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The Priority of Marriage
Matthew Lesson #108
February 7, 2016
“Father, as we study Your Word, God the Holy Spirit is the One who opens up the eyes of our soul to help us to understand Your Word, to understand how we are to apply it in our lives. And it is through God the Holy Spirit that Your Word is stored in our soul that it might be brought back to our consciousness in times of application.
Father, often as we study Your Word, Your Word challenges our very core beliefs because often they are formed in the matrix of a fallen world and a corrupt society, and they are in opposition to the truth of Your Word. But as the Scripture says it, is in Your light that we see light, and it is through God the Holy Spirit that our thinking is transformed, that we avoid being conformed, to be pressed into the mold of the world and its thinking, and we are transformed, so that our thinking reflects Your thinking, Your revelation.
It is only through the fear of You and through the knowledge of Your Word that we are able to find stability and happiness and joy in this life. We have a certainty of our expectation, our hope of eternal life because of Christ’s death on the Cross for our sins. Now Father, challenge us as we study today. We pray in Christ’s name. Amen.”
We are in Matthew 19 continuing the study which we began last week, which is Jesus teaching on marriage. It is MARRIAGE, upper case; divorce in lower case.
So many people go to these passages that I pointed out last week and their focus is, “Well, what does God allow in terms of being able to get out of my marriage?” They look at it as if this is Jesus’ teaching on divorce, when the real emphasis here is on marriage.
What Jesus said is hard for a lot of people to handle. It was for the disciples because, as we’ll see as we get there today, when Jesus finished teaching, the “disciples said unto Him,” in verse 10, “If this is the case”—if this is what the Scriptures really teach, then—“it’s better not to marry.”
The standard is high, and Jesus is reinforcing God’s original intent and purpose for marriage.
Granted—there are exceptions when things go really bad that come into play, and there are legitimate reasons for divorce.
But what Jesus is really saying here, to just summarize it, is that even if there may be an exception at play in a situation, that doesn’t mean that you should necessarily take advantage of that situation, unless it is absolutely certain that there is no hope of redeeming that relationship and resolving the differences in that marriage.
As we come to this study, I want to remind you again what I said at the beginning of last week: this isn’t about second guessing past decisions. It’s not about judging any kind of wrong decision. We’re all sinners. Everybody has failed at one point or another in different areas.
This is really about understanding what the Scripture says so that as we go forward in our life from this point on, no matter what past decisions may have been made, we can focus on what the Lord has said.
As we go through life, we may have opportunities to advise, counsel, to encourage other believers, whether they are family members, whether they are friends, or associates who are struggling in the area of their own marriage.
Marriage and divorce like any other topic in Scripture is always governed by grace. Where we fail, it is governed by grace and forgiveness and restoration because God is the God Who is involved in turning that which is dead into that which is alive.
There are numerous stories, numerous situations in marriages, where it just seemed absolutely hopeless, where one or the other of the people involved in the marriage have committed all kinds of egregious sins and breeches in the marriage covenant, but yet because of the ultimate devotion to God and the Scripture, they have subordinated themselves to the truth of God’s Word.
Though it was not easy, though it took time, the God of grace allowed these people to step beyond what mistakes and failures they’ve had, and God has turned their marriages into genuine trophies of His grace, and testimonies of how God can bring light into darkness.
Some of you know some of those stories from people that we all know. Others of you do not, but it is a great testimony when that happens.
As I pointed out last week though, there are things that we always have to be aware of. One of those is that it takes two people to make a marriage work, and it only takes one person to destroy the marriage.
The second thing that is important to understand is that the person we are married to, although some people think there might be a couple of exceptions in the congregation, the people that we are married to have dirty, rotten, corrupt sin natures. Don’t be looking around at your spouse or pointing any fingers right now, but every one of us does.
When we are living in the energy of our flesh and the power of the sin nature, we are capable of some of the most horrendous, egregious, horrific acts. But God meets us where we are, and we can have forgiveness and cleansing, and we can move forward.
Sometimes we feel like it’s a whole lot easier for God to forgive us than for our spouse to forgive us. Yet one thing I want to begin with and end with, as we will probably finish this section today, is the context of this particular teaching of Jesus, as Matthew puts it into a section that has immediately been preceded by a chapter emphasizing the importance of personal forgiveness of those who sin against us.
