “Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, ‘Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?’ He answered, ‘Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.’ They said to him, ‘Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?’ He said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.’ The disciples said to him, ‘If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.’ But he said to them, ‘Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.'”

The Main Point

Jesus Christ has been our focus throughout our time in Matthew’s Gospel. From the opening sentence, until the final promise in the book, it is all about Christ. If you’ve heard it from me, you’ve heard it from every man who stands behind this pulpit. If we don’t know Christ, we don’t know anything. If we don’t have Christ, we don’t have anything. If we don’t love Christ, we don’t love anything.

And today’s text is no difference. I am not interested in giving you man’s perspective on this volatile subject. I am not even interested in giving you one of many possible biblical opinions on this subject. I am called to preach the Bible. I am called to hold out Christ to you. I am called to tell you that there is grace for those who believe and wrath for those who refuse to believe.  I know better than anyone just how beautiful God’s gift of marriage is, and I also know firsthand how much more beautiful God’s grace is. We cannot ever take it for granted.

Last time I was up here we looked at the end of Matthew 18. It is no coincidence that Matthew arranged his letter to have Jesus talking about marriage immediately after forgiveness. Forgiveness is an irreplaceable ingredient for any successful relationship. When it comes to marriage, it is even more so. And when it comes to people we fellowship with in the church, it is necessary that we forgive people for their past sins regardless of what they might be, and allow them to move forward as new people in Christ.

Jesus makes us new. I’ll lay it out for you at the start. Sex is a beautiful gift of God intended only to be partaken of between a man and a woman joined together in marriage, and once joined together in marriage, that relationship is never to be broken.

This is why we must praise God for Jesus. I don’t care who you are, the plain fact of the matter is that none of us have lived up to God’s intention in this area. We all need Him. But before I tell you about Him, let me work through this text and further prove your need for Christ.

The Physical Compassion of Christ (19:1-2)

The first thing we see is in verses one and two. “Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there” (19:1-2).

What do we see Jesus doing here?

He is helping people.

Jesus is helping people. Jesus did not live His life in a way that made peoples’ lives more difficult.

What did we learn several chapters ago?

Jesus said that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. He came to help people burdened down with sin. He came to help people burdened down with guilt. He came to help people who admit their need. So here in chapter 19, we see Jesus healing people. Crowds came over, and He was healing them.

Jesus doesn’t turn people away. He lets them turn away by themselves, as we will see in a few weeks, later on in this chapter. Jesus tells the rich, young ruler exactly how to be accepted by God but he decides he doesn’t want God that much. We never read a story of someone wanting to be healed by Jesus and being turned away.

The worse the sinner, the closer they want to be to Jesus. A formerly sexually-immoral woman wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair. The formerly demon-possessed man who had been called Legion wanted to follow Jesus everywhere He went. Lepers—the most outcast of the outcasts—became bold and approached Jesus for healing. Jesus had a reputation for helping people.

And that is when we read verse 3.

The Law According to Jesus (19:3-6)

There is a group of people we have interacted with much in our study of this book. They can’t seem to leave Jesus alone. It is almost as if they exist to make the peoples’ lives as complicated and as hard as possible. In fact, Jesus proclaims as much Himself in Matthew 23:4, “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.” These people are the Pharisees.

In verse 3 of our passage this morning, we read, “And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, ‘Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?'” (19:3).

You need to know what was going on in the Jewish religious circle of this time period. There were two competing schools of thought. The followers of Rabbi Shammai believed that divorce was only allowed for sexual indecency, whereas the followers of Rabbi Hillel believed that divorce was allowable for any and every reason the husband could come up with. It all goes back to Deuteronomy 24:1 where we see the word “indecency.” Hillel understood it to be anything disliked. Shammai took it as sexual sin.

People in the crowd where Jesus is teaching and healing would probably have been followers of both. Some of one Rabbi. Others of the other. The Pharisees are here hoping to discredit Jesus by having Him pick a side. But Jesus is wise, and instead of choosing a side, He teaches God’s Word.

