THE KING’S TEACHING ON MARRIAGE AND DIVORCE
Matthew 19:1-15, Key Verse: 19:6
“So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
In the last passage, Jesus taught the practical way of the gospel-centered life, dealing with sin in the church. Sin should be dealt with by the truth and love of Christ. When the truth and love of Christ are rejected, the power of forgiveness is the last resolution.
In today’s passage Jesus teaches the biblical concept of marriage and divorce, which is a higher moral standard. The Grace of God requires us to live on a higher ground for the sake of God’s kingdom. May God grant us one word of God through today’s passage. Amen!
I. The Original Marriage.
Look at verses 1-2. “When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. 2 Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.” Jesus moved from Galilee, where most of his earthly ministry was done, to the east side of Jordan in Judea. Jesus had never been in this region before but now he visited it, as he said that he came to find lost sheep of Israel. Yet, wherever Jesus went, large flocks of God followed just as sheep follow their shepherd. He healed them there too. Not only sheep but also Pharisees followed Jesus.
Look at verse 3, “Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?’” The crowd of people followed Jesus in order to listen his life-giving word and be healed, but what was the motivation of the Pharisees? The motivation of the Pharisees was different from the flocks. Mark 10:2 also tells us that they came to test Jesus. It is interesting to note that the Pharisees already knew how Jesus would answer, which would seem contrary to Moses’ teaching on divorce. They thought that they had a basis to accuse Jesus, as one who defies the law of Moses. Here we see that the Pharisees made use of the law of Moses in the way they wanted to according to evil motivation. Yet, Jesus took it as an opportunity to explain the true meaning of marriage.
Look at 4-6. “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 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’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.” What was God’s original plan for marriage at the beginning of his creation? In Jesus’ answer, there are basically three parts. First, God made male and female. Jesus quoted from Genesis 1:26, saying, “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’” He created male and female. God did not create many genders or alternative genders but only two. Why did God create them? It is to take care of the world he created. According to Isa 43:7 and 1 Co 11:7, God created them for His glory. Therefore, the purpose of the marriage is for God’s glory. Whether we eat or drink or marry, do it all for the glory of God.
a. In Genesis 2, the creation of man and woman went to further in detail. While man was working hard, naming the animals God created, God concerned about man’s wellbeing, that it was not good for the man alone. Man needs a suitable helper as he takes care of the world God has given him. Thus, man should recognize that he needs help. Some may argue that helper and helpee are equal though I personally believe that helper, the latest and last creature, should be better than helpee.
b. God took man’s rib and created a woman. What does a rib do? It protects the weak but important organs, heart and lungs.
c. It provides spaces for lungs to breathe and heart to beat regularly.
d. It enables a man to stand straight.
e. God did not use toe bones or head or nose bones but rib, so that a woman may listen to the heart of a man as an equal entity.
The more we recognize the distinctive roles, the better and deeper the relationship between man and woman grow.
Secondly, leave parents and be united to his wife. “For this reason” means for God’s purpose, for the glory of God, for God’s mission, 1) he should leave his father and mother.
a. Depending not on earthly father but heavenly.
b. Leaving the support of mother’s love to wife’s love, who will take care him and his children.
c. Fundamentally, man should leave his father and mother, no more depending on his parents just like God called Abram to leave his people and his father’s household. Parents’ influence may distract/hinder man from being united to his wife. So it is wise counsel that when there was conflict between wife and parents, the man should stand with his wife even if she is wrong.
2) Man should be united to his wife: United physically, mentally, and spiritually. How?
a. Physical union. It is necessary for them as Apostle Paul said that they should not be separated except the time of prayer with consent.
b. Mentally they should recognize the purpose of the marriage. The unity is not uniformity but two entities are united for a specific purpose, just like the United Nations, being united for world peace. When man and woman have God’s mission in their hearts, they can be united. Though they are different, they are complete through being united and becoming one flesh.
c. Spiritual unity comes as both grow in the image of God together through prayer and are sanctified by the truth.
In real life, this unity does not come easily and takes some time. Therefore, Jesus said that they become one. Even after leaving parents and learning to depend on God, man has to grow in the image of God through understanding each other and being reminded of the purpose of the unity.
Thirdly, what God has joined together, let no one separate.
a. God joined them, so God is the matchmaker. When God joins, it cannot be broken. It is holy matrimony.
b. No human being can separate. Not man made. When man made it, man can break it.
Even Christians do not know that God should be their matchmaker. In Genesis 6, the first reason God had to put an end of the world was the wrong marriage of the sons of God who married the daughters of man as of them they chose. The sons of God can be translated to Christians, and the daughters of man, non-Christians. Even Christians choose their spouse as they please, without even praying for God to intervene. Some Christians even do not have an idea that they should not be unequally yoked. Some believe that he or she can convert their spouse, playing God. God-ordained marriage doesn’t mean having marriage ceremony in a church with a pastor’s blessing. One’s marriage shows his or her value system. Your first criteria of marriage show what you value the most. There was one young girl who said that her priority of marriage was faith in God, then the same purpose to serve the work of God and the same race and level of education, all together 7 noble and reasonable criteria. Amazingly God answered her prayer and brought a man who satisfied all 7 of her criteria, but she said, “He is too small.” I really recommend that you may pray to God honestly. Prayer should start way before finding a marriage candidate.