Let me remind you at the end of Matthew 18, Peter comes to the Lord and says, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him?” The subtext there is Peter said, “Do I really have to forgive him?”
But Peter knows that the Lord’s going to say, “Yes,” and so Peter says up to seven times. See, Peter thinks he’s being generous here. Forgive him seven times. But the Lord comes back and says, “No, you forgive him seventy times seven.” That’s basically an idiom for you don’t stop forgiving them.
There are situations that occur. Often the question comes to me when that happens in certain circumstances where there’s abuse, whether it’s physical or emotional, where there is a person who continuously takes advantage in some way or another.
We get the idea that forgiveness means that I don’t protect myself against the fact that this person may be committing a type of sin that seriously takes advantage of me and may bring me harm. It is one thing to forgive somebody. It’s another thing to be stupid and irrational and put yourself in harm’s way.
One question that is not addressed in the divorce passages in Scripture, and I do not think the divorce passages in Scripture are necessarily exhaustive, is what do you do in situations where you’re married to someone, and that person is, for example, they’ve got a gambling problem? And they may gamble away all of the money, all of the resources, the house and everything. What do you do? Do you just let them do it?
Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you put yourself in that kind of harm’s way. You may have to separate for a while. You may have to do something to create a firewall in terms of finances.
Other situations involving emotional or physical abuse fall into that same category. That’s criminal in those situations. God is not saying that you should put yourself in harm’s way where your life or your health is threatened by someone else.
There may be intermediate means that have to be taken in order to protect oneself. Each case is different, but God is not expecting anyone—forgiveness doesn’t mean putting yourself in harm’s way and just letting yourself be turned into a punching bag or being abused in terms of having your finances destroyed or anything like that.
Forgiveness is a mental attitude whereby we are not holding the sin against the other person. We have forgiven them. The slate’s wiped clean. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t certain consequences that ought to follow as well.
We think of this situation in the Old Testament where David committed adultery with Bathsheba, and then he went on to conspire to have her husband, Uriah, put into a position where his life would be taken in a battle. So he conspired to commit murder.
God forgave David when he confessed the sin, but there were still consequences to the sin.
But in our culture, so many people confuse forgiveness with the absolution of consequences. Sometimes God, when He forgives us of a sin, removes the consequences. Sometimes He leaves the consequences in place. And sometimes He doubles down on the consequences in order to teach us a lesson.
Forgiveness does not absolve a person of consequences.
Another example: if someone commits murder, and they are taken to court for their criminal action, and are given the death penalty. Even if they are a believer, even if they become a believer, that penalty is in place. Forgiveness though is just as real, even though that penalty stays in place.
Americans have great difficulty understanding the concept that forgiveness doesn’t mean the removal of consequences. They think that forgiveness means “olly olly oxen free,” everything’s okay, and we can just go forward. That is not the biblical teaching on forgiveness.
It means that the decks are cleared, and our relationship with God is no longer hindered by that sin, but it doesn’t mean we’re automatically cleared of all consequences.
So just a reminder: as we look at this, we’re looking at what we should do as we go forward in our life and understanding what the Scripture teaches.
Here’s the situation. Jesus has come down from Galilee, down towards Jerusalem. He’s over by the Jordan [River], and the Pharisees try to trap Him.
In Matthew 19:3 we see, “The Pharisees come to Him in order to test Him (participle of purpose there), and saying to Him, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?’ ”
They’re asking a specific question, but it’s a loaded question because there’s a controversy among the Pharisees as to whether we’re going to have tight restrictions on divorce or looser restrictions on divorce.
It comes down to a debate between two rabbinical schools of thought: One is the followers of Shammai, and the others are the followers of the House of Hillel.
This is from Gittim 9:10, which is part of the Mishnah, and this lays out the debate:
The House of Shammai says, “A man should divorce his wife only because he has found ground for it in unchastely.”
So Shammai is the conservative. Jesus is going to take the position close to Shammai’s, but Shammai said, like the Roman and Greek culture at the time, if there was sexual immorality, then that necessitated divorce.
Jesus is not going to go along with that. Jesus will go along that there’s a possible exception if there’s sexual immorality, but there’s not a mandate to divorce. We’ll see that in a little bit.
