In a culture of self-expression and self-gratification, Scripture’s teaching about marriage and divorce can sound strange. Even many Christians have, without realizing it, failed to see marriage as a lifelong, covenant union between one man and woman, a union that bears witness to the relationship between Christ and His bride, the church.
Gratefully, whether you’re single, married, or divorced, God’s grace in Christ is able to restore you, sustain you, and empower you to live for His glory.
In this message from Matthew 19:1–2, David Platt takes a look at Christ’s teaching on marriage and divorce and the importance of this God-ordained institution. Gratefully, whether you’re single, married, or divorced, God’s grace in Christ is able to restore you, sustain you, and empower you to live for His glory.
Today we’re going to hear what Jesus teaches about marriage and divorce, then next week we’ll hear what Jesus teaches about money and materialism. On both topics, Jesus speaks in a way that is very different from the way this world speaks—and very different from the way we are all prone to think. On both of these topics, I would say we are tempted to ignore what Jesus says. In a materialistic culture, it’s not really popular to talk about what Jesus teaches regarding money. Many people, particularly in the kind of socio-economic setting we are in, don’t really want to hear what Jesus says, even those who claim to be His followers.
The same is true when Jesus teaches about marriage and divorce, but as a church, we desperately need to hear and heed what Jesus says and help each other live accordingly. If we don’t talk together about Jesus’ teaching on marriage and divorce, we won’t be much help to each other when it comes to marriage in our culture. Sadly, I think this is too often the case. In the church, we often don’t know how to relate to friends or family members who are struggling in marriage, considering divorce, or who have been divorced. As a result, a lot of people—even in the church—feel really alone in this struggle or maybe even ashamed in this struggle.
The responsibility of the church.
I want us to see this is the responsibility of the church on multiple levels as a reminder to us as a church family.
First, we must care for one another with concern. This is what it means to be the church. We don’t just sit in a service next to each other. That’s not the church. We care for each other. We look out for each other. We serve and help each other. We are a church family.
This means when a couple in the church family is struggling in marriage, even contemplating divorce, we don’t isolate them or ignore their struggle. We lay down our lives to care for each other. We need this even before there are struggles. I need men and women around Heather and me who will be so concerned about our marriage that if somebody sees me doing something that is unhelpful for my marriage, they would care enough to talk with me about it. I need that. We all need that. To be a family means we care for each other with concern.
Second, we must encourage each other with truth. We don’t just share our thoughts or opinions with each; we share God’s Word. In the context of caring concern, we open up the Bible together, helping each other see what God says for our good. This is where we need to be really careful not to be a community that says we care for each other, but then gives worldly counsel to each other, either ignoring the Bible or twisting the Bible to make it say what we think others want or need to hear. We need to dive into what Jesus says about marriage and divorce, because we want to be able to encourage one another with truth, not with our own thoughts or opinions.
Then third, as we encourage one another with truth, we also must comfort one another with love. What we’re about to talk about in the next few minutes will bring all sorts of emotions to the surface in so many people. I know that even the mention of the word divorce is like opening a wound. It may be a wound from the past, or maybe it’s an open wound because you’re walking through it in the present.
Heather and I actually spent last night praying and weeping with a friend who’s going through a real struggle right now. There are so many emotions that so many of you have experienced or maybe are experiencing right now—sorrow, loss, disappointment, anger, regret, guilt—maybe all of the above and so much more. I want to be sensitive to that today. The last thing I want to do is make wounds worse. I want to carefully apply the healing balm of the gospel to those wounds, so you will see the beautiful, radical, transforming, and eternal implications of the gospel for marriage and divorce.
I want to help us as a church do this in each other’s lives. We want to be a church family that comes alongside the married and the divorced with the love, hope, help, strength, and healing that are found in Jesus alone. We want to care for children who are affected by marital struggle and divorce in such a way that those children will be drawn to Jesus, not turned away from Him.
I want to say to every spouse who is struggling in marriage right now or who has experienced divorce, to every child who has been affected by divorce, to anyone who has done anything in marriage that you are ashamed of or whose spouse or parent has done something that maybe you are ashamed of— there is no shame here. We have all sinned and we have all been sinned against. None of us are better than another in any way. This means we hurt with those who hurt, we weep with those who weep and we love as Jesus loves (Romans 12:15). This is our responsibility before God and before each other.
