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The Gospel And Divorce

It's probably not a stretch to say that every member of your church has been affected in some way by divorce. Whether it's someone in the family, a friend, or another church member, this issue likely hits close to home. Few things are more painful than divorce, and its impact on our culture cannot be overestimated. This is the very issue Jesus is asked about at the beginning of chapter 19. His reply certainly doesn't fit with our current cultural expectations, and many people today consider it outdated. However, God's design for marriage hasn't changed, and His Word is still the authority in this matter. For the good of our marriages and the glory of His name, we desperately need to hear the voice of the One who created marriage in the first place.

In light of these and other verses, adultery is an extremely serious offense against God. But notice that Jesus did not say that divorce is certain or required in such situations. Instead, He says that divorce is possible in this situation. Initially, it may sound as if Jesus were lining up with the first school of thought among first-century Jews (those who allowed for divorce in cases of sexual immorality), but these Jews would have seen divorce as more certain in cases of sexual immorality. In Jesus' view we begin to see the radical implications of the gospel for divorce in Scripture. He is approaching the possibility of divorce in a redemptive manner, which was a totally different perspective from these Pharisees.

The Pharisees were searching for circumstances in which it would be possible to end a marriage relationship, but Jesus says that we are not looking for reasons to divorce. The goal is not to look for a loophole in the law; instead, we are longing for reconciliation to occur. Remember that this teaching in Matthew 19 comes right on the heels of the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18, where Jesus taught His disciples to forgive extravagantly (Matt 18:21-35). The implication is that we are to work and pray toward reconciliation and restoration, not because it's easy, but because Christ is in you. Divorce is possible, but because of the gospel, it's not inevitable.

In addition to this passage in Matthew 19, Scripture does seem to point to one ground for divorce in 1 Corinthians 7: abandonment. Paul is talking about marriage between a believer and an unbeliever, and he says the following in verses 12-14:256

Paul teaches that a believing spouse should not initiate divorce with an unbelieving spouse, but should stay married and work toward that unbelieving spouse's salvation. However, in the case that the unbelieving spouse wants to leave, he says that the Christian spouse is "not bound in such cases" (v. 15). In other words, if an unbelieving spouse chooses to abandon a believing spouse despite that believing spouse's love for them, then divorce is preferable in this situation. We don't initiate this kind of divorce, but we don't have to fight it if someone insists on leaving.

The fact that the Bible mentions adultery and abandonment as the only proper grounds for divorce has caused some people to conclude that the Bible's teaching is impractical or unrealistically narrow. But God is wise. He has not been caught unaware by the challenges of the twenty-first century, for even though there are all sorts of new challenges and struggles that marriages encounter, God doesn't leave us to fend for ourselves. He has given us the church, including its discipline and restoration, to be the means by which we walk through pain, hurt, neglect, and marital strife together. When a brother or sister continues in sin against his or her spouse, we address that in a serious manner with the gospel. This is yet another reason church membership, the sharing of life with one another, is so crucial as we follow Christ.

Outside of adultery and abandonment, divorce leads to adultery in remarriage. Remarriage is biblically permissible only for the offended spouse after a biblical divorce. Again, there are biblical scholars and Bible-believing pastors who would say that remarriage is not even permissible then; however, it seems that Scripture is at least implying that remarriage is permissible when divorce is permissible. Practically speaking, then, the non-adulterous spouse in the first exception (adultery) and the Christian spouse in the second exception (abandonment) can remarry according to these passages. Outside of these parameters, if a man or woman divorces his or her spouse, then he or she is not free to remarry (widows and widowers being the only exceptions). Such remarriage would be adulterous.257

So far we've looked at the following truths: God created marriage, God hates divorce, and God regulates divorce as a result of sin in our hearts. All of that may sound like very bad news if you've been a part of a divorce; however, that's not the whole story. God redeems divorce, and those who have been involved in a divorce still have reason to hope.

Undoubtedly this subject brings old and new wounds to the surface, as these are tough words in Scripture for some people to hear, but there's a reason divorce is addressed like this. The reason God is so serious in His Word about our marriage covenants with each other is because He is so serious about His marriage covenant with us. Christians who have been a part of a divorce are still part of the bride of Christ. Jesus is worthy of our praise because He is always forgiving and He is always faithful.

