Jesus on Marriage and Vows | Matthew 5:31-37 (Snoh)
March 16, 2014 Series: The King Has Come | Matthew
Topic: New Testament Passage: Matthew 5:31–5:37
Matthew 5.31-37 | Jesus on Marriage and Vows
Intro: Law and Love
There has never been a teacher like Jesus. He was raised among pagans, ate and drank with sinners, and called uneducated fisherman and corrupt tax collectors to be His first disciples. Jesus spend much of his ministry criticizing superficial religion, refusing to follow cultural traditions, and even choosing to break some laws that weren’t really laws at all. The religious didn’t know what to do with him. They believed He was a threat to their authority, and that He had come to abolish the law. Just as the irreligious begin to rejoice, Jesus says that He did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it and that every last letter of God’s rules will be in effect until the world ends! He then preaches a sermon on the true nature of righteousness (lawfulness) revealing God to be really good, men to be really bad, and God’s standard to be really impossible to meet by ourselves. Now the irreligious don’t know what to do with Him.
Jesus reveals that God’s law requires obedience, and that obedience to the law means that we love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength and that we love our neighbor as ourselves. This is totality of what the 631 laws mean. To make His point that obedience is something internal, not just external, Jesus begins to go law by law, murder, adultery, and divorce in order to prove that apart from a Savior, men do not possess the capacity to love God or love people—that they are more impure, more broken, and more rebellious than they can imagine even if they follow the written rules. Jesus says you can commit murder with your tongue or even your attitude. Jesus says you can commit adultery with your eyes and your hands. And today, Jesus says can cause others to sin by refusing to keep your promise to love them...when they are unlikable.
The Creation of God and Marriage
Jesus transitions from speaking about lust to marriage and divorce. Throughout the gospels, Jesus has much to say about divorce because marriage has much to say about Jesus. In the beginning, God created marriage as a covenant-relationship between a man and a woman, designed and purposed by God, to glorify Him by displaying His covenant relationship with His people (Genesis 2.18-25, Matthew 19.3-6, Ephesians 5.32). And though I pray marriage is satisfying, its purpose is not primarily for our personal satisfaction, another’s satisfaction, or even our mutual satisfaction. The primary purpose of our marriages is to bring glory to God resulting in our joy. In other words, we begin with the incredibly counter-cultural and counter-intuitive idea that marriage does not belong to us, it not only belongs to God it declares something about God. God designed marriage as a way of teaching us about Himself and His love, not something to just make us complete.
1. First, marriage is covenantal. Jesus reinforced the idea that marriage is a covenant relationship when the Pharisees tried to trap Him in Matthew 19. He reminded them that the Bible said when people get married they cease being two and become one flesh that God seals together. In a covenant-marriage you become materially, physically, and legally bound to another individual and there is a supernatural commingling of two lives. Tim Keller describes it this way, “A covenant is relationship more loving and intimate than a merely legal relationship, but more binding, enduring, and accountable than a merely personal relationship.” (Marriage or an a few deep friendships)
2. Second, marriage is complementarian. It is comprised of a man and a woman who are both different but equal. In the creation of the woman for man, we see God providing the perfect complement to exist in unity. This mirrors the relationship of the persons of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), the very nature of God. Marriage is presented to us as an earthly image of who our God is—personal, relational, diverse, and unified.
3. Third, marriage is cooperative. God not only gave Marriage a definition, He also gave Adam and Eve a mission. He said work together to: Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it (Genesis 1.28). This mandate has a host of implications to how Christians engage with culture, but it begins with the simple assertion that man and woman together are to reproduce God-glorifying people, families, and culture. The very act of subduing the earth and culture-bearing is built on the foundation of reproducing humanity (making babies). The miracle of birth in marriage is a both a gift from God, as well as a faithful fulfillment of His divine plan.
Our marriages begin and end with God—it is ALL about Him. This radical truth contradicts much of what we are taught and what we want to believe. We are taught to believe that we are the center of the universe. We are taught to see everything and everyone from our perspective. Brought into marriage, this view will result in judging what is right, wrong, good, bad, happy, or sad in relation to ME (or YOU). This leads to marriages that are selfish, insecure, and unsatisfying. By starting with God’s glory, especially in our marriages, God becomes the central reference point. I understand what is right, wrong, good, bad, happy, or sad in relationship to Him. God, not our intellects, emotions, or our experiences, serves as the controlling force in all of our relationships with one another—including our FRIENDSHIPS (they too can be covenantal, complementarian, and cooperative).
The Law of Moses and Divorce
The world God made, including marriage, was good, perfect, and wonderful. But when men rebelled, sin entered the world, and ruined everything including marriage. Instead of celebrating differences, men and women vilified them—complementarian turned to competition. Instead of working together, men and women began to work apart—cooperation became segregation. Instead of becoming one-flesh centered on God and oriented toward the other—men and women because became self-oriented and self-absorbed. Relationships with everyone and everything began to fail…and still do.
