Divorce, Remarriage, and God

In the previous discourse, we discovered the nature of our involvement in the kingdom of heaven and the nature of our relationships to other Christians. We are adopted children. We are here to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ. Our relationships and place in the kingdom are built on unconditional and unlimited forgiveness. Today, we begin a new discourse that concerns the outworking of relationships within the church, the body of Christ. The first topic of discussion brought to us by the text in this discourse is divorce. What are your thoughts about divorce? Is God okay with it? Is it sin? What implications does the biblical instruction concerning divorce have on all of life and ministry?

Matthew 19:1-12

When Jesus had finished these words, He departed from Galilee and came into the region of Judea beyond the Jordan; and large crowds followed Him, and He healed them there.

Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason 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 reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined 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 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. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

The disciples said to Him, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.”

But He said to them, “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.

Setting (v. 1-2)

When Jesus had finished these words, He departed from Galilee and came into the region of Judea beyond the Jordan; and large crowds followed Him, and He healed them there.

Jesus finally leaves Galilee and comes into Judea. When He enters Judea, He continues the ministry that began in Galilee.

Question (v. 3-9)

Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?”

The Pharisees in Judea prove to be like the Pharisees in Galilee. Such a debate was natural because the Law was unclear on the subject of divorce. The closest thing we see explicit instruction concerning divorce is found in Deuteronomy 24:1-4:

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.

The text is ambiguous as to whether or not divorce is lawful. Instead, it simply assumes that divorces will inevitable occur. Naturally, then, we ask the question—Is divorce actually lawful, or is it merely mentioned by the text? Under what conditions is divorce acceptable? The Law does not answer. When Jesus answers, He does so by inference.

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 reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined 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 no man separate.”

Since the Law does not explicitly condemn or condone divorce under any circumstances, Jesus inferred from Genesis 1-2 and the created order. If God puts two people together, no man should separate them. From the start, we see that Jesus’s definition of marriage elevates God’s design and desire rather than people’s. It is not lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason, according to Jesus.

They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

Referring to Deuteronomy 24, the Pharisees played devil’s advocate. Why did Moses command it if it is not lawful? Such a question can be overheard in university hallways today as professors teach their students to reason, “Is God morally good because He keeps the Law, or is the Law moral because it was created by a good God?” No matter which way we answer, we are presented with certain logical problems. If it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason, why does the prophet reveal that God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16)? If it was truly unlawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason, why would their be any such provision in the Law at all? Do you feel the tension of the First Century philosophical conundrum, the conundrum that now faces Jesus? Jesus has taken a side—Divorce is unlawful; Now, He must reconcile it with the provision. If He cannot, He simply cannot be the perfect Messiah who upholds the Law.

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.”

Jesus corrects the Pharisees’ misrepresentation of the Law. Moses did not command it; He permitted it. He permitted it because of the hardness of heart. Divorce is absolutely unlawful. Whoever divorces is in danger of blatant adultery. There is one exception regarding adultery (not the lawfulness of divorce), the reason provided in Deuteronomy 24— Deuteronomy 24:1 clarifies that the reason for the permitted divorce was that a person found some type of indecency, referring specifically to promiscuity or unfaithfulness (cf. Numbers 5:12, 28; Deuteronomy 22:13-21), in his or her spouse. Divorce is, then, always sin. Not all divorce is adultery.

Singleness is better (v. 10-12)

The disciples said to Him, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.”

If a relationship of the man with his wife is like what? There are at least three possibilities when we consider the disciples’ question. The disciples’ might be referring to (1) marriage in general, (2) marriage of those with hard hearts, or (3) remarriage after divorce. Whatever we designate is meant by “this,” determines our interpretation of the text and the way we live as Christians. 1) The disciples are not likely referring to marriage in general. If they to do so, we would have to conclude that no marriage is desirable even though God created the marriage relationship. To interpret the disciples’ statement with reference to all types of marriage is to force a contradiction in the biblical narrative. They are referring explicitly to a marriage that is like “this,” a word that alludes to a previous description. What previous descriptions of marriage to we see in this passage?

