Till Death Do Us Part
“…Till Death Due Us Part…”
I received a very disturbing phone call a few months ago from a close friend and roommate in college. This guy was a groomsmen in my wedding and someone I would count it to be one of my closest friends. He was calling to catch up and we begin to talk about how things were going in his recent move back home to Houston after he was transferred there from Austin. I knew he was living at home and last I had talked to him, he was telling me that he was excited about staying there so he could spend some quality time with his parents before he found a place of his own. I asked him how all of that was going and he began to tell me about some intense frustrations and fights and problems at home and he kept referring to everything mentioning only one parent and not the other. I asked him what was up, and he began to tell me how his parents are now separated and are in the process of getting a divorce. 25+ years of marriage and two twin boys, and now my close friend who is my age is having to deal and play the mediator between his 50+ year old parents because they no longer love each other. What crushed me the most when hearing my good friend talk about this and trying to see how he was doing with everything, he said, “It is definitely a good thing and for the best.” WHAT?? Divorce is a good thing. It baffles me when I hear stories, even some from our own class of families who have been together for some over 30 years and then all of a sudden come and decide it isn't worth it. The sad truth is it doesn’t take long for me to realize that if everything goes according to plan for our lives like it has done for so many other classes and so many other marriages we will fall into the pattern of marriage, then the house, then the dog, then the children, then the divorce. We may either know or will probably know very soon people who are like us and look like us and act like us and go to church like us and may even hang out with us yet they call it quits in their marriage because it doesn’t work and they tell themselves and tell everyone else, “It is a good thing and for the best.” Some of you here this morning are living testimonies of how divorce is never a good thing. Sure you can always make the best out of a bad situation, but the sting and the devastation and the pain that was caused when mom tells dad and dad tells mom that they no longer love each other is never good. I want to talk about this issue of divorce this morning and here is how I want to go about it…I want us first to look at what society says about divorce, then what circumstances tell us about divorce, and then most importantly what scripture says about divorce. First let’s look at:
What Does Society Say About Divorce?
The general feeling about divorce in society is that it is ok and accepted. Divorces happen as a normal course of action in someone’s life and we are taught almost a glamorization of divorce. What are some of the ways divorce is presented in our society?
It is almost as if divorce has become something that is cool to do. Marriage is viewed as something you can try and see if it works out but not something that truly lasts forever. In 1969, the state of California passed a law called “No Fault Divorce” which meant that since that time people could divorce their spouses for any and every reason. Whereas before there had to be a clear reason why, now divorce takes place for reasons of incompatibility or just a loss of excitement in marriage. Statistics show that 35% of baby boomers have experienced divorce which is our parents generation and with many of these experiencing multiple marriages and multiple divorces, it raises the number even higher. Some projections show the number being around 40-50% of marriages will end in divorce. These kinds of numbers and the glamorization of divorce in our culture has led us to see divorce as “it is actually a good thing.” But the problem is, what society says about divorce doesn’t really tell the whole story about divorce. Let’s also look at:
What Do Circumstances Say About Divorce?
While society might glamorize divorce and statistics show that divorce is somewhat common, what is not factored in is the effect that divorce has on those it hurts the most. While it may sound good at the time to consider a divorce in a family to be something that is “actually a good thing” the effect that divorce has on families and especially the kids is never a good thing. If your family has divorced, how have you personally been affected by the reality of divorce?
In a book written by Judith Wallerstein called the “Unexpected Legacy of Divorce”, there are three primary roles mentioned that end up getting played by the children of divorced parents. The first is the caregiver. This role reverses the responsibility in the house as to who is caring for who. Instead of mom meeting the kids girlfriend, the kid is having to meet mom’s new boyfriend. Suddenly the child is forced to grow up quickly and take on roles and responsibilities that most kids their age don’t even have to consider. A second role played by the children of divorce parents is that of peacemaker. Dad is going to pay for one thing and mom is going to pay for another and the kid is the one stuck in the middle trying to keep the peace in his house. Instead of being able to enjoy the security and the comfort that comes when mom and dad are together forever, the child has to be the mediator between his fighting parents. Another role mentioned in the book is that of parent pleaser. Instead of just being an obedient child, they are forced to go between making sure mom isn't unhappy or dad isn't unhappy. They have to balance the tension of playing favorites and who gets to go where and who talks to who. Holidays are often very difficult to balance when you are young married figuring out how much time to spend with his family and how much time to spend with her family, but for a divorced child, this is his or her experience all the time. The child is constantly forced to seek the approval and the favor of his parents and often times doesn’t know where he stands. So while society says divorce is ok the circumstances of divorce clearly indicate otherwise. But often because of the reality of divorce, our circumstances have caused us to rationalize divorce and lessen the teaching on divorce because we try and cope with the circumstances we have with broken families. What I want to do the rest of the time is look at the biblical teaching on divorce and show you what God’s word says about this issue. What I want to beg you to do is this: approach this issue not from what society says about it or what our circumstances say about it, but make your view on this issue come from what God says about it. So often on this issue we come doing two things: we come to the bible trying to rationalize the decision of our parents or close friends or we come to the bible looking for a verse to give us permission for the decision we have already made.
What Does Scripture Say About Divorce?
What have you heard is the scriptures teaching on this issue?
There is much debate on this issue. Research suggests that 52% of born again believers do not think that divorce is a sin. Only 24% of believers said that divorce except for adultery is a sin. Let’s see what the teaching is on this. Turn to Matthew 19:1-3:
1 Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. 2 And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. 3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?”
