In the previous section of Luke 16 we noticed Jesus teaching about the need to use wealth in a way that prepares us to enter into our eternal home. The Pharisees reject Jesus because he is teaching something they do not accept. They are lovers of money (16:14) and choose to ridicule Jesus rather than listen to the clear teaching concerning who will enter the kingdom of God. Lovers of money will not enter the kingdom. Those who use the wealth given by God for godly means will enter the kingdom. Further, these people tried to show others that they were godly, but the Lord knows the heart.
Entering The Kingdom (16:16-17)
Jesus makes an interesting observation about the hearts of people toward God. Many people try to enter the kingdom of God by their own laws and rules. But the law of God cannot be circumvented. The teachings from the Law of Moses are now being fulfilled in the kingdom of Christ. Nothing of the Law of Moses is being tossed aside. The Law of Moses finds its fulfillment in Jesus. In fact, all of the teachings from the Law and the Prophets were pointing to these days when Jesus would come and bring the kingdom of God. For the people to obey God’s law, they must embrace Jesus’ kingdom message.
God’s Marriage Law (16:18)
A classic example of where people were trying to force themselves into the kingdom of God is concerning God’s marriage law. A popular distortion of Deuteronomy 24 that was taught by the Jews in the days of Jesus was that a man would divorce his wife for nearly any cause, including ruining a meal or if he found a better looking woman. The same issue is a question today. Is divorce okay? This was a law that the Pharisees tried to minimize. Jesus uses God’s marriage law as another example where people think they are part of the kingdom of God, when in fact they are simply trying to force their way in, but do not belong. Let’s look at God’s marriage law.
Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery. (Luke 16:18 ESV)
I think we can see why Jesus would use this as another law to be obeyed concerning the kingdom of God. This is another command that people ridicule and try to get around. Just as people ridicule Jesus because they love money and do not want to use the wealth that they have received from God as a way to prepare for eternal life, people do not want to hear and obey God’s marriage law.
Let’s start with the first word, “Everyone.” Everyone is included in the word “everyone.” No one is exempt. This is not a teaching from the Law of Moses, though we can see that this was God’s marriage law in the first covenant. This is not a teaching for the Jews alone, though the Jews were certainly under this law. This is the law of the kingdom of God. This law applies to every person and everyone who ignore this law cannot belong to the kingdom of God. If we know the scriptures then we will not be surprised by the words of Jesus condemning divorce and remarriage.
So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth. “For I hate divorce!” says the LORD, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.” (Malachi 2:15–16 NLT)
No where can you find in the scriptures God authorizing or commending divorce for any cause. Marriage is permanent, a covenant between man, woman, and God, that is not to be broken. Notice that Jesus does not say, “Divorce happens. What can you do?” To divorce and remarry is to commit adultery. Divorce and remarriage is not merely a bad idea. Divorce and remarriage is not something that God doesn’t really like. God hates it! It is adultery. Recall the words of the apostle Paul to the Christians in Corinth:
Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9–10 NLT)
This is what Luke is showing us in this section of chapters. Who are those who are in the kingdom of God? Those who are in the kingdom of God are people who do not disregard God’s marriage law. We cannot be committing adultery and be joined with Christ in his kingdom. This is the point that Jesus wants these people to hear who were ignoring God’s permanent and unchanging marriage law.
Consider why Jesus calls this adultery and not sexual immorality. Adultery means having sexual relations with a person who is not your spouse. So how could divorcing and marrying another be committing adultery? The answer is that you have legally divorced from a person and legally married another, you are still bound by God to your first spouse. Adultery has occurred because you are violating the permanent marriage covenant that you entered into with your spouse and your God. You have left your spouse and married again in violation of God’s law. Paul uses this truth as an illustration in Romans 7.
For example, when a woman marries, the law binds her to her husband as long as he is alive. But if he dies, the laws of marriage no longer apply to her. So while her husband is alive, she would be committing adultery if she married another man. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law and does not commit adultery when she remarries. (Romans 7:2–3 NLT)
Paul confirms the teaching of Jesus. Once we are married, we are to remain married to that person as long as that person lives. Most, if not all, said those very words in their vows that were made during the wedding ceremony.
