What Jesus Really Said About Divorce (Part 3)

Matthew 5:31-32

Tom Pennington  •  July 15, 2012
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For those of you who may be our guests today, you find us in the middle of a journey through our Lord's most famous sermon - the Sermon on the Mount. And you find us at the end of a three part series on what He taught in that sermon on the issue of divorce and remarriage. I apologize that you sort of get the tail end. If you want, you can go back and listen to the other two messages because all of that really was foundational for what we're going to discuss today.

In 2009/2010, William Doherty of the University of Minneapolis conducted a survey of almost nine hundred couples that were in the middle of pursuing a divorce. And he asked them on this survey to indicate all of the reasons that were behind their pursuit of that divorce, all of the reasons that were important to their decision. Here are the top five reasons from that survey of almost nine hundred couples that were in the middle of pursuing a divorce. Reason number one: fifty-five percent of them said it was because they had simply grown apart. Fifty-three percent said it's because they were unable to talk to one another. Forty percent said it was how their spouse handled money. Thirty-seven percent said it was because of their spouse's personal problems. And thirty-four percent said it was because they didn't receive enough attention in the marriage. Those were the top five reasons. You have to go all the way to number six before you get to the issue of unfaithfulness to the marriage.

Tragically, none of the top five reasons listed by those almost nine hundred couples for getting a divorce are sufficient biblical grounds.

The question is, are there legitimate biblical grounds for divorce and remarriage? And if there are, what are those grounds? What are those reasons? That's the question that I want us to answer today because our Lord answers it in this passage that we're studying together.

Let's look at it again. Matthew 5: 31-32

It was said, 'Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce'; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Now as you look at those two verses, there are a number of questions that present themselves, but the basic point is crystal clear and that is that true disciples of Jesus keep their marriage covenant. Jesus' point in the larger context here as He gives illustrations of how our righteousness as His disciples surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees; how our obedience is greater than that of the scribes and Pharisees, because it comes from the heart and courses out into the conduct. He gives several illustrations, six of them to be exact. And in these illustrations, He makes it clear that you and I can break the commandments in a variety of ways and specifically the seventh commandment against adultery. We've seen in this passage, in this sermon, that we can break the seventh commandment against adultery obviously by committing sexual sin outside of marriage. We can break it by having lust in the heart. And in these verses, we learned that we can break the seventh commandment by pursuing an unbiblical divorce – that is, a divorce without sufficient biblical grounds.

Now just to remind you of what we've covered so far and I'm just going to mention the outline points. There's much more that ought to be said, and I did say about these things, but just to remind you. First of all, we looked at a serious distortion of the Old Testament teaching on divorce. In verse 31, our Lord quotes not directly from the Old Testament –the phrases do appear in the Old Testament, but He quotes what was common for the rabbis to teach. The rabbis took two comments from Deuteronomy 24 and they stuck them together and made them almost a command which is not what, as we saw in Deuteronomy 24, the passage says at all. And so what they had done then was they had taken two phrases almost entirely out of their context in Deuteronomy 24, joined them together and created a huge loophole to get out of marriage. The Pharisees taught that essentially a man could divorce his wife for any reason at all. It was a disposable contract. All he had to do was give her a written bill of divorce and it was done.

We looked secondly at Jesus' correction of that flawed teaching, what the rabbis taught. And we looked at the design of marriage. In Mark 10 and Matthew 19, our Lord develops even more fully than He does here, the basic divine design behind marriage. And reduced to its simplest terms, it's this. Jesus says marriage is one man, one woman, for life. That's the divine design. According to Malachi 2 as we saw it together, God hates divorce. According to Jesus in Matthew 19 where He is applying Genesis 2:24, the two shall come together and be one flesh, He applies it and this is what He says. Jesus says: "What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate." That was the divine design.