So Shammai said you have to divorce in the case of sexual immorality, and based that on Deuteronomy 24:1.
Then under “C” here we read, “And the House of Hillel says, ‘Even if she spoiled his dish.’ ” If she burns the toast, if she overcooks the oatmeal, if she burns the egg, if she talks too loud, any case like that, then it’s okay. It’s a rather loose term.
In Ketubah 7:6, their reasons for divorce are listed. As I stated this last week, giving a husband untithed food, or uttering a vow and not fulfilling it, the wife goes out in public with her hair unbound, or if she speaks with any man in public. Those would all be legitimate reasons for divorce according to the School of Hillel.
Very loose. Sort of like we have in our culture today, that if you’re just not getting along, then God doesn’t want there to be discord in the home. God is a God of peace, so go ahead and get divorced and find somebody you can live with in peace.
Remember, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. It still needs to be cut, and it still corrupted by the sin nature.
The focal point of Jesus’ teaching is to elevate the priority of marriage in their eyes.
I pointed out last time that another part of the issue that comes up is marriage is a covenant. But is it an unbreakable covenant? You’ll find some folks who teach that, but Jesus clearly recognized that when a divorce occurs, that ends the marriage.
That’s seen in His conversations with the woman at the well when He made the comment that, “Well said,” in verse 17, “that you have no husband.”
For if those prior five divorces had not been legitimate, had not broken the covenant of marriage, Jesus would have said, “You still HAVE five husbands.”
But He says, “You have no husband now, you’ve had”—past tense—“five husbands.” So He recognizes that the covenant can be broken.
So Jesus returns the focus to the Scripture in verse 4. This is the real issue. Instead of going to the Deuteronomy 24 section, He says, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning made them male and female.”
And then in verse 5 He says, “and for this reason”—this is from Genesis 2:24—“for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
This is the biblical foundation for marriage. It is entering into a marriage covenant before God, between two people who are basically swearing an oath before God, that they will become one flesh. The sexual union is basically the mark of the covenant.
We’ve studied covenants before: the sign of the Noahic covenant is the rainbow; the sign of the Abrahamic covenant is circumcision; the sign of the Mosaic covenant is the Sabbath.
So the sign—the mark of the marriage covenant—is the sexual relationship—marriage is a covenant that is sealed before God.
We looked at passages like Malachi 2:14, which states in the middle there, “… between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant.”
Slides 10 and 11
So the Scripture clearly recognizes that this is a covenant, that these two words “leave” and “cleave” are words that are often used in Scripture to emphasize loyalty, and this is the idea here.
If we want to get this point, a man and a woman joined together in marriage, then leaving of the parents is a sign of a transfer of loyalty that is now sanctioned by covenant.
Their loyalty is no longer to parents, but is now to one another. And this is sealed in this marriage vow and this marriage covenant, that their loyalty is toward one another.
The emphasis that we’re going to see on this is that when sexual immorality occurs, that is a violation of that loyalty agreement that is part of the marriage covenant. I want you to remember that because we’ll come back to it a little later on as we look at one or two other things, but this is at the essence of the marriage.
Now that doesn’t mean that sexual infidelity ends the marriage. It just means it is a violation of that loyalty oath that’s part of being a covenant.
So where this comes out later on is that we will see that when Israel violates their covenant with God, what does He call it?
He calls it adultery.
The core value, the core semantic value of that term for adultery is not sexual inherently. It is a violation of a loyalty oath. Just keep that in mind for right now.
So our conclusion last time was first of all, that marriage is a covenant before God by a man and a woman. As such, it results in a union that should not be broken. It doesn’t mean it cannot be broken, but it should not be broken.
When Jesus said “let no man break this up,” it’s an imperative. If it was an indicative, it would mean “it can’t.”
It’s a statement of reality, but it’s an imperative that it should not. That’s the high standard. That’s what sets Jesus’ answer apart from that given by either side in the rabbinical debate.
Then third, I said that though exceptions will be stated, and the marriage covenant can be broken, Jesus is saying it should not be broken.
And that Genesis 2 means that the Shammai view—which mandated a divorce, and the cultural view, the Greco-Roman view that in the case of adultery, divorce was mandatory—that even in the case of possible legitimate reasons for divorce, everything should be done to prevent that.
