These small group studies of Matthew contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, teaching points, and applications. Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.
Matthew 5:31-32 Inductive Bible Study – Marriage and Divorce
- Jesus’ teaching on divorce (31-32)
In this passage Mark 10:1-10 contains a more complete passage on Jesus’ teaching of marriage and divorce so we will use that as the basis for studying this passage.
How did the Pharisees attempt to test Jesus this time? Why was this considered a test and not a sincere question?
If God doesn’t approve of divorce why did He allow it? What does it mean “because of their hardens of heart?”
Are there any other issues in which the New Testament sets a higher/newer standard than the Old Testament? How can we explain this?
Are there any other Old Testament passages on divorce?
Deuteronomy 24:1-4 – OT on divorce.
- Pharisees were constantly seeking to challenge and test Jesus. Many of their challenges were centered on common controversies of that time. It seems that their goal was to get Jesus to declare His position on controversial topics. Once Jesus declared His position, His answer could alienate the people on the other side of the debate. If 50% of people believed that divorce was acceptable, Jesus speaking out against divorce could anger the other 50%. Jesus saw through all of their traps and tricks. Many times He answered the questions they posed in such a powerful way that the entire crowd was speechless. Jesus didn’t just quote the canned answers tossed around by the two sides of the debate, but instead offered a fresh and biblical perspective, looking to the heart of the issue.
- Jesus starts off His answer with a question. This allows Him to see their level of understanding and the position they were coming from.
- The Pharisees answer that Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and send his wife away. See Deuteronomy 24:1-14. Why would Moses allow this? It should be noted that Moses was describing an existing practice of divorce rather than prescribing this method for divorce. The people were already doing this kind of thing. Apparently this was the normal practice for divorce at that time. The husband could send his wife away if he was unsatisfied. Moses, however, limits this practice by declaring that a spouse twice divorced could not go back to their first spouse. Evidently this was a common problem and this was the problem Moses was speaking to in Deuteronomy 24, rather than the more general problem of divorce. Interestingly, by closing this loophole it would make divorce a lot less attractive for people who thought they could always go back to their first spouse later on with no problem. We don’t know why God didn’t prescribe more clear and strict rules against divorce in general (much like we don’t know why he didn’t prescribe clear rules against polygamy in the Torah.) We do know that one-man one-woman marriage for life is God’s natural design which goes back to Genesis and that God has always hated divorce (Malachi 2:14-16). Perhaps divorce was not nearly as much a problem at that time so it was not a pressing social issue like today. In any case a believer who earnestly sought God’s will on this issue could have found it and in the New Testament God’s vision of marriage and divorce is very clear.
- Jesus said it was because of their hardness of heart that Moses permitted them to do this. When people sinned, the earth and the human race were cursed. Gender conflicts/problems were one of the effects of this (see Genesis 3). In some cases it seems that God allows people to go their own way and experience the results of their own folly. Romans 1 shows this clearly. Another example in the Old Testament is allowing Israel to have a king. But in God’s perfect will and natural design a husband and wife should not divorce.
- Verses 6-9
What reasoning did Jesus appeal to, to make His case against divorce?
What was Jesus’ conclusion about divorce?
So what is God’s view on divorce? What are some of the negative effects of divorce?
How does divorce effect the picture of marriage between husband of wife as an allegory of Christ and the church?
If modern day culture applied this principle of no divorce, how would culture look different?
Why is this important for married couples?
Why is this important for singles? How can singles prepare now so that this doesn’t happen to them in the future?
Malachi 2:14-16 – God hates divorce.
Romans 7:2-3 – Bound together as long as both live.
1 Corinthians 7 – Teaching especially on a Christian spouse married to an unbeliever.
Genesis 2:24 – They shall be one flesh.
Matthew 5:31-32 – Except for the reason of unfaithfulness…
Hebrews 13:4 – Marriage bed should be held in honor by all.
