Keeping Your Vows: Divorce
ATTN: THE DRAMATIC IMPACT OF DIVORCE - BLUEFISH
You can hear the pain in this young lady’s voice. I wish that pain were rare, but I am afraid that it is not. In fact, research into the American family tells us that half of all American will witness the divorce of their parents and then half of those will be around to see the breakup of a parent’s second marriage. 40% of children growing up in America today are being raised without fathers.
And these divorces impact children. Studies from the ‘80's told us that children of repeat divorces earned lower graces and their peers rated them as less pleasant to be around. Teens in single-parent families and blended families are 3 times more likely to need psychological help within a given year. Listen, even compared to children from homes disrupted by death, children from divorced homes have more psychological problems. It really can be a fate worse than death.
And, I know that I’m really not telling you anything you don’t know or haven’t been told. You all know that divorce isn’t a good thing, although we will certainly justify it in our own circumstances, because we think that somehow, our outcome will be different. But there really aren’t very many exceptional circumstances. When it comes to divorce, we’re like what Kathleen Norris writes in her book, Acedia and Me. We have “become like the child (she) once knew who emerged one morning from a noisy, chaotic Sunday-school classroom to inform the adults who had heard the commotion and had come to investigate, 'We're being bad, and we don't know how to stop.'"
But how we need to stop!! Well, I think there is a way. I really do! I know that it seems like reversing the trend to throw away marriages is impossible, certainly we in the blood-bought, Christ-loving, Spirit-filled Church ought to be able to stay married.
So let me ask you to listen this morning. I think that God definitely has something to say to every one of us. Hey, even if you’re not married this morning, I want you to listen. Perhaps, one day you will be married and you’re going to face these issues. You need to know, in advance, how to face them. In fact, knowing what I’m going to tell you this morning may even help you in your search for a mate, should God so bless you.
And even if you’re happily married today, listen. Our culture pressures us in at least a couple of ways. For one thing it attacks our marriages through temptation, especially sexual temptation. Men, you can’t even get on the computer without ads which present you with images designed to draw your focus away from your wife. Women, you have all kinds of new ways to seek the romantic, exciting attention of other men that you didn’t used to have.
Our culture attacks us through temptation and it also discourages us with its thinking. In a million subtle and not so subtle ways, we are constantly discouraged from the life-long commitments that are sometime dull and require a lot of hard work. We are constantly told that staying married because we promised is a dead end. Listen, these truths will give you an antidote for that thinking and that temptation.
But especially this morning if you’re unhappily married this morning I want you to listen. See, I know that there are some of you here this morning that have already filed for divorce, at least in your heart. You might not have gained the courage to act on what you’re feeling, but in your heart, you’ve already left. I want you to know that there is hope, if you’ll take it.
I say that because of what Matthew writes over in Matthew 19. He tells of an incident where the Son of God encountered the question of divorce. You might think that, in Jesus’ day, divorce was rare. Not so! In fact, if anything, divorce was even more common then. Viewed in this context, what Jesus said shocked them. Read these shocking words with me. Read Text.
Matthew 19:1–12 (NKJV)
1 Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these sayings, that He departed from Galilee and came to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. 2 And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them there. 3 The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” 4 And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘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 then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7 They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” 8 He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted 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; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” 10 His disciples said to Him, “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 But He said to them, “All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: 12 For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.”
I really believe that these shocking words of Jesus present to us a viewpoint on marriage and divorce that can be redemptive, if we will apply them. What I mean is, if we adopt His perspective on marriage, our marriages can be saved, not just so that we endure because we’re supposed to, but so that we thrive because we want to. Here’s the truth this morning: God can save your marriage! Yes, He can! He can do it if you’ll adopt His view of things. There are three of His view points we have to adopt. First, God can save your marriage
D1: IF YOU’LL SEE MARRIAGE THROUGH HIS EYES.
Now, I’m not going to spend as much time here today as I certainly could because you’ll remember this material from last week. In fact, Matthew quotes some of the same verse from Genesis that we remember. Notice v 4
4 And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘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 then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”
God’s view of marriage in these verses tells us three things about marriage from God’s perspective. First marriage separates. What I mean is, it separates man from the animals. Yes, God did make male and female among other species of His creation, but man was the only species about which he said that marriage created one flesh.
And since this difference distinguishes us from the animal kingdom, marriage not only separates, marriage unites. Marriage unites you with your spouse, so much so, in fact, that v 6 begins by saying that they are no longer two but one flesh. Simply put, you leave and cleave. This union is depicted in Genesis and being “welded” or “glued” together. This is why Adam said of Eve, who was, according to Genesis, created from his side, “She is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.