However, we all know in reality that there are marriages where one person just says, “That’s it, I’m out of here,” and there’s nothing the other person can do about it.
So again, it takes two people to make it work, but one person can end the whole thing.
Moving on in verse 7, the Pharisees then said to Jesus, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?”
Anybody see the problem with that question?
The text did not say that they had to put her away. See? That’s Shammai’s interpretation. They’re misinterpreting Deuteronomy 24:1.
Deuteronomy 24:1, we’ll see in just a second, doesn’t mandate a divorce. It just recognizes certain circumstances where a divorce could take place.
This shows that they are misinterpreting the text. The text isn’t saying that just because a legitimate basis exists, that you should end the marriage.
Deuteronomy 24:1, let’s take a look at this. “When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her.”
Now there is a plethora of interpretations as to what that “some uncleanness” is. That was the issue that Jesus was dealing with here. And whatever that is, it doesn’t matter.
It’s not germane to what Jesus is saying in Matthew 19, for number 1, and number 2, this passage is not prescribing divorce. It’s not even talking about what makes a divorce legitimate or not.
At the very least, without getting into the weeds on what the “some uncleanness” is, what this is simply saying is when this happens, and it’s recognizing that the divorce that occurs here, that he writes her a certificate of divorce, that that is recognizing that for whatever the “some uncleanness” is, and it’s an ambiguous term, that that recognizes this as a legitimate divorce.
So you’ve got a man married to a woman, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, and it’s legitimate. He goes on from there. He puts it in her hand, sends her out of the house.
Now one question that came up last week that often comes up is, “It just seems like all these passages tend to focus on the man having the priority in determining whether or not the marriage is going to make it or not. He’s the one who writes the certificate of divorce. Doesn’t the woman have anything to say about this?”
Of course, what you have is a lot of people who say, “See this just shows the Scripture is misogynist,” and all of this other nonsense because nobody wants to compare Scripture with Scripture. We’ve talked about the fact that God has a very high view of the role of women. It’s just not the low view of women that modern feminists have adopted.
In Exodus 21:7, we have to understand the context, because verses 10 and 11 are the passages I want to look at, but it’s talking about a situation where a man sells his daughter to be a female slave.
Once again, the liberals and the people who don’t understand the Bible and don’t want to think beyond the end of their nose say, “See, the Bible is so bad. It’s got this awful ethic. It validates slavery.”
It is not validating slavery. It is recognizing, like with polygamy, that this is part of the culture. God is regulating it in order to protect those who are slaves.
And incidentally, under the guidance of Exodus, the kind of slavery they had wasn’t a race-based chattel slavery like we had in the U.S.
The kind of slavery they had was an indentured servitude, so that when the sabbatical year came around, every seventh year, the servants were set free, unless they wanted to voluntarily stay in a position of servitude.
It was chattel slavery, but people want to read that into it. They always attack the Bible this way.
See, the Bible legitimizes polygamy, which is multiple wives. The Bible also recognizes slavery. It’s recognizing that this is what occurs in the culture, and God is going to regulate the circumstances.
That’s what is happening in Deuteronomy 24—to protect the woman and to make sure that she’s not going to be taken advantage of—and to protect the slaves.
“A man sells his daughter to be a female slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do, and if she doesn’t please her master, who has betrothed himself to her.”
The situation is, she gets sold as a slave, and the new master says, “I want to marry her.” So they enter into a betrothal, and that’s set up in those three verses.
But here’s the point that we want to look at: after a while he’s made her his wife. Now he takes another wife, and what’s going to happen to the first wife? “Okay, you’re a second-class citizen now.” This is to protect her and her rights as a wife.
“If he takes another wife, he shall not diminish—the first wife’s—food, her clothing, and her marriage rights”—her marital rights sexually in the union.
Exodus 21:11, “And if he does not do these three things for her, then she shall go free.”
See? She’s got a claim against him—that if you don’t take care of me, according to these three areas, then that ends our marriage. And she’s protected. That’s a legitimate basis for divorce, that he hasn’t taken care of her.
This passage is often overlooked in the whole marriage and divorce discussion.
