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2006-06-25_Divorce Adultery Remarriage_Matthew 5.31-32

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Divorce? Adultery? Remarriage?

Matthew 5:31-32   |   Shaun LePage   |   June 25, 2006

I. Introduction

A.   Divorced couples in Albuquerque, New Mexico, can take advantage of a new business in town. The company is called Freedom Rings: Jewelry for the Divorced. Founded by jeweler and divorcee Lynn Peters, the company makes custom jewelry out of wedding rings. Each customer at Freedom Rings pays a fee, and the ring-smashing ceremony begins—complete with champagne and music. Just before the smashing the M. C. says, “We will now release any remaining ties to your past by transforming your ring—which represents the past—into a token of your new beginning. Now take the hammer. Stop for a moment to consider the transformation that is about to begin your new life. Ready? With this swing let freedom ring!” She then uses a four-pound sledgehammer to whack her emblem of love and fidelity into a shapeless piece of metal. And the ceremony ends. (Brian Peterson, New Man, October, 1994, p. 8)

B.    As we march through the Sermon on the Mount, we come to yet another difficult subject. Last week we looked at Jesus’ words about adultery and lust. This morning, we’ll look at a subject that is closely related: divorce.

C.   I think we can all agree that divorce is an enormous problem in our day. Surely, in part we can place some of the blame on society.

1.     The no-fault divorce laws of the 1970’s resulted in a drastic increase in divorces. Time magazine—thirteen years ago, quoted a professor at George Washington University School of Law in an article on divorce. He said, “It is easier in these United States to walk away from a marriage than from a commitment to purchase a used car. Most contracts cannot be unilaterally abrogated; marriages in contemporary America can be terminated by practically anyone at any time, and without cause.” (Time, Sept. 1993)

2.     Years ago, Paul Harvey announced on his daily radio program that Romeo Bitencourt of Porto Alegre, Brazil, had just been granted a divorce. Harvey was amazed at this news. He explained that Romeo was a Brazilian farmer who was now 90 years old. He had been married to his wife for 65 years. He had twelve children, 50 grandchildren and 36 great-grandchildren. The reason given for the divorce? Incompatibility. The laws of Brazil are apparently just as ridiculous as our own. It’s just too easy to get a divorce.

D.   But, we can’t just sit back and blame our government or the courts. In 1999, for the first time in history, the divorce rate among Christians surpassed that of the general population. Churches—Christians—surely must bear much of the blame.

E.    Joseph Stowell, President of Moody Bible Institute, has said that he struggles mightily on how to apply the Bible’s teachings on the subject of divorce. Stowell says we must keep our commitment to strong families and still provide welcome and support to those who have been damaged by divorce. This means maintaining a proper balance between grace and truth. “Grace that threatens truth is not grace at all,” Stowell says. “And truth apart from grace requires the impossible goal of perfection. God’s nature combines grace and truth without compromising either. This is our challenge, too, if we are to display His character in our day when broken homes are so common.”

F.    That’s what I want to try to do this morning—strike a proper balance between grace and truth. The truth about divorce and remarriage in Scripture must be taught and obeyed. In Malachi, chapter 2, God said, “I hate divorce.” (v.16). Jesus said in Matthew 19:6, “…What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” Grace requires that we teach and apply the biblical standards with compassion.

G.   [Pray that this message would strike that proper balance.]

II.   Body—Matthew 5:31-32

A.   The Text: Matthew 5:31-32 (NASB95): “It was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce’; 32 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.”

1.     “It was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce’

a)    This statement is actually a summary of Deuteronomy 24:1-4. This passage was not addressing the issue of divorce for adultery because the Old Testament was very clear on that matter. Adulterous wives did not receive a certificate of divorce. They received the death sentence.

b)    Deuteronomy 24:1-4 was dealing with the issue of true incompatibility—a husband who refused to stay married to his wife for lesser reasons. The purpose of this law was to protect the woman from the charge of adultery when it was found out that her husband had sent her away. If she was dead, that meant she had committed adultery. If she had a certificate of divorce, that meant her husband had “sent her away” for some other reason.

c)    Dr. Thomas Constable, professor at Dallas Seminary, explains that there were two schools of thought in Jesus’ day: “Rabbi Hillel’s liberal position was that God permitted a divorce "for every cause" (Matt. 19:3), for example, burning the husband's breakfast. Rabbi Shammai's conservative position allowed divorce only for fornication (sexual sin). Jesus said that God permitted divorce for fornication, but He warned against remarrying after such a divorce (Matt. 19:9).”

d)    We’ll look at this in more detail when we get to Matthew 19, but for now Matthew 5:32 gives us a good summary of Jesus’ teaching on the subject of divorce.

