Jesus on Divorce

Matthew 19:1-15
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, November 5, 1995
Copyright © 1995, P. G. Mathew

When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?" "Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female', and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate." "Why then," they asked, "did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?" Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery." The disciples said to him, "If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry." Jesus replied, "Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it." Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.

Matthew 19:1-15

In this passage Jesus teaches us God's view of divorce. Now, if you are thinking, "Well, I am married, so I don't have to worry about divorce," or "I am a single person, so I don't have to worry about divorce," or "I am a child, so I don't have to worry about divorce," I must inform you that this portion of Scripture is for you. Why? This teaching is the word of God and so it is for each one of us. It is important for married people to study so that they may live in accordance with it. It is relevant for single people, including children, who need to know what biblical marriage is so that they can pray that God will enable them to marry and live in accordance with his word. It is relevant for those who are called to live in a single state to know that God will give them grace to live in that state in the love of God and abound in good works as they serve him. This passage, therefore, is relevant for all God's children.

##The Pharisees Ask A Question##

In this portion of Scripture we see Jesus leaving Galilee for the last time during his earthly life and traveling to Jerusalem where he would be rejected and killed for the redemption of his people. Jesus would return to Galilee only after his resurrection from the dead.

In this passage we find Jesus, along with a crowd, staying beyond the Jordan where he taught and healed many people. While he was there some Pharisees came to him. Now, these Pharisees did not come to the Lord Jesus Christ with the intention of being instructed or healed by him. We know that because they did not believe Jesus was the Messiah. These Pharisees were coming to test and trap Jesus--to do the work of the devil, which they had been doing for a long time.

The first question the Pharisees asked Jesus was, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?" They were basing their question on Deuteronomy 24:1-4 which says,

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, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, 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, 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, we must understand that these Pharisees themselves were living lives of divorce. The Jewish historian Josephus was divorced, and he wrote that a man could divorce his wife for any and every reason. So the Pharisees were asking this question, not to be instructed by the Lord Jesus Christ as to what God really thinks about divorce, but merely to trap him.

Divorce in Biblical Times

The rate of divorce during the time of Jesus was much like it is today. People could get divorces easily and did so freely. Why do you think they did so? Lust. The reason for divorce is lust.

In the Greek culture of that time, a married man could have a relationship outside of marriage without any shame at all. In fact, extramarital relationships for men were considered normal by Greek society. Perhaps you have heard the statement of Demosthenes: "We have prostitutes for the sake of pleasure, concubines for daily co-habitation, and wives for having legitimate children." Greek husbands required their wives to live in seclusion in complete moral purity while they themselves lived in total immorality. In fact, at the temple of Aphrodite in Corinth there were one thousand sacred prostitutes. What was their purpose? To service the Greek men who came to worship.

Roman society had a strong sense of family until Rome conquered Greece militarily. Then everything changed, and Greece ended up conquering Rome with its immorality. The Romans began to practice the immorality of the Greeks, which included the practice of easy divorce, to the destruction of Roman families.

In the Jewish culture at the time of Jesus there were two schools of thought on divorce. One small group of people, led by Rabbi Shammai, was conservative. They interpreted Deuteronomy 24:1-4 to say that a husband could divorce his wife only for the reason of adultery. Then there was a liberal school, which was the predominant view, led by Rabbi Hillel. These people said that a husband could divorce his wife for any and every reason, which was what the Pharisees were asking Jesus about.

What did Hillel mean by "any and every reason"? He meant that a man could divorce his wife if the food was too salty, or if she was seen in public with her head uncovered. A man could divorce his wife if she talked with men in the streets, if she was a brawling woman, if she spoke disrespectfully about her in-laws in her husband's presence, or if she was troublesome or quarrelsome. Rabbi Akiba, who agreed with Hillel, said that a man could even divorce his wife if he found someone prettier. In other words, a man's roving eye could be used as a reason to divorce.

The view of the school of Hillel was predominant at the time of Jesus. And we must note here that in the Jewish culture of the time women had very few rights. Only men could initiate divorce proceedings. So there were many men who were putting away their wives for any and every reason--ultimately, because of their lusts, as Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:31-32--and families were collapsing throughout Jewish society. Divorce was a common as marriage; thus, the question of the Pharisees was a practical one.

