TOUGH STUFF: Divorce

Sunday, June 20th, 2010
Sermon Series: Tough Stuff

Tough Stuff - Difficult Truths from the Bible

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Divorce

Tough Stuff

Jesus corrects the Jews’ view of marriage, showing us God’s standard and the consequences of divorce.

Christ corrects all low views of marriage (Matthew 5:31)

People misunderstand God’s intent (you have heard that it was said) Deuteronomy 24:1-4

People misunderstand God’s design in creation (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:3-6)

Christ calls you to God’s standard for marriage (Matthew 5:32)

God hates divorce, not because every divorce is sinful, but because sin lies behind every divorce as the root cause (Malachi 2:16)

Christ clarifies that the intent of Deuteronomy 24:24 was for adultery, evidenced in Jeremiah 31, Matthew 1:19 (Matthew 5:32, 19:8-10)

Later through Paul, God permits separation due to Christ (1 Corinthians 7:12-16)

Christ reveals the painful consequences of divorce (Matthew 5:32)

Your sin affects others–notice that Jesus and Paul assume remarriage

Your unrepentant sin separates you from God

Therefore, take your vows seriously (Matthew 5:33-37)

Give clear counsel to others

Fight hard to display Christ’s love in your marriage

Today we’re going to be focusing on marriage, divorce and remarriage.  These can be touchy subjects in today’s world–it may be painful to you, or if not,  possibly you’ve become calloused.

Presently across the US, one in four people have been or are presently divorced.  Some of you here today fall into that category.  Most of you know someone in your immediate family who has been divorced.  Statistically, every person has a 40-50% chance of being divorced sometime in their lifetime.  And the stats go up quickly if this is your second or third marriage.

Currently, over 11 million people (4-5% of our population) live together with an unmarried partner.  Just under half of those have kids living with them.  Over 50% of current marriages are preceded by a period of cohabitation.  And about a third of all babies born are to unmarried women.

Within marriage, 15% of women and 22% of men have had extramarital affairs.

A couple years back, a new line of greeting cards was in the news, called the “Secret Lover Collection”–they are cards designed with messages for those in an adulterous affair.

Currently, there is a court battle over Proposition 8 in California–an amendment  by the people to the state constitution to define marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman.  The opposition is arguing to the courts that this prop violates the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment and should be eliminated so that same-sex marriage can be legitimized.

Can we agree that our national view of marriage is in the toilet?  Adultery, homosexuality, premarital and extramarital sex are some of the pillars of our narcissistic culture.  The need of our time is for strong Christian marriages that reflect the glory and design of God.

But it’s important to understand that the prevalent, low view of marriage is not a new tragedy.  It’s not something that recently developed in the last 20, 50 or even 100 years.  Instead it closely mirrors the time and age of the New Testament.

In Jesus’ day among the Greeks, the divorce statistics were somewhat lower,
but the abortion rates and extramarital sex stats were comparatively through the roof.  The Greeks had a very low divorce rate, and in fact had no formal, legal divorce process.  This was because the duties of a wife were to clean the house and bear legitimate children.  Men found their sexual pleasure outside of the home and so didn’t bother to divorce their wives.  Fornication, adultery, homosexuality, pedophilia, and prostitution were, in fact, more prevalent in the Greek culture than in ours.

Among the Jews, things were only slightly better–they knew that unrestrained, extramarital sex was against the law, so the Jews did not have many affairs.  Instead, they had a much higher divorce rate.  To the Jew, the woman was viewed much like a slave, and it was just as easy to be rid of them.

Here’s the foundation for the problem among the Greeks and the Jews.  Marriage was all about self.  Your wife doesn’t please you–be done with her.  Your husband is never home–take a lover.  You lead separate lives?  The joy of married life has worn off?  Look elsewhere–look to someone else.  Really not that different than today.

Divorce had long been common in Israel.  The first mention in the whole Bible about divorce is in Deuteronomy 24, and what’s interesting about it is that it acknowledges that divorce was already being practiced.

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, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house, and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man’s wife, and if the latter husband 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 dies who took her to be his wife, then her former husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be his wife, since she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance.” (Verses 1-4)

What we have here is acknowledgement that divorce was already taking place in the time of Moses.  God’s purpose here is to put boundaries and restrictions on the Jews’ practice of divorce.  The big question interpretively is found in verse 1–what is meant by “some indecency”?  That is the question that the Jewish rabbis argued over.

