Matthew 5:31–32: “Whoever Divorces His Wife”
In the previous section, Jesus taught against adultery of the heart (Matt. 5:27–30). While lust may seem like a private, individual sin that doesn’t really hurt anyone, Jesus shows its profound moral consequences. If those consequences were so serious for the internal desires, how much more serious should we take the consequences for how we deal with our public marriages? In a culture awash with divorce, Jesus’ words in this short section are devastating; however, we must hear them if we are to understand God’s goodness in human sexuality. More importantly, we must hear what Jesus says if we are to glorify God as he demands. In this section, we see that Jesus came to sanctify marriages.
1. What does Deuteronomy 24:1–4 teach? How do Moses’ words there underscore the sanctity of marriage? How does Jesus paraphrase Deuteronomy 24:1 (v. 31)? What does this paraphrase suggest about the meaning of that passage? How was the culture of the day abusing this passage in their marriages? How does Jesus’ misquotation subtly convict this practice? Where do we see a similar laxity toward marriage and divorce in our own culture?
2. What does Jesus mean when he says that the man who divorces his wife causes her to “suffer adultery” (v. 32a)? Who is the guilty party in this situation? What consequences does the divorced wife suffer from her husband’s sin? What is “sexual immorality”? Why is sexual immorality an exception to Jesus’ teaching on the permanency of marriage? Why is it important that we not try to read this section to find loopholes out of marriages?
3. On what basis would a man who marries a divorced woman commit adultery? Why is Jesus so strict about this fact? What would you say to someone in this position who is considering this kind of marriage? What is at stake in this situation, from the perspective of our culture’s view of marriage, divorce, and remarriage? What is at stake here from the perspective of God and his holy law?
4. In general, what is our culture’s attitude toward marriage, divorce, and remarriage? In how many ways might the world find Jesus’ words offensive here? Why is marriage so important to God? Why did God ordain marriage at creation? Why does Jesus take the sanctification of marriage upon himself as a part of his mission in to this world? How has Jesus’ words led you to recognize and repent from some of the ways in which you may cheapen the institution of marriage?