Marriage and Divorce (Through God’s Eyes)
If you’re new here, or visiting today, you should know that in our church we typically preach through books of the Bible. We started the gospel of Luke a year and a half ago, at chapter 1, verse 1, and we’ll make our way through it until we get to the end. We do this so that we can’t avoid subjects that make us uncomfortable, and so that we can always remember why Luke says what he says at any given moment—how this passage fits into the larger story. We believe this is simply the most faithful way to preach the Bible.
Typically it’s best, when preaching like this, to preach on slightly larger chunks of text—that way, it’s easy to remember what came before, what comes after, and what one verse has to do with the others.
I’m going to break that rule today; this morning, we’re going to look at one verse.
When we came to Luke 16, we (the elders) had a choice to make. Luke 16 deals, in large part, with money and how we use it. Jesus begins with a parable, and he ends with a parable. And his teaching in this chapter is profound, if we take the time to hear it.
But then, almost directly in the middle of the chapter, Jesus says something that seems to come completely out of nowhere. He gives no indication of why he’s saying it—at least that’s how it seems when you read it quickly—and he doesn’t develop it any further afterward. It seems to have nothing to do with anything else he’s talking about.
And what is more, it’s a bombshell of a verse. It’s a verse over which many theologians over the years have disagreed. It easily falls into the category of “Things we wish Jesus hadn’t said.”
I’ll go ahead and read it for you, out of context, and then I’ll explain why we’re doing what we’re doing today, and how we’ll go about it.
Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.
I think you can see why this is a problematic verse for many.
Last week I preached on verses 1-17 of this chapter, and today we’ll come back to what we saw in that passage, because there is a reason Jesus says this sentence at this point in his teaching. (If you haven’t done it yet, you may want to go back over what we saw.)
It would have been relatively easy to make last week’s sermon text come all the way through verse 18, and simply explain why Jesus says what he says. (It’s fairly straightforward.)
But what Jesus says in this verse is so inflammatory, in the light of today’s culture and mindset, that I knew you all would be up in arms if I brushed over it quickly. There are so many questions that this verse provokes, so many objections this verse raises, that we felt it needed to be addressed in a bit more depth.
So here’s what we’re going to do. We’re first going to go back to the last part of last week’s text, to look at why Jesus says what he says at this point in the text. Then we’re going to talk about what he says, to see why this sentence is so important for our understanding of the gospel. And then we’re going to try to tie it all together.
Jesus and the Law (v. 14-17)
Let’s remember the context. Jesus has just told the parable of the dishonest manager (v. 1-8), encouraging his disciples to think long and hard about how they use the resources that God has given them. The way we use our money, he said, is an indicator of the things we value the most—we’ll either serve God, or money, but we can’t serve both (v. 13).
Following this, we read (v. 14-17):
14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15 And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.
16 “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. 17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.
As I said last week, this seems like a change of subject, but it’s not—Luke is careful to tell us that the Pharisees to whom Jesus is speaking now “were lovers of money”. They ridiculed Jesus’s extreme teaching, not because what Jesus was saying wasn’t true, but because they loved money too much to accept it.
The Pharisees prided themselves in being devoted to the Law and the Prophets, and yet their lives went in the opposite direction. They’d proclaim the necessity and the truth of the Law, and then turn around and conveniently ignore those parts of the Law which warned against their own vices. They talked about the Law, but they didn’t really care about what the Law actually said.
“But,” Jesus says, “God knows your hearts.” He knows what you really love. He knows what is really exalted in your affections. And he knows it’s not him.
All this time—through the parable of the dishonest manager, and everything Jesus says afterward—Jesus is trying to get them to acknowledge the way they see the world—what is “exalted” in their eyes—and then to compare that to how God sees it: as a “abomination.” He wants them to see what God sees. To look at the world through God’s eyes.
The Law was God’s means of showing his people what he valued, what he exalted; and the gospel reflects precisely those values. The gospel calls us not just to outward behavior; it calls us to an inner change of the things we value. It calls us to look at everything differently—not just our sin, but the world around us, the world’s values, the things we have, the things we love, the things we hold dear.
That was the whole point of the Law of Moses, that was the point of the Prophets—to help the people see what kind of God he is, and the things he valued, in order that they might align their own values with his.