I will share my experience. My criteria of marriage were the same faith and mission. God blessed my prayer and brought a woman of God who was going to be a missionary to America as I was preparing to be a missionary as well. Making a long story short, my marriage life was not easy. It was too many differences. Our character, lifestyle, food, habit, hobby, opinions in every way, and everything else were different 180 degrees except faith and mission. For about 10 years, I could not understand and struggled to curb mine, though she did much more than me, as I realized later. I finally could not take it anymore. At that time, however, I did not run away but came to God in prayer, asking, “What is going on God? Why are we so different?” Then, God answered, “Can you see your back? You can only see one side, so I gave her who can help you to see the other side you cannot see.” It is still not easy to listen to the other side of story. Through this, God taught one spiritual formula that the more I value the differences, the deeper I am growing in Christ and serve God in unity.
I pray that our unmarried young men and women may find a marriage candidate with the same purpose and mission of life, living for the glory of God. When God is your matchmaker, you will recognize that your spouse is the answer to your prayer according to biblical criteria. It does not mean that God-ordained marriage will face no problems or difficult times. But when a home is established by God, he will keep you one becoming united, overcoming problems of life and understanding differences as God’s blessing.
Look at verse 7, “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” At the time of Jesus, there were two parties of interpreting the law of Moses; they were the house of Shammai and the house of Hillel. The House of Shammai held that a man may only divorce his wife for a serious transgression, but the House of Hillel allowed divorce for even trivial offenses, such as burning a meal. Verses 3 and 7 show the heart of the Pharisees, who were taking the House of Hillel’s side. As God said, the inclination of man is evil, especially worse with those whose motivation is evil.
What was Jesus’ answer? Look at verse 8. “Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.” Moses’ law was given due to the hardened hearts of men. What the Pharisees quoted was from Deuteronomy 24:1, saying, “If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house.” The motivation Moses gave this law was to protect women from being kicked out of their house wantonly without social status. Yet it was still a vague and notorious law of divorce for a woman! Moses’ law of divorce was so vague, which still brought a lot of problems for women at the time of Jesus. In fact, it was the practice of men to send their wife away with a certificate of divorce when he was displeased with her. So most women lived as a subordinate, often abused by her husband at that time.
But Jesus elevated Moses’ law to a higher level, saying, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” Go back to the beginning, we learned the original meaning of marriage, why and how God made it. His original intention of marriage between man and woman is covenant relationship. Just as a covenant between God and a human cannot be broken, there is no divorce except for sexual immorality because it is the action of the broken covenant. Other than that, the motivation of divorce is fundamentally another kind of adultery: making use of the Law to commit adultery. In this way, Jesus brought the law of Moses to a higher level. Grace, in fact, lifted all the laws of Moses to a higher level. It is because the grace of God speaks to the hearts of people to obey. The written code is powerless to change people and merciless to the weak, though it is preventive of evil.
II. Single for the Sake of the kingdom of heaven (10-12).
Look at verse 10. “The disciples said to him, ‘If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.’” The disciples began to think about all the situations in which it seemed necessary or better to divorce; what if the spouse has a drug or gambling addition? They were probably sarcastic due to their sinful nature. The disciples came to the conclusion that Biblical marriage is too strict, so they said it is better not to marry. They need to repent and make a decision. Truly, marriage requires commitment and loyalty.
Look at verses 11-13. Jesus is saying that not everyone can be single but in two ways. First, only those to whom it has been given. These are the people who received the gift of self-control just as Apostle Paul. In 1 Corinthians 7:25-40, Paul extensively talked about the unmarried life. Basically, he encouraged people to live as singles though marrying is not sinning. Even though he had desire burning like others, he could control himself and serve the mission given to him.
Secondly, it can be for those who can accept to be single. They have desire to be single in order to serve God wholeheartedly, but they could not because they were not gifted so they become a eunuch, cutting off their male function by choice. In the light of this passage, a lot of priests should have been eunuchs before they became a priest. Most of all, no matter what they choose to do whether marry or single, all should be for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.
III. The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to Such as These (13-15).
Look at verse 13, “Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.” Parents always want the best for their children. So they wanted their children to be blessed by Jesus, telling their children to go and meet Jesus. Children simply believe in their parents, coming to Jesus to be blessed. But there were some unhappy campers. The disciples rebuked them. The children probably made noise and were distracting Jesus in teaching and performing miracles. At that time, children are not counted in number. To the disciples, they were not worthy because they would not understand Jesus, only hindering the work of Jesus.
What was Jesus’ answer? Look at verses 14-15. Jesus never rejected anyone who wanted to come to him. The kingdom of God belongs to such as these children. Children were told to go to Jesus, and they simply came to Jesus. Do not hinder them. The quality of children is innocence and trust in parents. In chapter 18:1-5, Jesus again said that we must be humble like a child to enter into the kingdom of heaven. Children came just as they were. They were not afraid of Jesus. The kingdom of heaven belongs to those who come to Jesus just as they are for his love and blessing.
In today’s passage, we learned the Biblical concept of marriage and divorce. In Christian marriage, God should be the matchmaker because it should be for the Kingdom of heaven. Then, they may have Biblical criteria in choosing their spouse and pray. When God is in their marriage, he will keep it safe and sound, enabling them to overcome problems in life, learning to appreciate the differences, and living with a higher moral standard. Even if living as a single, we live for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, coming to God just as we are for his blessing and love.