2.     “…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.”

a)    “Everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery.” Jesus’ teaching lines up with the conservative school of thought—Rabbi Shammai’s school. The lone exception—according to Jesus—was for “the reason of unchastity…” “Unchastity” is the Greek word porneia—from which we get our word “pornography”. It is a general word that refers to any type of illicit or illegitimate sex. Its meaning in this context is clearly adultery. If the wife has any type of sexual activity with anyone other than her husband, she is guilty of porneia.

b)    If a woman was divorced in that day, she had no alternative but to find another man. When she did, she committed adultery. If the divorce was not legitimate, the husband who sent her away was the cause of the adultery—he drove her to adultery and was just as guilty as she.

c)    “And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” Please notice that Jesus’ words protected women in a very male-dominated world. If Jesus was obeyed in this matter, there would be far fewer divorces. There was only one exception. That would have given women a much more stable existence. Jesus was saying, “Men—don’t mistreat your wives by divorcing for any old reason. If you do, you’re a party to adultery. You force her to commit adultery. And if your buddy down the street divorces his wife without just cause, when you marry her, you’re committing adultery too.”

III.The Application—Now, the subject of divorce and remarriage in Scripture is somewhat complicated. I’m sure I could not begin to answer every possible question or address every particular situation in one sermon. But, what I’d like to do is give you a summary of what I believe the Bible teaches on the subject by addressing four categories of people. We may be in different categories (so to speak) but we are all to be soldiers in the fight against divorce.

A.  Never married?

1.     Singleness can be God’s will.

a)    1 Corinthians 7:7-8: “Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that. 8 But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I.”

b)    Matthew 19:11-12

c)    Each man—each person—has his own gift from God. God calls some people to be single and we who are married must never look down on a such a person. In many ways, the single person is freed up to serve God in ways we married folks never could.

d)    This is important because if you are single today, I want to challenge you to never be in a hurry. Don’t worry about who God has for you and when he or she is coming along. Focus on the Lord. Serve Him. Grow in your love for Him and He will take care of you.

2.     When the time comes and you meet someone and you’re wondering if this is the one, please keep this principle in mind: Marry only a mature believer. Choose a kingdom-minded disciple of Jesus Christ for a spouse. Don’t settle for less!

a)    You are only permitted to marry a believer.

(i)   The Old Testament is filled with examples of where the Jews were not permitted to marry the unbelieving pagans who lived around them. It was always considered a sin. The Book of Proverbs gives numerous warnings about walking through life with those who reject the God of the Bible.

(ii) In the New Testament, we have very clear principles as well:

(a)  1 Corinthians 7:39: “A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.” Paul was addressing widows in this context, but he makes it clear that if she chooses to remarry, she must marry “only in the Lord.” In other words, she must marry a believer. A Christian.

(b) 2 Corinthians 6:14-15 gives the command: “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 Or what harmony has Christ with Belial (Satan), or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?” The expected answers are: None! Righteousness has no partnership with lawlessness. Light has no fellowship with darkness. Christ has no harmony with Satan. A believer has nothing in common with an unbeliever. A kingdom-minded disciple of Jesus Christ will not have the same goals in life as an unbeliever. You won’t have the same values. You won’t have the same view of finances. You won’t have the same view of how to rear children. And you almost certainly will not have the same understanding of the permanence of marriage. Save yourself the trouble, the heartache, the pain and never marry an unbeliever. The Holy Spirit—through the pen of the Apostle Paul—said, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers.”

b)    And don’t settle for one who simply claims to be a believer. Even if there’s strong evidence that at one time in his life he trusted Jesus. Even if she claims to be a Christian, you will save yourself immeasurable heartache by looking for signs of maturity in her life. The stakes are too high!

(i)   1 Corinthians 5:9-11

(ii) Look for a spiritually mature Christian and do things God’s way. You will never regret it.

3.     Fight divorce by starting out God’s way.

B.  Married?

1.     Marriage was meant to be permanent.

a)    Listen to Jesus in Matthew 19:5-6: “‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”

b)    Again, in Malachi 2:16, God said, “I hate divorce.”

2.     Work hard at your marriage.    

a)    For your children.

(i)   Study after study shows that divorce is bad news for everyone. Just as adultery has serious consequences for all those who choose it, divorce is destructive beyond measure. Especially children—even grown children—are greatly impacted when a marriage fails. “Divorce greatly increases two- or three-fold the incidence of all kinds of bad delinquency, suicide, under-education, and teen motherhood” ( I literally cried as I read story after story this week of children who had been changed forever by their parents’ divorce.