The Pharisees ridicule Jesus for forgetting the Law and the Prophets; but in fact Jesus was the only one among them who accurately defended the Law and the Prophets, and put the Word of God into practice.
And that is Jesus’s point in v. 18 as well. He says,
17 [It] is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void. 18 Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.
In other words, Jesus says what he says about divorce as an example of how he is defending the Law far more fully than the Pharisees ever did. But why this example, when there were so many others to choose from?
There was, at the time, disagreement among the rabbis concerning marriage and divorce—about when divorce was okay, and when it was not okay (much like today).
There were a very small number of cases under the Law in which divorce was allowed; but Jesus himself said that these cases were exceptions, rather than the rule. He said in Matthew 19.8-9:
8 ...“Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
But the overwhelming thrust of the Law and the Prophets was never to say, “Here are the times when divorce is okay;” it was rather to say, “GOD HATES DIVORCE.”
Nowhere is this clearer than in Malachi 2.14-16. Malachi says about a man who is unfaithful to his wife, and wishes to divorce her,
...the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. 16 “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”
Divorce in the Bible is always linked to adultery—adultery is the only acceptable reason the Old Testament gives for divorce, because (as Jesus says) the two are closely related. If one happens, so does the other: you can’t bring divorce into the mix without adultery coming along for the ride.
God hates divorce, because divorce is adultery. It is unfaithfulness to one’s wife. It is a breaking of the one-flesh union God brought together.
Do you see why Jesus brought in this example at this point? The Pharisees have been rejecting his teaching because they love money; they’ve been claiming Jesus is rejecting the Law.
But Jesus shows that he is defending the Law, far more faithfully than they ever did. Essentially, he is summarizing in a single sentence everything the Law teaches on divorce and adultery. He’s already showed that through his teaching on money, but to hammer the point home even more effectively, he gives this example on divorce.
So that’s why Jesus says what he says, at this point in his teaching.
That, I could have said last week.
But I know that that’s not the question you’re really asking when you read v. 18.
What you want to know is, WHAT IS HE TALKING ABOUT?! Why is Jesus so extreme?
To our modern ears, this statement is so inflammatory and so strict that it would be easy to simply pass it over as a cultural difference, and miss the more important point Jesus is trying to make, which is the same as the point we discussed last week.
Jesus is trying to get us to see the world through God’s eyes; to value what he values, to love what he loves, to esteem what he esteems.
So we don’t just need to make sense of this sentence; we need to make sense of it in the greater context of Jesus’s teaching in Luke 16.
If Jesus’s goal in Luke 16 is to help us see the world through God’s eyes, then the question we need to ask ourselves is this: How does God see marriage? Why is marriage such a big deal to God that Jesus would be willing to say something so extreme about it?
Marriage, Divorce and Adultery (v. 18)
Go to Ephesians 5 with me. We won’t go into great detail here—we’ve covered this at length in other series—but it’s in Ephesians 5 that we see the greatest reminder of why Jesus is so extreme.
(Ladies, if you haven’t read this text before, don’t freak out: Paul’s going to use some words we don’t like these days—like “submit”—but when Paul uses them, he means something very specific, and probably not what you think. If you want to know what it means, go to our series on men and women, or come to me after the service and we’ll talk.)
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
A couple things to note:
In a marriage, the wife is called to “submit” to and respect her husband (and that doesn’t mean “let him dominate”); and the husband is called to love and protect and care for and provide for his wife.
That’s important, yes; but far more important than what we do is how we do it.
• V. 22: Wives, submit to your own husbands, AS TO THE LORD.
• V. 23: For the husband is the head of the wife EVEN AS CHRIST IS THE HEAD OF THE CHURCH.
• V. 24: AS THE CHURCH SUBMITS TO CHRIST...
• V. 25: Husbands, love your wives, AS CHRIST LOVED THE CHURCH.
• V. 29: No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, JUST AS CHRIST DOES THE CHURCH.
• V. 32: This mystery is profound, and I AM SAYING THAT IT REFERS TO CHRIST AND THE CHURCH.
PLEASE tell me you see it!
Our marriages aren’t even about us!
