The Greatest Sermon Ever 5. On Divorce and Remarriage
New International Version (NIV)
31 "It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.'[a] 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
We have a difficult task ahead of us, as I wish to communicate the ideals that Jesus is trying to communicate here in this passage without trampling over the delicate and painful nature of the topic we are dealing with.
Let's address the elephant in the room tonight; we live in a sinful world where the ideal is rarely observed. We all here know of someone, or are someone who has gone through divorce, and so a cold warning against divorce, and a Romanticising of the wonders of marriage I think will do more harm than good.
But in saying that we have to deal with why Jesus is warning about this and what is at stake. So we will taking in looking at the issue of divorce the biblical view of marriage and a hope to endure.
So let us dive right in
1. Jesus' issue with divorce
Jesus is addressing a reality that is in the Law of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible); when he says; it has been said he is quoting from Deuteronomy 24:1.
If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, 2 and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, 3 and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies,4 then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the LORD. Do not bring sin upon the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.
Now, people took the decree of this Law, which was a law to prevent the abuse of woman and the cheeping of marriage; and they had used it for exactly that to cheapen marriage and abuse woman. It was literally given to prevent woman being passed around like property, and yet that is how it was being interpreted in Jesus' say.
Rather than read into the heart of the Law which was dealing with these peoples hardness of heart, they read it as a permission to divorce.
Jesus addresses this in Matthew 19:3-9 where He says;
3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?" 4 He answered, "Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 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'? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." 7 They said to him, "Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?" 8 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. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery."[a]
So what is the problem; why is Jesus so against divorce? What is at stake?
The issue here is what we started talking about last week; Jesus and the bible, do not see sex and marriage, as simply a biological necessity, in other words an itch that needs to be scratched, nor do they see it as this dirty deed in other words an act done for procreation.
You will see this phrase come up over and over again throughout the bible the two shall become one. The biblical idea of marriage and sex is a covenantal (promise) act that binds two people together so that they can change.
Now we will discuss and address the wonder of what God does through marriage; but why is Jesus against this separation?
Well, if marriage is about bringing two people together so that they become one so both are changed, the separation of that is always going to be traumatic. And devastatingly so it will be a breaking down of those people inevitably and in this is the inevitable breakdown of family structures and society at large.
The countless examples and stories of the nastiness and pain that is caused through divorce, makes God the author of creation, and the one who designed marriage, ensure that we do not look lightly upon this!
So Jesus states clearly, divorce is not an easy option, and unless there has been marital unfaithfulness (at which point there has been a violation of the covenant; and therefore the offended party is free) Jesus basically says; easy divorce is tantamount to adultery.
As we learned last week, we are turning people into objects and destroying ourselves and each other in the process.
This does not cause human flouring, and God is against it! this is important to hear in our me focused culture that glorifies personal fulfilment, and de-emphasises person responsibility.
Now, please here me, I am not saying that there is never a reason for divorce, Jesus gives us a clear answer, of course there is! But what Jesus is teaching us, and the emphasis, is that marriage is a covenant, a promise, you can't fall into it, and you dare not fall out of it!
Culture propagates this idea that the heart wants, what the heart wants, and now that sounds nice, but it does not cause human flourishing, in fact it leaves a wake of irreconcilable devastation!
So, if this is the destructive nature of divorce, what is it that God is holding up well let us look at…
2. The biblical nature of marriage
So, what we are trying to show is that God honours marriage! In fact the Bible begins and ends with a marriage! And we see this picture of the beauty of marriage displayed throughout Scripture as God pictures Israel as a wife, and as Christ calls the church His bride, so, we must see what marriage is!
I love the way Tim Keller puts it in his book the meaning of marriage;
"I'm tired of listening to sentimental talks on marriage. At weddings, in church and in Sunday school, much of what I have heard on the subject has as much depth as a Hallmark card. While marriage is many things, it is anything but sentimental. Marriage is glorious but hard. It's a burning joy and strength, and yet it is also blood sweat, and tears, humbling defeat and exhausting victories. No marriage I know more than a few weeks old could be described as a fairy tale come true."
Marriage is not two perfectly compatible soul mates finding themselves in this great big world, and becoming each other's fulfilment; in fact if you have that view of marriage it is one of the quickest ways to destroy it and each other in the process!
No; marriage is two broken people, who enjoy each other, who have commonality who promise to be together no matter what, and then spend the rest of their lives (through grace) working that out!
And, personally, this is what I find the most beautiful aspect of the biblical idea of marriage; marriage is one of the clearest illustrations of the grace of God.
Marriage is this day that you publically choose to love someone, no matter the circumstances that might be thrown at you. Then day by day, you commit to love that person, through openness about yourself, honesty about your faults and lovingly encouraging each other to be more.
To put it simply; marriage is not simply obligation, I must love, and it is not simply feeling, I just can't help falling in love with you… It is a beautiful and complex interaction of both; which is beautifully freeing! You see we choose to love each other; that is the whole point of the marriage ceremony, and as we choose to act out that love day by day so we fall in love over time!
The best example of this is children (now do not treat your spouse as a child - and spouse don't act like a child) but when it comes to children, you choose to act lovingly to these people, because they are yours, but every day you care for them and lovingly guide them etc, but you get very little in return, yet you find yourself every year loving them more!
And this is how God has designed it with marriage; two people come together in love and choose to act out on that reality day by day, month by month year by year! This is by no means always easy, but is beyond rewarding! And the wonder of all this; is that you discover over the years that when you chose to love someone like this in this grace orientated, covenant orientated way, you learn to love them more and more for who they really are!
Now this is hard work; and marriage always is; so why should love be so hard! And the answer is because it is real!
So let's look at;
3. The hope to endure
Stanley Hauerwas, a Professor of Ethics writes;
Destructive to marriage is the self-fulfilment ethic that assumes marriage and the family are primarily institutions of personal fulfilment, necessary for us to become "whole' and happy. The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person. This moral assumption overlooks a crucial aspect to marriage. It fails to applicate the fact that we always marry the wrong person.
We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being [The enormous thing it is] mean we are not the same person after we have entered it. the primary problem is… leaning to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.
This is why, church, marriage is hard. But this if we allow it to be what God designed it to be, can be used by Him as an instrument of His grace in our lives!
And this is why I tell the people that sit with me through marriage preparation, that I would never say that you have to be a Christian to make it in marriage; but I would say; that Christians who understand the grace of God through Christ have far greater resources to endure when things get hard!
Learning to love the other, or the stranger (as Hauerwas puts it) is made easier knowing that God loves you even when you hurt Him even when you are difficult.
"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom 5:8)
This church is what makes marriage so uniquely beautiful and at the same time immensely difficult; it reflect the very nature of the gospel to us!
Tim Keller put it in this way;
The reason that marriage is so painful and yet wonderful is because it is a reflection of the gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope… The gospel can fill our hearts with God's love so that you can handle it when your spouse fails to love you as he or she should. That frees us to see our spouse's sins and flaws to the bottom - and speak to them - and yet still love and accept your spouse fully.
So again, the gospel changes everything (Keller) and it becomes the source of love and sacrifice that we need to make one of the most intimate relationships we can have outside of the one we have with God. And through self-sacrificing love we can imitate the love God has for us through Christ Jesus.