Matthew 19:1-12 – Marriage: It Should Be the Toughest Decision You Ever Make

Posted: February 8, 2016 in Gospel of Matthew
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Matthew 19:1-12
Jesus Teaches About Marriage & Divorce

Here we are! We move to Matthew 19. Jesus begins his journey toward His fate in Jerusalem. He is headed toward greater and greater controversy that will lead to His crucifixion. As soon as He crosses the Jordan, the controversies begin. This controversy that is brought before Him is one that we deal with today on so many levels.

And, one of the reasons that it is my preference to walk through books of the Bible from beginning to end instead of doing topical blogs as some do is that you cannot avoid the tough stuff when you do. It forces you to deal with the sometimes uncomfortable subjects of life that the Bible presents to us. When you write topically, you are controlling what you write about whereas when you follow a book from beginning to end, the Bible controls you. There are certainly room for both and there are times when topical preaching is a must. But it is my preference to let the Bible control what I write about. Today, we begin a passage that is like driving down the highway and you see a wreck ahead but yet you have no side roads to take and you must come upon the wreck. Here we are. We must stop and get out and examine the wreck and figure out what happened here. There are three topics that we must address when reading through this passage and we will take three blogs to do it. It’s going to be an uncomfortable ride for us but here we are at the scene of the wreck that Matthew has brought us to. We cannot avoid by switching to another book of the Bible. We are here and we must deal with these three topics – divorce, homosexuality, and the sexual aspects of being single. Wow! These are three hot button subjects that we must deal with and we begin with divorce.
19 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.

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?”

4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’[a] 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’[b]? 6 So 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?”

8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

10 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.”

Divorce was an issue then and it is an issue now in today’s society. Here in this century, we have often heard the statistics. According to Psychology Today, in a 2012 study, they found that 50% of first marriages end in divorce. When we are talking second marriages, the statistics jump to 67% of marriages. If you are in your third marriage, the statistics jump to 73%. This is not the design for healthy societies that God desires for us. It was not what God desired for ancient Israelite society and it is not what He desires for us. We can learn much from what Jesus says here. The Pharisees’ question may reflect the opinion of Hillel, a rabbi who allowed divorce for the slightest reasons on the basis of Deut. 24:1–4. He was opposed by another teacher, Shammai, who regarded only gross indecency as proper grounds. Jesus’ answer transcends this debate about Deuteronomy and returns to the order of creation by God. Jesus views divorce as a fundamental denial of God’s created order and the nature of marriage.

The Pharisees were talking Deuteronomy and Jesus was talking early Genesis. The Pharisees were talking post-Fall of Man and Jesus was returning them to the ideal that God had for man in marriage before man screwed everything up. Genesis was the plan and Deuteronomy was the reaction to the screw up. Deuteronomy has trying to take a people out of an unholy world into a holy one. It is an attempt to clean man up and make him more holy. The sin in the garden sent things spiraling out of control in the world and God said in Deutoronomy, this is how you return to holiness. Jesus skillfully avoids the Hillelian camp vs. the Shammaian camp controversy over divorce by backing up the argument to God’s ideal. He did not get mired down in the controversy of who is right on divorce but rather He steps above the fray and says the real thing is this. It is like the parent who has to tell his kids that neither one of them is right as they point fingers at each other as to whose has committed the worse crime against parental rules. Dad has to say whoa, whoa, whoa. Both you kids know that “x” is the standard of behavior that I expect of you and you guys are arguing over who violated the “x” worse. God’s ideal for marriage is not that it would end in divorce. We may debate over divorce in churches and what is acceptable and what is not in divorce, but Jesus reminds us that divorce was never a part of God’s original pre-fall plan for our lives.

In ancient Israel around the time of Jesus’ ministry, divorce was a rampant problem and people were getting divorced just because. Sound familiar. Get tired of your wife or husband. Get a divorce. In Jesus’ day, it was particularly perilous for a woman to be thrown out and divorced by her husband. Women did not have property rights in those days and if they were without a husband they could become destitute if they did not have a husband and to return to have to return to one’s own family was considered shameful. Women could be thrown out on the street and end up dirt poor and potentially have to resort to prostitution to survive. So, Jesus reminds them that divorce was not part of God’s plan from the beginning and was not to institute divorce as an institution. Jesus shows that Moses in Deut. 24:1–4 was not giving a justification for divorce, but making provisions in the event of divorce. Malachi 2:16 tells us that God hates divorce but provision was made in Deut. 24:1-4 that, in a fallen world, it does exist. Where it does exist, God wanted to make sure that it was difficult to achieve. Only in cases of sexual sin was it to be allowed in Israelite society. The Greek word for what we call in English, “sexual immorality”, is fairly broad, including a number of sexual sins besides adultery. In this clause, Jesus recognizes that marital infidelity potentially destroys the marital tie between spouses and is, therefore, ground for legal divorce. However, divorce is not mandatory and reconciliation is what God desires.

