Message from David Vaughan
Welcome, again. I was on vacation last week and what happened in Cincinnati while I was gone?! When I left town, it was warm and sunny, and I heard it snowed! When I left town the Reds were in 1st place, and now… I also listened to most of JT’s message last week when I was on vacation, and I loved some of the powerful and practical phrases you learned on Adultery and Lust – physical, visual, and mental…
"With that phone you have porn in your pocket"… "What are the implications of your applications"… "Lust thrills before it kills"… "And I saw some women look at me when I walked by and say – ‘Good job, God!’"
Today, I plan to speak into a pretty sensitive subject – Divorce. No doubt, I will not answer all the questions, but here we go. As is my/our style, I’d like to speak openly and frankly about this, and it is not my intent to hurt anyone’s feelings or place a guilt trip on anyone. My end goal is we would have more healthy relationships with others and with God. Even though difficult, JT and I have made a commitment before God to speak the truth of God’s Word in love.
This subject is needed and timely because, depending on what polls you research, the divorce rate is high both outside and inside the church; that includes our wonderful church here, too. Sadly, far too many people marry for better or worse, but not for good.
I want to remind the hundreds of you here who are divorced... the same grace God has given for other areas in the rest of us, is yours, too. You are important to the ministry of this church. So, I want to say this right up front, divorce is not the unpardonable sin! Some of you have been taught that it is, and I want to help relieve you of that burden. It is nowhere in the scripture.
You can’t unscramble scrambled eggs, but you can make an omelet! There is still Hope.
So, whether you are a divorcee, a single person who hopes to be married someday or a married person who’s marriage is very shaky right now, I think there will be a word of hope and help for you today from Jesus (who is a huge fan of marriage and the family). He’s the one who invented it!
What does Jesus say today about divorce? Let’s start in Matthew 5:31-32 (NIV)…“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery."
Now I could preach a whole series about these verses, but let me begin by summarizing it succinctly, because God did. He says this in Malachi 2 - I hate divorce. For so many reasons.
Jesus elaborated on this more in Matthew 19:1-9… "When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
At this particular time in Jewish history, there were two views on divorce. The first was that divorce could be done for any reason - your wife cooked a meal you didn’t like or watched too much Hebrew Hallmark - you could let her go. Deuteronomy 24 says "if a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, he can write her a certificate of divorce." And, many did!
According to Hebrew law, a married couple was released from the bonds of matrimony only through the transmission of a bill of divorce from the husband to the wife. This document, commonly known by its Aramaic name, "get," served as proof of the dissolution of the marriage in the event that one or both wished to remarry.
The second view was that divorce was only for the reason of sexual infidelity. Remember the Pharisees were not asking Jesus this question about divorce to get an answer, they wanted to get Jesus in trouble. So, Jesus gave them some hard words only because they had hard hearts!
So, let me summarize Jesus' words about divorce. Jesus says - Divorce is contrary to God‘s perfect will. The ideal is one man and one woman for one lifetime, and in an ideal world, no one would divorce. Having said that, divorce was permissible in certain circumstances. Moses made accommodations for divorce in his day because of ‘the hardness of men’s hearts.’ Sadly, we have to today as well.
As I see it, there are several biblically acceptable reasons for divorce (and they all start with A). One is seen here – adultery. The word he uses here is immorality. It’s the word from which we derive pornography, lewd sexual conduct, incest, adultery – whether it’s homosexual or heterosexual. If you don’t pay attention to what JT covered last week, it will lead to what we’re talking about THIS week.
The second justified reason is abandonment by a non-believing spouse. You can read about that in 1 Corinthians 7 with Paul’s directive on that subject. I also think there is a possible third – (significant) abuse (especially physical) where God would not expect someone to stay in a marriage that was unsafe.
So, Jesus (like he has done several times already) raises the bar on this subject. Simply writing a certificate of divorce for any reason is not enough. It needs to be for a deeper reason. And like the other verses we have covered so far, this is a matter of the heart and mind.
In the Catholic Church, a declaration of annulment (and not divorce) is a judgment on the part of an ecclesiastical tribunal determining that a marriage was invalidly contracted or that the marriage never existed. This is an option, I suppose, but is very complex philosophically and honestly, problematic as it usually hinges on interpretation of intent and words, and sometimes the contribution of money.
So let me speak some words to the hearts and minds to the different categories of folks here. To those of you who have the biblical right to end your marriage and remarry - proceed carefully and with wisdom. You are vulnerable, go slowly and seek wise counsel. Don’t do anything when you’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired (HALT!). Someone said there are two things that should not be started prematurely - embalming and divorce!
If you do divorce, then accept it if it’s over. This is a really difficult assignment for Christian people who were deeply committed/married. They don’t want it to be over. I’ve read it takes 2-3 years to go through the grief cycle when you had someone close to you die or if there’s been a divorce. There is a sense in which divorce is more difficult to recover from than death because the person is still alive and walking around, and there is no closure.