  • Marriage in which there is hardness of heart (v. 8)
  • Marriage in which there is infidelity (v. 9)

2) In context, then, the disciples might be alluding to the hardness of the human heart. 3) They may also be alluding to marital infidelity. They are certainly referring to remarriage after divorce sin that is the subject of Christ’s answer to the Pharisees. Since Jesus affirms the disciples statement (v. 11), we will consider these possibilities together and reference more perspicuous instructions in Scripture concerning both. We will consider why it is better not to marry in both instances.

What is hardness of heart? Moses gave permission for divorce because of the hardness of the Israelites’ hearts. Again, Deuteronomy 24:1 clarifies that the reason for the permitted divorce was that a person found some type of indecency, referring specifically to promiscuity or unfaithfulness (cf. Numbers 5:12, 28; Deuteronomy 22:13-21), in his or her spouse. The hardness of heart Jesus referred to is the lack of commitment or faithfulness people tend toward. Hardness of heart, then, is infidelity of the heart and mind. In His sermon on the mount, Jesus taught about such an infidelity:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:27-28).

Lust, επιθυμησαι, is a word that refers to someone’s desire or longing. Hardness of heart, then, is the desire to have someone based on one’s own preferences or pleasure. By this definition, almost every marriage in this world is destined for failure from the start. Why do people get married in the world today? They get married because someone makes them happy, there is a promise that they can exclusively gain pleasure from one other person, because it is expected of them, because they had a child out of wedlock, because there are social and civil advantages, and so on. People get married based on their own desires to have someone according to their own preferences and pleasures. Most marriages, then, are built on adultery according to the definitions Jesus has provided. All people begin their journeys on this earth with hard hearts. Consider even Adam and Eve and their sin in the Garden of Eden; They sinned because they desired to be like God. James 1:14 reveals that each one is tempted by his or her own desire cf. Jeremiah 17:9). To see more about the hardened condition of every human heart, click here. How does anyone have his or her heart unhardened? That is, after all, the prerequisite for godly, sustainable, and blessed marriages. 

Concerning the faithfulness of Israel and His own glory, God promised to gather His people from the midst of the nations and sprinkle them clean from all their idols; In so doing, God removes their hearts of stone and replaces them with hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36:24-26). The unhardening of the human heart begins when God turns His people from the idols of their own hearts to Himself—when He brings His people to worship and serve Him by what we refer to as the regeneration of their hearts. The prerequisite for marriage, according to the Bible, is the regeneration of the heart by God for His own glory. Any sort of marriage outside of the community of faith is a cheap imitation and destined for failure because it is not in Christ. There is a reason the church does not recognize marriage outside the covenant community of faith. There is a reason Paul instructs believers not to be yoked together with unbelievers in marriage (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:14). There is a reason we have clarified as a church body that marriage is a strictly religious institution and a covenant between two people who are in Christ (TCATS Constitution II). There is a reason I don’t believe the state has any authority to define marriage or even perform marriages—marriage is a religious institution according to the definitions of the state and, therefore, is not to be regulated in any way by the state. There is a reason the true church cannot recognize homosexual, transgendered, zoophilic, technophilic, or pedophilic marriages—or any other marriage that is based on self-will, self-desire, or self-satisfaction rather than covenant relationship based in Christ by regeneration (which requires a life-long, selfless commitment by both parties according to God’s design and not their own). There is a reason we cannot believe that marriage is defined by any sexual act or that sexual activity wholly makes two into one flesh. Marriage is a covenant commitment made before the church body in Christ for the purpose of God’s glory and Christ’s exaltation.

