Divorce and Adultery
Matthew 5:27-37 NASB
"You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL NOT
COMMIT ADULTERY'; (28) but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust
for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (29) "If your right eye
makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you
to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown
into hell. (30) "If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and
throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your
body, than for your whole body to go into hell. (31) "It was said, 'WHOEVER SENDS
HIS WIFE AWAY, LET HIM GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE'; (32) but I say to you that
everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever
marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (33)
"Again, you have heard that the ancients were
told, 'YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.'
(34) "But I say
to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,
(35) or by the earth,
for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is THE CITY OF THE
GREAT KING. (36) "Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot
make one hair white or black. (37) "But let your statement be, 'Yes, yes' or 'No, no'; anything
beyond these is of evil.
It is difficult for this author to write about this subject
at this time. The pastor at our church recently preached a sermon on divorce.
To put it simply, I was shocked at the number of reasons he associated with the
concept of adultery. Pornography is no good thing, but is it cause for divorce?
He also chose to include the Pauline exception of abandonment as cause for
divorce — and then included any number of forms of abandonment. Let me counsel
the husbands: don’t spend too much time on your stamp collection. You may get
served with divorce papers.
Not wishing to start a church fight, let me state simply how
we are to deal with adultery.
First, adultery means any sex outside of your marriage.
(Fornication happens when you are both single.) If you are
married and have sex with someone other than your spouse, that’s adultery. It
may also be incest, rape or any number of other crimes but at least it is
Christ makes it clear in this passage that the thought is father
to the action. God alone may judge the heart, but he will judge accurately. The
key to controlling lust is to decide that you will have one partner as long as
you both shall live. Lust is a sin.
There is no path which gets you halfway to heaven. You either
make heaven, or hell. The stakes are so high that it is wise and prudent to do
what ever is necessary to achieve heaven. If that means sawing off parts of
your body, so be it. We normally consider that an exaggeration for effect, but
the point is deadly serious.
God understands that the human being has a desire for sex. After
all, he put it there. To satisfy that desire for sex he has given us marriage.
Paul tells us that an unsatisfied desire for sex with your intended bride is a
good reason to get married.
Do you remember the promise you made on your wedding day? It
was something like, “to cling to her and her alone.” That is God’s intention
for your marriage.
It follows, naturally, that adultery would therefore be
grounds for divorce. We may take a moment to examine the new view as propounded
from our pulpit.
Adultery is now defined as “anything that breaks sexual
intimacy.” Besides the obvious, this includes things like pornography and
erectile dysfunction. The concept is now quite a bit more elastic.
Abandonment — based on the Pauline exception — is now considered
grounds for divorce. This includes any activity which could be interpreted as
spending too much time on something other than the marriage. The obvious
difficulty is with the definition of “too much time.”
The new definition is much more flexible, of course. And it
certainly accords more with what our society believes today. We might therefore
take a look at the classic view and see where it differs.
The original word in the Greek is the root word from which we get
our word, “pornography.” The most common translation of this word in the
Scriptures is adultery.
The word can also be translated “fornication” or “incest.” In
either these cases it is still sex outside of marriage.
The Pauline exception we have noted has classically been
interpreted to mean separation, not divorce. Also, the circumstances were
strictly limited in the classical view. Spending too much time on your stamp
collection is a problem, not grounds for divorce.
We might also invoke the context of the times. At the time
which Christ was speaking, there were two views. One set of rabbis held that
practically anything was grounds for divorce, including such things as burning
the soup or raising your voice towards your husband. The other school of rabbis
held that adultery, and adultery alone (the old-fashioned definition)
constituted sufficient grounds. People them, like people today, preferred the
much more liberal interpretation. Christ came down in favor of the other side.
The reader has the privilege of selecting which view he thinks is most
It might seem out of place to include Christ’s words on vows
and oaths in this section, but there is very definitely a connection. Bill
Clinton to the contrary notwithstanding, character is not something composed of
separate little compartments. It’s something you carry with you all the time.
In particular we have the issue of honesty: do you keep your word? A vow is a
special form of keeping your word. It is clear from the Scripture that a man’s
word, as my father said, should be his bond. You say it, you mean it, you carry
it out. If that’s true for just your ordinary speech, how much more true should
it be for something like your wedding vows?
