Matthew 5:31-32 — Marriage, It Should Be the Toughest Decision You Ever Make In Life!

Posted: October 5, 2015 in Gospel of Matthew

Matthew 5:31-32
According to a recent study done by the trade magazine, Psychology Today, the statistics for divorce in our country are alarmingly high. Fifty percent (50%) of first marriages are now ending in divorce. With each succeeding marriage, the divorce rate doesn’t get any better. You would think that if you didn’t get it right the first time that you will certainly get it right at least in the second or third marriage. Nope, that is not the case. The study found that two-thirds (67%) of second marriages end in divorce while 74% of third marriages end up in a courtroom. We live in a society of immediate gratification. Our needs must be met now. We live in a world we fire football coaches if they do not produce winning seasons and championships within 4 years. We pull our investments out of companies if they do not produce immediate results. And…we throw away our marriages like we throw out the garbage. We think nothing of it anymore. We get married without thinking it through and divorce is our first action plan rather than our last resort. These divorce statistics are for both Christians and non-Christians alike. Walk into any church today and you will see divorce is just as rampant among Christians as is found in the general public. In that GEICO commercial where the old laying shouts, “That’s not how this works! That’s not how any of this works!” Divorce is not how God intended marriage to work. That’s not how any marriage is intended to work! Marriages are not supposed to be like cars that you trade in every couple of years.

Here while continuing on with the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addresses another sticky issue in relation to just what is acceptable and unacceptable about it when he says in Matthew 5:31-32, ”It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” These collective two verses, especially in this day and age where divorce is everywhere, are probably the most misunderstood phrasing of Jesus in the entire New Testament.

David B. Curtis in his sermon, “Is Divorce the Unpardonable Sin?” said, “I want us to look at what the Bible teaches on the subject of divorce and re-marriage. Our society’s view of divorce changes, but God’s doesn’t and the Bible gives us God’s view on divorce. Divorce is an issue that affects us all. All of us are touched by it either in our own family or in our circle of friends.” He continues by saying, “There seems to be a lot of confusion among believers over what the Bible teaches about divorce. It’s obvious that many churches have lowered the standard, and any believer who wants to get a divorce is often encouraged to do so. I know a woman who wanting a divorce asked several pastors if divorce was okay. They told her it was fine. Unscriptural divorce is one of the great evils of our time.” He finishes by saying, “The New Testament law of divorce is strict. Jesus threw out all causes but the one cause of adultery.”

There are three points for us to consider in Matthew 5:31-32: First, Jesus is saying that there is only one biblically valid reason for divorce between Christian men and women and by saying that he is saying that marriage should not be entered into lightly. Second, Jesus is saying that if there is only one reason for divorce, we should live our marriages in God-honoring fashion. Finally, we must consider what to do in situations of physical abuse. In the end, I think that we will see that marriage should be the most difficult decision we make in life, if we intend to live it according to God’s standards.

First, Jesus felt that the religious establishment and the people of Israel had completely thwarted the intent of Deuteronomy 24. Steve Ziesler in his sermon, “The Divorce Dilemma” says, “Jesus acknowledges that in Deuteronomy 24 there is a discussion about divorce, but his interpretation of the passage is not that God is advocating divorce. God’s word acknowledges divorce as inevitable in a sin-filled society. And divorces happen, Jesus says, because hearts are hard. Since they happen, the word of God provides a safety net, primarily for women. In ancient times women’s lot was worse than it is today. What God forbade was for a man to grow angry with his wife at a whim, throw her out in the street, and say, ‘I’m done with you, the marriage is over—get out of here’, leaving her defenseless, without any explanation of her status. So Moses wrote that the man had to file a legal document stating his reasoning, and at least give her the protection of being able to say, ‘My marriage has ended, and I can prove it.’” Therefore, it is clear that Jesus is refocusing us on the fact that God abhors divorce. However, Jesus’ contemporaries as well as us in this day, were getting divorces for any and all sorts of reasons. Jesus therefore is saying there is only one biblical reason for divorce, and that is adultery. So, once again, we as humans, have taken a command of Jesus and legalized it to the point that the intent of the command is meaningless. God was actually trying to strengthen marriage when he commanded what he commanded.

