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Marriage and Divorce

Date: Jul. 10, 2016

Author: Bob Henkins

Matthew 19:1-12

Key Verse: Matthew 19:6

“So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Let me ask you a question, how many shows have there been on TV that are related to marriage, like for example “The Bachelor”? Actually there have been too many for me to count. To name a few: The Bachelorette, The Bachelor Pad, Bachelor in Paradise, Paradise Hotel, and Temptation Island. Or how about Bachelor spin offs like: The Cougar, The Average Joe, More to Love, Are you the One? Or how about ones for parents like: Date my Mom or Who Wants to Marry my Dad. Then there have been ones about money like: The Millionaire Matchmaker or (if that wasn't enough) Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire? How about ones that involve famous people like: I Wanna Marry Harry (Prince Harry), Ochocinco: The Ulimate Catch (Football star), Rock of Love (Rockstar Bret Michaels) or Flavor of Love (Rapper Flavor Flav). And there have been ones about arranged marriages like: Momma's Boys (Group of mothers who must help choose the perfect woman for their complacent sons), Arranged, Married at first sight, and Match Made in Heaven (Help from a pastor). How about these: The Real World, Beauty and the Geek, or Next (that sounds encouraging). The Dating Game, The Art of Dating, Dating in the Dark, Blind Date, and I can’t leave out Dating Naked. And there was: Ready for Love, Love Connection, Love in the Wild and Burning Love. And lastly one about weddings: Four Weddings (fierce competition to have the best wedding ever). I stopped here which is already probably way too many, but it appears that I could go on a lot longer with some of the more twisted ones: Mr Personality, The Swan, Chains of Love, Conveyor Belt of Love, Married by America, and it wouldn’t be complete without the gay version: Boy Meets Boy (where straight actors try to get gay men to fall in love with them).

The reason I’ve brought these up is to show the intense interest in our society about marriage. As we know, these days there is a strong debate going on about the definition of marriage. But it wasn’t much different back in Jesus’ time. Let me show you what I’m talking about. Let’s take a look at verses 1-3. “When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. 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?” As Jesus was finishing up his public ministry in Galilee, he now began to head south as his final approach to Jerusalem where he would complete God’s mission for him (Lk 9:51; Mt 20:17, 29; Mt 21:1). Wherever he went large crowds followed him as they listened to his teaching and were healed by him. Jealous of his ministry, Jesus’ enemies were always looking for a way to trap him, like back in chapter 16:1 where they demanded a sign. In this passage we find yet another attempt to trap Jesus. Verse three shows that this time their tactic centered around the issue of divorce. The reason they chose the topic of divorce is because as I said earlier, it was a hotly debated topic and many people were divided on the issue. We see this happening in our country now with such topics as gun control, same sex marriage, universal health care, abortion, immigration etc. These Pharisees wanted to test Jesus and see where he stood. Then, depending upon which side he was on, they could use that to their advantage. If Jesus was against divorce they could say, “Look, he opposes Moses!” or get him in trouble with Herod like John the Baptist who lost his head because of this issue, or if he was for divorce, they could say that he was too liberal and accommodating to the lusts of wicked men. They were hoping to arrest Jesus or at least turn some people against him and diminish his influence.

From what I read the Jews greatly honored the Rabbi Hillel, who was responsible for writing much of the Mishnah and Talmud, which are old commentaries on the Scriptures. And then there was Shammai who was another famous and respected Rabbi. Although they died before Jesus began his public ministry (Hillel 10AD, Shammai 30AD), the contest between these two respected Rabbis and their ideas on divorce was still a hot topic of debate among the religious leaders. Shammai was stricter and contradicted Hillel on a few points. One area they disagreed on was the practical application of divorce in the Old Testament Scriptures, specifically Moses' writing. (Deut 22, 24) Divorce clearly existed in Israel but the question was: on what grounds was divorce permitted? Hillel taught that a man could leave his wife for any and every reason, even something as trivial as burning his dinner (Dt 24:1). On the other hand, Shammai taught that it had to be a something serious, such as sexual immorality.

I don’t think these Pharisees were really interested in what Jesus’ view on divorce was, they were just looking for a way to trap him, but their question is a good Launchpad to talk about our society’s ideas of marriage and divorce. I’m not even talking about open marriage, gay marriage, or even multi-marriage (polygamy) but simply marriage. Now a day’s, it’s common for people to move in together before getting married, because they want to see if they’re compatible. People even question the need to get married. Blended families seem to be the norm, where couples have married and divorced and they have remarried other people, all the while children are in the mix. (Think “The Brady Bunch” or a newer TV show called “Blended”– really I don’t watch that much TV) Look at the current presidential candidates, one has had three wives, while the other’s husband has been very adulterous.

I think the Pharisees really loved to debate what was lawful. Sometimes it was sincerely to find out what really was lawful, but other times it was to display their knowledge or debating skill, and other times it was to justify or condemn one’s behavior. Here, they were debating about the lawfulness of divorce. The Pharisees quoted respected Rabbis, who quoted Moses (Dt 24:1-4), but Jesus went to someone higher, God. Jesus responds to them in verses 4-5. "Haven’t you read,” he replied, “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’?" Jesus’ statement is like a stinging rebuke. I interpret it this way, “You’re a teacher, haven’t you read your Bible?” I find it kind of funny that Jesus didn’t answer their question about divorce but instead begins to talk about marriage. To Jesus, it wasn't a matter of the legality of divorce but about God, our Creator, and his intention for marriage.