In all matters of Jewish law, there were two schools–the school of Shammai, or the strict, severe, austere school, with a history 100 years before Jesus, and the school of Hillel, the liberal, broad-minded, generous school, with a very recent history.

Shammai said “some indecency” meant sexual infidelity–“Let a wife be as mischievous as the wife of Ahab,” they said, “she cannot be divorced except for adultery.”  (See Jezebel, Ahab, & Naboth in 1 Kings 21)  Under Shammai there were no possible grounds for divorce except adultery or sexual impurity.

Hillel defined “some indecency” in the widest possible way.  They said it meant that a man could divorce his wife if she spoiled his dinner by putting too much salt in his food, if she went in public with her head uncovered, if she talked with men in the streets, if she was a brawling women, if she spoke disrespectfully of her husband’s parents in his presence, if she was troublesome or quarrelsome.

One rabbi said it meant that a man might divorce his wife if he found a woman whom he considered to be more attractive than she.

So you had both of these schools–take a guess which most people sided with?

They went with Hillel’s interpretation–though more recent, it had become the more popular view among the Jews to whom Jesus ministered.  And it was grounded in a low view of marriage–viewing marriage for personal benefit.  And in his three years of public ministry, Jesus could not let this go unmentioned.  He repeatedly addressed marriage and divorce.  Jesus corrected all low views of marriage, showing us God’s standard for marriage and the consequences of divorce.

Turn in your Bible to Matthew 5:31.  We’re going to dig into some of Jesus’ words about marriage and divorce.  In Matthew 5, Jesus is teaching the disciples and other followers the true design of God for marriage.  There are some for whom these words will be painful.  I have no desire to inflict pain on you.  Just talking about divorce can make you upset, sad or mad–or all three at the same time.

Divorce is much like amputation–something that used to be a part of you is no longer there, and you still feel the loss and remember the pain.  God has you here to hear and be challenged by His Word.  This is tough stuff.

On a similar passage in Mark 10, John Piper wrote this:

“Why does Jesus say this?  Doesn’t he know that in his audience and this audience are people who are divorced and remarried?  Parents of people who are divorced and remarried.  Children of people who are divorced and remarried.  Doesn’t he know this will hurt?  I think he does know that.  I think he cares about that.  There are few things that hurt more than the break-up of a marriage.  It is far more painful than the death of a spouse.  And does much more damage to all concerned.  Jesus knows that.”

Out of love for you, Jesus wants you to have a right understanding of marriage and even of divorce.  So let’s see what Jesus says.

1)  Christ corrects all low views of marriage

Matthew 5:31-32 say, “And it was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce;’ but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

In the Sermon on the Mount, there is a pattern that begins in verse 21 and extends to the end of the chapter.  Jesus repeatedly challenges their traditions which had supplanted the law.  He states, “You have heard that it was said . . . but I say to you . . .”

In this passage, He is correcting their view of marriage and saying that they have misunderstood the Law, specifically Deuteronomy 24:1-4.  The rabbis had totally taken liberty with what Scripture actually said.  They misunderstood Deuteronomy 24 and its purpose.  They wrongly read this law as a command about the process.  Most concluded, with Hillel, that a man could divorce his wife for anything that displeased him, so long as he gave her a certificate of divorce.

A)  People misunderstood God’s intent (you have heard that it was said)  Deuteronomy 24:1-4

They had misunderstood the law of God and God’s design for marriage.  This law was given as a restriction on divorce and a warning against acting rashly or hastily.  The Jews had missed it–they believed the same lie as people do today.

They thought the greatest concern in marriage was their happiness.  If they weren’t happy, if their spouse wasn’t bringing them happiness, then divorce was required so they could have another go at it with someone else.  Have you bought into that lie?  Have you misunderstood the purpose of marriage?

There is a huge chasm between God’s design for marriage and our vision of it.  A faithful, monogamous marriage has been God’s plan for man and woman since the very beginning of time.  God fathered and gave away the very first bride.  Marriage was His idea.  He designed it to be a “leave and cleave” process.  Marriage is not official simply because they exchanged vows or consummated the relationship.  Genesis 2:24 says that God joins them together.  God is at the very heart of every marriage.

The central purpose of marriage is God’s glory.  Personal happiness is a by-product, not the goal.  Staying married is more than about staying in love.  Marriage is founded on more than emotion.  Deuteronomy 24 was to be a guard against a heavy divorce rate.  It was to limit the practice of it.

