Over past 2 weeks, I have had an opportunity to teach Matthew 19 several different times. I wanted to share some of the insights with you here. Many people have questions about divorce. Many others have their own opinions on the subject of divorce. In order to find answers, we need to go to the source of wisdom, Jesus Christ, Himself. Jesus teaches on the subject of divorce in Matthew 19. I would like to examine this teaching here in this article.
I. Be teachable
I begin this teaching with a call to have a teachable spirit. Having a teachable spirit is precious in the eyes of God. Because of our prideful, sin nature, being teachable does not come naturally to us. The Bible teaches that there is nothing new under the sun. Two thousand years ago, the people of Jesus’ time also struggled with having a teachable spirit.
1 When Jesus had finished these words, He departed from Galilee and came into the region of Judea beyond the Jordan;
2 and large crowds followed Him, and He healed them there.
3 Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, (Matthew 19)
Jesus was doing the will of God . He came to teach people the Word of God so that they could connect with God and have a personal relationship with Him. This was the ministry to which Jesus was called while walking the earth. He was to do this until He accomplished His ultimate ministry, to go to the cross, die, and resurrect. The crowds were following Him, not so much for His spiritual teaching but, so that they could get something out of Jesus’ ministry. Some wanted physical healing. Others wanted a free meal. Others wanted to witness a miracle, in other words, they wanted to be entertained. They were not so interested in the spiritual teaching. Also, the spiritual leaders of the day definitely were not interested in learning. Jesus was doing what they were supposed to do, that is, teach the people the Word of God. Since Jesus was doing this, the people were following Him, even if not for the right reasons. The spiritual leaders of the day became very jealous of Jesus. The tried to maintain a mask of humility by coming to Jesus and asking Him questions. It seems that they may actually have a teachable spirit but, their motives are revealed. They did not come to Jesus to learn. They came to Jesus to test Him, to trick Him, to trap Him so that they could mock Him and His ministry. Do you have a teachable spirit? Why do you follow Jesus? Do you do it to learn from Him or, do you have hidden motives? Are you seeking to gain personal advantages? Maybe you are one of those who is seeking to be entertained? I do not know your reasons but, I do know human nature. Many will come to Jesus but will not have a teachable spirit. It was true 2,000 years ago and it is still true today.
II. Understand and Accept
Before we get into the actual meat of the subject of divorce, I want to move to the conclusion of the teaching. If you have a teachable spirit, you will arrive at the correct conclusion that Jesus lays out in this passage. If you do not have a teachable spirit, then, you will not arrive at the correct conclusion that Jesus lays out in this teaching.
But He said to them, “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. (Matthew 19:11)
“For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.” (Matthew 19:12)
Jesus’ conclusion is that some will be able to accept the teaching that He gives, while others will not be able to accept it. Which category are you in, my dear friend? The disciples had a teachable spirit and they accepted what Jesus taught. The religious leaders did not have a teachable spirit and they learned nothing from their encounter with Him. Now, let’s dig into the meat of this teaching and discover exactly what Jesus teaches on the subject of divorce.
III. Jesus’ Stance
We have already pointed out that the Pharisees were not seeking to learn anything from Jesus, based on their question. The way that they ask their question reveals this.
Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” (Matthew 19:3)
Divorce was no big deal at this time. People were seeking divorces for what we would call today “irreconcilable differences”. How would Jesus respond? Would He give His opinion on the subject like so many others of the day were doing? Or, would He look back to the Word of God? Let’s find out.
4 And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE,
5 and said, ‘FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH ‘?
6 “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” (Matthew 19)
Jesus goes back to the book of Genesis. When He asks them, “have you not read” this is ironic because they were people who had memorized the book of Genesis. Of course they had read Genesis. Jesus does not share His opinion. He simply goes back to the source of wisdom, the Word of God. God created marriage and in marriage, one man and one woman become one flesh. God intended marriage to last an entire lifetime, period. To emphasize the point, Jesus says that what God has joined, let no man separate. This would include the religious teachers of the day as well as the married couple. Divorce separates what God has joined together. God hates divorce. He says so in His Word.
They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE AND SEND her AWAY?” (Matthew 19:7)
The Pharisees were quick with an answer to Jesus’ question. Again, we see that they are not asking questions to learn. They are waiting for Jesus to finish so that they can ask another question. They go back to the Word of God but, they twist the Word for their own advantage. Jesus was used to this tactic. In fact, He had seen it before when He was tempted by the devil in the wilderness. Jesus was prepared for their trick.
He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. (Matthew 19:8)
In the Old Testament, Moses never commanded the people to divorce. Instead, he allowed the people to divorce. The question is, why did Moses allow it? Jesus answers the question for us. It was because of the hardness of the people’s heart. Divorce is a manifestation of a deeper problem. Divorce is the result of a spiritual problem. When you are right with God, that relationship impacts the relationships in your daily life, especially with your spouse. When both members of the marriage are walking in obedience to the Lord, divorce is not an issue. Divorce appears where spiritual problems already exist. This is what Jesus teaches. Are we going to have a teachable spirit and listen to Him or are we going to have a rebellious spirit and reject what Jesus teaches?
Divorce is never God’s will but there is a time when He allows it, to protect the victim.
“And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery .” (Matthew 19:9)
Adultery breaks the marriage covenant and according to the Law, the adulterer is to be put to death. Death ends a marriage and the living spouse is free to remarry. Even in the case of adultery, God still prefers reconciliation and He can make it happen. Both parties have to be willing. In other words, they both have to have a teachable spirit.
Based on what Jesus teaches, the disciples, for the first time in their lives, understand the permanence of marriage.
The disciples said to Him, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.” (Matthew 19:10)
The disciples’ conclusion was, “if there is a chance of divorce, it is better not to marry”. This is a good thing. They finally saw the gravity of the marriage relationship. Do we see the gravity of marriage today? As a society, divorce is cheap and easy. What about in the church, do Christians understand the gravity (permanence) of marriage? Are we going to continue down the wrong path, arrogantly or, are we going to have a teachable spirit and view marriage the way that God does? The ball is in our court. May we have a teachable spirit and accept Jesus’ teaching as is, for the glory of God and for our own good!