Did you realize that Marriage predates sin, the law, and even the church? It predates culture, politics, and religion. Marriage goes as far back as Adam and Eve – the first two people on earth were given to each other in marriage and was part of the original plan of our Creator God. Being close to July 4th, we are reminded of our freedom and people use their freedom to redefine all kinds of things based on their limited understanding, intentionally or unintentionally ignoring God's truth. So we have to go back to the beginning to find out the true intent and that’s just what Jesus did when he went back to Genesis. We can we learn so many things about marriage from verses 4-5 but I'll just list four:

First, the Creator, by design, made them male and female. Surely God understood the differences between the genders which baffle us even today. Society wants to blur the gender lines but God made them different to complement one another. According to the Creator, marriage is between one man and one woman. Where the man and the woman each has a specific role to play. Traditionally, the man is a symbol of strength and is the hunter, protector, provider and the woman was the symbol of love and compassion, who bore children and took care of the home. I’m not trying to disrespect women both genders have to be intensely strong, my point is that God made us different to complement one another, if we are all the same, we have the same blind spots and weaknesses. Any good leader knows that they must surround themselves with people different than themselves, so that they can see things that they don’t see.

Second, marriage is a new beginning. The husband and wife should leave their father and mother, and be united together to establish a new family. This new relationship necessitates commitment, trust, and faithfulness to one another as they leave the security of their parents. It’s a higher priority than the bond to parents. We don’t neglect parents, but the new relationship between husband and wife takes precedence. However, the concept of leaving the parents goes against the millennial mindset. They are finding that millennials are moving back in with their parents, but God calls husbands and wives to be united. This means no moving back in with parents after a fight, but you must work it out.

Third, God's vision and purpose for marriage. When we read Genesis we find God’s purpose for Adam and Eve was to be a steward of the whole world. Marriage is not an end in itself, but part of God's grace and providence to mankind for his mission purpose. Through marriage mankind produces godly offspring that should grow up and take care of what God has entrusted to us. The family is the building block of a community, which is a building block, of a city, state and nation. A nation is only as strong as it’s families. An even higher purpose for marriage, as a husband and wife love one another, they become the representation of Christ and his Church to a dying world. By being married, we can know more about Christ and his love for us as we humble ourselves before one another and how we serve one another. Also Jesus revealed how much he loves the church by how he gave his life for the church, the husband must give his life for the wife. And just as Christ is the head of the church, the man is the head of the family, although not popular to hear in our society today, but how the wife submits to husband is a picture of the church submitting to Christ

Fourth, marriage is a union where two become one. Jesus says this union is "one flesh." As Jesus will teach in a few chapters, there is no marriage at the resurrection. So flesh here can mean life on earth. This unity brings companionship and support. This unity in the flesh includes sexual pleasure. We shouldn’t be prudish about sex. Proverbs 5:15-20 explains the joy we should cultivate and develop in the relationship between husband and wife, unsullied by extramarital sex. Sex is good and necessary for a healthy relationship and necessary to accomplish the task of procreation. Genesis 1:28 places this as part of God's original purpose in creating mankind. Sexual union in marriage is also to guard against lust and immorality (1Co 7:9). Abstaining from marriage in an attempt to be spiritual, while living a secret sexually immoral life is not spiritual at all.

The concept of “one flesh” is much more than just a physical union. A husband and wife becoming one flesh raising children together, serve God together, grow in grace and truth together. The movies usually portray the concept of marriage, where the two become one, in a very romantic, happy, peaceful way…. and they lived happily ever after. However, the reality of it is not so picture perfect. Becoming one flesh also doesn’t mean that when you are one, you will never argue. Even though you are one flesh, you are still two people. It’s kind of like the Trinity, One God, Three Persons. Here it is represented in one flesh with two people but those people are still sinful thus arguments will follow. Two becoming one is not easy when I only think about me me me. When Julia and I got married I thought that she would just follow whatever I wanted to do. A lot of times I didn’t even consider her opinion. At the beginning I would leave her home alone as went to work, business trips and running my own company. Not only that we were very different, I like scary, dystopia type movies and she likes romantic love stories. I can be a loner, but she needs companionship. I love everything about football, she doesn’t. Marriage isn't completed at the wedding ceremony. "Two becoming one" is a process that requires our cooperation and commitment. For two to become one is a cross in marriage that requires us to deny ourselves and learn humility. The concepts, "I, me, mine," need to begin to change to, "we, us, and our." I’m not sure, but Dan said that he heard that the process of becoming one flesh takes about ten years to start. Right around the ten year mark is when people start to notice that they are becoming one. Think about how many marriages fail to make it to that mark. If they were to push through their issues, with grace, they can find that they can be so much happier and fulfilled in their marriages, but it takes time and work to get there. To the married couples out there, how are you doing in this process of two becoming one?

