Before we take a look at what this passage does mean, we need to look at what it does not mean. It does not mean that someone who has been divorced is a second class citizen or that they have any less opportunities or privileges in serving God.
Jesus referred to a passage in the Old Testament that permitted divorce. We can tell from what Jesus said that divorce is not wrong in every circumstance. Here Jesus gives fornication as one of the valid reasons for divorce. There are probably at least two other valid scriptural reasons for divorce.
Another valid reason for divorce is desertion. First Corinthians says in talking about husbands and wives where one is a believer and the other is an unbeliever, "But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God has called us to peace."
When we are married, we are united to the other person in the marriage bond. Once the marriage bond is broken, then we are single again and no longer under bondage. Romans chapter 7 speaks of this marriage bond and how it is of course also broken by death when it says in verses 2 and 3, "For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he lives; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man." Once the marriage bond is broken she is free from the obligations of the law of marriage.
A third scriptural reason for divorce is implied also in First Corinthians 7:15 when it says that the marriage bond could be broken and that "God has called us to peace". Violence is a valid scriptural reason for divorce because God has called us to peace, especially in this closest of all human relationships. It is interesting to note that in Exodus 22 in the old law, in talking about servants and masters, the Bible says, "And if a man smite the eye of his servant, or the eye of his maid that it perish; he shall let him go for the eye’s sake. And if he smite out his manservant’s tooth, or his maidservant’s tooth, he shall let him go for his tooth’s sake." If in the harshness and strictness of the Old Testament God permitted the bond of servitude to be broken because of violence from the master, certainly in this time of grace God permits the marriage bond to be broken if one suffers violence from one’s spouse. The physical capabilities of a man should be used to help provide for and protect the wife, but never to be used in violence against the wife. Should it happen, First Corinthians 7:15 also applies: "a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God has called us to peace."
There are valid scriptural reasons for divorce: sexual infidelity, desertion, and violence. There are also reasons that people get divorced that are not valid. One of the invalid reasons for divorce is incompatibility. Almost everyone is incompatible to some degree. One of the goals of marriage is to work your way through the incompatible situations, to overcome them instead of having them overcome you. These incompatible circumstances with our spouse give us an opportunity to practice the Christian philosophy and will reveal to us if we are truly up to the task of living for Christ; because if you can exhibit the Christian graces with your spouse, you can do so with anyone. Ephesians 4:2 and 3 says, "With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." This verse refers to the relationship of believers with each other, and therefore also refers to the husband/wife relationship.
Another reason that people often get divorced, but that is not valid and not scriptural is a lack of romance. Some people go outside of the marriage bond to look for romance. That is called adultery. The thing that should be done is to have the goal to re-kindle the spark, and to find again the great love that once knit your hearts together. The goal should never be to seek love elsewhere, but to only seek it from your spouse. The need for love is a very genuine and basic motivation for all humans, but very few people will find their need and appetite for love totally satisfied, unless they come to experience the love of God. "God is love", the Bible says. "For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten son." Paul wrote of this great love in Romans chapter 8, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?" One reason that some people go from one lover to another, and are ultimately never satisfied is because they may be looking in the wrong place for the love that they need. Do you remember the woman at the well, who had five different husbands and was living with a man that was not her husband? Jesus told her that He had water to give that would quench her thirst forever. One of the reasons that the true followers of Jesus become so dedicated to Him, is that He becomes the lover of their soul, and nothing can satisfy them but to know more about this great and infinite and eternal love. Bernard of Clairvaux, a French monk wrote of this in the 12th century and said,
But what to those who find?
Ah! this nor tongue nor pen can show,
The love of Jesus, what it is
None but His loved ones know.
Jesus looked at the crowd to whom He was speaking, and He knew that there had been too many divorces. He looks at our society today and certainly He must think that there are too many divorces. Marriage was meant to last and not to end in divorce.
Jesus validates an extremely high standard for this closest of all human relationships that we call marriage. One of the reasons that marriage is so important is because it was meant to be symbolic of our unity with God and of the great love that He has for us. You may not see marriage emphasized properly by the philosophies of the world, but you do see it emphasized by Jesus.
Perhaps you have experienced divorce, and might wonder where that leaves you in comparison to what Jesus taught about marriage and divorce. If your divorce was based upon a valid scriptural reason for divorce, you are guilty of no failure and have the same status as someone who has never been married, because your marriage bond is broken and you are once again in a single status. If your divorce was not based upon a valid scriptural reason for divorce, you can ask God to forgive you, and He will, just as He will forgive any sin that you honestly repent of; and once forgiven you then have the same status as someone who has never been married. It is also important that in your current marriage or your next marriage, should you now be single, that you bring the proper appreciation for and dedication to the marriage bond. The goal should always be to have a marriage that will last the rest of your life.
