Scripture Text: Matthew 19:1-9
Three weeks ago, we looked at God’s design for human relationships, primarily marriage. God saw that it was not good for man to be alone, therefore, He made a another person who was suitable for him. We learned from that passage that God did not make a servant or footstool. God also did not make Adam a boss, someone to order him around. God gave Adam work to do and Adam needed help to accomplish it, therefore God made him a helper. We also saw that when a man and a woman marry, they are still individuals, but there is such a commitment and bond between the two, that they function as one person. We then looked at the beauty of marriage, primarily the passionate love between a man and a woman in the covenant of marriage. God created us and He put within us the sexual desires for each other, and they are good, in the context of marriage. Last week we looked at another passage about marriage, where the Apostle Paul described the roles of husband and wife and revealed a mystery of marriage, that marriage points to a greater, spiritual truth. What is that spiritual truth?
Marriage: A Picture of Christ and the Church
Last week, I suggested that we should have Gospel-centered marriages. What I meant by that is marriage should be a picture of Christ and the Church. We read at the end of Ephesians chapter five that Paul compared human marriages to the relationship between Jesus Christ and His Bride, the Church. Look at the following verses.
Ephesians 5:32–33 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Paul refers to marriage as a mystery. Maybe you have thought that way about marriage, that it is a mystery. Maybe you think it is a mystery how to relate to your spouse, or it is a mystery how you have been able to live with one another so long. Men and women are different creatures and that creates an interesting dynamic in marriage. That is not the mystery Paul was mentioning, though. This mystery refers to a hidden plan of God that is fulfilled in Christ Jesus. Specifically, what was hidden before about marriage is now revealed through Jesus Christ. Paul interpreted the original creation of the husband-and-wife union as foreshadowing Jesus’ union with His Body, the Church. Therefore, marriage from the beginning of creation was created by God to be patterned after Jesus’ relation to the Church. This means that the roles of husbands and wives do not merely reflect the culture of Paul’s day or the roles of men and women, but tell us about the way Christ relates to the Church.
In Christ we see the full extent of God’s love and marital faithfulness. We see Jesus as the loving Husband of His Bride, the Church, who sacrificed Himself for her in order to protect her and care for her. This is the way a husband should sacrificially love, care and protect his wife — as Christ sacrificially loves the Church and gave Himself up for her. We learned that wives ought to follow their husband’s servant-leadership as the Church follows her servant-leader, Christ. If a man loves his wife as Christ loves the Church, not as a dictator but as a servant-leader willing to die for her, his wife would willingly follow his leadership. Also, just as a husband and his wife become so united to one another that they are one flesh, so the members of the Church become one with Christ. In these ways, we see that God does not exist to make much of marriage; marriage exists to show us the glory of Christ and His Church. When a marriage is working properly it is a beautiful picture of Jesus and His Church. Having heard from Moses, Solomon, and Paul, let us now look at what Jesus had to say about marriage.
Marriage is God’s Creation Based on Creation
One thing we see in this passage in Matthew is that Jesus had a high view of marriage. In fact, it would be safe to say that God has high expectations for marriage as He designed it to reveal something about Himself. To describe marriage, Jesus went to a familiar passage, one that we read just a few weeks ago. In an exchange about divorce with some Pharisees, Jesus had to remind them about God’s original design for marriage from the very beginning of creation. Let us look at the following verses.
Matthew 19:1–4 1 Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. 2 And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. 3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female,
The text tells us that these Pharisees came up to Jesus, not to receive marital counseling or to have a brief marriage conference. They came to Jesus to test Him about the issue of divorce, perhaps to embarrass Him or to discredit Him. Apparently, there were different views about marriage and divorce during Jesus’ time and what constituted a legal reason for ending a marriage. The Pharisees’ questionable intent can be seen in asking about getting a divorce “for any cause”. It sounds like they might have been considering any reason to end a marriage. What I think is interesting is that Jesus responded to their test by referring to God’s original design for marriage. Jesus went beyond the teaching of a few rabbis and the Law of Moses, and referred back to God’s order of creation. He replied to the Pharisees by going all the way back to the beginning. Sometimes, when you get off track or you need to know how where to go or how to fix something, you need to get back to the basics. That is where Jesus went.
Jesus answered their question by affirming a truth about marriage that they, and many of us, sometimes forget. Marriage is an institution that God created between one man and one woman. Society may define marriage as something else, but God, our Creator has always said that it is a human relationship that He created to be between one man and one woman. Since God created marriage, He gets to define the rules for it. When we need to know how marriage should be, what our roles in marriage should be, and how to relate to our spouse, we need to go to God’s Word. God created marriage and He has a lot to say about it. Our opinions about marriage or what society says about marriage are not the main issue. God’s view about marriage is crucial. Go to the source!
Marriage is a Radical Shift in Priorities
This probably goes without saying, but there are a few changes that happen when two people get married. There is usually a change in someone’s name. There is usually a change in where the couple lives. There is usually a change in how to they will handle finances together. Another change that Jesus mentioned in this passage was about the change in priorities when one gets married. Marriage is literally the creation of a new family between a man and a woman with new set of priorities. Look at the next verse.
Matthew 19:5 5 …’Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?
