Adultery and Divorce: Sex Isn’t the Problem

Adultery and Divorce: Sex Isn’t the Problem

Text Matthew 5:27-32

Jesus continues to unmask the self-righteous externalism typified by the scribes and Pharisees by showing that the only righteousness acceptable to God is purity of heart. Without that purity, the outward life makes no difference. God’s divine evaluation takes place in the heart. He judges the source and origin of sin, not its manifestation or lack of manifestation. “As a person thinks within himself, so he is” (Prov. 23:7), and so he is judged by God (1 Sam. 16:7). You might ask yourself, why is there such an emphasis on the mind/will/emotions? The answer is simply this, all sin starts in the mind, will and emotions so this is where dealing with sin must begin. Nothing becomes the outward working of the flesh until is first germinates in the heart.

  1. You have heard that it was said to those of old: Now, Jesus deals with what they hadheard regarding the law of adultery. Of course, the teachers of the day taught that adultery itself was wrong. But they applied the law only to the actions, not to the heart. The whole point of the Sermon on the Mount is to deal with proper interpretation of the Law and the Prophets and, in its entirety, the Law and the Prophets deal with the heart.

 

 

  1. Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart: Jesus explains that it is possible to commit adultery or murder in our heart – or mind, and this also is sin and prohibited by the command against adultery.

 

“It is important to understand that Jesus is not saying that the act of adultery and adultery in the heart are the same thing. More than a few people have been deceived on this point and say, “I’ve already committed adultery in my heart, so I may as well do it in practice.” The act of adultery is far worse than adultery in the heart. Jesus’ point is not to say they are the same things, but to say they are both sin, and both prohibited by the command against adultery. Some people only keep from adultery because they are afraid to get caught, and in their heart they commit adultery every day. It is good that they keep from the act of adultery, but it is bad that their heart is filled with adultery.” (Guzik)

At its root, I find adultery and divorce to be a contentment issue. We covet because have not learned to be content with what God has given us.  Everything we have comes from the hand of the Father (James 1:17) and in our lack of contentment we covet other people and things because we think we deserve more and better but if we stop and take an honest inventory of everything that we have been given by God, which by the way we do not deserve, the appropriate response is a heart overflowing with gratitude.

This principle applies to much more than men looking at women. It applies to just about anything we can covet with the eye or mind. “These are the most searching words concerning impurity that ever were uttered.” (Morgan)

In the end, there are really only 3 temptations that we face: lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life. Turn to 1 John Chapter 2 and let us consider verses 15-17. So what is lust, really? How does it relate to adultery and divorce?

 

Lust: noun 1. intense sexual desire or appetite. 2. uncontrolled or illicit sexual desire or appetite; lecherousness. 3. a passionate or overmastering desire or craving (usually

followed by for)

From John MacArthur

The philosophy of sexual hedonism is not new to our day. It was common in New Testament times, and Paul faced it full force in Corinth. His comment “Food is for the stomach, and the stomach is for food” (1 Cor. 6:13a) expressed the common Greek notion that biological functions are just biological functions and have no moral significance. It was a belief many of the Corinthian believers had reverted to, or had never given up, in order to justify their sexual misconduct. Apparently they were arguing, as do many hedonists today, that sex is simply a biological act, no different morally from eating, drinking, or sleeping. But Paul strongly refutes that idea by going on to say, “God will do away with both of them [that is, food and the stomach]. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord; and the Lord is for the body” (v. 13b). The body is more than biological as divine judgment will reveal. For Christians it is a member of Christ, a temple of the Holy Spirit, and belongs to the Lord rather than to us (vv. 15,19). It is therefore never to be used for any purpose that dishonors the God who made and indwells it. Christians should have but one response to sexual temptation—running away from it.

It is very hard to understate the case that we live in an incredibly sexualized society. Every kind of “pleasure” that you can imagine is available in moments. But those pleasures are a poison. Death awaits.

Our war against sin

“If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.”