The Jews, just like us, misunderstood God’s intent.  They took it as an endorsement, and that’s because they had misunderstood God’s design in creation.

B) They misunderstood God’s design in creation (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:3-6, Ephesians 5)

We see this most clearly in Matthew 19.  Here again, later in Christ’s ministry some Pharisees approach Jesus and begin to ask Him about divorce again.  Their purpose was not to get at the truth, but to test Him.  Let’s look at Matthew 19:3-8:  “And some Pharisees came to Him, testing Him, and saying, Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause at all?’ And He answered and said, ‘Have you not read, that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh“? Consequently they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.’ They said to Him, ‘Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?He said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart, Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.’”

When questioned about the lawfulness of divorce, Jesus answers that they had misunderstood God’s design in creation.  Jesus takes us back to Genesis 2:24 and the first marriage instituted by God.  He says that in marriage, a man leaves his parents and cleaves to his wife.  For “cleave”, your Bible may have “be joined to” or “be united” or “hold fast.”  That Hebrew word, represented by a variety of English terms, refers to a permanent union.

Have you ever super-glued your fingers together accidentally?  Though it feels like it, that is not a permanent union.  Nail polish remover will unstick them.  But here the word speaks of a permanent union–one that cannot be dissolved.  It’s like applying PVC glue to sprinkler lines.  Once the glue has been applied and the pipes joined, there is nothing you can do to break it.  The plastic has fused together.  No amount of nail polish remover is going to weaken it.

That was God’s design for marriage–through thick and thin–in sickness and health–in wealth and poverty–in joy and in sorrow, you are faithful as long as you both should live.  When that covenant is made between a man and woman, God joins them together, permanently and indissolubly.  Because God is in the center of it, Jesus says in Matthew 19:6, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”

I like how John Piper put it, “Marriage is an image of the covenant commitment between Christ and the church for whom he died. To walk away from marriage for another relationship is not just about marriage, but about Christ, and about God. What God has joined together in man and woman, in Christ and church, do not separate. God will never separate Christ and his church. Let your marriage tell the truth about that. Don’t lie to the world about the covenant between Christ and the Church. God joined this. Don’t separate it–even an image of it.”

The Jews had misunderstood the law of God as it relates to divorce.  And they had misunderstood the design of God for marriage seen in creation.  They had a low view of marriage.  Have you fallen into this trap?  Many people have.  Many Christians have.  They believe that marriage is designed for their pleasure rather than God’s glory.  Their duty then is to pursue their own greatest joy, rather than making their marriage into a living picture of Christ and His bride, the Church.

The man stops dating his wife.

The woman concentrates her attention on the kids.

One or both of them pursue work as if it was a new lover.

Decorating the home becomes the focused attention of the woman.

Basketball, music, playing video games, or some other hobby is the new passion of the man.

Pursuit of their own joy is the great pleasure of their life.

Marriage was a mile-marker and failed to provide the continued affirmation that they needed.

This type of low view of marriage is what Jesus is correcting in Matthew 5:31.  Then in verse 32 . . .

2)  Christ calls us to God’s standard for marriage

Matthew 5:31-32 says, “And it was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce’; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

So, in contrast to the low view of marriage prevalent in Jesus’ time and ours, Jesus calls us to a high standard of love in marriage.  He states unabashedly that divorce was not the intent of the law.  In contrast to the easy, no-fault divorce contracts of that day and now, Jesus says that marriage is meant for a lifetime and that divorce is to be rare.

At the root of this is His knowledge that God hates divorce.  And you know from raising children, that “hate” is a strong word.  Instead, we caution our children to say you don’t like something, or that it’s not your favorite.  But in Malachi 2:16, God uses the strong word–He says that He hates divorce.

A)  God hates divorce

Malachi 2:15-16 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, the God of Israel, ‘and him who covers his garment with wrong,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.’”

Now a few decades ago, this passage was used as the basis for socially rejecting divorcees, and that is not right.  God’s intent was not to make us hate all people who’ve been part of a divorce.  Notice in Malachi 2 that divorce is hated because of the wrong done.  Divorce is not hated because every divorce is sinful.

Matthew 1:19  Joseph, a righteous man, was going to secretly divorce Mary for being pregnant out of wedlock, and no condemnation of his plan is uttered.  The angel doesn’t appeal to him because his divorce would have been sinful.

Jeremiah 3:6-8  God issues to Israel a certificate of divorce for her spiritual adulteries, done to incite Judah to faithfulness, but failed.