And since marriage separates us and unites us, it binds us in a non-breakable covenant. Genesis gives us the metaphor of becoming one flesh, but it is Jesus who really, in this passage, fleshes out what that means. He drives home the point that becoming “one flesh,” if taken seriously, actually makes the marriage bond unbreakable. To break it is like tearing apart a single body. Since it is God who established the bond, no human decision can possibly break it apart. Go before as many judges with as many divorce decrees as you want. Get man to rule you as single and not married if you want to, it may break up your finances and sever you from your joint bank account, but in God’s eyes, it’s just a piece of paper.
And I know that some of you may be sitting there thinking, “What planet are you from, Spock? That’s just goofy! Why should I be bound to a situation that just isn’t working for me? Why should society be able to bind me to another person so that I cannot get away?” Well, that’s a good question, actually. If marriage is just something we do to jump through society’s hoops, I’d agree.
The movie Four Christmases, which I do not recommend and have not seen, does have a scene which I read about which so shows this. In the movie, the characters, Brad and Kate, are a cohabiting couple without children. The gist of the movie is that they decide to visit their family members after years of neglect, and through those “Christmases” discover the importance of marital commitment. Early in the movie, there is a scene in which Brad and Kate have just finished a class in which they are learning how to dance. They are just doing it as a hobby, but many of the others in the class are engaged and are taking the class so that they can dance at their wedding. They assume Brad and Kate are doing the same, but obviously they are wrong.
As the scene opens, the dance class has come to an end, and all of the couples are changing their shoes. The engaged woman turns to Brad and Kate and asks, "So, when's the big day? We're getting married in the spring in South Carolina. What about you guys?"
"Oh—we're not getting married," Kate quickly replies.
Another man attending the class chimes in, having overheard the conversation: "So, why are you taking dance classes?"
"We do a lot of stuff together," Brad replies. "This is just one of many things we do together."
"Yeah," Kate says. "It's fun."
"I can't think of anything we don't do together," Brad adds.
"Right," the engaged woman says. "So, why wouldn't you want to get married?"
Kate shrugs and says, "We're happy."
"We're happy," Brad says, repeating Kate's statement for emphasis. "And I love her, so—." He pauses for a moment, struggling to find the words. He continues: "Marriage just brings pressure and stress and all kinds of stuff."
"We don't want our relationship to turn into work," Kate says. "We want to be together because we enjoy it, not because we have to."
"There's a reason they use the expressions 'tying the knot' or 'ball and chain,'" Brad says.
"Have you listened to the words of a marriage ceremony?" Kate says. "'I promise to obey' and 'till death do us part'?"
"I'd rather be stuck on an island with some weird millionaire hunting me, trying to kill me, and me trying to escape, than be involved with those slogans," Brad says. "That's like a time bomb waiting to explode!"
At this point another woman attending the class pops in, saying in a foreign accent, "What about children? You want to make them, no?"
"No!" Brad and Kate shout, almost in unison.
"I don't want to make them," Brad says. "I don't just want to, like, be responsible for this kid and hurt their feelings and disappoint them."
"That's what happened to our families," Kate says.
"We're both from divorced families," Brad says. "We've seen it. We don't need to repeat the pattern. But, anyway, congratulations on getting married. That sounds like a really cool thing. And to each their own."
"Yeah. Absolutely!" Kate says.
And that really points out the problem. The reason we have so much cohabitation and so much divorce is because we have that kind of view of marriage. My view of marriage must be surrendered to God’s view if my marriage is really to make it. In the first place, I must understand God’s truth: Marriage is permanent. Notice, I didn’t say it ought to be permanent, or it works better if its permanent. I said it IS permanent. Man cannot separate what God puts together.
And then, if my marriage is to make it, I must understand the stakes: God must be glorified. This is the issue. My marriage isn’t about me being happy, it’s about God being glorified. It is about me and my mate determining that our experience together is going to become a means of lifting up Christ and magnifying Him. When I take that view of marriage, I am well on my way to success. God can save my marriage if I see marriage through His eyes, and then, God can save your marriage
D2: IF YOU’LL SEE DIVORCE THROUGH HIS EYES
When I was in graduate school at MTSU, I took a class in teaching exceptional children. That was the label they used in the ‘80's for “special needs” students: you know, those children who were mentally challenged, were blind, were deaf, or could not walk. It was a very interesting and sometimes eye-opening class. I remember one night that we got to class and the professor (who was a woman) told us that we were going on a field trip. Then she produced blind folds and she paired us up. One person was to be the guide and the other person was to be “blinded.” I hadn’t had the sensation since I was a kid playing “pin the tale on the donkey.” I still remember how weird it felt not to be able to see while I was led around by someone. I remember that I felt very disoriented. The world was completely different than before. I still remember making it to the University’s student center where we sat around the table and debriefed the experience. The teacher observed that, while I was blindfolded, I had not said a word. I realized she was right. Something about being blinded had isolated me into my own little world. My perspective had really been challenged by the experience. Things change when you begin to see them, or in this case, when you don’t see them differently!