We looked secondly as we saw Jesus' correcting of the rabbi's teaching at the seriousness of an unbiblical divorce. It's a serious thing. It's not a harmless little peccadillo, a little sin that doesn't really matter. Jesus says, and again, I just remind you briefly of what we covered. He says that if the wife whose husband divorced her without biblical grounds remarries, even though she was sinned against by his wrongly divorcing her, if she then remarries, she sins and it's the moral equivalent of adultery. Look at verse 32: "I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife… makes her commit adultery." The obvious implication is she remarries because she's forced to in a sense – not entirely, but that was the most common choice in that culture was for her to remarry. And in so doing, she commits adultery.

The new husband of that woman who was divorced without biblical grounds – he too commits adultery. Look at the rest of verse 32: "whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery." If there were no biblical grounds, that new spouse coming into that situation and marrying one of those partners who was divorced without biblical grounds now is entering not the holy state of matrimony, but the moral equivalent of an ongoing marital affair.

If the man who unbiblically divorced his wife, the man who started all of this – if he goes and remarries another woman, according to Matthew 19:9, he commits adultery. Matthew 19:9 says, "I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery."

It's a serious thing. Jesus says if there is an unbiblical divorce – that is, a divorce that does not rise to the divine standard – and the parties involved in that divorce remarry, then everybody touched by that remarriage is involved in breaking the seventh commandment. They stand before God guilty of adultery. Now we can take that or leave it, but it's what Jesus said.

Now divorce was never part of the divine design and divorce makes everybody involved who remarries guilty before God of adultery, yet Scripture is equally clear that God does permit divorce in two specific situations. I want us to look today at the exceptions to unbiblical divorce. Now don't miss the big picture. We looked at it last week. The major point Jesus is making here is not about the reasons to get out of marriage. The major point He's making is that marriage by divine design is intended to be forever in this life. It's permanent. The reason there are exceptions is because there is one massive rule and that is the divine design for marriage. But that said, God does not consider all divorce to be sinful. There are two legitimate biblical grounds for a follower of Jesus Christ to divorce and to be free to remarry. Matthew is going to tell us one exception that our Lord teaches here, and Paul adds a second exception which we'll look at before the morning's done.

So let's look at these exceptions. The first exception to the sinfulness of divorce is when it happens because the spouse has been guilty of sexual sin with another entity. Now that sounds awkward in its wording, but I chose it intentionally as you'll see in a moment – sexual sin with another entity. Look at verse 32: "I say to you (here our Lord speaks with authority, as the authoritative interpreter of what the Old Testament, what Scripture really teaches about this issue. And He says I say to you) that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery;" Obviously, there is what is called in language an exception clause in this sentence – "except for the reason of unchastity." Now I don't want to spend too long here, but I do want you to understand that I think and I say I think because I'm not persuaded this is absolutely true, but I think that the exception here really has its roots back in Deuteronomy 24. I'm not going to take you back there, but you remember in Deuteronomy 24 it speaks of divorce "if someone finds indecency" in his spouse. What does that mean? Well, the two most likely interpretations of what that means – one of them says that means sexual sin short of adultery, some kind of sexual perversion that manifests itself in the marriage and not outside of the marriage. And the reason they would say that is they say, 'Listen. You know, the Old Testament said adulterers were to be stoned, right? So this passage can't be talking about there's divorce for adultery. It has to be some other kind of sexual sin or deviation.'

The other view is that that expression is speaking of adultery and it's allowing in Deuteronomy 24 for the reality of divorce when there is adultery. You say, 'Wait a minute. I thought they were stoned for adultery.' Well, this view argues that there is no record that every adulterer was to be stoned or even commanded to be stoned. In fact, the only clear examples in the Old Testament are when the couple were actually caught in the act.

In addition, and again I'm just throwing this out for you - I can't prove this to you and I'm not absolutely convinced of it myself - but there is a truth that there were circumstances before Christ said what He said here, when divorce for adultery was righteous. Let me give you a couple of examples. And I'm not going to take you back there, but just think about this. Ezra 9 and 10 – you remember, the people of God come back from Babylon and the captivity there, and they begin, some of the leaders, to intermarry with the pagan women around them. And Ezra comes in and basically says I'm authorizing, in fact I'm commanding you to divorce your pagan wives. You say, Whoa! Wait a minute. That doesn't make any sense. God hates divorce, right? And those women didn't appear to want out of those marriages so what's going on there? Well, if you read those two chapters carefully, what you discover is, it was all about the abominations (that's the word that's used) in which those women were involved–the culture in which they were involved. And that was a lot of things, but one thing that it was for sure was sexual sin in the act of worshiping the pagan gods. That was part of pagan worship. And so it's very likely that those women were involved in sexual sin and therefore rose to the standard of adultery. And therefore, the people of God were justified in divorcing them. That one's not quite as clear. Let me give you a couple of others that are very clear.