The whole point of marriage, Paul is saying, is to reflect the covenant relationship between Christ and the church. This has always been the case—v. 31, in which he says, “Therefore a man shall leave his mother...” is a quote from Genesis 2; it’s what God said about the first marriage, before sin ever came into the world.
This has always been God’s intention—marriage is a reflection of the covenant relationship between Christ and the church.
Why is it so important to understand that when we read Luke 16.18?
Because CHRIST DOES NOT DIVORCE HIS CHURCH!
Christ does not leave his church.
Christ is not unfaithful to his church.
Christ does not neglect his church.
He has entered into covenant with his church, AND SO HE STAYS WITH HER, no matter what hell she puts him through!
Not only that—not only does he not leave her when she forgets him and neglects him—he shows her the same care, the same love, the same attention, the same affection, as he did the very first day he died for her.
So why does God hate divorce?
God hates divorce, because it tells the world a lie about his Son.
It proclaims to the world that the Son might well end up being as inconstant as we are.
It proclaims to the world that if we leave him, he might leave us.
It proclaims to the world that the covenant our marriage is meant to reflect and image is of FAR LESS IMPORTANCE than my own comfort and well-being and need for self-fulfillment.
Every one of those statements is a lie…and WOE to those who spread lies about the Son of God.
The same can be said for sex, by the way. Sex is the most common illustration the Bible uses to talk about both idolatry and union with Christ. Sex outside of marriage always represents a breach of covenant with God, and sex in marriage represents the union we have with Christ, the union he purchased with his life, and which his Spirit applied to us at his resurrection.
This is why we make such a big deal about not being intimate with anyone who’s not your spouse, not living together before you’re married, not having extra-marital affairs—because that’s not how Christ acts toward his church.
Christ did unite himself to his bride, by his Spirit, before going to the cross, and obtaining the right to marry her.
He proclaimed our need during his life; he satisfied our need in his death; and once his union with us was established at his resurrection, he remained faithful to us every step of the way, no matter what horrible things we threw at him.
God hates divorce—not just because it’s costly, not just because it wounds, not just because it’s devastating for our children.
God hates divorce because, most importantly, it tells a lie to the world: the lie that Jesus is as casual with his commitments as we are. Christ is never adulterous; he is never unfaithful. He loves us even when we do not love him.
Which is why Jesus takes such a strong stand. Look at v. 18 again:
Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.
Now, let’s imagine that you’re about to marry a divorced man or woman, and you feel you’re going about it the right way. There was no adultery before the divorce; you haven’t engaged in casual sexual relations before getting married.
Adultery (at least the Bible’s definition of adultery) is having sexual relations, or entertaining sexual lust, with someone who isn’t your spouse. So most people would think, “We haven’t committed adultery, so we’re clean.”
Well, Jesus takes our idea of what adultery is, and stretches it even further. He says that a marriage between a divorced man and another, or a divorced woman and another, is adultery by default.
Because she had a husband, and that covenant was not meant to be broken.
Because he had a wife, and that covenant was not meant to be broken.
Hope for the Broken
If you’re one of those people I mentioned earlier, and you’ve been divorced, or come from a family of divorce, or have loved ones who are divorced, you may be hearing all this as absolutely brutal. But that is not Christ’s intention in saying what he says.
I’ve known couples of all stripes here.
A couple gets married; one of them was divorced before they got married, and then the newly married couple hear what Jesus says here, realize how they began their marriage, confess that sin and repent of it…and then commit to making this new marriage a reflection of the relationship Christ has with his church.
A woman cheats on her husband with another man; confesses it to him; and although he could (with a clean conscience) leave her, he forgives her sin, and they begin the slow and painful and beautiful route back to reflecting Christ and his church.
A couple gets married, lives together for thirty years, then the husband leaves the wife for another woman. They divorce, and the wife remains single. Then, years later, the husband returns, repents of his sin and asks for forgiveness. The couple is remarried (their adult sons standing proudly by as witnesses), and their marriage is restored and beautiful and happy today.
All of these cases are couples I know personally. There is a great deal of pain in every case (there has never been adultery or divorce without pain), but for those who are willing to submit to God’s authority and repent of their sin, restoration is always possible.
That is what God does—he takes broken things, broken people, and makes them new again.
And that truth not only heals us after divorce; it also protects us from divorce.