Now what’s interesting in what applies here is what’s called the a fortiori argument.
She’s a slave. Now if this applies to a slave, it would apply even more in a situation where the first wife is a free woman. As a free woman, she would certainly have more rights than a slave would.
So this applies to the slave that’s been betrothed to the man. It applies even more to a free woman who was married, and then he takes a second wife, that her rights are protected in this situation by God.
So yes, God does have, there are provisions that look at the provision from the viewpoint of the woman, in protecting her.
Another passage that comes up that is germane to what we see in Deuteronomy 24 is in Malachi 2:16.
Let me go to Deuteronomy 24. I want to read something to you first before we look at this.
Deuteronomy 24:2 and following gives us the rest of the situation. See verse 1 is just the beginning. You have the man who finds no favor with his wife. He writes her a certificate of divorce that is treated by this passage as legitimate.
“And she leaves his house,” verse 2, “and she goes and she becomes another man’s wife.”
So she enters into another marriage. There’s nothing said about that being wrong. It’s a legitimate divorce. She goes and she remarries.
Then verse 3 says, “If the latter husband detests her”—that’s the King James version. The Hebrew is “if he hates her.”—“If he hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce.” The point here is that is considered an illegitimate divorce.
The first husband has a cause for divorcing her. He’s found some uncleanness in her. But the second husband just hates her, and this is aversion, and that’s never accepted as a legitimate basis for divorce in the Scripture.
You don’t like your spouse anymore? Then you need to have an attitude correction and straighten things out, and that’s not done with divorce. Aversion is never a legitimate basis for divorce in the Scripture.
Now the reason I point that out is you have this combination of terms, “hate” the Hebrew word sane, and “divorce.” In another critical passage, actually, it’s in a couple of other different places, but this is in Malachi 2:16.
Malachi 2:16 is often quoted when people are talking about divorce, and they quote it from the translation that you find in a lot of English translations. They’ll just quote the key phrase, “God hates divorce” as if that is the final ultimate overriding principle.
The problem is the Hebrew is ambiguous, and that’s not the best translation, though it is the most common translation.
Malachi 2:16 in the NKJV says, “For the Lord God of Israel says that”—there’s no “that” in the Hebrew—“that He hates divorce, for it covers one’s garment with violence”—it’s self-destructive is what that is saying.
The second quote there is from the NASB, I even put that on the slide, that’s from the NASB where it’s translated “For I hate divorce.”
See, the first translation NKJV “He hates divorce” is more accurate, “that He hates,” because it’s the third person singular verb, “He hates.” It’s not a first person singular verb, “I hate.”
But because of the difficulty of the Hebrew construction, there are those who take the view that the verb ought to be repointed in terms of the vowels, and it ought to be a first person singular. The Hebrew is a third person, “He hates.”
“For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel and him who covers his garment with wrong, says the Lord.” So He’s hating two things, divorce and the one who covers his garment with wrong.
The ESV, which is a fairly recent translation, I think is more accurate at this point. And there have been a couple of very technical monographs and dissertations written on this in the last 20 or 30 years that support this translation.
“For the man who does not love his wife”—literally the text says, “He who hates his wife and divorces her”—the “and” isn’t there—“For he who hates his wife divorces her, says the Lord, covers his garment with violence.”
Now that’s a much different sense than saying “He hates divorce” or “God hates divorce” or “I hate divorce, says the Lord.”
But I think this is much more accurate, “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her covers his garment with violence.” It’s a recognition that hating your spouse is not a legitimate reason, or not liking them is not a legitimate basis for divorce, and it’s self-destructive. You cover your garment with violence.
This follows the Septuagint translation and a number of other ancient translations, which also translate the same way, “If while hating, you dismiss your wife, says the Lord God of Israel, you will conceal the wrongdoing of your thoughts.” That’s the Septuagint.
So this makes much better sense, both grammatically as well as contextually. God is not saying anything other than if you hate and divorce …
There are a number of other passages here. Remember Deuteronomy 24:3 is the passage that we’re looking at—that the latter husband who detests or hates his wife and writes her a certificate of divorce is recognizing that’s not a legitimate basis for divorce.