Joseph – Joseph was betrothed to Mary. In the first century world, to be betrothed was a legal contract that bore a lot of the privileges that came with marriage but not all of them (not sexual intimacy) and responsibilities. And so if you were betrothed in the first century, you weren't married in the technical sense but you were close. And it was a real contract and covenant that had been made. And in that, Joseph discovers that Mary's pregnant. And apart from divine intervention, what's his assumption? She's been unfaithful. And what does he decide to do? Listen to Matthew 1:19: "Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to (literally) divorce her secretly (or privately)." He was a righteous man. He decided she's guilty of adultery and so I'm going to divorce her.

But I think the greatest example of all and most powerful one is the example of God Himself. Go back to Jeremiah 3. Jeremiah 3. Through the prophet Jeremiah, verse 6: "The Lord said to me in the days of Josiah the king, (this is Jeremiah 3:6) 'Have you seen what faithless Israel did? She went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and she was a harlot there.'" What's going on here? In the worship of the pagan gods of Canaan, they would build their altars on high hills or exalted places of geography. Why? Because it was a platform on which they could worship and the gods could see. That's the idea. And unfortunately, that even involved gross sexual sin in the worship of those gods. It was a voyeuristic kind of religion, those pagan religions. And God says that's what My wife, He's going to go on to say, has done. Verse 7:

I thought, 'After she has done all these things she will return to Me'; but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it." (He's comparing the northern tribes to the southern tribes of Israel after the division of the kingdom. Verse 8) And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ (or a certificate) of divorce. . .

God says when I saw what the ten tribes in the north did, how they were unfaithful to Me, I divorced her because of her adulteries.

Now I understand that God is divorcing Israel for spiritual adultery, not physical per se. But by His own actions here, God establishes the righteousness, even in the Old Testament, of divorcing an unfaithful spouse. So although we can't be certain what the phrase in Deuteronomy 24 means, some indecency in her (literally in Hebrew, the nakedness of a thing) We can't be sure what that means. I think it may very well be referring to a divorce because of adultery. That may be the background for what our Lord says here.

But let's go back to Matthew 5 and look at it in detail – Matthew 5. Here is the exception. Verse 32: "but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity…" Keep your finger there and turn over to chapter 19. On a later occasion just before the Passion Week, our Lord teaches on marriage and divorce again. And here's what He says in verse 9, Matthew 19:9 – "I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery." Now two different words are used in English - in chapter 5 'unchastity', here in chapter 19 'immorality' - but it's the same Greek word in both cases. The Greek word is 'porneia'. That word is used in a variety of ways. If you go back and look at that Greek word in the Septuagint. (that's the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, essentially the Bible of the first century) If you go back and look at it, you will see that this word 'porneia' is used to refer either to unfaithfulness in marriage or to prostitution. When you come to the New Testament and you look at how it's used and particularly how it's used in reference to the Old, you see that the word is invested with a lot more meaning. It is all sexual intercourse that the Bible forbids. It includes adultery – that is, sexual intimacy with someone other than your marriage partner. It includes homosexuality. It includes pedophilia. It includes bestiality. It also includes all forms of incest whether with close blood relatives, legal relatives or children. So then to summarize this word 'porneia', the exception includes all sexual intercourse with another entity – a member of the opposite sex, a member of the same sex, with an animal, with a child, any sexual intercourse with another entity that is forbidden by the Scripture. It is not what happens in the mind. It is what happens with the body. That's the exception.

