God’s Intent for Marriage

Posted: October 15, 2012 in Matthew

Matthew 19:1-12, “God’s Intent for Marriage”

This is going to be a tough topic for some of us.  Although statistics can be somewhat misleading, depending on the source and the analysis, the numbers on marriage and divorce within the USA are rather dismal.  In the overall population, roughly half of all marriages end in divorce. Among Christians, the divorce rate varies wildly depending on someone’s level of faith.  Among those who call themselves Christian, but demonstrate no real commitment to Christ, they have a 20% greater likelihood of divorcing than someone claiming no religious affiliation.  Among those who are active Christians, they are 35% less likely to divorce.  Someone’s commitment to Jesus makes a huge difference in the longevity of his/her marriage – but that still leaves a ton of divorces out there among Christians.  Many of you have either experienced the pain of divorce in the past, or perhaps are even going through it right now.  If anything, this is not a subject to avoid, but embrace.  Our culture is failing when it comes to the issue of marriage.  We need to know what God has to say about it.

Before we get too far, we need to remember that although Jesus did teach about an unpardonable sin, divorce/immorality/adultery are not it.  Many of us did all sorts of things we regret prior to coming to faith in Christ, and there is forgiveness for that.  Many of us have STILL done all sort of things we regret after coming to faith in Christ, and there is forgiveness for that as well.  We don’t want to minimize the reality of sin, but neither do we need to be strangled by it.  If you have fallen in this area, go to Jesus for His forgiveness (though confession and faith), and Jesus promises to give it. Jesus makes us new creations when we first come to faith in Him, and Jesus cleanses those who already believe in Him when they confess their sin.  This is not a day to be “beat up” by the Bible; this is a day to hear the heart of God and cling closely and thankfully to our Savior.

This is actually a transition time in the ministry of Jesus.  Chronologically, He was preparing to make His final trip to Jerusalem in order to be rejected and crucified.  He had been revealed as the Christ, the Son of the Living God to His disciples at Caesarea Philippi.  He had been visually revealed in a preview of all of His glory to a handful of His disciples on the mount of transfiguration.  All the while, He was warning the disciples about His coming suffering and death.  Once He finished His discourse in Galilee regarding offenses, straying Christians, and forgiveness, He began His final journey to Jerusalem.

And that’s when the Pharisees come again.  They came to test Jesus, trying to set up a wedge between He and the people.  Divorce and remarriage (and God’s intent for marriage) was a hot-button issue then, just like it is today, and they were hoping to get Jesus to pick sides.  Jesus didn’t take the bait & the only side He picked was God’s.  God intended marriage to be for life, and this is not something to be taken lightly.

Matthew 19:1–12
1 Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these sayings, that He departed from Galilee and came to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. 2 And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them there.

  1. Jesus had been in His “home-base” region in Galilee (specifically around Capernaum – Mt 17:24).  Now He goes to the region beyond the Jordan.  This was still a Jewish region, though there was much on the side of the Trans-Jordan that was pagan.  Jesus is continuing His mission to take the gospel first to the Jews, and allow it to spread from there.
  2. Though He travelled around the area, people continued to follow Him wherever He went.  Perhaps some even came all the way down from Galilee.  Whatever the case, the news always spread about Jesus wherever He went, and people flocked to Him.  And Jesus continued to heal them.  Matthew doesn’t go into details about the healing – it’s so common with Jesus, that at this point it’s just an assumption.  When Jesus showed up, people got healed.
    1. We serve a compassionate Savior!  We serve a powerful Savior!

