A Christian’s Response to Marriage

A Christian’s Response to Marriage July 16, 2018

A Christian’s Response to Marriage

A Christian’s Response to Marriage

Matthew 19:1-12

Whom, therefore, God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” These are the words that end the most common form of marriage service used in Christian churches. But men are “putting asunder,” as are women. The statistics tell us that nearly one in two marriages taking place in the United States today will end in divorce, and the statistics are not much better for Christian marriages. We see the evidence of decay all around us. What are we to make of these statistics, especially when we turn to the Bible and find that God requires chastity before marriage, fidelity afterward, and lifelong unions of wives and husbands without easy divorce as an escape?

When we compare our practices with God’s standards, we might very well exclaim, as the disciples do in Matthew 19, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”

But it is good to marry! The problem is not with the institution of marriage since marriage is God’s idea. It was God who brought the first bride to the first groom in Eden, after all. Everything God does is good. The problem is sin, or to put it another way, the problem is with our own hard hearts, which Jesus refers to explicitly in verse 8. Jesus says, referring to the Old Testament law about divorce, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.”

I am sure this is why, in Matthew’s Gospel, the long discussion of divorce in chapter 19 immediately follows the equally long discussion in chapter 18 of the need of Christ’s followers to forgive other people, knowing that they themselves have been forgiven much more by God. Marriage is the most intimate of all relationships, and in marriage, the most piercing pain can be experienced. It follows that it is the relationship above all others that must be upheld by that “seventy-seven times” forgiveness about which Jesus speaks.1

Today, we take a look at how a Christian should respond to marriage. The framing of that response in wrapped around a question that the Pharisees asked Jesus. This is a similar question many raise in today’s culture.

Question: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason?”

Some Pharisees approached him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife on any grounds?” (Matthew 19:3, CSB)

In this particular section of Scripture, we are given five truths about Christian marriage, and within these five truths, we see that Jesus Himself five more truths about marriage. It is like taking the whole of Scripture and looking at five general truths. Then we narrow down like a microscope and see five more important truths that helps us in marriage.

FIVE TRUTHS ABOUT CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE

1. GOD SAYS: A man and woman are to be married for life until one dies.

““Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that he who created them in the beginning made them male and female,” and he also said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?” (Matthew 19:4–5, CSB)

God established at creation that marriage is to be between a man and woman. The reason is that God created humans as males and females. The implication is that one is meant for the other. Immediately, we see from Jesus’ answer that other forms of marriage are that these other forms of marriage go against God’s design.

2. MOSES SAYS: Forgiveness develops faithfulness in marriage

He told them, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of the hardness of your hearts, but it was not like that from the beginning.” (Matthew 19:8, CSB)

When you look at the passage in Deuteronomy where Moses is instructed about divorce, it shows that there is a problem in the marriage that no one wants to address. One person has a problem with the other, but the relationship is never healed. It is never restored. Because of unforgiveness, the marriage is destroyed.

The only reason for divorce was the hardness of the heart, which is a condition of not forgiving one another. To put it another way, forgiveness from the offended party develops faithfulness in the offending party. Divorce happens because one does not show forgiveness to the person who did wrong. By the time of Jesus, this process has been abused, just like it is today.

Jesus interprets the reason for the divorce example as a problem of forgiveness.

He told them, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of the hardness of your hearts, but it was not like that from the beginning.” (Matthew 19:8, CSB)

Divorce in the Old Testament allowed the other person to remarry. But the problem was never solved. Women would go from one marriage to another and the man would never learn to forgive her for anything that she did. Moses dealt with the aftermath of divorce.

Jesus explains that the reason for divorce in the Old Testament is because of a hardness of the heart. In other words, a bitter, unforgiving heart is the reason why divorce occurs. A divorce is an option because of sexual unfaithfulness. Jesus said that earlier in Matthew:

““It was also said, Whoever divorces his wife must give her a written notice of divorce. But I tell you, everyone who divorces his wife, except in a case of sexual immorality, causes her to commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:31–32, CSB)

He does not comment on the aftermath of divorce which was the focus of the Pentateuchal text but sweeps its trouble-shooting provisions aside with the assertion that the original divorce itself was not permissible.2

Jesus explains that divorce is only reasonable for sexual immorality. He narrows the reasons for someone to get a divorce. But Jesus is not the only one who explains why divorce should be rare.

3. PAUL SAYS: Christians should stay faithful in marriage.

Paul quotes Jesus:

To the married I give this command—not I, but the Lord—a wife is not to leave her husband. But if she does leave, she must remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband—and a husband is not to divorce his wife.” (1 Corinthians 7:10–11, CSB)

Paul first notes that faithfulness is the goal, even for the person who has been offended. Paul notes that there must be a separation followed by a process of reconciliation. The goal is to develop faithfulness. Again, here, we see that Paul wants to see forgiveness given a chance to work. The woman must first try to forgive her husband before she leaves.

One can separate when one sins. But Paul says that Jesus says there must be reconciliation. That can only happen when the offending party repents. I would even say that even if a spouse commits sexual immorality, it is forgivable. Reconciliation is still possible.

