Matthew 19 – The Value of Marriage, the Dangers of Divorce
Matthew 19:1-3: When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. 2Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. 3Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?"
We have a problem in our culture. Marriage doesn’t have a very good reputation. The divorce rate has increased dramatically over the last 60 years from 1 in 7 marriages ending in divorce to 1 divorce for every 2 marriages. That’s half. However, more recently, those numbers seem to be improving.
More recently statistics say that 45% of people get a divorce. That’s down. You might think that’s good. Not quite. The number of people who live together is increasing.
Current census: 4.3 million couples are instead living together without the commitment of a marriage vow. The most often cited reasons? Because 1) failed prior relationships have made them wary of marriage,
and 2) likely to keep their finances separate.
Another recent study, this one by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 70 percent of those who live together end up getting married – but those marriages are also more likely to end in divorce. After 10 years, 40% of those who lived together and got married ended up divorced, compared with 31% of those who did not live together first.
People think that living together is good for marriage. They say to themselves. Let’s try it out before we buy it. That may be good for buying a car but it doesn’t work for marriage. Marriage is built on commitment.
Marriage as an institution has a tarnished reputation. Respect for marriage among many is at an all time low. It’s time to re evaluate marriage. Is marriage a good idea? Many are looking to the current statistics and saying no. Many are looking to their own experience with marriage, or the marriage of their friends or parents and saying no. It doesn’t work.
I want you to know that those people are looking in the wrong places. I want to suggest today that marriage, done right works. Let’s not look at marriage in the world, in your neighbor, or even in your past experience. Let’s go back to the Bible. If we live by the book then we end up in the right place. Marriage, although hard, and certainly not for everyone, can be a tremendous source of joy, comfort, growth, and companionship.
Now, I’m not suggesting that all marriages will succeed when one person obeys the Lord. Even God, in his Word does not affirm that. I can tell you though that there are a lot of people today who are not following God’s plan for marriage and many of them end up divorced.
Today we’re going to look at divorce. One of the primary things we learn from this passage from Jesus is that – a casual approach to marriage and divorce is destructive.
Jesus, in answering the question of the Pharisee first lifts up the value of marriage.
Matthew 19:4-6 “"Haven’t you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator ’made them male and female,’ 5and 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’ 6So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."
Jesus is saying, “Alright, I’ll talk about divorce. But first we have to talk about God’s design for marriage.” Let’s not look at your marriage. Let’s not look at the problems of this world. Because maybe the solution to your relational problems isn’t divorce. Maybe the solution to your marriage problems is to go back to God’s design for marriage. After all, God designed it. If we follow his instructions for marriage then we can move toward success.
Jesus is emphasizing the importance, the sanctity, and the value of marriage. Think about that for a minute. Marriage is a valuable covenant, not to be taken lightly. Ben was telling me that some couples get married in the marines because they can get more pay if they are married than if they are single. Then when they come back from the deployment they get divorced. It was a marriage of convenience, just to make some money. To beat the system.
He was saying, furthermore, many marines treat marriage like dating. We’ll be together for a while and then break up. Jesus starts with a very important truth. Marriage is valuable. In fact, God designed marriage to be a very special gift for us. A special place where two people grow together in love and holiness in a way they might not be able to do otherwise.
Marriage is a privilege. But marriage is a tremendous amount of work. It takes a lot of sacrifice. A lot of humility. A lot of giving. You have to sacrifice your rights, lay down your freedom. Marriage is hard. Very hard.
One of the problems is that we live in a world that measures the success of a marriage selfishly. Often a person who is dissatisfied with marriage is making these kinds of statements:
1) The work necessary in this relationship is not worth it.
2) I’m giving more to this relationship than I’m getting out of it.
3) I’m fed up with this other person not considering my needs.
4) I have a right to be happy.
5) This relationship isn’t satisfying to me.
6) This person doesn’t please me anymore.
The person who makes those kinds of statements leads themselves to a divorce. The assumption is that marriage is an institution that is designed to make me happy, meet my needs, and satisfy me.
The reality is that marriage may do those things but often requires hard work, self-sacrifice and service to the other person.
Some time ago, I met with a woman in my office who came to me for marriage counseling. She came alone because she wanted to improve her marriage and save it. We only had one session together. I’m the kind of counselor that sends people home with homework. I encouraged her to look for ways to reduce her anger and affirm her husband. She said, “Wait a minute. It sounds like you’re making it look like I’m the problem.” I said, “No doubt the problem is on both parts. I’m not saying you’re the problem. I’m saying that you’re a big part of the solution.” “I don’t need to change.” She said. “He’s the problem. I’m coming to you for you to tell me that I have to change? You’ve got to be kidding me. I’ve been going to my other therapist for a year. He knows that the problem isn’t me. He never told me that I need to change. The problem is my husband.”
