Calling It Quits: What Jesus Says About Divorce

Unhappy CoupleSomeone once asked me if I could describe the Gospel in just two minutes.

Yes. You see it all comes down brokenness. We are broken people and we live in a broken world. But brokenness isn’t God’s design or intention. It’s the same when it comes to marriage. N.T. Wright notes that anyone who even reads the words of Jesus out loud will most likely be called mean, unforgiving, Pharisaical, or worse. Jesus said:

“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Many people swing into two camps that are polar opposites: on the one side you have people who say, “I can be a good Christian and pursue divorce and get remarried.” On the other side you have people who stick to a very literal and rigid reading of Jesus’ words.

And we cannot deny the words of Jesus. He clearly says in Mark 10:

Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.

At this point everyone who is divorced or who has been affected by divorce in some way shuts down, turns off their ears, and stops listening to the message.
That’s what often happens.

But that’s because preachers who read the words of Jesus in this case never go all the way with the Gospel. Hear me out.

And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them. And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

These guys have no real concern about understanding God’s truth about marriage and divorce. Jesus is now in the area that John the Baptist had been when John condemned the behavior of Herod marrying his brother’s wife, Herodias. John told Herod, “This is not right!” But that’s just John. He tended to get emotional.

In fact, you could say he lost his head.

When the Pharisees approach Jesus they’re trying to put in in a tough spot on Herod’s turf – wanting him to make a declaration about marriage and divorce that will get him killed. But Jesus doesn’t fall for it.

He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.”

In the ancient world the certificate of divorce was a way of saying that the husband gives up his right and claim on the woman. Another man can have her without fear of the husband coming after him. There’s only one passage in the Torah that explicitly addresses divorce. Deuteronomy 24:1 says,

“If a man marries a woman, but she has become displeasing to him because he finds something improper about her, he may write her a divorce certificate, hand it to her, and send her on her way from his house.”

And Jews fought about what this passage meant. A hundred years before Jesus was born there were two major schools of thought. Those who followed Rabbi Shammai said that “something improper” meant infidelity. Those who followed Rabbi Hillel said it could be anything that displeases the husband – even burning the soup.

They missed the bigger picture.

And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.

The law passed down from Moses doesn’t declare divorce right or wrong – it simply assumes that divorce is a fact of life and seeks to protect the wife. The certificate of divorce meant when she remarried she would not be accused of adultery. But Jesus tells them that this was not God’s original design and intent.

But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

The problem is not with God’s ideal or the Law – the problem is with people and their hardened hearts. We are broken people who live in a broken world. That means we will do broken things to each other. This is not the way God designed it to be – it’s a sad fact of brokenness.

And Jesus does an amazing thing here. Instead of simply ruling out divorce he elevates the idea of marriage. It’s not about how and when you can split. Jesus says that the way God designed human marriage to work is for two to lose their individual identities and understand that they are now part of the same person. Jesus puts marriage on a whole new level.

If this is God’s design and intention, who is man that we should split it up?

And that’s where most preachers stop. And people listening who have suffered through a divorce shrink lower and lower into their seats. But that’s not the end of the Gospel.

You see, the Gospel is about restoration and reconciliation. The Gospel says, “You matter enough to God that He paid the price to fix your brokenness – a price you could never afford.”

The Gospel says, “The only thing that is unforgivable is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.”

That means that divorce, though not God’s design and desire,
is not an unforgivable sin.

That means that, as a divorcee, you can rest assured that God still loves you and that you are not separated from Him because of your marital status.

That means that, as Christians, we can treat friends and family with love and respect even when they have gone through divorce and remarriage.

The Gospel is bigger than all of us, and God’s grace reaches farther than we could ever imagine. We are called to be people of reconciliation and restoration. When we deal with people who are divorced or going through a divorce. When we live the life of a divorcee. God’s grace reaches to us all and calls us to act towards each other with that same grace.

‘Cause it’s only when we’re acting with this kind of grace
that we’ll see true reconciliation and restoration happen.

Related Posts:
Beyond Divorce: Living After Heartbreak and Separation
I QUIT! What to Know Before You Divorce

29 Replies to “Calling It Quits: What Jesus Says About Divorce”

  1. Good article. I have always thought of divorce as no different than telling a lie, or stealing something. All three are still a sin, regardless of why it was done. People make mistakes or bad choices. God can still forgive and move a person forward in life. This is where is great love, mercy and grace come in. The problem is that many in the church do not see each other with that same love, mercy and grace that God has shown them. Love and grace looks past the wrong done and seeks to make things right from there forward. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. @chris: “Because of humanity’s hearts, even God permitted the certificate of marriage to be given to the woman so she could remarry.” We can’t get stuck in the Old Covenant (where God also condoned war for the earthly kingdom of Israel); Jesus Himself fulfilled the Old Covenant (by explaining its original intent and true meaning) in Matt. 5. John the Baptist was the last of the O.T. prophets. Jesus Himself said that whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John the Baptist. Jesus ushered in the Kingdom of God. Those who see the Kingdom of God (Jn. 3:3) are glad to obey its laws, since doing so is loving God and remaining in Jesus’ love. Jn. 15:9-10 and 1 Jn. 5:3 Chris, I’m not out to convince you or anyone to “my” position but to urge all professing Christians to honestly grapple with the words of their Lord, if He indeed is their “Lord”. If He is Lord, we should be obeying Him or why even call Him that? Why honor Him with our lips if our hearts are far from Him? In January, I saw Jesus for Who He really proclaimed Himself to be in the gospels. I saw the Gospel for the first time, in its entirety (Lk. 4:43). Our family’s world has been turned upside down and most people would say we are now radically committed to our King and His Kingdom. Too radical, too literal, too legalistic. Well, the disciple is not above his master. If the world hated Him, they will hate all true followers of His. Like deanhoff, Tim and I can only proclaim the words of our Master. He came not to bring peace but a sword. It is time for His disciples to learn how to rightly divide the Word of truth. One last thing: Jesus gives His Holy Spirit to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32). Jesus’ laws of the Kingdom of God are part of the gospel of the Kingdom of God (Matt. 24:14). We ought to be greatly concerned if we are not obeying Jesus’ gospel (2 Thess. 1:8).

