DIVORCE

Isa Al-Masih was questioned about divorce by the religious leaders, teachers, and experts of the Law, who were called Pharisees.  This passage is found in the Injil, Matthew 19:3-8.  Two distinct groups of Pharisees existed during the time Isa lived on earth.  Each group was very distinct in its views concerning the meaning of Scripture.

One group of Pharisees followed a teacher named Hillel who was quite liberal in his interpretation of God’s Law, Al-Tawrat.  Concerning the subject of divorce, his school believed that divorce was permissible for any reason, whether serious or trivial.  They taught that a Jewish man could divorce his wife for reasons such as being unhappy with her choice of clothing, food preparation, or domestic behavior.

The other school followed the teachings of a man named Shammai.  He was much more committed to a conservative interpretation of Scripture.  He said that men could divorce their wives, but only on grounds of unchastity or marital infidelity.

Both groups believed divorce was permitted but based their opinions on different terms.  They were shocked with Isa’s answer when they asked Him if it was lawful to divorce “for any cause” (verse 3).  His response was not based on the Law of Musa, but went back further in history to the beginning, the Creation, when God created Adam and Eve (verses 4, 5).  His answer was based on the fact that God created one male and one female; in their monogamous marriage, they became “one flesh.”

The meaning of this term, “one flesh,” refers to their union spiritually, intellectually, physically, and emotionally. As one flesh, separation was unthinkable.

Isa said that the union of marriage is the work of God; the marriage partners are joined by God (verse 6).  No human decision should counter God’s will. Nothing should be allowed to fracture the union intended by God.  This union is to enable both members of the marriage to love, support, and build up each other.

People who divorce are rebelling against God and abusing the rights of their mate.  They are obligated to give their mate undivided love, adoration, exclusive allegiance, and complete commitment.

The Pharisees countered Isa’s answer with another question from the Law of Musa (verse 7):  Why did Musa allow divorce, referring to Al-Tawrat, Deuteronomy 24:1-4?  Isa’s answer to this second question revealed the real reason why people seek divorce:  “because of your hardness of heart” (verse 8).

Isa returned to God’s intention for marriage beginning at the time of Creation and said, “From the beginning it has not been this way” (verse 8).  Isa said Musa permitted divorce, but only as a concession to the people’s rebellion.  It was a concession but not God’s will; it was allowed but not prescribed.

Isa was accomplishing two purposes with his answers to the Pharisees’ questions.  First, he was showing God’s will for marriage.  Marriage is to endure as long as the marriage partners are alive.  It is to be characterized by forgiveness and unity even if one member sins against the other and commits adultery.  God’s highest ideal is for repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration for the marriage partners.  Second, Isa was revealing that His standards for moral living were even higher than the requirements of the Mosaic Law.  This type of holy living is only possible as people turn away from their selfishness and sin and allow Isa to bring forgiveness and transformation in the way they live and serve others.  Only when Isa is the Lord of a person’s life, when He brings him into the kingdom of God, and places the Holy Spirit within him can that person live according to God’s standards for marriage and all aspects of life.

Neither Protestants, nor Catholics, or any other religious group should teach or live contrary to the way Isa has taught.  But people of all ages, denominations, and religions behave based on the “hardness of heart” in direct rebellion against God’s standards.  This is regrettable and sinful.  It is God’s mercy alone that keeps Him for consuming all of us for our many acts of rebellion and “hardness of heart.”

The best response when hearing the message of Isa is to seek to reconcile the marriage.  But if people have separated and refuse to be reconciled, or if they have remarried, the Church needs to help mend the spiritual and emotional wounds of these people already injured and torn apart by divorce. Even if it is too late to reconcile the marriage, these lives still need attention and are loved by God.

This act of compassion in no way condones or encourages divorce, but accepts the reality of people who have disobeyed and are looking to Isa Al-Masih for help.

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