The County Courthouse – where wedding dreams begin, and too often die. Divorce is a touchy subject these days. What does Jesus say about marriage? About divorce? I don’t have all the answers, but I think God’s plan always includes grace!
1. Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.
Reddit does this thing where well known people will have an “AMA” session. AMA means “Ask Me Anything.” In our church we occasionally take Wednesday Night services to have a “Grill the Pastor” night where we can, as might be expected, ask him anything. I think that’s how Jesus did most of His teaching. We usually see the questions the religious leaders ask, but I think that Jesus may have started teaching the people, but as He taught, they interrupted Him with questions. While many people focus on the miracles of Jesus in the Bible, most of the miracles grow out of His teaching or provide a platform for Jesus to teach an important lesson. And sometimes, the teaching got sticky.
2. Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3. “What did Moses command you?” he replied. 4. They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”
This is one of the sticky questions: divorce. Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? The first thing to note here is that the woman is not taken into consideration here. They didn’t ask if it’s lawful for a woman to divorce her husband. That’s part of the cultural situation where women were not treated equally. In today’s world, we could expand the original question to ask if a woman is permitted to divorce her husband. Jesus turned the question around just enough to make te Pharisees uncomfortable when He asked what Moses commanded. The Pharisees didn’t answer the question Jesus asked, probably because they knew that there was no place in the law of Moses that commanded divorce for any specific situation. Instead, they continued trying to get their point across by noting that Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.
With that, Jesus and the Pharisees clarified two things about divorce: the first is that there is no situation where divorce is commanded; the second is that divorce is permitted. While it’s permitted, we should recognize that the certificate of divorce was actually an important law designed for the protection of the women who were divorced. A woman who had that certificate, while unable to marry in certain circumstances, would generally be allowed to remarry. It would also show that her separation from her husband was legal and she was not a wanton woman who was looking for one night stands. Woman who committed adultery were liable to be stoned, see John 8, and a man who had written such a certificate could not claim that his ex-wife was actually engaged in adultery.
5. And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. 6. But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. 7. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; 8. And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. 9. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
Jesus’ answer reminds us that what is allowed, may not always be good. What is lawful, may not be moral. What is permitted, may not be good. The principle is an important principle in today’s world. As followers of Christ, we should never resort to legal wranglings to justify our behavior; our ultimate goal is to follow God instead of following the law. In some cases, we follow the law because God commands us to respect civil authorities and there is no specific word from God on some issues. There are other situations, though, where we must choose between obedience to God and obedience to man’s laws. In those cases we must follow God.
Back to the issue of divorce, though. Rather than talk about specific issues of specific marriages, Jesus reminds us of God’s plan. God created male and female for companionship and union. It is NOT good for man to be alone. This does not mean that everyone is commanded to be married, but it does remind us that marriage is a part of God’s overall plan and the marital union is so sacred that it should never be entered into lightly and it should never be ended lightly. A Christian marriage is one man and one woman joined by God so that the two people become one flesh. One flesh, while it refers to sexual union, it’s a reminder that the unity of marriage is so strong that it should never be broken lightly. Are there reasons for divorce? Yes. It’s permitted. But note that Jesus said that it was permitted because of hardness of heart, or sin. We’ll discuss possible reasons for divorce in a bit. The most important thing to remember, though, is that since divorce involves sin, forgiveness is always available whether the divorce was caused by one person’s sins, or by both person’s sins. As followers of Christ, we should never act as if divorce is the unforgivable sin.
10. And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter. 11 And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. 12. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.
Once they got back to the house, the disciples were able to explore the question privately and asked Jesus what He really meant. Jesus made it clear that if a person divorces their spouse and marries another person, they’re committing adultery against them. In other situations Jesus pointed out that unless the person was put away because of adultery, divorce and remarriage caused a person to commit adultery. If they had already committed some sexual sin, then the divorce didn’t cause them to commit adultery. While many take Jesus’s teaching on this issue to say that sexual sin could be a reason for divorce, Jesus never commands it. I believe, that if you look at those passages closely, He’s not saying, divorce someone if they commit adultery, He’s saying, that you make them commit adultery if you divorce them, unless they had already been committing adultery.
So, what would be grounds for a divorce? Is adultery a reason to divorce a spouse? Yes, but the truth of the matter is that there are ways to work through that sin and bring reconciliation between the husband and wife. It would never be easy to gain full trust again, but based on the testimony of people who have been through that healing process, it’s possible. That being said, while my general rule would be to help people work through problems in a marriage, I would never advise either spouse to stay in a situation when they and/or their children were in danger of physical harm from their spouse. Is it possible to work through that issue with counseling? I don’t know. But if you are committed to working through a problem of abuse like that, don’t stay in the situation where the abuse occurs.
While my teaching may not apply to your specific situation there are a couple of things that are general principles. The first, Christian marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman that leads to oneness and unity under God’s leadership. It should not be entered into lightly. It should not be dissolved lightly. There are underlying sin issues in any divorce but there is never a reason for Christians to have a judgmental attitude towards people who are divorced. Forgiveness for any and all sins is possible with God. His forgiveness cleanses us and gives us the power to forgive others. Forgiving others does not mean that you treat the other person as if nothing has happened. Sometimes you can forgive, but need to stay away from the other person.
13. And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. 14. But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. 15. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. 16. And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.
There’s a popular meme theme people use: “Things Jesus never said,” where they use that phrase and then quote a popular saying or even a Christian teaching that isn’t in accordance with the words of Jesus. A saying that would fit in this meme is “Children should be seen and not heard.” The rationale behind that phrase is that while children may be cute, their ideas and their words are unimportant. And here’s the logical conclusion to that statement: if their ideas and words are unimportant, they are unimportant. That was the popular opinion in the days Jesus walked the earth. It’s still a pretty universal opinion among many people. I think the disciples thought everyone believed that, except the mothers of those children, and when these mothers brought their kids to Jesus, they wanted to spare Him the embarrassment of saying, “Go away, kid, ya bother me.” (Yes, said in the voice of W.C. Fields) The disciples gave these mothers attitude and sent the kids away. Only, Jesus saw it, and He was ticked. The first rule of following a teacher, any teacher but especially Jesus is, don’t tick off the teacher. Jesus let them know in no uncertain terms that they should let the children come to Him and they should stop preventing them from seeing Him.
Then, Jesus made a remarkable statement: if you don’t receive the kingdom of God “as” a little child, you won’t ever receive it. I don’t believe the word “as” there means when, I think it means with the qualities of a little child. What are the qualities Jesus has in mind? Realizing that I am only guessing on this issue, I think Jesus recognized the innocence of the children. Do children do wrong? Of course, but often they don’t realize why something is wrong and they do things with a good heart. They have a true sense of joy, unless someone robs them of that spirit – and Jesus had words for people like that. Their carefree and don’t worry, in general, what people think of them. As we grow older, our innocence fades into cynicism; our joy is tempered by the problems that overwhelm us, and our carefree attitude is swept away by our desire to fit in with the crowd. Again, I may be completely wrong in my understanding of what Jesus had in mind, but when we come to Christ, we do need to lose our cynicism, our fears, and our desires to be popular and trust God to take care of those concerns in our lives.