Now it is an exception. It's in an exception clause. Let me give you a little English lesson here. And by the way, this works in Greek as well. The nature of an exception clause in any language including Greek is if the condition of the exception is met, it negates the rest of the sentence. Let me give you an example of a different kind of sentence. Listen carefully. If I say, 'If anyone drives a vehicle in Texas and exceeds the speed limit, except for on-duty public safety officers, he is breaking the law and will be subject to a fine.' Okay, did you hear the exception clause? Except for on-duty public safety officers. Now what happens to that sentence if the condition of the exception is met, if in fact the person speeding is an on-duty public safety officer? Let me read it to you like this. It could be this: 'If you are an on-duty public safety official and you exceed the legal speed limit, you will not be breaking the law and you will not be subject to a fine.' Do you see how if the condition of the exception clause is met, it negates the rest of the sentence? That's the nature of an exception clause.

So let's apply that to the exception clause in Matthew. Jesus is saying this: 'If someone divorces his wife because of her sexual sin and he remarries another, he is not committing adultery against her.'

Now to me, that seems very clear. But in spite of what seems clear to me, there are good Christian brothers who deny that there are any acceptable reasons to divorce. In fact, if you look at the literature that's out there, you will discover that there are essentially four positions, when Christians look at the issues, four positions they come to. And let me just tell you these positions briefly so they're in your mind. One position is a position that is called 'no divorce, no remarriage' - no biblical divorce, no biblical remarriage for any reason whatsoever. That is the view of Catholicism. That has been the historical view of Catholicism. It's also the view of some evangelical brothers. The most well-known of those would be John Piper. That's the first view and I'll come back to that – 'no divorce, no remarriage'

A second view would be divorce, the Bible allows for divorce for certain reasons, but no remarriage regardless. Now I have a real problem with this view because, in the Jewish context, divorce always assumed remarriage. In fact, the divorce certificate that was required always included wording that freed the divorced party to remarry. In fact, the standard wording according to the Jewish Mishnah was this: 'you are free to marry any man.' That was in the divorce certificate. So this view I don't really think stands up to history or to the biblical data.

A third view, and it's the view that I am taking with you, our elders hold to – it's that divorce and remarriage can happen in two cases: adultery and desertion by an unbeliever. Or we could make it a little broader and say sexual sin with another entity and desertion by an unbeliever. That's the historic mainstream Protestant view of divorce and remarriage and it's the one that I think both, best reflects the biblical data.

The fourth view is that divorce and remarriage can happen for a variety of reasons. And this is unfortunately becoming increasingly popular in American Christianity. But when you look at the biblical data, you can't come there because it doesn't allow it. Jesus is so clear.

But I want to go back and consider the first view – no divorce, no remarriage for any reasons. Those who take that view give a couple of arguments about Matthew 5 and Matthew 19 and the exception clauses. John Piper, for example – this is what he would say. He would say, 'First of all, yes, there is some kind of exception given in Matthew, but it's not in Mark and it's not in Luke. There are no exception clauses in those gospels so whatever it is, it must not rise to the level of truly permission to divorce and remarry.' My response to that is: 'But it does occur in Matthew. You've got to deal with what it says in Matthew. And there are reasons that it wouldn't appear in Mark.' For example, Mark was writing to the Romans. There were no questions among Romans about the validity of divorce. So Mark quotes Jesus' general prohibition against divorce to make it clear that you can't just go divorcing anybody for whatever reason you want.

So what would this view – no divorce, no remarriage – say about the exception clauses themselves in chapter 5 and chapter 19 of Matthew? Well, they argue that that exception clause applies only to the period of time during the betrothal. Listen to John Piper: "'Except for immorality' does not refer to adultery but to premarital sexual fornication which a man or a woman discovers in the betrothed partner." Now how do they argue that? Well, if you go back to the previous mention of divorce in Matthew before this, guess when it is? Matthew 1, verse 19 when it's dealing with Joseph divorcing Mary to whom he was merely betrothed. They would say, 'See? In the context of Matthew, it's divorce during betrothal.' But I think there are several huge problems with this. In all the contexts where the exception clause occurs, in 5 and in 19 as well as back in Deuteronomy 24, there is absolutely no mention of betrothal; instead, the issue is marriage and divorce. And the first century debate that Jesus is responding to in these contexts was not about divorce from betrothal. It was about divorce from marriage. I also think Jeremiah 3 makes it clear that God divorced Israel, not when He was betrothed to her but after He married her, because of her adulteries.

