Jesus' Sermon: Intention of the Law on Divorce

(3) It makes sense, then, that right after speaking on adultery Jesus went straight into the third illustration, about marriage and divorce.

Here's what Jesus said, according to Matthew's gospel,

“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery." (Matthew 5:31-32 NIV)

Jesus was referring to Deuteronomy 24:1-4, which explains that a man could divorce his wife if she displeased him in some way, because of some undescribed indecency. All he had to do was give her a certificate of divorce, then they both could move on to marry someone else.

In Jesus' day there was a school of thought among the followers of Rabbi Hillel which interpreted this passage to mean "no fault" divorce--in Jesus' day it was referred to as "any matter." Since marriage could mean simply moving in together, then, in an "any matter" divorce, a little note saying "it's over" was enough for the couple to split and move on.

Jesus was debunking this trivialization of the sacred covenant of marriage. Jesus defined "indecency" as sexual immorality, and explained that this practice of moving in and out of each other's homes and lives made people adulterers. Note that Jesus had an especially tender heart towards women who were victimized in this way (John 4).

Throughout the Bible God says He hates divorce, but He never says He hates divorced people

I can think of three reasons God would say He hates divorce.

1. God said in marriage He joined a man and woman together as "one flesh." To tear that apart is grievous, in His eyes, as is the devastation that divorce leaves in the people He loves so deeply. Those of you who have gone through a divorce know -- and members of my own family have been through divorce so I know too -- how devastating such an experience can be. You break a bone, a few months later, it’s as good as new, isn’t it. You break a heart.... God knows how long it takes to knit your heart back together. 

2. Throughout scripture, marriage is the illustration of God’s love for you and me, having merged our lives and His together, giving us His Spirit to live within us when we receive Him in faith. Divorce corrupts that illustration.

3. Divorce is one aspect of the far greater issue of the basic hardening of people's hearts, and the darkening of people's thinking the apostle Paul described in his letter to the Roman believers (Romans 1). God desires His people to be holy, as He is holy.

Be assured that when you come to Him for His comfort and cleansing, He will flood you to overflowing with His love and grace

If you are troubled by a divorce in your background, then remember what Jesus said to the woman who was dragged before Him to be stoned for committing adultery

Jesus told all the people present -- who were feeling very self-righteous by the way -- that whoever among you has not sinned, you can throw a stone at this woman. After they all left, one by one, knowing they had no right to throw those stones, Jesus told her, I don’t condemn you either, you’re forgiven, you are free to go and sin no more. You and I live in the day of grace right now. Jesus didn’t come to condemn, He came to heal and forgive

If your spouse left you, and you didn’t want this divorce at all, then God has something even more for you. In His eyes you hold a special place in His heart reserved only for the widows and the fatherless, people God has said, over and over again, He will personally protect, provide for, and work justice for.

All passages taken from the New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.