Jesus On Divorce – Matthew 19:1-12

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Faith Bible Church, NY

July 10, 1994

Jesus On Divorce

Matthew 19:1-12

Today we come again to a text within the book of Matthew that has often been taken out of context and therefore misunderstood and applied. This is an important text because it applies directly to a vice in our nation that has risen to dangerous levels and threatens the stability of our society. The issue at hand within this text is divorce. Turn to Matthew 19:1.

We want to examine this text to find out what Jesus has to say concerning divorce and therefore how we should also respond to what has become a prevalent practice in this nation. While divorce was not as common when Jesus made these comments as it is in our society, it was still a fairly common occurrence in that time period. Jesus’ statements apply just as much today as they did then.

Verse 1: “And it came about that when Jesus had finished these words, He departed from Galilee, and came into the region of Judea beyond the Jordan; and great multitudes followed Him and He healed them there. And some Pharisees came to him, testing Him, and saying, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause at all?'”

The discussion that Jesus had been having with His disciples as recorded in chapter 18 has now finished. Jesus has corrected them on their arguing about who was the greatest in the kingdom. Those that enter the kingdom must be converted and become like a child  (See: God’s Care for His Children). “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The greatest in the kingdom are the humble, not the proud and arrogant. God loves those that belong to Him and He protects His children. That is why Jesus gives such a stern warning about causing a believer to stumble into sin. God will punish those who do so. God even has angels watching over those that belong to Him. God loves His sheep so much that He will go after those that stray. Jesus applies this directly to us in the steps of discipline in the church. We are to love each other so much that we get involved with one another to the point that we will even humbly admonish one another when we stumble into sin. Those who remain stubbornly in their sins will eventually be marked out as people that don’t really know Christ and there will no longer be any basis for continued fellowship with them. But those that do repent are forgiven with the same magnanimity with which God has forgiven us. When we realize the size of the debt that God has forgiven us, anything that someone else could do to us is a mere pittance which we should readily forgive in response to what God has done for us.

We find that Jesus has left Galilee and has continued on His journey south. Remember that Jesus has already told His disciples that He is going to Jerusalem where He will suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priest and scribes, be crucified, and then rise again on the third day (16:21; 17:12, 22,23). Jesus comes into the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. This would be in the modern day country of Jordan. Remember, Jewish people generally would not travel through Samaria so to get from Galilee to Jerusalem they would cross the Jordan river to the East side, travel south, then they would cross the Jordan river again in the area of Jericho and come up the mountain range to Jerusalem. Jesus is now on the East side of the Jordan and multitudes of people are now following Him again. Again we find that Jesus has compassion on them and is healing them there.

But not everyone who is following Jesus is doing so to learn from Him or to be healed by Him. Some of them are His enemies and they have come to see if there is some way that they can discredit Him before the people so that they may then be able to destroy Him without risking the wrath of the people. Here we find some of the Pharisees have come, and as our text says, it is for the express purpose of “testing” Him.

Their question was this, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause at all?” The question is specifically designed to cause Jesus to lose favor with some of the people. They wanted to see if Jesus gave any cause for a man to divorce his wife. The Pharisees already knew that Jesus would take a very conservative view of this question from what He has said in the Sermon on the Mount. Their hope was that if they could get Jesus to publicly declare His view on this volatile issue, then He would be discredited, at least to some degree, with those that held to one of the other views.

There were three main views of divorce at the time. The most popular view was that of the Pharisees that basically allowed them to divorce their wives for “any cause at all.” This was the teaching of the Rabbi Hillel who had died only twenty years or so earlier. Typical of the Pharisaical Rabbis, he had twisted the Mosaic Law into something self serving. Under the teaching of these Rabbis wives were treated more like merchandise than the “helpmeets” God intended them to be. The twisting of the Mosaic Law opened the door for them to satisfy their lust for other women by making divorce easy and quick. Hillel taught that a man could divorce his wife for nearly any reason, some of them most trivial. Things like being infertile or speaking an unkind word about her mother-in-law were sufficient grounds. Other reasons included taking her hair down in public, talking to other men, or even burning the meal or salting it too much. Under those following the lead of Hillel, not only was divorce available, some even taught that it was required. One Rabbi wrote, “If a man has a bad wife, it is a religious duty to divorce her.”

The view of Rabbi Shammai was just the opposite. He did not allow for divorce for any reason under any circumstance. This view was of course was very unpopular. The Pharisees hoped that Jesus might espouse this view and then been seen by the people as narrow minded and intolerant. That might cause Him to lose some of His popularity and pave the way for them to later destroy Him, which they have been plotting to do ever since Jesus rebuked them back in chapter 12.

