Text: Matthew 19:3-9

Divorces are on the rise in Singapore. The general divorce rate 1 in recent years is around 7 percent. This is a marked increase from the rate of 2.5 per-cent in the 1980s. In addition, Channel NewsAsia reported on 06 April 2015 that among those who married in 2003, 16.1 per cent had their marriage dissolved by the 10th year of marriage. In contrast, 8.7 per cent of the 1987 cohort had dissolved their marriage in the same period of time.

One of the reasons for rising divorce rates is a changing view of marriage. A woman commented on a conservative news channel that the chief reason she was seeking marriage with her partner was that marriage guarantees her monetary protection when they divorce. It was as if she was looking for divorce even before she was married!

In Matthew 19:3, the Pharisees attempted to trap Jesus by asking him whether it was lawful for a man to put away a woman for every cause. In those days, the common teaching allowed men to put away their wives for the slightest of reasons. If the wife was no longer attractive, put her away! If she failed to cook a dish to the husband’s liking, seek divorce! Back then, the married women had a high risk of being bullied and abused by their husbands.

The situation has not changed in modern society. How many, whether man or woman, seek to separate from their spouse simply because of a lack of “spark” or passion? “We simply drifted apart and there’s no more feeling between us,” they say. Others may stick together for the sake of the children, but once the children become adults, they divorce.

Jesus exposed the twisted thinking of the religious teachers by appealing to the creation account in Genesis 2:18-25. Was it not God who made man a help who is meet for him, so that husband and wife together can fulfil God’s will for their lives? Marriage is thus a divine institution. It involves a covenant relationship that is meant to be permanent. “And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Matthew 19:4-6) Since God is the one who place husband and wife together, He is the only one who can put them apart. This occurs when God permits either party to die. Husband and wife will remain together in holy matrimony – till death do they part. Christians should not divorce!

The Pharisees tried to trap the Lord Jesus Christ with this question, “Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, to put her away?” (Matthew 19:8) If Christians should not divorce, why is there a law concerning the bill of divorcement in Deuteronomy 24:1. Does this not prove that divorce is permitted in the eyes of God?

Jesus answered, “He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.” (Matthew 19:8) The reason of the bill of divorcement was due to the “hardness” of the hearts of man. The original intent was for marriage to be permanent and a blessing till husband and wife are separated by death. However, this original intention was ruined by sin. The rebellion and wickedness of man defile marriages, causing hurt and damage to one or both parties. Divorce is thus not something which God desires, but man! It is a product of sin. Thus, divorcement is shameful even though God has allowed it under his Permissive will. Husband and wife were never meant to be divorced in the eyes of God.

Moreover, a careful study of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 reveals that it was not easy to seek a divorce. The fact that a bill of divorce must be drawn up required a man to go to the courts with witnesses to prove the infidelity of the wife. Once the courts approved the bill, he had to personally place the bill in the hands of the other party. The wife must now leave the house, resulting in a broken family unity. These strict regulations were imposed to discourage divorce. Husband and wife should instead seek for reconciliation.

Sadly, just like in the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry, many today abuse this permission and seek divorcement to fulfil their lusts. When they commit adultery, they rapidly seek for a divorcement. Within a short period of time, they get married to the one with whom they had an adulterous affair with. They conveniently ignore what Jesus teaches in Matthew 19:9 – “And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” Oh, the hardness of the hearts of men!

How then should one respond if the spouse is involved in an adulterous affair? Firstly, understand that adultery is a violation of the Seventh commandment, and is wrong in the eyes of God. God will judge all involved in adultery (Hebrews 13:4). The injured party should hence allow God to vindicate in the entire situation. He should never seek revenge though he may feel betrayed.

Secondly, the injured party should forgive the offending party. Harbouring bitterness will negatively impact the decisions and emotions of the injured party, and result in disobedience. Heed the words of Scripture: “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

Thirdly, the injured party should also examine his life to see if he has contributed any wrong to the entire situation. If he has, he should seek the Lord for forgiveness. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

However, what happens if a divorce takes place? How should one respond? Tow and Khoo answers this question well:

But, what if a divorce has already taken place? If that has already happened, then let both remain unmarried! Why? To allow the Lord to work . . If both husband and wife are Christians, regenerate, and Spirit-indwelt, the Lord can work in their lives to convict them of sin, and cause them to be reconciled. This may be impossible with men, but not with God.

The solution to a broken Christian marriage is not divorce and remarriage to another person, but reconciliation to the same person. Now, what if a remarriage to another person has taken place? Then this person has become an adulterer. The hope of reconciliation is dashed; Deuteronomy 24 applies. You cannot remarry your former spouse under any circumstance; it is an abomination to the Lord.

Herein is some advice for those who are single. Do not enter into marriage lightly. Make sure that it is God’s will for you to get married. For those who are married, value the marriage covenant. The best guard for a blissful marriage is for husband and wife to walk close to the Lord, for a marriage relationship is not just bilateral (i.e. between two parties), but trilateral (involving God, man and woman).
Therefore, husband love your wives as yourselves. Wives submit to your husbands in the Lord. That is the recipe for a happy and God-honouring marriage.

Lovingly in Christ,
Preacher Clement Chew

1 The general divorce rate, otherwise known as the refined divorce rate, is defined as the number of divorces and annulments granted to married persons over the entire year out of every thousand married residents. This stands in contrast with the crude divorce rate which measures the number of divorces and annulments out of every thousand residents whether married or single. The weakness of such a measurement is that it does not give the bigger, longitudinal number of divorces over time.