In light of this responsibility, I want us to hear the words of Jesus and ask God to transform our thoughts around His truth, causing our lives to be a reflection of His love in a world where marital struggle and divorce are realities. Quite frankly, every single marriage is under attack and if you don’t think yours is, you are fooling yourself. There’s an adversary who wants to destroy your marriage. The Bible doesn’t say, “Ignore the devil and he will flee from you.” It says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
So let’s hear Jesus’ words from Matthew 19:
Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.
And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 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.”
The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. 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.”
All right, let’s think together about these words of Christ. We’ll be considering four truths, then we’ll think about what Jesus’ words mean for our lives.
Truth #1 – God created marriage.
Jesus starts with the truth that God created marriage. When asked about marriage and divorce, He says in Matthew 19:4, “Have you now read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?” So the man and woman are no longer two, but one flesh. Jesus takes us all
the way back to the very beginning of the Bible, Genesis 1. God creates man and woman, then brings them together in this union called marriage. Think about it. God didn’t have to create us this way, as men and women. He didn’t have to create marriage this way, as one man and one woman coming together in a one-flesh union, but He did. And by doing so, God defines marriage from the beginning for our good.
I trust we realize we live in a country that officially denies this. For millennia, civilizations have accepted God’s definition of marriage as an exclusive, permanent union of one man and one woman. About 25 years ago, we reiterated that definition in our country across party lines, in what was called the “Defense of Marriage Act.” But then six years ago our Supreme Court struck down key provisions of that act and the way was paved for the redefinition of marriage across our country.
One prominent professing Christian church leader said, “This is a huge moment, when lots of us are realizing that the old way of seeing things doesn’t work.” In our country, even professing Christian leaders among us have said, “The old way—the way God defined marriage in the beginning—doesn’t work.” It is appalling audacity to come along thousands of years after God created and defined marriage, 2,000 years after Jesus reiterated that definition, then say in the last six years, “We’ve discovered God’s ways don’t work, so we have come up with something better,” It is especially appalling to say that while professing to be a Christian. God help us!
From the beginning of creation, God has defined marriage for our good, so let’s trust and submit to His Word and see the beauty of God’s definition of marriage—one man and one woman, both masterfully molded in the image of their Maker, with equal dignity and complementary roles, coming together to form one flesh. This is a physical, emotional and spiritual fitting together of two as one with powerful unity in diversity, shared equality with variety, personal satisfaction through shared consummation. We don’t need to look to any court or government to define marriage. God has already done that for our good and His definition cannot be eradicated by a vote of politicians or the opinions of supreme court justices. The supreme Judge of creation has defined marriage and we gladly trust and submit to His Word.
Not only has God defined marriage, but God has designed marriage intentionally. God designs marriage for the display of the gospel. Now, this is awesome on a whole other level. Think about this with me. God’s design of marriage as the union between a man and a woman is not random. When God made man, then woman, and brought them together in marriage, He wasn’t just kind of rolling the dice or drawing straws or flipping a coin. He was painting a picture.
This is so important. Most people view marriage merely as a means of self-fulfillment or self satisfaction. Your aim is to find a mate who completes you. In this view, marriage is an end in and of itself. But that’s not what the Bible teaches. The Bible teaches that God designed marriage, not as an end, but as a means to an end. God designed marriage to be a picture that points to something greater. In Ephesians 5:31, Paul quotes from Genesis 2—just like Jesus does. He says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Then he says, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” The purpose of marriage is to point us to Christ.
Follow the logic here. Marriage is a picture of Christ and the church on the canvas of the world. Ephesians 5:25 says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” So a husband is designed by God to be a picture to the world of Christ’s love for the church, a selfless, sacrificial love. And Ephesians 5:24 says, “As the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” A wife is designed by God to be a picture to the world of the church’s love for Christ—a joyful, submissive love. When this happens in marriage, the world will see a picture of the gospel.
