Do you recognise these words?
We have come together in the sight of God, and in the presence of this congregation, to join together this man and this woman in holy matrimony; which is an honourable state of life, instituted from the beginning by God himself, signifying to us the spiritual union that is between Christ and his Church. Christ adorned and beautified matrimony with his presence, and with the first sign by which he revealed his glory; at the marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the Holy Scriptures command that all should hold it in honour.
It is therefore not to be entered upon unadvisedly, lightly, or merely to satisfy physical desires; but prayerfully, with careful thought, and with reverence for God, duly considering the purposes for which it was ordained.
- It was ordained for the procreation of children and that they might be brought up in the nurture and instruction of the Lord, to the praise of his holy name.
- It was ordained so that those to whom God has granted the gift of marriage might live a chaste and holy life, as befits members of Christ’s body.
- And it was ordained for the mutual companionship, help, and comfort that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.
Into this holy manner of life these two have come now to be joined. Therefore if anyone can show any just cause why they may not lawfully be joined together, let them speak now, or hereafter remain silent.
Most of us will have heard those words – or something similar – and many of us will have been on the receiving end, standing before the minister. It’s surely one of the biggest decisions we can make – right up there near giving our lives to Jesus.
But in our world marriage has become disposable, unnecessary and costly – you can always get a new one. We went to a 50th wedding anniversary recently – my wife and I have been married 21 years – 50 still seems a way off – and it’s unusual to get an invite to a 50th.
In 1976 Australia streamlined divorce proceedings making the only possible divorce a ‘no-fault’ divorce. Stay apart for a year, make the necessary application and fill out the forms and the marriage is history. There was an immediate spike in the divorce rate which took about 3 years to run its course and then things settled down. By 2000 the divorce rate was around 46% of all marriages. By 2007 this had dropped to about 40%. So for every 100 couples that get married, 40 get divorced. There’s a pile of other stats you can find – there is some evidence but little in the way of hard stats as yet that the 40% is actually a skewed number because a much higher percentage of 2nd, 3rd and so-one marriages fail – some analysts suggest as much as 65-75% of second marriages end in divorce.
That’s what the world says about marriage!
What does the Bible says about marriage and divorce? What is God’s view?
God’s view of marriage
Genesis 2:24 “…a man will leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”
In a nutshell this is God’s plan and summary of marriage – and at no point does the Bible move from this picture – both Jesus (Matthew 19:5) and Paul (Ephesians 5:31) use this verse as their authority for teaching on marriage – it would be fair to say this verse is normative for every marriage relationship regardless of time, country, Jew or gentile – this is God’s plan.
God’s view of marriage starts with one fact – that he designed it – just as he designed the world and us for his purposes. It’s not man-made – or woman-made institution which is what some blokes think – it really was ordained by God – and is designed for our good.
Marriage comes into the picture of Genesis when God sees that man is alone.
Genesis 2:18 “The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.””
Now let’s be clear – I’m only going to touch on the Bible’s teachings and I will leave some things out. Don’t take what’s said as a judgment against you or your choices – it may be that God is and you’ll have to deal with that – but I’m not.
For example – Genesis 2:18 is not saying that singles somehow don’t measure up to God’s plan. God loves and saves us as individuals – our value is due to his saving grace rather than our relationships. So don’t hear a condemnation of single-hood or even an elevation of marriage over being single. But I do want to think about marriage and divorce.
Marriage is God’s design. And the key to it is the “one flesh” idea – God’s design is an exclusive relationship on all levels – physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual – and the physical oneness, which may be the most obvious part of a relationship, points us to the complete unity of two people of the opposite sex.
The one flesh relationship is in all senses a contract – in God’s eyes a legally binding contract. I know that’s not very romantic – “would you agree to a life-long contractual relationship that is legally binding on both parties with a mutual benefit clause” – doesn’t really cut it against “will you marry me?”! But it might help us see the truth. This contract – we sign the papers, there are witnesses, promises and consequences for a broken contract – this contract is not just an agreement between two parties with a mutual benefit clause but a contract of ownership.
1 Corinthians 7:4 “The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife.”
We have to be careful here. If you’re a bloke and you’re thinking this gives you permission to beat or abuse your wife – pull your head in. Abuse is not on – if you have abused then it’s time to repent and confess your sin, and don’t just confess in private, or just to your wife – abuse is a crime – so go to the police and admit what you’ve done! Any pastor or minister worth his salt will support you through that process – and mate if your wife is able to forgive you, you may end up with an amazing marriage – totally worth the price of admission.
But – getting back to 1 Corinthians – God is declaring and defending the exclusivity of marriage – there is no place for infidelity or adultery, and we can’t withdraw from our spouse. They say the wedding ring is a tourniquet – it stops circulation – that’s the point. I gave myself to my wife. We have this joke – what’s hers is hers and what’s mine is hers – when we were first married we’d go to McDonald’s and she wouldn’t order fries – but then she’d happily eat mine – I learnt to order two lots. But – truly – it’s no joke. I belong to her – I’m no longer free to give myself in any way to another woman. She is no longer free to give herself to another man.
We have to think of this more broadly than just sex. For some people marriage has proven not to be everything they hoped for.
