Sermon Notes: Matthew 5:31-32

When Jesus came to die for sin, re-establish his kingdom from the fall in Genesis 3, and begin building the people of God, the church, he came to a religious climate that delighted in living below the intent of God’s word. 

The attitude was reflected in interpretations from Scribes and Pharisees that majored on the questions: “what can we get away with?” “What is the minimum requirement?”

Jesus’ big idea is that unless our righteousness surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees, we will not inherit the kingdom of God. 

Jesus wants citizens of his kingdom to be salty lights that point all people and creation to the joy and splendor of his salvation and good order. Jesus does not want us to be salt that has lost its flavor or light that is hidden. 

What framework is Jesus speaking from?

Genesis 1-2 gives us the vision of what Creator Jesus made marriage to look like in the kingdom of God. 

The Bible tells us that God is love. When God the Holy Spirit indwells the heart of a man and woman and brings them together in Christ, it is his miracle to make them one flesh. 

In all of life, rare is the moment that is filled with more hope, joy, and expectancy than the sacred moment marriage is sealed in vows with God as the object of that covenant. 

It is vital to remember we covenant with God together not with each other. God is the object of the covenant we make, and God is watching and approves if it is two of his people making the covenant.

Marriage is not ours. It is God’s, and he invites us to participate with him in the manner that brings him glory and brings us maximum joy. 

By God’s design, this moment is never to be repeated. 

The vows made on that day are to be locked in our memories as a reminder that we have pledged to love for a lifetime the one who stands willingly beside us on that day. 

Through the years, our remembrance of this moment is intended to strengthen our marriages and to cause us to give thanks to God for having each other.

Originating in divine wisdom and goodness, designed to promote human joy in God and holiness, marriage is the foundation of home life and social order and will remain so until the resurrection of the saints when the kingdom fully arrives in power.

Marriage is God’s. It is ordained by him. 

Marriage is the first and the holiest institution among men. In the wisdom of God, the first establishment is not the church or even the state, it is the family. 

God himself gave the first bride away, performed the first marriage ceremony, and set apart the first home in Eden. It is of this home that God speaks in Genesis 2:18-24:

Then the Lord God said, it is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him. So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all the livestock and the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, this at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man. Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

Genesis 2:24 is a crucial verse because it describes the process that we begin with those vows and that we will continue for the rest of our lives. Leaving, holding fast to each other, and becoming one flesh is a blend of processes that define life as a couple instead of individuals.

Leaving our parents involves physically moving out of their houses and involves a continual exchange of loyalty and priority.

The word translated “hold fast” or “cleave” is a Hebrew word that implies a continual process: it means to catch by pursuit, to follow close, to be joined together, to pursue. 

As married couples, we are to pursue an intimate emotional, spiritual, and physical relationship exclusively with each other for the rest of our lives.

This pursuit is designed by God to be reflective of our relationship with him. He designed marriage for this purpose

What happened to that vision of marriage?

The curse of sin infected all creation, particularly the marital relationship. Over time, sin began to manifest its destructive fruit in husband/wife relationships in all manner of evil ways.

Fast forward to the Greco-Roman world of Jesus’ day. The curse of sin has been having its way in marriages since Genesis 3. Divorce required no legal proceedings. One could simply write up a certificate of divorce and leave. It was usually a man as the women had few rights.

The fact that Eve’s descendants were considered just north of cattle is one of the ways sin was wrecking marriages.

Jewish circles were not as bad as the Greco-Roman world. They had Deuteronomy 24:1-4  that prevented divorce unless the man found some “indecency” in his wife, and this was a concession because of hard hearts that were made hard because of sin. 

Most believe by “indecent”, Moses meant a betrayal of the Edenic marriage covenant of one man and one woman for life. 

Of course, Moses taught this context to Deuteronomy 24 in his inspired creation account of Genesis 2, and hard-hearted people turned the word “indecent” into a blanket excuse to just put their wives away for any reason they wanted.

Mishnah, extra-biblical commentary that gave instruction on all the “what abouts” they came up with, allowed men to apply Deuteronomy 24:1-4 to bread that was burned. 

Such foolishness became a way for men to have multiple partners through serial divorce and remarriage, all using the Bible to sanction their abuse of marriage.

This is the kind of stuff that had become normative practice, and Jesus is combatting it as the One who has authority because marriage is his, and he’s the one who gave the law to Moses that addresses it. 

Remember at the end of the sermon, people are amazed because he’s teaching them as one with authority and not like the “what about” teachers of the law. 

Jesus knows the law’s intent, and he intends for it to be heard and lived by it for his glory and our life and joy. 

What is Jesus saying in Matthew 5:31-32?