(ii) Several years ago, the son of baseball great, Pete Rose, said something amazing. Pete Rose, Jr.—known to his family as “Petey”—admitted that he still dwelt on his parents’ divorce even though it happened many years earlier. His father was remarried with a new child and another on the way. His mother was tending bar in Cincinnati. Petey was a better-than-average big league prospect himself at the time, and athletes at that stage in their careers are usually single-minded and driven. Yet Petey said something like this: “I would trade whatever future I have in big league baseball to see my parents get back together.”

(iii)    Norman Wright includes this story in his book, Always Daddy’s Girl. The story is told by a grown woman who tells of when her parents announced they were getting a divorce: “‘Come into the living room, children. We have something we need to tell you.’ That’s how our parents told us they were not going to be together anymore. After they told us they were divorcing, I sat under the table and my mind replayed again and again the words my father said. I didn’t know then what it all meant, but I soon learned. After Dad left, I looked through the drawers where he kept his clothes and found an old sweat shirt he left behind. I hid it in my room and kept it for years. I would cling to it when I was lonely for him. My father came back to see us a few times, but his visits became less and less frequent. Finally his visits stopped completely. I always wondered where he went. I wondered if he thought about us very much. I hoped that he did. But I guess I’ll never know.” (Always Daddy’s Girl, by H. Norman Wright, 1989, Regal Books, p. 86)

b)    For yourself and your spouse.

(i)   You may be miserable now, but two, five, ten years down the road you may find that you’re married to the right person!

(ii) In the midst of marital disagreement it is not uncommon for a spouse to wonder if there isn’t somebody with whom they would be more compatible. Suleyman Guresci, of Izmir, Turkey, divorced his wife of twenty-one years after a bitter six-year court battle. In an effort to find the ideal woman, Guresci turned to a computer dating service. Ironically, from a list of two thousand prospective brides, the computer selected his former wife (his wife opted to use the same company in her search for a new husband). He responded to this information by deciding to remarry his wife just nine months after their divorce. He said, “I did not know that my ex-wife had been the ideal counterpart for a marriage. I decided to give it another try by being more tolerant toward her.” The ideal mate might just be the one you’ve already married. (Ibid., Nov. 15, 1986)

(iii)    A 1998 study in Minnesota found that the majority of those who have gone through a divorce wish they had tried harder to work through their differences. This study, by the nonprofit Minnesota Family Institute, discovered 66 percent of those divorced look back with regret that they didn’t give their marriage a better effort. (Houston Chronicle, Jan. 12, 2000, p. 9D)

3.     If your marriage is in trouble, be a hero (Dr. Phil!).

a)    You take the initiative. You seek reconciliation (see Matthew 5:23-26).

b)    Even in the case of adultery, divorce is not mandatory or even best. You’ve got to weigh the situation. Was this a one-time fall or is this an on-going way of life involving multiple affairs? If a one-time fall, please don’t be too quick to divorce. If an on-going lifestyle, don’t wait too long to divorce. You may be in danger—physically—if you don’t put an end to it.

4.     Fight divorce by taking your vows seriously.

C.  Divorced?

1.     Again, there are Biblical grounds for divorce. I believe there are two:

a)    “Unchastity” or “immorality” (19:9). Jesus made it clear that if a spouse was unfaithful—sexually speaking—the other was no longer bound by the marriage covenant and free to remarry.

b)    Abandonment. Turn to 1 Corinthians 7:12-15. Although—in this context—the believer is encouraged to remain in the marriage, if the unbeliever leaves, the believer is “not under bondage” and is free to remarry.

2.     Seek reconciliation. Read 1 Corinthians 7:10-11. Even if you divorced on biblical grounds, you should consider remaining unmarried in order to seek reconciliation if your ex-spouse is unmarried.

3.     Fight divorce by seeking reconciliation.

D.  Remarried?

1.     Biblical Remarriage? Remarriage is biblical under certain circumstances. If you have biblical grounds for divorce, then you have biblical grounds for remarriage. This was Jesus’ point in Matthew 5:31-32. Adultery only takes place if the divorced person remarries. By

a)    Spouse was unfaithful.

b)    Spouse abandoned.

2.     Unbiblical Remarriage?

a)    Move on with God! 1 John 1:9 promises that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

(i)   To confess is to agree with God that what you did was sin.

(ii) Though you may have been unfaithful in your situation, God is faithful!

(iii)    Though you may have been unrighteous in your situation, God is righteous!

(iv)    He promises to forgive you and cleanse you from “all” unrighteousness! There is no exception. Unbiblical divorce and remarriage—though very serious sins—are not unpardonable.

b)    Move on with others!

(i)   Go to your ex-spouse. You can’t be reconciled in marriage, but you can forgive and be forgiven. Listen to James 5:16: “…Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed.” Confess your sins to your ex-spouse. You can be healed.

(ii) Move on in your current marriage. Do it right.

IV. Closing—Prayer and offer of more prayer and counsel.

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