Now, when I use that word “gospel,” some of you may not know what that means. You may be exploring Christianity or you’re not a follower of Jesus yet. So let me pause for a moment and say we are really, really glad you’re here. The gospel is what brings us together today. You may wonder what brings over 10,000 people together in multiple services across Washington, DC, from over 100 nations and all kinds of political opinions. The answer is the gospel of Jesus.
The gospel is the good news that every one of us has been created by God for a relationship with God, the one true King over all creation. But we have rebelled against God as King, not just in our understanding of marriage, but in so many other ways. We have all turned from God to all kinds of idols in this world—namely, ourselves—and we deserve separation from God forever. But the good news is God loves us and has not left us alone in our separation. God has come to us in the person of Jesus. He is the long-awaited King in the flesh Who came to live a perfect and powerful life of no sin, then He laid down His life to pay the price for our sin. Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our rebellion against God.
The good news keeps getting better, because Jesus didn’t stay dead for long. Three days later He rose from the grave in victory over sin and death so that anyone, anywhere, who trusts in Jesus will be forgiven of their sin and brought back into a relationship with God forever. That means God is calling people from all nations, including you today, not just to say you’re a Christian or to go to church. That’s not what it means to be a Christian. To be a follower of Jesus means you renounce all other gods and idols, declaring allegiance to Jesus as the Lord Who gives life.
Please don’t miss what this means. God has brought you here today because He loves you and desires a relationship with you. God has made that possible through Jesus. So I invite you—I urge you— to receive God’s love today, to declare allegiance to Jesus as Lord, and to be reconciled to a right relationship with God. When you do, you will realize this is the ultimate meaning of marriage, to show this picture to the world.
Marriage and mission are connected because God has designed marriage for the display of the gospel. Church, let’s show His love to the world through our marriages.
Last week I was preaching at Arlington at our 5:00 gathering. Afterward that service, a few of us met with about 15 Muslim men from Morocco who were in our worship gathering. These men are university professors in Islamic teaching across Morocco and God brought them to us last week. We were sitting around and they were asking questions about marriage. So as we talked about marriage, I shared the gospel with them. I said, “I have the greatest news in the world to share with you. God loves you so much that He came in Jesus, His Son, to die for you, to pay the price for your sins, to lay down His life for you. And that is how a husband should love his wife, by laying down his life to love her, to lift her up with honor and dignity and beauty. We gladly submit to and follow Jesus, not because we have to, but because we want to. That is how a wife is designed to love her husband.”
I have yet to meet a wife who didn’t want to follow a husband who selflessly and sacrificially loved her. So let’s show this picture to the world. Husbands, let’s realize what’s at stake here. You and I are representing Jesus to a watching world with the way we love our wives. If we are harsh with our wives, we will show the world that Jesus is harsh with His people. If we ignore our wives’ needs, we are telling the world that Jesus ignores our needs. If we are unfaithful to our wives, we are showing the world that Jesus is unfaithful to us. Husband, what picture of Jesus are you giving to the world with the way you love your wife?
Similarly, wives, what picture are you giving to the world of what it means to follow Jesus? If you disrespect your husband, you show the world that Jesus is not worthy of respect. If you do not pursue your husband, you show the world that Jesus is not worth pursuing. If you’re unfaithful to your husband, you show the world that Jesus is not satisfying enough for His people.
God has designed marriage for the display of the gospel. So let’s show His love to the world. Marriage, by God’s definition and design, is so important. This is why Jesus says what He does in Matthew 19:6: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Truth #2 – God hates divorce.
So God created marriage and our second truth is that God hates divorce. Now, I’m using language here that we had read in Malachi 16 a couple weeks ago, where we see that God hates divorce. It makes sense, right? If God created marriage to be the union of one man and one woman for our good and for the display of the gospel, then divorce is fundamentally at odds with God’s good definition and design.
This leads to the question these Pharisees were asking Jesus about Moses and the law in the Old Testament. This whole conversation starts when these teachers of the law ask, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” (Matthew 19:3). Jesus answers by pointing to God’s definition and design for marriage. Then in verse seven, the Pharisees point to allowances for divorce way back in the Old Testament, where in Deuteronomy 24 Moses gave instructions for certificates of divorce.
