Tough question about divorce
Hey, Journey Group Leaders...since many of you are going through the Sermon on the Mount material with Matthew's Book, you may bump into (or already did) some sticky questions about divorce and remarriage (Matthew 5:31-32). With so many marriages ending in divorce in our society, it's an issue we need to address with all grace and truth. Here are some official thoughts from CCC: The Historical Situation
At the time of Christ, the two prominent Jewish rabbinical leaders disagreed about the grounds for divorce that Moses gave in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. One leader attached sexual impropriety to uncleanness while the other more prominent leader took it much further where minor offenses such as the overcooking of dinner became legitimate grounds for divorce. In the case of Matthew 19:3-9, the intent of the question was to stir up trouble by getting Jesus to answer against one of the two schools of thought. Jesus answers them by reiterating the original intent of marriage as a life- long covenant and corrects the Pharisees statement that Moses commanded divorce with permitted divorce because of their hard hearts.
Jesus is clear that divorce is wrong except for sexual immorality. The word immorality used here is a general term for sexual uncleanness. Jesus is telling us that anyone who divorces and remarries commits adultery unless immorality has occurred. Jesus, as He does throughout the Sermon on the Mount, goes behind the letter of the Law to the spirit of it. He says that divorce for any reason other than immorality leads to adultery. Let’s remember the Jews in the audience of Matthew 19 would have assumed that a legally divorced person had the right to remarry and never heard of a divorce that didn’t carry with it the right to remarry. The idea that God permitted divorce for sexual immorality but forbade remarriage occurred in the post-apostolic era when the view of sexuality became a necessary evil and celibacy was elevated as the most God honoring lifestyle. Not only was marriage discouraged by remarriage after a divorce but remarriage after the death of a spouse was forbid. Based on Jesus’ teaching, divorce is permitted on the grounds of sexual immorality and assumed the right of remarriage.
If a person divorces on grounds other than sexual immorality and remarries commits adultery. When two people whose divorces weren’t valid in God’s sight come together in marriage, they break their former marriage covenant and commit adultery. But this is not a continuing state; from that point on they are husband and wife. God recognizes two people as married when they have met the civil requirements, even if their divorces were not valid in God’s eyes. So when two people marry after divorcing on grounds other than sexual immorality, they sin against the covenant of the previous marriage at the first sexual union. But this occurs only once as the new marriage covenant now comes into effect. This view should never take away from the effect of Christ’s restriction as deliberate disobedience is a serious matter. Followers who truly love the Lord will not lightly ignore or disobey Him.
The Other Allowance
In 1 Corinthians 7:8-15, the Apostle Paul instructs single people to remain single and married people to remain married and a believer choosing to marry another believer is permissible. However, permission is given for divorce and remarriage on the grounds of the abandonment of a believer by an unbelieving spouse from verse 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.” Whereas Jesus’ statements in Matthew were addressed to a Jewish audience under the Mosaic Law, Paul’s statements were to believers of Jewish and Gentile descent on the other side of the resurrected Christ. As the instance of Gentile believers married to unbelieving spouses occurred, some marriages were able to remain intact while other nonbelieving spouses may have wanted their believing mate to renounce Christ or end the marriage.
Based upon Matthew 19 and 1 Corinthians 7:15 we discover two grounds for divorce: sexual immorality and the abandonment of a believer by an unbelieving spouse. These two grounds for divorce are also grounds for remarriage.
Ministering To the Offender
We glorify God by showing love for the offenders. This is best demonstrated by treating them kindly, doing our best to lead them to repentance and forgiving them when they do. A mistake often made is to view divorce as the sin of all sins. People who have divorced on inadequate grounds and remarry have sinned, but their sin is just as forgivable as any other sin. People who disobey God in their divorce and remarriage must be shown love, even though we don’t approve of what they did. The aim should be their repentance and restoration to fellowship.