But why did the Pharisees ask Jesus about the issue of divorce? Because they wanted to stir up trouble for him. They wanted to see which school he would agree with so that the members of the other school would become his enemies. I am sure Jesus knew their motives, but he did not avoid answering the question. As a pastor he answered from the Scripture with great wisdom.

The Answer of Jesus

How did Jesus answer? First, he spoke about the biblical ignorance of these scholars. They were acting as interpreters of the Bible but Jesus said their interpretations were all wrong. Why? They had not really read the Bible.

Jesus asked the question, "Have you not read. . .?" meaning, "Have you not read the Bible?" The problem with the unbelieving liberal Pharisees and Sadducees was that they were ignorant of the Scriptures. They pretended to be wise and great scholars, but, in truth, they did not study the Scriptures or truly know them. They were creating mountains of writings, but instead of commenting about the Scriptures in them, they were merely commenting on the opinions of other people.

Jesus confronted the Sadducees about this same issue in Matthew 22:29. He said, "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures nor the power of God." This antipathy toward Scripture was a problem of the Sadducees, and it is a problem of many people today. Even among evangelicals many people hate to read the Bible and accept its definitive teaching.

So in verse 4 Jesus asked, "Haven't you read. . . ?" meaning "Have you not read the Scriptures, specifically the first two chapters of Genesis in which this issue was discussed?" This is our problem. We do not read the word of God to find the principles given to us in it to govern every aspect of our lives. We would rather go to psychologists, psychiatrists and other experts than go to the Holy Scriptures and hear what God has to say. But let me assure you, there is only one book that is absolutely true. It is the Bible, the Old and New Testaments, given to us by the inspiration of God. The Bible alone is infallible and absolutely trustworthy.

The Right Focus

What else was wrong with the Pharisees' approach to this issue? They were focusing on divorce. They would say, "Let us count the ways of divorcing. How many are there?" and then they would explore and list all the reasons a person could use to justify divorce.

This is a twisted way of thinking. Jesus was trying to correct them, telling them, "Your problem is, first, that you don't read the Bible correctly, and, second, that when you do read it, you misinterpret it every time." "In other words," Jesus was saying, "Rabbi Shammai is wrong and Rabbi Hillel is wrong. You all are wrong. Why? Your focus is wrong. You need to go all the way back to Genesis 1 and 2 to discover God's principle governing marriage, not divorce."

You see, the rabbis had a certain rule by which they exegeted Scriptures. In rabbinic exegesis, something earlier was weightier. Jesus understood that rule, so when he answered the Pharisees he went past Deuteronomy 24 all the way back to Genesis 1 and 2. According to the rabbinic rule, the passage Jesus was citing from Genesis was of greater authority than any later passage. So Jesus focused on God's original plan of marriage and asked the Pharisees to also focus on what was true in the beginning, before sin ever entered the cosmos.

God's Original Plan

"Haven't you read that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female'?" Jesus asked his challengers. God designed and created people as male and female. God made one male, Adam, and then he made one female from and for Adam. This original constitution of the human race, Jesus was saying, is the basis of marriage. It was not that God originally made many males. To do so would have produced homosexuality. It was not that he made many females. That would have produced lesbianism. It was not even that he made many males and many females. That would have produced polygamy and bisexuality. God created one male and one female to be joined together in lifelong monogamous marriage.

According to God's creation ordinance, then, your spouse is your companion. Man is not complete without woman and woman is not complete without man. Each one needs the other, for God said, "It is not good for man to be alone." A man needs a companion who completes him, and a woman needs a companion who completes her. The design of God was to give Adam a companion to eliminate his loneliness due to incompleteness.

A husband, therefore, is a companion for his wife, and his wife is a companion for him. What is a companion? When you study the Hebrew roots for the word companion as found in Proverbs 2 and Malachi 2, you get two meanings--closeness and union. So a companion is one who is closely united with you in thought, in goals, in plans, in efforts and, if married, in body. Marriage removes loneliness through the love of the companion spouse.

Because of this peculiar constitution of men and women as male and female, a man is to leave the temporary relationship between himself and his parents and be united to his wife. The parent/child relationship is temporary, not permanent. Now, we realize that in some cultures, especially in some Eastern cultures, the parent/child relationship may be seen as more important than the husband/wife relationship, but that is not the biblical view. According to the Bible, a man is to leave the temporary relationship with his parents and be glued--that is the meaning of the Greek word in this text--to his companion, his wife, to become one flesh with her for life. The husband/wife relationship is permanent.