Let me tell you another story. This is a funny story that I read.
A man and woman had been married for more than 60 years. They had shared everything. They had talked about everything. They had kept no secrets from each other except that the little old woman had a shoe box in the top of her closet that she had cautioned her husband never to open or ask her about. For all of these years, he had never thought about the box, but one day the little old woman got very sick and the doctor said she would not recover. In trying to sort out their affairs, the little old man took down the shoe box and took it to his wife’s bedside. She agreed that it was time that he should know what was in the box. When he opened it, he found two crocheted dolls and a stack of money totaling $95,000. He asked her about the contents. "When we were to be married," she said, "my grandmother told me the secret of a happy marriage was to never argue. She told me that if I ever got angry with you, I should just keep quiet and crochet a doll." The little old man was so moved; he had to fight back tears. Only two precious dolls were in the box. She had only been angry with him two times in all those years of living and loving. He almost burst with happiness. "Honey," he said, "That explains the dolls, but what about all of this money? Where did it come from?" "Oh," she said, "That’s the money I made from selling the dolls."
I like that story because it speaks to the reality of marriage.
Somewhere along the line there has become a misunderstanding about marriage. It’s not easy. It’s hard. Jesus is raising the value of marriage for the Pharisee and for the disciples that are listening.
Matthew 19: 7-9: "Why then," they asked, "did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?" 8Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery."
So, now we come to the subject of divorce. Notice that Jesus starts with a clarification of their thinking. They said Moses commanded. Jesus said, Moses permitted, not commanded. Jesus is saying, Let’s not get carried away here about the Law and what it requires. Divorce was permitted because of hard hearts.
As we look at the scriptures we see that there are three ways that a marriage can be dissolved that permit remarriage
1) Death – 1 Corinthians 7:39 “A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.”
2) before salvation you were married and then your partner wants to leave. – 1 Corinthians 7:15 “But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances.”
3) Adultery. – Matthew 19:9 “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
The realization is that marriage takes place in the eyes of God. That when you get that piece of paper that says you are married that isn’t the only thing that makes you married. It’s the vow and covenant that you make before God that makes you married. So, getting another paper that says you’re divorced doesn’t free you from that partner, because in God’s eyes, you’re still married. So marrying someone else is, in essence and substance, adultery, unless it falls under one of those three exceptions.
The passage in question here, the one that the Pharisee is referring to when he talks about Moses is Deuteronomy 24:1 – “If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house.”
The question has to do with the word “indecent.” What does that mean?
In Jesus day there were two schools of thought about divorce and remarriage stemming from this verse.
Rabbi Hillel said that indecent there means anything that displeases you. She burned the food, was annoying, didn’t keep things clean. Any reason really, and you could get divorced.
Rabbi Shimeiai said that the only reason one could get divorced was because of adultery.
Jesus sides with the Rabbi Shimeiai saying that it’s only for adultery that a divorce is allowed.
In Matthew 19:6 Jesus uses The words “joined together.”
Divorce is like tearing two glued pieces of wood apart. Neither is left whole by the time you’re done. Neither is returned to their original condition.
The world has told us there is such a thing as a no fault divorce. No fault means, because it wasn’t my fault or your fault, we simply split things evenly and walk away. Contemporary culture applauds this new enlightened way of thinking as progress. It’s not progress. It’s dangerous.
God designed marriage. He has a plan for when things get tough. God joined them together. God did it. The God you believe in. He’s the one who joined that marriage union. A piece of paper saying I got married or I got divorced isn’t as important as the God who is behind marriage itself.
Most people want to get married in a church by a pastor. They call the office and they say, “We saw your name in the phone book. We like that name Calvary Chapel. Could we get married in your chapel?” I say, “Have you seen our building?” Or, “do you do weddings? We’re looking for a priest or a pastor but it seems that everyone wants us to join their church first. We don’t want to do that.”
I love to talk to those people. “Let me explain to you why those other pastors require membership. You see we who are in ministry see marriages succeed and we see them fail. We don’t want to contribute to failed marriages. We know that your spiritual life is key to a successful marriage. That’s what I think you’re hearing from many of those you talk to. It’s not that we’re being mean. It’s just that on the other side of the wedding, there’s a big surprise for most couples. A surprise that most couples can’t handle alone. They need help. Since God designed marriage, he knows how couples can maneuver through the process successfully. Most couples, left on their own to try to prop up a marriage, end up in divorce.”