According to the principle present in disciples’ statement, which is affirmed by Jesus, it is better for people not to get married at all, or mimic marriage, if their hearts are not regenerate—if they are not in Christ and being transformed away from their self-righteousness. Doubtless, there are many who will read this exposition who will immediately react against what the Scriptures teach on this subject. You might have heard that Jesus never taught about homosexuality or transgenderism. We see that He did. It is explicitly better to stay unmarried if we are marrying based on our own preferences rather than God’s design in Genesis 2. There is forgiveness for you. Christ will take your heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh so you can experience the beauty of God’s design rather than your own—I promise it is a more joyful, blessed, and faith-filled existence.

Hardness of heart, infidelity of the heart, leads to outward infidelity. If we are concerned about our self-will, self-desire, or self-satisfaction, we will ultimately be unfaithful people—both to our spouses and to God. If a person is not submitted to Christ, it’s simply better not to get married because that marriage will only lead to dissatisfaction, hurt, and a constant struggle between partners in some way, shape, or form; That marriage is based on our own happiness or expectations rather than a selfless, unconditional covenant. If a person is divorced for any reason other than his or her spouses infidelity, remarriage—including remarriage to the unfaithful spouse, is adultery—like is explicit in Deuteronomy 24:4. The reason? The covenant faithfulness of marriage becomes meaningless and fails to represent God’s covenant faithfulness to His bride—the church. The Law discourages divorce even because of infidelity. Better to forgive than to reap the consequences of bitterness. I would sooner forgive my wife than divorce her and send her away—for, such an act is irreversible; like if God were to finally hand people over to their idols. Covenant faithfulness demands forgiveness and represents the covenant faithfulness of God despite the idolatry of His elect people.

But He said to them, “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus affirms the disciples’ statement but reveals that not all people are able to accept it. Only those to whom it has been given can accept such a teaching. Those who are not regenerate, who are not in Christ, are unable to accept such an idea. Why? There are few men, whether it was forced on them or the have taken on the lifestyle voluntarily, who care not about pleasuring themselves and only live for others good or the kingdom of heaven.

 “He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.”

Jesus instructs all those who can accept this difficult teaching to accept it. Jesus is not teaching that every Christian should remain single. He is teaching that all of those who have regenerate hearts must accept the biblical definition of marriage and instruction concerning remarriage. Those who are unable to accept His teaching are not His people because they prove to be hard of heart—self-willed, self-interested, and self-satisfied people to their own ruin. There are some for whom God’s plan is godly singleness despite their own preferences or desires.

How does the principle presented here apply to how Christians walk in all of life? In everything we try to be faithful people. Pastors try in every way to be loyal servants to their congregations, never forsaking them. Congregants try in every way to be devoted to their church family and to their pastors. Children and parents honor each other. Employers are good to their employees and employees work hard for their employers. In every way we remain devoted in our earthly relationships beginning with marriage, we proclaim the Gospel of God’s covenant faithfulness and lived as blessed people of God.

Working Out the Faith as we Age: Ep. 19/69 1 Samuel: Andrew Paul Cannon Sermons

1 Samuel is a crucial part of the Jewish and Christian story. In 1 Samuel, God selects the earthly king through whom He established His own throne within His creation. 1 Samuel is a doctrinally rich historical narrative. Join Andrew Paul Cannon as he journeys through 1 Samuel lectio continua, exploring the depths of the text. This is a limited podcast, containing 69 episodes in preparation for the release of Andrew’s expository commentary on 1 Samuel. Be sure to preorder today (below). These sermons are available at thechurchatsunsites.com and andrewpaulcannon.blog. If you were encouraged by this this episode, please email us and led us know. Preorder AP Cannon’s 1 Samuel Sermon Series on a Thumb Drive Sale Product on sale $20.00 <span class="woocommerce
  1. Working Out the Faith as we Age: Ep. 19/69
  2. Gratification: Ep. 18/69
  3. The Time of the Kings: Ep. 17/69
  4. Here I Raise My Ebenezer: Ep. 16/69
  5. Keep Apologizing: Ep. 15/69
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