The third view allowed divorce but restricted it to only a few very specific reasons spelled out in the Law of Moses. Divorce was possible, but only under special circumstances.

Now the Pharisee’s question to Jesus is one that interests many people today who want to be both religious and get what they want. They study the Scriptures to find out what it says about divorce in the hope that they can find how they can get one if they want one or so that they might grant approval to a friend who wants a divorce. This always seems to be the way of man. Even today people take more interest in finding the loopholes in the laws of our land so that they can avoid compliance with it rather than seeking out the intent of the law so that they can follow it. If your interest in this passage and in this subject is to find out under what circumstances divorce can be pursued, then Jesus’ answer in verse 4-6 will greatly disappoint you.

Jesus does not answer the Pharisees question, but instead goes directly to the heart of the issue from God’s perspective. Look at verse 4. And He answered and said, “Have you not read, that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, [Gen 1:27; 5:2] and said, ‘For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh’? [Gen 2:24; Col 6:16]. Consequently they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”

Jesus does not espouse any of the views on divorce, but instead goes back to Genesis to establish God’s original plan for marriage. This original plan has not changed. God’s moral will for marriage is one man and one woman joined together for life. They are to “cleave” together. That is a strong bond. They are glued together, and just as two pieces of wood glued together will not break where they are joined, so in marriage two people are joined in such a way that they cannot be separated without severe damage to both. Notice as well that Jesus says that it is God that joined the two together. Marriage is right and honorable before God because it keeps with His original commandments to mankind. When man does not follow God’s design, then he will incur the negative consequences of his behavior.

We have seen the consequences of this in our own nation the last couple of generations as man has turned his back on God’s stated moral will for marriage to pursue divorce for just about any reason. Many States now have no-fault divorce laws by which not only are no reasons given for the divorce other than that they want one. In addition they do not even have to have the consent of the former spouse for the divorce to be granted. What are some of the consequences of so many couples making this irresponsible rush to divorce?

Probably the greatest consequence our high divorce rate is that it is the primary factor in the dissolution of the fabric that has been holding our society, or any society, together. Our divorce rate is not high because families are decaying, our families are decaying because so many husbands and wives are not following God’s design for marriage, and the family but instead following their own will and this directly leads to family strife, divorce, and the destruction of the family.

Let me also add that the decline of the American family is not because of politics. While tax structures, subsidy laws and such now penalize those who marry (welfare mothers “make more” being unwed than if they marry, etc.), and while the government continues to redefine the family unit (including recognition of same sex marriages as in Hawaii), liberalized laws making it easier for the family unit to be dissolved (no-fault divorce, abortion laws, etc.), and even promotes the kind of immoral behavior that undermines faithfulness in marriage (Mr. Condom advertisements, etc.), the problems facing the family are not political, but moral. I am not saying that we should not fight the political battles that would promote a strong family structure, but I am saying that the issues are moral in nature, not political. Regardless of what the government allows or even promotes no one must go against the stated will of God to do that which is evil in His sight.

What are some of the costs of divorce?

FINANCIAL: The Family Research Council reported this past April that *The poverty rate for children living in single-parent homes is 5 times the rate for children living with two parents. *Divorced men increase standard of living an avg. of 42% while divorced women and their children decline 73%.

Add to this the cost of the divorce itself. No-fault divorces are advertised in Calif. for under 100$. But the cost rises rapidly if anything is contested – house, personal property – and especially custody of children. Lawyer and court fees can quickly rise to the thousands and tens of thousands of dollars. Add to this the cost of having to reproduce another household with all the start up costs of basic furniture, kitchen ware, and cleaning supplies.

In the local yellow pages I found one several ads. One said, “When a family breaks in two, the right lawyer can make the difference.” Another said, “Divorce – very low fees.” It has a picture of a heart with a swan at either end going in opposite directions. This sort of makes divorce seem romantic, but the financial costs are only the tip of the iceberg.


The Family Research Council also reported that *School age children living with a parent & stepparent or divorced mother only are 40% – 75% more likely to repeat a grade and 70% more likely to be expelled from school. *Children who grow up in a fractured family are less likely to graduate from high school than those from intact families. *A disproportionate number of runaway teens come from stepparent households. *Young sons often experience nightmares and a “father hunger” soon after their father leaves home. In their teens, they are more likely to have increased levels of aggression, gang membership and other emotional and behavioral problems. *Young daughters of divorce often experience anxiety and guilt. In their teens, they are more likely to be sexually involved, marry younger, be pregnant more often before marriage, and become divorced or separated themselves from their eventual husbands. *Children of divorce typically experience depression, drug and alcohol experimentation and a diminished ability to form lasting relationships.