So clearly, not every divorce is sinful.  God hates divorce because sin lies at the root of every divorce as the cause.

Joseph’s divorce from Mary would have been due to her supposed adultery.  God’s divorce from Israel was due to her adulterous relationship with foreign gods.  Not every divorce is sinful, but sin is behind every divorce.  Marriage is meant to last for a lifetime, and God does hate divorce, but sometimes He permits it to happen.  Nowhere in all of Scripture, though, does He command it, even for adultery.

Let’s look more at the adultery clause in Matthew 5:32 . . . but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

B)  Christ clarifies that the intent of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 was for adultery  (Matthew 5:32, 19:8-10)

The word “unchastely” may be translated in your bibles as “sexual immorality” or “marital unfaithfulness.”  It means simply “sexual infidelity”–violating your vows to have singular affection for your spouse.  Context tells us that it speaks of someone in the married state, so general “fornication” isn’t so much in view as what we typically label “adultery”–having an extra-marital relationship.

This was the intent of God’s words in Deuteronomy 24:1-4.  The only license that God gave Israel for divorce was for cases of adultery.  This was true of Joseph and Mary, and this was true for God and Israel.  Those were cases where divorce was permissible–not commanded, but permitted.

We see this again in Matthew 19:7-10.  The Pharisees had heard Jesus rebut their low view of marriage, so they try to argue from the law.  They bring up Deuteronomy 24:1-4 thinking, “Aha! We have him!”  “They said to Him, ‘Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?’  He said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart, Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.  And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.’”

The Jews had misinterpreted the law about divorce as a command.  We see that in verse 7. Why did Moses command this?  Jesus corrects them in verse 8.  He says that Deuteronomy 24 was written because of their hardness of heart.

Divorce happens because people are hard of heart.

Because someone was unwilling to forgive . . .

Because people aren’t always repentant when confronted . . .

Because our hearts can be adulterous . . .

. . . divorce was permitted.

But from the beginning, it has not been this way.  In other words, “McFly!  That’s not how God designed marriage!”

The Pharisees spoke of divorce as a command.  Jesus says that it’s permitted, not commanded.  Understand this . . . divorce, even when permitted, is not commanded.  You don’t have to leave your spouse.  The fact that you don’t trust him right now doesn’t mean you have to leave.  The fact that your feelings of love have been gone for years doesn’t matter.  Just because you lack hope right now, that doesn’t mean that divorce is your best choice.  Never is divorce commanded, even in cases of adultery.

Now Jesus does say clearly and directly that the only permission the Law gives for divorce is adultery.  In that culture, and in ours, this is not an easy saying.  This one goes down hard.

What about when your wife is utterly contentious and rebellious?

What if he or she is into drugs or gambling and racking up huge debts?

What if your husband is sometimes violent towards you?

What if he hits the kids?

What if your wife is verbally abusive?

What if he’s always traveling and never there, or emotionally distant?

Jesus says that divorce is not the answer.  In fact, divorce isn’t even an option for the believer.  You may struggle with this, but realize that you’re in good company.  Look at Matthew 19:10,The disciples said to Him, ‘If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.’”

Now for some of you, this is not an option–it’s too late.  But their response shows  they recognized right away the challenge of Jesus’ words.  Marriage is designed to be for a lifetime, regardless of its difficulties and challenges.  The only viable cause for divorce according to the Law was for adultery.

Jesus is calling Christians to live different than the world.  He wants you to display God’s standard of love in marriage.  Now, later through Paul, God also permitted divorce under one other condition, unique to believers.

C)  Later, through Paul, God permits separation due to Christ  (1 Corinthians 7:12-16)

This is Paul’s great chapter on relationships.  But before we start, I want to show you something important in the text–in verse 10, Paul says, But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband (but if she does leave, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not send his wife away.”

Notice the little phrase in verse 10, “I give instructions, not I, but the Lord.”  This is important.  Paul is not claiming immediate, divine revelation for these words.

Instead, he’s using the typical Greek style of the day.  He’s referring to Jesus’ teaching on divorce during his earthly ministry (Matthew 5, 19, etc.).

Then he says in verse 12, “But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, let him not send her away.”  Now this is the reverse.  Paul is saying this part is new–it’s from me and not something Jesus addressed.  This new command by Paul was not covered under previous revelation.