But that’s when Jesus says in verse eight, “Because of your hardness of heart, Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” In other words, divorce was definitively not God’s original design. Divorce is always a result of sin. If there was no sin in the world, no hardness of heart, there would be no divorce. But there is sin in the world. In fact, marriage is a uniting together of two sinners. People wonder why so many marriages struggle. Experts point to all kinds of problems that hinder marital happiness: communication problems, compatibility problems, financial problems, sexual problems, personality problems. I wouldn’t say those aren’t problems; they certainly can be.
I really don’t mean to be overly simplistic here, but I believe the major problem in every marriage, according to Scripture, is clear. The major problem in every marriage is sin. The big problem in marriage is that every husband and wife in this church is a sinner. That seems basic, but I think we overlook it. How many wedding vows start with, “Look into your wife/husband’s eyes and repeat after me: I am a major sinner, and you are stuck with me for life”? It’s true. I hate to break it to you, but according to Romans 3, marriage is the uniting of two people who have throats that are open graves, tongues that practice deceit, the poison of vipers is on their lips, their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness, their feet are swift to shed blood, ruin and misery mark their ways and the way of peace they do not know. Those lyrics don’t make for a great wedding song, nor for the pastor saying, “Let’s pause while we reflect on the depravity of this man and this woman.”
We joke about that, but here’s why this is so important. We go to all kinds of books, conferences, seminars, and experts on marriage, yet as long as we try externally to make things work, if the sin problem is not continually addressed in each of our hearts, then we will be putting band-aids on broken limbs. We need to see the problems in marriage for what they are—a war that is going on in each one of our hearts. That’s what Jesus is saying here.
But we resist this, because the last place we want to look when it comes to problems in our marriages is within ourselves. Jesus calls it sin. It’s the hardness of heart that ultimately leads to divorce. In almost any marital conflict, there are obviously two sides to the story. While there are many situations where more fault clearly lies on one side than the other, the fact still remains: both are sinners and any divorce is a result of sin.
Divorce is always the result of sin and divorce is often sinful. This is true in two ways in particular. First, God hates divorce and there are only a couple exceptions where He allows it—which we’ll talk about in a minute. But outside of these exceptions, divorce in and of itself is a sin against God. That’s critical for us to hear in a country and in a culture today where the ability to divorce is relatively easy. All that’s need is a mere statement of irreconcilable differences. You can even get divorced online pretty cheaply and quickly from your phone. This is why we desperately need to stop and ask, “When does God allow divorce?”
Then, second, even when God allows divorce, we must be aware that the temptation to sin while pursuing divorce—even on biblical grounds—is particularly strong. It is very hard to go through a divorce process, even one for biblical reasons, without sinning. For example, your spouse may have committed adultery against you. Now I do not presume to know the depth of hurt, anger, sense of betrayal, and all the other emotions that go with that, sometimes even being pure before God. But I do know that there is an adversary who wants to take those emotions and turn them into malicious speech and a deep bitterness that will eat at your soul. I want to exhort you to guard against these and other temptations. It’s really hard to do; actually impossible to do without Jesus. But He is with you. The One Who was betrayed to His death is with you every step of the way. He knows how you feel and He wants to help you avoid responding to sin with sin. Divorce is often sinful in many ways.
Truth #3 – God regulates divorce.
So when is divorce not sinful? When does God allow it? This leads to the third truth. As a result of sin in this world and the hardness of our hearts, Jesus teaches us that God regulates divorce. This means that although divorce was not part of God’s design for marriage, passages like Deuteronomy 24— which is referenced again in Matthew 19 and 1 Corinthians 7—make it clear that the Bible acknowledges the reality of divorce. In these passages, God gives us certain regulations concerning divorce.
These are regulations—not suggestions. This is not God giving us truths that are open to being added to or taken away from by pastors, counselors, lawyers, or anybody else in the 21st century. God doesn’t give us suggestions to be considered; He gives us commands to be obeyed, for our good. In His Word, God gives us two potential, biblical grounds for divorce—one here in Matthew 19 and the other in 1 Corinthians 7.
So here in Matthew 19 we have this conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees who were trying to trap Jesus by using this quote from Deuteronomy 24 in the Old Testament. There were different schools of thought in first-century Judaism about what might be allowed for divorce. One school of thought believed that a man could divorce his wife if she had committed any type of immodest behavior or sexual immorality.