So I think you have to come back to saying the exception clause stands. It is a legitimate Biblical grounds for divorce and remarriage. Why? Why would God allow this exception? If He feels so strongly about divorce, why would He allow this exception? Well remember, under Old Testament law, adultery of every kind, even a single act of adultery, could, didn't always but could receive the death penalty by stoning. Now what happened to the innocent spouse if the guilty spouse were stoned? She was immediately free from that marriage. And I think God in His grace allows for divorce in the case of unfaithfulness to accomplish the same ultimate goal – to allow the innocent party to be free of a marriage where there is ongoing, unrepentant sexual sin.

Now I need to make one other point here and that is the exception clause permits divorce where there is unfaithfulness, but it does not demand it or require it. It is possible – if your spouse is unfaithful to you, it is possible to pursue reconciliation just as God did with unfaithful Israel. Because in spite of what we read in Jeremiah 3, read Hosea and what does God do? He says, 'I just can't leave her alone. I'm going to do everything I can to win her back.' And it's certainly redemptive and possible to pursue reconciliation even when the marriage has been devastated by unfaithfulness, but it is allowable to pursue divorce and remarriage.

So to summarize then, this first exception that our Lord gave as Biblical grounds for divorce and remarriage was sexual sin carried out physically with another person or entity.

But there's a second exception that Paul adds under inspiration and I want you to, to look at it. It's abandonment by an unbeliever, abandonment by an unbeliever. Turn to I Corinthians 7.

I Corinthians 7 In this context, Paul is dealing with a number of issues relating to singleness. He says there are people who are gifted to be single and others who aren't. And then he deals with marriage and various contexts related to marriage. Notice verse 12:

But to the rest I say, not the Lord, (Stop there. Don't misunderstand. Paul is not saying what about I'm to say is my own opinion and you don't have to do it. He's saying, When the Lord was on earth, He didn't address this specific situation, but I'm going to address it. And he is speaking as Christ's apostle, with apostolic authority. And notice what he says: But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents with live to her, she must not send her husband away. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy.

What does that mean? That simply means in the home where there is one believer, while it's not a guarantee that the other members of that household will come to faith in Christ, there's a much greater likelihood. They are set apart. That's the word 'holy'. They're set apart in a sense that because of the power of that redeemed life and its influence in that home, there's a much greater likelihood that the other members of that household will come to faith in Christ.

Verse 15: "But if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace." Now I want you to notice there are two conditions that are necessary for this exception to be met; very important to understand this because this passage is terribly abused. Two conditions must be met. Condition number one: one spouse must be a believer and the other spouse must be an unbeliever. You see that? It's crystal clear. Now how does a person get the label of unbeliever? They get it in two ways legitimately. They get it, number one, because they don't profess to be a Christian at all. Clearly that person is an unbeliever, right? But they also get it, according to our Lord in Matthew 18, if they are involved in an ongoing pattern of sin in their lives, they are confronted as Matthew 18 requires and they go through that entire four step process and remain unrepentant. Jesus says put them out of the church and treat them as (what?) an unbeliever. That's how a person gets to be labeled as an unbeliever - either they don't profess Christ or they they have refused to repent of their sin and they've gone through the whole process of church discipline and been put out of the church. So you have a believer and an unbeliever.

The second condition: not only is one spouse a Christian and the other an unbeliever, but the second condition that's necessary for this exception to be met is that the unbeliever wants the marriage to end. Notice Paul doesn't give us a reason here. There are any number of reasons that an unbeliever may want his marriage to a believer to end. It might be because of their faith. I had a dear friend in California whose first wife was an unbeliever and who desperately wanted out of their marriage and ended up pursuing that because she didn't like his faith. It confronted her. It may be that the person just doesn't like the person anymore, maybe because they are involved in another relationship, maybe because they want to pursue another relationship. The reason doesn't matter. The key is the unbeliever wants out. He may actually, physically leave or he may not physically leave perhaps because he wants to protect his assets, protect his interest in the home or whatever. It may be because he doesn't want to be the one to initiate it because it doesn't look good socially. But if the unbeliever makes it clear that he or she wants out of the marriage, then the condition is met.