Many of you know that Loanne and I got married very quickly (nine weeks after we met), and found out very soon after getting married that we were completely incompatible with one another. We don’t like any of the same things, we process things differently, we handle conflict differently… For the first few years of our marriage, we were absolutely miserable. (Six years is a long time to live married to someone you don’t like.)
But we knew how God feels about divorce, and as we grew in our knowledge of the Bible, we came to understand why. We knew that Christ is faithful to his bride no matter how difficult it becomes; and we knew the perseverance we (as Christ’s bride) are called to show in our faith, no matter how much we may suffer. So we persevered.
And we found, after a good deal of time and prayer and heartache and difficulty, that God knows what he’s talking about when he talks about marriage. That doing it God’s way, no matter what the circumstances, produces more joy in us than simply going the easy route and launching the ejector seat.
And although to this day things aren’t always easy, we remain faithful to each other, and we love each other, and we are happy knowing that our very imperfect marriage is what God willed for us, for his glory.
People often ask me, “If things were this hard, how did you know she’s the woman God had planned for you?”
My answer is always the same: “Because she’s my wife.”
God never promises us pain-free marriages, and he never calls us to seek out people to marry who are absolutely, perfectly compatible with us. (That person doesn’t exist anyway.)
He calls us to leave our fathers and mothers, to hold fast to our wives, and to know that in him, we are now one.
I’m sorry I can’t give you a five-step plan on how to perfectly put into practice what Jesus says in this verse: these situations never come up in a vacuum, and pain of this magnitude is often blinding.
But these things we can know:
Because of what marriage is—a living testimony of the covenantal love between Christ and his church—God hates anything that will damage or break it. He hates divorce, and he hates adultery.
For those who have sinned (whatever the sin) restoration and repentance are always possible.
For those who have suffered, been wounded, by sin—by your own sin, or by someone else’s sin—the church is there to love you and to care for you and to walk with you toward that restoration. The church has far too often taken broken people who have been through these things, and done a terrible job of loving them. We are all suffering from the consequences of sin, and we all need the same Savior; so although we aren’t content to remain as we are, there is absolutely no room for judgment or ridicule here. If there is one place on earth where it is okay to be broken, okay to have made mistakes, okay to come in barely able to stand because we’re hurting so much, this is the place.
What’s the Point?
Now, I know that was a lot to unpack; but we have to remember that all of this talk of divorce isn’t the main point. Let’s go back to Luke 16.
Jesus defends and fulfills the Law—that’s what he was trying to show the Pharisees.
Jesus calls us to see the world, and ourselves, and others, as God sees us. Just as last week we heard him call us to see our resources—our money—as God does, here he calls us to see marriage and relationships as he does.
Jesus calls us to use what we have for his glory, and his renown.
God is motivated by a passion for his own glory, and he most supremely manifests his glory in his Son, who became a man, and who lived and died and was raised to reconcile us to God.
If a passion for God’s glory, manifested in his Son, is what motivates God, it should also be what motivates us. If we are truly seeing through God’s eyes, we will see the world in the light of that supreme value.
And if we see the world in that way, then just as we will think long and hard about how we use the resources God has given us, we will also, inevitably and necessarily, think long and hard about how we approach our relationships.
It is so hard for young people to remember that their romantic relationships are about so much more than physical attraction (partly because when you’re twenty-five, everyone’s still pretty; mostly because we just haven’t lived long enough to see beyond that attraction).
But if we see how highly God esteems romantic relationships (which, biblically, will always play out in the context of marriage and which serve as living testimonies to the gospel), then how will we go about building these relationships?
What will we look for in a spouse?
How will we go about pursuing our future wife? Will we really want to simply “date” like the rest of the world does?
How will we seek to love and honor our spouse in our marriage?
How will we seek to love and honor Christ in our marriage (since, in the end, it’s actually not about us, but about him)?
How will that change the way we speak to one another? the way we resolve conflict? the way we fight temptation? the way we forgive each other’s sin?
God gives us everything he gives us to use for his glory. And he created us in such a way that when we act for his glory (and not our own selfish pleasure), we actually enjoy it more.
So let us serve him well in our relationships; let us be joyful in our relationships; and let us ultimately rejoice, not in how happy we are in our husbands and wives, but in how happy we are in Christ.