Don’t put Christ to the test. You can’t win against Him. Rather, submit to Him as Lord and worship Him as holy. Anything less is sin.

Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees’ question begins with a question for them. Jesus explains well in verses 4-6. “He answered, ‘Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate'” (19:4-6). Jesus goes all the way back to the book of Genesis to answer the Pharisees’ question, essentially saying that divorce is never right.

Divorce is never right.

But I can’t just leave it there, because Jesus Himself doesn’t leave it there.

There are several things to note in verses 4-6. First, God created male and female. When it comes to marriage, divorce, and sexuality, it is only to be practiced between a male and a female. To say anything else is to do murder to the text.

On that note, if a homosexual couple gets—for lack of a better word—married, they are certainly not married in God’s eyes, and as such, if one or both become believers in Christ, they can and should get legally divorced.

Second, marriage creates a one-flesh union. Think with me for just a moment. If a husband and wife are only one-flesh when they are being intimate, that would mean that the majority of the time they are not one-flesh. As such, one-flesh refers to the whole marital relationship. Jesus is quoting from the first marriage in history here, as recorded in Genesis 2:24. Jesus answers the Pharisee’s question by going all the way back to the beginning. If Adam had decided to divorce Eve, for instance because he blamed her for initiating the whole curse on humanity, there would have been no one else for Adam to marry. Divorce was not in God’s original plan.

Third, Jesus commands everyone listening to not separate what God has joined together. Jesus says that marriages are a work of God. God joins two people together. Marriage is God taking two people, throwing eternal super glue between them and locking them together. In God’s created intent, nothing will ever break that bond apart.

However, by Jesus commanding that we not separate what God has joined together, He is challenging us to protect our marriages. There are things that can break the one-flesh union. When Jesus commands this, He is telling us not to let these things enter our marriages.

When Jesus says to not separate what God has joined together, He is telling us to take whatever steps are necessary to protect our marriages. If we are not yet married, it means that we don’t mess around sexually. Messing around sexually before marriage only makes it easier for us to allow sin into our marriages later. And having an affair when you are married changes the one-flesh union into a multiple-flesh union. We must protect our marriages, and it starts when we are young.

And I mentioned just a second ago that marital affairs change the one-flesh union into a multiple-flesh union. At that point the trust that is implied by the one-flesh union has been broken, and it is where the conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees will now turn.

The Grace of Jesus (19:7-9)

Let’s read verses seven through nine. “They said to him, ‘Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?’ He said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery'” (19:7-9).

This is the heart of the sermon. If you have been wondering throughout the sermon when the goodness and grace of Jesus would take center-stage, look no farther. Jesus said in verse 6 that no one must separate what God has joined together. The Pharisees turn around in verse 7 and ask why Moses commanded people to divorce.

Look down at your Bibles. I need you to notice something. This is huge! The Pharisees ask why Moses commanded people to divorce their wives. Jesus clarifies the truth for them in verse 8. Look at what Jesus says. He says, “Moses allowed.” Moses never commanded people to get divorced. That would go completely against the divine intention of marriage. One man, one woman, one-flesh until death. Remember that Adam and Eve were the only humans who were on this earth. There was no one for either of them to remarry if they divorced. This is the created intent. What God has brought together, no one must separate. In creation, no one existed who could separate Adam and Eve’s marriage.

So what does Jesus say Moses allowed divorce for?

Hardness of hearts.

And now, to quickly go back to the divorce debate going on in Jesus’ time, Hillel’s view would work better with this answer. Remember that Hillel believed you could divorce for any and every reason.