We must also realize that God is the God of marriage, not only of the union of Adam and Eve, but of every heterosexual marriage. It is God who makes that union and as Jesus said in verse 6, "What God has joined together, let man not separate."

God Hates Divorce

All of this tells us that God is not a God of divorce. In fact, the idea of divorce did not even enter into the creation ordinance. God, who makes out of the two one never to be separated, is the God of marriage. There is no provision for divorce in Genesis 1 and 2. In fact, if any man or woman breaks apart the union God has created in marriage, that man or woman is considered an enemy of God because he or she is practicing rebellion against God by dismantling the unity of one flesh which God established.

Not only that, marriage is based upon a covenant. In marriage men and women are agreeing to live all their lives in companionship with each other in self-sacrificing love. To forsake one's companion is to forget the covenant of God, which, in turn, will incur divine judgment. God's original law did not provide for divorce.

Why do you think the Pharisees did not go back to Genesis 1 and 2 for their answer? Because they were lustful. They did not want to necessarily be locked into lifelong, monogamous marriages. They wanted to practice their lusts.

Don't we all do this kind of thing? We avoid reading certain scriptures because they confront us or convict us of our own sin. Like the Pharisees, we can be very selective in our reading of the Bible.

Jesus was telling the Pharisees that God is for lifetime monogamous marriage and that he opposes divorce. Divorce is sin, self-centeredness, and the opposite of love. Divorce is against the will of God.

The Next Question

Jesus' answer was thoroughly convincing to these Pharisees. But then they came up with another question--a more legitimate one. In verse 7 we read, "Why then did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?"

What was wrong with this question? First, it shows the twistedness of these Pharisees. They cited the Bible correctly but their interpretation was wrong. This was not a command of Moses, even though the Pharisees thought it was.

It is amazing that when a person wants to sin, he begins to misinterpret the Scripture. These people thought that Deuteronomy 24:1-4 said, "If you want to divorce your wife, all you need to do is give her a piece of paper on which is written "I divorce you" and send her away. If you give her that paper before two witnesses, everything will be all right and you will be free to marry whomever you want." But the Pharisees were not understanding this verse correctly. In the New International Version it is translated properly and from that we see that the first three verses are conditional, with the command coming in the fourth verse.

In verse 1 we read, "If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her. . ." Now, no one knows for sure what "something indecent" means. The Hebrew words erwath dabar mean "nakedness of thing," but the exact meaning is not given. We know that "something indecent" cannot be adultery because the consequence of adultery was capital punishment, not divorce. It did not even mean suspicion of adultery because in Numbers 5 God prescribes a bitter-water rite for those suspected of adultery. "Something indecent," then, has to be something beside adultery or suspicion of adultery, and, quite frankly, we do not know what it is. So Hillel interpreted it "for any reason."

So we read, "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, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, 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. . ." All this is conditional, but now the command comes: "then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled."

The Pharisees thought this passage commanded people to put away their wives for any or every reason as long as they gave her a paper. However, this passage really teaches the exact opposite. What this passage tells us is, "You had better think carefully, man, before you divorce your wife. You may be contributing to her defilement."

In 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 Paul speaks about this situation: "To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife." Therefore, if a man divorces his wife and she marries another, the God-intended oneness is destroyed and the wife is committing adultery. That is what defilement means and the husband cannot take such a woman back again.

We must be careful what we do. This is not a warning just for women. It a man divorces his wife, he is causing his wife to commit adultery when she remarries and he himself is committing adultery when he remarries. This type of situation is a violation of the seventh commandment.

This verse, therefore, is not intended to give a man permission to hand his wife a little paper and divorce her for any and every reason. There is no such command here. And yet the Pharisees asked in verse 7: "Did not Moses command. . . ?" The answer is "No."

A Concession, Not A Command

How did Jesus respond to the Pharisees' question about Deuteronomy 24? In verse 8 we read, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning." In other words, Jesus was saying that Deuteronomy 24:1-4 was written to deal with the evil of divorce that was in existence during the time of Moses because of the hardness of people's hearts. At best this passage was designed to regulate the evil of divorce. Moses was making a concession, not a command, and, in fact, if we study this scripture carefully, we ought to be led to marriage, not divorce.

