The institution of marriage is under assault. A universally understood concept thousands of years old has been destroyed by the United States Supreme Court. Many, including some Christians, seem to be confused and shaken by these events. While some applaud this new legal fiction, others do not seem to know what to think.
The Bible is the foundation of the Christian Faith, and Jesus Christ is its founder, so let’s look at what Christ taught about marriage in Matthew 19.
The Question of Divorce
The occasion which prompted Christ’s instruction was a question posed by the Pharisees regarding divorce. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” (Matt. 19:3).
They were testing Jesus. They wanted Him to take sides on a popular controversy. Some Rabbis taught that divorce was permissible only in the case of marital infidelity. Others asserted that Moses allowed a man to divorce his wife for any reason that pleased him.
The choice was between limited and unlimited divorce. Should divorce be allowed only in the case of adultery, or were the reasons for justifiable divorce virtually unlimited? Could a man divorce his wife if she displeased him in any way whatsoever, or was he required to honor his marriage commitment unless, and only unless, his wife became sexually involved with someone else? This question established the context for Christ’s answer. Jesus did not reply with a lengthy sermon, but what He said in a few short statements is profoundly instructive.
1. Marriage is Heterosexual.
Christ first affirmed creation order as the foundation of marriage. “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning made them male and female?” (Matt. 19:4).
This is more than an observation about the origin of Adam and Eve. This is Christ’s groundwork to answer the Pharisee’s question about divorce. Before we can discuss divorce, we must understand the basics of marriage. To understand marriage we have to go back to the beginning when God first created the human race and made two individuals, one male and one female. Marriage as designed by God, is the union of a man and a woman.
In contemporary language, marriage is heterosexual, not homosexual. Why? Because God created it that way. He’s the Creator and it’s His prerogative to design and command His creatures according to His will. Because we know God is all wise, Christians believe that His will is good for humanity. We don’t have to understand why His way is best, or even agree with it. We only need to know what God ordained. Once we know that, the issue is settled. Any concept of marriage which violates the creation order is illegitimate. There really is no such thing as same-sex marriage. Marriage is always and only between a man and a woman.
2. Marriage is Pre-eminent.
The marriage relationship supersedes every other human relationship. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” (Matt. 19:5)
This is a universal principle, since Adam and Even had no parents to leave. God was not merely describing the first marriage between Adam and Eve, but establishing principles that govern all marriages in human society. Marriage is the supreme institution, and when a man enters a marriage relationship, he leaves his previous relationship with his parents behind. Not that he has nothing more to do with them—of course not, but his relationship to them is fundamentally altered from henceforth and forever more. He is no longer a son under the authority of his parents. He is now a husband with his own God-given authority in his own home.
Ideally, this will not cause friction between his newly established home and his former one, but if conflicts arise, he must distance himself from his parents and establish clear boundaries around his own home. The marriage relationship takes priority over every other human relationship. Why? Because God willed it so. This demonstrates the level of importance God attaches to the institution of marriage. Nothing and no one should come between a man and his wife.
Let this be a warning to parents not to allow their children to claim first affection in the home. As much as we love our children, and as important as they are to us and to God, they must never replace the priority relationship between husband and wife. If you love your child more than your husband, you fail to honor God in your marriage. The marriage relationship must be pre-eminent above all human relationships. Only your relationship with Jesus Christ takes priority over the relationship with your spouse.
3. Marriage is Permanent.
Jesus continued, “So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt. 19: 6).
The marriage bond is greater than any other earthly bond, and must not be treated lightly. The world may enter and exit marriages like trading automobiles, but not so with Christians. In contemporary America, it seems that few expect marriages to last. For many, it is only a temporary arrangement to be abandoned whenever either party decides their desires are no longer being satisfied. Sadly, divorce rates among professing Christians are not significantly better than the world at large.
Some claim that divorces among Christians are as frequent as for non-Christians, but more careful studies demonstrate that this is not true. It is a common misconception, but thankfully, Christians still have a lower divorce rate than others.
However, if Christians divorce only half as often as others, it’s still too high. Somebody must not be taking Christ’s words very seriously. The reason traditional wedding vows promise to “keep her only unto yourself as long as you both shall live” is because that is exactly what the Bible teaches. God designed marriage to be a permanent relationship severed only by death.
4. Divorce is Problematic.
The Pharisees objected to Christ’s declaration of the permanence of marriage. “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” (Matt. 19:7).
Listen carefully to the phrases Christ used to answer this question. “Because of the hardness of your hearts,” and, “From the beginning it was not so” (Matt. 19:8). He went on to say that one who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and anyone who marries a divorcee commits adultery.
These are strong words. Why are they so often ignored today? Perhaps because we have the same problem as the Pharisees. We want to dissolve marriages to suit our sinful desires, rather than to honor God with our commitments. Jesus indicated that easy divorce is the result of sin, not godliness. The one exception to the “no divorce” rule is sexual immorality (Matt. 19:9). If a spouse is unfaithful to his mate he has broken the marriage bond by adultery, and the innocent spouse is granted permission to divorce the unfaithful partner.
Please understand that no one is required to divorce. If the guilty party repents, and the innocent party is willing to forgive, the marriage may be restored. But so grievous is the sin of adultery that it shatters the very foundation of marriage. Thus divorce becomes the legal recognition of what has already occurred—the destruction of the marriage. In this case, divorce is the result of sin and it is the God-sanctioned remedy to deal with such horrendous sin.
God’s view of marriage is eminently higher than the world’s, and God’s view of adultery is much more serious than the world’s.
5. Grace is Greater.
I cannot conclude without speaking a word to those who have sinned in your past relationships and are now grieved because of your transgressions. For those who repent of their sins and cast themselves upon the mercies of Christ, “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son, cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). For the repentant, the past is forever gone, and your sins are put away from God “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12).
You need not anguish endlessly because of the past. God’s grace is greater than all our sin, no matter how grievous. If you are in Christ, you are cleansed and forgiven. Henceforth, walk in the light as a child of God, and do not allow your shameful history to drag you down like an anchor.
You can’t change the past, but Christ can and does for those who trust in Him. From this day forward, honor the institution of marriage as God designed it, and teach others to do the same. No Christian has a sinless past. All believers are sinners saved by grace.
Praise God and the Lamb forever, and give Him the glory due unto His name!
G. N. Barkman received his BA and MA from BJU and later founded Beacon Baptist Church in Burlington, NC where has pastored for over 40 years. In addition, Pastor Barkman broadcasts over several radio stations in NC, VA, TN, and the island of Granada and conducts annual pastors’ training seminars in Zimbabwe, Africa. He and his wife, Marti have been blessed with four daughters and six grandchildren.