Robert Jeffress - The Divorce Question - Part 1
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. When a man and a woman become husband and wife, God intends for their marriage to be a lifelong partnership. However, in our imperfect world, God anticipated that divorce would arise. Today we're going to look at what the apostle Paul taught in 1 Corinthians about exceptions to the marriage rule. My message is titled "The Divorce Question," on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
I'm a great admirer of president Reagan, but having said that, there is one blemish on the Reagan record. Most sociologists believe that it was Ronald Reagan's instigation of the no-fault divorce policy while he was governor of California that was responsible for the last 40 years of the rising incidence in divorce in America today, and because of the epidemic of divorce in America today, many states are trying to roll back that no-fault divorce policy, either by encouraging premarital counseling or requiring that couples, before they are granted a divorce, seek counseling as well. Why is that? Why is there an attempt to roll back the liberal divorce policy? Because even secularists are understanding the devastating social impact of divorce on our culture.
Consider these facts, divorce dramatically increases the likelihood of early death from strokes, hypertension, respiratory cancer, and intestinal cancer. Astonishingly, smoking a pack of cigarettes a day and staying married is only slightly more dangerous than being a non-smoker and getting divorced. Divorce also disrupts mental health, especially for men. The suicide rate for white males goes up by a factor of four with divorce, and they have 10 times the probability of needing psychiatric care. Families with children that were not poor before a divorce see their income drop as much as 50%. Almost 50% of parents with children going through a divorce move into poverty after the divorce.
Divorce also takes a devastating toll among children, proportionately twice as many criminals come from single-parent homes. Children from broken homes are more likely to do poorly in school, abuse drugs, and attempt suicide. God, the architect of marriage, has always understood the devastating toll that divorce takes, and that's why in Malachi 2 the Lord says, "I hate divorce". Now, he doesn't say, "I hate divorced people," what he does say though is, "I hate the process of divorce because what it does to men and women and children," and that's why from the very beginning, God's foundational principle for marriage has been one man with one woman for life that's the foundation for marriage, but what happens when there are cracks in that foundation? Well, that's what we're going to look at tonight.
Does the Bible ever permit for divorce and remarriage? If you have your Bibles tonight turn to 1 Corinthians 7 as we look at the divorce question. We are Christ's representatives and it is important that we reflect God and the Lord Jesus Christ in our marriages. Now let's look and see what the Bible says. Last time we looked at verses 10 and 11, where the basic foundational principle of marriage was given. Paul said, "But to the married I give instructions, not i, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband". Now skip the parenthesis for just a moment, "And that the husband should not divorce his wife". Paul said, "I am repeating what the Lord already repeated, that you are to remain married".
Women should not leave their husbands, husbands should not leave their wives. Well, when is it that the Lord commanded this? Well, it was in Matthew 19. Remember the story, the pharisees were trying to trick Jesus, trying to discredit his ministry, and so they said, "Lord, is it permissible to divorce for any reason at all"? That was a trick question. The pharisees were trying to get Jesus to either identify with the Hillel camp, the liberal rabbi who taught divorce for any reason, or to side with the Shammai camp that said divorce for no reason, and of course, Jesus very wisely answered the question, he said, "Well, you're the scholars of the Old Testament, have you not read that he who made them from the beginning, made them male and female, one man and one woman? Consequently, a man shall leave his father and mother and shall cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh, therefore what God has joined together, let no man separate". Jesus said, "Here's the principle, one man with one woman for a lifetime, not to be separated".
Well, pastor, are you saying that there are no exceptions to that one-man-with-one-woman-for-life principle? Not at all. As we're going to see tonight, there are three exceptions to the one-man-with-one-woman-for-a-lie principle. And that first exception is actually found in the Matthew 19 passage, and it is adultery. Hold your place in 1 Corinthians 7 and turn over to Matthew 19 for just a moment. Remember Jesus has just said in verse six, "What God has joined together. Let no man separate," the pharisees understood what he was saying, they understood that he was saying, "No divorce," and so they asked this question in verse seven. "Now Lord, if that's so, if there is never to be a divorce, why is it that Moses commanded a husband to give his wife a certificate of divorce"?
If there's to be no divorce, why did Moses command people to get divorced with a certificate of divorce? Now let me give you a hint here, anytime somebody tries to use the Bible to bolster his argument or to disprove something you're saying, make sure that person is quoting the Bible accurately. Many times people misquote the Bible to strengthen their argument or they take it out of context. Did Moses actually command people to be divorced? As we'll see in a moment, of course he didn't. What is this about a certificate of divorce? The certificate of divorce was a piece of paper that a man could give his wife in order to get rid of her.
