You have all witnessed words something like this: A minister says, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here in the presence of God and these witnesses to join this man and this woman in holy matrimony.” The the couple speak: “I, M—, take you, N—, to be my wedded wife, and I do promise and covenant before God and these witnesses to be your loving and faithful husband in sickness and in health, in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, as long as we both shall live.” and, “I, N—, take you, M—, to be my wedded husband, and I do promise and covenant before God and these witnesses to be your loving and faithful wife in sickness and in health, in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, as long as we both shall live.” And then you hear: “By virtue of the authority committed unto me as a minister of the church of Jesus Christ, I now pronounce you husband and wife, according to the ordinance of God and the law of the State, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” That ought to be the beginning of a life-long commitment to being together. But, as Jesus points out in Matthew 5:31–32, too often that is not the case.
Understand the basis of marriage. God established marriage in Eden. Marriage is more than just a private agreement between two people, an agreement that can be ended when either of them (or both of them) wishes. Marriage is a union that God established in Eden, before the fall. He created us with deep desires, and set up the perfect place for their fulfillment. Even in Genesis 1 he outlines one (though not the only) purpose of marriage, when he says that mankind are to be fruitful and multiply. God established it as a permanent relationship between one man and one woman. When Jesus deals with divorce in Matthew 19, he points you back to the creation account. The two become one flesh. “’One flesh’ certainly includes physical intimacy, but it is broader than that. It means learning both the words and the silences of the beloved. It means dreaming great dreams, but also cleaning up the kitchen. It means sharing the deep concerns of the heart and the little bumps on the toe.” (Daniel Doriani, Matthew, Vol. 1,, p. 160).
God gave marriage to reveal his love for his people. Marriage is not just about the bride and groom. It is not just about us. God is triune. From all eternity the three persons exist together in the Godhead, with perfect fellowship and love among them. No wonder that God said it is not good for man to be alone. Adam and Eve, however, instead of entering the higher state of blessing, the rest into which God entered on the seventh day, sinned. That broke their fellowship with God—and it marred their relationship with each other. You hear Adam’s excuse: “The woman you gave me, she gave me the fruit and I ate.” God continues to use marriage to illustrate the relationship between him and his people. Idolatry is spiritual adultery. And when God redeems his people, that is reflected in the commitment, tenderness, and love of a good marriage. Isaiah 62 is full of comfort. The tenem continues into the New Testament, where the church is the bride of Christ. “The marriage relationship of Adam and Eve and of all their progeny appears to have been established as a kind of shadow to point to the consummated end-time relationship of God and his bridal people (cf. Isa. 54:1–6; 62:2–5; Eph. 5:29–32).” “This new name [in Revelation 21:2] is then explained in Isa. 62:3–5 to signify a new. Intimate marriage relationship between Israel and God. Therefore it is not accidental that the remainder of Rev. 21:2 addresses a marriage metaphor to explain the significance of ‘new Jerusalem”” (G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, pp. 41 & 676).
Be aware of the brokenness that divorce brings. Sin breaks what God has joined together. A broken relationship with God involves brokenness in our relationships with one another. It even, all too often, breaks the marriage relationship. Jesus’ reference to “it is said,” looks back to, though it doesn’t directly qoute Deuteronomy 24 (see also Matthew 19). The provision for a written certificate of divorce was not God’s endorsement of divorce, but rather a regulation of it, in part to protect the wife. But it was used, with varying degrees of strictness, to justify divorce. “As long as we both shall live” sometimes morphs, even explicitly, into “as long as we both shall love.” Behind every divorce lies sin. That does not mean that every person who divorces is sinning in doing so. Jesus states an important exception. There are cases in which a man is having affairs, is being unfaithful, and is abusing his wife and possibly children. Divorce is not only allowed in such a case, it may be exactly the right thing for the wife to pursue. And don’t think that just avoiding divorce means that you are keeping Jesus’ words. A husband who doesn’t divorce his wife, but who fails to nourish, cherish, and serve her is living in violation of what God says. All of us are broken in our relationships.
Listen to Jesus’ words “But I say to you.” Hear the authority in Jesus’ words. No longer can a man simply issue a certificate of divorce and send his wife away. To do so means he is committing adultery, and he is putting his wife in a similar situation (the verb has a passive force). It is a sin against her as well as against God. The exception that Jesus gives is marital unfaithfulness. The word Jesus uses is a broad one, including adultery in the context of marriage, but also other forms of sexual immorality. Note that the Mosaic penalty for adultery was not divorce, but death. This is not the only place the Bible talks about divorce. See Matthew 19 and 1 Corinthians 7. This is not the place to detail exactly when divorce is permitted and what all the consequences are. Jesus point is—if you are married, stay married!
See God’s commitment and reflect it. For God’s sake be committed to your marriage. Marriage is a covenant, Malachi 2: 13–16, and God takes it seriously. For his sake, be committed to your spouse. You belong to each other. Live that way. This is not just a commitment to each other. It is first of all a commitment to God. For his sake, and as a testimony to his grace, work at making your marriage flourish. Keep Christ central in your life together. Because this is first of all a commitment to your God, what Jesus says speaks to those who, at this point in their lives are not married. For those who want to be married and are not, this can be a very difficult life. But it is one for which God gives strength and grace (and we need to do the same). For young people, keep your commitment to God central in the relationships you develop. As Glenn Black, my pastor when I was in high school reminded the young people in the congregation, “You don’t fall in love, you climb in.” Make conscious choices to glorify God.
Praise God for his commitment to you. Commitment is not first of all to your spouse (if you are married), or your future spouse (if you are in the “I hope to be married some day” group). Yes, you need to be committed, But deeper than that, and underlying all that Jesus says about marriage, is God’s commitment to you in Christ. That’s what gives the power to the prophet’s message in Isaiah 62. “When God receives the Church as His bride and rejoices at the multitude of her sons, then truly the Church is blessed.” (E. J. Young, The Book of Isaiah Vol. 3, p. 470). God says he hates divorce, but he is also the God who forgives sinners. He shows his love as Hosea takes back his unfaithful wife. He shows his grace as he enables you to reflect his faithfulness in a culture that fails to understand commitment. He shows his favor as he gives you the strength to do the little daily things that build up your spouse. “Our ultimate hope is that God is a covenantal, promise-keeping God. Marriage is a relationship based entirely on promises and public, binding oaths. The promises made between husband and wife to remain faithful, no matter what comes and to forsake all others, is a picture of God’s incredible commitment to us. It is a dim reflection of of the amazing reality that ‘neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8:38–39).” (David White, God, You, & Sex: A Profound Mystery, p. 49).
In the joy of God’s commitment to you in Christ, live to his glory.