In His response to the Pharisees, Jesus quoted Genesis 2:24. This is a familiar passage where God said that a man shall leave his parents and cleave to his wife. When a couple marries, they are supposed to leave and cleave. They leave the authority of their parents and the priority of their parents and transfer that authority and priority to their new family. This does not mean that people have nothing to do with their parents once they marry, but the priority of relationships does change. Your spouse becomes the most important person, aside from Jesus Christ, in your life. Not only is marriage a radical change in priorities, it involves a radical bond between two people that is not easily, nor should it be, broken. Scripture refers to this as becoming “one flesh”. Being “one flesh” includes the physical union of a husband and wife, but it is more than that. It also means that the couple have become so close that they function as one person. A couple should cling so closely to each other that nothing or no one can possibly come between them. This is why divorce is so painful. It is like tearing apart a person.
Marriage is a Covenant with God for Life
Jesus then went further to describe the implications of leaving and cleaving and the fundamental importance of marriage. Marriage is God joining two people together for as long as both shall live. God did not intend for marriage to be an arrangement that two people will just try out to see if it works. Marriage is not like a pair of shoes that we wear until it becomes uncomfortable or we find something better. God also did not intend for marriage to be a relationship that we keep as long as things go smoothly. In fact, God did not intend for marriage to be something that primarily makes us happy. God’s purpose for marriage is far more than these things. Look at the following verse.
Matthew 19:6 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
“What God has joined together” implies that marriage is not merely a human agreement in which two people, man and woman, exchange vows and their status moves from being single to being married. Marriage is a promise between two people and God to become united and to represent Christ and the Church. Jesus referred to the beginning of creation to demonstrate God’s intention for the institution of marriage. It is to be a permanent bond between a man and a woman that joins them into one new union that God ordains and blesses. Let us emphasize that marriage is a union between man and woman that God has joined together. This has many implications. Marriage is not about what the government says, but what God has joined together. Marriage is really about God. When God has so united two people, other people may not split them apart. The marital union is a basic, intimate relationship that demands one’s total allegiance. When two people are married, it is a covenant between them and their Creator.
Marriage Must Be Defended from All Threats
It is always interesting when people misinterpret scripture to say something that it does not say. Sometimes our own presuppositions and opinions color our view of God’s Word. For instance, many people have misinterpreted scripture about God’s love to suggest that there is no judgement for sin. Others have misinterpreted scripture to suggest that Christians are to never judge sin or call others to repentance. Something like this occurred between the Pharisees and Jesus. The Pharisees said one thing and Jesus had to correct them. Look at the following verses.
Matthew 19:7–9 7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8 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. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
Jesus had to correct the Pharisees on what Moses had said. A command is quiet different from permission. Moses did not command anyone to get a divorce, but he did provide conditions for it. What the Pharisees missed or ignored was the reason for that permission. Because people are hard-hearted, marriages fail. Sin and selfishness rear their ugly heads and if we do not respond to them correctly, our relationships will take a downward spiral. There is hard-hearted rebellion against God that leads to serious problems in marriages. That is what sin does to our relationships. Since God ordained marriage, human efforts to dissolve it constitute an attack on God’s work. In this passage, Jesus did not debate with the Pharisees about the meaning of the Law of Moses, but instead He reminded them of what God intended for marriage from the beginning. God created marriage to be a life-long covenant with Him where two people enter into a new relationship and become united. Of course, this takes work because we are all sinners living in a fallen world. We have to be diligent to fight the many threats, both internal and external, to our marriages. This includes our own hardness of heart.
Practical Steps to Strengthen Your Marriage
So, what are some ways that you can strengthen your marriage? I would like to offer the following things that I believe will help strengthen your marriage.
- Honor God first in your life. We were created to serve and worship Him. All human relationship flow from our primary relationship with our Father and Creator.
- Make Jesus Christ the center of your marriage. All things, including marriage, were created by Christ and for Christ. Put Jesus in the center of your relationship.
- Put your spouse before all other people. Marriage is covenant between two people and God. No other person (parent, family, or friend) or any other thing should ever come before your spouse.
- Forgive one another. We are all sinners in need of God’s grace. We will sin and make mistakes. We need grace and we need forgiveness.
- Resolve conflicts quickly. Spouses will not always agree and conflict will occur. Learn to fight fairly and agree to resolve all conflicts. Do not bury something alive that will rise again in the future to cause trouble.
- Pray and worship together. We were created to serve and worship God. Worship, however, does not begin on Sunday. It begins in the home and during the week. Commit to one another to pray together, read the Bible together, and sing songs together. The more you worship God together, the stronger your marriage will be.
If you are not married, what are some ways you can help strengthen other marriages? Encourage other couples. Pray for and with them. Share your experiences and wisdom with them. Those who have not gone through the situations you have may learn a great deal from you. Be a mentor to other people. The stronger marriages are, the stronger the Church will be and the stronger our society will be.
In closing, no marriage is perfect — we are all fallen and sinful people, even those who are saved! I know on the wedding day everything is seen through rose colored glasses with a happily ever after ending. Many people find their worth in other people or their relationships. Being single or married seems to define who they are. Our ultimate worth, however, is not found in our relationships with one other, even our spouse. Our worth is found in Jesus Christ. Marriage involves a man and a woman becoming united in commitment where they become dependent and responsible toward one another. Marriage is a picture of the relationship between Christ and His Church where each spouse shows unconditional love and unconditional respect. God designed marriage to be a covenant between a man and a woman and Himself for life. It is a radical shift in priorities where the husband and wife become one. Marriage is also something the husband and spouse will have to be diligent to defend against internal and external threats. Couples must guard against those things that will drive a wedge between them. When a marriage is working properly it is a beautiful picture of Jesus and His Church. Can others see Jesus in your marriage? May it be so!
This sermon was delivered at Good Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC. More information about Good Hope may be found at the following site: www.GoodHopeBC.org.