Considerations on Marriage and Divorce

 

 

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Considerations on Marriage and Divorce

Matthew 5:31-32; 19:3-9

Dr Alex Tang

 

Summary

Outstanding character of a Christian means faithfulness in marriage, not ending in divorce.

 

John Stott in his book, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, The Bible Speaks Today Series, noted, "The followers of Jesus are to be different from both nominal church and the secular world, different from both the religious and the irreligious. The Sermon on the Mount is the most complete delineation anywhere in the New Testament of the Christian counter-culture. Here is a Christian value-system, ethical standard, religious devotion, attitude to money, ambition, lifestyle and network of relationships- all of which are totally at variance with those in the non-Christian world. And this Christian counter-culture is the life of the kingdom of God, a fully human life indeed but lived under the divine rule".

 

The Sermon on the Mount sermon

  1. The makarios –the Be-attitudes  or outstanding character of a Christian. It emphasis on the inner life than outer behaviour (Matt. 5:1-12)
  2. Salt and Light (Matt 5:13-16)
  3. Christ-the Fulfillment of the Law (Matt. 17-20)
  4. Six examples of outstanding character of a Christian in which Jesus develop His theme-that He was deepening and not destroying the law. Introduced by “you have heard…” or “It has been said…”
  • Murder  and anger (Matt 5:21-26) cf  6th commandment ‘Thou shall not murder’ (Exodus 20:13)- victory over anger
  • Adultery and lust (Matt. 5:27-30) cf  7th commandment ‘Thou shall not commit adultery’. (Exodus 20:14) –purity in sexual matters
  • Divorce (Matt. 5: 31-32)
  • Oaths (Matt. 5: 33-37)
  • Eye for an eye (Matt. 5:38-42)
  • Love for enemies (Matt.5:43-48)

 

Today's text (Matt 5: 31-32)

 

“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.

 

Outstanding characteristics of a Christian means faithfulness in our marriages which does not end in divorces

 

“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’  But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.

 

Matt. 19:3-9

 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. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not 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 marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

 

Before we comment on divorce, we shall consider some principles of marriage

 

  1. Marriage is instituted by God, not man.

      God made people male and female (v. 4; Gen. 1:27). In marriage He joins them together in an inseparable bond. This bond is a higher calling than the parent-child relationship, for a man is to leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife in a one-flesh relationship (Gen. 2:24). Therefore what God has joined together, men ought not separate.

GE 2:24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

 

  1. Marriage is the basic unit of society.

In the Bible, the basic unit of society is marriage. It is the first human institution formalised by God as a basic building block of society. In the church it is also a basic building block. Any attack on marriage is an attack on society. Gibbons writing in The Fall of the Roman Empire,  noted that all the great ancient civilization started their decline with the loss of integrity in marriage amongst its people. With disintegration of marriage comes immorality and disorder.

This does not mean all people are to be married. There are some among us who are called to be single. God has called these individual to a single life so that they can serve Him better. A single life does not mean a lonely life.

 

  1. Marriage is not to produce children.

From the way, most of us talk about our marriages, it is to produce children. Even though God does give us the mandate to be fruitful and multiple, marriage is not about children. Marriage is about a relationship between two persons- a man and a woman. Children are a gift to this relationship. Somehow when children come, they become the centre of the marriage until the marriage is all about them and the husband and the wife part fade to the background.

Guys, notice when your wife stopped calling you darling and started calling you daddy? The shift of emphasis is subtle but there. You are not longer the focus of her affection. You are somebody's daddy and that somebody has taken your place as the focus of her affection. Most marriages are so revolved around their children that when their children leaves home, the husband and wife find that they are practically stranger to each other. Who is this stranger with a familiar face? They have sacrifice all for their children.

Children are not part of the marriage deal. This means those marriages without children are also blessed by the Lord. Couples without children should not feel they have a raw deal. Your marriage is still part of God's plan.

 

  1. Marriage is for covenant companionship.

Marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman. It is a covenant relationship which means it is a contract of commitment to each other and to no others. Why did God create marriage? Because God said it is not good for man to be alone and He created a helpmate for him. Man is body, spirit and soul. Woman is body, spirit and soul. Marriage is the process where two become one - one flesh. In a metaphysical sense, there is a merging of the body, spirit and soul. One merged, one cannot separate without some damage. It is a lifelong commitment.

 

 

  1. Marriage conforms to Christ and His Church.

God uses human marriage to show the marriage between His Son, Jesus Christ (the bridegroom) and the Church (the bride).

Ephesians 5:25-27

 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,  and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

Marriage is not about the romantic love we see on television, movies and romantic novels. These are more of infatuation and lust rather than love. Marriage is about a covenant commitment to love one another, even when at times we are not lovable. The Church is not always a beautiful, clean and radiant bride. Sometimes, she is dirty, smelly and unkempt. Yes Jesus loved her all the same. He died for her. So in a marriage there will be good times and bad times. In the good times let us enjoy it. In the bad times, let us hang on to our marriage vows and our commitments.

