Jesus’ Shocking Teachings: Divorce (Part 2)

In our series on Jesus’ shocking teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, we come to His teachings on marriage, divorce, and remarriage.

It was said, “Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her A certificate of divorce”; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Matthew 5:31-32

It’s clear enough to see what Jesus said, which was discussed in Part 1. Let us now explore some questions about what was unsaid.

1. Do Jesus’ teachings apply to everyone, or just Christians?

Many have tried to make it easier on people by saying that Jesus’ teachings on marriage, divorce, and remarriage only apply to those who are Christians. Therefore, if someone breaks this commandment outside of covenant with Christ, he or she is not accountable for it.

First, there is nothing in Scripture that indicates that those outside of covenant with Christ are not accountable for their sins. In fact, if Jesus’ teachings don’t apply to them, then who are the lost? I was under the impression that those who do not know God and those who do not obey the gospel of Jesus will receive judgment (2 Thess. 1:6-10).

Notice how Jesus presents His teachings on divorce in Mark’s gospel.

And He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.” Mark 10:11-12.

“Whoever” applies to whomever, just like it would in other Scriptures (cf. John 3:16).

Second, we also cannot say that this teaching applies to Jews only. In Matthew 19, Jesus was not trying to present Jewish understandings of the Scriptures. If He were, then He would have enforced the punishment of adultery, which was death, instead of permission to divorce.

So, Jesus’ teachings on this subject are universal.

2. What if my husband or wife lusts in his or her heart for someone else?

Earlier in this chapter, Jesus says, “everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28). A woman whose husband that has used pornography may ask, “Since my husband has committed adultery in his heart, may I divorce him?”

The simple answer is, no, not on those grounds. The sin committed during lust is an inward, non-physical act. It is very serious in the sight of God and anyone else affected by it, but it is not the same as πορνεία, which is, “voluntary sexual intercourse between persons not married to each other.” Only the person lusting is active, and the other person is passive, and in some cases of lust, ignorant and innocent; therefore, fornication has not occurred.

3. Am I trapped, then?

What about those whose marriage is in serious trouble, but neither party has committed adultery? First, let us be reminded that God hates divorce, and so should we (Mal. 2:16). God understands, however, that there are things that trouble marriages other than adultery.

For instance, in 1 Corinthians 7, if a believer is married to a nonbeliever, and if the nonbeliever is unwilling to dwell with the believer, the marriage can be separated. In this case, neither is permitted to divorce the other, and neither is permitted to marry another person, but they are permitted to live separately.

Let it be said that in the case of an abusive marriage, both parties need to seek help, and the victim should seek safety away from the abuser immediately.

4. What if someone becomes a Christian after entering into an unbiblical second marriage?

In this case, does Jesus’ blood make an unsanctioned, unbiblical marriage an acceptable marriage?

And He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.” Mark 10:11-12.

Again, this applies to “whoever,” and not just the Christian. Notice the literal translation: “she is committing adultery” The KJV says committeth. Whenever you encounter a verb with that suffix (eth) in the KJV, it indicates a continual action.

John 3:16 talks about whosoever believeth on Him. Faith is not a one-time action, but a continual one. Therefore, when people stay in an unbiblical marriage, they continually commit adultery.

So, what is someone who is continually sinning to do in order to enter covenant with Christ? What would a fornicator, drunkard, or thief be told to do? Repent, which comes from godly sorrow and involves the ceasing from sin, and turning to Christ (2 Cor. 7:9-10; Acts 26:20)! In the case of one who is committing adultery in an unbiblical marriage, he or she should repent and turn to God.

5. What should I do?

Someone is looking at the perfect law of liberty as a mirror, the way James describes. He now realizes the mess his decisions have put him into. What should he do? When the disciples had this question, they concluded, “it is better not to marry” (Matt. 19:10). Jesus said that in some situations, that’s true.

For those who would sin by beginning or remaining in a relationship, Jesus would teach them to become celibate, that is, refrain from sexual activity (Matt. 19:12). In other words, there have been those who have made drastic decisions and deprived themselves of temporary happiness in order to stay pure for Christ.

Previously in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches that if something in your life causes you to sin, it would be better for you to lose it, in this case an unbiblical relationship, than for you to lose your soul (Matt. 5:29-30).

6. But doesn’t God want me to be happy?

In an emotional response to such difficult teachings of Christ, many have thought either Jesus just wants to see me unhappy, or Jesus will make an exception for my unbiblical marriage, because I am “happy” in it, and God wants me to be happy.

God does not provide eternal joy in return for sinful lifestyles. Instead, He provides gladness to the disciple who is storing up treasure in heaven.

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:10-12.

This logic of, “God wants me to be happy, and therefore, He will make an exception for my relationship,” is flawed from the beginning. Should we make an exception for those who are “happy” living together before marriage? What about the thief who has built a comfortable and “happy” life off of the wealth of others? What about the person who gains happiness by abusing others? No, and so it applies to the one who is living in adultery.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.

7. What if it’s too late?

You may be looking at Jesus’ commandments and saying, “It must be too late for me.” An example may be a man who divorced his wife several years ago for reasons other than adultery. First Corinthians 7 would teach that this man has two options:

  1. Remain unmarried.
  2. Be reconciled with his wife.

But she has now moved on, moved away, and started a family with someone else; therefore, reconciliation is impossible. Is it too late to feel complete again?

Christ is the provider of true hope and completion. Are you breathing? Do you have blood running through your veins? Do you have a sound mind? If so, that’s an opportunity for you to respond to the gospel! It’s not too late.

No matter the situation we have gotten ourselves into in the past, Jesus can provide a new life through the new birth. Does that mean the consequences will disappear? In many cases, no. A murdered who repents will not be able to bring his victims back to life. The blood of Jesus does not immediately undo damage to relationships.

However, you can still be given a new life today by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Won’t you respond?


I know there are more questions to explore with this topic, but I am sure they can be answered by faithfully looking at Jesus’ teachings and applying them consistently. I also know that anyone who speaks on this subject so straightforward may be charged of being insensitive.

If I have been insensitive, first, please don’t hold that against Jesus. He came to this earth because of His sensitivity toward sin and His love for you. Second, please accept my apology. My goal was to teach the truth with heartfelt conviction, not with heartless attacks.

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