We have some resources coming online soon that can help. Divorce Care is a weekly care group designed for those recently divorced or going through a divorce. And also, Healthy Marriages, which is a gathering of married couples for encouragement and support. Classes are forming now for both of these, just reach out to Lifecenter@whitewatercrossing.org for more information.
If you’re divorced, you will also have to work at forgiving your ex-partner (and probably yourself, too!). Forgiving the ex-spouse is probably the hardest struggle for most. I heard about a man who drove by a house that had a 2020 Mercedes-Benz sitting in the front yard and on the car there was a sign that read - for sale $100. He stopped and talked to the lady at the house, and said, "I’ll buy this car, but why are you selling it for only $100?" She said. "My husband just called me from Hawaii. He ran off with his assistant and told me to sell his car and send him half the money."
If you’ve been through a divorce, extend yourself to others and tell your story. One of the most life-giving things people need to hear are those two little words – 'Me, too!' And, if you’re broken and hurting right now, Jesus understands. Did you know God is divorced? He said that because of their unfaithfulness to idols, "I have given Israel their certificate of divorce."
Here are a couple of questions people ask me about divorce: (I won’t answer all of them, trust me!)
- If I remarry, do I commit adultery or am I living in a continual state of sin/adultery? The Bible makes it clear that if you have been divorced, it is not God‘s will for you to return to your original marriage to be forgiven. In fact, God says in the Bible, it is a sin to divorce a second time and return to your first spouse. Grace covers divorce PERIOD, even if not done for valid reasons. It’s possible some may have even been divorced before they became a Christian.
- Does unfaithfulness mean a one-time affair or a pattern of dishonesty? Either one is just cause to sever the marriage, but if it’s possible to forgive and restore the marriage, that would be preferred. Remember...the Bible says you may get a divorce, but it does not say you HAVE to get a divorce. You may have biblical grounds for divorce, but that means there is biblical grounds for grace, too! But, if the husband or wife has a pattern of unfaithfulness, the marriage may be irreparable and Jesus permits divorce. By the way, wherever God permits divorce, he always permits remarriage. You do not have to remain single the rest of your life unless you want to.
- What if I’ve been divorced multiple times? The woman at the well had been married five times and was currently living together with someone in a kind of 'friends with benefits' situation, but Jesus met her and offered her the living water.
But, David – I didn’t know staying married is so much work! Yep, it is. Donna and I will celebrate 40 years of marriage this July. And even though I am really sweet, compassionate, good looking, and humble - it hasn’t always been easy for Donna.
That’s why someone said marriage starts out as the ideal, then becomes an ordeal, and that’s why some want a new deal! David - Seems like it would just be easier to divorce. No, persevere – it’s worth it. Here’s why…
Divorced people will tell you the scars never completely healed. There are family, emotional, and spiritual complications, not to mention huge financial consequences. Have you heard about the new Barbie doll? It’s called Divorce Barbie, and it comes with all of Ken‘s stuff.
God also wants marriage to be permanent for the wellbeing of children. Don’t kid yourself... children are affected by divorce. Heard about a man who was 97 and his wife was 95, who went to a judge to get a divorce. The judge asked why they waited so late in life to divorce. The couple answered, "We wanted to wait until all the children had died."
A permanent marriage also is a great testimony of our faith in Jesus Christ and how marriage is like Christ and His bride, the church. Just decide early on that divorce is not an option. Like Jesus, hold high the ideal of marriage.
There are a couple of things you can do to divorce proof your marriage. (I could do a whole other message just on this!)
If you are getting married soon (or never got it when you got married), premarital counseling is hugely beneficial. One of our strategic partners at the Life Center is Rock Solid Families. We highly recommend the very effective Pre-marital Counseling program they offer. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Finding a mentoring couple is hugely beneficial, as well as participating in a Christian marriage seminar, either online or in person. We host one here on campus. Or maybe read a book like one called Before You Split.
Invest in your marriage. Put an inordinate amount of time and attention into this. Don’t take it for granted. Learn to be content, stay engaged and cultivate/invest in your relationship. Keep your marriage exciting, both relationally and sexually (time for a 3 S retreat - sex, sleep and steak!)
And be careful about criticizing the spouse you do have. Heard about a bumper sticker on a woman’s car that said, "All men are idiots, and my husband is their king" (probably not helpful). Speak life-giving words and figure out your spouse’s love language... and maybe their Enneagram, too, just for fun!
Regardless, if you’ve got a friend who is divorced or divorcing, please understand that divorce is a complex situation. Good people can (and do) get divorced. And there are no two divorces alike - each one has a story behind them, and the older I get the more I realize there’s a lot more gray in life and marriage than I first thought. It is not always black and white. One may be more guilty of something, but both parties usually contribute to its demise.
Jesus waded into this deep water of divorce because we all have to deal with messy people and messy situations that require messy grace! It requires us to think differently -which is what this series ‘Never Enough’ is all about.
So, here’s the simple and concise thinking about marriage today - ‘Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’ May we cheer one another on as we live this out as a community of Faith. And this week, figure out which of the action steps I’ve outlined today you need to take.