Pharisees were the religious people of the day. They were the ones who knew the bible and they knew the Scriptures. Notice the heart and the point behind what the Pharisees were asking. They were looking for clarification to the rules and they were trying to test Jesus. There were two contradictory positions in that time in the rabbinic schools, the Shammai and the Hillel. Rabbi Shammai took a rigorous approach and founded his teaching strictly on Deuteronomy 24:1 which says:
1 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,
Rabbi Shammai took that literally to mean that only under the circumstances where there has been serious marital offense and indecent acts of adultery is one able to be divorced. On the other hand, Rabbi Hillel, took an approach that was much more loose. According to him, a man could divorce his wife for a number of different reasons, including if she spoiled his dinner by adding to much salt or if she talked to men on the street or if she spoke disrespectfully to her husband’s parents. Essentially the question they were asking him was, “What side are you on, Jesus, Shammai’s or Hillel’s?” So Jesus comes back and answers their question with another questions. Verse 4-6 says:
4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
This must have enraged the Pharisees because they surely knew the Scripture. This was a familiar scripture which Jesus essentially asks them, “don’t you understand what you have memorized?” At this moment, Jesus makes a definitive statement about marriage. Marriage is about two people becoming one flesh. This doesn’t mean that the goal of marriage is oneness, the result of marriage is oneness. Since marriage was ordained by God and designed by God, whatever current ways that we view marriage are irrelevant to our discussion. When two people are joined together, God has made them one. You cant undo what God has done. Notice carefully because Jesus gives the definitive statement on marriage and then he enters into a dialogue with the Pharisees about this. Continue reading in verses 7-9:
7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8 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. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
Jesus answered by saying you are going about it in the first place all wrong. The Pharisees were looking at what the grounds for divorce are and Jesus was much more concerned with the holiness and the sacredness of marriage. Jesus says that divorce was something done by man because of their hardness of heart. Divorce wasn’t commanded but it was a concession given to protect a woman but even before the concession was given, this wasn’t the original design for marriage. Jesus then makes then point about marital unfaithfulness. This comes from the Greek word “porneai” where we get our word, pornography. This is not a word that implies a one time act of adultery but a lifestyle characterized by sexual immorality. He then says to get remarried to someone after getting a divorce is committing adultery. Why, because the design for marriage is one partner forever like it was from the beginning. Here is the point, Jesus was telling them they were going about it wrong. Instead of trying to figure out all of the details about divorce, they should be passionately pursuing what is good and right about marriage. This teaching can be difficult which is why Jesus addresses this in the following verses:
10 The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”
The disciples response to this teaching of Jesus about divorce that it is between one woman and one man forever flew in the face of the culture of the day which divorced for any number of reasons. The disciples response and our response to this issue should be, “If marriage is truly that serious, unless I am serious about marriage, it is better not even to get married.”
>>Often times when we come to the issue of divorce, we are asking the wrong question. We are asking questions like, “What are the circumstances where I can get out of marriage?” or “what are the circumstances where I can get back into marriage?” and Jesus says, you are asking the wrong question. So what then does the bible say about the issue of divorce. First:
The bible speaks about the permanence of marriage over the circumstances of divorce
This passage and other passages on divorce are not intended to provide for us all of the reasons why you can get out of marriage. These passages and the goal of these passages are intended to show us how serious God views marriage. In the parallel passage in Mark 10:6-11 it says:
6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, 8 and they shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 10 And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her,
What is God saying about the permanence of marriage?
Notice there are no exceptions given in the Mark passage, Jesus’ answers the Pharisees and says, “Marriage is forever because when two are married, they are one and man cant undo what God has done.” We place so much emphasis on what are the exceptions and that is not Jesus’ point in the passage. He is not trying to give you reasons for divorce but he is trying to give you an idea of the permanence of marriage. Second, from this teaching on divorce we learn:
The bible raises the bar instead of lowering the standard
Turn over to 1 Corinthians 7:10-15:
10 To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband 11 (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. 12 To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. 13 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.
What this passage is teaching is that a couple should not divorce their spouse and if they do, they should seek reconciliation with that spouse. It also teaches that if a believer is married to an unbeliever, and the unbeliever wants to leave, then they should be allowed to leave but again, even in this passage Paul is not trying to lower the standard but raise the bar for marriage.
>>The problem I think we have as believers is this: we don’t share the same sense of fear and reverence for marriage that we should. According to the Barna research group, 35% of believers will experience divorce which is the same number as non-believers and 23% of believers will experience multiple divorces.
>>So what can we conclude? Is divorce unforgivable? No, not at all. Divorce is a sin that carries enormous consequences but it is not unforgivable. Does divorce remove a person from having God work in their life? Of course not. Divorced people stand next to all of us who are desperately in need of God’s grace. Can two believers divorce because their marriage isn't working out? There is no biblical evidence to suggest this is ok. Does this mean that I am stuck forever? There are two opinions on this. Some view that the only way a person can ever get remarried is if their former spouse dies and others view that if a person repents and seeks reconciliation with a clear conscience, they are free to move on. No matter what position you take, the emphasis should be upon what Jesus emphasized and it should be the high view and sanctity of marriage. I have dealt with a difficult topic today and I am talking to you not as children who have experienced divorce or friends of those who have been divorced, I am talking to each of you as young married couples and I am asking you to live up to what you said on the day you got married when you said, “I am committed to this person till death do us part.” Our view on marriage and divorce must be shaped by what the bible teaches and not what our society or even our circumstances growing up teaches us.
Pray for the marriages in the class and for those who have friends or family going through a divorce.