Monthly Musings: Reflections on Marriage and Divorce

I’ve been rather lax lately in providing updates. I’ve been traveling a lot for business and frankly, there just hasn’t been much to report. I have 50 days left until I retire and perhaps then I’ll be able to make more frequent reports on progress toward our Watchmaker’s Pulse RV adventures.

Countdown

For this post, though, I’d like to reflect a little on marriage and divorce. My wife and I were discussing this yesterday (not divorce !!! … just the topic in light of today’s casual cultural views on the subject).

I want to discuss several Biblical passages which deal with these topics. First, in Malachi 2:10-16, the Bible says

Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. May the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob any descendant of the man who does this, who brings an offering to the Lord of hosts! And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”

God rightly points out that the covenant relationship of marriage is intended to be a faithful, continuing one. He uses the word “faithless” 5 times in this passage, describing divorce as being a lack of faithfulness to your spouse. Notice also that he says that the marriage covenant (making them one) includes a portion of his Spirit. In other words, their is a spiritual bond taking place (think of it as a sort of “glue”) which, when divorce happens, is broken.

Notice also that the passage seamlessly flows between two topics, really. It talks about marriage and divorce in human relationships, and the unity between spouses and God which is an inherent part of the covenant, but it also talks about these same principles in terms of God’s covenant relationship with Israel. He links their idolatry to adultery and faithlessness as well. This is a common theme through scripture. Look at Leviticus 18:18-23, a passage speaking primarily about unrighteous sexual relationships.

And you shall not take a woman as a rival wife to her sister, uncovering her nakedness while her sister is still alive. You shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness while she is in her menstrual uncleanness. And you shall not lie sexually with your neighbor’s wife and so make yourself unclean with her. You shall not give any of your children to offer them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord. You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. And you shall not lie with any animal and so make yourself unclean with it, neither shall any woman give herself to an animal to lie with it: it is perversion.

There are more verses before and after these about sexual prohibitions. But did you notice the statement right in the middle… “You shall not give any of your children to offer them to Molech…”? Why is idol worship mentioned in the middle of a passage on illicit sex? Godly sex is that which occurs in a marriage relationship between a husband and wife. Ungodly sex, therefore, represents ungodly (e.g. unmarried) relationships and thereby represents non-covenantal, faithless relationships, just like idolatry. Sex and marriage go together as a representation of faithfulness to a covenant and must not be separated.

That brings me to a passage in which Jesus was tested by local religious leaders, described in Matthew 19:3-12.

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry. But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

Here, Jesus explicitly confirms that marriage is between male and female, and is intended as a life-long commitment. Divorce occurs because of our sinful hearts and unwillingness to keep our commitments. I know… there are a lot of divorces that have happened for justifiable reasons, but ultimately, they happen because one or both of the individuals involved have hearts that have been hardened by sin and have chosen to be disobedient to their commitments in some form or fashion.

This is a hard truth to swallow, and the disciples even acknowledged that as such. After Jesus made these statements, his disciples pulled him aside and basically said “that’s not reasonable! It’d be better never to marry, then.” Jesus doesn’t contradict that statement, but even says that if God has given you the ability to stay unmarried, then do so. This thinking is born out through Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 7:1-11).

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband(but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.

Similar to the disciples’ objection to Jesus about this, the Corinthians had made a similar objection statement to Paul, and Paul clarified several things in this passage. First, he points out the importance of sexual activity in marriage and its usefulness for providing pleasure and companionship, as well as a deterrent to sexual temptation. However, notice that Paul’s statement includes the concept that a person no longer maintains exclusive control (authority) over their own body. This is critical to a covenant relationship. You are bound, by covenant, to exercise your will in deference to the other person. That’s why Paul goes on to say that if a person can remain unmarried, they will be able to focus entirely on their covenant relationship with God. It’s not saying that being married is wrong, but it acknowledges that things become more complex.

This complexity is explored a bit further in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (5:25-32).

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

There are two thoughts I want to point out from this passage. First, marriage is important because it’s intended to be a PICTURE of the covenant relationship between Jesus and Christians (the church). People are supposed to be able to look at our marital relations and say “Oh. That’s what it means for God to love me and give Himself for me.” God says to us “I will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5, Joshua 1:5) and our marriages should reflect that kind of commitment. My wife and I committed to each other long ago that we would never consider divorce an option for us. We are in it for the duration of our lives.

Another thing this passage reminds me of is the fact that God did not HAVE to enter into covenant relationship with us. Just as Jesus and Paul taught (as discussed above, regarding marriage) that if one can deal with it, it’s easier not to marry. Being married is wonderful, exciting, fulfilling, etc., but it is also hard work and can be frustrating at times. This is how our relationship with God is. He didn’t have to do it, but it is wonderful that he did. He and we can find it wonderful, exciting, fulfilling, but also frustrating. The fantastic thing about it, though, is that we are in it for life, and that gives us a blessed assurance through the ups and downs.

This brings me to my final scriptural passage, which is really not about marriage, but has definite application here. It comes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:21-23).

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Who are these people that Jesus is referring to? One way to think of them is the people who claim some aspect of Christianity, but have never truly entered into a covenant relationship with Jesus. He has paid our “marriage price” by dying in our stead for our sins and then defeating death for us. However, we must accept that offered gift by saying “yes” to him and entering into a forever covenant with him. To all who receive Him, and believe in His name, He gives the right to be called children of God (John 1:12). There are people who “go through the motions” of Christianity, but never commit their lives to living in obedience to Jesus’ teaching and trusting him to follow through with his covenant promises to us.

Regarding marriage, this is what happens when a man and a woman choose to live together and/or have sex together outside the covenant commitment of marriage. Some would argue that marriage is just a piece of paper, but that piece of paper represents a public acknowledgement that the two of you have entered into a committed lifelong relationship that God has joined together will not be separated. Without that marriage covenantal commitment, there is always the possibility that one spouse could say to the other, “Depart from me. I never knew you”.

In conclusion, the main points I wanted to get across are these:

  1. Marriage MUST NOT be entered into lightly. It’s a commitment for life and should not be viewed as anything other than that.
  2. Marriage is a covenant between two parties who must always keep seeking how to fulfill their responsibilities and show love to the other. It also includes self-awareness of those commitments and continual introspection of how you are doing on fulfilling your relational responsibilities.
  3. Christian marriage partners must always keep in mind that they are God’s pictures and representatives of His desire for relationship with His created image-bearers (people). With this in mind, we should be constantly aware of how our marriage is perceived by others and how we can use our marriage as an evangelistic tool to bring others into a covenant relationship with God their creator.

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