Marriage Matters

Footsteps of Jesus  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  34:55
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I have some good news and some bad news for you today. The good news is that studies show there is an overall decrease in divorce rate over the last ten years. The divorce rate in the U.S. was only 2.5 per 1,000 people. In 2011 it was 4 per 1,000 people. However, the bad news is the marriage rate has decreased overall as well. It dropped from 16.3 to 14.9 per 1,000 people. While there are many more marriages than divorces, we all have been touched by divorce wither personally or by someone very close to us.
Regardless of what we do with marriage, God thinks marriage is one of the most important human relationships on the planet. The first human relationship ever experienced was in the context of a marriage. It is God’s design and his desire for men and women to be married, forming one of the most sacred unions any two humans can ever experience. For reasons that I expressed last week, marriage is sacred. It forms the deepest bond we can ever experience. So when that bond breaks, it truly is heartbreaking.
We are moving through the section of the sermon on the mount where Jesus is addressing specific legal understandings of his culture and points people back to what the proper understanding of these laws are. The Pharisees excelled at focusing on external conformity to the Law that they neglected the heart condition that led to outward sin in the first place.
In this third law Jesus addresses, it is the first one not found in the Ten Commandments. Rather, It’s earliest reference comes from the book of Deuteronomy.
Matthew 5:31–32 (NASB95)
“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 reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
To understand the point of Jesus’ statement, we need to try to understand what his culture practiced and how that shaped the mindset of the average person in first century Israel.
At the time Moses wrote Deut 24:1, as well as the day in which Jesus lived, the status of women was very different than today. Men were in charge. Women could not own property or inherit property. They were generally homesteaders, primarily responsible for raising and nurturing children. These are all noble things. Women were also not permitted to file for divorce. The man had to do so.
One of the things we need to realize is that in the context of the Ancient Near East at the time of Moses, divorce was a common practice among the nations. This was not unique to Israel. The goal in providing such laws was to regulate its practice and maintain the sanctity of marriage. Remember, marriage began with Adam, not Moses. Every society since the dawn of time has had marriage customs and every society on earth has had marriage tainted by brokenness leading to divorce.
If anything, what Jesus is doing here is elevating the importance of marriage by regulating divorce practice, which he does by giving only two provisions for divorce for his followers.

Christians are permitted to seek divorce if a spouse is found to be an adulterer.

Jesus makes it very clear here. In this sermon, he mentions only one provision for which divorce can be sought. If your spouse cheats on you by sleeping with another person, divorce is permitted. As we discussed last week, sexual intimacy is the deepest bond one can form with another person. God has designed this to be experienced between a man and a woman in the context of marriage. The unity experienced on a human level provides a picture of the intimate bond we have with our Creator. The relationship between Christ and the church is expressed in the covenant of marriage.
Biologically speaking, we are so wired for intimacy in marriage, that breaking that relationship causes serious harm spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and even physically. Our brains become calloused to forming deep connections with people. Our ability to trust is diminished. When someone cheats on another, trust becomes a major factor in that relationship.
The issue though is that is not why people get divorced. It is a big reason, but not the only reason. In 1969, California became the first state to legalize no fault divorce. Now every state in the nation offers no fault divorce as an option for dissolving a marriage. In a no fault divorce, no party has to take fault for the divorce. This made divorce much easier to obtain and for virtually any reason. If a couple is not getting along, all they have to do is file a no fault divorce, and that’s it. You can dissolve a marriage for virtually any reason.
Did you know this isn’t new? Later in the book of Matthew, the Pharisees are trying to trap Jesus into saying something they can accuse him of so they can finally get rid of him. This same story is also found in Mark 10:2-12.
Matthew 19:3–9 NASB95
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 key phrase here is “for any reason at all.” There were two schools of thought on this issue. It seems the Pharisees wanted Jesus to pick a side. There were two rabbinic schools known as the house of Hallel and the house of Shammai, named after two prominent Jewish rabbis and leaders in the Sanhedrin during the lifetime of Jesus. The house of Hallel thought one could divorce for virtually any reason. The house of Shammai thought only on grounds of infidelity was divorce permitted. Jesus begins by quoting Gen 1:27; 2:24 affirming God’s design for marriage. What Jesus is affirming is the permanence of the marriage bond.
Then they ask him why Moses made a provision for divorce in his time. His answer was because of the hardness of people’s hearts. It was not because God thought little of the institution he created. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Malachi 2:16 says God hates divorce. It is not within his plan or design that married people get divorced. However, because of our hardness of heart there is a provision for divorce on grounds of infidelity.

Christians are permitted to seek divorce in cases of desertion.

This exception is mentioned by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7. The entire chapter addresses various points on marriage, but verses 10-16 address the issue of divorce.
1 Corinthians 7:10–16 NASB95
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, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife. 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, he must not divorce her. And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. 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. 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?
The general rule here is that Christians are not to divorce one another. We see this in verses 10-11. The wife should not leave her husband, and a husband should not divorce his wife. However, if one does leave, he or she are not to remarry. Anyone who remarries after ending a previous marriage for any reason other than adultery commits adultery themselves.
There is a different group that Paul addresses here where we see a different exception clause. If one is a Christian and his or her spouse is not, and the unbelieving spouse wishes to be divorced, the Christian has an allowance for the divorce. If the unbelieving spouse does not want a divorce, the Christian is not permitted to seek a divorce. He or she is to remain in that relationship. Why? Verse 16:
1 Corinthians 7:16 NASB95
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?
You, O Christian, are the channel by which the unbelieving spouse may come to saving faith in Jesus Christ. Marriage matters to God. SO much so that it is through our marriages that we sanctify one another (14).

Reconciliation is the desired goal.

So there are only two legitimate provisions for divorce in the New Testament: adultery and desertion by a nonbelieving spouse. The desired goal in any other situation is reconciliation. This means that if your spouse spends all your money and you are broke, that is not grounds for divorce. If you fight all the time and cannot get along, that is not grounds for divorce. If your spouse becomes a drug addict or an alcoholic, that is not grounds for divorce. Rather, God’s desire for you is to do everything you can to reconcile that relationship.
Reconciliation is the heart of God. We are most Christlike when we are pursuing reconciliation in our relationships. Reconciliation is the basis for our relationship with God. Like I said last week, every sin amounts to spiritual adultery against God. Yet he still sent Jesus to pay the price of our sin so we could be brought back into a relationship with him. When a married couple reconciles, especially in cases of adultery and desertion, we get a beautiful picture of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He left his throne to pursue you when he did not have to.

Honor the covenant you are currently in.

I know that there are some among you who have been divorced, who have been remarried, and may be wondering what do I do about my current situation? How do we think biblically and charitably about this issue? The answer is to honor the covenant you are currently in. If you are single, honor God in your singleness until the day he brings you someone to marry. If he does not, or has not, remember your identity and value are not wrapped up in marital status. You are a child of the king. If you are on your first marriage, do everything you can to pursue intimacy with your spouse. Foster that relationship knowing that your relationship provides a picture to others what it looks like to be in relationship with Christ. If you are divorced and have not remarried, I strongly consider you seek God in whether remarriage is permitted. For now, honor God in your singleness. If you have been divorced and remarried, honor the covenant you are currently in. Live in that relationship seeking to honor the Lord above all else. This is the heart of God.
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