Even if the marriage covenant in your life was broken in the past, know that the ultimate marriage covenant is still firmly intact. God picks you up daily where you are, and He carries on His covenant of love with you. Unlike an earthly spouse, He will never commit adultery against you and He will never abandon you. No matter what happens in this world, Jesus never forsakes His bride—never! This is the gospel.

There's a risk in emphasizing God's grace like this, and it might lead some who are thinking of getting a divorce to think, "Even if this is not biblical, God will forgive me." This thought process completely misses the gospel and deliberately dishonors God. Nevertheless, this is a risk we must take for the sake of divorced brothers and sisters who are sincerely looking to the grace of Jesus Christ. He is an Eternal Savior who is gracious and merciful, and He is committed to sustaining and satisfying you forever.

Matthew 19:10-12

There are a number of ways these truths play out practically. In verse 10 the disciples responded to Jesus' teaching on divorce by saying, "If the relationship of a man with his wife is like this, it's better not to marry!" Jesus told them that people were eunuchs—that is, single and pure—for different reasons, but that some were eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven (v. 12). That is, there are individuals who, for the sake258 of usefulness in the Lord's work, feel as if God has given them an ability to stay single and pure. Even for singles who desire to marry someday, there is still a secondary application: if you are single, maximize your singleness to advance the gospel. More of your time and attention can be given to the Lord.

In Matthew 19 and 1 Corinthians 7, we see Jesus and Paul commending singleness for the spread of God's kingdom. It's not that marriage is bad, but it is not best for all people. Many people think that you have to be married in order to live a complete life, but that is simply not true. Jesus was the most complete man, the most fully human person who ever lived, yet He was not married. In fact, many of the heroes of the New Testament and church history were not married. God has used and continues to use single people for His purposes.

Whatever your situation, there are biblical applications that can be drawn from this passage. Consider where you fit it in among these possibilities.

If you are married, love your spouse in a way that portrays the gospel. Husbands, love your wives with sacrificial love and take responsibility for the glory of Christ in your marriage. Wives, respect your husbands and honor Christ through building your husband up as the spiritual leader of your home.

If you are considering divorce, remember the preciousness and power of the gospel. I encourage you to ask, first, if you have biblical grounds for divorce. If you do not, I want to urge you to consider how in the context of your marriage, and possibly with the help of the church, you can resolve the conflict, which is undeniably real and damaging. This is only possible through the preciousness and power of the gospel, but any other route is sinfully disobedient to God. On the other hand, if you do have biblical grounds for divorce, I want to likewise encourage you to consider the preciousness and power of the gospel with a view toward reconciliation in your marriage, possibly with the help of others in the church. The gospel can change even the hardest and darkest of hearts, so keep restoration and reconciliation at the forefront of your desires even if you begin the process of divorce.

If you are divorced for a biblical reason and single, rest in the gospel in your singleness or possibly in a future marriage. If you were divorced on biblical grounds, i.e., in cases of adultery or abandonment, then I encourage you to rest in the singleness God has given to you at this time. If He grants you continued singleness, I pray that by the power of the259 gospel He will enable you to rejoice in it. If He doesn't and He leads you to remarry, I pray that by the power of the gospel you will display the love of Christ for His church in your remarriage.

If you are divorced for an unbiblical reason and single, repent and rely on the gospel to glorify God in your singleness. Repent of your sin both to God and to your former spouse. Then let the gospel of Christ give you great hope for a life that thrives in the advancement of the gospel as a single while you await the next wedding where we will join Jesus together for all of eternity.

If you are divorced for an unbiblical reason and married, repent and reflect the gospel in your current marriage. If you divorced for unbiblical reasons, Scripture encourages you to repent genuinely before God and your former spouse. However, Scripture nowhere indicates that you should break another covenant marriage by divorcing again. Instead, Scripture encourages you to focus on magnifying Christ in the marriage you have now by the power of the gospel.

Based on Jesus' teaching in Matthew 19 and the whole of God's Word, let's pray that the grace and glory of Christ will be displayed in the church through the way we obey the Word and apply the gospel to marriage, divorce, and singleness in our day.

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