Please forgive me if the following material is old news to you, but I think it’s important to know a little background about this. As we discussed back in March, the first time divorce was mentioned was in Deut. 24:1-4. This was the passage that the religious leaders debated back and forth in discussing when divorce is appropriate. The school of Shammai said that “something indecent” referred to marital unfaithfulness, so he and his followers held that this was the only legitimate reason. Hillel and his disciples held that “becomes displeasing to him” meant that the husband could initiate divorce for just about any reason, even if the "reason" was that she didn’t cook his food properly.
It’s pretty obvious that Jesus agreed with Shammai, but I think in the context of this whole chapter in Matthew there’s something else going on here. Jesus never presented a contrast between his teachings and the Old Testament, but he did set up a contrast between the Old Testament and the common misinterpretations of it. In other words, as the Author of the Torah he had the ultimate right to interpret it, and he was restoring the original meaning of the Law to them.
As you can read from this passage, Jesus didn’t say that divorce is never an option, but it should certainly be the last one. If a someone cheats on their spouse, God allows it, but he never encourages it. The only other legitimate reason why believers are allowed to divorce is if they’re married to a nonbeliever and the nonbeliever wants to leave (not the believer).
What about remarriage? John MacArthur, a strong conservative teacher and preacher, makes the case for allowing remarriage if the divorce was due to unfaithfulness. Under the Old Covenant, the penalty for adultery was death, and the faithful spouse was allowed to remarry after the adulterous spouse was executed. Under the New Covenant, we don’t execute adulterers, so the unfaithful spouse is allowed to go on living. Should we then punish the faithful spouse because under the new system we’re more lenient? His argument sounds persuasive to me.
But among all this talk about divorce and remarriage, we should not lose sight of this fact: God hates divorce because he loves marriage, and he loves people. He knows what damage divorce does to people, especially the most vulnerable, namely women and children. He created marriage in the first place, and he values it very highly. Do we?
If you’re married, are you doing the work necessary not only to preserve but to strengthen your union? If you’re single, then are you going to settle for anything less than God’s best for you? I know it’s a cliché, but he really does know what’s best for us, and he has our best interests at heart. Let’s go by his standards, not the world’s.
I also fully understand that a lot of people reading this have already gone through a divorce. That's tragic, but it doesn't have to be the end of your story. No matter how much at fault you were for the breakup (and I'd venture that in virtually all divorces there's no one single party 100% at fault), you can have a new beginning right now. Confess and turn away from any lingering sin (sexual and non-sexual) and resolve to start doing things God's way today. Not the culture's way, and certainly not the way you've been doing things up till now. I warn you, you're going to hear this aphorism a lot if you hang around with me for long, since it consolidates so much truth in so few words: There's never been anyone in the history of mankind who did things God's way who ended up regretting it.
Lord Jesus, help me to value marriage, not only my own but those around me. May my eyes and my heart be faithful to the one you’ve given to me.