 

  1. Marriage is high maintenance.

     

    • Keep the 'fire of love' alive

Remembering birthdays, anniversaries; doing each other a favor; having a date; do something together special every month; holding hands; compliment one another; basic courtesy; saying 'I love you'.

    • Do not take each other for granted

Married couple: year one 'darling may I have a glass of water?' 'Of course, my dear.' Year two: 'darling may I have a glass of water?' 'wait a while and I shall get it for you.' Year three: 'darling may I have a glass of water?' 'who do you think I am, your servant?' Year four: 'darling may I have a glass of water?' 'you no leg-ah. Get it yourself'

There is a very strong tendency to take one another for granted in a marriage, especially in our busy lifestyle, with so many demands on our time and energy- work, children, ministry, golf, hobbies etc.

    • Communication

Married couples must continue to communicate. Not just talk about the children. Some couples find that aside from their children, they have nothing to talk about. Find other common areas of interest. Learn to listen.

    • Conflict resolution

Couples must learn to resolve their conflicts. Conflicts are inevitable as two human beings learn to be one. Conflicts must be resolved properly or it will lead to more problems later on. Unresolved conflict has a tendency to accumulate until one day it explodes in a spectacular fashion or it leads to emotional divorce. Emotion divorce occurs when the couple drifts apart until there is nothing between them but dead space.

 

Comments on Divorce

Time magazine (April 5, 2004) ran an article on Marriage Breakdown: Why Asia's divorce rates are hitting all-time high. In 2002, divorce rates are in South Korea (47%), Hong Kong (43%), Japan (38%), and Singapore (26%). The Barna Report , September 8, 2004  a survey of 3614 adults found that in the US, one in three marriages end in divorce (35%).  This rate, 35% is identical in born-again Christians. Divorce is breaking up Christian and non-Christian marriages equally. It is a real problem.

 

  1. Divorce is instituted by man

      The Pharisees, realizing that Jesus was speaking of the permanence of the marital relationship, asked why Moses made a provision for divorce for people in his time (Matt. 19:7). The Lord’s answer was that Moses granted this permission because people’s hearts were hard (cf. Deut. 24:1-4). “Because your hearts were hard” is literally, “toward your hardness of heart”. But that was not God’s intention for marriage. God intended husbands and wives to live together permanently. Divorce was wrong except for marital unfaithfulness ( Matt. 5:32).

  1. God hates divorce.

      Malachi 2:13-16

Another thing you do: You flood the LORD’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. You ask, “Why?”  It is because the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one?  Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. “I hate divorce,” says the LORD God of Israel, “and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,” says the LORD Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.

 

  1. God allows divorce for sexual sins (Matt.5:32) and when unbeliever wishes to divorce a believer (proper divorce). (1 Cor.7:1-16)

The Bible is very clear in that God only allow divorce in two scenarios.

Firstly for marital infidelity. This does not mean that one has to divorce one's spouse for adultery. If the spouse is willing to forgive and reconcile, the marriage can still go on. Dr. Gordon MacDonald, a fine Christian pastor and leader committed adultery with one of his church staff. He confessed and asked his wife for forgiveness. He then offered himself to his church and a few Christian leaders for discipline. His wife, Gail forgave him and took him back. The church suspended him for two years and required him to undergo counseling. Two years later, they welcomed him back as their pastor.

 

Secondly, Paul in 1 Cor 7:15, taught that an unbeliever spouse may divorce a believer spouse.

   1CO 7:15 But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.

In theological terms, this is called proper divorce because God allows it.

     

  1. Divorce may occur for other reasons (improper divorce)

In some cases, counseling and reconciliation may not work because there is so much hurt and damage in the relationship that it cannot not be repaired,  no matter how much words and prayers were offered. The reasons may be many- desertion, incompatibility, abuse, mutual consent or irretrievable breakdown. We must realise that we live in a fallen world and sometimes bad things happens to good people.

     

  1. Divorce is a forgivable sin.

A few weeks ago, I was speaking to a pastor in Port Dickson. His first wife died of cancer. Being a person who find it difficult to live alone, he married again very soon after the death of his first wife. He soon found that he had a lot of problems with his second wife. They tried counseling, came before their church for help and finally ended in a divorce. He said that he can find forgiveness from God. The difficult part is to find forgiveness and acceptance from other Christians. He has to resign as a pastor and for four years, very few Christian contacted him and nobody invited him to preach in their church. Many Christians do not know how to handle a divorced Christian especially a divorced Christian pastor.

 

In  October 1990, NECF held a conference on Divorce and Remarriage. One of the speaker, Rev. Nicholas Yeo said, "Christians must be taught the Biblical understanding of this subject so that they may not remain ignorant and be led into a bind by taking the wrong steps. All couples intending to get married should go through pre-marital counseling stretched through six months to a year. A continuing home ministry for all marriages can be developed. The church must act to defuse the situation when a divorce is contemplated or when a divorce proceeding is being made. The church can be a restraining influence against divorce in the midst of an increasing worldview where divorce becomes a common way of life. The church must bear positive witness to society."

Concluding remarks

Outstanding character of a Christian means faithfulness in marriage, not ending in divorce

                                                                                                            Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

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