The other school of thought, which was more dominant, interpreted Deuteronomy 24 much more broadly, saying that divorce was possible whenever a wife did anything displeasing to her husband. This basically led to men divorcing their wives for just about any reason. That’s what the Pharisees were thinking. Jesus says to them, “I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another commits adultery.”
So in Matthew 19, Jesus put one ground for divorce on the table: adultery. There’s some debate even about what that means, because the word for sexual immorality that Jesus uses here is porneia, which is a word that refers to all kinds of sexual sin in the Bible. But in the context of this passage, where Jesus has just referred to this one-flesh union of marriage, the picture seems to be of a spouse who violates that one-flesh union. That is a serious violation, not only against the spouse, but against God.
This exception makes sense in light of what Jesus has already explained when it comes to the one flesh meaning of marriage. Adultery, in defiance of God, places another person within that union. Adultery demeans, shames, and abandons a husband or a wife for selfish gain. Such sexual immorality, Jesus says, is extremely serious and is grounds for divorce.
Now, adultery was punishable by stoning according to the Old Testament. We see stern warnings throughout Scripture against it. In fact, let me pause here because I assume there are men and women here today who in your mind have flirted with adultery, thought about adultery, stepped an inch toward adultery, or may be on the verge of adultery right now. Some, I’m assuming, are involved in an adulterous relationship right now.
If adultery is anywhere near you right now, even in the recesses of your mind in ways that you have tried to cover up, I urge you to hear Proverbs 7. It describes a man wandering after a woman who was not his wife. The Bible says:
With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him. All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a stag is caught fast till an arrow pierces its liver; as a bird rushes into a snare; he does not know that it will cost him his life.
And now, O sons, listen to me, and be attentive to the words of my mouth. Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths, for many a victim has she laid low, and all her slain are a mighty throng. Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death.
Hear the word of God, men and women: “Run, run, run!” You are like a cow going to the slaughter right now. Proverbs 6:32 states, “He who commits adultery lacks sense; he who does it destroys himself.” You do not realize how dumb you are right now. You’re walking to your death and convincing yourself it’s good. Run! This is the gracious Word of God to you today. Don’t rationalize—run! Don’t flirt with it—flee!
Back here in Matthew 19, notice that Jesus does not say when adultery occurs that divorce is certain or required. Instead, Jesus says divorce is possible in this situation. So you might think it sounds like Jesus was lining up with that first school of thought among first-century Jews, but the reality is they would have seen divorce as certain in cases of sexual immorality or adultery.
This is where we begin to see implications of the gospel for divorce in Scripture. Jesus is approaching the possibility of divorce in a redemptive manner, with a totally different perspective than the Pharisees. They were searching for circumstances in which it would be possible for them to divorce. Jesus
is saying in His response that we’re not looking for reasons to divorce—we’re longing for reconciliation to occur.. The goal here is not to look at the letter of the law for a loophole that allows divorce. That’s not how we should look at God’s Word.
Notice how this teaching in Matthew 19 comes right on the heels of the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18 where Jesus taught His disciples to forgive extravagantly. The implication is clear. Work toward reconciliation. Pray toward redemption and restoration, not because it’s easy, but because Jesus is in you. This is the heart of the gospel.
I thank God for marriages in this church, good friends of mine, that have been restored by God’s grace despite adultery. This is not to shame anyone or to make anyone feel guilty who divorces after adultery. Jesus clearly makes that exception here. He said the same thing in Matthew 5. So divorce is possible after adultery; but it’s not inevitable.
You say, “How can a marriage survive adultery?” The answer is only by the power of the gospel. For those of you who have committed adultery, forgiveness is only possible by the love of Christ and true repentance. For those whose spouse has been unfaithful to you, continuing in marriage is only possible by the power of Jesus in you—the power of Jesus to love and forgive and care, even when you are hurt. This is the love of Christ on the cross and this is the Christ Who lives in you, believer.
