Saturday, January 27, 2024

2024.01.27 Hopewell @Home ▫ Matthew 5:31–32

Read Matthew 5:31–32

Questions from the Scripture text: How is the introduction of Matthew 5:31 different than that in Matthew 5:21 or Matthew 5:27? How had the Pharisees (cf. Matthew 19:7–11) interpreted Deuteronomy 24:1–4 (Matthew 5:31)? Who gives a different opinion now (Matthew 5:32)? To whom does this apply? What is the only exception that the Lord gives? What other exception is assumed (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:10–15)? What does an unlawful divorce do to the spouse? And what happens when someone marries an unlawfully divorced person?

What was wrong with thinking that Deuteronomy 24:1–4 validated divorce? Matthew 5:31–32 prepares us for the morning sermon on the Lord’s Day. In these two verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that we must read Scripture according to its own intent, not ours, and that divorce is not something that Christians may rightly do.

The introduction to Matthew 5:31 informs us that the Lord Jesus is improving their understanding of the law in a different way. In the previous two sections, He had taken good instruction that they had received and added to it. This time, Jesus doesn’t refer to what was said to those of old; instead, He addresses what “has been said” to His hearers themselves. He exposes that the teaching that they have received is almost entirely incorrect.

How NOT to read the Bible. The issue is what to do with Deuteronomy 24:1–4. In it, Moses warns against the perversion of divorcing a woman, and then remarrying her after she has married another. In that passage, divorce is done by writing a certificate of divorce. What did the Pharisees take away from this? Their takeaway was that divorce was being validated (Matthew 5:31, cf. Matthew 19:7–11)! 

Here, we can already be learning what not to do with the Bible. Deuteronomy 24 was obviously speaking against perversion, not for divorce. They could easily have avoided their mistake, by interpreting Scripture with Scripture. The God Who created the one-flesh-ness of marriage for producing godly offspring (cf. Malachi 2:15) hates divorce (cf. Malachi 2:16). The Spirit Who carried Malachi along to write that did not carry Moses along to validate divorce. 

Let us come to the Scriptures in submission to their agenda. Let us seek from each passage what the passage itself intends for us to take away. That does not mean that we cannot also learn the many further implications that those truths have for other subjects. But it does mean that we only take them away as implications under the Spirit’s teaching of the main subject. And we do well to remember that God Himself is the main subject of all of His Word, and especially as He declares Himself in His Son (cf. John 5:39, Luke 24:27). 

How to read the Bible. Over-against their false interpretation, notice how the Lord Jesus is almost directly, simply explaining what Deuteronomy 24:1–4 was teaching. Divorcing a woman so that she goes to another man makes her to commit adultery. And if she commits that adultery, she defiles herself (cf. Deuteronomy 24:4). The Spirit is so far from validating divorce in Deuteronomy 24 that He is actually warning of how divorce tends to perversion!

Jesus teaches us how to read our Bibles. Consider the intent of the passage. Consider how this applies to instruct and correct us over-against how our flesh would otherwise think. Don’t come to the text looking for what the boundaries permit; come to the text looking for the point that God is making, so that we can most please Him! Don’t come to the Bible hoping to get to do what you want; come to the Bible assuming that you need to learn, that you need to be taught by God, Who so generously and graciously comes to teach you.

Divorce is not something that Christians do; it is only something that is done to them. With our eyes open to that, we can see what Jesus is teaching about marriage and divorce. Ending a marriage simply is not something that Christians do. Rather, it is something that is done to them. Notice that the Lord Jesus gives the exception of sexual immorality. In such a case, the spouse has already ended the marriage by joining with another. 1 Corinthians 7:10–15 gives the additional exception of if the spouse departs. Again, divorce isn’t something that Christians do; it must only be something that is done to them.