Now folks, let me just say there are some Christian counselors who absolutely twist this passage to make it say what it doesn't say. They say, Not only does it include physical abandonment by an unbeliever, but it even includes emotional abandonment by a Christian. How do you see that in that text? Paul couldn't be clearer. That is not what he says. If you're going to make that choice, say 'I'm going to make that choice in spite of what the Scripture teaches', but don't try to make Paul say what Paul doesn't say. It is nothing but an excuse. And you know what an excuse is. It is simply the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie. That's all it is. It's not what he says.

Now, but if these two conditions are met, if there is a believer and an unbeliever and the unbeliever wants out, notice what Paul says in verse 15: "if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave…" You know, we say the Bible doesn't demand divorce and, and in the case of adultery or unfaithfulness, that's true. But in the case of an unbeliever who wants out, Paul gives a command: "let him leave." And then he adds: "the brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases…" What are the bonds in this passage, the only bonds in this passage? The marriage bond. He's saying the, the marriage can be ended.

Now why does God allow this exception? Look at the end of verse 15. Here's why: "because God has called us to peace." When an unbeliever wants out of the marriage, trying to preserve the marriage at all costs only produces more conflict and so God through Paul says "let him leave." So while divorce was not God's original design for marriage, when the unbeliever wants out, we're to let the marriage end.

Now folks, those are the only two biblical grounds for divorce and remarriage. You know what that means? Back to the bigger point Jesus is making. All other reasons, however we may justify them in our own minds, are not biblical grounds and they render us guilty of the moral equivalent of adultery.

So let's apply all that we've learned from this study of divorce. Let me speak to the different groups in this room this morning. First of all, let me speak to those of you who are unmarried, who have never been married, but hope to be married someday. Get it in your mind that God's design for marriage is crystal clear – one man, one woman, for life. Take your commitments seriously. God does. He calls it in Malachi 2 a covenant that you make with Him as a witness and He doesn't take it lightly. Let it settle into your mind that when you say 'I do' and 'I will', you are saying that for life.

Let me talk to those of you who are married, but have no divorce in your background. You are called, according to our Lord – if you're going to be His disciple, you are called to take that marriage covenant you made seriously, and embrace the permanency of that relationship. You may go through hard times, difficult times. You may not like each other for a time. You may have to work through those issues where you genuinely love your spouse which you are commanded to do, but what you cannot do is end that marriage without disobeying Jesus Christ.

What about those of you who are divorced with biblical grounds? You got out of your marriage because either an unbeliever wanted out or because your spouse was unfaithful to you. Let me encourage you to do something. You are not responsible for that person's sin and I'm not saying that at all, but I think what you can do and probably should do is take an honest inspection of how you might have contributed to the problems in your marriage. I'm not saying you made your spouse sin, don't misunderstand that at all, but we all contribute to the issues in our marriages. Take honest stock of those, confess those and move on. You're not responsible for that person's sinful choices. And also, don't allow false guilt about your divorce and, if you've remarried, your remarriage to enter in. Our Lord allowed it. He permitted you to make that choice and to do so with no hint of stain or shadow. If you haven't remarried, then make sure you pursue any potential future marriage carefully and, and maybe even with the counsel of the elders. For the rest of us, if a Christian has divorced with biblical grounds, then we must never look down on them in any way. Our Lord has said 'I give them permission' and we must not take that permission away.

Let me speak to those of you who are divorced. You have a divorce in your background and that divorce was not with biblical grounds. First of all, it's very clear, if that was before you came to Christ, that is covered under the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. "If any man is in Christ, he is (what?) a new creation; the old things are passed away and new things have come." It's done. But what if that unbiblical divorce happened after you came to Christ? You need to understand that divorce is a sin against God and His divine design for marriage and you must not take it lightly. At the same time, as with all sin, there is forgiveness. If you are willing to repent, you can experience God's full and complete forgiveness.