- Jesus’ refers to Genesis 2:21-25. His answer takes people back to creation when God made one man and one woman and put them together. The two became one flesh. By quoting Genesis, Jesus shows that this is not a cultural principle. It is not a principle which changes for different times or different places. It is a universal principal rooted in creation itself where God revealed His perfect plan for marriage. This clearly refutes many of the modern world’s excuses for allowing divorce of which there are many:
- Marriage is outdated
- The world is changing
- Society has advanced
- The passage in Genesis teaches us several basic truths about marriage. What can you learn about marriage from the passage?
- Marriage is established by God
- God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. It is between man and woman.
- Marriage is between one man and one woman for a grand total of two, thus showing that both divorce and fornication are sinful.
- Marriage requires a leaving (parents)
- Marriage requires a cleaving (to each other). This means that the spouse is now the most important person and responsibility rather than the parent.
- Jesus’ conclusion: What therefore God has joined together let no man separate. Jesus’ answer is clear. Divorce is wrong. It is sinful and goes against God’s established plan from the beginning of the world. See cross-references.
- Are there any exceptions? There is only one possible exception. It is mentioned in Matthew 5:31-32 (which is our passage today) and is if one side is unfaithful. There is some controversy on this point. How is this verse interpreted? Some hold to the position that this is referring to betrothal like Joseph’s betrothal with Mary and that the two sides aren’t married yet. Whether or not that is the case, when we combine this teaching with other principles in the Bible we will find that this so-called loophole practically disappears. In the Bible, we are commanded to forgive. Jesus told Peter to forgive seventy times seven times. We are commanded to love. A husband is commanded to love his wife as Christ loved the church. That includes when she doesn’t deserve it. See Hosea. 1 Corinthians 13 describes love as very optimistic. This kind of love attempts to influence and change others by overcoming evil with good. Jesus also told the parable of the prodigal son. How did the Father react when the son came back? He ran to him. See 1 John 2:6. We are to be like Jesus and that includes loving how Jesus loved us. So tell me, is it biblical for a wife whose husband has been unfaithful (or vice-versa) to cast them out and immediately seek a divorce? Of course not. The biblical response is to forgive and welcome the offending party back even if it happens many times.
- What happens if one side is doing it over and over again? What did God do when people sinned over and over again? He is always ready to forgive. That should be the attitude in marriage as well. The likely result will be that the side who keeps committing adultery will seek a divorce on his/her own. In this case, it would appear that the person is an unbeliever anyway because he/she is living in willful rebellion. In that case 1 Corinthians 7 applies, which tells the believer to stay with the unbeliever if he is willing, but if the person wants to leave to let him.
What additional point does Jesus bring up in these verses?
Are there any situations where divorce is acceptable? What are some of the most common reasons for divorce?
Should Christian couples set a goal of “not getting divorced?” Why or why not? Is this goal high enough?
How can Christian couples be continually improving and growing together in marriage instead of just coasting?
What are some practical things that husband and wife can do to build up their marriage?
What are some practical things which singles can do to prepare for a strong marriage?
Ephesians 5:22-23 – Marriage is a picture of Christ and the church.
Proverbs 18:22, 19:14, 21:9, 21:19 – Wisdom on marriage.
2 Corinthians 6:14 – Do not be unequally yoked.
Hosea 2:19 – I will betroth you to me in righteousness and justice, in steadfast love and mercy.
1 Timothy 3:2 – Overseer must be husband of one wife.
1 John 4:7 – Beloved let us love one another.
- Jesus goes even farther in these verses to restrict divorce/remarriage. If people read only verse 9, they may have an excuse like “yes, I shouldn’t have divorced, but now that I am already divorced that is a thing of the past and I can marry again.” In these verses Jesus makes it clear that divorce and remarriage is committing adultery. It is adultery for the husband and it is adultery for the wife. If one person is committing adultery then the other is as well. There are no loopholes here. Why is this adultery? When a couple gets married they are joined together. In God’s sight this marriage is until death do them part. While the law may recognize their divorce, God doesn’t.
