"It was said, 'WHOEVER SENDS HIS WIFE AWAY, LET HIM GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE'; 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. (Matthew 5:31-32 NASB)
In the past few posts the structure of Matthew 5:21-47 has been looked at, and this post will continue in the same vein. Recall, that Matthew 5:17-20, introduces this whole section as Jesus teaches that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees you will in no case enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus then proceeds to teach how to exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees in a very structured teaching. He takes a number of different laws and breaks them down. First He addresses the command, then explains its intent, then offers how to exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees with that command. The last couple looked like this:
Command – Shall not commit murder, Intent – do not foster anger towards a brother, How
to exceed the Law – Do not even make an offering before reconciling with your brother, and seek reconciliation with enemies without going to court.
Command – Shall not commit adultery, intent – do not even lust after someone, How to exceed the Law – Cut off any thing that causes you to lust.
The laws concerning Adultery and Murder were detailed in the previous two posts, and this post will address the next command in this section of the Sermon on the Mount. “Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce...”
At the outset let’s realize that this is a very difficult section of scripture in light of society today,
and the commonality of divorce in our society. A face value reading of this scripture will cause pain for a great number of people. Moreover, we all know a number of people, many who are fundamental in their belief who have violated the precepts in this scripture and struggle to this day with understanding it. Nonetheless, it says exactly what it says, and it really is not a difficult passage to understand, if you allow yourself to understand it without writing it off because of how far our society has fallen with regard to marriage.
This passage like the previous two laws can be broken down in the same way.
First is the statement of the Law itself. Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce... This is very easy to understand. When you divorce, you must give a divorce certificate. That is the letter of the law, and is not so difficult to obey, but remember that at the outset of this section of scripture Jesus made it clear that simple Pharisee like
obedience must be exceeded in order to enter the Kingdom.
Jesus goes on to give the intent of the law... “but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery” The intent of that law was that no one would commit adultery. And whoever divorces causes their ex-wife to commit adultery. This is confusing to some, but it really is not that confusing. If a woman commits fornication, she commits adultery on her own accord. If a man divorces her and she moves on, then the man becomes the cause of her adultery, thus he bears the guilt. The scriptures are clear that causing someone else to sin is far worse than committing sin yourself.
Now Jesus goes on to give the practical way to exceed the righteousness of the Law and that is to
not even marry her who is divorced, because he who marries her that is divorced commits adultery. Now this is the part of the command that seems to get people bent out of shape because of our low regard for marriage, and the actual reality of two people becoming one at marriage, and that is unfortunate. When a woman and man get married there is a degree of permanence to it in the eyes of God, and Jesus makes that clear. Notice that He speaks of ramifications of guilt even after the divorce certificate is given. Because a man and woman go through a court process to abort their marriage does not change the standing of that marriage in the sight of God, thus when a person remarries, or enters into another relationship the Lord calls that adultery, regardless of what the courts say.
Surely I understand the implications of this, but that is the plain reading of this text, and we ought not gloss over it, in fact we would do well to preach this text and put marriage back on the right track in our society. If you notice to exceed righteousness is to recognize not only the marriage certificate, but to recognize the permanence of the marriage vows.