April 14, 2016
31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
Now here’s a real sticky wicket. Before we get into it, there’s something we need to understand about this whole Sermon on the Mount. We are talking here about the Rule of God far more than we are the rules from God. The problem we have as sinners is we care a lot more about the rules than The Rule. The Law was not meant to lead to legislation but to that which could never be legislated, love. The people of God, from Israel to the present day, tend to push the law outward to the reaches of its circumference. We want to know what is “against the law” so we can know how far we can push it.
Consider the Sabbath command, which in essence says, “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. . . on it you shall do no work.” Rather than focusing the energy on what “keeping it holy” meant, they fixated on defining the meaning of “work.” Remember how they attacked Jesus for healing on the sabbath because that was considered “work.” In retrospect, what could have been more holy than that?
So what does any of this have to do with divorce? Will we focus on the rules or The Rule? If we want to talk about The Rule, we will focus on marriage. If we want to talk about “the rules” we will focus our energies on divorce and when divorce is legal and when it is not. It is completely out of character with the Sermon on the Mount for Jesus to all of a sudden break into a legislative discourse on whether divorce is permitted and when. Jesus is focused on the sanctity of marriage.
But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
Marriage is so sacred and inviolate and holy in the eyes of God that once we get married, we are married in the eyes of God until death do us part. We can go to court, get decrees and certificates and call it quits, but in the eyes of God this is a farce or a fiction. The only exception seems to be sexual immorality. Sexual sin apparently desecrates and destroys marriage in the eyes of God. Otherwise, we are still married. Marriage is that holy in the eyes of God. I may be wrong, but this is my best understanding of the text at hand. For those who have been divorced the choices are to reject it or we can accept it and trust in the mercy of God for this tragic failure in our lives. Rather than try to soften the teaching, it’s probably a better idea for us to simply deal with it head on.
The trouble is that instead of focusing our energies on the sacredness of marriage and the tragedy of its desecration we have instead put all the attention on divorce and whether divorce is the sin or is remarriage the issue or was the divorce a biblical divorce or not or were the couple was ever really married in the eyes of God in the first place, paving the way for annulling the marriage which is another way of saying it never really happened. And because a lot of the church has put the focus there, a much larger portion of the church has set the whole thing aside, basically accepting divorce as an inevitable commonplace reality and getting on with life.
For all practical purposes, it looks to me like we are setting the command of Jesus aside and teaching others to do the same. The mercy in that is while we may be called least in the Kingdom, we may still remain within it. The bigger downside of our failure to establish extraordinary discipleship teaching and practice around the sanctity of marriage is our loss of credibility and integrity to effectively defend the sanctity of marriage against other cultural assaults. Once the sanctity of marriage is set aside on one front it becomes much harder to build it up on other fronts.
There is much more to be said here and I realize I am subject to being misunderstood. Bottom line: it’s time to start rebuilding the ruins of marriage. A step in that direction will be asking a better question. Instead of asking the Dr. Phil question about how to have a better marriage we must ask the trinitarian question about the meaning of holy matrimony.
1. Do you see how this text is more about the sanctity of marriage than the problem of divorce? Reflect on that.
2. Put into your own words and thought this distinction between The Rule and the rules. Is this helpful?
3. Reflect on this sentence: “Once the sanctity of marriage is set aside on one front it becomes much harder to build it up on other fronts.” How does this shed light on the marriage controversies of our time?
J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. firstname.lastname@example.org.