A Thoughtful Comparison

Let us imagine two people. One is a married man, religious, who claims to love God with all his heart, and who begins to lust for a younger woman next door. Soon he divorces his wife and then quickly marries the girl of his fantasies.

The other man is not religious. He has never heard the gospel, and lives a sinful lifestyle, which ultimately costs him his marriage. Some years later, as a single man, he hears the gospel, repents, and begins following Jesus with all his heart. Three years later he falls in love with a very committed Christian woman whom he meets at his church. They both diligently seek the Lord and the counsel of others, and then decide to get married. They do get married, and serve the Lord and each other faithfully until death.

Now, let us assume that both men have sinned in getting remarried. Which of the two has the greater sin? Clearly, the first man. He is just like an adulterer.

But what about the second man? Does it really seem that he has sinned? Can it be said that he is no different than an adulterer, as can be said to the first man? I don’t think so. Shall we tell him what Jesus said about those who divorce and remarry, informing him that he is now living with a woman whom God did not join him to, because God considers him still married to his first wife? Shall we tell him that he is living in adultery?

The answers are obvious. Adultery is committed by married people who get their eyes on someone other than their spouse. So divorcing one’s spouse because one has found a more attractive mate is just like adultery. But an unmarried person cannot commit adultery since he has no spouse to be unfaithful to, and neither can a divorced person commit adultery since he has no spouse to which he can be unfaithful. Once we understand the biblical and historical context of what Jesus said, we don’t come up with conclusions that make no sense and that contradict the rest of the Bible.

Incidentally, when the disciples heard Jesus’ response to the Pharisees’ question, they responded by saying, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry” (Matt. 19:10). Realize that they had grown up under the teaching and influence of the Pharisees, and within a culture that was greatly influenced by the Pharisees. They had never considered that marriage was to be so permanent. In fact, up until a few minutes before, they too probably believed it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause. So they quickly concluded it might be best to just avoid marriage all together, and not risk committing divorce and adultery.

Jesus responded,

Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it (Matt. 19:11-12).

That is, one’s sexual drive and/or one’s ability to control it is more of the determining factor. Even Paul said, “It is better to marry than to burn” (1 Cor. 7:9). Those who are born eunuchs or who are made eunuchs by men (as was done by men who needed other men whom they could trust to guard their harems) have no sexual desire. Those who make “themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” would seem to be those who are specially gifted by God with extra self-control, which is why “not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given” (Matt. 19:11).