Do you remember how that earlier Jesus taught that you could be guilty of murder and adultery even though you have never committed the actual act? You may have never gone before a judge to get a divorce, but you may have divorced yourself emotionally or spiritually from your spouse, and may be in need of some soul-searching as to your commitment to the marriage relationship.
Over the years I have heard many speak on the subject of divorce. Usually I hear a very narrow and strict interpretation, and also a very strict application. People go so far as even to say that someone who has been divorced is not eligible to be a leader or teacher in the church. I disagree with such a strict interpretation. We must never forget that our relationship with the Lord and any associated privileges are entirely based upon His mercy and grace. No one deserves above another the favor that God gives to him. It is His mercy through Jesus that is our hope. Someone who has never been divorced is dependent upon the same mercy as someone who has been divorced. There is no difference in status or opportunity. To each God offers His mercy, His fellowship, and His call to walk with Him.
Let’s read Matthew chapter 5: 33-37. "Again, you have heard that it has been said by them of old time, You shall not forswear yourself, but shall perform unto the Lord your oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne: Nor by the earth: for it is His footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these comes of evil."
When Jesus said, "Swear not at all," He was talking about the taking of oaths. Evidently, it had become a very common practice by Jews during the time of Jesus for them to take oaths. They did so whenever they wanted to make an emphasis that they were telling the truth about some matter. Perhaps things had even degraded to the point that their word could not be trusted unless they took an oath. Jesus said that this ought not to be. The great standard that He sets is for humans to always be truthful. Every “yes” that we say and every ‘no’ that we say should always be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It is extremely important to have a reputation for honesty. As followers of Jesus, we should make every effort to be careful about what we say, to be sure that we tell the truth, and to always keep our word. One of the reasons that the Lord says that it is important for us to keep our word; is because He always keeps His word. Our very faith is based upon the confidence that we have in the promises that He has made.
How much more pleasant life would be if
everyone was honest. How great it would be if someone made a promise and you
knew automatically that they would keep their promise. It is a shame and it is
a sad commentary on the state of our society, the fact that finding someone you
can trust is so rare an event. But it is not new to our day and age. The
problem of dishonesty has always been a part of the human race. The ancient
Greek philosopher, Diogenes, would walk through the streets of
In Matthew and 39 Jesus said, "Ye have heard that it has been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." Jesus quoted the Old Testament again. "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth" is found in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. It is a part of the law. This saying was known by the Jews during the time of Christ and it is often quoted in our society today. But Jesus contradicts "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" and says that it is not supposed to be the rule for this age of the New Testament in which we live. Martin Luther King, Jr. understood this teaching of Jesus very well when he said, "If we go back to an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, then we will end up with a lot of blind people with no teeth." When we have learned to suffer in silence, then we will be useful in the work of the Lord. Do you remember when Jesus was taken before Pilate and unjustly condemned? Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent, and Pilate marveled that Jesus did not defend himself. The light of the gospel of Christ will shine through us to the degree that we are willing to suffer, willing to be martyred for him. The goal must always be to win over the opposition with kindness, and not to use their tactics of anger and revenge, which do not work.
And so Jesus said in Matthew , "But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." This is another one of the sayings of Jesus that is so often quoted, and is so difficult to practice. This commandment is very important to keep in order to truly be a follower of the teachings of Jesus. It will take the power of the Spirit in our lives, and we may have to often ask the Lord to forgive us when we fail; but it is extremely important that we find the means of having this attitude toward those who think that they are our enemies.
In Matthew Jesus said, "And if any man will sue you at the law, and take away your coat, let him have your cloak also." We live in a very litigious society. We can read daily about individuals suing each other over one matter or another, and too many times the suits are not justified. To the people of the world nothing is more important than material possessions. But Jesus is saying that His believers should not be so obsessed with material possessions. We are not supposed to fight the people of the world for material things. Follow Jesus, and let them have what they want. Don’t be like them.
In Matthew and 42 Jesus said, "And whosoever
shall compel you to go a mile, go with him two. Give to him that asks you, and from
him that would borrow of you turn not thou away."
Jesus wants His followers to be different than the rest of the world. Material
possessions are not supposed to be high up on our priority list. We are looking
forward to entering the
Let’s read the rest of Matthew chapter 5, starting in verse 43. "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shall love your neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven; for He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethen only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?"
Again Jesus quotes the Old Testament and He replaces the Old Testament law with a higher standard. "Love your enemies." This kind of love is one of the hardest things to do in the teachings of Jesus, and yet is absolutely central to all that He taught and stood for. It is not nearly so important what position you take on the issues, as it is what attitude you have towards those who stand on the opposite side of the issues. Jesus said to love your enemies. I think that He said this because God loves everyone. He loves your enemies as much as He loves you. Jesus makes it clear in this teaching that a characteristic of the children of God should be that they would love their enemies. If this commandment were practiced more often, more people would be attracted to the gospel.
Copyright; 2007 by Charles F. (Rick) Creech
All Rights Reserved