Sound Teaching

This is the teaching site of the West Side church of Christ in Fort Worth, TX. Unless otherwise indicated, all materials were written and prepared by Stan Cox

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Luke 18 Revisited

“Then Peter said, ‘See, we have left all and followed You.’ 29 So He said to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life’” (Luke 18:28-30).

A few months ago we examined the position that Luke 18 gives a rationale for a person to divorce their mate, “for the sake of the kingdom of God,” without sin. The article dealt not only with the context of the passage, but also the greater context of scripture, and concluded that the position is without merit. Jesus said in Matthew 5:32, “But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except for sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.” The text clearly reveals a single reason for which a man or woman may put away their spouse. To appeal to a passage where divorce is not contextually found in an attempt to explain away the plain import of another passage is, at best, poor hermeneutics, and is a common tactic of those who twist the scriptures to fit their pet theories.

Further, when Peter said that he and the others had “left all and followed” Jesus, it can be clearly established that he did not divorce his wife. The passage establishes the necessity of counting the cost, and putting Christ first in our lives. It does not allow for that which is otherwise sinful action, whether it be divorcing one’s spouse, neglecting one’s parents (cf. Mark 7:9-13), or deserting one’s family (cf. 1 Timothy 5:8).

A second, logical argument can be made to show the invalid nature of this position. The argument centers on the relationship the unbeliever has to marriage law.

Some may remember that Homer Hailey, (along with others), took the position in his teaching that the alien sinner is not amenable to the law of Christ. Therefore, in his thinking, the unbeliever is not impacted by Jesus’ teaching on marriage, as found in Matthew 19, Matthew 5, and other places in scripture. Hailey believed that alien sinners could divorce and remarry without censure until such time as they became Christians. At that point they must remain with the one to whom they are married, falling under the authority of our Lord’s pronouncement in Matthew 19.

A simple examination of the text of Matthew indicates Hailey’s position is erroneous. Jesus said that God’s law on marriage was from “the beginning” (cf. Matthew 19:8). Before the law of Christ was ever established, God’s law was, and always has been one man, one woman for a lifetime. In the text Jesus restates that law, and it has force for all men everywhere.

Now, how does the consideration of the alien sinner impact this peculiar position taken with regard to Luke 18? The question can be posited, “Based on the teaching of Luke 18, Can the alien sinner divorce their spouse (without remarriage) for the sake of the kingdom of God?” Yes? Or No?

If one answers, “No,” then one has the problem of being in agreement with brother Hailey that God treats the marriage bond of the alien sinner differently than he does that of the Christian. The only difference here is that it is the Christian that “benefits” from a looser standard than the alien. While the Christian can divorce for a reason or reasons other than adultery, the alien can not. Setting aside that there is no indication of this in scripture, it positively violates the concept of Matthew 19, stating that marriage for all men from the beginning is a permanent institution. Further it makes God a respecter of persons. Finally it lowers, rather than raising, the standard of conduct for a child of God.

The other possibility, that the alien sinner can divorce “for the sake of the kingdom of God” is an absolute absurdity. The alien sinner is not a citizen in the kingdom of God. As such, he is in the kingdom of Satan, and makes himself an enemy of the cross of Christ. To maintain that such a one can claim “kingdom privilege” is laughable. Remember the text itself, that one who has “left” for the “sake of the kingdom” will “receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life.” Unless one is willing to hold the position that an alien sinner can secure eternal life through divorcing an abusive mate, then one is forced to admit that such a use of the passage is without merit.

In reality, the desire to justify such divorces emanates from a misguided sense of fairness. It seems unfair to us that a person in a difficult marriage can not extricate themselves from that situation with God’s approval. We live in a society where suffering for the cause is not popular. So, we have teachers who seek to tickle the ears of Christians, telling them things that they want to hear (cf. 2 Timothy 4:3). While we are not unsympathetic to individuals who have married badly, we must be careful not to twist the scriptures in an attempt to allow what God has not. What is clearly taught by our Lord remains unchallenged by the theories of man. His law on marriage is: One man, one woman, for a lifetime, with one exception!