Jesus in the past taught that believers were to remain married.  Now Paul speaks to a new situation that had never existed before.  He’s going to talk about marriages where one person is a Christian and the other one isn’t.  In Israel, a Jew married a Jew.  Cases of Jew-to-Gentile marriages were exceedingly rare.  But now with the advent of Christianity, Jews and Gentiles are being saved, but husband and wife don’t always become Christians at the same time.

And it is to this situation that Paul writes in verses 12-13.  “But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, let him not send her away.  And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, let her not send her husband away.”  Paul tells those who became believers and found themselves unequally yoked to remain married.  Don’t try to get out of it.

Look at verse 14, “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy.”  In other words, allow God to use you in the life of your unbelieving spouse so that he or she experiences the influence of holiness (that’s the meaning of v.14).

He goes on to say in verse 15-16, “Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband?  Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?”

Now here’s the new revelation from God through Paul–if an unbelieving spouse refuses to live with a believer, then let him leave.

Implied in this, and made clear in 1 Peter 3:1-4, is that the only cause for divorce should be your quiet faith and unwavering obedience to Christ–not because you’re mean, bitter, overbearing, contentious, always finding fault, or even due to overzealous evangelism.  If you’re like that, and your spouse pursues divorce, you have liability.  Your sin is part of what’s causing that divorce.

But if a Christian’s unbelieving spouse pursues a divorce because they cannot tolerate your faith, then you are not under bondage to remain married.  You are free to be divorced.  God permits this.

So here’s the short version.  God designed marriage to be lifelong.  He never commands divorce, but does permit it in cases of adultery or when an unbelieving spouse refuses to live with you because of your faith.  Christ has called us to a high standard in marriage.  Obedience in this realm makes our marriages reflect God’s design and glory, as spoken of in Ephesians 5.

Jesus has corrected the Jews’ view of marriage–He’s shown us God’s true standard for marriage.  Now finally in verse 32 of Matthew 5 . . .

3)  Christ reveals the consequences of divorce

Matthew 5:31-32 says, “And it was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce’; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” He says that those who divorce for unbiblical reasons are guilty of leading others into sin.

Typically, we think of the children and the grief and pain that they go through in divorce.  They definitely do suffer for it, but Jesus’ concern expressed here is not for the children, but for the parents.  It’s for you.  Let’s pretend that a guy gets a divorce because his wife spends money as fast as she breathes air.  Well, Jesus assumes remarriage will happen.  And he says that the woman and her new man are going to commit adultery on their wedding night.  The divorcee and the new husband both commit adultery.  The one man’s sin has caused sin in the life of two others (for which they are accountable), but for which he is also culpable.  So his sin begets other sin.

Their remarriage is sin because, in God’s eyes, that divorce was not valid.  He does not acknowledge it.  It may have taken place legally in the state system,
but spiritually, that covenant still exists in the eyes of God.  That marriage bond was not broken in his eyes.  He didn’t permit their vows to end.

Likewise in Matthew 19:9, we see Jesus address the initiating party.  “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”  Forcing an unbiblical divorce results in your remarriage to another being sin before God.  If you, as a believer, legally divorce your Christian spouse for a reason other than adultery, then you’ve sinned by taking another believer to court (according to 1 Corinthians 6).  And your divorce is sinful before God, so that any remarriage on your part or your spouse’s part is viewed by God as adultery.

I do not say that lightly, but I want you to understand how clear Scripture is on this.  An unbiblical divorce has lasting consequences.  An unbiblical divorce does not keep you from further sin, but instead multiplies sin exponentially.  So what do you do?  You may be someone to whom this applies directly.

1)  First, let me say that if your divorce happened before you came to Christ, then Jesus’ words here are not for you.  Paul made clear in 1 Corinthians 7:10-12 that Jesus’ teaching on divorce dealt with cases where two believers were married.  If you were not a Christian at that time, then you are guiltless.

Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5:17 should be applied.  “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”  If you’re in this state and have questions, then feel free to come talk to me.

2)  If you were both Christians at that time, then you need to repent by acknowledging your sin before God and to that other person, and asking forgiveness of them and of God.  If neither of you have remarried, then you need to pursue reconciliation and remarriage.  This is the clear teaching of 1 Corinthians 7:10-11.  You are not free to marry another.

If one of you has remarried, you still need to pursue peace with that other person–not to reestablish that relationship, but to seek forgiveness from God for what happened and from them, if you have not already done so.  This will be difficult and painful–repentance often is.

