The Teaching of Jesus. Marriage. Divorce. & Gender Confusion.
So we’ve been going through the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that anger’s as bad as murder, lust is as bad as sex. Do you get the point yet? None of us are squeaky clean. We’re all the worst of sinners. Murders, adulterers, black-hearted sex fiends. And today, if I’m brave enough to just say what the text says, I’m gonna say some things that some people aren’t gonna like. This one’s gonna ruffle some feathers. Even if you agree with what I’m about to say, you’ll probably be tempted to go one of two ways: either feel bad about what you’ve done, get defensive, maybe even mad—or if you don’t think you’re guilty of these things, then you might feel self-righteous, like somehow you’re better than those other miserable sinners. We may be tempted to react this way—but let’s not do it. Can we all just promise right now that we’re gonna try to hear what Jesus has to say about this, listen to His words, and do our best to trust that He knows what He’s talking about?
Matthew Chapter 5:31-32 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
The Word of the Lord. My goodness. If you thought last week was awkward… but this is the Teaching of Jesus, not the popular opinions of modern society, so here we go.
Prayer: Father in heaven, these are hard words for us to hear because divorce has touched all of our lives—directly or indirectly. Help our thinking to be clear and help us trust You, to trust you more than we trust ourselves, our culture, our emotions or anything else in this world. Remind us that You love us and there is nothing You have said to us that wasn’t for our good and for our blessing. AMEN
What is Marriage? Before we talk about what Jesus has to say about divorce, we should probably talk a little about what marriage is. The marriage union that results in a husband and wife becoming “one flesh” isn’t something that just happens through sexual intercourse. Jesus makes that pretty clear later in the Gospel of Matthew when the religious leaders try to trap Him with questions about divorce. Jesus says two people become “one flesh” when a man leaves his father and his mother and is joined with his wife—in other words, when they get married. Listen, here it is, Matthew 19:9:
Some Pharisees came and tried to trap him with this question: “Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife for just any reason?”
“Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” Jesus replied. “They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.’ And he said, ‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’ Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.”
“Then why did Moses say in the law that a man could give his wife a written notice of divorce and send her away?” they asked.
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended. And I tell you this, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” Matthew 19:9
Okay, so first I want to talk about something really awkward because Jesus says something in passing that we need to pay attention to. He says very clearly that a person’s gender is the unalterable result of God’s choice and creative activity. “Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” Jesus replied. (I love that—most of the dumb things people believe would be cleared up if we’d just read our Bibles.) “Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” Jesus replied. “They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.’ Well that flies in the face of our mixed up pop-culture, doesn’t it?—a place where Mr Bruce Jenner, an Olympic gold medalist, was awarded “Woman of the Year” [Photo] by Glamour magazine in 2015. Strangely, leading the way for men to self-identify as women and pretty much ruin female athletic competition in sports like wrestling and boxing and weight-lifting. Where are the feminists when you need them? I saw some redneck make a joke along the lines of the old song “anything you can do, I can do better”—like, men are even better at being the woman of the year. Goofy.
I grew up in a neighborhood where there were mostly girls—all my early childhood friends were girls. They had doll houses and Barbies— I had a lot of superhero action figures and comic books. My stepdad—most of you know him as Bob Hart—he was not pleased with his new stepson playing with dolls, he was worried that I was a sissy. This is a man who had named his three boys “Leon, Butch and Chuck,” because he wanted them to be tough. He about lost his mind when I wanted to complete my Justice League action figure collection with Wonder Woman. I think my mom and him got in a fight about it. He said, “My boys will never play with dolls.” Mom used to love telling this story, because Leon, Butch and Chuck liked my action figures every bit as much as I did. I always wanted to grow my hair long and they wouldn’t let me, I said if I ever have a son he’s gonna have long hair like a man not short hair like a girl! Sometimes I think we get obsessed about the wrong things.
Male & Female. There’s a condition people talk about called gender dysphoria—it basically means a person doesn’t resonate with the cultural stereotypes that usually go along with their assigned biological gender. Sometimes it’s called transgender.
I’m not making light of this, I have friends who struggle with it, it’s no joke—but I want to clear up something that should be really obvious. When we say male and female, here’s what we mean: penises and vaginas. Male and female are much nicer words, don’t you think? If people insist on being confused about what boy and girl, man and woman, mean—we can just start using P and V—it’s ugly and gross, but it sure clears everything up. This is why we can’t have nice words.
I can’t help but think part of the reason we’re in this mess is because the church is either afraid to talk about the awkward things, or when they do, they do it without compassion and love. We gotta talk about the things that no one wants to talk about if we’re gonna be true to God’s Word—because it’s all in there.
Jesus said God made us male and female from the beginning. This is simple biology. It has nothing to do with whether you like dolls or footballs or pink or blue—whether you’re more artistic and gentle or aggressive and only have four colors in your crayon box. It has to do with whether you got a P or a V. Of course there are stereotypes for men and stereotypes for women, of course there are cultural norms—None of that has anything to do with the plain biological reality of male and female. God even has a few commandments for men that are different from the commandments He has for women—based on biology, not how we feel about our biology.
