First, read through Jesus’ hardcore statement on marriage and divorce in Matthew 5:31-32. Pretty stunning, isn’t it? A couple things to bear in mind here. Jesus is in the middle of a message, a sermon, if you will, that is talking about what life is like in his kingdom. So, everything Jesus is saying is meant specifically for people who choose to accept Jesus as savior and king. He’s got no say in the matters of anyone in a different kingdom. That said, Jesus is spinning off of a debate that was raging within rabbinical circles: can you divorce your wife for any reason, or are there stricter guidelines?
Interestingly, Jesus, just a few chapters later, in Matthew 19, lays out a nuanced and complete elaboration of his views on this topic, so, let’s go there. Take in Matthew 19: 3-12, and then we’ll move on. Ready? Ok. Now, in this passage, Jesus is approached by some religious leaders, and they are trying to trick him into landing in one camp of the rabbis. And Jesus will get to an answer, but before he does, he treats his listeners to God’s perspective on marriage to help set the table. And for that, Jesus goes all the way back to the beginning, literally. The beginning of the bible, Genesis, where marriage began, with Adam and Eve.
And what Jesus pulls out of Genesis is that marriage was God’s idea. He created man, but found that it was not good for him to be alone, so he made woman. He didn’t make a child, or a best buddy. He made woman. Marriage, in God’s eyes is between a man and a woman. And when it involves God’s people, God himself joins them and declares that it’s a permanent thing, never to be torn apart. The two will become one flesh—there is no longer him and her, so much as a new “them”, a new creation, a new family. And they are to hold fast to one another. This is a permanent, exclusive covenant never to be broken until death enters the scene.
The religious leaders, self-proclaimed experts in things biblical, counter with, “Well, why then did Moses allow divorce?” Jesus’ answer: "Because you guys were dirty rotten sinners; but even then Moses never commanded divorce. He only permitted it because of the hardness of your hearts. From the beginning, it was not so.”
There is something in us that actually loves a love story where two people are absolutely unbreakable, enduring all manner of hardship, never quitting, never giving up, never leaving. It’s why even guys who don’t cry will tear up just a bit in watching the first 4 minutes of Pixar’s “UP,” which recounts the life of Carl and Ellie prior to her death. Pixar knew they’d get us with that story.
And God’s purpose in marriage, in love that never ends, was so that he would be able to display through his people to the rest of the world that this is the kind of love God has for everyone in the world.
Now, only with that as a backdrop does Jesus answer the original question, and that answer puts Jesus in the strictly conservative camp. He says, “If you are a follower of mine, and you divorce your spouse for any other reason than immorality, i.e., adultery or infidelity, and you marry someone else, you are committing adultery and you’re causing your new spouse to be guilty of it, as well. Tough stuff here, no doubt. But it says something about the seriousness of marriage as seen through God’s eyes. Now, there is no absolute command to divorce even when infidelity occurs. God still loves and prefers reconciliation. I had a couple 15 years or so ago who moved to the DC area to get away from the husband’s indiscretions back home. This couple got into a bible study and got saved. The wife, forgiven of her sins by Jesus, played it forward and forgave her husband. This couple reconciled and have a fantastic marriage now. It can happen.
But it doesn’t always. Sometimes that tearing apart might happen. In addition to infidelity, Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 will also note that if a spouse is abandoned, divorce is permitted. Not preferred. Just permitted.
So, what do we do, as Christians, if we now come to the realization that the divorce that happened in our lives was not for biblically acceptable grounds? What if we realize we committed adultery by marrying someone else, and worse, made our new spouse guilty of the same offense before God? Well, you don’t have to go screaming into the desert or anything. Ok, you’re married to this new person. But you’ve got this sin thing of adultery hanging over you. Do what you do with any other sin God brings to your attention. Confess it to him, ask him for his forgiveness, and trust that that sin, like every other you’ve committed, was fully paid for on the cross. Now, go forward, and make that marriage be everything God intended marriage to be—a covenant where two people love each other sacrificially and never let go until death shows up. Be the example of God’s love for his people in your sphere.
Ok, finally, Jesus has some words for people who aren’t married. It’s kinda funny, because he uses the illustration of eunuchs, and singles aren’t really eunuchs. So, think of it this way, singles in the kingdom of God follow God’s instructions on sex, which means they aren’t having it. They know sex is a thing that seals the deal of life-long covenant of marriage. And eunuchs in Jesus’ day were individuals who were not having sex. That’s the lash-up with singles. Folks who are not married, part of God’s family, and not engaged in sexual relations.
Jesus says there are three kinds of eunuchs, or singles, in his kingdom: (1) singles who have been single from birth—these are folks who have never been married, but probably want to be, or those who see that in their future. They are waiting for God to provide that perfect spouse; (2) singles who have been made singles—that is, those who have been married, but now find themselves single again. Perhaps they were made single again by divorce, or perhaps through the death of a spouse; and (3) singles who have made themselves single for the sake of the kingdom—that is, singles who are perfectly content being single for the rest of their lives and have no particular interest in being married.
Notice that Jesus does not consider singles to be half-people, or incomplete people, or people lacking in some way because they are not married. They are, in fact, full-fledged citizens of the kingdom, and fully engaged in kingdom work. This makes me ponder the state of the church—sometimes we make singles feel that they are lacking somehow if they are not married. We can almost make an idol of marriage, making singles feel like something less than a married person. That is just plain wrong. Ok, sure, there are people who are professional serial daters, people who are not grown up, people who have commitment issues—but this is not all singles. Let’s not lump all singles in the church into that bin. We’ve got to embrace singles who are followers of Christ as equal partners in the work of the kingdom as any married person. Yeah, marriage is awesome, but if God has called a person to singleness, then there’s no better place for them than that. And if God brings a spouse into the picture at some point, fine. But they are totally complete as Christians with the Spirit of Christ at work in them.
Again, remember that Jesus has been talking about what he expects to see happening among his people, citizens who have chosen to be in his kingdom. Jesus knows that the rest of the world, outside his kingdom, are going to have sex like rabbits and divorce willy-nilly. Jesus isn’t addressing them. He’s addressing his followers, encouraging us to live life to the full and experience joy to the extent that those around us might think, “Man, I don’t know what’s going on with those Christians, but I wouldn’t mind having a taste of what they’re having. They seem pretty darn happy.” So, let’s go for it. Be a city on a hill. Be salt and light to the world around you.
I have summarized some of the key points of the message here. If you want the fully message, pop onto our website at www.thesurge.cc, click on the current message series, which will be Sermon on the Mount, and scroll down to message number 8. Enjoy!!