Deuteronomy 24 does not define the ground for divorce. It uses the term "something indecent," or "nakedness of a thing," but as we just said, we really do not know the meaning of that term. It cannot mean adultery or the suspicion of adultery. But by the time of the New Testament rabbis like Shammai interpreted it to mean adultery and those like Hillel interpreted it to mean anything which a husband finds indecent and repulsive. Isn't that something? A husband could come home and declare his wife doesn't look all that beautiful to him anymore. Why? Something happened in the husband. He lusted.

The command found in Deuteronomy 24:4 is that if a couple divorces and the woman remarries, and if that husband divorces her or dies, then the first husband cannot marry her again. She has been defiled, meaning the second marriage was adultery. It broke the unity, the oneness, that God established in the original marriage. The divorced woman's second marriage is considered adultery by God because it violates the one flesh principle, which we read about in the creation ordinance, of her first marriage.

So the idea of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 is, "Think carefully before you act in this sinful manner. Before you divorce, you must think about what you are doing. Why? God is against you when you put away what he put together. When you dismantle what God has done, you become an enemy of God and God becomes your enemy." In truth, then, this passage discourages divorce. (PGM) It does not command the evil of divorce and, at best, it regulates it. But the Pharisees misinterpreted this passage and declared that it said Moses commanded divorce for any reason, as long as the husband gives the wife the piece of paper.

Moses never commanded men to put away their wives, and so this rule did not abrogate the original creation ordinance (Gen. 1:27, 2:24) governing marriage. This regulation was given due to the sinful lifestyles of people, but in the beginning, before there was sin, there was only marriage. Divorce always stems from sin, and at this point I recommend to you a book, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage by Jay E. Adams (Phillipsburg, NJ: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1980).

The Correct Interpretation

So Jesus gave his definitive ruling, as we see him doing also in the Sermon on the Mount. Six times in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, "You have heard it said," which referred to the writings of the Pharisees and Sadducees on a passage and "but I say to you," which meant Jesus's interpretation. This is not the same as when Jesus said "It is written." When he said that, he was speaking about the Scriptures, but when he said "You have heard it said. . . but I say to you," he was contrasting the misinterpretation of the Pharisees and the Sadducees with his own correct interpretation.

In verse 9 Jesus gives his definitive statement on the issue of marriage and divorce: "'I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery," and in Mark 10:12 we find the opposite is also true: "And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery."

Who is speaking these things? The eternal God, the Exegete, the Lawgiver, the ultimate Explicator of God's word! When Jesus says, "I tell you," he is giving us the command of God himself governing marriage, and we had better pay attention. Marriage, therefore, is for life. It is a unity God has created and no one is to tamper with or dismantle that unity. If anyone does, God is against that person. Divorce may be legal in the eyes of society, but the wrath of God is against a person who causes divorce. Why? God hates divorce.

Just like in the days of Jesus we have no-fault divorces. It is legal in the eyes of man, but in the eyes of God it is a violation of his seventh commandment and it brings much grief to everyone involved. Never tell me about the glory or blessing of divorce. Speak about the destruction, pain, agony, economic distress, confusion, and so on--the endless list of the miseries that stem from divorce.

Biblical Teaching on Divorce

There is only one exception, only one reason or ground, for divorce given by Jesus in Matthew 5 and 19. Now, it does not mean that divorce must be mandatory in such a situation, but it is a biblical reason for divorce. What is this exception? Porneia, meaning fornication. It is a difficult word, but it has the meaning of any kind of sexual sin involving a third party.

Because of the Fall of man and the reality of sin, Jesus gave one ground for divorce: fornication. Any sexual sin which involves a third party destroys the unity of two created by God in marriage. It destroys the one flesh principle which is the heart of marriage according to Genesis 1 and 2.

By this ruling Jesus abrogated the death penalty for fornication and allowed a person to divorce. Now, in the Old Testament a man could not divorce his wife for adultery; the woman would be killed instead. But here Jesus is allowing divorce so his ruling is lighter.

But there is a more serious aspect to this ruling. Jesus was also removing every other reason for divorce, declaring that a man could not just grab a little paper, give it to his wife in the presence of two witnesses and say, "I divorce you and you are free." Only if there was fornication, which includes all sexual sins, can the innocent party divorce the guilty party and remarry, although even then a Christian must remarry only another Christian.