I want to be careful even here. There are so many different circumstances and so many different lives. There are circumstances when one spouse may commit adultery once and realize their sin before God and their spouse, confess that sin, hate it, turn from it humbly and do everything necessary to restore the trust that was lost. Then there are circumstances when a spouse is perpetually adulterous or is sorry just because they got caught or is not turning from sin and is not working to restore trust. I want to be careful not to speak definitively where Jesus has not spoken definitively. I want to call us to be in relationships with each other where we work out the Word of Christ in our lives and the Word of Christ is clear here. When it comes to adultery, divorce is possible, but it is not inevitable.
Even though we’re in Matthew 19, I at least want to put on the table this other ground for divorce that the Bible teaches in 1 Corinthians 7. One ground for divorce in 1 Corinthians 7 is abandonment. Here Paul is specifically talking about marriage between a believer and an unbeliever, stating:
If any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband.
I don’t have time to dive into all these passage means, but the bottom line is that a believing spouse should not initiate divorce from an unbelieving spouse, but should stay married, working praying, and loving toward that unbelieving spouse’s salvation. “But,” Paul continues in verse 15, “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.” In other words, if an unbelieving spouse chooses to abandon a believing spouse, despite that believing spouse’s love for them, then divorce is preferable in this situation. Let it be so, the Bible says. In other words, don’t initiate that kind of divorce, but if it is forced upon you by abandonment from an unbelieving spouse, then do not fight back.
Again, that’s what is clearly taught in God’s Word. There are so many different circumstances in the world in which we work this out. But here in the Bible, we have two biblical grounds for divorce: adultery and abandonment. Any divorce outside of these grounds, God’s Word teaches, leads to adultery in remarriage. That’s what Jesus is saying here in Matthew 19:9: “Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality…” Then we see the other exception in 1 Corinthians 7, “…and marries another, commits adultery.”
In other words, remarriage is biblically permissible for the offended spouse after a biblical divorce. Another way to put that is that where God grants permission for divorce, He grants permission for remarriage. So practically speaking, that means the non-adulterous spouse in the first exception for divorce, and the abandoned spouse in the second exception for divorce, can remarry according to these passages. But outside of this, a man or woman is not free to remarry. Such remarriage would be adultery.
Now, before we move on to this last truth, I want to briefly address one other thing that’s not mentioned here specifically but is definitely mentioned in the Bible—abuse in marriage. Please hear loud and clear today that. We don’t have time to deeply dive into that topic at this point, but the Bible makes clear that abuse is sinful and totally intolerable in marriage. No spouse or child should be in a home with someone who jeopardizes their safety. I, and we as a church, implore any spouse or child in any such situation to report that to proper authorities. We as church leaders will help you toward that end and we urge you to remove yourself from all danger.
Again, there are so many different circumstances, but through law enforcement when necessary, as well as church discipline according to the Bible, we must take abuse seriously. We must walk with each other, with God’s Word, through how abuse affects marriage and potentially divorce. Without diving in depth here, when a spouse continues in abuse, it becomes clear that a spouse is not actually a follower of Jesus—which begins to show a picture of abandonment that we just saw in 1 Corinthians 7. Again, there are so many circumstances. This is why we want to walk together with God’s Word.
Truth #4 – God redeems divorce.
So let’s recap. God created marriage, God hates divorce and God regulates divorce as a result of sin in our hearts. Then ultimately, the fourth truth, God redeems divorce. I mentioned that I realize this entire subject brings old and new wounds to the surface. I realize these can be even hard words to hear in the Bible, but see why God addresses divorce like this. The reason God is so serious in His Word about our marriage covenants with each other is because God is so serious about His marriage covenant with us.
Particularly if you have gone through the pain of divorce for a variety of reasons, please hear this and know this. As a follower of Christ, as part of the bride of Christ—men and women, His bride, His body—whether you are the offended spouse or even the offending spouse, if you have sinned, you can find hope here. If you have been sinned against, you can find hope here in Jesus. I want to remind you that in Jesus, He is always forgiving and always faithful.