We must say something here about abuse. If a spouse must flee to preserve his (or her) or his children’s physical lives, this obviously constitutes desertion, but not by the one who is compelled to depart. The one who is physically leaving has been compelled to do so in order to keep the sixth commandment. Much that is styled emotional abuse, however, is not actually life-threatening and should be treated as a providential opportunity to practice much of what Scripture teaches us about loving enemies, blessing those who curse us, doing good to those who abuse us in that way. 

Even more, struggling through a painful marriage can be an opportunity to grow in resting upon the Lord alone and finding Him sweet in all of the sourness of life in this fallen world. These questions can be difficult, and it is good that a spouse in a hard situation have access to his elders to shepherd him (or her) through the situation. If he (or she) is denied that access, he (or she) is not being permitted to live as a Christian in the home and has good cause to be counted free to depart as departing an unbeliever (a 1 Corinthians 7:12–16 situation, rather than 1 Corinthians 7:10–11). 

Marriage is too important to treat as discardable. It is worth exploring, briefly, why marriage is so final that divorce just isn’t something that Christians may do. First, it is a creation ordinance. In Genesis 2, we see that it is for the mutual help of the man and his wife; and then, when she has been created, we learn that it is also for being fruitful and multiplying. In the Malachi 2:15–16 passage referenced above, we see that this becomes even more important among believers after the fall, for marriage among them is designed now produce godly offspring (note the implication here that covenant children should be produced and brought up under the expectation that they will believe and be godly). We must make the similar post-fall application to the reason of mutual help; it is especially a mutual help in godliness.

Second, unbreakable marriage prevents impurity among God’s people. A commitment to marriage is a hedge against adultery in Deuteronomy 24:1–4, as we have been considering. The same point is made by 1 Corinthians 7:3–51 Corinthians 7:9. Not everyone has the chastity that the apostle calls his gift in 1 Corinthians 7:7

Finally, most of all, marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. The Song of Songs is not primarily about earthly marriage, for the song of songs is about the love of loves. It is an extended and glorious version of Psalm 45, in which the great King is obviously the Messiah, and He raises up His bride to a shared life and glory with Himself by marriage. This, the Spirit further affirms by the apostle’s pen in Ephesians 5:22–33; the mystery of marriage is the mystery of Christ and the church (cf. Ephesians 5:32)! 

Especially considering this last, it is no wonder that God hates divorce. For, marriage is intended to declare and glorify His Son as the great Groom. Christians, therefore, ought to hate it, too. A Christian husband should leave his father and mother and cling to his wife. Divorcing her is not an option; his whole life is a union with her now. A Christian wife must forget her father’s house and commit herself, entirely and unbreakably, to her husband. Divorcing him is not an option; her whole life is a union with him now. 

When you are committed for life, and for Christ, there is no room for complaining or self-pity. Rather, every marriage difficulty is a new opportunity to depend upon the Lord, to delight in the Lord, and to devote one’s efforts to the Lord. And of course, this dependence may mean making good use of the undershepherds you’ve been given for all of your Christian walk (cf. Hebrews 13:4–7). In that way, each difficulty becomes the fertile soil in which one grows as a spouse—even if the other spouse does not, which is truly rare if both are believers. For the believer, putting the hand to the plough for marriage is similar to putting the hand to the plough with Christ; there can be no thought (and certainly no action) of turning back.

How have you grown in reading Scripture in its context, and as controlled by its own intent? What are you doing for the protection of your own marriage (or future marriage)? What are you doing for the help/protection of others’ marriages as well? How do your goals for marriage line up with the three goals presented from Scripture in this devotional?

Sample prayer:  Father, thank You for giving us Christ Himself as an example for how to read our Bibles. Grant that the Spirit by Whom You gave us the Scriptures would also carry us along in making right use of the Scriptures. Thank You for the help of marriage, the opportunity that it gives us for serving spouse and children, and the glory of Christ that it makes our lives to declare. Grant that we would treat our own marriage this way, and other believers’ marriages this way, we ask through Christ and for His glory, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP45B “Daughter, Incline Your Ear” or TPH548 “Oh, Blest the House”

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