Now, there was nothing in the Bible that commanded a certificate of divorce, this was something the Jews came up with in order to legitimize divorce for any reason at all. For example, if a man didn't like the way his wife fixed her hair that morning, he could give her a certificate of divorce. If the woman burned the bagel for breakfast, he could give her a certificate of divorce. You could divorce for any reason at all, that wasn't scripture, that's what the Jews did. There's only one time in the Bible that the certificate of divorce is even mentioned, and it's found in Deuteronomy 24. Now, can you hold three places in your Bible at one time?
Okay, skip back from Matthew 19 to Deuteronomy 24:1-4, because this has a very relevant application for us today. Moses said, "When a man takes a wife and marries her. And it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he's found some indecency in her," boy, you could drive a mack truck through that exception, something you doesn't like about her, "And he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house, and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man's wife, and if the latter husband turns against her and gives her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her to be his wife, then her former husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be his wife since she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the Lord your God gave you as an inheritance".
Let me summarize the situation here. Let's say John marries Lisa, and Lisa, for whatever reason, lose favor in John's sight, so John says, "I'm tired of Lisa, I'm giving you a certificate of divorce". So Lisa gets kicked out of the house. She goes and she marries Bill, and Bill, after a couple of months with Lisa gets tired of her as well, and gives her a certificate of divorce. Talk about a woman unlucky in love, I mean, she is really having a difficult time. But let's say her first husband, John, says, "You know what? Lisa wasn't that bad after all, I made a big mistake, and now that she's free from Bill, I think I'm going to take her back as my wife," God says you can't do that. That is to make a mockery of marriage.
See, the Israelites left her their own devices, they would change marriage partners as often as you would change a pair of socks, that's what they were doing, and so Moses said, "We're going to have to regulate this practice, this is an abomination before the Lord," and because of that, Moses tried to regulate the out-of-control divorce situation among the Israelites by regulating this whole divorce issue. But just because Moses tried to regulate divorce in no way means that he condoned divorce. Now, the pharisees said, "Well, if Moses was against divorce, why did he even mention the certificate of divorce"?
I was reading this afternoon in the Dallas Morning News. You may have seen the story about this place up in Frisco, it's a place where they redo car batteries or whatever up their old car batteries, and the EPA is concerned about the soil underneath this plant, that it has contaminated the soil with lead, and there are school children nearby and all of this, and so the EPA's gotten involved and they're testing the soil. Now the EPA says, "You're allowed 400 parts of lead per 1 million parts of soil, 400 parts per 1 million parts," that is the regulation, and some of the tested areas are lower than that, but they still think it's dangerous.
Now, the EPA says it's okay to pollute the land up to this amount, just because the EPA says 400 is the limit, is the EPA condoning pollution? Are they saying lead's a wonderful thing and it's really healthy? If they don't believe in lead, why are they allowing any lead at all in the soil? Why don't they have a zero-tolerance policy toward lead in the soil? Because the EPA recognizes we live in an imperfect world, and because we live in an imperfect world, there has to be some allowance for that. So they said the limit is 400, that's not ideal, but that is tolerable. Now, that's exactly what Moses was doing, Moses was not condoning divorce at all. Look at verse eight, what Jesus said, Jesus said, "It is because of the hardness of your heart that Moses permitted you," he didn't command you to divorce, "He permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it has not been this way".
Have you ever heard the argument from people, people have asked you before, "Oh, the Bible is so filled with errors and it's so full of contradictions, why? For example, why does the Bible allow polygamy? Why does it allow all these multiple wives"? Have you ever heard that before? "Abraham, David, Solomon, all of these multiple wives, why? The Bible is just full of contradictions". You know what the answer to that is? The answer is that was never God's will. God's will was stated in the beginning, one man with one woman for life, "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh".
Man is the one who distorted, perverted God's plan for marriage, and by the way, even though the Bible records some of God's servants as engaging in polygamy, every time a man took more than one wife, he always had problems, always had problems. Think about Abraham and what happened with agar, think about David and his multiple wives, think about Solomon and his hundreds of wives and all of the problems it caused in the household. God's plan was always for one man with one woman for life, that's what Jesus is saying here. Now, verse nine, Jesus makes it very clear, "I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for the case of immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery". And Jesus had said the same thing in Matthew 5:32, "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".
Jesus said the exception to this one-man-with-one-woman-for-life principle is immorality, adultery. Now, what does he mean by immorality? That word immorality is the Greek word porneia, it's a word we get, obviously, pornography from, it is an umbrella term that refers to all kind of sexual immorality, and because of that there have been three prevalent views about what Jesus meant when he said, "You can divorce in the case of immorality". One view is called betrothal view of this passage. These people who believe this believe that Jesus was talking about the engagement period. Remember, in Jewish custom people went through a very formal engagement period of time, vows were exchanged, a dowry was paid, everything happened in the engagement period except the sexual consummation of the relationship.