In the book of Hosea, we see God’s plan of reconciliation and redemption. On a grand scale, the book of Hosea is symbolic of the relationship between Israel and God. The nation had “whored” itself out to other gods but God pursue Israel and wanted to redeem her from her idolatry and take her back to be His people again. On a personal level, you can also see God’s plan for marriage as well. We are to seek reconciliation. We are to demonstrate restraint when it comes to ending our marriages in the event of sexual sin. We have to put away our seemingly rightful indignation and wrath. We may even be ridiculed by others when we attempt to reconcile our marriages in the wake of sexual sin. Our pride may tell us to try to destroy the other person for having hurt us in this way. But if we have tried in every possible way to reconcile our marriages but one partner refuses to end their sexual sin, which happens in this fallen world in which we live, Jesus says that this and only this reason is grounds for divorce.

What does God want for marriage? He wants it to be something that lasts and endures like God’s love for us. God loves us even though we are not perfect. We should love our spouses even when they are not perfect or not meeting the standards we have set for them. We often have the idea in our minds of what our perfect spouse should be but we are human and we can never live up to some ideal of the perfect spouse. God’s love for us endures even though we are not perfect. So should we be about our spouses. God loves us even though we rebel against him. I am sure that it makes Him grieve at times to continue to love us when we act as if He is the farthest thing from our minds and when we seem to be blatantly thumbing our nose at Him. But He loves us anyway. Just as Hosea loved Gomer through her harlotry. We should be this way about our spouses. We should seek reconciliation before devastation. We should seek to repair before we destroy. We should seek to mend instead of rip. We should make every attempt possible to restore our marriages just as Hosea did with Gomer. That’s tall order. That is what God desires is forgiveness instead of pride. What God? Am I supposed to reconcile with my husband when he is actively having an affair with another woman? Am I supposed to reconcile with my wife when she is out living the party lifestyle and seems to be enjoying having different men in her life on an ongoing basis? We are called to grant forgiveness. We are called to try our best to save our marriages through loving responses to unloving situations. Only when our spouses are unrepentant and unwilling to give up their sinful sexual behavior are we allowed to divorce them. In those cases, the unrepentance may be a sign that our spouses were never Christ followers to begin with. That my friends is where we need to back up to. If Christ followers are supposed to seek reconciliation even in the face of hurt and we are to love like Hosea even in the face of that which hurts us to the core, we might ought to think long and hard about getting married or getting married again.

Maybe, just maybe, if we knew that God calls us to be as loving in our marriages as He is toward us even in our rebellious state, maybe we would think longer and harder about getting married. Maybe we should make our first test in seeking out a partner as to whether they are Christians or not. That should be the deal breaker of all deal breakers for us. For if our potential spouse is not a Christian, then, the likelihood that they will be unrepentant when it comes to marital problems is increased. We should make marriage hard to get into. We should have high standards for who we marry and marry because we love this person as friend not just because they give us sex. We should make sure that the person that we are dating is someone that we can be friends with outside the bedroom as well as inside. We must make sure that the person is of high character and one who sticks to his or her commitments. Let us make marriage hard to get into because it is God’s desire that it be for life. It is to be a symbol of God’s love for us. When we marry, it should be given the hardest consideration of any decision that we make in life. There are high standards that we must uphold as man and wife in marriage. Let us think long and hard before we do instead of doing it on a whim because of sexual desire as many people do today. The standard is expressly stated in 1 Corinthians 13 where it says:
7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; 10 but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. 1 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. 13 So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Pretty high standards for marriage. The way it should be. May we think long and hard before we ask a woman to marry us and may women think long and hard before they accept any proposal of marriage. Let us make sure that when we marry it is to a person that we are willing to spend the rest of our days with. God desires that marriage reflect His love for us. That’s a pretty high standard. Amen and Amen.

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