3 The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?”

  1. The multitudes were not the only ones following Jesus; the Pharisees did so as well.  It seemingly had been a while since the Pharisees had shown up.  The last time Matthew mentioned them was back in Ch 16, when they teamed up with the Sadducees to ask Jesus (again) about a sign of His authority.  Obviously that doesn’t mean they were not around; the Bible simply doesn’t record their presence.  Wherever they had been, they show up again now, seemingly prepared to pose a test for Jesus about divorce.
  2. Some of this comes out of a Jewish debate at the time.  There were some sects among the Jews that believed that divorce was always wrong, under any circumstance.  Other Jewish rabbis had different ideas that ranged from divorce being allowed only in the case of adultery, to divorce being allowed (even as a religious obligation) under a general umbrella of the wife not pleasing her husband.  She could burn his breakfast or just look at him the wrong way in the morning, and he was allowed to write a writ of divorce.  It’s this side of the debate that the Pharisees are trying to get Jesus’ answer.  If they can get Him to side with one over the other, then they could use that to try to split Jesus’ followers, or show that He didn’t care about the law of Moses, etc.
  3. Question: Were the Pharisees really looking for what was lawful in the cast of marriage & divorce?  No.  They were specifically “testing” Jesus.  They simply used the word of God as a tool to try to accomplish their goal.  That isn’t respecting or reverencing God; that is indifference to Him.
    1. That’s also what many people still do today with the Bible.  They aren’t really interested in what God has to say; they just want a convenient excuse on which to hang their hat in order not to believe. If they can find one issue in the Bible that they don’t like, then they don’t want to have anything to do with Jesus.  The problem here is the same problem the Pharisees had.  People do this when they look for the legal technicalities and loopholes, rather than at the heart and intent of God.  God does not hide Himself from us.  He’s made His person and character plain to us through Jesus Christ.  If we want to know what God is like, we look to Jesus.  When we see Jesus, everything else falls into place.

4 And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’ ?

  1. Notice Jesus doesn’t fall for the trap.  In responding to their question, He doesn’t answer the different rabbinical debates directly.  Instead, He backs up to the foundation of the issue.  Jesus did not discuss the Pharisee’s parsing of the law; He goes back to God’s initial establishment of marriage as an institution.  What did God do at the beginning?  What did God intend prior to the fall?  THAT is God’s intent for marriage.  Jesus goes directly to the creation account of Genesis.  Genesis 1:27, "So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." []  This was the summary verse – the overview of what God did in creating humans.  Chapter 2 gave the detailed account: Genesis 2:18, 21–24, "(18) And the LORD God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” … (21) And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. (22) Then the rib which the LORD God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man. (23) And Adam said: “This is now bone of my bones And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” (24) Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." []  These were verses of which the Pharisees would have been extremely familiar.  They knew the creation account – they knew how God had made man & woman, and paired them together in joint union through marriage.  Jesus isn’t telling them anything new; He’s reminding them of the foundation.  Why talk about the fine-parsing of the law through the interpretations of the newest and hippest rabbis, when you can know exactly God’s intent by looking to the Scripture?
    1. Isn’t that the issue today?  It’s so easy to fall back on the excuse of: “Times have changed!  We’re in the 21st century.  What do the latest experts tell us regarding their interpretations about this?”  Who cares what the latest experts tell us if we have God’s own word about something?  Regarding marriage or any other issue.  If God’s word is clear – if His intent is plain – why wouldn’t we go back to what God has to say on any given topic?  God is God – He knows what is best.  Look to Him and to His word.
  2. So what is God’s intent and plan for marriage?  This has become a hot-button political topic today as people attempt to redefine marriage to fit the times of the day.  For all of the various viewpoints that pull from all sorts of Scripture (many times, Scripture totally ripped from its context), Jesus tells us plainly in Matt 19 what God intended for marriage from the beginning.  This is God’s plan, and God has the right to give it because God is the one who made us in the first place.  God is the one who made Adam, and proclaimed that it was not good for him to be alone, and God is the one who provided the solution by making Eve.  He made male and female, specifically for each other.  So what is God’s plan, according to Jesus?  1 man + 1 woman…for life.
  3. God “made them male and female.”  This statement alone is controversial today.  God had a specific intent in mind when He gave the woman to the man, purposefully designing Eve just for Adam.  Today we live in a culture that is attempting to persuade the general populace that God did no such thing and that God had no such intent.  They say, “Genesis is a myth, and there is no reason to believe it.”  Whatever you believe about the original wording of Genesis & the timeframe that is involved, there is no getting around the very clear statement of Jesus.  Jesus affirms the Genesis account, quoting Ch. 1:27 & 2:24 exactly.  If we believe Jesus to be God (which He is), then His words have the authority of God.  Whatever the changing nature and viewpoint of our culture & time, God’s word is sufficiently clear on this point.
    1. Please note that Jesus says nothing here about how we are to treat those who disagree and go opposite of God’s standard.  Jesus is consistent in His teaching that we are to love one another – to love our neighbor as ourselves – even to love our enemies.  There is no place for name-calling or other acts of anger towards those who disagree.  They might be hateful towards Christians, but Christians are to stand firm in the word of God and respond with love.
  4. For as much as homosexuality has dominated the headlines regarding Christians and marriage, the far bigger scandal among the church is the same problem the Pharisees were testing Jesus with: casual divorce & serial marriages.  Remember that God’s standard is 1 man, 1 woman, for life.  Christians typically have the genders correct; it’s the numbers and longevity with which we have problems.  Many Christians are fine with disagreeing with modern homosexual attempt to redefine marriage. It’s easy to disagree with that, because that’s not generally our problem or temptation.  Where we get fuzzy is where the problem hits closer to home: divorce, immorality, and adultery.  These are the practices that many Christians might actually engage in, so we get far more quiet about that.  That’s flat-out hypocrisy, and it ought not be the case.
    1. I would suggest that one of the reasons we are experiencing a cultural shift on the definition of marriage is because we long ago disregarded the value of marriage.  Instead of life-long commitments for the glory of God, we traded it in for no-fault divorce and the excuse of “He/she makes me feel good…  Or they don’t make me feel good any more…”  Instead of a commitment that reflects Christ’s love for the Church, we want a commitment that reflects ourselves and our own changing feelings.  Now our culture is reaping the consequences.  If we want to proclaim the value of marriage to our culture, then we had better start valuing it within the Church.
  5. Why is marriage for life?  Because of the spiritual union that takes place, symbolized by the physical union between husband and wife.  This is the point Jesus was making with Genesis 2:24.  The man and woman leave their respective families, and God makes one new family out of the two.  God had taken Eve out of Adam’s physical side, and God now rejoined them spiritually through the covenant of marriage.  They are “one flesh” – they are one person/one body.  Just as it would be inconceivable to rip a person in half and try to pretend that it was a healthy situation, so it ought to be regarding divorce.  It rips one body in two.  Divorce is always painful (even when justified), and thus divorce is one of the few things that God specifically declares that He hates. (Mal 2:16)