Even if the marriage covenant in your life was broken in the past—because of your sin or your spouse’s sin—know that the ultimate marriage covenant is still firmly intact. Amidst pain and hurt, see the God Who daily picks you up where you are—not where you wish you were, not where you thought you’d be or where you really want to be—and He carries on His covenant of love with you. Please hear this. He will never commit adultery against you and He will never abandon you. No matter what happens in this world, Jesus never, ever, ever forsakes His bride—ever. As a follower of Jesus, the reality is you are His bride and you can count on His love forever. This is the gospel.
So what does this mean for our lives? Knowing there are all kinds of different circumstances, I just want to close with these general clear exhortations that we see in God’s Word. If you are single, brother or sister, maximize your singleness to advance the gospel. It’s interesting that in both Matthew 19 and 1 Corinthians 7—which I wish we had time to dive into more— we see both Jesus and Paul commending singleness for the spread of God’s Kingdom. Jesus says in verses 11-12 here that singleness for the sake of the Kingdom is a good thing. It’s not that marriage is bad, but marriage is not best for all people.
This is significant to hear, because we sometimes have the idea that we need to be married in order to live a complete life. But that’s just not true. Jesus was the most complete man, most fully human person, who ever lived and He was not married. Many of the heroes of the New Testament and church history were not married. So if you are single, the takeaway from Matthew 19 is that as long as you are single, maximize your singleness for the Kingdom of God.
At the same time, Matthew 19 is saying if you are married, love your spouse in a way that portrays the gospel. Let God’s Word drive you, husband or wife, to love your spouse well today, this week. This is the word of God today to husbands: love your wives with sacrificial love. Take responsibility for the glory of Christ in your marriages. Wives, respect your husbands and honor Christ through gracious support of his leadership in a way that shows the world the picture of the gospel.
As I was praying this week for you, I also thought about marriages where there may not be adultery or abandonment or abuse, but there is still pretty strong disappointment. I know that many wives and husbands feel neglected, disrespected, uncared for, unloved, pretty lonely. Some of you could fill in the blank with other descriptions. Some of you are looking at your marriage and thinking, “Surely God’s design is better than this.” And it is. So if that’s you, I want to encourage you to keep your eyes fixed on Him, the only One Who can completely satisfy your soul. Draw near to Jesus. Seek help from Him in prayer. Cry out to Him, devour His Word, and attend church.
We do want to be a community that walks with one another, not just sits next to each other and then moves on through the struggles of life in isolation. Share your struggles with others—don’t try to do this alone. If you don’t know who to share with, write “I need help” on the back of your bulletin in the response area on the top. We want to be a church that helps each other love our spouses in a way that portrays the gospel and shows the world the love of Christ.
Then if you are married and considering divorce, remember the preciousness and power of Jesus’ love. If you’re a husband or wife right now who is considering divorce, I want to urge you to ask first if you have biblical grounds for divorce. If you don’t, I urge you to consider how, in the context of your marriage and with the help of brothers and sisters in Christ, you can resolve that conflict. It’s real and is damaging your marriage, so healing is only possible solution through the preciousness and power of the gospel. We want to help you.
Then, if you do have grounds for divorce, I still want to encourage you to consider the preciousness and power of the gospel with a view toward reconciliation in your marriage—if that’s possible. It’s only possible in the power of the gospel, but the gospel can change even the hardest hearts and restore and redeem even the most difficult marriages. So if you’re considering divorce, remember the preciousness and power of the gospel.
If you’re divorced for a biblical reason and single, rest in Jesus in your singleness, or possibly in a future marriage. If you were divorced on biblical grounds—you were the non-adulterous spouse in the first exception, or the believing spouse in the second exception—then let God’s Word encourage you to rest in Jesus in the singleness God has given you at this time. And if God grants you continued singleness, we pray that by the power of the gospel He will enable you to rejoice in it. But if God leads you to remarry, then display the love of Christ by the power of the gospel in your marriage.
If you are divorced for an unbiblical reason and single, repent, then rely on Jesus to glorify God in your singleness. Repent of your sin to both God and to your former spouse, then let the gospel of Jesus give you great hope for a life that thrives in the advancement of the gospel as a single while you wait for the ultimate wedding where you will join Jesus together for all of eternity.