3)  If you or your spouse has remarried, then all opportunities for reconciling the marriage are past.  You still need to pursue peace and forgiveness as Romans 12:18 and 1 Corinthians 7:15 call us to, but realize that if one party has remarried, the other party is free to remarry.

4)  And if your divorce was Biblically permitted (due to adultery or Christ), then you are free to be remarried.  In fact, Scripture assumes and encourages remarriage in such cases.  I know that I haven’t exhausted all the possibilities and “what if’s”, but let me encourage you, that if you still have questions, you can talk to an elder.

Marriage is designed to be a lifelong commitment, given as an illustration of God’s covenantal love for His bride.  If you’ve been thinking about divorce, let me plead with you–stay together and work it out for the sake of Christ and His love for the church.  Your marriage is a picture of Christ’s love for the Church.  Don’t mess up that message to the world.  The kids may not be enough to keep you together.  You may not feel like there’s much hope left for the future.  But Christ can change things–don’t give up.

Jesus wants you to abandon any low, self-focused view of marriage, and embrace God’s standard for marriage.  He wants you to understand the abiding pain and consequences of divorce.  It literally is like an amputation.  A part of you ceases to exist.  Avoid it at all costs.

Now I know that many of you have strong, vibrant marriages, and you seek to display the love and grace of God through them.  What application do Christ’s words on divorce and remarriage have for you?  Though there are more, let me give you three clear applications to consider.

a)  Take your vows seriously

I do not think it’s an accident that Jesus’ next warning is about oaths and vows (Matthew 5:33-37).  We must take our words seriously, and nowhere is this more important than in marriage.  In your vows, you said something like, “And I do promise and covenant, before God and these witnesses, to be your loving and faithful husband/wife . . . “  Do not take that lightly.  Revisit your wedding vows occasionally, and take them seriously.  Neglect of your vows can result in the destruction of your marriage.

You think all is fine now.  Everyone is happy and your spouse is great.  If you purposefully neglect your spouse and your commitment to her/him for a year, or five years–things will be much different.  Never take your marriage for granted.

Realize that without labor on your part, your marriage could be a year or two away from divorce.  Take your vows to God and one another seriously.

b)  Give clear counsel to others (Proverbs 27:6; 28:23)

In an age where our greatest concern is for happiness, it is painful to tell someone hard truths from the Bible.  We want to say, “Do what makes you happiest now.”  But we must be willing to say, “Do what will make you happiest later.”

Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.”  Be willing to wound a friend by speaking truthfully about their marriage.  Be able to clearly articulate the teaching of the Bible about divorce and remarriage.  In our nation particularly, it’s imperative that we’re able to speak with uncompromising conviction about God’s design for marriage.  Doing that will mean that your words will sometimes be painful to say, and even harder to hear, but that they are needed and beneficial.

Proverbs 27:23 says, “He who rebukes a man will afterward find more favor, than he who flatters with the tongue.”  Be willing to rebuke.  Be willing to admonish.  Give clear counsel to the many who’ve replaced the teaching of the Bible with their own self-centered views.  Your words will hurt.  There may not ever be a “good time” to say them.  Your words may not be received well, or even paid attention to.  But there will be some who hear, some who respond (whether immediately or down the road).  I’ve seen it happen.  Help them to see God’s plan for marriage and give them hope that their marriage can change.

c)  Fight hard to display Christ’s love in your marriage (Ephesians 5)

While telling others about God’s design in marriage, make sure that your own isn’t a sham.  Fight hard to display Christ’s love in your marriage.  God designed it for His glory.  He put you together with your spouse for the express purpose of displaying His love.  Make sure that your relationship reflects His love . . .

privately to one another–let it be full of grace, tenderness, patience and care

publicly to others–let it be full of mercy, love, hope and trust

Our friends and our nation need a clear picture of God’s design for marriage.  Fight hard to demonstrate it.  We speak often of evangelism as the one thing that we cannot do in heaven.  You may not realize it, but marriage is another.  We will be married to Jesus, and our communion with him and with one another will exceed the intimacy of marriage.

The purpose of marriage is temporary.  God gave it for a time to display Christ’s love for the church–fight hard to make yours do this. It is to our shame that homosexuals seem to care more about marriage than we do.  Let “’til death do us part” be real in your life.

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ABOUT THIS PREACHER

John serves as a pastor and elder at Faith Bible Church
Tough Stuff
Membership @ FBC
1 Peter
FBC iTunes podcast