- A wife might find a man that seems to really understand her – she gives herself to him – not sexually because she’s a Christian, but they talk, laugh and share like she never could with her husband.
- A Christian guy has a secretary who finds him attractive – they flirt – but nothing further.
Is it wrong? Where’s the line that guards the exclusivity of marriage? This is where Malachi’s helpful – it brings into the equation the idea of faithfulness. Israel has been the subject of God’s judgment and they were wondering why?
Malachi 2:14-15 “You ask, “Why?” It is because the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.”
It’s not just sexuality – though that’s a bit of a dead give-away of unfaithfulness. Breaking faith is bringing into an exclusive relationship something that doesn’t belong – anything, not just sexual, but anything that damages or has the potential to damage the marriage bond. Bring it back to our relationship with God, which is the model for marriage. If we Christians were to chat up other gods – so to speak – if we flirted with worshipping them, never quite actively praising them or offering ourselves to them, but skirting the edges, putting ourselves in temptations way – would we be being faithful to God?
Exodus 20:2-3 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me.”
You wouldn’t say to God “I’m yours but when I’m at work I like to spend a little time with Buddha – he understands my situation better – knew you’d understand.” Keeping faith means doing whatever it takes to actively protect marriage, for better or worse, in sickness and health, richer or poorer, until you get bored and give in? No – until death! So Paul says to the Corinthians…
1 Corinthians 7:3-5 “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”
Don’t deprive each other – this is one area that constantly surprises me – the number of couples who have given up sex. Sometimes it happens through illness for example and that has to be dealt with. But if you are depriving each other of sex – and yes I realize how bluntly I’m speaking – you are breaking your marriage vows – God’s plan and command is that your marriage is an exclusive, life long, contract of one flesh, one mind, and one family, under him.
God’s view of divorce
So what about divorce? We can have all the excuses in the world, and I hear them every other day – incompatibility is the big one – we no longer love each other, we should never have been married, we don’t find each other attractive, we never have sex anymore, he’s not a Christian!
Let’s be blunt! An exclusive marriage contract between two people for life is an exclusive marriage contract between two people for life! Until death do we part! With blokes I often end up wanting to thump them when they come to me about divorce – what is it about the word “promise” we don’t understand?
This is what God say about divorce!
Malachi 2:16 “I hate divorce,” says the LORD God of Israel, … says the LORD Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.”
We have managed, even in the church to get away from the directness and the bluntness of God’s view of divorce – “I hate divorce”. How do you read that any other way? Divorce goes directly against the good plans God has for us – the exclusive relationship – one flesh! In our world you can get divorced for no reason at all – and Christians have picked this up. As far as God is concerned – from the Bible – marriage in all circumstances is meant to be life-long.
Matthew 19:3-6 “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?” “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’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”
It’s not a free for all – get divorced for any and every reason. It is… “what God has joined together, man must not break apart.” Jesus gives one concession – and it is a concession.
Matthew 19:9 “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
You may be the innocent party – where the other person has broken the marriage vows and severed the exclusive contract! And you find that you cannot live in that relationship anymore – then, and only then is divorce and remarriage permitted – not encouraged or commanded. In all other circumstances adultery and remarriage is sin. Now – we humans, we like rules, we want specifics – yes! We can get divorced if our spouse has had an affair. What about brutality, abuse, verbal abuse – what about being a bad father – being an alcoholic – what about “he’s an obnoxious ‘prat’ and I can’t imagine why I ever married him?”
Like the Pharisees we want our excuses to be given Gods’ approval. Christians will talk to their minister to get the minister to say “yes – I’m sure God approves!” But the mistake, surely, is looking for an excuse. God’s plan for our marriages is that we do everything and anything under God to preserve our marriage – and that we divorce only in the most drastic circumstances, where the other person has broken the one flesh nature of the marriage beyond repair. If we’re ferreting around for an excuse then that hasn’t happened – and our promise as Christians is “until death we do part.”
This is a huge topic and the Bible has a pile of stuff to say that would be beneficial. It’s also a very painful subject for many people – which is why we should stick to what God says. If you’ve been affected by divorce please understand I don’t want to make it worse, or judge you. And frankly I would say that the church has really dropped the ball when it comes to accepting and caring for divorced people – we either ignore it and God’s will, or we make it impossible to have fellowship. Madness!
But I also know this is an area Christians need to fix. Not a week goes by that I don’t spend hours dealing with people’s marriage problems, divorce and the pain – it takes up the largest part of my time, next to preaching. I keep coming back to the two facts of marriage as being the most important.
- God hates divorce – full stop!
We must, as Christians, become extraordinarily slow in approving divorce and remarriage – if not then we will go beyond the provisions made by God for the breakdown of relationships and we might be approving people in their sinfulness. Yes – that does sound hard – but I would challenge you to think on Jesus’ words – how far does he go in allowing divorce?
- God’s wonderful plan for us is that men and women will form “one flesh” relationships that last a lifetime – and they are worth every effort and any amount of pain to preserve and grow them.
- In the Old Testament the word divorce is related to the word for cutting down trees – divorce cannot happen without a huge amount of damage, without amputation of the one flesh.
- The word adultery means, “to break the one flesh”.