Marriage: Keep Forgiving Each Other :: by Sean Gooding

Matthew chapter 5:31-32 (continued)

“Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.”

Last time we talked about our hearts and keeping our thought lives in check so that we would  not sin. We saw that God was just as interested in how we though as to how we acted. Many of us will act like Christians should but we do not think like Christians should. God made it clear that our thought lives were just as important to Him as our actions. God thoughts and His actions towards us are one and the same.

In Jeremiah 29:11, we find these sobering words:

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”

Notice that God has thoughts of peace toward us. When we are in Jesus and have the salvation that He has paid for we are at peace with God. We are ‘justified’, Romans 5:1 and there is “no condemnation” Romans 8:1 from God toward us. His thoughts towards are good thoughts so His actions towards us are good actions.

I must admit that this is a hard thing to come to grips with sometimes. It is easy to come to the conclusion that God hates us or is against us especially when we are going through a hard time  or a rough spot in life.  We think that God has turned on us, but nothing could be farther from the truth when we are in Christ. God further reinforces this idea of how He thinks with this verse: “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7a).

So for our God to be holy and righteous He must also think this way in His heart.  God’s actions are a true reflection of how He thinks. And this is what Jesus is talking about as He begins to show what true Christianity is all about. The Pharisees and Scribes had reduced the Law to an outward act with no real change of heart. A kind of ‘do this and you will live’, but what Jesus taught was “be this and you will live.” Be real; be genuine; love God and love man.

Today we will look at the issue of marriage, divorce and remarriage. These are touchy subjects that Jesus dealt with; but He dealt with them nonetheless. In that day, much like today, divorce had become a weapon that men wielded to subjugate women.

Most women of that day depended heavily on their husbands for shelter and care. Most did not have any rights of their own and certainly not much wealth. Thus being married was a woman’s way of having a home, money, enough food and someone to care for her as she aged. There was no real welfare system in Jesus’ day.

Divorce was a publicly humiliating event that was used as weapon. In contrast to how it was usually used, think of Joseph’s reaction to finding out that Mary was pregnant.  He was going to put her away privately and not put here through the public humiliation that could have ended in her being executed. Remember the account of women caught in adultery, they were ready to stone her to death.

The Certificate of Divorce, Verse 31

The certificate of divorce is found and allowed in Deuteronomy 24:1-2:

“When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favor in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife.”

In talking to Israel about her infidelity God uses the same idea in Isaiah 50:1, asking “Where is the bill of divorce I gave your mother?” This was a sign of God’s displeasure with Israel for following after false gods and prostituting themselves before the idols of the pagans around them.

However God forgave Israel and redeemed them. This is the same theme in the prophetic book of Hosea where God sends him to marry a prostitute, symbolizing Israel, and then to redeem her even after she had left him and committed adultery with another man.

So, God uses this imagery to show the way that Israel treated Him and how we should be towards an offending partner. God gives one the right to use a “writ of divorce” but would rather there be reconciliation if at all possible. God would rather see forgiveness and love than divorce.

We must also understand the sequence in which Jesus gave these lessons, He pointed out that even looking at a woman to lust after her was adultery, thus arming the wife of the marriage with the tools to ask for divorce and put the man to shame. Of course it would be difficult for one to prove the thoughts of another. But God knew their thoughts.

What if Jesus, in the account of the woman caught in adultery, simply wrote down what the men were thinking as they stood there?  What if He simply revealed their hearts desires and the Holy Spirit convicted them? (Maybe one day we will know.)

 Sexual Immorality, Verse 32

What is sexual immorality? In this case it is having sexual relations with someone who is not your husband or wife. So if a husband or wife were to discover that their spouse was cheating   on them they could divorce their spouse. Moses in the Law gives broader latitude for divorce  and allowed a much lower standard. This is an interesting observation because it was not uncommon for a man to have more than one wife.

We see that even amongst the patriarchs, Jacob had 4 wives, David 10 that we know of and Elkanah, Samuel’s father had 2 wives and on and on we can go. A husband was simply not allowed to abandon his wife even for the cause of adultery and even if he did it was to be after much effort was done to reconcile and maintain the picture of the oneness between them.

Proverbs 10:12 tell us that, “Love covers a multitude of sin.”

In the gospels we are encouraged to forgive liberally and God sets the ultimate example of forgiveness with both we as individuals and with the nation of Israel as a collective. God designed marriage to mimic the unconditional love that He has for us; a love that transcends failures and sin and shortcomings. Sadly too many of us fail to see this and walk away from our marriages.

In Malachi 2:15-16 we are told not to deal treacherously with our wives, not to treat her badly since she is our flesh.  We are no longer two people but one as far as God is concerned. God hates divorce because it mars the picture that He designed marriage to portray. When we become a child of God we are “married” to Him; He lives in us and we are inseparable from the day of salvation through eternity, we in him and him in us; one.

Now God did divorce Israel and leave her to be taken captive into foreign lands where many of her people died and suffered. But He always came back for her, the “divorce” was but for a short time and then He redeemed her. Israel on the other hand often adopted the gods of her captors and played the part of the adulterous wife.

The conclusion then is that whoever divorces his wife except for the reason of adultery, and that after much forgiveness and determination to reconcile, is in the wrong. Marriage is the picture of what God is like with the nation of Israel and with the New Testament church.

Look at the account of the Laodicean church in Revelation and we see Jesus knocking on the door of an apostate church asking to be let in. Constantly seeking reconciliation is what Jesus and God do with us; and it is how we should be with each other and especially our wives. This kind of reconciliation should permeate the church and the kingdom of God.

“Men, love you wives and cherish them as gifts from the Living God” (Proverbs 18:22).

A man who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD.