Dluxe's World

Tuesday, March 4

(re)Marriage - Matthew 5:31-32 [2]

So, here's the first question that came up when we read Matthew 5:31-32 :

Is Jesus removing/rescinding the allowance for divorce on the grounds of 'sexual immorality'?

Jesus is alluding to Deuteronomy 24:1-4 which says:
"When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then 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 of his house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, and the latter man hates 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 man dies, who took her to be his wife, then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance." (ESV)
While this passage does mention divorce, it's more interesting because of what it does not say.
  • First off, the grounds for divorce here can't be adultery since that was previously outlined as punishable by death (see Deuteronomy 22).
  • You don't see any imperative word (shall, must, will) regarding divorce nor a suggestion (should, could, might). This issuance of a certificate of divorce is not a command from God for dealing with whatever impurity the wife has... There's nothing here to indicate the pleasure of God in the existence of divorce.
We must also balance these legal provisions with an understanding of the grace of God... Many erroneously think of the Old Testament as the 'angry God' side of the book. In so doing they miss the grace of God clearly displayed in sweet passages like this from Hosea:
"And the Lord said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.”" (Ho 3:1, ESV)
So, what do we take from all of this? When the Mosaic Law allows for divorce, it seems to be moderating the bad behavior of the people of Israel rather than lauding the practice of divorce. While the death penalty for certain crimes (including adultery) terminates an earthly marriage, it seems clear that God intended marriage to be a 'once for all' institution. If that is the case, we'd expect to find the New Testament upholding and even clarifying that view...

And, of course it does. Jesus again alludes to this section of the Law later in the Gospel of Matthew:
"They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”" (Mt 19:7-9)
Here we clearly have Jesus unpacking the context of Deuteronomy 24 for us. These divorces are to be seen as an accommodation for human sinfulness by a gracious God rather than a 'good option for us if we need it'.

We must recognize that we have seen the covenant of grace, wrought by Christ's blood, inaugurated where the Old Testament saints had not. The more I think about it, this nullifies the question of whether or not Jesus saw divorce as merely permissible!

For believers on this side of the Cross, we should recognize that the outward sin of adultery is not, fundamentally, worse or different than our sin. Just like in Hosea above, we know that we too have 'played the whore' relative to our relationship with God. If God has chosen to act towards us in kindness - fully revealed in the Cross - then shouldn't we be prepared to extend the same deep grace to a spouse even if they've sinned against us?

So, our first priority if we are sinned against should be to reconcile with our spouse and redeem the marriage (that should be our second, third, and fourth priorities as well)... In a marriage between two believers, such reconciliation is possible (by God's grace) though it's clearly not going to come easily. Repairing the rift created by infidelity will be immeasurably hard, but certainly not harder than what Christ did to redeem us from the idols to whom we were enslaved.

I am convinced that, biblically, a spouse would not be 'wicked' for seeking a divorce over a repeated, willful pattern of infidelity in their husband/wife that is coupled with a complete lack of interest in reconciliation. "Thanks that you want to make up, but I prefer to keep sleeping with so-and-so whether you like it or not." In such an extreme case, I think divorce is a permissible option for the believer, but only after significant prayer and fervent attempts to woo their spouse back. This consistent sin in effect 'kills' one spouse to the other. This is still not to be taken lightly, however.

Jesus' teaching in this section of Matthew reminds us that we take marriage far too lightly. Our marriages exist for our pleasure, to meet emotional and physical needs that we have. But, the truth is that marriage, rightly understood, is all about God! When we sin against a spouse, we deface the image of both unity in the Godhead and unity between Christ and his Church which marriage was intended to display to a watching world. Similarly, a desire to 'be done with a problem marriage' reveals that we don't understand the depth of our own sin and the magnitude of the the grace that has been given us.

"So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." (Mt 19:6)

Well, what counsel do we offer to people who have been divorced (for non-adultery reasons) and are now seeking to remarry? Or how should someone who is already remarried behave towards a former spouse in light of this verse? More fun next time.

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