When I’m performing a wedding, there are times when we get to the vows and we say, “For richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, as long as you both shall live” I look at those people with stars in their eyes and I know they have no idea what those words mean. They are thinking about the reception and the honeymoon. Marriage is hard. Too many people today get a divorce because the marriage is hard. That’s what we’re talking about today.
The Bible on Divorce and Remarriage:
When you’re thinking of initiating a divorce for the following reasons. . .
a. “I don’t love him anymore.” - Initiating divorce is a sin; remarriage after divorce is a sin. Your efforts should be to redeem the marriage.
b. “We’ve just drifted apart.” - Initiating divorce is a sin; remarriage after divorce is a sin. Your efforts should be to redeem the marriage.
c. “I’m not happy in this marriage.” - Initiating divorce is a sin; remarriage after divorce is a sin. Your efforts should be to redeem the marriage.
d. “You’re not meeting my needs.” - Initiating divorce is a sin; remarriage after divorce is a sin. Your efforts should be to redeem the marriage.
e. “My spouse committed adultery.” - Pursuing divorce is justified; remarriage after divorce is justified. Your efforts should be to redeem the marriage if possible.
f. “My spouse left me because I became a Christian.” - Pursuing divorce is justified; remarriage after divorce is justified. Your efforts should be to redeem the marriage if possible.
g. What about Physical violence. Legitimate physical harm is immenent
My life and the life of my children are in danger. Free to physically separate.
1 Corinthians 7:10-11. “To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.”
Separation may be necessary for a time. However, you need to realize that Over 90% of all separations end in divorce.
Let’s go to the other side of the coin here for a moment.
When your spouse has initiated a divorce. . .
a. Do everything within your power to redeem the marriage while the opportunity exists. - Matthew 19:3-6; 1 Corinthians 7:10-11.
b. If your spouse initiates a divorce and then remarries (or gets involved sexually with someone else), that person is guilty of adultery. - Matthew 19:9.
c. If your spouse commits adultery in this way, you have the freedom to remarry. - Matthew 19:9. - If they haven’t gotten involved with someone, your focus should be to try to redeem the marriage.
Let me just make it clear that A justifiable divorce brings with it the right to remarry. - Jesus would have made a statement to the contrary had this not been true, because in that culture it was a given that a justifiable divorce brought with it the right to remarry.
We live in a society that says, if you’re not happy in the marriage, get a divorce. We live in a very divorce-accepting-culture.
I want to tell you a story.
As you know, often God takes me through experiences in my life that directly relate to the passage that I’m teaching. Sometimes I share those with you and sometimes they are too personal for me or too personal for others who are in our church. But let me tell you the story of this week.
About four weeks ago, one of my good friends called me and told me that his wife issued him divorce papers. He’s the leader of a family ministry in the United States. He’s my friend. Right away he called me. “Scott. I don’t know what to do. I’m in shock. I came home. A stranger gave me the papers. She left and took my children.”
I’ve been talking to him on the phone sometimes every day, sometimes every other day, working through the issues. The board of this organization had a meeting a couple of days ago. I’m not on the board but I flew out there to lead the board meeting. My job was to help them wrestle with the reality of a man who will be divorced. What does that do for the family organization he the president of? I had to wrestle with this subject on a personal level, on a ministry level, on a biblical level. I’m convinced that God gave me that experience, as he often does so that I could stand here before you today as a pastor and love you and teach you with my whole heart. Sometimes I think that being a pastor is one of the hardest jobs in the whole world. You wrestle with the problems alongside of people and you feel their pain. But it’s also got to be the best job in the world as you get to watch the grace of God touch them on a deep level. I will continue to support and encourage my friend. That’s what friends are for.
And I will continue to support and encourage you wherever you are in the process. But it’s my job to hold out the standard for marriage. It’s God standard because it comes from God’s Word.
So, I’d like to speak to various kinds of situations, because we all come to this subject in different ways.
If you have experienced a divorce in your life, you would likely be the greatest advocates about what I’m about to say.
Thinking about divorcing
If you’re here today and you’re thinking about divorcing, I want to share with you some dangers of divorce. And then I know that many of you have gone through divorce and so I want to speak to you about where you are right now and try to encourage you. I know that many of you who have been divorced will be grateful for this sermon because you know first hand what I’m talking about. It’s important to warn people about the dangers of divorce. There are six dangers that I’ve identified.