- Divorce is sin – However, believers need to aim much higher than just “not getting a divorce.” Many couples go through life in a practical “cold war” state. They share the same roof, but are completely distant emotionally, spiritually, and physically. This is not God’s desire for marriage. According to most marriage experts there is about a one year time period after marriage that is like a honeymoon. During this stage everything seems so exciting, fresh, and romantic. Couples want to do everything together. After this year, the fresh and exciting romantic aspect will fade at least initially. At this point, couples face an important intersection. They can accept this shift and just go through the motions while living their individual lives, or they can make a refocused effort to improve their marriage and get it on an even stronger foundation. What are some practical things that a married couple can do to build up their marriage?
Here is a list of some practical ideas for guys of things to do to strengthen your marriage:
- Spend time in the Word together.
- Spend time praying together.
- Find time while you are at work or out doing ministry to call and text your wife. Ask her how she is doing.
- Be romantic. Surprise her sometimes with treats or gifts or love notes. Kiss her at anytime and “kiss her like you mean it.”
- Say lots of kind of words. Instead of being critical when she cooks poorly or doesn’t handle the house or kids like you like, pour praise onto her when she does well.
- Take her on dates sometimes, either surprise dates or planned ones.
- Serve her. Give her some time to rest. Offer to cook and watch the kids while she goes out to have her hair done, nails done, get a massage, or go shopping, etc.
- Turn off the electronics and TALK with your wife. Do not just talk or grunt, “eh” while looking at your phone or computer. Talk with her about anything and everything. There doesn’t have to be a point. Sometimes she just wants someone to listen to.
- Spend money on her. Yes, you should manage money wisely. You should not be wasteful. But treating your wife to nice things sometimes is not wasteful. It is a good investment. It shows her that you prize and value her. Share story of the five camel wife. Sometimes you can spring for a taxi when your wife is tired. The several dollars (in China) it will cost will not break the bank.
- Think of hobbies that you can both enjoy. And develop these hobbies and do them together.
- Learn how to massage and give your wife one.
- Break up the routine. Add some spice to your marriage. Plan a getaway from time to time to get away from your busy life and spend time together, preferably without the kids. Note that “get away” time is not “get away” from your wife, but “get away” with your wife!
- What is your wife’s dream vacation? What is your wife’s favorite food? What is your wife’s love language? What is your wife’s favorite hobby? What is your wife’s favorite book? Movie? Learn your wife.
- Be a gentlemen. Your wife is not a mule. Carry the heavy items (like baby). Here is a definition given for gentleman, “someone who always tries to make sure the people around him or her are as comfortable as possible.” Open the door for your wife. Pull out the chair for your wife. Give your wife the seat on the subway/bus. Say “please” and “thank you.” Don’t talk with your mouth full or chew with your mouth open. Go out of your way to show you care…every…single…day.
- Watch your hygiene. Don’t be a slob. Just because you are married doesn’t mean you can neglect your appearance. Make yourself nice for your wife. Dress nicely. Be clean. Teeth, fingernails, feet, breath, etc. are all important. Think of it from her side. Will she want to kiss you if your breath or appearance are repulsive?
- Pick up after yourself. Don’t be slovenly at home. Don’t leave your clothes and dishes and shoes everywhere. Help take out the trash. Help do the chores. Help watch the kids.
- Offer to watch the children while your wife goes shopping. Even better, offer to go shopping with her. Even best, go shopping for her and buy her something she will like and surprise her with it.
- Play with your children. This one will indirectly help your marriage. If you push off all of the “watching kid duty” to your wife she may resent it over time and she may become increasingly upset that you don’t play with the kids. Just as being a good husband is an important aspect of being a good father, being a good father is an important aspect of being a good husband. Don’t just give your kids an ipad and then turn on a movie to watch by yourself. Play. With. Them. Play freeze tag. Play hide and go seek. Play creative imagination games like keeping house, police, firefighters, army, etc. Play sports with them. Teach them important skills like how to ride a bike and how to swim. Make up stories and tell them the stories on the subway and on the bus and while eating dinner.. This will develop your relationship with them and make them realize that your home is a fun place. When they grow up they may not be rushing to leave as fast as they can like many teenagers these days.
