In recent years, the divorce rate in America has continued to skyrocket. The number of people being divorced is rapidly growing in such proportions that many of those with whom we associate and whom we try to convert to the Lord have been divorced and remarried. Christians are, consequently, forced to deal with the subject of marriage, divorce and remarriage as it relates to leading people to Christ who are in second and third marriages. In addition to that, as the world has become more inclined to divorce and remarriage, members of the church have become more involved in divorces and second and third marriages. Because of this influence of our society upon us, we need to understand what the scriptures teach regarding marriage, divorce and remarriage.
One of the real dangers which faces Christians is the tendency to have its moral standard dictated to it by the world rather than reaching its conclusions about morality from the Bible. At the present, the morals of America are in a transition period. Things that 'were. considered immoral a few years ago are now accepted and blatantly practiced. We see this happening with reference to homosexuality, gambling, drinking, fornication, and other sins condemned by God's word. The warning which Paul gave in Romans 12:2 is therefore quite apropos for a discussion of marriage, divorce and remarriage. In Rom. 12:2, Paul wrote as follows: "And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." We have got to be careful that we do not allow what the society around us legislates and accepts become our moral standard with reference to marriage, divorce and remarriage. We must not be conformed to this world but rather we must be guided by the revelation of God.
The fact that we must not allow society around us to govern what we teach on marriage, divorce and remarriage has been shown to us repeatedly in some of the work which gospel preachers have done in societies where polygamy is accepted. As they went into those cultures with the gospel and taught people what the Bible said about marriage, they were forced to teach what the scriptures taught about one man being married to one woman for life. No doubt it was painful for some of those who were involved in polygamous relationships to break those associations. However, God's standard of right and wrong could not be determined by what any particular culture taught at any given time. Rather, the revelation of God went against the grain of that culture; they were forced to teach the truth of the Scriptures relative to marriage regardless of who was hurt or suffered because of past disobedience.
We who are in America today are going to have to be careful that we do not allow our culture to determine what we preach on the subject of marriage, divorce and remarriage. Some in our culture are looking at the number of divorces and loosening the standards which they teach on the subject of marriage, divorce and remarriage. Because that is happening on such a wide-spread basis, it is imperative that we go back to the revelation of God to find out what the scriptures teach on marriage, divorce and remarriage.
Jesus' Teaching on Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage
The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it–was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery. His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry. But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be – eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it let him receive it. (Matt. 19:3-12)
And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him. And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you? And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; and they swain shall be one flesh; so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together let not man put asunder. And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter. And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery. (Mark 10:2-12)
These parallel statements of the question which the Pharisees asked Jesus contain the most detailed teaching which Jesus gave with reference to the subject of marriage, divorce and remarriage. We need to examine the teaching of Jesus in this section to find out what was taught.
The Historical Context
The question which the Pharisees came to ask Jesus was, "Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?" The question is certainly as pertinent to twentieth century man as it was for first century Jews. If that same question were asked in today's society, practically every person in the land would say, "Yes, it is lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause." Our society has become so liberal in its divorce laws that we presently have what is called "no-fault" divorce – divorce which can be granted without placing blame on either party. A person just has to state that he and his wife have irreconcilable differences and that they no longer desire for the marriage to exist in order to obtain a divorce. Then, the persons freed by these divorces go out and remarry. They are accepted by society and, unfortunately, by many in the church as if their marriage was approved of God. Because of the present-day situation being so nearly like what it was in Jesus' time, we need to notice His answer to the question posed by the Jews.
The Jewish schools of that day were divided into two opinions over the interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1. ` There Moses wrote that a man could put away his wife for uncleanness. The school of Hillel interpreted uncleanness to be virtually anything. For example, they believed that if a man found another woman that was more appealing to him than the one to wham he was married, he could divorce his wife and marry someone else. On the other hand, the school of Shammai, interpreted uncleanness to refer to some act of lewdness. Thus, they were divided into two groups along these lines. The question which they presented to Jesus, undoubtedly, was going to cause a conflict with one group or the other. No doubt, this was the reason that they came to Jesus and asked that question, tempting Him (Mk. 10:2).
In Jesus' reply to the question which He was asked, He referred the Pharisees to the book of Genesis. There He said,
Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife and they twain shall be one flesh, Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God bath joined together, let not man put asunder (Matt. 19:4-5).
There are several things learned from this quotation by Jesus which need to be observed. They are as follows:
1. God's arrangement of one male and one female shows God's desire for the marriage relationship: There are a number of sins which exist today, and in societies of the past, which are shown to be sin from God's positive arrangements in creation. We see, for example, that homosexuality is sin by the fact that God made a man for woman and a woman for man. God did not make a second Adam for Adam or a second Eve for Eve. Had He wanted the homosexual relationship, He would not have made Eve for Adam but would have made another Adam for Adam. Hence, the divine disapproval of homosexuality is seen by the original provision of God and also in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and Romans 1:26-27. Furthermore, we also see that other relationships such as polygamy, polyandry and successive fornication relationships are all disapproved of God for the simple reason that they are no more what God originally intended than homosexuality is.
2. We see that marriage involves leaving father and mother, cleaving to one's wife and becoming one flesh. Those who are contemplating marriage would do themselves a favor if they would study each one of these ideas. Young married people need to leave father and mother. Untold numbers of arguments have existed in marriages newly formed because of arguments relating to the in-laws of one or the other of the people in the marriage relationship. Secondly, the person ought to cleave to his wife. He ought to try to become as intimate with her as he possibly can.
3. They shall be one flesh. Of course, this refers to more than the sexual relationship. It refers to the manner in which personalities and goals and intentions in life are merged in the two people.
We see the divine sanction upon this relationship in the statement, "What therefore God hath joined together . . ." God unites the man and his wife. That is important to observe because some leave the impression that if man decides to break a relationship, he can break it regardless of what God thinks about it at all. Consequently, we have such things happen as a man and woman being married to each other in a relationship which God considers to be adulterous (see Rom. 7:1-3). Hence, in order for a marriage to be acceptable to God, it must be a marriage that is meeting God's approval. Man's tampering with marriage is a violation of the Lord's will. Hence, we need to give some more attention to this area of study. (Continued next week.)