6 Dangers of casual, non-biblical Divorce
1) Destructive to your relationship with God. Let me say that God forgives and heals broken hearts, but you need to know that there are long term consequences to sin. You can’t just say, “God will forgive me” as license to do whatever you want. There are consequences. Never do the wrong thing to get what you want. Please don’t think that God hates a divorced person. That’s not the case. Malachi 2:16 says that God hates divorce. God loves you and forgives you but don’t ever think that you can use God’s grace as an excuse for sin. Don’t do it. It will damage your heart.
2) Destructive to the other mate – ripping two pieces of wood apart that have been glued with that welding glue. Neither of the two people will ever be the same.
A Counselor needs to be careful when working with a person who is in an unhealthy marriage. A counselor may try to help that person rebuild, learn to strengthen their relationship with Christ, undo some of the unhealthy dependence that existed in the marriage. The counselor may help the person be strong on the inside and do the right thing. All of that is important, but woe to the counselor who goes beyond God’s plan and then encourages the person to get a divorce because of their new found independence. That spiritual growth and independence is good so that the person can reconcile, so that the person can be a better mate and learn how to be the husband or wife that God called them to be.
3) Destructive to the children
There is a lie that some parents believe that says, “My pain is the same as my children’s pain. I need to get a divorce for the sake of the children.”
Divorce does damage to children – a trial they aren’t prepared for. Many of those children never recover from the divorce experience. Oh, they can, with God’s grace, but it difficult.
Some would say, Oh, they’ll get used to it. It just takes time. Studies show that 37% of the children more dissatisfied with their lives 5 years after a divorce than they were before it. Kids don’t easily get over it.
- Kids live with ongoing issues of hurt, pain, unresolved conflict. They struggle with:
- Feelings abandonment personally
- Grieving – often looking for coping tools that are unproductive
- Problems with closeness in relationships
- Marriage itself, Often ending up getting a divorce themselves
Cal State Berkeley did a longitudinal study following children of divorced parents decades after the divorce. They found that these children, when they grew up, had trouble forming their own intimate relationships and families.
Children don’t recover well from divorce. It marks them, often for life. Interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be a large effect on their work lives, but in their personal lives there is a greater propensity for substance abuse, and harder times with intimate and close relationships.
Children frequently don’t share the same kind of pain that the parents experience. And divorce is much much harder for a child to recover from.
Yes it’s best to stay together for the sake of the kids. Don’t kid yourself. If you think that you are somehow benefiting the kids, you are likely making a big mistake. It is often better for a mother or father to demonstrate godliness in the midst of hardship and conflict than to than to get a divorce.
4) Destructive to Christ’s reputation
God has called us to be salt and light in the world. When we live our lives just like the world does, the respect for Christianity is diminished. The reality is that marriage is a picture of our relationship with Christ. It’s a testimony for others to see. When a person chooses to stay in a challenging marriage and be a light and witness in that relationship, they are being a tremendous testimony for God.
5) Destructive to the extended family and friends
The pain of a divorce affects a lot of people. Not just you and not just your family. Others are hurting too. It’s been depressing for me to watch my friend going through a divorce. It hurts.
6) Destructive to the value of marriage. Marriage is valuable. It is sacred. It is something worth fighting for.
What would happen if we changed the wedding vows to reflect what actually happens in many marriages today.
John do you agree to take Mary as your wife and be faithful to her in marriage? Sure as long as I’m not tempted by any other woman.
Mary do you agree to take John as your husband? Sure, as long as he understands me in the way I need to be understood.
Well John do you promise to give her first place in your life? Yes, but not on Sundays during the games, or Fridays when I run with the boys, and not on days when I just have to have time to myself from trying to work two jobs.
Well Mary are you going to accept him as he is? Yes, but I’m not putting up with his family, I’m not going to have him trying to change me, and I’m not interested in dealing with his friends.
John will you be honest and open with Mary? Yes, as long as she doesn’t ask about how much money I make, how I spend it, or where I spend my time.
Mary will you forgive John when he hurts you. Yes, after I think he has suffered enough, and I reserve the right to remind him of the last time he hurt me.
Dearly Beloved you have heard the vows with exceptions and stipulations proclaimed by Mary and John, I hereby pronounce them husband and wife for as long as neither of the two of you violate any of the expressed exceptions and stipulations.
Notice the response of the disciples in the next verses.
Matthew 19:10-12 “10The disciples said to him, "If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry." 11Jesus replied, "Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage[c]because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it."
The disciples realized what Jesus was saying. Marriage is a big commitment. Maybe it’s better not to get married in the first place.
Now, I’d like to look at that and other situations you may be in right now and make a few comments about them.
Not Married yet?