We should not be satisfied with mediocre marriage. Jesus wants to give us life to the full, and that includes in our marriage. Fortunately, God's word is full of instruction: Ephesians 5 commands us clearly in our families: Husbands, love your wives. Wives, respect your husbands. I used to complain to my wife, "You don't respect me." If I want my wife to respect me, I need to get serious about loving her. If you want your husband to love you, get serious about respecting him. Some other advice: play together and pray together. A few years ago it hit me that I wasn't developing a relationship with my wife. I thought I was busy serving God, so its ok. It’s so easy to spiritualize selfishness. I've been trying to change. I want my marriage to please God, as he intends. Two becoming one is not easy!

Jesus then reaches his conclusion in verse 6. Let's read it together: "So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate." The process of divorce is to literally separate but if they finally have become one then you have to cut the flesh into two pieces. When I think of two becoming one flesh, the thing that comes to my mind is a child being born. The DNA is mixed between the two parents. To separate, you would have to unravel the DNA, too. How could you separate that? In the process the child would be killed. Not only that, if we look at what Jesus states closely it says: What God has joined together, let no one separate. God's work is to unite for his glory and purpose. Division is the work of Satan. Divorce is unthinkable when we know the mind and heart of God our Creator.

What God has joined together also gives us confidence when we make that commitment in marriage, because it’s not what we have done, but what God has done. Many people hope that they will stay together because they are in love. But human love is fickle. Passionate love can be so intense, but it doesn’t last. Either is dies out, becomes boring or finds someone else. Without God 's love, passion is empty. These days, people will define marriage their own way: contract marriage, open marriage, gay marriage. Laws and society will support them. But none of those will ever have this fact: What God has joined together. What a blessing we can have if we include God in our marriage. This is the grace of our God.

The Pharisees didn't listen to Jesus' words. If they had, they should have thought about why their conclusions didn't match the intention of the Creator. Instead, they sprung the trap, so to speak, and basically accused Jesus of contradicting Moses' commands. They asked, "Why then did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away? (7)" Was Moses really commanding people to divorce their wives? I heard the Greek word for divorce means “to send her away”, there wasn’t a word for the woman to send the man away. This reveals the problem of their society and how men treated women as property. After all it was the man who initiated the relationship as he went and sought the woman out and took her as his wife. They when he wasn’t happy any more he sent her away. Jesus explains that this was a permission for the hard hearts of self-centered men. Basically, women of Moses' day were weak and vulnerable. When a husband didn't like his wife, he could simply dismiss her, without any accountability. Moses put a requirement that a certificate had to be issued first. This was to protect the woman's dignity. Such a woman could then remarry, and a man could marry her without being charged with adultery (Lev 21:7). To say that the law supports or justifies divorce simply because it talks about divorce is the same as saying God supports adultery, murder, theft and slavery because they were given specific commands regarding these kinds of behavior. As Jesus said, "It was not this way from the beginning." To be clear, God hates divorce, yet due to the destructive nature of sin, there were some families so grievously damaged that Moses had to permit divorce, for the safety of the wife and children, and the holiness of the community. Think about this: these were leaders in the church, supposedly godly men, and we find them using the Bible to justify their desires?

In verse 9 we come to Jesus' words on divorce, echoing what he said in the Sermon on the Mount (5:31-32): "I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery." By saying divorce and remarriage is adultery, Jesus makes divorce a violation of the Ten Commandments. Yet he states one exception: sexual immorality. In such a case, the marriage has already been defiled. Yet again, this is where divorce is permitted, yet not required or commanded. In all things we remember the power of forgiveness and grace.  We don't live in the garden of Eden. We live in a world broken and torn by sin. Yet God is still joining two in Christ to be one flesh by grace. This is why it is so important to study the Bible to know God and his intention for marriage. When we come to know our Creator and his mind and heart, marriage can be the fulfilling, purpose-filled place of holiness and happiness that God intended. Our marriages can produce good fruit pleasing to God, and be a blessing to the community.

Look at verses 10-12. "The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there 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." I find it funny that the disciples react like this. They seem afraid of commitment. What if the person changes after marriage? What if we have "irreconcilable differences"? Basically Jesus says if you want to be single then be single, that’s not a sin, but you better live accordingly. Paul, the great apostle, actually preferred single life. What matters is accepting God's direction based on his word. By faith in God and his good purpose for my life, I choose to marry, or I choose to be single, living in chastity for the kingdom of God. This is a personal decision that each of us makes, putting our lives in the hands of our loving and merciful Creator.

In conclusion, God loves mankind and when he saw that we were alone he wanted to bless us so he gave us marriage as a gift. But as we so often do, because of sin, we have twisted and polluted the original intent of marriage. Through this passage we’re reminded of the meaning of marriage. When we come to know God our Creator's mind and his heart through his word, our view of marriage can change and see it as God’s love for his children. And in doing so, we may not think about how to try and get out of it, but why we are in it in the first place. I pray that God may bless all the marriages out there to be full of joy, full of purpose, full of fun and full of God’s love.

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