Resolving the two questions of Matthew 19: Divorce and the Law (Part II)

“But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17).

In Matthew 19, the Lord touched on two difficult issues with which His church has struggled and contended ever since: Does divorce exclude people from usefulness in the kingdom? Do the saved have to keep the Law?

He addressed the first subject with the Pharisees while His disciples were listening in (19:1-12).  The second subject He addressed to a man identified as “a rich young ruler,” but again, overheard by the disciples.

Are divorced and lawbreakers excluded?  (Part III will take up the second question, the matter of the Law.)

Before moving on, let’s revisit the subject of adultery and adulterous remarriages. I feel a need to add a word or two.

First, the text.  In Matthew 19:9, Jesus said, “Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”

That appears pretty open and shut. But it isn’t.

(The Lord’s people must bear in mind that Scripture is the best commentary on Scripture, and we want to know the full teaching of Scripture on a subject before settling down onto our doctrinal position. And if anyone should respond that the teachings of Jesus are one thing and the teachings of Paul or Peter something else, we respond that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God.  Holy men of old spoke as they were moved by the Spirit.  2 Timothy 3 and 2 Peter 1.)

As we addressed in our previous article on this website (Rethinking the Divorce Issue), if Matthew 19:9 were all we had to go on we might conclude that the remedy for adulterous marriages–the kind Jesus has referenced–is for the parties to divorce. We would end up with divorce being a remedy for divorce, not a workable solution, I think most will agree. This verse and one or two similar have thrown the church in a tizzy as it tries to figure out what the appropriate and Christlike response to divorce should be. Through the centuries, the church’s solutions, as we said previously, have been all over the map. Some have practically made divorce the unpardonable sin while others rush to the opposite extreme and conclude that a sin forgiven is one forgotten and since all our sins were dealt with on Calvary, what’s past is past and let’s go forward.

To one, divorce is everything and to the other, it’s nothing.

We suggested that God’s people should not see adulterous marriages as a continuing condition–the remedy for which could only be to end the marriage!–but as a sinful act for which there is forgiveness. We referred readers to I Corinthians 6:9-11 where Scripture says, “Neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers….will inherit the kingdom of God.” Then after allowing that to settle in, Scripture adds, “But such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”

Where that leaves us, we suggested, was where we are all left–at the foot of the cross. The blood of Jesus is sufficient.

If adultery was not dealt with on the cross, then neither were any of the other sinful states mentioned there.  And–we always need to remember–that I Corinthians 6 passage lumps respectable sins such as theft, covetousness, alcoholism, and reviling, whatever that is, in with all the disreputable sinful conditions.

So, God does not give anyone a pass here.  If divorce was not dealt with on the cross, nothing was.

If. Divorce. Was. Not. Dealt. With. On. The. Cross.  Nothing. Was.

Two statements from Psalm 103 shed light on this subject.

–“He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” (103:10).  

It’s time the church started imitating its Lord and quit dealing with people according to their sins.  “Well, we see her by your application that you once lusted.”  Or, lied.  Or slandered someone.  Or took something not belonging to you. Or divorced.

“There is none righteous, no not one…..For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10,23).  We say we believe that but act as if it’s true only in some cases.  “If the Lord should mark iniquities,” my friend, “who would stand?” (That’s Psalm 130:3 and it needs to become a major plank in your and my theological platform!)

We are under grace, not the law.  Granted, that does not give us a license to sin (as Paul so eloquently put it in Romans 6:1).  But God’s people would do well to meditate on what it means to be under grace.

By the works of the law no one is justified in His sight.  (Galatians 2:16)  We either believe that or we do not.

–“As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (103:12).

Have you ever stopped to consider how far the east is from the west?  Had the Lord said as far as the north is from the south, it would be another story.  You can start walking south and eventually come to the bottom of the world and the next step sends you northward.  But you can walk east forever without coming to a point where you are now going west.  East and west are as far apart as it’s possible to get.

Scripture goes to great length to tell us what happens to sins once forgiven.  “Buried in the depth of the ocean” (Micah 7:19).  “Forgotten” (That’s Jeremiah 31:34 and is quoted in Hebrews 8:12 and 10:17.)  “He has made you alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14). “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14).


Someone invariably raises the question: “Are you saying divorce is not a factor in considering a candidate for the ministry or diaconate?”  I would answer: Everything is a factor, but what we are looking for is a record of faithfulness and Christlikeness.

No one is suggesting–well, not this pastor!–that we indiscriminately ordain people to the ministry of pastor and/or deacon.  As the passages in I Timothy 3 and Acts 6:1-7 make clear, godly character is everything.

Give people time to demonstrate who they are.

Scripture says leaders should be tested first before being approved. I Timothy 3:6 says the pastor must not be a novice (a new convert).  I Timothy 3:10 says “let these (candidates for pastors and deacons) first be tested.”  I Timothy 5:22 adds, “Do not lay hands on anyone hastily.”


If this subject is a hot potato for your church, I suggest you print out these articles and share with a few leaders of your church, then set a time for a discussion of the subject.  In no way do I claim to have the last word on the subject.  I’ll settle for having a clear word.

Thank you.  Let’s represent our Lord faithfully, my friend.

Next article will deal with the rich young ruler and the issue of being justified by the Law.




2 thoughts on “Resolving the two questions of Matthew 19: Divorce and the Law (Part II)

  1. Thank you for this article to help me forgive myself for my sins because the Lord has. I want to be one of your followers on FB. I went to your page & clicked on Follow, but there was no place to ask you to be my Friend on FB.
    Sharon Wood Kettelhut

    • Sharon, Facebook allows a limit of 5,000 FB friends. I’ve been at that level for some time now, so the only way I can add new friends is when someone drops out, which is rare. The best thing to do is drop by our FB page from time to time and scroll down, reading. Thank you.

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