Here is a list of practical things a wife can do to strengthen your marriage:
- Mind your appearance. Dress up for your husband. Does he like jewlery or makeup or dresses? Dress not only for comfort, but to please him. Try to keep in good physical shape.
- What are your husband’s favorite foods? Surprise him from time to time with a delicious meal. Don’t just say, “I am not good at cooking. This is not who I am.” Learn to be a good cook. Practice makes perfect. Someone very wise once said the quickest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.
- Build up your husband. Be supportive of his work and his career and his ministry. Say positive things about him both in public and in private.
- Do not nag. Don’t try to correct every small flaw or mistake you see in him. You don’t need to remind him every time to put away his shoes, to not eat in bed, to stop eating that food you think is unhealthy, to wear more clothes, to fix the thing that is broken, etc. Show grace. You are not his mother. And he is a man, not a child (even though he may act like one sometimes). Find the right time to discuss issues rather than every time one by one.
- Be content and grateful. The husband may feel self-worth in correlation to how well he takes care of his wife and family. Do not complain about the house you live in or the living standard that you have. Instead be verbally appreciative and supportive.
- Be sensitive to his moods and feelings. If he is just back from a long day it work and very tired it may not be the right time to dump all of your day’s difficulties on him.
- Be romantic. Surprise your husband.
- Be honest and clear in your communication. Do not try to manipulate to achieve the goals you want.
- Do not make big decisions or spend lots of money without talking to your husband first (husbands should also talk to wives first before doing this). The Bible says for wives to respect their husbands. God knows that husbands want to feel respected so do so by consulting them instead of acting on your own.
- Learn how to massage and give him one.
- Offer to watch the children while he goes out to play a sport. Even better, offer to go with him to watch him play. Even best, offer to go out and play with
- Be a good mother. Do not yell at the children or lose your temper. Be kind and sweet and gracious to your children. Make time to spend with them doing fun things. Be creative. Do art or music or cooking with your kids. Your husband will love you and respect you more as he sees and appreciates how you treat the children. At the same time, do not ignore your husband in favor of the new baby or young children. Many husbands feel ignored during this time period. While your time will be squeezed try to make time for your husband so he does not feel left out.
There are many ideas here. You know your own spouse. You probably know the habits you have which are hurting your relationship. And you likely know some things you can do to make it better. Start doing it. Don’t be satisfied with a marriage that scores a 5 out of 10 or an 8 out of 10. Make it better. The marriage relationship is work. A good relationship doesn’t come naturally or easily. There are many obstacles, many sins, many difficulties. You are going to have to work at your marriage too improve it. Do not coast along doing the least you can. Choose several of the ideas on the list and start doing them regularly. I am very confident if you do, you will find that your marriage will be much more rewarding than before and for both sides.
- What about singles? How does this apply to you? What are some practical things which singles can do to prepare for a strong marriage?
- Focus on being the kind of person that God wants you to be. Instead of setting your mind on marriage. Set your mind on the things above. Be the best follower of Christ that you can be. He is the one who gives joy and peace and contentment. Hebrews 12:2.
- Set your mind that there is no plan B.
- Choose your spouse carefully and do not give in to peer pressure to get married quickly because “you are old and will not have a chance much longer.”
- Be equally yoked. This not only means getting married to another believer, but also includes making sure that your life direction, goals, and priorities line up with Christ in first place.
- Discuss important issues together and find agreement before marriage.
- Observe your potential spouse in real life situations to get to know them as clearly as possible.
- Avoid casual, surfacy, emotion-based worldly dating.
- Study the Word and Christian books to learn as much as possible about having a strong marriage before getting married.
- Set clear guidelines for any relationship in order to both limit temptation and set a wise, upright course.
- Get lots of Christian counsel.
- Get accountability partners.
- Do not say “I do” unless you are sure, no matter how much you want to get married. One thing that is definitely worse than being single is being married to the wrong person.
More to come soon