If there was any question about what Jesus is saying, he makes his point all the more clear in the next phrase. “He who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.” Not only is the person who leaves his spouse and marries another committing adultery, but the person who chooses to marry a divorced person is also committing adultery. You are marrying and having relations with a person who is bound to another spouse. You also are committing adultery when you marry a person who is divorced. The principle of marriage is clear from Genesis 2 and remains throughout the scriptures through today and into the future. One man and one woman are joined for life. If you destroy a marriage, you don’t get to have another one. The law of marriage can be summarized with two points: Divorce plus remarriage is adultery and marrying the divorced is adultery.
Too many churches are not teaching this truth. Too many churches fail to recognize how many people are in unlawful marriages. To keep the peace and to keep attendance high, many churches are proud to declare that they will not teach on this topic. But this is not the proper way to handle God’s word. God’s message cannot be hidden just because it may be difficult or uncomfortable. Think about the placement of this teaching in Luke’s gospel. Many cannot see the connection to the surrounding text. But the context is fitting to the Pharisees who are ignoring Jesus’ kingdom message. They are ridiculing and ignoring the gospel message, rather than listening, learning, and changing their hearts and actions so as to enter the kingdom of God. The same problem continues today. I want to encourage you to consider that if you are attending a church that does not teach every verse of God’s word or distorts this clear teaching, then you need to leave that place. They have become like these Pharisees and are ignoring the message of the kingdom. You need to hear every word of Jesus.
Answering Common Questions
Allow me to quickly answer a couple commonly asked questions that come from this teaching. First, what if your spouse commits adultery against you? Jesus is clear in Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9 that this is the only cause given by God that the one cheated against had the right to divorce and marry another. “But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:32 ESV) The one cheated against does not have to divorce and remarry, but is given the right to do so.
Some will ask, “Can I divorce as long as I do not remarry?” Jesus and Paul answer this question clearly.
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:5–6 ESV) To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife. (1 Corinthians 7:10–11 NIV 2011)
Do not separate from your spouse. Divorce is still a sin. Further, the apostle Paul says that if you are divorced, you only have two choices: to remain unmarried or be reconciled (7:11). Divorce is a sin, but if you have already divorced, then you must stay unmarried or reconcile with the person you divorced.
Some think that they can be separated but will not get a legal divorce. In this way they think they are getting around God’s law. However, the apostle Paul condemned this also in 1 Corinthians 7:2-6.
But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. (1 Corinthians 7:2–6 ESV)
Separation is a sin and so is divorce. Neither of these are God’s answer to marital troubles and difficulties.
Being in the kingdom is to have the heart of obedience, not a heart that seeks loopholes. Remember what we learn back in the thirteenth chapter of Luke. Many are seeking to enter, but few strive to enter. Few are willing to give up everything to enter the kingdom of God. God’s marriage law often becomes an obstacle to people that is too great to pay. Many are unwilling to accept Jesus’ teaching, will find another church, and pretend they are Christians, believing they can force their way into Jesus’ kingdom. But it is a delusion. You may be seeking, but you are not striving and willing to give up everything to enter this glorious kingdom.
If you are having marriage problems and want to know God’s will, please meet with our shepherds and with myself and we would be happy to listen to your situation so that we can help you do what is right before God. We want you to be part of God’s kingdom. If you have been divorced, please meet with us so that we can help you in your circumstance. If you have been divorced and are now remarried to another, again we want you here. We are not asking you to leave. We are not drawing a line in the sand. We want you to know the truth of God’s message. Come to me or our shepherds and request a time that we can sit down together and talk about your circumstances. We do not pretend to suggest that these are easy situations, nor that the solutions are easy. We are dealing with people and we are dealing with sins that occurred in a marriage. We want to help you understand God’s word so you can apply it properly to your life. But your soul and your eternal home is far more important than our temporary stay on this earth. Please meet with us and let us help you.