Think of it this way: you went to the trouble of assembling
a large number of your friends and family, probably in a church in the presence
of a minister of God, for the specific purpose of hearing the two of you pledge
each other that you would stay faithful to each other for the rest of your
lives. You did it, as my impious brother-in-law puts it, “right out in front of
God and everybody.” (He ought to know; he’s on wife number four or five.) Yet
our society takes this file so lightly that we encourage people — often at the
wedding reception itself — to view marriage and fidelity as laughable. We are
shocked when someone doesn’t commit adultery. Do you not see that adultery is
simply a form of dishonesty? You gave the woman your word; keep it.
This may seem to be difficult. Honesty often is. It’s just
that it is required.
Eye for an Eye
Matthew 5:38-42 NASB
"You have heard that it was said, 'AN EYE FOR AN
EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.' (39) "But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but
whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. (40) "If anyone wants
to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. (41) "Whoever forces
you to go one mile, go with him two. (42)
"Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away
from him who wants to borrow from you.
Human Society: Us and Them
Something which often amazes Americans is the fact — and it
is an undoubted fact — that most of the people of the world think they are
racially superior to the rest of the planet. The Japanese know that they are
better than the Chinese; Koreans are better than the Japanese and Chinese
better than both. And none of them consider this exceptional. Indeed, within
societies we usually find a class structure. The upper class takes it for
granted that they are entitled to rule because they are obviously so much
superior to those in the lower classes. Human beings naturally divide the world
into us and them; and we all know that “we” are better than they are.
Only America — the melting pot of every people in the world
— has had to confront the thought that there might not be one group of people
who are racially superior to the rest. Worse yet, we’ve had to confront the
thought that those people in the other group might have something to say that
worth hearing. This is not particularly a virtue for Americans; we’ve been more
or less forced into it. But perhaps we have the perspective to see it as it is.
This is particularly relevant when it comes to the concept of a feud.
For most of us, our memories extend only to the last insult
we received. This is very helpful in conducting a feud. We certainly don’t
want justice — when vengeance is available. This desire for vengeance is one of
the main reasons we have a system of laws to provide justice. Otherwise, we
would have an overabundance of feuds. The chief characteristic of a feud is
that it seems to go on forever.
Why? Because breaking a feud requires sacrifice. Somebody
has to forgo vengeance for the last insult to break the chain of insult and
vengeance. That is what Christ is talking about here. It is obvious that you
are going to encounter the evil person, the abusive person. You are going to
have grounds to conduct a feud. It will go on indefinitely unless someone takes
positive steps to break it. What Christ is telling you here is the recipe for
preventing it from getting started in the first place. Anger is a sin; so is
envy. Christ is telling you to prevent both. There are three weapons that he
brings to your attention here:
The first is patient endurance. If you will recall, we have
stated all along that the Christian life is that of a Pilgrim, just passing
through this world. The attitude is important because it changes the way you
respond to the evil around you. If you know that you only have a short time to
put up with this problem, it makes it a lot easier. Many of us approach life
like were going to live here forever. We’re not.
The second weapon is simple charity. If someone is sufficiently
in need as to ask you for help, you should do so if you can. It turns
acquaintances into friends; sometimes, it turns enemies into friends. That
applies even to those were enemies that we did not know we had.
The third weapon is often underrated. We might be willing enough
to be charitable to someone who is forced to beg us; it amplifies our pride and
increases his humiliation. But if someone borrows from you, with the honest
intent of repaying, it preserves a certain dignity. This prevents them from
getting mad at someone they’re not allowed to get mad at. Remember, the thought
is still father to the action.
This advice applies in marriage as well as in the rest of
the world. If you’ve ever had your spouse get mad at you, you understand that
this passage means something to married couples. The world will tell you “don’t
be an enabler.” Often, however, that means that you are being counseled to act
not in love but in self-interest. The idea is that the first sign of trouble
you should react vigorously create as much of a stink as you possibly can, and
thus enforce your will on your partner. Get help when you need it; not just
evidence for your lawyer.
But is that love? Love bears all things. Love believes all
things. Love hopes all things. Love endures all things. The world believes in
the love that does not; Christians know the love that does.