Dr. Armand Nicoli of the Harvard Medical School has said, “The trend toward quick and easy divorce, and the ever-increasing divorce rate, subject more and more children to physically and emotionally absent parents.” He added that if the trend continued, “the quality of family life will continue to deteriorate, producing a society with a higher incidence of mental illness than ever before.”

Add to this the personal pain endured. Pat Conroy described his pain in a book entitled, Death of a Marriage.” He said, “Each divorce is the death of a small civilization. Two people declare war on each other, and their screams and tears infect their entire world with the bacilli of their pain. The greatest fury comes from the wound where love once issued forth… “When I went through my divorce I saw it as a country, and it was treeless, airless; there were no furloughs and no holidays. I entered without passport, without directions and absolutely alone. Insanity and hopelessness grew in that land like vast orchards of malignant fruit. I do not know the precise day that I arrived in that country. Nor am I certain that you can ever renounce your citizenship there… “For a year I walked around feeling as if I had undergone a lobotomy. There were records I could not listen to because of their association with Barbara, poems I could not read from books I could not pick up. There is a restaurant I will never return to because it was the scene of an angry argument between us. It was a year when memory was acid… “I began to develop the odd habits of the very lonely. I turned the stereo on as soon as I entered my apartment. I drank to the point of not caring. I cooked elaborate meals for myself, then could not eat them…”

For those that have children and divorce (70% of divorces involve children) the pain continues because you have to continue to deal with your spouse over issues with the children. The children are often used as tools against each parent, and when you see the children you will be reminded. You will see the pain in them.

If you do not believe me just ask someone that has gone through a divorce and they will tell you. Divorce does not solve problems. It creates new, often more complex ones.

In light of all this it is no wonder that God says in Malachi 2:16, “For I hate divorce.” It destroys the family which God Himself instituted.

Jesus’ reply to the question of the Pharisees goes to the root of their problem. They were not interested in God’s will, only their own and how they might be able to do their own will while proclaiming themselves to be holy. Jesus takes them back to the beginning and tells them of God’s original plan for marriage.

Now you would think that the Pharisees would be wise enough to back off at that point, but instead they press the issue in verse 7. “They said to Him, ‘Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate and divorce her?” Their reference is to Deuteronomy 24:1-4, but even here these self-proclaimed experts on the Law of Moses get it wrong beause they misquote Moses. Notice their statement has Moses commanding the divorce as well as the giving of the divorce certificate. Moses commanded the certificate to be given if the divorce took place, but he did not command the divorce to take place. Turn to Deut. 24:1-4 and lets see for ourselves what Moses said.

When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house, and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man’s wife, and if the latter husband turns against her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her to be his wife, then her former husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be his wife, since she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the LORD, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance.

Notice that no where does Moses command the divorce to take place. In fact, the passage is only about divorce incidently for the whole of the passage is that a woman divorced by one man, married to another and then divorced by him cannot remarry the first man. The passage is really about a restriction on remarriage. However, men have concentrated more on the question about what the indecency was that was found in her in order to justify their practice of divorce. It is the debate about what the indecency might be that led to the differing views on divorce. Jesus will clarify that for us in verses 8 & 9.

Look at Verse 8. He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart, Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.” Jesus again goes to the heart of the issue. Divorce was not commanded. It was permitted, and only then because of the hardness of their hearts. It is still the same today. Divorce occurs because of the hardness of men’s hearts – hearts that are hard toward the things of God, of following His will, of avoiding infidelity, of repentance. Because some men (and women) would become hard of heart and would not follow God’s design, God through Moses indirectly and reluctancy permitted divorce, but it was not His original plan for man.

In verse 9 we find that Jesus answers their question in only an offhanded manner. Jesus says, “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” Jesus still does not give a cause for divorce. He does not say “you may divorce your wives for the cause of immorality.” That would in some sense sanction divorce and Jesus does not. Instead Jesus points again, just as He had done in the Sermon on the Mount, that divorce results in more adultery, and the exception clause deals with the one case – that of immorality – where if divorce does occur it will not result in adultery.

