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For some people the next words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount are two of the most difficult verses to read in the entire Bible.
Jesus said, “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5.31-32).
Four Views About Divorce and Remarriage
Many years ago, I studied a book that contained four views about divorce and remarriage. All of the authors were godly, Bible believing, and sincere followers of Jesus. Yet, they disagreed with each other quite passionately. My opinion about divorce and remarriage is my view and only reflects my thinking. I express it with the knowledge that there are opinions that will differ from mine by people who also love God and are good students of the Bible.
My Thoughts about Divorce and Remarriage
I believe that it is important to be consistent when reading this section of the Sermon on the Mount. From verses 21-47, Jesus touches on six themes: anger, lust, divorce, taking oaths, retaliation when wronged, and love for enemies. I think it is a mistake to pull the subject of divorce out of the mix and treat it differently than the rest.
To illustrate what I mean, please consider yesterday’s article, where I quoted former President Jimmy Carter who admitted to lusting after women in his heart on numerous occasions. I don’t think anyone believes that God was unwilling to forgive President Carter’s lust.
Should not persons who have suffered the pain of a divorce feel not only God’s forgiveness, but also the forgiveness of their fellow Christians? I am profoundly thankful that the church today has generally adopted this point of view. Unfortunately, that has not always been the case.
I attended seminary with Charlie and Clarence, two men with very different backgrounds. Charlie was the only person in our seminary class who had received a full pardon from the Governor of Louisiana. He began his first semester in seminary after his release from Angola State Prison. Charlie was a remarkable person who served Jesus with great honor and gratitude.
Clarence was a dud before he met Jesus. He flunked out of high school and got married early in life. Jesus came along and Clarence had a radical conversion. When he believed that God wanted him to become a preacher, wife immediately divorced him saying “I don’t want to be married to no damn preacher.”
There were no GED classes for Clarence to attend, so he returned to high school as an adult. His high school counselor discouraged him from attending college, but he did. His college counselor told him he would never make it in seminary, but he did that, too.
I still remember the spot on the sidewalk where Clarence and I had a very painful talk. He said, “Charlie can kill people, get married and become a pastor.” The rumor at seminary was that Charlie was in Angola for murder.
Clarence had spent over seven years obtaining a theological degree. He was getting ready to be married, but there was not a single church interested in him because of his divorce.
Here’s how I remember Clarence’s words, “I got a divorce because my wife refused to be married to a preacher. Why isn’t there any church out there that will listen to my story and give me a chance?”
The good news is that Clarence did get a church in which to serve. The last time I heard of either Clarence or Charlie, they both were doing quite well in the ministry.
The Gospel of Matthew is a 28 chapter book that is literally the good news of what Jesus has done for us. The blood that Jesus shed on the cross enabled Charlie to be forgiven, redeemed and put in service. The same blood on Jesus’ cross brought Clarence to faith in Christ and forgave his part in the dissolution of his marriage.
The same sacrifice of Jesus on the cross enables people who have taken oaths because they were not being entirely truthful, lustful people, angry people, and all sinners to be forgiven and put into ministry. If there was no gospel (good news of Jesus’ life for us), there would be no forgiveness and no ministry.
Let me state my opinion once again. I believe that divorce is like any of the other issues that Jesus mentions between verses 21 and 47. Divorce is a sin, just as is lust, anger and the rest. Jesus died to forgive sinners and to make them new creations.
Where do you begin when you attempt to give advice about divorce. Here are some thoughts that I hope are helpful.
(1) If you want a successful marriage, start it correctly. When I officiated marriage ceremonies, I encouraged couples to listen, to give and to forgive at all times.
— Listen – Discover your partner new every day. Don’t assume you know what they value and feel.
— Give – Enter into a contest with your partner. Out give each other and make sure that your partner doesn’t win. Always be about giving to one another.
— Forgive – Offenses put barriers between people. For the barrier to be removed, someone has to say, “I’m sorry,” and the other has to say, “I forgive you.”
I also tell couples that you are not the center of the circle of your marriage. You are equal partners on the outside of the circle. Who is in the center? Jesus. If you work at being partners, always looking to Jesus for direction, you will have a great chance for a successful marriage.
These principles need to be practiced before your wedding day. Please give yourself the gift of working on this prior to the time when you say, “I do.”
(2) If you are in constant conflict with your partner, look at your heart. An inflexible “my way or the highway” inside condition will end in disaster.
Not only will a hard heart give you trouble in your marriage, it will also give you trouble with God. Paul had this to say, “But by your hard and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2.5).
(3) Get wise counsel and use it. Your marriage is sacred and worth every effort to make it a success. Most every marriage has difficult spots. Wise counsel can help to a great degree if you are willing to work on it.
I don’t know about you, but I get my car fixed when it is running poorly. I take it to the shop for maintenance on a regular basis. Isn’t your marriage worthy of maintenance?
(4) One of my friends suggested to a couple on the verge of divorce to kneel in prayer together and to beg God to heal their marriage. She said to stay in prayer until God answers and heals. What great wisdom!
Two Points Today
I have two points to make in today’s article. First, for those who have suffered the pain of a divorce, please know that these verses are written as a part of a book that is called a Gospel. The Gospel is the good news of Jesus’ forgiveness and restoration. Please live in Jesus forgiveness, love, healing and restoration.
Second, I hope people will take notice of my suggestions for a happy and successful marriage. Please examine your life and see if there are any adjustments that can be made.
Dear Jesus, thank you for the good news of your love and forgiveness. We receive your grace, forgiveness and restoration. We also ask you to make our marriages the very best that they can be.