6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”

  1. Marriage is God-ordained & God-accomplished.  Given by Him, done through Him, to His glory, and thus it’s not something to be messed with.  We often quote vs. 6 as weddings as a type of blessing, thanking God for what He has done in joining two people together.  (And it is indeed good!)  At the same time, vs. 6 is also a warning.  When we initiate unbiblical divorce, we are interrupting the work of God.  We are taking apart that which God has put together.  The vows we take before God and witnesses are binding, and need to be treated as such.
  2. Ultimately, earthly marriage is a picture of the relationship between Jesus and the Church.  This is why divorce is hated by God.  Jesus does not casually divorce His Bride; He makes and eternal covenant commitment to the Church, demonstrated through the shedding of His own blood.  [BIBLE: Ephesians 5:25-32]  Paul uses the example.  Just as Jesus honors His covenant with His Church, purifying her and forgiving her no matter how many times we sin against Him, so are we to love, cherish, and forgive our spouses.  But more than the example, Jesus’ relationship with the Church is the standard.  It may be a mystery as to how it all works out exactly, but there’s no question that earthly marriage is a picture of what the relationship between Jesus and the Church is supposed to be.  This is not something that we can separate – this is not something that we would ever WANT to separate!  To be ripped apart from our Lord is a terrifying thought, and Jesus would never do it to us.  So why would we do it to our spouses?

7 They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?”

  1. The Pharisees are partly right and partly wrong here.  Yes, the Law did make provision for divorce.  Moses made it clear that marriage was a sacred covenant not to be entered into nor dissolved casually.  In fact, the section the Pharisees refer to is forbidding the idea of jumping in & out of marriage. First a woman might be married to one man, he divorces her – she marries another, and he divorces her – she goes back to her original husband, etc. [Deut 24:1-4]  This was not to be done.  The Hebrew people were to be holy, as God is holy.  Thus their marriages were to be solemn vows, not broken lightly.  When the decision was made, it was made.  After all, there was a covenant relationship with God at stake.
  2. The problem with the Pharisees is that they took Moses’ command regarding the procedure and process of divorce, and turned it into an imperative commanding someone to engage in divorce.  Moses had been regulating divorce; not commanding it.  Jesus brings the correction…