Remember Mary and Joseph were betrothed to one another, when Mary was found to be pregnant with the Lord Jesus Christ, and when Joseph, first of all, didn't understand what had happened, he considered ending the marriage because after all in Deuteronomy 22 there was the provision that if you were engaged and your fiance was found to be unholy, you could end the relationship. So some people say he's talking about the betrothal period here, not marriage. Well, that's not a logical explanation because the question here is not about engagement it's about marriage itself. Some people accept the immoral marriage view of this passage.
That is, what they're saying is Jesus is saying you can divorce if your marriage is an immoral marriage, that is, let's say, a father engages in an incestuous marriage and marries his daughter, and later becomes a Christian. Well, he can divorce because that marriage is an immoral marriage, or maybe perhaps a homosexual marriage or something like that. Again, that is a farfetched interpretation of that, because such marriages were already outlawed according to God's word. The third view is my view, the traditional view, and it is that Jesus is referring to adultery. If your mate commits adultery, you are permitted, not commanded, but you are permitted to divorce.
Now remember, in the Old Testament times, if you were found guilty of adultery, you were stoned to death, you were put to death, obviously that ended the marriage relationship, didn't it? Okay? And God's word is very clear that if your mate dies, you're free to remarry, Romans 7:2. I believe that when Jesus gives permission to divorce in the case of adultery, implicit in that permission is also the permission to remarry, why? Because adultery destroys the marriage bond in this sense, if your mate were living in the Old Testament times, he or she would be executed, you'd be free to remarry, just because we live in a more grace-filled society today that doesn't execute adulterers does not mean that the innocent party would have to suffer, because grace is shown to the guilty party and he's allowed to leave. I believe the Bible allows for not only divorce as Jesus said, but remarriage when there is adultery.
Now, let me say again, the Bible doesn't command it, if your mate is involved in a one-time sexual affair, one-time act of immorality, yes, you have permission to divorce in that situation, but you're not commanded to divorce, and I think if your mate is repentant and runs to go through the process of rehabilitation and regain your trust, I think, personally, it is a foolish thing to end a divorce, I think God always desires reconciliation. Remember those statistics I gave about the effects of divorce, those effects are for people who divorce for legitimate reasons as well as illegitimate reasons. I believe that God prefers for there to be reconciliation. However, if your mate is engaged in hardhearted adultery, they will not repent, they are involved in multiple affairs and multiple sexual partners in a day of aids and sexually transmitted diseases, you may have no choice but to divorce, but the Bible does allow for divorce and remarriage in the case of adultery.
Now, the second allowance for divorce and remarriage is found in 1 Corinthians 7, I hope you haven't lost your place, let's go back to 1 Corinthians 7, and that is in the case of desertion, desertion. Now remember what was going on in Corinth, a lot of people were being saved in Corinth, they were coming out of immoral, decadent backgrounds, they were coming into the church, and they started asking the question, "Now that we're Christians, how does our Christianity affect our sexuality? I mean, should we remain single if we're not married? What about if we're married, is sex wrong? Should we try to be celibate in the marriage relationship? Or what if we're married and we became a Christian but our mate is still an unbeliever? Are we supposed to divorce that mate and go find a Christian"?
Lots of questions about this issue of divorce and remarriage, and so Paul answers three typical cases that apparently the Corinthians had asked him about. Here's case number one in verses 10 to 11. What about a believer who wants to leave the marriage? Now let's go back and look at verses 10 to 11 and at that parenthesis, "But to the married I give instructions, not i, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband," now here's the passage, "But if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband, and that the husband should not divorce his wife," and the same applies, if he does leave, he is to remained unmarried or he is to go back to his wife, be reconciled to his wife.
Now, obviously he is speaking for another reason other than adultery, Jesus has already talked about adultery being a permissible reason for divorce and remarriage. Paul has in mind another situation, he has in mind somebody who decides they want out of a marriage for something other than adultery, maybe it's a case where there is an emotional abuse or physical abuse, or the person feels like his life is in danger, a number of situations that come to mind that a person wants out of a marriage.
Remember God hates divorce, he doesn't want divorce, but Paul says, "If a believer leaves a marriage for any other reason other than adultery, if he leaves that marriage, he or she is to remain unmarried or be reconciled to his or her mate," that's what Paul is saying here. A believer who wants to divorce for some reason other than adultery. Pastor, what about if that mate leaves and abandons me? Well, that's a whole other story we're going to get to in a minute, but here I'm talking about leaving for some other reason than adultery you're to remain unmarried or be reconciled.
Now here's case number two Paul deals with, a believer married to an unbeliever who wants to remain, look at this in verse 12, "But to the rest I say, not the Lord," Paul said, "The Lord didn't address this subject, but I'm going to address it, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever and that believer consents to live with him, he must not divorce her and a woman who has an unbelieving husband and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away".