This is true for marriages as it is true for all Christian relationships. The goal to develop better relationships.

4. PETER SAYS: Christians who have married an unbeliever should stay faithful in the marriage

In the same way, wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, even if some disobey the word, they may be won over without a word by the way their wives live when they observe your pure, reverent lives.” (1 Peter 3:1–2, CSB)

Peter emphasizes faithfulness in the marriage. Notice that what Peter states for women in the marriage also has to do with forgiveness:

When husbands “disobey the word” then the husband is “won over.” How are husbands won over? By the act of forgiveness. This is why Peter says that Christians should stay in the relationship.

5. JESUS SAYS: Christian marriage succeed when the husband and wife forgive each other and stay faithful to each other

FIVE TRUTHS FROM JESUS ABOUT MARRIAGE

1. Christians can live valuable lives as single people

He responded, “Not everyone can accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb, there are eunuchs who were made by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves that way because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who is able to accept it should accept it.”” (Matthew 19:11–12, CSB)

Jesus ends the instruction about marriage by addressing people who are not married. Jesus points out that Christians can live valuable lives as single people. Jesus makes no distinction between single and married people and the purpose of God.

2. Christians who marry should only consider divorce for limited reasons

I tell you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another commits adultery.”” (Matthew 19:9, CSB)

““It was also said, Whoever divorces his wife must give her a written notice of divorce. But I tell you, everyone who divorces his wife, except in a case of sexual immorality, causes her to commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:31–32, CSB)

Jesus limits the case for divorce to sexual immorality. The word here is porniea, which in this case, could be a number of reasons. Going back to Deuteronomy, there were two cases for divorce. There was the liberal reason and the conservative reason. For example:

The more conservative school of Shammai held to the letter of the Mosaic law and said that the word “indecent” means “unchastity.” The more liberal school of Hillel interpreted “indecency” to mean that “he may divorce her even if she spoiled a dish for him.” The esteemed Rabbi Akiba, who belonged to the school of Hillel, later added, “Even if he found another fairer than she,” demonstrating that divorce was being granted for the most superficial reasons.3

Jesus took the conservative reason. Jesus narrows the scope and cases for divorce. The point is that divorce should be very rare for the Christian.

3. Christians who who marry, divorce and remarry without repentance commits adultery

He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. Also, if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”” (Mark 10:11–12, CSB)

In a parallel text, Jesus explains that adultery can happen to either party. The sin of adultery and the consequence of divorce goes both ways. If a person sins, and there is no repentance, then the person who sins and remarries is committing adultery. How do I know this? Because Jesus gave us two experiences to reveal His will about marriage. Jesus modeled this forgiveness in two different experiences:

First, Jesus confronted the woman at the well:

““Go call your husband,” he told her, “and come back here.” “I don’t have a husband,” she answered. “You have correctly said, ‘I don’t have a husband,’ ” Jesus said. “For you’ve had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”” (John 4:16–18, CSB)

Second, Jesus confronted the woman caught in adultery:

““No one, Lord,” she answered. “Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus. “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”]” (John 8:11, CSB)

In both encounters, the result was that they stopped sinning. Jesus called both of them to repentance. Jesus also forgave both women for their sexual sins. Repentance and forgiveness is not just for eternal salvation. We need to repent of our sin in our marriages. We need to forgive each other when the other sins in our marriage.

4. Christians who marry and divorce can remarry after repentance

I tell you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another commits adultery.”” (Matthew 19:9, CSB)

Notice here that Jesus says that if a person divorces and marries sins. Adultery is the sin of sexual immorality, not divorce. Divorce is the result. This verse shows that both forgiveness and repentance are keys to moving on. If the spouse divorces because of sexual immorality by the other spouse, then remarriage is allowed. Yet, both parties will not move further in their relationships without repentance and forgiveness.

5. Christians who stay married do so because they learn to be faithful and forgive one another

He told them, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of the hardness of your hearts, but it was not like that from the beginning.” (Matthew 19:8, CSB)

Jesus explained the reason why Moses permitted, not commanded divorce. For example:

What Moses did command was the granting of a divorce certificate for the woman’s protection. Without a certificate, she could be subject to exploitation, even recrimination. The certificate also prevented the man from marrying her again. Thus she could not be treated like chattel. Marriage was not something one could walk in and out of. The reason God allowed divorce was the hardness of the heart to which the men of Israel had succumbed. It was a divine concession to human weakness—reluctant permission at best!4

There is very little reason to divorce in a Christian marriage. Christian couples should work at making their marriages an example for others to follow – a marriage full of respect, love, and forgiveness for one another. We never have to forgive Jesus. Jesus has never done wrong in His relationship with us.

Love is the fuel that runs the engine of a relationship. Forgiveness is the oil that keeps the engine in operation. The solution is not to replace the car with a newer and younger model. Instead, like your parents told you when you got your first car, never let the tank run out of gas, and never let your engine run out of oil. In the same way, never stop loving, and always keep forgiving.

1 James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001), 398–400.

2 R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co., 2007), 208.

3 Michael J. Wilkins, Matthew, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2004), 643.

4 R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001), 116.

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