Except For Sexual Immorality

Divorce and remarriage have become more and more common among those who would claim to be followers of Jesus. However, this should seem strange to us when we consider the following: 1) Jesus taught us not to separate what God joins together; 2) Jesus gives only one reason for divorce – sexual immorality (Matthew 19:6, 9). Even when that exception occurs, the one who is “put away” for sexual immorality cannot marry another lest they be guilty of adultery. According to Jesus, only the person who divorces a mate for the cause of sexual sin can marry another.

Some wonder if Jesus is not merely restating what the law of Moses records for us in Deuteronomy 24. Uncleanness is set forth by Moses as a condition for divorce, and some have concluded that uncleanness is perhaps a discreet way of saying sexual immorality. Thus, in Matthew 19 Jesus would be explaining the old law of divorce and remarriage rather than teaching anything new. However, we can see at least one clear difference between the teaching of Jesus and the teaching of Moses. Moses does not prohibit the woman who was divorced for uncleanness from marrying again while Jesus said, “whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery”. Jesus teaches that a man or a woman who is divorced for an act of sexual unfaithfulness is not free to remarry another person.

Additionally, when Jesus concludes that man should not separate what God has joined together, the Pharisees immediately reply with the follow up question: “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” They obviously understood Jesus’ teaching on divorce and remarriage as contradicting that of Deuteronomy 24.

Still, there is one aspect of Jesus’ and Moses’ teaching on marriage and divorce that is in absolute harmony. Since Jesus makes His pronouncement in Matthew 19:6 on the basis of the original marriage account in Genesis 2, we can conclude that God’s general rule has always been – do not divorce! This was true for Adam and Eve, it was true for those who lived under the law of Moses and it is true for every person today. Statements regulating divorce in the Old or New Testaments do not constitute divine approval of divorce any more than speed limits constitute civil approval to drive how ever fast one wishes so long as he is prepared to pay the fines. God’s rule is - do not divorce - and the only exception to that rule today is that one may divorce a spouse who has committed sexual sin. A man or a woman does not have the right to divorce their spouse because of abuse, neglect, wasting of their goods, or failing to provide. This does not mean that one must remain in an unsafe environment, but in making arrangements for one’s safety from whatever harmful activity a spouse may be engaged in, it must be remembered that Jesus gave only one exception to God’s general rule concerning divorce.

Another problem that we sometimes face is in applying the exception. What if sexual sin occurs after a divorce? In other words, one party is carefully trying to follow Jesus’ teaching on divorce and remarriage, and since the initial divorce was not caused by sexual sin they have remained unmarried to avoid the consequences of an unscriptural remarriage. In describing the one exception to God’s general rule of - do not divorce - Jesus said that sexual sin must be the reason for divorce, or to use the language of Matthew 5:32 in the King James Version, the cause. How can sexual sin be the cause of our divorce if it does not occur until after the divorce? For this reason, we can conclude that sexual sin that occurs after a divorce does not give either party the right to remarry. If one wishes to follow the teachings of Jesus concerning divorce and remarriage they must do so even if their former spouse does not.

The divorce culture in our world would make it seem as though marriage is thing to be tried as many times as a person may wish until they get it right. Clearly, God has never felt this way. Even under the law of Moses when divorce was permitted for various reasons, it is interesting to consider that two persons who were divorced could never be married to one another again. Without a doubt there were many occasions where a divorce occurred hastily but was regretted after the fact. Yet, the law of Moses was clear; they could never be together again.

An obvious lesson for us would be that we must choose our mates carefully - but some of us have already chosen. What can we learn as we consider the seriousness of God’s laws concerning marriage and divorce? Hopefully, we are reminded that we must be doing everything that we can to make our current marriages work. We must selflessly serve one another and we must be careful to give our spouses the attention that they deserve. If we don’t, and we give up and allow divorce to occur it is very likely that we will desire companionship again, but it may be too late for us. We may find ourselves with absolutely no scriptural options, tempted to forsake the Lord and His word for temporary happiness in this life.

May the Lord help us to be servants in our marriages so that we may find the joy that He has promised to us and so that we may please Him and keep His word.