Sunday Services: 9:00am & 10:45am

Money and Marriage

Money and Marriage

Preached by Benjamin Vrbicek

We are currently going through the gospel of Luke. The gospel of Luke tells the story of the life and teaching, the death and resurrection of Jesus. This morning we come to a passage in Luke chapter 16 where Jesus speaks directly to a group of Jewish, religious leaders called Pharisees. And as you’ll see, Jesus is concerned about them. They have misplaced their allegiance, and the consequences are not small.

The passage is not a long one, but it is a challenging one. The final verse speaks to marriage and adultery and divorce and remarriage. At first it may seem out of place from the rest of the passage, but I hope to show why it fits well in the context.

At this point we typically begin the sermon by reading the passage and praying, but just this morning let me make one more quick comment before I read and pray. As a pastor I know that if I were going to preach a passage that dealt with, say, leprosy—which comes up from time to time in the Bible—I know that I don’t have to worry too much about our people having been adversely affected by leprosy. I don’t have to worry that a few dozen people in our church have had leprosy. And I don’t have to worry that all of us know someone—even love someone—who has been affected by leprosy. We don’t have to worry about that.

This is not the case with divorce. Dozens of people here at church have been divorced, and all of us know and love people affected by divorce.

And there’s a sense in which this could make you, whether you want to be this way or not, somewhat antagonistic to this passage and to what Jesus has to say. At a minimum it might make you on guard. But I don’t think this has to be the case at all. There’s more common ground here than you might expect.

Jesus teaches that divorce is wrong. (Big surprise, right?) It’s my guess, though, that you already know this. The pain and the tears and the loneliness, the fists pounded against a wall in bewilderment, the betrayal and bitterness, the personal arguments and judicial arbitration, and the love torn asunder—all of this, you know, is not the way things are supposed to be. I don’t think anyone here would argue that divorce is a great thing, because it’s not. If you’ve experienced it, you know this better than anyone.

As we turn to read the passage, it’s on this common ground that I appeal to you to give Jesus your ears and your heart this morning. God desires to deal gently with all who come to him in humility. He desires to make you holy and full of hope and joy and life.

Scripture Reading

Follow along with me as I read from Luke 16:14–18, and then we’ll pray that God would be our teacher.

14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15 And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

16 “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. 17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.

18 “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.

Prayer

This is God’s Word. Thanks be to God. “Heavenly Father . . .”

Introduction

To make sense of this passage I want us to ask three questions of it. First, we’ll ask, What is going on in the first part of the passage? Then we’ll ask, What is the connection these verses have with v. 18 and the statements about divorce? Finally, we’ll end by asking, What does this statement about marriage mean for us?

1. What is going on in the first part of the passage, vv. 14–17?

Let’s take up this first question: What is going on in the first part of the passage, vv. 14–17? Look again at how the passage begins.

14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him.

We are told that these religious leaders “heard all these things” that Jesus was teaching. We don’t know what exactly “these things” refers to, but from the grammar it seems to imply that they heard a lot. 1 They heard Jesus preach to his disciples, which is what Pastor Jason preached last week. They heard about how they were to make God, not money, their God (16:13). And they heard about the love of the Heavenly Father in chapter 15, the love that welcomes home prodigal children with open arms (vv. 11–24). They heard about the rejoicing of this Heavenly Father when one sinner returns to God (v. 7). And they heard about the love of a Heavenly Father who would leave 99 protected sheep to go in search of one lost sheep (v. 4). They heard all this, and what are we told about them? We’re told that they ridiculed Jesus. They mocked him. They scoffed at his words. They scoffed at his representation of the Father’s love. They turned their noses up at him. These religious leaders were lovers of money, not lovers of God, and that had consequences for how they view Jesus.

This is important to know because it explains the way Jesus speaks to them. Jesus has hard words for hard-hearted men; he’s trying to break through. Look again at what Jesus says to them.

15 And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

16 “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. 17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.

The indictment begins with the phrase, “You are those who . . .” Jesus has categories for people, and the category here is of the type of people who prioritize the opinions of man above the opinion of God. It’s more important to them to be viewed as right by others than to actually be right before God. They love what is exalted here on earth and not what is exalted in heaven. This is the essence of being superficial. Being superficial means to value and love and prioritize and fix your eyes upon the surface of things and doing so while missing the big realities of life, namely, God. God is more to be desired than riches and worldly fame. But they don’t see it that way.

Jesus continues by mentioning the enduring nature of God’s Word. In English we have several letters in the alphabet that, if slightly smudged, could look like another letter, say, the letter “c” looking like an “e,” or the letter “f” getting smudged and looking like “t.” Something similar happens in Hebrew, and I suppose all languages. Jesus is saying that it is easier for heaven and earth to fall away than for the truth of one tiny stroke of God’s word to fall away. This is a breathtaking claim. Consider how high is the view Jesus has of the scriptures. It’s easier to for all of the universe—the sky and earth and sea and animals and governments and military forces and science and history and books and the galaxies that are beyond what can be seen with the Hubble Telescope—it’s easier for all of that to be smudged away than for one tiny truth of God’s Word to be smudged away. This is a breathtaking statement about God and about his word. No one has a higher view of Scripture than Jesus.

