Mercy in Marriage (and Divorce)
Pastor John Sloan
Introduction: In Ancient Judaism, particularly in the first century, there was a raging debate as to what behaviors justified divorce. The conservative school had one conviction, to which they held strongly; the liberal school had another. But Jesus, not surprisingly, has a completely different perspective on the matter: His teaching permits neither pride on the part of those who remain married, nor does it render forever condemned those who have been divorced.
Questions for Discussion & Discovery
1. Read Matthew 19:1-10. In Jesus’ fuller address on marriage and divorce, why is it significant that he goes all the way back to creation to begin the discussion?
2. What actions are covered by the phrase “sexual immorality” (verse 32)?
3. To say that Jesus permits divorce for sexual immorality is not the same as saying Jesus prefers it for such an offense. Why not?
4. Why does Jesus include just two sentences about divorce in this section (amid warnings about murder, anger, lust and swearing)? How do his statements here fit within the broader message of the Sermon on the Mount?
5. How does marriage reflect the character of our Triune God?
6. In what ways does this passage offer hope and healing to those who have been divorced, and even been the cause of a divorce?
1. Read Matthew 5:31-32
2. “And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, ‘Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?’ He answered, ‘Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.’ They said to him, ‘Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?’ He said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.’ The disciples said to him, ‘If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.’ – Matthew 19:3-11 ESV
3. 01. The purpose of marriage is to picture the character of our Triune God.
4. 02. While all divorce is occasioned by sin, not all divorce is sin.
“There is so little genuine warmth about him; his kindness does not come from his heart, but merely from his principles. His biographies will tell of how he helped the laborers to carry buckets of water, but no one will ever know that he never gave his wife a rest and never—in all these thirty-two years—gave his child a drink of water or spent five minutes by his bedside to give me a chance to rest a little from all my labors.”
– Sonya Tolstoy
6. “Jesus did not proclaim these exalted words so that we would furrow our brows in despair over our failure to achieve perfection. He proclaimed them to impart to us God’s ideal toward which we should never stop striving, but also to show that none of us will ever reach that ideal. The Sermon on the Mount forces us to recognize the great distance between God and us, and any attempt to reduce that distance by somehow moderating its demands misses the point altogether.” – Philip Yancey
7. 03. Avoiding divorce does not make anyone righteous before God; nor does having a divorce place anyone outside of God’s reach of grace.