Notice again what Jesus said about divorce: "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery" (Matthew 19:8-9).
The Greek word sklēros has come into the English language to describe various kinds of hardening, including arteriosclerosis, hardening of the arteries.
The hardness of heart Jesus decried is a total insensitivity that would lead a man to abandon "the wife of [his] youth," to quote Malachi 2:14, or a wife to forsake the husband with whom she made a lifetime covenant in the sight of God.
Hardness of heart and adultery
"Hardness of heart" speaks of a situation where the adultery was prolonged and the sinning spouse unrepentant, making reconciliation and a normal marriage relationship impossible. That is an important point, because in the case of a person who commits adultery but then repents, that person is showing a tenderness of heart, not hardness. That spouse is to be taken back in love. If he or she is not, then it is the other spouse who is being hard-hearted and is in danger of God's judgment. Jesus was explaining that when an adulterous husband or wife became totally insensitive to marital fidelity, God through Moses indirectly and reluctantly permitted divorce. It was a concession on account of sin to make life more bearable for the one who was sinned against.
Jesus then reminded His adversaries of the Genesis teaching about God's intention for marriage, declaring that "from the beginning it was not so" (Matthew 19:8). Divorce was never a part of God's original, ideal design for mankind.
Real love in action
Some years ago I heard about an elderly minister who had been married for 50 years. One morning at breakfast, his wife slumped over the table, unconscious. By the time her husband had speeded her to the hospital, she was dead. The memorial service was filled with a congregation of people grateful for the lady's love and devotion for Christ and everyone around her. After the gravesite service, the minister and his sons turned to leave. On their way home he said to his sons, "Stop, I have to go back." They stopped the car but said, "Dad, we don't want you to go back. You don't need any more sorrow. We just need to move on." He simply repeated that he needed to go back, so they did. He patted the grave, then said to his sons, "This is a good day, a wonderful day." When they asked what he meant, he explained, "I know for sure that your mother is with the Lord, and I'm glad she went first. That's the way I always wanted it to be because I didn't want her to experience the grief of burying me and having to live alone."
The minister kept serving Christ faithfully, and earned the respect of a feminist group, who decided to ask him to speak at a meeting on the subject of marriage. He wanted his listeners to understand the difference between true love as defined by the Scriptures and mere romance. After recounting his wife's death and the gratitude he felt that she died first, he said, "Listen, any married person who knows the meaning of true love wants the other person to go first because they don't want them to endure the pain and the sorrow and the anxiety and the loneliness of burying the one they've loved. I daresay that the modern romantic relationships that try to pass for love are a far cry from that kind of feeling and that kind of reality." He was right.
Mutual commitment and happiness
Most people, including many Christians, know little of the self-giving, self-committing and self-sacrificing love that knits two souls together for a lifetime of sharing and happiness. Instead of the rich, deepening, meaningful and thrilling friendship that only such love can bring, they settle for a cheap, shallow substitute that fluctuates with every mood and is doomed from the beginning to be disappointing and short-lived. A relationship that is built only on good feelings will soon die because those feelings originate mainly from shifting circumstances and selfish expectations. God has so designed us that a relationship built on loving commitment and self-giving concern for each other will produce emotions that not only do not die, but in fact grow richer and more satisfying with each year. Feelings are a poor foundation for a marriage, but they can be a fantastic byproduct!
The marriage based on mutual commitment is the only happy and enduring marriage. When two Christians love each other for the other's sake and live their lives in humble submission to God's Word and to each other, a bond is formed that can withstand every temptation, disappointment and failure that Satan and this world can hurl against them. They become lovers and friends in a way that the unbeliever and the disobedient Christian can never know.
John MacArthur is the pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church, as well as an author, conference speaker, president of The Master's College and The Master's Seminary, and featured teacher with the Grace to You radio ministry. This article is an excerpt taken from his book The Divorce Dilemma, and it's used with permission from Day One Publications.
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