Suppose a woman comes to me and says, "Pastor, my husband and I were pagans, but I listened to your preaching and I am a Christian now. My husband is still a pagan, and we are no longer compatible in so many ways. Should I divorce my husband?" What will I say? "No." There is no reason for that woman to divorce her husband.

The apostle Paul gives us another reason for divorce, which is called the "Pauline privilege." When a wife or husband becomes a Christian and the other spouse remains a pagan, if the pagan divorces and leaves the Christian, then the Christian is not bound. He or she can remarry but only to a Christian. This is called Pauline privilege and we read about it in 1 Corinthians 7:15. In this situation the unity of the marriage was destroyed when the pagan refused to live with the spouse because he or she was a Christian.

We must also understand that even when the sin of fornication is involved, which is a legitimate ground for divorce, a couple does not have to divorce. There is no mandate to do so. You may divorce, but you do not have to. If the offending individual repents and asks your forgiveness, then you must forgive because you are a Christian, and if you do not forgive, that may indicate you are not a Christian. But when there is repentance and forgiveness, reconciliation is possible and, in fact, desirable. Why? We must always be aware that all are sinners who sin daily and need God's forgiveness daily. So Jesus Christ is allowing divorce but not mandating it in a situation involving fornication.

Now suppose, that a Christian husband divorces his Christian wife, not for adultery, but for some other reason. What should they do then? Both must remain unmarried for the rest of their lives or be reconciled to each other. That is the ruling we find in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11. If a believer divorces his or her spouse for reasons other than fornication, then they must remain agamos --unmarried--until death puts them apart, unless they reconcile. And if a Christian divorces for reasons other than fornication and marries someone else, that person commits adultery and the one who divorced is also responsible for causing her to commit adultery.

The Disciples' Dilemma

The weighty biblical argument of Jesus Christ stopped the mouths of the Pharisees. In fact, we do not see them anymore in this passage. But then the disciples asked Jesus a question.

Jesus' disciples were clearly shaken up by this teaching. Why? You see, in those days all Jewish men enjoyed a certain luxury. Based on the popularity of the teaching of Rabbi Hillel they knew that they could divorce their wives for any and every reason at any time. Consequently, Jewish women were kept living in fear and trembling. Their husbands might not actually divorce them, but they could always use the threat of divorce to keep them in line.

In this passage Jesus took that threat away from his disciples and they were all shaken up. In verse 10 we read, "The disciples came to him, 'If this is the situation between a husband and a wife, it is better not to marry.'" What disappointment! What an anticlimax! All their power had been taken away.

Now, we must realize that the disciples were not protesting Jesus' teaching. They agreed with his authoritative argument that divorce was not allowable except in situations involving porneia. But the disciples were shocked by the limitation such teaching resulted in. They had enjoyed the privilege and power of the knowledge that they were able to divorce their wives for any and every reason. Perhaps they had even used this as a stick every day, but now they could not because they were disciples and their teacher had spoken.

So they concluded "It is better not to marry," or in the Greek, "there is no advantage in marriage." Now, think about that comment. What is the purpose of marriage? Do we marry simply for personal advantage? Should we marry just to get something for ourselves? No. Marriage is based on love and on the joy of sacrificing oneself for the benefit of the other. The disciples' comment showed they were not thinking of that idea of marriage.

Marriage is after the analogy of the relationship of Christ and the church. Jesus Christ showed us what it means to love by giving himself for us on the cross. He did not do that for his personal advantage, and we are to imitate Christ.

Jesus' Answer

How did Jesus respond to the disciples? In verses 11-12 we read, "Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it."

We don't know if Jesus was referring to what he was teaching or to the disciples' statement that it is better not to marry. It is not very clear. But Jesus was saying, "Not everyone can accept my word on marriage," or "Not everyone can accept your answer that it is better not to marry." God's word can be received only by those to whom God's grace is given to live in a state of marriage or in a state of celibacy.

What is the normal state? Marriage. But marriage requires the gift of grace for marriage which God gives, as we read in 1 Corinthians 7:7. Those who have this grace can marry and stay married for life as they live by the grace of God. Celibacy or singleness is an exceptional state which also requires a gift from God. Celibacy is not a holier state than marriage, but it is exceptional. Jesus lived a celibate life, as did Paul and others. God must give those who are called to live a single life the gift necessary for living a celibate, single life.