8 He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.

  1. Divorce is allowed; it’s not forced.  It is legal and permissible, but it is not recommended nor commanded.  God gave the allowance through Moses because it was necessary to deal with the reality of divorce.  There needed to be some way of governing the process when it happened.  God didn’t leave things to chance, so He gave the law.  But that doesn’t mean that divorce is His desire for us.  He gave it out of an acknowledgement of our hard hearts.  The Hebrews had already demonstrated hard hearts throughout their time in the wilderness.  They constantly complained & rebelled against the grace of God as He led them unto the Promised Land.  They were a stiff-necked people…and we are no better.  Many times we are not content with what God has given us.  Many times we are not willing to wait upon the Lord.  Sometimes we are not content to give the time needed for our spouse to come to a point of repentance.  Other times, it’s our spouse who is so hard to the need for change.  We (as human beings) are hard-hearted, so God gave the allowance.
  2. Many times people look for the way out rather than the way through.  Escape, rather than endurance.  If you are in a marriage that is struggling, ask God for strength, and He will give it.  God will help you endure.  God will equip you for the moment.  Sadly, many times people don’t want what it is that God promises in this regard.  They would rather their decisions be easy & be over, so they jump to divorce.  (And divorce is never easy, and rarely over.  There are always long-term effects.)

9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”

  1. Sometimes the marriage covenant is so badly broken that there seems to be no other option.  God does allow divorce in certain circumstances.  It is always a sad situation which grieves the heart of God, but it is sometimes allowed.  Jesus was specifically speaking to the Jews about the Jewish law, but the principle remains true for the Christian.  In the extreme instances in which the marriage vow is shattered, there is the possibility of divorce.
  2. The instance to which Jesus refers is “sexual immorality.”  What exactly IS sexual immorality?  Scholars have different viewpoints here.  Some think this is a specific reference to adultery.  Yet Jesus clearly uses a different word for adultery (one much more common), and according to Jewish law, adultery was a crime punishable by death – not divorce. (The death sentence had for the most part fallen out of use with the Jews, but it was still the prescribed method – via the woman caught in adultery in John 8.)  Some think this is a reference to more general sexual sin (though nothing casual), and indeed the Greek word was used in that regard. [πορνείᾳ = fornication, prostitution…ranging to incest & bestiality & more.]  This would be such kind of sin that would shatter the marriage covenant.
    1. Again, divorce seems to be allowed in this circumstance; not commanded.  Many marriages have suffered through the tragedy of porneia in the past, gone through counseling seeking Jesus, and have come through on the other side.  Never give up hope!
  3. How serious is this in the sight of God?  So much that if a person initiated divorce without Biblical justification, and then proceeded to re-marry, they themselves would be guilty of the sin of adultery.  They may have thought they were the ones in the right – their spouse might have been a jerk or irresponsible or unthinking.  (“My spouse is just so unreasonable, don’t you know?  He/she just isn’t the person that they need to be!”)  Regardless if that spouse believes they are in the right, in the end, they are the ones who are guilty of sin.  They are setting their former spouse up for adultery, and they are the ones causing someone else to stumble.  And the person who has married the one without Biblical justification for divorce is also guilty of sin.  When not handled according to God’s word, divorce just compounds sin upon sin upon sin.  If we want to stop the cycle of sin, we need to be obedient to the word of God.

10 His disciples said to Him, “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”

  1. The disciples immediately see the issue here.  Whatever we think are the Biblical reasons for divorce, the disciples understand that divorce should only occur in the most extreme circumstances.  The reasons for divorce are debated among scholars.  Jesus only lists porneia, but Paul writes of some other circumstances.  Typically the occasions are sexual immorality, and/or abandonment by a non-believer, and some make an argument for physical abuse as well.  In every case, it is extreme…which takes us to the question of the disciples.  If divorce is to be that rare, then it would be better for many marriages never to take place.  Guess what?  They’re right.  Don’t misunderstand…God has ordained marriage. The first miracle Jesus ever did was at a wedding. The Proverbs say that he who finds a wife find a good thing (Pro 18:22).  Marriage is good!  But if you are about to enter into a marriage, and you’re considering it a temporary thing – or are considering what escape clauses might apply to you now or in the future, then it would be better for you to remain single.  Many divorces would be avoided if people didn’t rush into marriages in the first place.  Without a commitment for life, you have no business walking down the aisle.

11 But He said to them, “All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: 12 For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.”

