Last week, Pastor William jabbed at me about tonight’s message, saying I’d be preaching the ‘final word’ on Marriage, Celibacy and Divorce.
It’s a funny joke, because what do I know about any of that? I’m a 30 year old man who has been married for 4 years. People say that I’m still in my ‘honeymoon phase’, that until I’ve been married for at least 20 years, I have nothing to say about the matter.
In fact, often in ministry I’m looked down on by people who say that I’ve got no grounding to speak because of my youth or because of my inexperience. ‘You can’t talk about children – you’ve never had any. You can’t talk about divorce – you’ve never faced it. You can’t talk about having a work balance – you only work on Sundays.’ I want to say to them, ‘I’ve never DIED either, but I can preach about it!’
Well, friends – I haven’t had a long marriage and I haven’t had a divorce; but I’d call this message the ‘final word’ on the matters – not because I’m an expert, but because it’s God’s Word on the matters and that is the ‘final word’.
But this is a hard message to preach. Jesus doesn’t hold back at all on God’s standard – and from what He says, many people who have been divorced and remarried, or who have loved ones who have been divorced and remarried, are left feeling excluded permanently from God’s standard.
It’s a high standard! So high, in fact, that after outlining God’s plan for marriage and God’s stand against divorce, the disciples themselves cry in desperation: “If this is the case, it is better not to marry!” And they’re right!
What we’re going to do tonight is, instead of following the world’s rhetoric of the importance of giving marriage your best shot and well, if it doesn’t work out, no harm done – we’re going to look at what God says about marriage and divorce.
And for those young people here tonight, I hope it’ll give you a SHOCK – a JOLT – to recognise that MARRIAGE MATTERS TO GOD. He does NOT take it lightly, and neither should you.
And if you properly understand God’s view on marriage, it should give you pause to consider whether you should even consider never getting married, for fear that you might mess it up.
And you should be afraid. Marriage is not a light matter, and there is no way out once you’re in. When you get married, God’s plan is that you’re married for life – till death do us part – allowing no break regardless of the amount of strain or the source of the strain.
Let’s start tonight by reading the text itself.
1When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. 2Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. 3Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” 4“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’, 5and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” 7“Why then”, they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” 8Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” 10The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” 11Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12There are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others – and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”
First, CREATION PRECEDENCE (vs. 4-5)
There’s a lot of challenges that we face in life that can be solved by going back to the beginning. Many of you face challenges at work; but when you remind yourself of why you chose that career, you feel excited to go on – even to do more than you are. Many of you face marital spats, and wonder why you married this person in the first place; but when you think back to what it was that you fell in love with, you want to sort things out and make things fresh again.
That’s what Jesus does in our passage tonight. When the Pharisees ask Him about marriage and divorce, Jesus points them back to the original plan. Why did God ordain marriage – what was the point of it?
Over time, we can start to see marriage as a contract between two people. Sure, that contract made sense in the beginning. Dual incomes. Lots of sex. Someone to go to awkward parties with. One of the reasons we got married was so that Sarah wouldn’t have to go up and try to catch the bouquet anymore.
In biblical days there were similar advantages: marriages would have combined families, been a part of business merges, strengthened clans, provided children.
But over time, these “contracts” can make less sense. Finances become more stable, sex is less, children have already come and will be there whether the marriage contract is honoured or not.
On top of that, problems creep in. Spouse personality changes, health problems weigh you down, finances can become tight, small unforgiven offenses roll into massive, impassable mountains, and sometimes huge offenses like infidelity appear almost overnight.
If marriage is a contract, then there will come a time when the contract just doesn’t make any sense anymore. Then what?
Well, then divorce makes perfect sense.
And let’s not be shallow about this. I’m not talking about my spouse ‘not matching my lifestyle anymore’. I’m talking about a marriage with deep pains – a family in financial crisis because of a gambling addiction; a physically and emotionally abusive spouse; an emotionally negligent parent leaving all child-rearing and family caring to the spouse. I’m talking about a wife destroying trust by a sexual affair, a husband destroying love through physical abuse.
These situations don’t just suggest the possibility of divorce; they scream for vindication – or at least freedom from the pain and the source of the pain! GET ME OUT OF HERE!
So, the Pharisees ask, “Is it lawful to get divorced for any and every reason?”
If the contract isn’t favouring both parties anymore – if there is pain in the mix; if the marriage is actually causing emotional and psychological harm…You know, Moses said we could. He commanded that we just write a letter, that’s good enough. So, Jesus – what do you say?
Jesus says – Let’s go back to the beginning. “Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh’?”
The CREATION PRECIDENCE is that marriage is not a ‘contract’
– it’s a joining of two people into one person.
When two people make a commitment of love to each other and express that commitment through the act of sexual intercourse, they aren’t just having a good time – in God’s eyes they are joined together into one single unit.
One single unit.
