It would be an understatement to say that sin makes a mess of things. The earthly consequences of our selfishness can haunt us for the rest of our lives and bring untold ruin upon our friends and families. Innumerable people have been destroyed through their own evil choices or the wickedness of others.
Because of the way sin complicates life, we are sometimes forced to make choices that we would not have to make in a perfect world. The decision to get a divorce is one such example. Divorce is a sad event, something that may be necessary when sinners reject God’s command for marriage to be a lifelong covenant between one man and one woman (Matt. 19:1–8). Our Creator allows divorce in certain circumstances, because in this fallen world gross sin often destroys the trust upon which the foundation of marriage is established.
Today’s passage, which allows for divorce and remarriage in the case of “sexual immorality,” is one case in which God makes a concession to fallen human beings that acknowledges the difficulty and complexity of life in this present age. As our study of Matthew 5:32 noted, the Greek word for “sexual immorality” in 19:9 is porneia, which can include sexual sins in addition to intercourse between a married person and someone who is not his spouse. Knowing that porneia has this wider meaning is important because issues of sexual infidelity can be extremely complex and provide just grounds for divorce even if no extramarital affair has occurred. However, we must see that Jesus is not allowing divorce for just any occasion of sexual sin, regardless of its severity. His exception clause is more restrictive than the marriage legislation of His day. He recognizes how hard it is to live in this fallen world and gives those who have been heinously offended an out, but He also draws boundaries between what allows people to separate lawfully and what does not.
Jesus does not mandate divorce in these situations. Acts of porneia grossly betray the one-flesh covenant (see Jer. 3:1) and permit the offended spouse to divorce and remarry, but reconciliation is better still. More often than not, the wisest action is to save the marriage, if the offended party is willing.
Our emotions can get in the way of biblical decision-making. We therefore need an outside perspective to help us discern how to deal with troubled relationships. Pastors and elders, who are called to look out for our spiritual well-being, must deal wisely with troubled couples, taking into account the situation in order to apply God’s Word correctly. Life-changing decisions cannot be made independently, they must be made within the church.