Second, by saying what Jesus says here, it also is intended to strengthen marriage. Jesus is saying that if there is only one reason for divorce among Christians, then you better think long and hard before you get married or think long and hard about the discord and unhappiness that is leading your marriage toward divorce. Typically in divorce, one of the two in the marriage begins or continues to act as if they no longer follow Jesus. It is either us or our spouse. If we or our spouse is acting in a manner that is not in alignment with God’s will, it will lead to unhappiness in marriage. For us men, this means that we are not acting as Paul recommended in Ephesians 5:25-32,

“25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— 30for we are members of his body. 31“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself,”

As for women, an effective marriage, requires that a Christian wife must submit to her husband’s leadership of the home when he lives out Ephesian 5:25-32. Thus, if a husband is not willing to love his wife enough to die for her and put her welfare and security above that of his own just as Jesus did for us and if a woman is not willing to submit to her husband’s leadership when he is a Godly man then we should all think long and hard about getting married in the first place. Typically, when people get married today, though we may typically get married in churches, the thought of putting God first in our marriages, the thought of living as a Godly spouse is not what comes to our mind. Typically, we get married these days because someone “lights our fire”, gives us passion. We do not study whether this marriage is the right thing in God’s eyes. Then, when the passion cools, we think the love has gone from the marriage; that we have been betrayed and then the devil begins sowing seeds of discontent in the marriage. Jesus was saying to his contemporaries and to us through the ages that marriage is a holy and sacred institution and should never be entered into lightly. As my mother-in-law once said, “Don’t put up with, for one day, what you aren’t willing to put up with the rest of your life!” This all means in the biblical view there is only one way out of a marriage other than death and the requirements of being a godly spouse are a high bar, then we must not flippantly get married. We must pray and pray and pray about it and observe the Christian walk of our potential spouse before we even consider the holy sacrament of marriage. God wants us to be married as he has not intended us to be alone since the beginning of man’s time on earth. But, through Jesus’ words here, we see that we should see who we marry as the biggest decision of our lives. If we did that more often maybe we would see marriages last a lifetime as God intended.

Finally, although there is a biblically legitimate reason for divorce which is adultery (and this accounts for probably two-thirds of divorces), what is God’s expectation when we find ourselves in a loveless marriage or an abusive marriage (either emotionally or physically) where no adultery has occurred? This is a tough question. I really struggled on how to respond to that question. Got Questions Ministries responds this way,

“While it seems obvious abuse should be an acceptable reason for divorce, the Bible gives only two reasons in which divorce is permitted: the first is in the case of abandonment of a Christian by an unbelieving spouse (1 Corinthians 7:15), and the second is if one partner is involved in a lifestyle of infidelity (Matthew 5:32). Although God allows it in these circumstances, He has never been an endorser of divorce. It should be assumed that two Bible-believing Christians will not mutually agree to divorce, but should practice the forgiveness and love that God freely gives us. “’For I hate divorce!’ says the Lord, the God of Israel…” (Malachi 2:16).

The Bible is silent on the issue of marital abuse as a reason for divorce, although it is obvious that God despises the mistreatment of wives by their husbands (Colossians 3:19, 1 Peter 3:7, Ephesians 5:25-33). Abuse should not be tolerated by anyone. No one should have to live in an abusive environment, whether it involves a family member, friend, employer, caregiver, or stranger. Physical abuse is against the law, and the authorities should be the first ones contacted if this occurs. The best way to prevent ending up feeling trapped in an abusive marriage is to get to know a potential spouse before making the commitment to marry. The signs of being an abuser are manifested in one’s personality. These “red flags” are always there, but are often overlooked or even ignored when attraction and infatuation take over. These signs can include: irrational jealousy, the need to be in control, a quick temper, cruelty toward animals, attempts to isolate the other person from his or her friends and family, drug or alcohol abuse, and disrespect for their partner’s boundaries, privacy, personal space, or moral values.