1) Choose wisely – Marry a Christian who is going somewhere. Don’t’ just settle for a person who says they are a Christian. There are a lot of people who say they are Christians who are not living their life following the Lord. Is he praying with you? Is she interested in sharing what she’s learning from God’s Word. Don’t marry a person who isn’t committed to Christ.
2) Obey God – Do it right. I say that to people all the time who are pursuing marriage. Do you remember the passage in Matthew 19:8 that we read a few minutes ago? Hard hearts lead to divorce – Matt 19:8 “Moses permitted you to divorce because of the hardness of your hearts.”
3) Recognize that marriage is hard. The disciples said in Matthew 19:10 “It’s better not to marry.” That’s because the disciples viewed marriage as a convenience, not as a commitment. That’s an amazing commitment to God, not just to a partner.
4) Commit to marriage for life
In a Hard Relationship?
We are all affected by the society in which we live. Our society has instilled within us the belief that we all have the right to live happy, wonderful, and fun filled lives. That which hinders our joy, should be removed so that we might become self-fulfilled persons. That same mentality has become part of many Christians’ theology of marriage. People say to themselves, “God does not want me to be sad, ever. He wants me to be enjoy life.” We interpret Jesus’ words of abundant lives to mean, abundance in things, abundance in pleasure, and an abundance of having things go my way.
That’s not the case. Marriage is hard. But
There are 3 Blessings of continuing in a hard relationship
1) You have opportunity to develop greater Closeness with God. You see, hardship can grow you closer to your Heavenly Father. You learn how to please God rather than man, because your mate is hard to please. You learn to rely on God’s grace, receive his comfort, and live in his joy. It’s really a beautiful place to be and rarely do people experience that beauty.
2) Secondly, your commitment to God to stay in a challenging relationship is a testimony to others. Is it only missionaries who live with hardship in order to serve God? You may say, “Yeah, I didn’t sign up to be a missionary. I just wanted to be a wife.” Being a wife is being a missionary. Hardship provides you with opportunities to reveal Christ. 1 Corinthians 7:12-15 “If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.” There is a sanctifying presence in the home when you are there. It means learning new skills for relating, witnessing and relying on God. That’s part of your calling. It’s work.
3) A third blessing has to do with your own personal Spiritual Growth. God can take suffering and turn it into ministry. God can grow us faster through adversity than by being comfortable. God wants to draw you closer to himself, give you greater insight into who he is and how he operates and to develop your spiritual maturity in ways you never imagined.
Someone going through some struggles this week said to me a great statement, “I don’t want waste the suffering.” I love that and it’s right on. Don’t waste the suffering. It’s an opportunity.
Being in a challenging marriage is hard. My heart grieves for the pain you experience. So does God’s. The solution isn’t divorce. The solution is to obey God and learn to grow in his grace, love, peace, and joy.
Maybe you’re already divorced here today. I’m glad you’re here. Calvary Chapel is a place where we grow spiritually no matter what has happened in the past. Here are some suggestions for you. Maybe you’ve already done these but if not these are things to consider.
1) First of all, seek forgiveness for your part in the breakup both from the former partner and also from God. Then live in that forgiveness. God gives grace. God takes us from wherever we are and moves us forward. God loves you. Never doubt that. When you understand God’s grace you have a tremendous freedom in your spirit. You’re free in the Lord. That’s a privilege that comes with your relationship with Christ, not from divorce.
2) Secondly, Work toward reconciliation when possible. Of course, if you or the other person is already remarried that’s not possible, but where it is possible do whatever you can to reconcile.
3) Third, Be the best parent you can possibly be. Go out of your way to do a good job in your role as a parent. Pay child support.
4) Fourth, Commit to not getting a divorce again.
5) Lastly, Encourage others on the value of marriage – You don’t have to live with guilt. You can enjoy the benefits of the grace of God. Encourage others to avoid mistakes that maybe you made. Encourage others to follow your example at times of following the Lord. Hold marriage in high esteem.
Let me just close by saying this:
God can take you from wherever you are and help you grow spiritually. It starts now. It starts today. Joshua 24:15 brought Joshua to a point of decision. He said, “choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."
Isaiah wrote, "but those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint" (Is. 40:31).
If you have suffered, or are suffering in a difficult marriage, or recovering from divorce or somehow working through any issues that I’ve talked about here this morning. I want you to know that you are not alone. We are here to be your support, encouragement, and comfort. Just as I and others have walked with my friend in the last few days and weeks and will continue to walk with him over the next weeks and years, this church is committed to supporting you at whatever stage you are in in your life. Share with us and let us share with you.
Let’s grow in the Lord together. Let’s make our marriages a priority. Let’s make God a priority in this area of relationships.
May God richly bless you in your life today.