Then finally, if you are divorced for an unbiblical reason and remarried, repent and reflect the gospel in your current marriage. If you’re divorced for an unbiblical reason, Scripture encourages you to repent genuinely before God and your former spouse. But then Scripture nowhere indicates that you should break another marriage covenant by divorcing again. Instead, Scripture encourages you to focus on magnifying Christ in the marriage you have now by the power of the gospel.
Again, there are so many different circumstances that I hesitate even to give you these general “so what’s.” But hear these exhortations that are clear in God’s Word and be in relationship with each other in the church so we can help one another apply God’s Word as we show His love to the world. Let’s pray.
O God, You alone know what is going on in every single mind and heart right now—wounds that are open, questions that arise, emotions that are felt, thoughts running through minds. Jesus, I pray that You would show Yourself sufficient for all those, that Your strength would be sufficient in weakness, that Your truth would overcome lies, that Your peace, healing, joy, and hope would overcome despair, confusion, hurt, and pain.
Jesus, we hate sin in this world. We hate sin and all its effects, so we praise You for coming to conquer it. We praise You for coming and being betrayed and being crucified for our sin, for taking all the hurt and all the pain that we deserve in our sin eternally upon Yourself. All glory be to Your name for Your love and faithfulness to us. We look to You now and depend upon Your faithfulness. We need Your faithfulness in our lives and in our marriages. We need Your help in every one of our marriages. We need Your help in singleness as well. In light of past pain and present hurt, we need Your help and we praise You for Your faithfulness to provide all we need. I pray that You would provide all that is needed in every heart and every mind.
Most of all, I pray for anyone today who has not been reconciled to a right relationship with You, that today would be the day when they experience a true relationship with You through Jesus. Jesus, we pray that You would save from sin and draw people to Yourself today, so that just like we talked about last week, sin will not define our lives and shame will not be the end of our stories.
You’ve given us life, honor and hope, so please make that hope known in hearts all across this church today. Give us power we pray. Give us strength. Give us grace to apply the gospel to every single one of our lives, as singles or in marriage—especially in this time and place You put us in. Help us to glorify You and show the gospel to the world. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
How can we apply this passage to our lives?
Why must the truth of God’s Word be the final authority when it comes to what we believe about marriage?
How does the culture error even at the start of its argument for what marriage is?
In what ways has God designed marriage to display the gospel?
Why does God hate divorce? What constitutes as a “Biblical Divorce”
According to the sermon, what comfort do all Christians have in God’s commitment to them?
Jesus and Marriage
The Responsibility of the Church . . .
We care for one another with concern.
We encourage one another with truth.
We comfort one another with love.
Matthew 19:1 – 12
Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 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.” The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. 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.”
#1 – God created marriage.
God defines marriage for our good, so let’s trust and submit to His Word.
God designs marriage for the display of the gospel, so let’s show His love to the world.
Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.
This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
#2 – God hates divorce.
Divorce is always a result of sin.
Divorce is often sinful.
#3 – God regulates divorce.
One ground for divorce in Matthew 19: Adultery.
He who commits adultery lacks sense; he who does it destroys himself.
Proverbs 7:21 – 27
With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him. All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a stag is caught fast till an arrow pierces its liver; as a bird rushes into a snare; he does not know that it will cost him his life. And now, O sons, listen to me, and be attentive to the words of my mouth. Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths, for many a victim has she laid low, and all her slain are a mighty throng. Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death.
Divorce is possible in this situation.
We are not looking for reasons to divorce but longing for reconciliation to occur.
One ground for divorce in 1 Corinthians 7: Abandonment.
1 Corinthians 7:12 – 15
. . . if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. 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.
Divorce is preferable in this situation.
Remarriage is biblically permissible for the offended spouse after a biblical divorce.
#4 – God redeems divorce.
He is always forgiving and He is always faithful.
He will never commit adultery against you and He will never abandon you.
If you are single, maximize your singleness to advance the gospel.
If you are married, love your spouse in a way that portrays the gospel.
If you are considering divorce, remember the preciousness and power of Jesus’ love.
If you are divorced for a biblical reason and single, rest in Jesus in your singleness or possibly in a future marriage.
If you are divorced for an unbiblical reason and single, repent and rely on Jesus to glorify God in your singleness.
If you are divorced for an unbiblical reason and married, repent and reflect the gospel in your current marriage.