Today we’re going to talk about divorce, and I’d like to begin with a little experiment. In just a minute, I’d like you to raise your hand if any of the following are true:
If any of those is true for you, would you please raise your hand?
OK, take just a minute to look around the room. This is a group of people that knows something about divorce, about how it effects relationships, about the kind of deep pain and damage that can come from a marriage that doesn’t end well. This group knows that divorce doesn’t just impact a husband and wife—the consequences ripple throughout the entire family. Thanks for participating in the experiment.
If you raised your hand today, you don’t need to feel embarrassed. Half of all marriages end in divorce. As you can see by looking at the hands that were raised around you, there is hardly a family in this country that hasn’t at some time been touched by the tragedy of a divorce. So, even if you’re that rare person whose hand was not raised a minute ago, unfortunately chances are very high that sometime in your life you will join this group.
As divorce becomes more prevalent, there is probably a greater acceptance of divorce. In fact, for children growing up today, it’s becoming uncommon to live together with both your own mother and your own father.
But despite its popularity, divorce is incredibly destructive and hurtful. There have been numerous studies of the detrimental effect that divorce has on children and their sense of stability, confidence, and self-value. Divorce not only brings about profound personal emotional pain from rejection, but it often also leads to deep-seated anger, resentment, bitterness and sometimes even violence.
Besides all that, this group probably also knows something about the stigma and shame attached to divorce. People who have been divorced often feel very guilty—even if they didn’t want to divorce or do anything to bring it about.
Unfortunately, churches have not helped matters much. Not only is the divorce rate just as high among church attenders, but many churches have also served up generous helpings of guilt-inducing recriminations and rejection. As the church showcases the ideal of marriage as God intended it to be, people who have been divorced are often made to feel like second-class citizens. Some churches have taught very rigid, even unusual interpretations of the Bible that prevent anyone who has been divorced from remarriage. Sometimes very godly, competent, otherwise-qualified believers have been barred for life from ministry and church leadership positions because they have been divorced or even because they married someone who has been divorced. And all this has been done in the name of Jesus.
I wonder…just what does Jesus think about all this? What really are his views about divorce and how we should think about it? I’m so glad you asked!
The Jesus Curriculum
Today we’re studying Matthew 5:31-32 and a related passage in Matthew 19, where Jesus talks about his own views of divorce. This passage is part of the Sermon on the Mount, or what we’re calling, “The Kingdom Handbook” because in it Jesus teaches his followers about life in God’s kingdom.
The Kingdom Code
This particular section of the handbook is about The Kingdom Code, the rules we ought to follow as citizens of the kingdom. If you remember, we don’t follow the rules to get into the kingdom—the only way to get in is by trusting in what Jesus has done for us. The reason we follow the rules is because we are already in the kingdom and we trust God to tell us the truth. When he says something is off limits, we believe that he’s got our best interests at heart and that he’s trying to spare us from the pain and destruction that sin would produce if we gave it the chance.
But as Jesus lays out the Kingdom Code, it becomes obvious that he is explaining not just the letter of the law, but also the spirit of the law, the law’s intent. Jesus says it’s not enough to avoid certain external sinful behaviors. We also need to honor God with our thoughts, our motives and our attitudes—the inner things only God can know about us.
Matthew 5 contains six comparisons between this “external performance” and the “internal obedience” that God desires. Jesus talks about anger, sexual desire, divorce, lying, revenge, and hatred. In each case, he calls us, his followers, to commit ourselves not just to obeying the external requirements of the law, but also to allowing the Kingdom Code to govern our thoughts, our motives and our attitudes.
For example, we’ve already talked about anger. Jesus says it’s not just the external behavior of murder that’s wrong. It’s also wrong to maintain unresolved anger toward another person. And last week, we saw that Jesus taught that it’s not only against the law to cheat on your spouse. It’s also against the law just to entertain the desire to have an affair with someone else.
Today we’re going to talk about the third of these six contrasts as Jesus teaches us about divorce. Just as he did with the previous subjects, Jesus begins with what his followers already knew about divorce from the Old Testament: that God permitted it.
Matthew 5:31-32  "It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.'
Deuteronomy 24:1-4 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
[And her second marriage also ends,]  then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again
 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress,
and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.
Internal: motive, commitment
Matthew 19:3-9 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?"
 "Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,'
 and 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'?
 So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."
Work out Your Difficulties
 "Why then," they asked, "did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?"
 Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.
1 Corinthians 7:10-11 A wife must not separate from her husband.  But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. …
If there is no sexual sin, but you just can’t stand to be married anyway, the Bible does permit you to divorce, but in that event, you should remain unmarried. Why? Because God is able to put any marriage back together again. To remarry is to close the door on reconciliation and in God’s eyes is adultery—unfaithfulness to the covenant you have made. If your ex remarries or has a sexual relationship, then the bond is broken, and you are likewise free to remarry.
 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery."
Mark 10:12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery."
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.
 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.
…  But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances.
I’d like to close today with some practical advice about recovery from divorce.
1. Forgiveness from God
2. Forgiveness for Others
3. Freedom to Remarry
1 Copyright 2004 by Lewis B. Bell III. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 4 in the The Kingdom Code series delivered by Chip Bell at Fellowship Bible Church Arapaho in Dallas, TX on March 28, 2004. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with credit.