Last week a guy named Jamie Shupe came out of the closet — again. He had previously identified as transgender and then was the first American to obtain the legal status of being a non-binary gender—so if you’re keeping score, he went from man to woman, then from woman to neither—but he recently said it was all a sham. You can look it up, he talks about how afraid the medical community was to diagnose him with mental illness—instead they celebrated and cheered him on as he did hormone therapy and identified as a woman, and when that failed to make him happy, he became the first legal non-binary person in the United States. But this is what he recently wrote about it, and I quote,
“Two fake gender identities couldn’t hide the truth of my biological reality. There is no third gender or third sex. Like me, intersex people are either male or female. Their condition is the result of a disorder of sexual development, and they need help and compassion.”
I didn’t say all this so we could be like, “Yeah! Those people are stupid! They’re wrong and we’re right!” Their sin isn’t worse than ours. I like how he finished that statement, “they need help and compassion.” Not judgement. Not ridicule.
Here’s the thing: Our sin—yours and mine—it doesn’t require any less of God’s grace than their sin does. This also seems to be a difficult thing for people to understand.
The human heart is deceitfully wicked above all things. All people are sinners. We all sin. We were born under the curse of sin, and we live every day adding more sin to our list of shames and failures. If anyone says they do not sin, they are a liar and the truth is not in them.
But our culture wants to pretend that there’s no such thing as sin. That’s where all this madness begins. God says there is—people are sinners—but the world says “No. There is no such thing as sin.”
So when the church, the people of God, say certain behaviors are sin—there are things people want to do that they shouldn’t do—they accuse us of being intolerant. Of being haters. And they can’t hear anything else we say. They accuse Christians of being “intolerant” —and intolerance is the one thing they will not tolerate.
But tolerance is not a good goal. Tolerance is not a virtue. Tolerance means you tolerate things that you think are wrong. Like, “Whatever man, I don’t care what you do as long as you don’t bother me—blow yourself up for all I care.” Tolerance is apathy. God is anything but tolerant. He does not tolerate sin. He doesn’t tolerate people ruining their lives. He’s so intolerant He sent His Son into the world to save us from the curse of sin at the highest possible cost to Himself.
So what are we supposed to think about sin? All these things that God says are harmful to us and to other people? Are we only supposed to talk about other people’s sins? Are we only supposed to talk about our own sins? Are we supposed to pretend like our sins aren’t that bad? If most of the people in a particular church are really into a particular sin —should they never talk about it so they don’t hurt anyone’s feelings?
If you’re using God’s commands to prove that you’re a good person, you’re doing it wrong. We can’t use God’s Law to justify our behavior. The Commandments aren’t the way we’re supposed to justify ourselves. They tell us the kind of people we’re supposed to be once God saves us, once He justifies us. God blesses us through Jesus—that’s the only way any of us are gonna get into the kingdom of heaven. Meanwhile, we’re supposed to spend our lives worshiping God by doing what He wants us to do—conforming our life to His standard. So we need to talk about what Jesus says about our sins, too. That’s why we gotta talk about divorce today.
Marriage is when we stand before God and make a promise til death do we part—and He joins two people together as “one flesh,” like one body, one person—it is a mystical and spiritual connection made by God. It happens when they are pronounced husband and wife in the site of God—what God has join together let no man tear apart. Divorce is when we pay a lawyer to legally tear it apart—officially render those wedding vows null and void. How do you think God feels about us going back on those promises we asked Him to bless?
It was pretty unlikely for a person in Jesus’ day to get a divorce with the intention of staying unmarried—it was usually because they wanted to marry someone else. I suppose that’s usually true these days, too. The purpose for the legal divorce was also so the first wife could be free to marry another man—which she was probably gonna need to do in order to survive. This was the real point of their question—they were basically saying, “Look how generous and compassionate we are, we make sure to give these poor women a certificate of divorce so they can marry someone else.” They were justifying themselves.
But Jesus wasn’t gonna play their game and get trapped in their question. Jesus is like, “God hasn’t changed His mind about hating divorce.” Malachi 2:16 says, ““For I hate divorce!” says the Lord. To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” ... “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.”
But that’s not what they were looking for, they were like, “But Moses said we could get a divorce for any reason we wanted! You’re not being fair!” Jesus shuts them down again, “No, Moses only allowed divorce because your hearts are hard, and then only when there’s sexual immorality.”