I compare Matthew 19 not to being blindfolded, but to having that blind fold removed. Our society walks around in the darkness of their own desire deceived by Satan’s attempts to destroy their marriages. Reading a passage like this is like having our eyes opened. It can be a very challenging thing, and I have to tell you that it may seem a bit odd to you. You may be so used to seeing marriage and divorce through the eyes of this world that hearing God’s word may even seem wrong. You’ll be tempted to run from it or to try to find a way around it, but I ask you not to do that. Let it speak for itself. We’ve seen how Jesus viewed marriage. Now lets see how He views divorce.
To our ears, 19:9 sounds quite stark. Jesus says: And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” Basically, he says if you get divorced from your wife or husband, then you remarry, you are committing adultery. The reason for this seemingly hardline position goes back to the nature of marriage: Since God joined man and wife, man cannot separate them. That’s the reality.
Well, the disciples react much the same way you might when you hear that. They’re so struck by it that they seem to make a joke here. They say in v10: His disciples said to Him, “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” In other words, they are saying, “Hey Jesus, if you’re telling us that marriage is permanent and that we can never get out of it, then who wants to make that kind of a commitment.” Now you know that they were not serious because an unmarried Jewish man was much more uncommon than an unmarried American one. Even though divorce was prevalent, getting married was expected because it was the only accepted way to father children.
Well, the disciples may have been joking, but Jesus was not. He gives a serious response to an ironic exclamation. In v 11 he says, But He said to them, “All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: 12 For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.” Jesus says, “Everyone cannot refrain from marriage unless God gives them that ability. Then He launches into a discussion about eunuchs. By eunuch he means one who is sexually celibate. He says that this celibacy can be a condition one is born with. In other words, someone may be born with out the ability to engage in any sexual activity. The second condition of celibacy is some form of castration. In that day, certain rulers would perform this on their male slaves to keep them away from their females. The third condition of celibacy was voluntary. It is done for the sake of the Kingdom, kind of like the Apostle Paul who didn’t take a wife because he chose to devote himself entirely to the ministry. The point is this: Jesus is saying to the disciples: “I know that you think this is an extreme measure, but I take this divorce thing very seriously, so seriously, in fact, that it would be better for you to become totally celibate than to get this wrong.” You see, the reality is that divorce and remarriage equals adultery and Christ takes it so seriously that celibacy is the only alternative.
But there is one exception given to this. Look at v 9 again:9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” The exception is “sexual immorality.” In the Greek it literally is porneia and is a source for our word “pornography.” It means to engage in illicit sex, to commit fornication, sexual immorality, prostitution, etc.
Now, immediately, the more astute among us might say, “Wait a minute, Rusty. I thought the bond was unbreakable. On what basis does Jesus make this exception?” Well, His was a very astute position, actually. In the Jewish law, adultery was punishable by what? That’s right! Death. If a man or woman was taken in adultery, they were to be stoned to death by the people. Jesus’s statement, then, is logical. He is not saying that the person must die who has committed adultery. His statement is more merciful. But, when it comes to the marriage, the vow that the person took has been broken by their own unfaithfulness, and they may be considered dead for the purposes of divorce and remarriage. This is the only exception Christ makes. So you can sum it up like this. Divorce plus remarriage equals adultery unless the divorce occurred because of sexual unfaithfulness on the part of one’s spouse.
Now, I know that in this room today, there are those of you who are being hammered by this. Some have already gone through a divorce and are already remarried. You might be asking, “Rusty, what should I do? Get divorced and go back to my first wife?” The answer to that question is no. Two wrongs do not make a right. You should seek the forgiveness of God and of those you offended, but He will forgive you and restore you if you will fully repent.
Others of you are not divorced yet, but you have thought about it, or may be in the process of it. I want to be very clear with you. Divorce is not permitted, unless your spouse has been unfaithful. Now I know that there are all kinds of reasons you’ve been thinking about divorce. Some are physically abused. If that’s you, I do not counsel you to live together with someone who is threatening you physically. Get out of harms way, but allow the Lord to work in your life. Before you would ever consider going back into that situation get good Christian marriage counseling to make sure that the other person has truly repented and sought real change.
Others would claim this morning that they want out of their marriage because they are emotionally abused. Now, I am not denying that emotional abuse exists. In fact, I am quite sure that it does. I do not see, however, that the scripture teaches that this is a reason for divorce. I’m not saying that you might not need some serious counsel. I am not saying that you may not need to take a strong stand in your marriage and challenge that one who is abusive, but I do not see emotional abuse in scripture as a reason for divorce.
