Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg

with Tom Fuller


Divorce

Matthew 19:1-12

Divorce is one of the hottest and most controversial topics of debate among Christians. Divorce rates in the United States climbed rapidly during the 1970\'s and 80\'s, but have started to decline since then. One reason given for that is that many people live together for a time before marriage. Studies now show that those types of relationships do not tend to last. Among Christians, the Barna Research organization did a survey in March of 2008 which found that 26% of evangelical Christians have experienced divorce while the national average is 33%. While evangelicals might be slightly less likely to end a marriage, 1 out of 4 is not that much different than 1 out of 3.

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The truth is that divorce happens. It is also true that much teaching in the church about divorce centers on the words of Jesus in Matthew 19 (and Mark 10:1-12). Many teach that divorce is a sin and if you divorce and remarry you also commit sin. This sets up a tremendous sense of guilt and shame among well-meaning believers and ends up forcing many Christians to leave the church. While you could read the passage this way, sort of, I think to do so misses the context of the passage, and the point that Jesus is making. Divorce is not the unforgivable sin!

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So as we walk through verses 1 through 12 understand that the context is the man-made doctrine created by a sect whose desire was to do what they want to do without consequences or without being seen as violating God\'s law. In the broadest context, Jesus shows us the ideal, how far we\'ve gone away from God\'s initial intent for how we are to live, and the controls on the flesh that come from God\'s understanding that we live in a fallen world.

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My way of coming at this section is from both a contextual and intentional perspective: what is the context of the passage, and what is the author\'s intent in the passage? This is not an exhaustive teaching on divorce-and I don\'t think that was Jesus or Matthew\'s intention. And if you disagree, feel free-many well-intentioned Christians will have varied opinions on this topic.

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As a pastor, my intention is to 1) understand the nature of what it is like to be a disciple of Christ in a fleshly body, and 2) help us to a place where God can move in a redemptive way given the realities of our circumstances.

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1 - 3

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Deuteronomy 24:1-4 specifies the occasion upon which a man may divorce. The man must find \"something indecent\" about his wife. Two schools of thought had evolved: One said that \"indecent\" could be anything, so men could practice serial marriage. Another said a man could divorce only for sexual misconduct. A woman\'s dowry was her property throughout the marriage and had to be returned upon divorce except for sexual misconduct, so men were simply stating sexual misconduct with no proof in order to keep the money, property, slaves, or whatever.

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The Pharisees were hoping to trap Jesus-if he was too strict about divorce he would lose his following, if he was too lax he would be seen agreeing with the Pharisees and could be seen as going against the Law, and be discredited.

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The Pharisees wanted to find loopholes, Jesus wanted ?to follow God\'s character and show how good it is. The sad truth is that even when we cling to the ideal, not everyone else will.

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4 - 9

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The Pharisees had quoted Moses. Jesus quotes a \"weightier\" text of Moses because it preceded the Law of Moses. Jesus said that God created \"male and female\" to be together as one in a bond that was not to be tossed aside like selling property. The Pharisees made divorce a legal issue, but Jesus focused on marriage as a spiritual issue. Divorce was given years later because of the people\'s sin, but marriage was never designed to be dissolved.

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That having been said, God recognizes the frailty of our sinful nature. The ideal cannot always be achieved. In that culture women were very vulnerable when alone. The Law gave men pause before they could just toss their wives out-they had to have reason and it had to be accompanied by an official certificate so she could remarry and reclaim her dowry.

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The Pharisees said Moses \"commanded\" divorce. Jesus corrected them to say that he merely \"allowed\" it. Marriage that lasts is the norm. It was created by God and designed to last for the rest of life. God allowed divorce because the people were so hard-hearted towards God\'s ideal.

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\"Sexual immorality\" in verse 9 is the Greek word porneia, which covers a broad range of infidelity, on both the wife and husband\'s part.

