Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Divorce and Remarriage - Part 1

Few topics impact me on such a personal basis as this one. I am a divorced man; a single father raising my 10 year old son (who is the second greatest thing to ever happen to me). I won't speak much about my divorce here because I believe it would be disrespectful to my ex-wife and to my son (both of whom read this blog from what I understand).

However so that you know that I am not a Christian blogger living in sin; I will say that my divorce was Biblical and that I was under the authority of elders in my old church when we split. They mourned the loss, but understood and approved of what was happening in my marriage. When I moved to Pennsylvania and joined my current church, the elders here were informed of the situation and echoed the approving sentiments of my previous church.

At no time have I relished the thought of my marriage ending, but there are situations where there is little choice as to how to proceed. God always hates divorce, and he hated mine, but his hatred of it does not mean it is ALWAYS sinful.

And that's all I'll say publicly about that.

The Biblical View of Divorce and Remarriage -- Part 1

Good day all!!

There are certainly very few circumstances where God is permissive of divorce. In fact, one of the doctrines that Jesus taught about and rebuked the pharisees over was their doctrine of divorce. It was prevalent problem in the world in those days, both in Israel and in the greater secular world, just as it is a problem today in the church and in the greater secular world.

In those days, it was believed that a man could divorce his wife for any reason he saw fit. The Greeks in Paul's day divorced and remarried seemingly at the drop of a hat. It was much the same in Israel and was largely due to the Pharisees typically narrow legalistic view of righteousness. Essentially, if there was a loophole, the Pharisees would find it and exploit it to make sin seem ok. Mostly this was because they reduced their faith down to a religion of do's and dont's. They believed that if they just did enough religious things they would be seen as righteous in the eyes of God.

The result of this was an apostate and sinful mess. They were fastidious about eating all the right things, saying all the right prayers, wearing all the right clothes, going through all the ceremonies, etc., but their lives were filled with self-righteousness, idolatry, and yes. . . divorce.

Obviously, we're going to focus on that last point for this mini-series. Jesus spoke rather clearly about divorce in Luke 16:18. Since we are big believers in Hermeneutics around here, let's take a look at that verse.

"Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from [her] husband commits adultery." - (Luk 16:18 NKJV)
This verse comes in the middle of a long session of teaching which begins probably at chapter 15 and ends at chapter 17 verse 10. Luke 16:14 tells us that Jesus' teaching in verse 18 is a response to the Pharisee's "deriding" of Jesus. The greek there is ἐκμυκτηρίζω ("Ek-to-more-ee-zo"), which Thayers Lexicon tells us has a meaning of scoffing and sneering (Vines concurs). It's the same word used in Luke 23:35 where the people scoffed at Jesus as he hung on the cross. That Luke 23 verse kind of gives you a picture of the attitude Jesus was responding too here in Chapter 16 doesn't it?

What caused the Pharisee's to scoff? Immediately before verse 14 is "The Parable of the Unjust Steward". In this parable Jesus told us of a shrewd steward (a chief of the servants in those days) conniving and manipulating those around him to buy friendships. Upon hearing the news that he's losing his job, and finding himself suddenly destitute and unable to work, he calls some people's debts owed to his master. He reduces the debt, making those in debt pleased and now obligated to help take care of the steward. When the master finds out, he is actually impressed with the wicked steward and commends him for his shrewd dealings (indicating that he is also pretty wicked).

Jesus uses this story to teach three points:
  1. Verse 8 - "the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light." In other words, worldly people know the ways of the world better than some Godly people know the ways of God. Sad huh?

  2. verse 9 - Jesus then plays off of that shrewdness by saying that the steward was wise enough to make friends for himself, albeit unrighteously. In much the same way we ought to seek to prepare for ourselves. MacArthur takes the viewpoint that the steward used his master's money to buy friends for himself and we should use our Master's money that will "accrue friends for eternity". Older commentators Jameson, Fause,t and Brown agree and say: "then, like the steward, when turned out of one home shall ye secure another; but better than he, a heavenly for an earthly, an everlasting for a temporary habitation. Money is not here made the key to heaven, more than "the deeds done in the body" in general, according to which, as a test of character--but not by the merit of which--men are to be judged" (I rely on commentaries here because I am not focusing on this point, merely trying to give a background for verse 18).

