When To Seek A Divorce

When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”

Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

Matthew 19:1-12

I put this passage down in its entirety because it is difficult. Not terribly difficult to understand (there are no major textual problems or strange words), but difficult to practice. Even Jesus acknowledges that, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given.” In other words, without the conditioning of the Holy Spirit, this just ain’t going to work.

I will not throw stones at anyone here, but let’s examine what this passage does clearly say:

  1. Divorce always involves sin. Either sin makes it a justifiable divorce or the divorce is unjustified and therefore a sin itself. Like I said, tough stuff.
  2. God’s intention is for marriage to be permanent. If we really wrapped our heads around that, I think our marital relationship and family structures would change radically.

Now this is good and it is also incredibly rigid. Jesus closes the teaching by pointing out that singleness really ought to be a more commonly taken option. Another difficult saying.

There is sometimes a desire to throw these teachings under the bus of outmoded cultural understandings, but that is a failure to read what is written here. From the reaction of the disciples, this is not a repetition of cultural values but an attack on them. Jesus has a big problem with the patriarchal ‘no-fault’ divorce system of Israel in the first century. It failed to acknowledge the stamp of God’s image on each person.

We get off track today when we miss that same stamp on people. I wholly believe Jesus teaching here to be the best way and I also acknowledge that is impossible to create a one-size-fits-all solution for marriage and divorce from it. Jesus draws some boundaries which create a wide and varied field in which we can work out our salvation in the context of marriage and family, with grace and truth.

Lord, be our light. Help us to love the Truth.

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