It has been said, “Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.” 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. Matthew 5:31-32 (NIV)
In Matthew 5 Jesus moves on to discuss another of the ‘difficult’ topics covered in this chapter. The topic under dicussion this time is divorce. It is important to remember that what Jesus is trying to do is to point out to his listeners that God looks at the intent of the heart, not at the outward appearance. In the case of divorce, Jesus links it to the previous topic of adultery.
Looking at Mark 10, Jesus was questioned by the Pharisees about the lawfulness of divorce:
Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ ‘What did Moses command you?’ he replied. They said, ‘Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.’ ‘It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,’ Jesus replied. ‘But at the beginning of creation God “made them male and female”. “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 flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’ When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.’
Mark 10:2-12 (NIV)
Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees is very insightful. He tells them that Moses only allowed divorce because their ‘… hearts were hard …’ He then goes on to explain that when God designed marriage, between a man and a woman, he did not allow for divorce. In God’s view marriage was to be a lifetime commitment.
Looking at the UN’s Demographics and Social Statistics Division divorce statistics from around the world does not make for comfortable reading. In one country the divorce rate reveals that two out of every three marriages end in divorce. Thankfully other statistics elsewhere reveal that the divorce rate is lower amongst those who have a faith.
In the 21st century, when divorce is so prevalent, Jesus’ teaching may be seen by many as severe. Yet, as with all these things, this is in the Bible for a purpose.
In Matthew 5 Jesus states that the only permissible reason for divorce should be the ‘sexual immorality’ of one of the partners. He is talking here about unfaithfulness. Jesus is not saying that someone should seek a divorce because of unfaithfulness, but only that divorce is permissible in these circumstances. If we remember that the marriage relationship is to be an example of the relationship between God and his people, then it is clear that Scripture teaches that despite the unfaithfulness of his people, God sought to keep the covenant relationship alive by continually offering forgiveness and reconciliation.
This should be the same in marriage. Seeking to forgive and be reconciled to an unfaithful partner is likely to be very demanding. If God didn’t give up on you when you were unfaithful to him, should you not be persistent in seeking to forgive and be reconciled to your spouse? Don’t take the easy way out, just because it is allowable.
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