In Jesus' time every Jewish male was required to marry by the age of twenty unless he wanted to live a celibate life, being devoted to the studying the Scriptures. Jesus, of course, devoted his life for the word of God, and even so today some are called to devote themselves fully for the interests of the kingdom of God. Such people will live celibate lives without marriage. But they will be given the grace to do so and will be fulfilled as they serve God. As we read in Psalm 16, "In his presence there is fullness of joy."

In the early church there was a young theologian named Origen. When he read in this passage about being a eunuch for the kingdom of God's sake, do you know what he did? He castrated himself, literally believing that was what he should do. Later on, however, he confessed his action had been an error.

God Never Divorces

Finally, we must realize that God never divorces his people. We sometimes think that God is like us, thinking, "Love me, love me not, love me, love me not." No. God's love toward us is everlasting. The word used in the Hebrew for God's love is chesed, loving kindness, which means everlasting, loyal, covenant love that will never come to an end.

Divorce results from sin, not from God. God's love is loyal, covenant love. Now, if we are believers, we know that God loved us when we were yet sinners--wicked, ungodly enemies of God. If Christ died for us when we were in that wretched condition, how much more will he continue to love us now that we have been made God's children? Therefore, how could a Christian ever divorce his wife when he is enjoying the everlasting and unfailing love of God?

Where do we see God's unfailing, everlasting, loyal covenant love? On the cross. Christ died for us and lives for us, and he will never leave us nor forsake us. The theme of the whole book of Hosea is that God's love shall never come to an end. Irrespective of all the sins of Hosea's wife, God in love pursued her. Through that book God teaches us the truth of how he loves the church, as we read in Ephesians 5:25-27: "Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without any stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless."

Living in God's Love

Now, I must ask you: Do you sin? And I must ask again, Does the church sin? Yes, but Christ forgives us and cleanses us as we repent. Isn't that true? This happens every day.

Even so, as Christians, let us love our spouses as Christ loves us and forgives us. If we live in the love and fear of God, our marriages will be flooded with the unquenchable love of God. Let not the enemy separate any of us by the poison of self-centeredness. Remember how the disciples argued, "if this is so, there is no advantage for us"? Let us not live or marry for personal advantage. Let us marry to love, which is God's cure for all the loneliness of a man and woman.

And let me say this: Some parents find their loneliness removed by their children. They abandon their wives or husbands and begin to love the children and receive fulfillment from them, but that is not the biblical way. As I said before, the parent/child relationship is temporary. Our loneliness is to be removed by the companion God gives you. And if God has called you to a single life, live in love of your God and abound in his service, and he will give you grace.

Finally, if you have never trusted in Christ, you are absolutely incapable of loving your spouse unselfishly. Why? Because this love is a gift from God, a fruit of the Holy Spirit, and it is given only to Christians. So I counsel you, if you are not a Christian, to repent of your sins and trust in Jesus Christ who died in your place. Only then will your life be flooded with the love of God. When that happens, the first thing you will do is to love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. And then, second, you will love your neighbor, meaning your spouse, as yourself. And, third, you will even love your enemies and pray for them.

In his book about marriage Professor Jay Adams wrote that marriage is a divinely-ordained institution; that marriage is the first and most fundamental institution; that marriage is covenantal and binding; that marriage is a covenant of companionship; that marriage is the place for true intimacy; and that marriage is to conform to the model of Christ and his church. What about divorce? Professor Adams wrote that divorce always stems from sin, but it is not necessarily sinful to divorce, especially for the innocent party; that divorce always breaks a marriage; that divorce is never necessary among believers; that divorce is legitimate on the grounds of sexual sin and when an unbeliever wishes to divorce a believer; and that divorce is forgivable, even when it is sinful.

May God write these words in our hearts that we may live by them and enjoy the blessings of marriage. May those who are in a married state live in obedience to God's law by the power of grace. May those who are single think biblically and pray for the grace to marry and live in love. May those who are called not to marry receive the grace necessary to live in the love of the Lord Jesus Christ and abound in good works. Amen.

Copyright © 1995, P. G. Mathew

All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. The "NIV" and "New International Version" are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

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