DUNCAN/God’s law vs. human tradition: Part III
Please in your Bible to Matthew 5:27-32 as we continue our study of the Sermon on the Mount. In Jesus’ day, there was a great deal of confusion and complexity to the teaching, even within the Synagogue, on the subject of divorce. And into that context, Jesus came and gave His instructions on marriage and on divorce. There have have been many who have read Jesus’ words here in Matthew 5 and have determined that Jesus is teaching that there is no divorce that is legitimate. On the other hand, there are others who have suggested that all remarriage is unbiblical. Still some will say that Jesus makes an allowance for divorcee here, but He makes no allowance for remarriage in this passage. While Jesus does not address everything that one could say about marriage, divorce and remarriage in this passage, His emphasis must be our emphasis. And so I would like to attend to several of the great emphases that Jesus gives us in this passage. First, our attitude to adultery reflects itself in our view of marriage. Secondly, our view and practice regarding divorce is a measure of our attitude to God. And thirdly, our view and practice of remarriage is a measure of our attitude toward God.
I. Our Attitude to Adultery Reflects Itself in Our View of Marriage.
Jesus says in verse 31, “It was said, whoever sends His wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce.” Now Jesus introduces that phrase, “it was said”, but the thing that He is referencing as being said, was not something that has been spoken in the annals of the ancient history in Israel. We know that this is, in fact, what was being taught by many of the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. They went to Deuteronomy 24, verse 1 and following, and said that what Moses was teaching there is that a man must give his wife a certificate of divorce if he is going to divorce her. And they emphasized that a man had the right to do anything he wanted with regard to divorce. They claimed that he could divorce his wife for any reason. And so in that context, Jesus attacks the Pharisees’ views of the seventh commandment.
And I want you to note just a few things about what Jesus does in these verses. First of all, the Pharisees were preoccupied with the issue of the grounds of divorce. Jesus, on the other hand, was preoccupied with the issue of the institution of marriage. The Pharisees were looking for the loopholes. But they did not take divorce seriously, ethically speaking. Jesus, on the other hand, takes divorce seriously. In fact, He calls unbiblical divorce adultery. It is a breaking of the seventh commandment, Jesus says. And so, having seen those things, and having seen that Jesus teaches that our attitude towards the seventh commandment reflects our view of the sanctity of marriage, let us look at two other things that Jesus teaches in this passage.
II. Our View and Practice Regarding Divorce is a Measure of Our Attitude to God.
In verse 32, Jesus says, “But I say to you that everyone that divorces his wife except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery.” Jesus there teaches that our views and practices regarding divorce are a measure of our attitude to God. It is not just something that is a private matter. It is not even something that is just a matter between two people. It is a spiritual matter, and it is a matter that concerns our attitude to God. Do you see what Jesus is doing? They had strong views against adultery. They thought that they were not guilty of it. And so He says, “Well, even if you are not committing adultery yourself, if you have a low view of divorce and remarriage, then you are involved in adultery.”
Jesus is speaking to a social situation in Israel where men would have been virtually the only one able to have a divorce. They would have been the only ones with the financial resources or the legal resources in order to have a divorce, and hence Jesus’ words do apply to all those who are engaged in divorce in our society even though His words are directed to men. He is not just zeroing in on the men, with no other application anywhere else. But what does He mean when He says, “I tell you that everyone who divorces his wife except for the reason of unchastity makes her commit adultery”? Jesus is saying that anyone who initiates an unbiblical divorce is breaking the seventh commandment and involving others in it. Jesus makes it clear that unbiblical divorce does not solve sin, it complicates sin. It doesn’t get you out of the difficult situation, it gets you into a more difficult situation. In fact, Jesus is saying more than that. He is saying that the seventh commandment requires us to uphold the sanctity of the marriage bond. Not merely to refrain from violating it, but actually to uphold the holiness of the marriage bond.
III. Our View and Practice of Remarriage is a Measure of Our Attitude Toward God.
Notice also in the second half of verse 32 that Jesus goes on to speak about remarriage. And again, He teaches that our views and our practices regarding remarriage are a measure of our attitude to God. He says, “whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” Many have interpreted that to mean that Jesus is saying that there is no remarriage that is biblical. But this is not what Christ is saying. The point of Christ’s statement is that our marital faithfulness reflects the heart. Our attitude to the marriage reflects our heart and it will come under divine scrutiny.
Jesus’ teaching about divorce and remarriage in this passage could be summarized as follows. First of all, Jesus makes it clear that God’s design is for permanent commitment in marriage. Notice also, in this passage, that Jesus teaches that unbiblical divorce complicates sin, rather than cures it. Jesus also makes it clear in the passage, that sexual immorality destroys the marital bond. It strikes so closely at what marriage is that it is a legitimate reason for ending a marriage. It is a legitimate ground on which to proceed with divorce. Finally, Jesus does not say that remarriage after a biblical divorce constitutes adultery. Jesus is speaking of someone who has sought an unbiblical divorce and that is what He means when He speaks in verse 32 about those who marry a divorced woman committing adultery. My friends, if we take seriously family values, we will take seriously our views of marriage and divorce and remarriage. May God make us holy in this area and thus cause us to be a witness to the world. And may He bind up the broken hearted and show His grace to them.