The Pharisees tried to test Jesus with a question about divorce. Is divorce lawful? Did Jesus say that two people could not divorce? Should people be allowed to divorce? These are very serious matters and Jesus’ answer was interesting.
Note his first response to the Pharisees. He said, “What did Moses command you?” (Verse 3) In essence he was asking whether they knew what the law said about this matter. They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to put her away.” (Verse 4) So it is evident that they knew what was written in the law.
This law was given because humans are weak. Sometimes people make bad choices in life, including entering into bad marriages. Sometimes one or the other party is unfaithful in the marriage and goes out and commits adultery with another person. In such a case should the marriage continue when it is clear that one person has shown contempt for both the sanctity of marriage and their partner?
This was why Moses allowed people to divorce. To escape from bad marriages. What should a person do if they find they are tied to another person who is abusive, either physically or mentally? Should they have to continue to suffer under such circumstances when it is clearly harmful for them to do so? No. And that is why Moses provided the law of divorce.
Jesus was aware of this which is why he asked the Pharisees first as to whether they knew the law. When they showed they did know it, they had already answered their own question, that is, under the law it is lawful to divorce. And Jesus expounded on that law explaining the underlying reason why it was given. It was given because of man’s hardness of heart. It was because of man’s hardness of heart that they committed the types of sin that lead to breakdowns in family and marriage.
However, then Jesus shows a higher standard to which the Lord would hope that Christians (at least) would aspire to. Hid standard was that from the time man and woman were created, they were made to be joined together as one in God. When a man and woman are married and they come together they are one in the sight of God, and as Jesus said, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Verse 9)
So when a man and a woman come together in marriage it is not a thing to be taken lightly. Marriage is an act of God and it is the will of God for men and women to marry and have children and so “go forth and multiply” and fill the earth.
Paul explained these principles well in his letter to the Corinthians, particularly as it relates to believers and non-believers.
If two believers are married and they are following the ways of the Lord they should not separate. If they are following the ways of the Lord there should be no cause for them to separate and divorce. For in the Lord they should be in or will come to the place where they are walking in the love of God and have no cause for dispute.
However if issues arise and they decide to separate then it is not a sin. They should try not to get to that point, and try to work matters out, but Paul recognised it may not always be so simple. Thus he said, “To the married I give charge, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, let her remain single or else be reconciled to her husband) –and that the husband should not divorce his wife.” (1 Corinthians 7:10-11) He did not give couples in the Lord free rein to divorce and remarry or go off with others. He said if they separate, let them remain single or reconcile to their partner. Jesus also made the point that in the sight of God if someone divorces and marries another, they are committing adultery against their original partner. (Verses 11-12)
Now when there are two people married and only one of them is with the Lord, it is a different matter. The one who is not with the Lord may be causing problems for the Christian partner and seek separation. Paul said, “…if the unbelieving partner desires to separate, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound. For God has called us to peace.” (1 Corinthians 7:15)
The key to this whole matter of divorce is in those last few words. Whether under the law or in Christ, “God has called us to peace.” How can you find peace in a bad marriage? You can’t. That is why the Lord permitted both under the law of Moses and now for the dissolution of a marriage.
Yes there is a higher standard, and it is the one to which all people should, and probably do, aspire to attain. I am not aware of anyone who enters marriage with the desire to see it fail. But because people are weak, it has been allowed for so that we may not have to suffer but can find peace.
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