What if you're sinfully divorced but not remarried? Let me encourage you to seek reconciliation with your former spouse if that's possible – if they're still living, if they haven't remarried and only if they are in Christ. That's I think what Paul is saying in I Corinthians 7:10-11. Look at them if you're still there: "But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord (in other words, this is what the Lord said while He was here), that the wife should not leave her husband (skip the parentheses, go to the middle of verse 11)… and that the husband should not divorce his wife." Now go back and look at the parentheses: "but (if that's happened) if there has been a divorce, then she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband…" If there is an unbiblical divorce, that's the prescription. So if possible, be reconciled, but only if they are in Christ.

What if you were sinfully divorced, but you've already been remarried? Well, you need to understand the magnitude of the sin you committed both in the divorce and in the remarriage. Express repentance toward God. Seek His forgiveness and He will extend it to you. And then commit yourself body and soul to be faithful to the marriage in which you are – that you will take the divine prescription for marriage seriously from this point forward. You will follow Christ regardless of what that costs you.

Now before we leave this passage, let me suggest some resources to you. I haven't been able to cover everything that needs to be said about this issue and, if you're struggling with it, here are some resources for you to consider: John Murray's classic book Divorce. I would commend to you. John Macarthur has written a book called The Divorce Dilemma. Jay Adams has written a book entitled Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible. All of those would be excellent. They won't agree with everything I've shared with you nor will they agree with each other entirely, but overall they all agree with what I'm sharing with you this morning.

Some concluding thoughts before we take the Lord's Table together - folks, your marriage matters to Jesus Christ. Don't you think for a moment that you can be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ and not invest in your marriage. He won't allow it. That's not how He looks at you and your marriage. It matters to Him. We must commit to His teaching about marriage and divorce and remarriage, however contrary to our culture or to even our own desires it may be.

Secondly, God hates divorce. He hates divorce and He will not allow it among His people, with two exceptions.

Thirdly, when it comes to those who have been sinfully divorced without biblical grounds, those of us who haven't must avoid self-righteousness. We should uphold the biblical standard. We should practice church discipline. If someone's pursuing an unbiblical divorce, we will practice church discipline, but we must also be eager to forgive and to receive those who are repentant just as our Lord receives us.

But let me challenge you with one additional thought as we prepare our hearts for the Lord's Table. Do you see that the standard our Lord sets in Matthew 5 is unattainable? You may not have broken the seventh commandment by being physically unfaithful to your spouse and you may not have broken the seventh commandment by pursuing an unbiblical divorce, but Jesus says you even can break the seventh commandment by lusting in your heart. That means not one of us in this room has met the divine standard. That's why we need the gospel of Jesus Christ. That's why we need Jesus to live a sexually pure life for us. And that's why we need Him to die for our sins. And if you've never come to know Him in that way, if you will repent of your sins and embrace Him by faith, He will receive you. He will cleanse you, forgive you, make you new. That's what we remember in the Lord's Table.

Bow your heads as the men come to prepare. Let me encourage you to take a moment and prepare your heart. Confess your sin. Paul says this is for believers, but only for believers who are willing to deal with their sin, who are willing to examine themselves. Because if we eat and drink of this reminder of our Lord's death while holding onto our sin, refusing to leave it, "we eat and drink (Paul says) God's judgment on ourselves." So confess your sin and prepare your heart.

Our Father, we thank You for the blood. We thank You that our Lord offered His life. He was Your lamb that You crushed, that You offered, that You bruised, that You scourged in the place of every sinner who would ever believe. We thank You that He drank the full cup of Your wrath and there is none left for us. "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus." We thank you, O God, that our sins are fully and finally and completely dealt with and that we simply enjoy the benefits of our Savior's love and work for us. We rejoice, O God, in what an amazing, marvelous Savior we have. Help us to walk in this life in a way that honors His sacrifice – in our marriages, in our thoughts and in our lives in every way. We pray it in His name. Amen.