“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Matthew 5:31-32
We talked about the obvious lesson from these verses, namely about a consequence of adultery being divorce. Perhaps, however, Jesus also gave us other lessons in these verses. Perhaps a subtle, additional message from the Lord is, “when you divorce any agreement, you might be making a victim or sinner of yourself & the other party.” That has much bigger implications than simply talking about a marital divorce.
In 1996, I got out of the military after 11 years. I loved what I was doing, and the immediate group with whom I was working. My immediate leaders and friends were first-rate. Most of the rest of the leadership in my chain of command (up to senior Air Force)? Not so much. In fact, most weren’t worthy of trust I stayed in the Reserves awhile, but leaving active duty felt like a hostile divorce.
Left a church? Quit a job? Changed your group of friends? Changed your political or social points of view? Even changed your faith? When we leave one thing to begin or join another, we divorce the prior. Sometimes, as in ‘breach of contract’ or ‘early withdrawal,’ there are legal or financial ramifications. It’s true that Jesus was blatantly talking about marital divorce in these verses. But, perhaps, He obliquely taught us a side-lesson about when other relationships end that has value outside simply what is obvious.
Sometimes there’s a good reason to leave a particular church, or quit your job, or change your friends, or any of the other things. Sometimes those things become toxic. God doesn’t tell us to remain in toxic situations. Indeed, He told His disciples that, if they weren’t welcomed (with His Good News), they should shake the dust from their feet and move on. But, also, don’t forget that this is the same Jesus who said, “let your yes mean “yes” and your no mean “no”” That’s coming in just a few verses.
Our vows and commitments mean something. When we commit to something, we give our word to stay. And when we leave that something, sometimes it seems we’re taking back that word. In these two verses about divorcing a spouse, Jesus reminds us that other breaks in our relationships with other people can be like divorcing a spouse.
Divorce is disunion. Our Savior, who vowed to be with us unto the end of the age, wants us to remember that. Sometimes disunion is necessary, even preferable. But it always carries consequences.
For more reading: Matthew 5:37, Matthew 10:14; Luke 9:5, Matthew 5:33
Lord, stay with me whenever divorce of any kind enters my life. Help me to make only wise choices that build up others instead of tearing them down.