So we need to understand the culture of Moses’ day. Back then women had much fewer rights than they do today. For a woman to be married to a man, she relied on him for her well-being. If he decided he didn’t like her, she couldn’t leave him. She didn’t have that right. She couldn’t initiate a divorce either. When Moses wrote about divorce in Deuteronomy 24, he is explaining God’s gracious provision for the helpless woman. The husband who decided he didn’t like something about his wife was supposed to divorce her officially rather than make her suffer through life being neglected by him. The hardness of heart is the bitterness that us men can sometimes develop in our hearts toward our wives. We must repent of this. We must kill it before it leads us to worse forms of sin, sins that cause us to break the one-flesh union that God has made us a part of.

We don’t have time to be bitter toward our wives. We are called to nourish and cherish them. We are called to love them like we love ourselves. If you decide in your hardness of heart to go out and have an affair, you are separating the one-flesh union that God brought together. If you decide to beat your wife in anger, you are actively harming the one-flesh union God brought together, and it will separate because of your actions. There is no time for bitterness, anger, or other forms of hardness of heart in our marriages.

Now again, I will reiterate that Jesus doesn’t say, “Moses commanded you to divorce your wives.” Jesus said that Moses allowed divorce. In the same way, divorce should never be the first thought in times of trouble, even in times of sexual infidelity within our marriages. Jesus allows it as a gracious concession to care for his people, especially the women of his people, but He does not say, “Thou shalt divorce your spouse if someone is cheating.” Remember, forgiveness was the topic in the previous text. Forgiveness is indispensable in any of our interpersonal relationships. We must be people who are quick to forgive.

For Christians, divorce makes it look like God could turn His back on His church. That’s a terrible message to send to the world about our eternally gracious God. So now, let’s look at how Jesus concludes His conversation with the Pharisees.

In verse 9, Jesus says, “And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

Do you remember Rabbi Shammai’s position?

All of a sudden, Jesus is sounding like He approves of that side of the debate more. Rabbi Shammai had said that people could only divorce for sexual indecency.

But we need to remember Moses really quickly. Breaking the seventh commandment—”Thou shall not commit adultery”—was punishable by death. This is the weakness with Shammai’s position. If the guilty party was to be executed, then no one needed a divorce. Once the adulterer or adulteress was executed, the other person would be free to remarry.

Jesus thinks that Hillel is more accurate historically, but He sides with Shammai as far as His view of divorce and remarriage. Sort of.

Again, Moses didn’t command divorce, and Jesus doesn’t either. Moses specified death for breaking the law, per God’s decree, but Jesus comes on the scene and says, “Look to Me. The death penalty for a believer’s sin will be swallowed by Me, and the death penalty for an unbeliever’s sin will await them at the day of Judgment.” Christ graciously reneges the death penalty for adultery and says instead that as long as sexual sin is the reason for the divorce, He allows remarriage for the innocent party.

A Clarifying Parable (19:10-12)

The disciples understood the weight of what Jesus said. They, showing their usual hard-heartedness, speak in verse 10. Read it with me. “The disciples said to him, ‘If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry'” (19:10).

You see, the disciples had grown up being taught that divorce was always an option no matter what. Both Hillel and Shammai were equally regarded, so it didn’t matter which one’s argument was preferred. The simple fact of the matter is that Hillel allowed for a lot more leniency, so more people took his view. The disciples were no different. When Jesus tells them that only sexual immorality is allowed to initiate a divorce, and even then it is not commanded that people divorce, the disciples say—like many single young people today—”Let’s just not get married.”

Before we get into Jesus’ actual words of response, I can’t miss pointing something out to you: The disciples recognized Jesus’ teaching as authoritative, even though they didn’t like what they heard. Jesus said, “The only reason for divorce is sexual sin within the marriage,” and the disciples get it. They want to follow Jesus’ teaching on the subject instead of anyone else’s. They know other peoples’ counsel on the subject is easier to follow, but they follow Jesus, and they want to obey His words instead of anyone else’s. So they ask a clarification question of Jesus: “Should we not get married then?”

And I must ask you this question this morning: Do you believe Jesus’ words over anyone else’s?
Do you seek to obey Jesus’ words over anyone else’s?

