As Jesus finished His discourse on divorce in Matthew 19, his disciples looked at each other in astonishment. All their ideas about their ability to do as they pleased in marriage had been shattered. As they pondered this, some dared speak their thoughts aloud to Jesus: “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry (v. 10).”
The disciples did not know it, but they were to become the first of a long line of questioners, naysayers and excuse makers concerning the Lord’s teaching on this matter. Today, the questions and excuses come as fast as ever, and we are compelled to examine them in the context of what Jesus had to say.
First, Jesus answered His questioners by saying that they were, in some cases, right. Those who could accept not marrying might be better off. However, not all men were required to receive such (see also I Cor. 7:1-2, 7-9). Unfortunately, some of the excuses made today do not fit so well into Biblical teaching.
Some say, “I can’t believe God wants me to live alone” or “I know God wants me to be happy.” It must first be pointed out, if one is divorced for a cause other than fornication, God indeed does want that one to live alone, because He loves all men and that (living alone) is the only way some will be able to reach heaven (I Cor. 6:9-10: “Do not be deceived; neither fornicators . . . nor adulterers . . . shall inherit the kingdom of God.”). As for God’s desire for one to be happy, we must realize that God gave us instruction on what to look for in a mate, and He gave us instruction on how to make marriage work. He has given us the tools necessary for happiness, and if we are willing to let divorce take that away, can we then blame God for our unhappiness? What about the homosexual or the flasher? Could they not make the same argument, that is, “God wants me to be happy?” Does that change what the Bible says about continuing in those practices? In addition, the Christian’s ultimate goal is heaven, and nothing which will help us reach that goal (even celibacy if necessary) should serve to make us unhappy.
Still others will try to excuse their situation by saying, “We must consider the children; surely God would not ask us to rip apart their home.” We understand that when two realize that theirs is an adulterous marriage, it is tragic to have to separate. It is even more tragic when children are involved. That does not change what God said. God is not the one who put the children in such a heart-wrenching situation. A further consideration is this: What greater example to children than for parents to show how much they love God and His word by doing something which hurts so much? Also, the separation required does not relieve any one of the responsibility toward the innocent children involved. God intends that the father and mother continue in their duties toward those children.
Some say that this is unfair. They argue that God has placed on them a burden which he has not placed on others. Again, we would offer the reminder that it is man, not God, who places man in situations that supply such misery. We need to recognize and “ante-up” as to who is really to blame for our affliction. Besides, others are given burdens which may be equal. It is a tremendous burden for the alcoholic to go without strong drink, but he is required to do so just the same (see I Tim. 3:3; Titus 2:3). It is a great burden for those who have had to give up family members in order to serve God, but they are called to serve Him anyway (Matt. 10:34-39). Further, the unmarried are placed under exactly the same burden (celibacy, see I Cor. 7:8-9; I Thess. 4:3; Heb. 13:4).
The excuse makers and questioners are actually without excuse. God is fair and compassionate, but all His fairness and compassion will be for naught to one who is unwilling to obey Him and repent. We cannot make the law of God disappear with our excuses, and we are unable to stand as His accusers. If we are willing to repent, He will forgive, and He will stand with us in the fight against whatever foe may try to snatch us from His hand. The disciples may have been right when they struggled with this difficult teaching from the Savior, but let us not forget: While we may think it impossible for man to live in such a way, it is entirely possible for God, and when we strive to do His will, He is on our side.