A wife who is being abused should get herself, and any children, out of the situation immediately and find a new temporary home. There is nothing in the Bible to indicate that separation (not divorce) in this instance would be wrong. Although friends and family will likely tell the woman to immediately file for divorce, God places a much higher value on marriage than the world does. Once separated, the abuser has the responsibility to reach out for help. First and foremost, he should seek God. “For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And the door is opened to everyone who knocks” (Matthew 7:8). No one has more power to heal individuals and relationships than God. He must be the Lord of our lives, the Master of our assets, and the Head of our households.

Both husband and wife must commit themselves to God and then develop a relationship with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ. “And this is the way to have eternal life – to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth” (John 17:3). This should be accompanied by intensive Christian counseling – first individually, then as a couple, and even for the entire family if necessary.
During this time, the wife should let her husband know of her unconditional love and support, and devote herself to much prayer. Although the effort must be made on the part of her husband to make the changes, she should not give up hope if he is at first resistant. However, if he never even takes the first step, she should not consider returning to him until he does. The abused spouse should not return home until a trained Christian counselor decides that the family will be safe in the same home as the former abuser. Together, the couple should then commit to serving and obeying God. They should spend individual time with God daily, attend a Bible-believing church, begin serving God through a ministry, and get involved in small Bible study groups that fit their needs. “What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun” (2 Corinthians 5:17)!”

That says it very well I think. However, I can hear some people saying that “what if my abusive spouse never turns it around? Am I doomed to being a state of separation forever?” I think God is pretty smart in this situation, I think he knows that a person who is not treating his wife as Jesus did his church then he most likely a non-believer or acting as a believer who has fallen away from his Christian walk. When we are not walking with the Lord, we are more likely to succumb to all the temptations of this world including the temptations of the flesh. The fallen or non-believing spouse who does not come around will most likely eventually give us our biblically valid reason for divorce. However, God does not want the marriage to end this way so it is on us Christians in abusive relationships to follow the path of prayer, separation, expressing our unconditional love for our spouse, counseling, all pointing toward salvation of the non-believer or the return of a lost sheep to the Shepherd.

Bottom line is that Jesus is saying to us in these two verses that getting married should be the toughest decision that we ever make in our lives. It should not be like deciding what shirt we are going to wear today (though that can be a tough one sometimes! LOL). Marriage is the most sacred of the institutions that God gave us. It should be entered into only when we have humbled ourselves to the good of the marriage. It should only be entered into when each person sees the survival of the marriage as more important than our own selfish desires. It should only be entered into when both the husband and the wife are willing to live out Ephesians 5. In this way, a Christian marriage is built. A solid rock of a marriage is built. Then, we find that we do not come near the need for divorce and the sin that Jesus says it is.

For us who now are walking with the Lord but have committed the sin of divorce in our past, we must do soul searching as to the reason for our past divorce or divorces. Each of us, being human, think that we were justified for getting a divorce. Our divorce(s) were right and it was mostly the other person’s fault. However, we must be honest with ourselves at what we may have done to contribute to the divorce. We must be honest as to the fact that we may have put blinders on before we got married and overlooked those things that ultimately drove us over the edge to get a divorce. Divorce is something that we must lay at Jesus’ feet and ask for forgiveness with a humble and contrite heart. And, then, we must look at any future potential marriage in the light of sacredness that God accords to it. In that light, we will be more discerning as to whom we choose to marry. Marriage should be the toughest decision we make in life. Marriage should be a long-term investment that you stick with through the hard times. Marriage should be like an athletic director who keeps believing in his football team’s coach because he sees the long-term potential rather that cutting bait after a couple of seasons. Marriage should be trained for as marathon runner rather than as a sprinter. Marriage should be just as hard to get into as it is to get out of. Marriage should be like the old military recruiting slogan, “the toughest job you’ll ever love.” Long-term marriages are hard work. They are about respect. They are about love that goes beyond passion. They are about becoming one heart. They are about caring more for the needs of your spouse than your own. They are about unconditional love and lasting forgiveness. They are about admitting when you are wrong. They are about open up your inner self to another person. It is about putting God’s design for marriage at work in our homes.


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