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So that brings up the question-is marital infidelity the only reason for divorce? Was Jesus creating a standard for the church universally? I tend to think not. This was addressed to men who had a particular propensity for serial marriage based on a whim. Jesus told them that the Jews had been put under some very strict rules about divorce to stop just such practices. Some Jews even divorced their wives because they burned dinner or because they saw someone more attractive.

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In this case men had to instigate divorce, but in the Gentile world women could initiate a divorce. The bottom line is that in all things we should seek the ideal, and be willing to set aside our own pride and to work hard to make a marriage work. We need to be careful not to enter into this covenant lightly because it was never designed to be broken.

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That having been said, there are certainly conditions where divorce is the only option-abuse, a missing spouse that has been declared dead, and others. Such decisions should be made prayerfully, carefully, slowly, and with an eye to what is going to reflect the character of God most brightly in the situation.

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What I see here is God\'s ideal and controls on the flesh as we live in a fallen world. The Law can be summed up \"love God, love others.\" Much of the rest of the Law deals with how to control the flesh in light of our innate predilection to go as far as we can away from God\'s ideal until stopped. God said don\'t murder, Jesus clarified that this also involves the intent, not just the action. So the Law put all kinds of bounds of when someone is killed and what you can do about it-like revenge killing. The sad truth is we fail God\'s ideal all the time-we hate, we lie, we fall into greed or worship other things than God. The ideal is always there, but knowing who we are, God put controls put on the flesh.

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10 - 12

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There is some confusion about what Jesus is referring to here. If it is to celibacy, then He is placing that above marriage, which is clearly not the case based on His earlier statements. If He is referring to the teaching about divorce, it makes more sense. What Jesus says is marriage is a big responsibility. Not everyone is \"given\" the gift of marriage-and when they are they should stick with it. There are others through various reasons that do not have the gift of marriage, such as eunuchs.

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Most people should get married-it\'s the way God designed us. But some people, like Jesus, and like Paul, had a gift of staying single. It doesn\'t mean it\'s better-but it does mean you should only do it if you have that gift. 1 Corinthians 7:8-9 But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; 9 but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. NKJV

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Conclusions

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Don\'t get married too quickly, don\'t end a marriage too quickly

  • Make sure you know your intended well. Get competent counsel and listen to it. Understand and accept the vow.
  • When deciding if a marriage should end, consider: Are there things you can do in humbling yourself that could change the situation? How about waiting and devoting yourself to prayer? Is there abuse going on in the home? Some sins are more serious than others-abuse is more serious than divorce in my way of considering of God\'s character. (1 John 5:16 says there are sins that lead to death and those that don\'t. Though Paul encourages us to stay with unbelieving spouses, he also says that \"God has called us to peace\" - 1 Cor 7:15)

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Don\'t try to short circuit God\'s ideal to get what you want or for the sake of expediency.

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There is an ideal that we should always strive for

  • That\'s not just in marriage, but certainly marriage is in view here. God\'s ideal is that we should not lie, that we should not murder by hating our brother-and on and on.
  • The ideal is always the goal, even if we know we will not make it this side of heaven.

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Philippians 3:12-16 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do:? forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

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When we fail, we must examine the attitude of the heart

  • Are we really serving ourselves, or recognizing that sometimes the fallen nature trumps the realization of the ideal

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When we fail to live up to God\'s ideal it doesn\'t mean all is lost

  • Admit to your part, talk to God about it, let Him make changes
  • For the divorced: Don\'t feel the shame and guilt and by all means don\'t stay away from God or from fellowship
  • For others: remember the plank and speck? There are many ideals that we all fail in, just because it isn\'t as public as a failed marriage doesn\'t mean it isn\'t important.
  • Forgiveness, restoration, and growth are the keys
  • God\'s grace is not an excuse to give up on the ideal (Gal 5:13-14 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.)

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http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/15-familykids/42-new-marriage-and-divorce-statistics-released

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