What’s the problem here? I suggest to you that it is the
world’s view of marriage. We are told, over and over again, that we need to
have a balance of power in our marriage. In the second paragraph we are told
that we need to know how to tip that balance of power in our favor. Much of
radical feminist literature concerns itself with that balance of power. For the
Christian, the concept does not apply in marriage. We don’t have a balance of
power in marriage; we have an outpouring of love.
Matthew 5:43-48 NASB
"You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE
YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.' (44)
"But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for
those who persecute you, (45) so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for
He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (46) "For if you love those who love you, what reward do you
have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? (47) "If you greet only
your brothers, what more are you doing than
others? Do not even the Gentiles do the
same? (48) "Therefore
you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Who Is My Neighbor Enemy?
Christ now ends this section with what seems to be an
impossible command: be perfect. To understand how we can do this we must begin
with the concept of just who is our enemy. I submit that there are three
First, there are those who persecute us.
Second there are those who are just generally evil. We seem to
have an abundance of them, and if we come into contact with them our
righteousness will cause conflict – and they will become our enemies.
But perhaps the most numerous class of enemies is this: whoever
we make our enemies. Sometimes it seems we go out of our way to produce them.
One thing is certain: we don’t seem to have any shortage of
them. The question seems to be what were going to do about it.
What to Do
We must begin with a little advice on what not
We are to forgo the physical reaction to those who are our enemies. In fact we
are to have the exact opposite reaction the world is expecting. At the very
least, this carries with it the advantage of surprise. Nobody is expecting you
to do this.
As a bit of personal testimony, let me assure you that this
works. I once had a manager who was absolutely “a great example of a bad idea.”
He made it his purpose that all of his employees understood that they were not
supposed to be enjoying themselves at all when they were at work. He was a man
who “did all the thinking around here, because I personally have all the
brains.” I was very frustrated. My wife suggested, however, that I should make
a deliberate effort to make this man my friend. It took quite a while to do it,
but it succeeded. Throughout the entire process the man did not have a clue as
to how to handle me. He was accustomed to using the weapons of Satan; he had no
way to withstand the weapons of God.
It’s more than that. Not only are we to forgo the physical
things of this world in dealing with our enemies, not only are we to love our
enemies, but we are also commanded to pray for them. Let’s put this into
perspective. We, those chosen few who are mighty enough to know the Almighty
God, have been asked to bring forward to him those poor souls who have the
misfortune to be our enemies. We are to put them before the throne of grace so
that our heavenly Father may bless them — and likely enough get to know him
The problem with most of this for most of us is that it
seems to be unjust. But is it? We are taught to love our neighbor as ourselves;
have you ever asked how you love yourself? I don’t know about you, but I have
no trouble loving despite all the things I’ve done. It doesn’t matter how
ashamed I am of some of the stuff that I’ve pulled, I still think of the most
lovable guy around and definitely worth loving. Instead of whacking me over the
head for this, God simply asks me to be fair about it. He simply asks that I
treat everybody else the same way. That’s fair, isn’t it? So you see, it really
is a just thing to do.
I Can’t Do This
The immediate reaction from the Christian is, “I can’t do this.”
But if you ever asked yourself just what “this” is? You are to be perfect as
your heavenly Father is perfect. In other words, you are to do what a question
is always supposed to do: be the imitation of Christ. It’s not that you can’t
do this; it’s that you can’t do this by yourself successfully. But as Hudson
Taylor once put it, God’s work, done in God’s way, will never lack for God’s
supply. He will enable you to do this if you will but ask.
If you are a parent, you understand this. If your child comes
up to you and asks you for something that you know is good for them, something
that you know will help them grow into be the kind of adult you want to be, you
will do whatever is necessary to get it for them. Your heavenly Father is no
less wise. If you ask for something that helps you grow like him, he will
It may sound like this section doesn’t have much to say
about marriage, but I cannot leave this lesson without bringing the point home.
If this is what you would do for your enemies, then how much more should you
behave well towards those you love? Your wife is your sister in Christ; at
least treat her that well. Sadly, it is often true that when we make an enemy
we do it in our own household. Take care that you do not make your spouse your
enemy. And if you do, take care to treat them as Christ commands us here.