The one exception to divorce resulting in more adultery is if the divorce was as the result of immorality. This is “porneia” (from which we get words such as pornography); it is the general word for sexual sin including adultery, fornication, incest, homosexuality and bestiality. All of these are mentioned in Lev. 18 as abominations before the Lord. Jesus is saying that the one exception to divorce resulting in increased adultery is sexual sin. There are other views of this passage but in the many, many hours I have spent studying this subject I do not believe them to either be backed-up by Scripture or well reasoned. If anyone is interested in a detailed reasoning of why I interpret the passage as I do, I can give you a detailed paper I have written on the subject, or if there is enough interest we can talk about it tonight.

But again, let me stress that Jesus does not advocate divorce, He does not give a cause for divorce to occur, He only states the one exception in which divorce would not increase adultery. Now think about that for a moment. Most people who examine the Scriptures on the topic of divorce do so the same way as the Pharisees. They are looking for the sufficient cause to divorce. They wan t to know how much they have to “suffer” before they can bail out and get a different spouse. No wonder that even within the conservative evangelical churches of America we find that divorce is justified for an increasingly greater number of causes. With so much pop-psychology now invading the church we are even hearing of divorce within the church because of “emotional abandonment”. The husband does not meet the wife’s “emotional needs.” I am not down playing the emotional turmoil that can be in a marriage, but whatever happened to 1 Peter 3 and the wife being submissive and winning her husband that may be “disobedient to the word by her chaste and respectful behavior?” And for that matter, whatever happened to men “living with their wives in an understanding way?”

What Jesus says here should give us serious warning about seeking a reason to get divorced. Instead we find here a commitment to the marriage that reflects God’s original design, and if divorce occurs it is because the other spouse has become hardened in heart and committing sexual sin. That other person is already an abomination before God, and an adulterer. If divorce occurs because of that, then the “innocent” party of the divorce is not guilty of adultery themselves if they remarry. But even in that situation, keep in mind the example of Hosea who was willing to forgive and kept seeking reconciliation with a wife who was a prostitute. Remember Jesus’ example of forgiveness? That is how we each of us are to respond so that if divorce does occur, it is because our spouse has become hardened in heart. That is also how we respond to a fellow believer who has been through divorce even if they were the guilty party. Forgiveness is given to all those who repent from sin, and divorce is no exception.

The Pharisees apparently leave after having their sinful hearts exposed once again by Jesus, and now Jesus is alone with the disciples. We find that they too react strongly to this teaching for it did seem harsh even to them. Look at verse 10. Then the disciples said to Him, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.” The disciples had been strongly affected by the rampant divorce rate and low view of marriage just as we are in our society. Their society, like our own, viewed divorce as the simple solution if the marriage did not work out like they had hoped. But if marriage really was for life, for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, and the only allowance for divorce was sexual immorality, then maybe it would be better not to marry at all.

Their statement reveals their shallow view of God’s design for marriage and the selfishness of their own hearts. Marriage is not about me getting but about me giving to another. And frankly, any of you singles here today that do think divorce is a good solution to a bad marriage, you would be better not to marry in the first place, because with that kind of mind set you will never be wholly committed, you will never learn the lessons God can teach you through marriage, and all you will do is make someone else’s life miserable.

Jesus responds to the disciple’s statement in verses 11 & 12, But He said to them, “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.”

Jesus is referring to the disciple’s proposition that it is better not to marry. Jesus says there are only a few that will find that they are better off single, because singleness has its own set of problems and joys.

Some people will never be married because of some physical malformation that occurred at birth. Some men will not get married because they were castrated by other men as such was a common practice of conquering armies to do to the men they would take back as slaves. This may have happened to Daniel and his friends. Others will willing live in celibacy because they have found that they have an advantage in serving God from that position. Paul talks about this in his own life in 1 Cor. 7. Jesus says that if you can accept being single, then accept it for it can be good. However, keep in mind that neither singleness nor marriage is superior spiritually to the other. It is according to how God is working in your life. Also, keep in mind that there are relatively few that can accept being single.

Whether it be as a single or as a married person, all of us need to keep in mind that the goal of our lives is to please God, serve Him and keep His commandments. We are not promised easy lives, but we are given rich and rewarding lives as we fulfill God’s will in our lives. And regardless of our marital status, as we work through the circumstances that God allows us to be in, we often find that it is the difficult things we go through that bring us closer to the Lord and refine us into more mature individuals.

If you are married, stay that way. It is God’s gift to you both for your joy and for your growth. If you are single, never enter into marriage with the idea that divorce is an option. Regardless of your marital status, live for the Lord, not for your own selfish desires.

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