There are a number of passages, not just the ones that I’m listing here, but there are a number of other passages:
Deuteronomy 21:15. Deuteronomy 21:16, 17. Deuteronomy 22:13. These talk about a situation where it’s usually translated “unloved.”
For example, in Deuteronomy 21:15 it says, “If a man has two wives, one loved and the other unloved.” It doesn’t say “unloved” in the Hebrew. It’s sane. It says, “one loved and one hated.”
Deuteronomy 21:16 uses “the loved wife in preference to the son of the hated wife.”
So that’s how this is translated in a number of passages. This was a common recognition. God is recognizing this is not a legitimate basis for divorce.
Hate in some contexts does refer to an unjustified divorce, where the aversion or hate for no other fact that you just can’t stand the sight of that person anymore is not a legitimate basis for divorce.
So Jesus answers the Pharisees: “He said to them, ‘Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives.” Notice how He changed the term.
They said, “Moses commanded us.” And He said, “No, no, no, get it right. Go back, look at your text. Remember the first principle in Bible Study Methods is observation.” It doesn’t say “command.” He just allows, He recognizes and allows it, but it’s not mandated.
“But from the beginning it was not so.” In other words, God created and instituted marriage so that a man and a woman would come together and stay together. He didn’t institute marriage so that they would not stay together. The ideal is for man and woman to stay together in marriage.
Then Jesus goes on to say in verse 9, “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality.”
Now that’s the important exception clause, and in the Greek it’s two words, ME EPI, and it is always used to state an exception, to state a clear, legitimate exception to anything. So this is a clear exception.
But it’s not the only exception. Paul is going to bring in another exception in 1 Corinthians 7, and that is when the spouse is an unbeliever and the spouse departs.
But in both passages, Jesus in Matthew 19 and Paul in 1 Corinthians 7, are answering specific questions. They are not giving an exhaustive answer.
They are not saying this is the complete doctrine of marriage and divorce. They are addressing and answering specific questions.
But in answering those questions, just like case law in the Old Testament, they do stake out certain boundaries in certain parameters for the answer and for the doctrine.
So Jesus says, “Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality …” This is the Greek word PORNEIA from which we get our word “pornography.” It is a word that would refer to any sort of sexual activity that violates the marriage covenant.
This would involve homosexual relationships; it would involve incest, bestiality. In the ancient world it would involve going to the temple and having sexual relations with the temple prostitutes. It would cover all or any of that because that is a violation of this covenant oath that is taken in the marriage contract.
Jesus is saying that this is a legitimate reason, but it doesn’t necessitate divorce. It goes on to say if you do this, and you marry another, “whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
Some people have said, some people have thought, “Well, does that mean that if you didn’t have a legitimate basis that you’re just in a continuous state of adultery?” I think here we have to go back to that core semantic value of adultery as a violation of the covenant.
What Jesus is saying is “whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another”—violates the covenant, violates that marriage covenant from the beginning.
“And whoever marries her who is divorced”—and that exception clause would be assumed to be true there—commits—breaches that marriage covenant.
Jeremiah 3:8 is just one of numerous verses I could go to from the prophets in the Old Testament where adultery is used to describe that breach of a covenant.
God says, “Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery.”
This is not literal adultery. This is a violation of the Mosaic Covenant. They had committed covenant violations.
“I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce. Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also.”
This is the core value of adultery when it comes to this passage: if you put off your divorced spouse for the wrong reason, then you cause them to breach the covenant, the marriage covenant.
In Matthew 19, the disciples understood this, that Jesus is saying something that’s much tougher than either the School of Shammai or the School of Hillel, because what Jesus is saying is that we had these exceptions, or we had this in the Old Testament under the Mosaic Law, but we’re entering into the Church Age, and there’s a higher standard for marriage. That’s Ephesians 5.
The higher standard for marriage is that you do whatever it takes to work it out. Now, does that mean you’re always going to be able to work it out? No, unfortunately it doesn’t because you might be married to someone who just doesn’t want to work it out, who says, “Hasta la vista, baby, I’m out of here!” And you can’t do anything else about it.
Or, they may be involved, I think it’s also legitimate, in criminal activity and maybe criminal activity in terms of physical abuse and assault, and I think that is also a legitimate basis for divorce.
That doesn’t mean that you ought to automatically jump there. You do everything you can to try to make it work because that’s the high standard, and there are numerous examples.