When Jesus says, kids, “Obey your parents,” do you do it?
When Jesus says, wives, “Submit to your husband,” do you do it?
When Jesus says, husbands, “Sacrifice yourself for your wife,” do you do it?
When Jesus says, singles, “Flee from sexual immorality,” do you do it?

The world might have more attractive counsel for us to follow, but we are not called to obey the world. We are called to obey Jesus.

Now, the simple fact of the matter is that none of us obey Jesus perfectly. And if you give me just another few minutes, I will get to that point. But first, we need to understand the answer Jesus gives to the disciples.

In verses 11-12 we read, “But he said to them, ‘Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it'” (19:11-12).

Jesus tells the disciples right off the bat that not everyone can accept their statement. Not everyone can go through life without being married.

Why is this?

We were created for companionship. As is very clear in Genesis 2, this companionship has a sexual component. If it did not, God could not have commanded that we fill the earth and subdue it. However, as Jesus here says, there are some very special people—who are extremely rare—who do not feel the need for sexual companionship. The Apostle Paul was one of these people according to 1 Corinthians 7.

Then Jesus describes three types of eunuchs to explain everything He has said up to this point in Matthew 19:1-12. Some people are born eunuchs. Some are forcefully made eunuchs by other people. Some make themselves eunuchs.

Now what is a eunuch?

A eunuch is a person whose sexuality has been removed.

And in our sermon today, how many types of people have we seen?

Starting most recently, there is the single person who has no sexual desire, there is the single person who has sexual desire, there is the person divorced for biblical reasons, and there is the person divorced for unbiblical reasons.

The eunuchs who have been born eunuchs are those people in the church who are single, have never been married, and who—for lack of a better phrase—have the gift of celibacy. Their lives will not feel empty by remaining unmarried for the remainder of their life.

The eunuchs who are made that way by people are those people in the church who disregarded counsel to the contrary after being saved by God’s grace, and divorced their spouse for a less than Biblical reason. These people’s marriages have not been annulled in the eyes of God, and as such to remarry is to be an adulterer. Therefore, Jesus tells us that their sexuality has been removed from them.

This leaves two types of people. Those never married, and those divorced because their spouse was sexually unfaithful. These people have a choice. They can either marry, or they can choose to remain single and promote the good of the Kingdom of God—the church—on this earth.

Now let me just say a word of clarification. There is no reason to think that you can’t promote the Kingdom of God as a married person. There are some people who would probably better promote God’s Kingdom as married than as single.

Jesus is simply saying that if you are single, whether by divorce because of an unfaithful spouse, or because God has not yet graciously given you a spouse, consider whether or not your life might be better spent in full-time, uninterrupted service for the church.

The Perfect Husband

But, at this point, I would be remiss if I failed to point you back to Christ. You see, none of us hold Christ up as highly in our eyes as we should. None of us obey Him as well as we should. None of us can do relationships properly apart from Him. Even within the walls of this church there are people who have been divorced, whether for biblical reasons or unbiblical reasons, whether before Christ or after Christ. We must extend forgiveness and grace to these people. If they fall into the category of people who could remarry if they so desire, we must pray that if it’s God’s will, He would bring them a spouse. The Christian life is tough enough apart from added, man-made rules and regulations. We need Christ. We need to remember Christ.

He died for everyone who places their faith in Him. He died for the person who slept around before meeting Him. He died for the person who was prideful in their perfect marriage. He died for the person who initiated a divorce for a foolish reason. He died for the person who is on the sad and lonely side of a biblical divorce. We must place our faith in Jesus. We must trust Him. If we trust our own goodness we are doomed. Only Christ can save us. Let’s seek His face today, and be quick to forgive one another, whether in our own household or in the household of God. Holding grudges against people, or even simply thinking less of people who failed to live perfectly shows that we haven’t fully comprehended the grace that Christ showed us. He loved us! He died for us! We must believe in Him. Believe today!

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In this with you.

Soli Deo Gloria
Solus Christus
Sola Gratia

Thanks for reading.

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