- Introduction – this passage is a veritable minefield! The sermon began with a wide ranging exploration of some of the most challenging issues raised by this passage: a) the translation of verse 16 – the NIV has been updated and no longer specifically reads, “I hate divorce…” However, it still implies the same message; b) is adultery leading to divorce a ‘sin in perpetuity’? I.e. is there a time when an adulterer and his/her new partner can be welcomed back into church life? (The majority of conservative evangelical scholars say that penitent adulterers can remain with a new partner and return to church); c) what is marital unfaithfulness (mentioned by Christ when He discussed divorce in Matthew 5:32)? Does unfaithful, ‘divorceable’ behaviour include a spouse being violent physically/emotionally? d) Verse 15 mentions ‘Godly children’ as a purpose of marriage. What are the ramifications for couples who are unable to have children? The purpose of raising all of these difficult questions was to illustrate how we easily get distracted from three pivotal truths revealed in this passage. NB there was deliberately no attempt to address or thoroughly discuss the huge issues mentioned above. They were included in the introduction solely to emphasise the difficulty of moving beyond them and seeking other messages/meanings within the passage.
- Truth 1 = God defines faith differently to us: verse 10 shows how faith mustn’t just be seen as a relationship between an individual and God. Rather, the faith must be put into a wider context that includes all of God’s people. Marriage is given as an example of how we should be faithful to each other by not marrying ‘outside of the fold’. A single man/woman of Faith who wants to marry should seek a partner among his/her sisters/brothers. Marriage is just an example of how we should be faithful to one another (Galatians 6:10).
- Truth 2 = God sometimes refuses to bless us when we break covenant with Him/each other: a simple point, emphasised in verse 13: faithless behaviour often removes us from the ‘stream’ of God’s blessings. Sometimes life’s troubles and woes come from living in a fallen and broken world; sometimes, life’s troubles and woes can originate from us breaking the covenant of faith in some way.
- Truth 3 = this passage is more about God than it is about us: the God Who says, “I hate divorce” calls you His bride! Such love and such faithfulness to us! Imagine being married to a spouse who glibly announces a love of divorce. No husband/wife wants their partner to suddenly say, “I think adultery and divorce are wonderful things.”
- What are the very first questions that come to your mind when you read this passage? In what ways are you challenged by its message? Do you think that the words of this passage have become more difficult to accept in modern times?
- What does it mean to be faithful to other Christians? Do you find it easy to be ‘faithful’ to your brothers and sisters in Christ? Have you ever felt that you have been let down by ‘faithless’ behaviour by your Christian family? In what ways is it easy to be hurt by Church life and Church family?
- Jesus clearly states that bad things happen to both the ‘just’ and the ‘unjust’ (Matthew 5:45 + Luke 13:1-5). Is it easy (or possible) to discern if bad times are just part of living in a fallen world, or a result of breaking our covenant of faith with God? NB this is an intensely difficult question and there are no clear or easy answers! You might like to conclude by mentioning that our lives would be perfect and blissful if Adam and Eve had not broken the original covenant of faith with God.
- How does God demonstrate His love and faithfulness to us in the Bible? How does God demonstrate His love and faithfulness to us in our everyday lives and personal experiences?