of the missing sermon topics of our day is divorce. Long ago the church in
America gave up teaching against divorce; indeed, it is rare to hear a sermon
opposed to adultery. Fornication is still preached against – by youth
ministers – but this is rather a rare phenomenon too. The church has “moved
beyond” all this and is now struggling with homosexuality. Most denominations
have now embraced this as a form of marriage; the stricter denominations are
still a generation away from that. But can there be any doubt where this will
end? Even now pedophilia is being declared to be harmless, even good for
Scripture paints a different picture:
Mat 19:3-12 NIV
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, "Is it lawful for a
man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?" (4) "Haven't you read," he replied,
"that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' (5) and
said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to
his wife, and the two will become one flesh'?
(6) So they are no longer two, but one.
Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate." (7) "Why then," they asked, "did
Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her
away?" (8) Jesus replied, "Moses
permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was
not this way from the beginning. (9) I tell
you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and
marries another woman commits adultery." (10)
The disciples said to him, "If this is the situation between a husband and
wife, it is better not to marry." (11)
Jesus replied, "Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom
it has been given. (12) For some are eunuchs
because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others
have renounced marriagebecause of
the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it."
may begin by analyzing the cast of characters provided to us.
are the people closest to our view of divorce today. The major difference, of
course, is that they are talking solely of a man divorcing his wife – as the
wife in these times could not divorce her husband except in the unusual
incidence of him becoming a follower of some other god. They see this question
as not only a hot topic, but a way to tempt Jesus.
is a fact: if you run to the doctor constantly, you are sick – one way or
another. Bringing this up is a sign that it’s on the Pharisees’ minds. It
takes a lot of study to become a Pharisee, so they would be likely ones to look
for a younger, cuter wife.
there is more to it than that. Caiaphas has just pronounced that “for the good
of the people, this Jesus must die.”
They are thus trying to find occasion to enforce this prophecy.
has just finished telling the crowd the parable of the Pharisee and the
It’s pretty clear that this was a hammer stroke at the Pharisees. It is
evident that Jesus desires the repentance of these men – and doesn’t think he’s
going to see it.
appears that Jesus is caught “on the horns of a syllogism.”
If he approves of the looser standard of divorce, they can use much the same
argument Christ will use against them. If not, they will ask (and do) just why
Moses allowed divorce by such a simple procedure, with no apparent standard
set. (Note that in the argument there is no mention of the penalty for
adultery: stoning to death. The correct Mosaic Law answer is “stone the
woman.” Thus Moses must be talking about cases where there is some other
will kindly note that Christ is therein tempted. It is a temptation
of social pressure as well as dilemma; it is not unknown today. He knows how
disciples correctly conclude that Christ’s words make marriage a much riskier
business. They cannot share our modern attitude of “we can always get a
divorce if it doesn’t work out.” But they are also still having trouble with
the radical nature of the church of God: they do not yet see women as
important, let alone equals. They are about to hear Christ on the subject of
which is even more shocking. So they are unprepared for Christ’s argument,
just as the Pharisees are.
is fashionable in evangelical churches today to equate the intellectual side of
Christianity with legalism. As Christ will here produce a logical argument
consistent with intellectual Christianity, we hereby forewarn all who think us
legalists to please use your search engine to find some less taxing version of
this. We wish you all success.
argument comes in three steps:
no matter what the Law says, what is the will of God? Surely this is what
we should follow if at all possible.
the relationship of the will of God to the Law of Moses.
a conclusive statement of direction.
we shall see in the next section, this is largely ignored by the modern church.
brings up three quotations from the Old Testament which describe the nature of
marriage – as willed by God.
the beginning God created us male and female.
It is a “law of creation” – it is intrinsic to the human being that one is
either male or female. So this distinction is part of God’s will.
from the beginning, we see that the man leaves his father and mother for
his wife – thus establishing marriage as the most important of human
to make it clear how well cemented this relationship is supposed to be,
Christ reminds us that we are “one flesh.” It’s a point that is seen
physically in the children we produce; Paul indeed says this comes not
from ceremony but from simple sexual intercourse.
This union is mystic as well as physical, having been established “in the
what does God want? His will is simple:
is to be life long, broken only by death.
is to be no adultery.
is to be no divorce.
why, then, does Moses have this rule about divorce?
and the Law
for a moment: what changes would you make in the traffic laws if you could
have your way? Reasoning logically, we might go this route:
objective of traffic laws is to combine the fastest, most efficient ride
with complete safety from accidents.
that these objectives can be combined, we would than produce a flood of
new laws designed to prevent all accidents.
would require an impossible number of policemen to enforce.
means that which is your objective. Law is the practical implementation of the
people’s will. It is limited in its effectiveness.
most law is a compromise of one sort or another. Many of these compromises
come from the fact that we are all sinners, and therefore we have laws which
are not ideal but rather the best thing we can enforce. (Think about the 55
mph speed limit from a few years ago.) Moses had much the same problem; and
much the same solution.
one thing is clear: the will of God is superior to the Law of Moses. It is
better to stay married to one wife than it is to divorce her. We might even
see some sense in this today.
being so, we may conclude the following:
put the two of you together; do not let mankind tear you apart.
with the exception noted, is equivalent to adultery. (And we stone
might do well to remember, however, that even with adultery there is no
requirement for a divorce; only permission. Forgiveness exists, if we choose
to use it. The Old Testament model for this is found in Hosea.
however, the Old Testament gives us one other connection to examine: the link
between adultery and idolatry. God characterizes the unfaithfulness of Israel
as being her adultery – for she is His bride. That connection has serious implications
for the church today.
may observe the following facts:
divorce rate in evangelical churches is higher than in the general
population – currently greater than 25%.
church’s actions concerning divorce are largely focused on cleaning up the
mess afterward, not prevention.
Because the church now teaches the world’s view of marriage – an egalitarian
marriage with neither partner in charge. Egalitarian partnerships are notably
unstable – when the first serious argument comes along, the 50-50 split. The
the central fact: we no longer have “headship” in marriage. We therefore
cannot recommend obedience of the wife – it is prohibited by definition. This
is a great change. But we would do well, perhaps, to examine the older model.
We shall see that this decision to promote egalitarian marriage has
consequences unforeseen and unintended.
is simply the right response to right authority.
The model is simple:
the kingdom of God, authority comes from responsibility.
if you want to know what legitimate authority someone has, you must ask
what responsibility he/she has.
misuse authority goes by a simple name: tyranny.
the kingdom of God, authority is given to benefit those in submission.
seems rather simple. But – especially as it applies to marriage – the church
no longer teaches this model of submission and authority. We now teach that
submission is evil, and to be avoided when possible. This has had some
interesting effects on those in authority; consider the antagonism which now
greets police officers and even firefighters. Nor has this effect left the
church untouched; but its greatest impact has been on marriage.
on the church
primary effect on the church comes from the metaphor of the church as the Bride
of Christ. As long as wives were in submission to their husbands, it was
logical to conclude that the Bride of Christ should be in submission to Him.
We no longer teach submission in marriage, and thus we have abandoned (quite
logically) our submission to Christ. Jesus is now our friend, not our Lord.
how do we reconcile this with being a “Bible-believing church?” It’s simple,
really. We do not teach on divorce nor preach against it; we ignore it. In
large measure we have stopped preaching against adultery, and confined
preaching against fornication to youth ministers. We have “solved” the problem
by ignoring it and hoping it will go away.
must leave it to the reader: as you sow, so shall you reap. What fruit will
come of this?