Think about that for a minute.
I stand here, my wife sits there, but in God’s eyes we are one person.
Second, CREATOR’S PRINCIPLE (vs. 6)
What does that mean? What can we learn from this? Let’s consider the Creator’s Principle which we find in verse 6. What is God’s LAW that we learn from the creation precedence – the way God made us. The principle is this: WHAT GOD HAS JOINED TOGETHER, LET NO ONE SEPARATE.
When a couple stands before their friends and families, making vows to each other and to God, they are being knitted together into one single unit – knitted together not by affection or by infatuation, knitted together by God.
He stands at the podium with the couple, joining heart to heart, hand to hand, hip to hip.
Understand, I stood there a little under four years ago, trying my very best to say the right words as if it was a performance, and there’s a level of ‘performance’ in it. We wrote our own vows and I tried my very best to make it sweet as if it were a romance, and there’s a level of ‘romance’ in it.
But while I am focussed on the part that I play in this ceremony, and shivering, hoping I get it all right – there’s a far greater work that God is doing, invisible to me and to those that are there, but far deeper and far more wonderful and meant to be eternal. In marriage, God Himself is graciously joining us together for life.
God has joined us together. Let no one separate. Not a parent. Not a lawyer. And not even me, the most affected party.
From now on, He gives me a special responsibility. From now on, Sarah’s life will be demanded from my hands, and my life will be demanded from Sarah’s hands. If she is unhappy, God will call me to account for it. If Sarah lives a prayer-less life and I fall into sin, there is some level to which God will call her to account for my sin. Why? Because she is my life, and I am hers. That’s not a romantic statement – that’s a theological statement.
Third, CREATURE’S PREDICAMENT (vs. 7-10)
But this creates a predicament – a jam – a dilemma for us. If I become one flesh with my wife, then it’s not going to be easy to separate from her when our relationship becomes difficult. And sometimes marriage becomes very difficult; excruciatingly difficult! Sometimes our relationship becomes a choice of her life or mine.
But what we learn from the text tonight is that THERE IS NO ‘WAY OUT’ of marriage. When God created marriage, He didn’t create it with a re-do button. He didn’t install a fail-safe that allows you to revert to your marriageable state.
Once you are married, you’re joined for life, and in the same way that you can’t survive if your left half were separated from the right half of your body, so you aren’t mean to survive if you separate from your marriage partner.
But here’s a question: If God says that He joins two people into one through marriage, then why did He allow divorce?
No – the Pharisees ask why Moses – being God’s mouthpiece – commanded divorce. They are still trying to trap Jesus.
Jesus corrects them – Moses permitted divorce, because the people’s hearts were hard. But it wasn’t that way from the beginning. Actually, marriage is so important to God that He intended there to be only one way out: Death – not than anyone should be looking for ways out.
Young people, take this seriously: Marriage is not like a cell-phone contract; or like buying a pot-plant and hoping for the best. When a person gets married, divorce is not an option – DEATH COMES FIRST. Anything else leads to the sin of adultery – it leads to sin in God’s eyes.
It’s when this clicks into place for the disciples that they cry in desperation: “If this is the case, it is better not to marry!” Yes! That’s the predicament! I can’t get out when marriage gets tough? I can’t get out if my spouse changes? I can’t get out when all life becomes like a living hell because of the person I’m joined to? “If this is the case, it is better not to marry!” Yes! Now you get it!
So, Jesus goes on and says, consider the possibility of celibacy – remaining unmarried. Marriage is not a toy; it’s a gift; but perhaps God has another gift for you: For the sake of the kingdom, maybe you should remain unmarried.
To delve into that is a sermon for another time and another passage – that’s 1 Corinthians 7 matters.
For tonight, I want to just give you a solid understanding of the weightiness of marriage – that it is FOR LIFE with NO POSSIBILITY OF AN OUT. That means it needs to be taken with that sort of seriousness – not the seriousness of choosing a career – you can change that. Not the seriousness of choosing a house – you can change that. Having chosen a marriage partner, God knits you together into one flesh, which only permits freedom from that commitment through DEATH. Make this your mantra: Death comes first.
And if that freaks you out, and you find yourself standing with the disciples, eyes wide open, mouths agape, saying, ‘You can’t be serious’; Jesus doesn’t say: ‘Ahhh, don’t worry, there will be good parts too.’ In fact, He says, ‘Maybe rather don’t do it?’
Finally, what can we learn?
Marriage is GOOD
Proverbs 18:22 He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favour from the LORD.
2. God CARES about marriage
Malachi 2:13-16 Another thing you do: You flood the LORD’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. You ask, “Why?” It is because the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. “I hate divorce,” says the LORD God of Israel, “and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,” says the LORD Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.
I’ll close with this word: WHAT GOD HAS JOINED TOGETHER, LET NO MAN SEPARATE.