  1. Jesus is responding to a specific question Matthew records for us in Matthew 19:3.
    1. Matthew 19:3 (CSB) 3 Some Pharisees approached him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife on any grounds?”
    2. This question comes from a debate between two schools of thought inside Judaism that focused on Deuteronomy 24:1-4, and contribute to the “Mishnah” I just referenced. 
    3. The two schools of thought came from two teachers named “Hillel” and “Shammai”.
      1. Hillel’s argument for divorce focused on “any reason one could justify”.
      2. Shammai’s argument for divorce focused on “indecent” being adultery and all that constituted adultery including lust and various deviations.
        1. First, this debate between these two schools of thought captures some of the silly game of justifying sin that is being played by some folks. This had turned God’s holiness into a game of “how much can I get away with and still go to heaven”.
        2. Jesus is taking this cancerous debate to task by telling them, that what they have heard is not what he, God, says.
          1. You have heard it said. But I say to you.
        3. NOTE: Jesus is not being exhaustive on the subject of divorce in 5:31-32 or 19:1-9. He is addressing the specific question asked of him.
          1. Matthew 5:31-32 needs to be contextualized with Matthew 19:1-9.
          2. We know this because Paul gives us another reason for legitimate divorce in 1 Corinthians 7:15.
            1. NOTE: We must interpret Scripture with Scripture not our own inferences.
              1. Since 1 Corinthians 7:15 carries as much weight as Matthew 5 and 19, we must conclude that Jesus is addressing a specific question and not being exhaustive in digging into the exception clause he gives of sexual immorality and what that entails. 
        4. What is Jesus doing in Matthew 5:31-32?
          1. Jesus is crushing the belief that one can divorce for any reason they can dream up by misusing his word.
          2. He does this by taking the questioners back to Genesis 2:18-24 and God’s intent for marriage.
            1. Matthew records that part of Jesus answering this question in Matthew 19:1-9.  
            2. Matthew 5:31-32 is a primer for what he’s going to do in 19:1-9.
  1. Jesus is telling us to handle his gospel institution of marriage very carefully. 
    1. To fall into the game of expanding the reasons to break the marriage bond is to fall into the enemy’s strategy of obscuring God’s intent for marriage as a gospel proclamation and for human flourishing.
      1. We are given very little room to justify divorce because so much is at stake in God’s institution of the family. 
      2. Listen to Paul’s gospel exposition of Marriage: Ephesians 5:22-33 (CSB) 22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord, 23 because the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of the body. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives are to submit to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word. 27 He did this to present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless. 28 In the same way, husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hates his own flesh but provides and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, 30 since we are members of his body. 31 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. 32 This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 To sum up, each one of you is to love his wife as himself, and the wife is to respect her husband.
        1. Marriage was a mystery until the gospel revealed its purpose. 
        2. Marriage exists to put on display God’s love for his people. 
        3. The only reason God “divorces” people is because of the adultery of idolatry in which people are unfaithful to God through the sin of worshiping someone or something other than Jesus. 
        4. Marriage properly instituted, puts on display for the world to see, Jesus Christ and his church. 
        5. If we don’t understand what is at stake, we will tell a story God does not tell. 
  2. It is wise for pastors and churches to handle marriage as conservatively as Jesus does. 
    1. The issue of divorce and the if and when of remarriage is such a tremendously sensitive subject that the entirety of Scripture has to be examined to properly understand how it relates to Jesus’ teaching on the subject.
      1. Many fine scholars and pastors who love the Lord disagree on this issue and it must be treated with a tremendous amount of mercy.
        1. I have written a pretty exhaustive paper on the subject, and am sharing it with you if you want to dig into it.
          1. I wrote it for pastoral purposes to give guidance to a super complicated and sensitive issue.
          2. We don’t have time to dig into it this morning. 
          3. I encourage you to read it and work through it yourself. 
      2. In no other period of human history has the ability to leave one’s commitment to marriage been so prevalent and accessible.
        1. Today, all that is required is a statement of irreconcilable differences. 
      3. What, then, should be the response of the local church?


  1. We must “shepherd forward” together. By “shepherd forward” we mean that we are not going to look to the past of any TRC member’s marriages. 
    1. What is in the past stays there. We don’t and won’t judge anyone’s past who joins themselves in covenant to TRC while presenting striving after the kingdom of God.
    2. Going forward we want to fight to keep marriages intact and move toward wholeness in our families. 
  2. We will fight to make sure couples who marry in our church or those who join our church stay married and fight for their marriage. 
    1. This requires a commitment to stay the course in fellowship, accountability, and with each other.
      1. We can’t just bail on covenant fellowship when things don’t go according to unspoken expectations.
        1. Serial multi-church attending and no commitment to a fellowship is akin to divorce and remarriage on a very surface level, and if we are going truly help our families, we must commit to do it together and not bail on each other. 
    2. If you leave and join another fellowship or simply disengage we lose some of God’s means of powerful grace to fight for the wholeness of the kingdom of God in our families.
      1. Some churches and some environments simply don’t value this subject enough to even speak on the texts in the Bible that address it much less hold themselves accountable to obey what is written. 
  3. We will not allow damaging behavior on the part of either spouse to hurt the other person or damage the gospel and hurt the fellowship.
  4. We want to build Genesis 2 homes that crush the curse of sin and invite the health and joy of the kingdom of God.
    1. We do this by not going beyond what is written and what we can understand from the text of Scripture. 
  5. Take care of the Eden of your home first. 
    1. Then multiply healthy and happy families that preach the gospel and disciple the nations from right here in Rome, GA.
  6. Worship!

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