  3. vv. 10-13 - Faithfulness transfers. If you are faithful in a small matter, you'll be faithful in a large matter, and vice-versa. The steward was faithful in his realm to deal in the way he was used to dealing and his master was pleased with him. Same goes for us; if we try to serve two master's, we won't succeed, but if we are faithful in the little things we are given by our master, we'll be faithful in the big things too.
Then we have verse 14. It's pretty clear: The pharisees didn't like what Jesus just said. They were probably pricked by the fact that they were constantly missing the forest for the trees. Jesus picks up on this in verse 15 saying that those things men applaud are an abomination to God. It's another rebuke (among so many in the Gospels) by Jesus of self-righteousness, and the particular self-righteousness of the pharisees. This kind of self righteousness that causes you to pray loudly in the public square but throw out your 14th wife at home because she spilled your dinner all the while making it sound oh so holy. Jesus is clear. That kind of thing is an abomination.

Luke 16:16 is a tough verse to exegete. It's debated constantly by people on different sides of various issues. For example, whole books have been written by men on what "pressing into it" means. I'm not in the mood for that kind of discussion, so I'll just give you my opinion here and move on. Jesus is saying that until John the "Law and the Prophets" were, and now the Kingdom of God is being preached. Which I believe means that prior to John mankind was told about the coming Messiah and now we preach about the Messiah who has come. Since He has come, people are "pressing into the kingdom" or wanting to be saved. It draws the contrast to the pharisees here. The pharisees fancied themselves to be the most righteous. Yet here was God in front of them and they were scoffing at him while those who didn't have the advantages of the pharisees were following Jesus. It's a scathing rebuke.

However, lest we think that Jesus is rebuking the pharisees by rejecting the Old Testament, we have Luke16:17 to set us straight. Jesus makes it clear that the law won't just go away. Personally, I think verse 17 is the lynchpin to understanding this whole passage. For one thing, it makes it clear that Jesus is dealing with the pharisees and their problem of picking out the behavioral aspects of the law (i.e. dietary concerns, etc.); even to the point of creating their own rules (i.e. hand washing rituals, etc.) while simultaneously looking for ways of ignoring the ethical laws and aspects of the law dealing with the heart (i.e. adultery, etc.). He reminds them, even warns them here, that those important heart issues don't go away just because they were careful to say the right prayers.

Ok, I've done a lot of background in order to deal with our text, which is verse 18. In defense of my own longwindedness, I did it because I think it is necessary to point out that verse 18 is NOT the point of Luke 16:1-18. Jesus certainly intends to say exactly what the verse says, and the verse is clear. However, is the subject matter of the verse the point that Jesus is raising? The answer is no, and we know this because it sticks out like a sore thumb.

Actually, to be more accurate it sticks out like an example and an illustration of what Jesus is saying to the the pharisees in verses 14-18. To paraphrase Jesus in our own vernacular:

"You pharisees are the same people who act holy and self righteous in public, but God knows what you are really like. You might make a big show out your own righteousness before people and they applaud you, but that kind of emphasis is an offense before God! Before John, there was only the hope of a coming kingdom, but now it's being preached and look at all the people who are pressing to be a part of it! But it would be easier to get rid of the whole earth than to get rid of God's law. Take divorce for instance; this lifestyle of yours filled with divorce and remarriage is nothing but adultery."

So much for the kinder and gentler Jesus modern Christianity wants us to believe. He comes down hard on those pharisees here.

However, I have heard some who have built a doctrine of divorce and remarriage on this verse. Tell me, do you think that it was Jesus' intention in saying this, or Luke's intention in writing this, to build a doctrine of divorce and remarriage on it?

I say no. I say that the point of Luke 16:14-18 is not divorce and remarriage, but rather self righteousness, and divorce was a very relevant example that illustrated the point.

Now, certainly if we can begin to build a doctrine of divorce and re-marriage in the Bible, and we can use this verse as a part of that. I would say that if we are to believe that we are righteous before God and think that our family life has nothing to do with that, we are much like the pharisees here.

If this were all the Bible were to say about this topic, then we would have little to go on in regards to marriage and divorce, however it would be clear. Nonetheless, it is far from all Scripture has to say about the subject. There are numerous verse in the Gospels alone.

Tomorrow we'll examine some of those other verses.

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