  1. Notice that Jesus agrees with the disciples.  That’s not easy news for everyone to handle, but it’s the truth.  Some people are better off single & celibate.  That’s the idea of a “eunuch.”  This was a man who was castrated & thus unable to marry and have children.  Jesus uses it here as a euphemism for singleness.  Some people are given to be eunuchs their whole lives.  Perhaps they are never attracted to anyone of the opposite sex – perhaps they have some physical disability that prevents them.  Some people are made to be single by the actions of others against them.  Maybe through an act against them they have no desire ever to enter into marriage.  Of course in Jesus’ day, the practice of making physical eunuchs still existed – so the literal meaning would be true.  Still others are voluntarily single in order to glorify God.  Because of their love for God (perhaps in a desire to abstain from sin – perhaps for any number of reasons), they choose to remain celibate.  Not everyone can do this, but some can & should.  As Jesus says, “He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.
  2. Paul agrees with this teaching when writing to the Corinthians.  He knew that it was easier to be committed to the gospel when you did not have family obligations to fulfill.  1 Corinthians 7:32, "But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord—how he may please the Lord." [7:32-35]  The unmarried Christian can care for the things of the Lord – he/she can serve in ways in which a married person can never serve.  There’s no family to feed, nor other people to please.  It’s interesting that our culture (especially within the church) puts such a premium on men and women finding a mate, and getting married as soon as possible.  The New Testament makes no such claim.  If a person is single, that may be a gift from the Lord.  The single person should not be in a rush to go find a mate; they should ask the Lord how best they can serve Him with the freedom they have been given.
  3. Singleness is for some, but it’s not for all.  Keep in mind that not everyone is built this way.  Jesus says that this has been “given” by the Lord to some, and not to others.  Some people would burn with passion and give themselves over to fornication without marriage.  Some people are gifted by God to be single.  Some are gifted to raise families.  The key is to be content in whatever situation God has given you.  Are you single?  Stay single until/if God ever changes that situation for you.  Are you married?  Stay married & don’t look for a way out.  Look for a way through, and for God’s grace to help you be the very best spouse He has called you to be.  Glorify God in the situation He HAS given you, and then leave the results up to Him.

Conclusion:
In the Pharisee’s game of cat & mouse, they tried to trap Jesus & they failed.  Instead of a getting a parsed answer with Jesus playing it safe to please as many people as possible, Jesus goes straight for the heart of God in showing His intent for marriage all along.  When God gave it, it was good, and He gave it as 1 man + 1 woman…for life.  When we go into that sort of commitment, we’re not looking for escape hatches.  We’re not looking for the least that can be done.  We go into that knowing that it is God who makes us one, and it is God’s desire that our marriage would succeed as a picture of Jesus and the Church.  Just as Jesus is totally and sacrificially committed to us, so are we to be totally and sacrificially committed to our spouses.

What happens when it goes wrong?  What happens when marriage vows are broken and trust is lost through the sin of sexual immorality?  It hurts us and it hurts the heart of God.  There is an option for divorce, but not a command.  Marriages can be healed when both spouses turn to the Lord in humility and faith.  We need to trust our God and give Him time to work within our hearts.

So what happens if this is you?  Maybe you got divorced in the past for casual reasons – certainly nothing along the lines of what Jesus teaches here.  Maybe you were the cause for your divorce, and there’s nothing that can be done to rectify it.  Things are too far gone, and people have moved on with re-marriage.  Where changes can be made, we make them.  Where apologies and reconciliation can be given, we do it.  If sin has taken place, we stop the sin & don’t compound it.  Divorce is not solved by more divorce, but it can be prevented without further marriages.  Do what needs to be done. 

And as we do these things, we never forget the love and mercy and compassion of our Lord Jesus.  Remember that’s how Ch. 19 began – with Jesus’ compassion.  He healed those who came to Him.  If you have the pain of divorce in your life, Jesus can bring healing to you, too.  He died for us knowing that we would sin.  He rose again offering forgiveness for every sin; not just a select few.  If you have believed upon Jesus for your Lord and Savior, go to Him with this issue and ask for His forgiveness.  1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." []  You don’t want to shut your eyes and pretend it never happened, but neither do you want to be strangled with guilt for the rest of your days.  Jesus offers His forgiveness and cleansing – go to Him for it.

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