 

  1. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out: Here Jesus uses a figure of speech, and did not speak literally. Sadly, some have taken it to be so and have mutilated themselves in mistaken efforts in the pursuit of holiness. For example, the famous early Christian, Origen castrated himself on the principle of this passage.
  2. The trouble with a literal interpretation is that it does not go far enough! Even if you did cut off your hand or gouge out your eye, you could still sin with your other hand or eye. When all those are gone, you can still sin with your mind.
  3. “Mutilation will not serve the purpose; it may prevent the outward act, but it will not extinguish desire.” (Bruce)
  4. It is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell: Jesus simply stressed the point that one must be willing to sacrifice to be obedient. If part of our life is given over to sin, we must be convinced that it is more profitable for that part our life to “die” rather than to condemn our whole life, but this is the one thing many are unwilling to do, and that is why they remain trapped in sin, or never come to Jesus. They never get beyond a vague wish to be better.
  5. “The salvation of our souls is to be preferred before all things, be they never so dear and precious to us; and that if men’s ordinary discretion teacheth them for the preservation of their bodies to cut off a particular member, which would necessarily endanger the whole body, it much more teacheth them to part with any thing which will prejudice the salvation of their souls.” (Poole)

The sinful flesh is not overcome easily. There is a reason why Jesus says that we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him. That’s a death sentence. Remember that the wage of sin is death. (Romans 6:23) and they will be paid. What we have to decide is whether we will die to self or whether we will experience eternal death.

The hyperbole that Jesus used is extreme and shocking and it has to be. We don’t take sin seriously enough. Even those among us who are most fastidious about pursuing holiness don’t take our sin seriously enough. How serious is sin? Consider this, God knows every thought you had yesterday and would have been perfectly justified in killing you in your sleep. It is His grace that keeps us alive.

 

(31-32) Jesus interprets the law concerning divorce.

 

“Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce. But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.”

 

  1. It has been said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce”: In Jesus’ day, many people interpreted the Mosaic permission for divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1) as granting virtually any reason as grounds for divorce. Some rabbis taught this even extended to allowing a man to divorce his wife if she burnt his breakfast.

 

“Moses insisted upon ‘a writing of divorcement,’ that angry passions might have time to cool and that the separation, if it must come, might be performed with deliberation and legal formality. The requirement of a writing was to a certain degree a check upon an evil habit, which was so engrained in the people that to refuse it altogether would have been useless, and would only have created another crime.” (Spurgeon)

 

However, in Jesus’ day, this permission of Deuteronomy 24:1 had become an instrument of cruelty against wives. “The scribes busied themselves solely about getting the bill of separation into due legal form. They did nothing to restrain the unjust caprice of husbands; they rather opened a wider door to license.” (Bruce)

 

The two dominant schools of thought had emerged among the rabbis by the time of Jesus

 

  • School of Shammai: “Restricted the ‘some indecency’ ofDeuteronomy 24:1to refer only to a sexual misdemeanor authenticated by witnesses.”
  • School of Hillel: “Reputedly took it of any cause of complaint, even including burning the dinner.”
  1. Whoever divorces his wife for any reason except marital unfaithfulness: The issue of divorce revolved around a strict or loose interpretation of the worduncleanness in Deuteronomy 24:1. Those who wanted to make divorce easy had a loose interpretation. Jesus makes it plain that the idea of uncleanness is sexual immorality, not anything the wife might do to displease the husband.

 

  1. Sexual immorality“translates porneia, the root meaning of which is ‘fornication’, but it is used more widely, so that it could include premarital unchastity, subsequently discovered.” (France)
  2. The teaching of Jesus on marriage and divorce is further explained in Matthew 19, but here we see the intent of Jesus: getting back to the intent of the law, instead of allowing it to be used as easy permission for divorce.

This emphasis of Jesus on the permanency of marriage and the wrong of unjustified divorce went against the thinking of many in both the Jewish and the Gentile cultures. “In Greece we see a whole social system based on relationships outside marriage; we see that these relationships were accepted as natural and normal, and not in the least blameworthy.” Roman culture came to adopt this attitude towards marriage. (Barclay)

  1. Causes her to commit adultery: An illegitimate divorce gives place toadultery because God doesn’t recognize the divorce, and sees a new relationship as bigamous. It is possible for a person to have a divorce that is recognized by the state, but not by God. If that person goes on to marry someone else, God considers that relationship adultery because He sees them as still married.

 

I am frequently asked, what about an abusive spouse? I cannot find anything in Scripture which would require a spouse to stay in an abusive situation.

 

What about the spouse that wants to reconcile? In the case of a spouse who wants to reconcile, I would counsel thusly: If reconciliation is at all possible, it should be considered and attempted. Naturally, it will take time for trust to be re-earned but we should still work toward being reconciled.

 

All in all, we are laid bare. Any self righteousness is completely obliterated by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. We are naked and exposed as sinners. There is hope, though. Because of God’s grace, we have hope of overcoming our sin.

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