These are probably the most challenging reasons people give for divorce. Sometimes they are legitimately offered. Sometimes they aren’t. But the truth is, as believers we don’t take our cue from the culture. After all, our society has a divorce rate approaching 50%. Hey, we’re not to reflect the world, we are to reflect the Word. So what does the Bible teach us. Well, it tells us that God can save our marriage when we see marriage through His eyes and when we see divorce through His eyes. But He can also save your marriage:
D3: IF YOU WILL SEE THE CULTURE THROUGH HIS EYES.
Now, as Jesus is telling the Pharisees his view of marriage is directly countering his culture. What he said challenged the tradition of his day. The Pharisees tell him so in v3 when it says, The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” This was a formidable challenge. If Jesus was found to be contradicting Moses, he could be executed, which was probably why the Pharisees were bringing it up. They wanted Him to contradict Moses so that they could accuse Him.
They also wanted to embroil him in a current controversy. When they ask Him the question, they quote Deut 24 which said that a man could divorce His wife for “anything indecent.” One sect of the Pharisees said that the emphasis in this passage was on the “anything” so that a man could divorce his wife for almost anything, even for burning his dinner. The other sect of the Pharisees emphasized the word “indecent” and connected it directly with sexual unfaithfulness.
And the controversy went even further than the Pharisees. You see, back in Matthew 14, Herod had executed John the Baptist. His crime: He criticized the king for his divorce. Perhaps these Pharisees thought they could stir up a little political trouble for this itinerant preacher.
Jesus’s answer is brilliant. He turns them back to Genesis and simply reminds them of God’s Word and brings it to its logical conclusion. Since God ordained marriage, man can’t bust it up unless the vow itself has been broken by adultery. The Pharisees, as they often did, couldn’t accept that. They challenged in v7:
7 They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” 8 He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted 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; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”
Jesus accuses them of having hardened hearts. That means to have a heart that is obstinate, stubborn and completely unyielding. Jesus tells them that God didn’t ordain divorce, He simply provided a way by which those that were divorced could continue to function. What I see in His description of their hearts is a picture of those who, even though they are pursuing the thing they think they want, are not very happy while doing it.
Here’s the point. Until you begin to get God’s view on this culture of throw-away families and convenience marriages, we’re going to continue to live shattered lives and unsatisfied existences.
Christie Brinkley, the 57-year-old former supermodel, has turned sour about marriage and love. After divorcing her first husband, she married the singer Billy Joel in 1985. At first their marriage was a "blast," she said. "We literally never stopped singing the whole time we were together." But they divorced in 1994. Then Brinkley married Ricky Taubman, who had been in a helicopter crash with Brinkley. Brinkley said, "I even named my perfume after husband No. 3—Believe—because I still believed in love."
But after her third and fourth divorce Brinkley claimed, "I can now say unequivocally I would never get married again." And if she ever designed another line of perfume based on her feelings of marriage, she has a perfect name for it: "Stinks," she said, "I would have to call it Stinks."
And if you follow the culture’s view of marriage, that’s what you’ll end up saying about it. The only way to be saved from this polluted, unhealthy view of God’s idea for marriage is to reject the reasoning that’s all around you. You hear it all the time. People will say, “Well, it’s better to divorce than to fight all the time.” Now, I can understand an unsaved person saying that. But if you’re a Christian saying that, I have a question for you: If the Holy Spirit is living in you, why can’t you stop fighting? The fruit of the Spirit is peace.
People will say, “Well, it’s better to divorce than to be unhappy.” Really? Now I can understand a lost person saying that. They are just trying to squeeze as much happiness out of the temporary circumstances of life as they possibly can. But, again, if you’re a Christian and saying that, I have a question for you: If the Holy Spirit is living in you, why aren’t you already happy? The fruit of the Spirit is JOY.
People will say, “Well, it’s better to divorce than to miss my ‘soul mate.’” Really? Now if you’re lost this morning you just about have to say that. You see, every lost person is on a never-ending search to find the only one who can fill the emptiness inside of them. By the way that’s a pretty pointless search, because there is no human being alive who can permanently fill that space. But if you’re a Christian and you say that, I have a question for you: If the Holy Spirit lives in you, you have already found your soul mate. Ultimately you and I are the bride of Christ. The fruit of the Spirit is PEACE.
Here’s the point: Divorce is what the culture does to escape a situation it either cannot or refuses to try to solve. But as believers, our solutions really do come from Christ.
Do you really believe that? Do you really believe that your life can fundamentally change? Do you really believe that the power of the Holy Spirit can make your relationship with your spouse better? I do! Take a look at this
Remarrying each other - bluefish.