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      1. Eunuchs for the Kingdom are those who have chosen celibacy (having divorced the adulterous relationship they were a part of) for the Kingdom of God. It also includes those who don’t get married. It’s a part of selling all/forsaking everything for the pearl of great price. If they didn’t want the Kingdom of God, they’d remain in the adulterous marriage. I Cor. 6:9-10

        Liked by 1 person

    1. So you’re saying that if a Christian gets divorced for another reason than adultery, and then marries someone else, they are continuing to live in adultery as long as they stay married? So getting ANOTHER divorce would fix it?

      Just curious.

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      1. I’ve actually been asked question that by a church member before. I told him, “Would it be a sin against your wife to divorce her now and leave her and the family?”

        He said, “Yes – how could I do that to them?”

        I said, “So why would you think about compounding sin by doing it all over again? No, we repent for the sins of our past and live in light of God’s forgiveness and grace now.”

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        1. Agreed–although I’ve wrestled with this (I am not the divorcee, incidentally, but I married one). I was curious about the above commenter’s take as well.

          Thanks for your perspective, Pastor L. 🙂

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        2. Romans 6:1 and on: Should we continue in sin that grace may abound? Let’s not sooth people’s consciences with proclamations of peace, but dig deep into the scriptures and see what Jesus said, what the disciples/apostles taught, and what the early church maintained…for 1500 years!

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      2. That is exactly what Jesus says. How can I diminish what Jesus has said. I believe there is a verse that says love covers a multitude of Sin. If you find yourself asking for forgives in a marriage then perhaps it is time to leave. There is a verse where his disciples say it is not well for a man to marry if they cannot get a divorce, Jesus responds it is for them that hear it.

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        1. That’s an interesting interpretation. I’m familiar with the passage, but I don’t believe that’s quite what Jesus meant . . . However, I did ask for your perspective, so thanks for responding.

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        2. How about this? If someone got married (where divorce was not in the equation for either person) to someone who they felt deep down was not the person God wanted them to marry, and they found themselves asking for forgiveness in THAT marriage, is it time for them to leave?

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        3. Under the law and Jesus very words there is no valid reason for divorce other than adultery. There is nothing said about separation – except a person may stay or leave the non-believer, but if you stay you may sanctify the children and perhaps eventually save the non-believer.

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        4. @linzy Each sex act in a marriage living in adultery would be a new sin. The non-adulterer is free in such cases to divorce – choosing not to live in adultery.

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      3. The problem is the existence of the former marriage that God STILL SEES as one flesh. Getting another divorce is repenting of the sin of adultery and getting out of the relationship (see the early church leader Jerome’s letter to another pastor regarding a new convert Fabiola). Read all the New Testament scriptures regarding divorce and remarriage and you will see it quite clearly. The apparent “exception” clause of Matt. 5:32 is saying that the one who divorces his wife causes her to commit adultery (since she will likely remarry). However, he will not be held responsible for her committing adultery in a 2nd relationship IF SHE WAS ALREADY adulterous in the first marriage. If he remained married to her, he would be party to her adultery. A 16th century theologian named Erasmus propagated his theory which gave permission for the “innocent” person to remarry. Until his theory was introduced, the standard practice of the western church was that remarriage after divorce was adultery. It ought to alarm us that this theory is only 500 years old and that it lacks Scriptural support. Why aren’t Christians holding fast to the original faith?

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        1. Because of humanity’s hearts, even God permitted the certificate of marriage to be given to the woman so she could remarry. While divorce is never God’s design, grace accommodates those who are touched by human brokenness. Although I’m pretty sure we’re never going to convince each other 😉

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        2. @xnconservative – there is a verse in the old testament that says virgins unto the Lord will have a reward greater than sons and daughters. Too late for me to seek this, but blessed are those that do.

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    2. Yes, so many Christians don’t see it! Please see my comment on the facebook post. I go into this in more detail. Thank you for pointing this out here.

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      1. “You cannot take away sin by compounding it with more sin.” That is usually the case, but the question is, Is that how Jesus sees the 2nd “divorce”? Jesus’ point was to sanctify marriage by saying that in God’s kingdom, He doesn’t recognize man-made divorce as breaking the spiritual bonds of the 1st marriage. That first marriage still exists in God’s eyes, which is why the 2nd marriage when the former spouse is still living is called adultery. God does not recognize the 2nd marriage, so it’s not a divorce to separate it…it’s actually called forsaking your sin. If God did recognize the 2nd marriage, then divorcing the subsequent spouse would present a sticky situation. But God does not leave us wondering…Paul clearly says in 1 Cor. 6:9-10 that adulterers will not inherit the kingdom of heaven. Yes, it’s tough! Especially for those who realize it after a 2nd marriage has taken place. But through God’s grace (which is His power to do His will), men and women can forsake their sin and gain freedom in Christ from the power of sin.

        Liked by 1 person

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