“…from the beginning it was not so” (Matthew 19:8)
In 17 years of ministry (part and full-time), I have met with numerous married, and to-be-married couples. One thing I’ve found by this experience is that to-be-married couples generally understand the concept of adultery, and see it as a legitimate – if not the only – reason for divorce. Even if their Bible knowledge is somewhat limited, or they are not Christians, they will often say that this is the only legitimate grounds for a biblical divorce. I have this in writing from almost every couple I’ve married.
Yet, in nearly every troubled marriage that I’ve tried to help, one or both have a completely different, and non-biblical view of divorce and/or adultery.
It is hard to view our own selves and our own situations objectively. Before we are married, marriage is but an object off in the distance – a “thing.” We see it ideally. It is easy to talk about divorcing for adultery, and it is nearly impossible to see ourselves being unfaithful.
When it is our marriage, we can be blinded. Facts are harder to sort. Emotions and history make it difficult to see things objectively. Even the first married couple struggled with this (Genesis 3:10-13).
But regardless of the emotional and physical tangles men make of marriage, the facts about adultery do not change. Jesus taught a few simple, easy-to-understand (which aren’t necessarily equivalent to, “easy-to-accept,” or “easy-to-apply”) truths on the subject.
First, Jesus gave one ground for divorce: porneia (defined, “illicit sexual intercourse,” Thayer; translated “fornication,” KJV, ASV). Divorce may be (though not mandatory) sought for this circumstance (Matthew 19:9).
Second, if someone divorces for a reason other than this, it is a violation of God’s will (yes, I have studied 1 Corinthians 7 relative to this issue). Mankind is not at liberty to separate what God has joined (Matthew 19:6). “He and his wife are one; they can no more separate from one another than they can from themselves” (Spence, Excell).
Third, if someone divorces their spouse for something other than porneia, then marries someone else, it is only “marriage” in the court of human opinion; to heaven, it is adultery (Matthew 19:9). One’s legal divorce for a cause other than porneia, does not annul one’s obligations to that spouse, or to God (see: Mal. 2:13-16).
Fourth, when a spouse is divorced for a reason other than porneia, it is proverbial that they will find themselves in a situation to be tempted into adultery (Matthew 5:32). To re-emphasize: it is not foregone, but certainly proverbial.
Fifth, if a person has sexual relations with an adulterer (whether the adulterer is still married, or divorced, or in the process of acquiring a divorce), they are also guilty of adultery (Matthew 19:9b).
It is my understanding that adultery cannot be resolved by merely apologizing, and continuing therein, any more than the thief who stole a car can merely apologize and drive away in the same car.
This unpopular truth ultimately cost John the Baptist his life (Matthew 14:4-12).
This unpopular truth caused Jesus’ audience to proclaim that it is better not to marry than live by God’s stringent requirements (Matthew 19:10).
We shouldn’t be surprised when it angers and confuses some today.
Let us seek to understand this subject as best we can, and faithfully stand on whatever foundation the Lord has laid.