And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people. (Matthew 4:23, NKJV)
It is quite disheartening to hear gospel preachers teach that Jesus was teaching the Law of Moses to the Jews while He was on the earth. They say this, it seems, to prop up their own false teaching about marriage, divorce and remarriage. They say we cannot use Matthew 5 and 19 to know about divorce and remarriage today, because He was teaching Jews how to be good Jews under the Law. But, Jesus was preaching “the gospel of the kingdom” – no plainer, simpler words could describe the content of Christ’s teaching. His sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7) was the gospel of the kingdom, not a rehearsal of how to keep the Law of Moses. Jesus came to fulfill the law and the prophets (which He did, Matt. 5:17-18; Lk. 24:44-47; Rom. 10:4), not to preach it. The miracles of Jesus did not confirm the validity of the Law of Moses, they confirmed the validity of the gospel Jesus preached. They showed Him to the be Son of God, not the defender of Moses (John 20:30-31). We may – and must – go to what Jesus taught while He was on earth, as well as what His apostles taught after He ascended, to learn His will on “all things that pertain to life and godliness” – including the subject of marriage, divorce and remarriage.
12 But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her… 15 But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace. (1 Corinthians 7:12, 15, NKJV)
Some Christians question whether they must end their marriage to an unbeliever, in order to be faithful to Jesus. The apostle applies Jesus’ teaching from Matthew 19:6 – “what God has joined together, let not man put asunder” – and answers, “No.” Is the unbeliever is willing to allow the Christian to live his or her faith, do so and bring a godly influence into the home (1 Cor. 7:12-14; 1 Pet. 3:1-6). If that willingness is not present, and the unbeliever sunders the marriage (being unwilling to have his or her spouse to live for Christ, v. 16), the Christian is “not under bondage in such cases.” That is, the Christian is not now, and never has been a slave to the unbeliever (see 1 Cor. 7:23). This verse does not teach another cause for divorce and remarriage, that is, desertion. (Marriage is for life, with one cause for one party to be free to remarry, the cause of fornication, Matt. 19:3-6, 9.) Instead, it teaches the believer that his or her faith is not negotiable – even in a marriage. Do not surrender your faith for the sake of pleasing any person; “you were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men” (1 Cor. 7:23). God has called you to be at peace with Him (v. 15). So, do the will of God, not the will of men.
10 His disciples said to Him, “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 But He said to them, “All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: 12 For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.” (Matthew 19:10–12, NKJV)
The disciples understood the words of Jesus. He said there is only one cause for divorce and remarriage (Matt. 19:3, 6, 9). “All cannot accept this saying” because all are not willing to accept it. This is equivalent to Jesus saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matt. 11:14-15). Some are willing to forego sexual relations for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, and will refrain from marriage in order to be holy (Matt. 19:9). Self-denial rather than indulging oneself in sin is the mark of discipleship (Lk. 9:23; 14:26-27). God’s marriage law is rigorous, while men’s are very loose. Marriage must not be entered into lightly, but with reverent attention to its permanency and commitment. God’s marriage law has been given to mankind. All who marry are under the authority of God respecting marriage. When God joins man and woman in marriage, He does so for life. “Therefore, what God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt. 19:6). Do you have ears to hear (accept) the words of Jesus?
And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery. (Matthew 19:9, NKJV)
After exposing the Pharisees’ attempt to pit what Jesus said of the permanency of marriage (Matt. 19:3-6) against Moses (Matt. 19:7-8), Jesus declared the result of sundering what God has joined together (Matt. 19:6). The person who ends his (or her, Mk. 10:11-12) marriage, except for the cause of fornication (porneia) and marries another person, commits adultery. Likewise, whoever marries one who has been divorced (put away) commits adultery. Jesus says only one person has the right to remarry when marriage ends in divorce; the one who puts away his or her spouse because they committed fornication (Heb. 13:4). This is the one exception God will accept for remarriage after divorce, and then only by the one who put away the fornicator (who introduced sexual defilement into the marriage bed). All other remarriages after divorce result in adultery (Matt. 5:32; Rom. 7:2-3). Remember, “What God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt. 19:6). Frivolous reasons for divorce will not be tolerated by the One who gave us marriage. Everyone who enters marriage is under the authority of Christ on this matter (Matt. 28:18). Solve your marital problems in godly ways. Divorce only increases pain – now and eternally.
7 They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” 8 He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” (Matthew 19:7–8, NKJV)
We should remember the Pharisees questioning Jesus were “testing” (“tempting”) Him in an attempt to discredit himself (Matt. 19:3). So, not content with His compelling answer that it was not lawful to out away their wives for any reason, they attempt to set Jesus against Moses. But, Jesus explained that Moses’ stipulations on divorce were due to the hardness of the people’s hearts, and not that God was satisfied with them putting away their wives. Moses strictly regulated divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1-4; God permitted putting away their wives under the stated conditions of that passage – not to encourage or endorse divorce – but to rein in their hardheartedness toward marriage and their wives! From the beginning God had wanted men to respect marriage, not sunder it. Here, the Pharisees are an example of what not to do when God’s truth exposes our sin and error. They tried to pit Jesus against the Scriptures (Moses), but Jesus’ original statement stood true. People still try to pit Scripture against Scripture to condone divorce (which God hates, Mal. 2:16) so they can feel justified separating what God joined together (Matt. 19:6). Don’t be like these Pharisees. Hear, believe and obey Jesus (Matt. 17:3-5).
4 And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:4–6, NKJV)
Jesus laid out three distinct reasons that it is not lawful “for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason” when the Pharisees asked Him whether it was so (Matt. 19:3). (1) The Genesis of Marriage (v. 4). God, not human beings, created marriage. His purpose for marriage, which is between “male and female,” is the final word on the matter. (2) The Condition of Marriage (v. 5-6). Marriage is a “one flesh” relationship. When married, the man and woman are no longer independent; they are joined by God as “one flesh.” As surely as we do not naturally separate flesh from flesh, so neither is it natural to separate husband and wife by divorce. (3) The Prohibition of God (v. 6). God declares we are not to separate (put an expanse between) what He joins together, namely, the husband and wife. We must solidify in our hearts this unchanging edict from God: Marriage is given by God, and is between one man and one woman, for life. (Jesus will give one exception to this rule in verse 9, and that is exactly what it is, an exception to the rule.) It is transgression against God to sunder what He has joined together.
The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” (Matthew 19:3, NKJV)
Disregard for the permanency of marriage did not begin in our day. Millions and millions now live together without marriage; it is accepted as natural and normal. Millions more marry without the expectation of it lasting “until death we do part.” They marry “as long as our love lasts.” These would fit right in with the Pharisees who scrutinized Jesus on the subject of divorce. But, in His answer, Jesus exposed their low regard for marriage. Not a few who are married are looking for a way out – for some rationale with which to vindicate themselves as they prepare to separate what God joined together (Matt. 19:6). God, who gave marriage, made it a lifelong covenant, with His law obliging each spouse to the other (Rom. 7:2). Jesus will go on to tell these Pharisees that it is not lawful, “for just any reason,” for man to separate what God joins together (Matt. 19:6). God hates divorce (Mal. 2:16)! How strikingly from today’s advice: Don’t marry in the first place. Or, if you do, go ahead and divorce at the first sign of trouble. We do well to define and arrange our marriages according to God’s word. Marriages will thrive when God’s will for marriage is honored and obeyed.