If I were to summarize what is taking place in the first part of this passage, it’s this: When we get our sights off of God—the greatest reality in the universe—we don’t stop looking at things. We simply find lesser substitutes, like the praise of man and riches of this world. And they are here today and gone tomorrow. Jesus is speaking this way to them, and he’s speaking this way to us, because he wants us to have a happiness that can never diminish, never run out. He wants us to have the happiness of knowing him.

2. What is the connection these verses have with v. 18 and the statements about divorce?

And this brings us to our second question. How does what is said in the verses we just looked at relate to the statement about divorce that comes at the end of the passage. Let me reread the verse.

18 “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.

At first, it seems like this verse has no connection to the previous verses. But upon closer examination, it does. Jesus was speaking of the abiding nature of God’s Word. There’s the first connection. God said in the Old Testament that marriage was a covenant relationship between one man and one woman for one lifetime. And that, Jesus says, is still the case. What God said in the past about marriage is still true because what God said in the past is still true. That’s one connection to the rest of the passage.

Here’s another connection. Remember how Jesus spoke of the religious leaders as “those who justify [themselves] before men” (v. 15)? Well, this is the other connection that links the passage together. But to see this connection, we need to look at another passage where Jesus spoke about marriage. Look what Jesus says in Matthew 5:27–28, 31–32.

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 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.

The impact of divorce is significant, as I’ve said at the start, but today, speaking from a religious and governmental viewpoint, it’s not impossible to get a divorce. Sometimes, it’s not even difficult to get a divorce.

One wrong assumption I had about the first-century was that things were different back then. I would have thought it was very difficult to get a divorce back then. But this, it seems, wasn’t the case. It was actually quite easy to get a divorce, at least for men. We see this evidenced in the debates among rabbis at the time. In Jewish literature from the time, rabbis debated what situations make for a permissible divorce. One prominent school of thought even believed that a man could permissibly divorce his wife if she merely spoiled his food or if he found someone better looking. 2

The main reason I wanted to read that passage from Matthew 5 was so that we could see that, apparently, people were saying that if you want to get a divorce, all you merely have to do is get the proper documentation, a certificate of divorce.

Now, do you see the connections in the passage? Jesus speaks of them as those who want to be justified before men, though God knows their hearts. Then we learn that their view of marriage was such that if they wanted to get a divorce, all that was necessary for them to be justified in getting a divorce was to make sure they got the proper paperwork. Do you see the connection? Because what they wanted deep down was not the approval of God, but rather the approval of man, then what was unleashed was a storm of broken relationships. And God doesn’t want that for us.

There is something else I should mention about this verse before we move to applications. It’s a rather technical observation, but one worth mentioning nonetheless. What Jesus says here in Luke 16:18 about divorce does not have what has been called the “exception clause.” The exception clause is included in Matthew 5 when divorce is mentioned, as well as in Matthew 19. The exception states that sexual immorality is a biblically permissible ground for a divorce—it doesn’t mandate that a divorce must take place, but it allows for it. In addition to the exception mentioned by Jesus about adultery, the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the church in Corinth mentions one more exception. He writes that if a Christian is married to a non-Christian, and that non-Christian decides to desert the marriage, then that desertion is another circumstance where divorce is biblically permissible, and, I believe, a remarriage is possible (see 1 Corinthians 7:1–16, especially v. 15).

Now, let’s pause for a moment. Let’s just slow down. This can all get very confusing and complicated and become very technical. And it can also feel very weighty because of how you might be processing your own past. What I want to say to you is that whatever you’re feeling right now about your past, God desires to bring healing and hope to you in the future. And if you hear Jesus’s words as hard and heavy, remember that he is a good physician, not a murderer. If Jesus is pricking you, it’s not to kill you but to heal you. Just as he had something better for these religious leaders, he has that for us too.

3. What does this statement about marriage mean for us?

Let’s talk about that now. Let’s come to the final question I wanted to ask: What does this statement about marriage mean for us?

What I’d like to do is end with a few simple encouragements. I’d like to first offer one broad encouragement for everyone, and then offer a specific encouragement for those who are single, those who are struggling in their marriage, and those who have been divorced and remarried.

First, the broad encouragement to everyone. As God’s people, we must recover God’s view of marriage, namely, marriage not as consumer relationship but a covenant relationship. Consumer relationships are one-sided relationships where as long as the other person keeps doing his or her part, then we will do our part. The hallmark of a consumer relationship is that as long as they—the other person—holds up their end of the bargain, then I’ll hold up mine. If they change their product quality or if something else happens, well, I’m free to do what I want; it’s my money. And there is nothing wrong with that in a consumer relationship. The problem comes when we bring this consumer approach into marriage.

A covenant relationship is not focused on whether or not the other person delivers the goods. A covenant relationship is one based on a solemn vow to hold up your own end of the agreement regardless of whether the other person does. This is the most beautiful of all relationships because it means that you can be truly known—known in all of your glory, but also known in all of your depravity and shame and failures and insecurities—and not only know but still loved. This is the meaning of unconditional love: truly known and dearly loved.