Some of us think that “boy, if I was married to somebody, and they did X, Y, or Z, I just couldn’t go forward.” I could probably give you about 10 or 20 anecdotes of Christian marriages where they felt that way, too, but in the grace of God and by the grace of God they were able to overcome.
The testimonies that they have later on—now it takes a while, 10, 20, 30 years later. But it’s just remarkable. It’s a great sense of hope that that gives everyone—that we’re married to lousy sinners, and even if they do horrible things, if they’re willing to submit to the grace of God and let the Holy Spirit transform them, then we are to forgive them.
This is what the disciples say, “Man, that’s hard.” That’s right. The Christian life is not hard—it’s impossible. You can’t do it unless you’re walking by the Holy Spirit. How many times have you heard me says that?
That applies to these areas. They’re deeply personal, and they can be deeply painful, but God in His grace is the God of healing and the God of forgiveness and the God of restoration.
“So the disciples said to Him, ‘If this is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry.’ ” Yes, getting married is an extremely serious decision, and it should be entered into very carefully. You just don’t just jump into it.
But He said to them, “All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given.”
There are some people, you may be young as a believer, you may young in life, and you just can’t handle it. There’s grace.
Jesus says, “There are eunuchs”—a eunuch is someone who has been technically emasculated, no longer capable of sexual activity, or there are eunuchs who are born that way. They just have no libido, no sexual desire whatsoever from birth—“there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men.”
This was the case in the ancient world—that if you were a slave in charge of the harem, then you were emasculated, so you wouldn’t be tempted. “There are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs”—they have willingly adopted celibacy, that is—“for the kingdom of heaven’s sake”—in order to pursue ministry. Paul talks about that in 1 Corinthians 7.
Jesus said, “He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.”
Now the bottom line of what makes marriage work is forgiveness. Whatever the degree, whatever the problems, we have to forgive one another. This goes back to the context of Matthew 18.
Peter said, “How often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Seven times?”
And Jesus said, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”
Forgiveness is a corollary to love. Love is a decision that we make based upon our relationship with the Lord. It’s not an emotion. It’s a decision that we are going to love someone.
That means we are going to honor the covenant that we make before God, and we’re going to be faithful to that, even if the other person isn’t, and we’re going to forgive them, so that we can move forward.
That is genuine biblical love, and you can’t do it on your own.
That’s why Paul says in Galatians 5:22, the fruit of the Spirit is what? What’s the first thing he lists? Love. It’s the fruit of the Spirit. You just can’t manufacture it on your own. It’s got to be part of your spiritual life and the fruit of the Spirit.
With our heads bowed and our eyes closed.
“Father, we’re thankful for this opportunity to reflect upon Your grace and forgiveness and understand how it applies to the most intimate relationship that we have in terms of our marriage, and an area where often there is a tremendous amount of pain and suffering due to the sin natures involved.
Father, we know that there’s redemptive recovery, forgiveness, and everything because of your grace.
Father, the Lord sets forth the high standard. The institution of marriage is not just an option, it is something that is essential for the survival of cultures, the survival of the nation, and for our own personal benefit, instituted before sin ever cast its shadow on the creation.
Yet Father, we know that because of sin we often fall short. Give us the grace to focus on the truth of Your Word, and give us the grace and the strength to forgive, and give us the grace and the strength to reflect Your grace in our lives.
Father, we pray if there’s anyone here listening to this message that has never trusted in Christ as Savior, never recognized the extent of grace in their own lives in terms of salvation, that they would understand this—that none of us are worthy, none of us can ever be worthy—that all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. But You in Your grace forgave us all the hostility, all the anger, all the rebellion against You when You put all of our sins on Jesus Christ on the Cross, so that the issue is no longer what do we do, but what do we think about Jesus.
Are we trusting in Him and Him alone for salvation, or are we trying to earn our way to Heaven? Scripture is very clear that it’s ‘not by works of righteousness which we have done, but it’s according to Your mercy that you save us.’
Father we pray that anyone who has never trusted in Christ will take this opportunity to do so. And the instant that you believe that Jesus died and paid the penalty for your sins, at that instant you have eternal life, which can never be taken from you. And we pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”