There’s that pesky sexual immorality again—there’s a reason this section on divorce immediately follows last week’s teaching on lust. Sometimes the word used in English translations is fornication, or adultery. The Greek word is “porneuo”—so yeah, I wonder what English word we got from that—”porneuo.” The word means sexual immorality of any kind—including fornication (sex without marriage vows), adultery (cheating on marriage vows), lust (desiring sex with someone your not married to), homosexual fantasy and activity—those are all “porneuo.” Those are all sexual sins—and there’s a pretty good chance that most of us have to deal with temptation for some of the things on that list. But so are all the really weird and violent sexual crimes—like rape, sex with animals, or family members or dead people. But all of those things are forbidden. They’re all bad for us. We’re not supposed to do any of them.
I remember searching through my Bible trying to find exactly where it said I wasn’t allowed to have sex with my girlfriend before we were married. I couldn’t find anywhere in the whole Bible that said I shouldn’t have sex before I was married—but that’s only because I didn’t know what fornication meant. Ignorance is no excuse, as they say.
If you’re looking through God’s commands, trying to find a loophole—you’re doing it wrong. God has an incredibly high standard for how He wants His people to live. We’re gonna make a mess out of our life when we live any other way. It’s not about getting away with things, it’s about living a life that makes sense, a good life. Break any of these absolute moral laws that He’s clearly spelled out for us in His Word, and you’re gonna break something else. You’re gonna break your life and the people you love. You’re gonna track nasty all over that brand new life He gave you in Jesus.
But we don’t show up here each week to be reminded of how bad we are of keeping God’s commands—we show up to be reminded of His grace. We need to be reminded of His promise to love us no matter what.
The fact that God loves marriage and hates divorce is a picture of the Gospel. It oughta give us great comfort and hope. God says that one of the ways we’re supposed to understand our relationship with Him is that Jesus is the groom and we’re the bride. The church is the bride of Christ. That can be a weird metaphor for guys to get their head around, but let’s go there for a minute.
There was a prophet named Hosea, and God told him that his ministry as a prophet was to marry a girl named Gomer who was a prostitute. Hosea probably wasn’t thrilled with this arrangement, but he did it. He married her and had kids with her and loved her—but she ran away. Went back to her old life of being a whore. This is where it gets interesting—God told him to go buy her from the whorehouse and take her home as his wife again. To forgive her and love her. This happened more than once. God said this was a picture of how much He loves His people and how much He puts up with us.
The Gospel can be understood as the Father arranging for His Son to marry a whore who keeps cheating on Him. We’re not gonna shock God with our sin—He’s gonna come find us again—forgive us and love us—again and again.
If you’re using God’s commands as an excuse to be mad at God, to run away from Him—you’re doing it wrong. If you’re looking at God’s commands and you think they’re too hard, too impossible, too high a standard, you’ll never be able to do it—you’re right. And you’re doing it wrong.
Marriage is important to God. If you’re pretending to be married but you haven’t had a wedding—let’s have a wedding. We’ll be happy to celebrate with you. It doesn’t have to cost any money, we can do it right here as part of worship.
If your marriage is in trouble and you’re thinking about tearing it apart—please come talk to me, or talk to someone who can pray with you and encourage you to honor God’s Word. God hates divorce for a reason. It’s very destructive.
If you’ve been divorced and this Scripture hits you like a brick wall of guilt—listen—there is grace. I started this message by talking about how we’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory God has for us. If you’re wondering if your divorce was justifiable—remember, Jesus said “only when there has been sexual immorality.” I doubt that there’s ever been a marriage in the history of the world that was completely free of lust—certainly not in our lifetime. God finds us where we are, not where we ought to be. If you’re gonna listen to the Law that condemns then you also need to listen to the promise that forgives. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, God still loves you, He still forgives you, He still received you as His own. I’ll bet half the people in this room have been divorced—Romans 8:1 says there is no condemnation for all who are in Christ Jesus. That means you. No condemnation. Okay?
We talked about a lot of weird stuff today—this world is a weird place. Our job is to shine the light of God’s love into all the dark corners. We don’t have to tell anyone they’re in the dark, we just have to show them the light. We’ll be tempted to think that God’s rules are too hard, that we’re nicer than God, that we’re more loving than God. We are not nicer than God or more loving than He is. We confuse love with tolerance. We confuse love with apathy.
No matter what you’ve done, no matter where you are, God wants you to know that you are His. That He loves you and has a beautiful future planned for you. If you’re using God’s commands for anything other than to remind you of how much He loves you, and how much He wants you to love others—you’re doing it wrong.
So we have to speak the truth if we’re gonna love people, and when we do, we have to say it with kindness and gentleness—speak the truth in love. But some of those things aren’t gonna be very popular. That’s why Jesus said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Let’s pray: Father in heaven, thank You for the clarity and sanity of Your Word. Help us to listen. Show us how to be faithful and walk in love with other people. Forgive us for the things we have said and done and thought that were harmful to ourselves and to others. Thank You for Your kindness and patience with us. In Jesus name we pray, AMEN.
Because you have confessed your sins, and because He is faithful and just, because of Jesus—your sins are forgiven.