That’s the broad encouragement: Marriage is a covenant relationship, not a consumer relationship. Now for a few specifics.

To singles, I want to say first and foremost that you are not less than a person because you are unmarried. Jesus was not married, and he was the most human person who ever lived—he was fully human (as we say in our historic creeds), just as he was also fully God. If some other church or our church has ever communicated to you that you need to be married to matter, I apologize. Forgive us. It’s not true.

And for those singles who do desire to be married, I’d encourage you to let the words of Jesus have a sobering effect on your view of marriage. For Jesus to speak in this way of divorce implies that marriage is a good thing but also a hard thing. Marriage is not simply about fun and dates and sex and companionship. It has tears and aches and betrayals and hardships, which is to s.ay, marriage also has experiences that might make you want to get a divorce. So, singles, if you desire marriage, you desire a good thing but also a weighty thing.

To married couples who might be struggling, I’m not so much trying to convince you that divorce is wrong because I think that most of you, if not all of you, already know that divorce is wrong. Rather, what I would love to encourage the couples who are struggling is that divorce might not be your only option.

I’ve stood in front of a man and a woman and said, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God and the presence of these witnesses to join together this man and this woman in holy matrimony,” and then I’ve talked with that man and that woman a few years later about why they are getting a divorce. I’ve done this. And I think what happens sometimes is that people get locked into seeing only two options: on the one hand, divorce, which they know is bad, and on the other hand, living with someone who makes life seem terrible, which seems worse than divorce.

What I try to encourage people—perhaps the way I want to encourage you—is to consider that there might be another way. It’s a hard way, but it is the Christian way, the way of confession and repentance and healing and counseling and time and more time and grace and more grace and mercy and forgiveness. And when that happens over years, by the grace of God, things can change.

And what do you do when there has been adultery? A good friend of mine named John is a pastor, and he has been writing a series of blog posts about when his wife had an affair. 3 They are writing the posts together about what led up to the affair, how it was confessed, how they got help, and how they recovered. It’s both heart wrenching and heartwarming to read. An affair doesn’t mean you have to get a divorce. I know several couples who are like John and his wife and they are better now.

But sometimes one affair becomes repeated adultery, and when that takes place, say, over a decade or more, it seems far more likely that divorce is inevitable, and may even be—though this is a strange way to say it—God’s grace to the person who has been sinned against wickedly; Jesus has the divorice exemption for sexuality immorality because he knows that in a fallen world a divorce might be the only way for the person to heal and recover and get away from what’s happened to them.

Finally, to those who have been divorced and remarried, I won’t say much here. But I will say this: if we are to take the words of Jesus seriously, depending on the nature of your divorce, you might need to confess to God and repent that your next marriage began, in the sight of God, as adultery because the previous marriage, in the sight of God, continued. That is, I know, a heavy reality. But my guess is that these are things you might have always thought about and no one has ever really explained it to you from the Bible.

The encouragement I would also add is this: Jesus is not here speaking of perpetual adultery, something that keeps going on throughout the marriage. No, not at all. Look at what he says: “and marries another.” Do you see what is implied there? He’s saying that however the marriage began, it is a marriage. That should be encouraging. No matter where you started, now that you’re married, you are married. You are not half-married; you’re all married. Your marriage is as much a marriage as anyone else’s marriage is a marriage. So love your wife; love your husband. And know that, as you continue to follow God, you have his favor and blessing.

Conclusion

Let’s bring this to a close. The point of the passage is that God is more to be desired than riches and worldly fame. And God has your best interests in mind. He loves you and cares for you and wants you to thrive in every area of your life, including what you do with money and marriage.

And one of the reasons God speaks of money so often is because money is to be a reminder that he is the greatest treasure. And one of the reasons God’s view of marriage is so high is because marriage is a picture of the way he loves us.

The reason marriage is to be seen as a covenant relationship and not a consumer relationship, is because when we trust Jesus and become his bride, then we are in a covenant relationship with him. When we mess up, God doesn’t throw us away. To be in a covenant relationship with God is to be in the most beautiful of all relationships because it means that you can be truly known—known in all of your glory, but also known in all of your depravity and shame and failures and insecurities—and not only known but still loved. The love of Christ was so great that he, when you were unfaithful to him, went to the cross to die for you, absorbing the punishment that was yours. And he rose again and lives today to always make prayers for you and love you. Because of the gospel we are not in a consumer relationship with God. He loves us with covenant love, loving us not based on what we have done or do, but love is what he commits to do regardless. And in this gospel marriage—for better and worse, sickness and health, richer and poorer—the covenant love that God has for you holds.

Prayer

As I close in prayer this morning and the music team comes back up, let me mention one more thing. There are leaders in our church who would be delighted to pray with you this morning. Perhaps the words of Jesus have stirred up something. We would love to pray with you. Let’s pray . . .


1 The Greek word for “heard” is in the imperfect tense, which implies that they did not simply “hear” but “were hearing,” meaning time went by.
2 For a popular, accessible resource on this is the ESV Study Bible, which covers the topic well.
3 John Beeson, writing here.

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