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Matthew 5:31-32, “31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is helping us understand what the Lord wants is not only right actions but also a pure heart (Matthew 5:8). As we’ve seen already murder and adultery, do not exhaust those particular commandments. Exodus 20:13-14 forbids lust and unjust anger (Matthew 5:21-30). The Law is not ritualistic but must be followed in heart and in deed (Deut. 6:6; Psalm 37:31).

Jesus corrections here focus not on every point of the Law that covers each situation. Christ says, “everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” (Matt. 5:22), but He does not mean that anger is always evil, as He Himself will get angry (Matthew 21:12–13) without sinning (1 Peter 2:22). Ungodly anger is what the injunction against murder forbids. We can (rarely) be righteously angry and yet not sin (Eph. 4:26).

The above example helps us understand that Jesus does not give every possible ground for divorce when He allows for it for the reason of “sexual immorality” (Matthew 5:31-32). Additionally, desertion by an unbelieving spouse makes divorce possible (1 Corinthians 7:12-16). The Greek word for “sexual immorality” is porneia which covers all types of sexual conduct, meaning some sexual sins besides extramarital affairs can be legitimate grounds for divorce. It needs to be added that Jesus is not allowing for divorce under any instance of lust or sexual indiscretion. Otherwise, every time someone lusts would be cause for divorce. Since no sinner has been entirely pure in this area, that would make every marriage dissolvable which violates our Lord’s high view of marriage (Matthew 19:1-12).

One reason among many why we should be in the local church is the help and wisdom of older Christians, and in particular, our pastors and elders on complicated issues in the Christian life like a particular form of porneia and whether it’s legal grounds for divorce. God gives the Christian the church to help them through difficult and complex issues. While each marriage is different and choosing the right course of action can be hard, wise church leaders are to apply Scripture properly and give sound direction. The goal of such counsel should be to see marriages restored by the gospel, not for permission to be given for divorce. Rather than working through problems in a marriage it’s easy to give up. We must recognize this tendency because marriage truly matters- it is a God-given institution, and it matters deeply to the Lord.

John Calvin reminds us that “the bond of marriage is too sacred to be dissolved at the will, or rather at the licentious pleasure, of men.” Marriage is hard and can drive spouses to despair and to even contemplate an unbiblical divorce, which is why we must seek help from other Christians in the church at the first sign of trouble in our marriages. If you need biblical counseling, please make an appointment with your pastor. If you know of some other couple who is having problems in their marriage, please encourage them to seek biblical counseling.

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