Much debate surrounds Jesus’ remarks about divorce in Matthew 19:3-12. R. T. France observes why so much of the discussion is off-base from the start. In doing so, he provides some sage advice about Christian ethics in general. He writes:
Ethical norms should be sought not in legal texts which deal with the situation where things have already gone wrong, but in the most fundamental statements available of the positive will of God for human behavior. There is a saying, “Hard cases make bad law,” and it may be suggested that they make even worse ethics. The ethics of the kingdom of heaven…seek not primarily how evil may be contained and alleviated, but how the best may be discerned and followed. It would make a huge and beneficial difference to modern debates on divorce if this priority were observed, so that the focus fell not on what grounds for divorce may be permitted (as in the Pharisees’ question), but on how marriage may best live up to the Creator’s purpose for it. There will, no doubt, always be a need for trouble-shooting legislation and pastoral help when things have gone wrong, but if that is where our ethical discussion begins, the battle is lost before it is joined. Those who start from Deut 24:1-4 will have as their basic presupposition that divorce is to be expected, the question being only how it is to be regulated. Those who start from Gen 1-2 will see any separation of what God has joined together as always an evil; circumstances may prove it to be the lesser evil, but that can never make it less than an infringement of the primary purpose of God for marriage (The Gospel of Matthew, NICNT, p. 714).
Three take-aways here: (1) There is an order in creation that must form our ethical thinking; (2) that order reveals God’s purposes for our moral life; (3) we ought to evaluate our actions not only by whether or not they are “permissible” but by whether or not they achieve God’s purposes.
Christian, if you are wondering whether or not you should do a certain thing, do not simply ask “Is it permissible?” The question that you need to be asking is this: “Does it fulfill God’s purpose?”