Just as God had given the gift of marriage, God gave the gift of lawful divorce in order to limit the damage of these failures, including failed marriages. In Matthew 19.8 Jesus makes the point: “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” God hates divorce, but God allowed it in order to help control the sin of men’s hearts. Specifically, the Law of Moses limited the damage that a divorce inflicts by forcing a divorced man to give his ex-wife a certificate that would allow her to remarry. (Deuteronomy 24.1-4) When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, 2 and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, 3 and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, 4 then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the LORD. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance.
In speaking about the legality of divorce certificates, Jesus is really addressing the motivation behind giving one at all. The heart of the matter is how the Jews are interpreting a husband finding “no favor” in his wife because he has “found some indecency”. These are very ambiguous terms that were historically taught two different ways. The conservative Jewish school of thought defined “indecency” very narrowly as adultery. The liberal Jewish school of thought defined “indecency” in the widest possible way, meaning everything from adultery, to disrespect, to being upset because your wife put too much salt in food. Obviously, the religious culture Jesus is addressing has taken a more liberal interpretation of divorce. They believe that as long as they follow the letter of the law and issue a certificate, they can get divorce for any reason they want. I no longer like your looks. I no longer like your attitude. I no longer like our compatibility. I no longer like you. I AM NOT HAPPY and THIS OTHER PERSON is responsible for MY HAPPINESS. When you believe and say to someone YOU (external) are responsible for MY UNHAPPINESS (internal) you have become self-deceived. Not only are those Jesus addressing failed to see the real meaning of marriage, they are blind to have self-oriented they have become:
• They believe that the purpose of marriage is for their own satisfaction. In essence, they believe that their spouse exists to serve them. And when they no longer feel satisfied or happy, it must be the fault of the spouse. In fact, marriage is only good when I feel complete or satisfied.
• They believe that the Word of God is a tool to justify their own sin. In essence, they believe that God exists to serve them. They are less concerned with what brings honor to God and more concerned with what they can get away with. They twist what the Bible says in order to authorize their fleshly desires—they spiritualize their sin.
• They believe their sin (unlawful divorce) will only affect their own lives. In essence, they believe that they are the only one who will experience consequences. Sin brings consequences that extend to other people and other generations. Jesus says that a wrongful divorce causes the both the remarried victim, and their spouse, to commit adultery. Your sin causes suffering, even sin, in others.
Jesus condemns “any reason divorces” where men are twisting the law in order to pursue sin. He does affirm adultery as an acceptable reason for divorce. Jesus could have easily been addressing our culture where one can literally marry who they want, divorce who they want, or remarry who they want at any time for any reason. But by revealing the one sin which gives reason for a divorce, he reveals that the other reasons they are using are not actually sin. When people decide they don’t like someone, or want out of a relationship, they will often declare the individual sinful in an effort to make themselves feel better about ending a relationship they shouldn’t.
The Gospel of Jesus and Marriage
Not only have we, and the Jews of Jesus day, failed to see the true purpose of marriage (all relationships), Jesus shows that they have also failed to see that the true purpose of THE LAW was to learn how to LOVE of God and love other people. That means that the laws defining marriage, allowing divorce, even punishing sexual immorality were all designed to perpetuate and protect this love. Disobedience to the letter of the law was always unloving, but true love required more than obedience to the letter of the law. THE QUESTION IS NOT WHAT IS MOST LEGAL, but WHAT IS MOST LOVING?
Jesus doesn’t stop short, His love goes beyond the law. Men used God’s law as an excuse not to love. Christ transforms the law from the minimum WE MUST DO in order to not be in sin, to the minimum WE CAN DO in order to display our love. Jesus has much to say about divorce because marriage has much to say about Jesus. Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians (5.25--27) that Jesus is the motivation and means of love, He is the model for marriage: 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 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.
The vows of marriage and Jesus
Jesus’ love for the church was more than sentiment, it was ACTION. Jesus did what He said he would do when he had every valid excuse not to. This is why Jesus connects teaching about divorce with oaths. The Jews of Jesus were notorious for taking different kinds of oaths. Some of their oaths were frivolous, meaning, they would introduce statements with lofty language to make something unimportant seem important. “By my life…May I never see the joy of Israel if…”
At other times, Jews made what can only be described as evasive oaths. Any oath with contained the name of God was absolutely binding. But if you made an oath which did not include the name of God, but something else important (heaven, Jerusalem, head, etc.) then it was not binding. The only reason you would ever make a non-binding oath is because you expect, or hope, one day to escape from its obligations. Meaningless oaths such as this became a fine art. The need for contracts, oaths, and legal promises exist because of sin—there is no integrity. What Jesus says is that the Kingdom of God in characterized by a man’s word not needing something outside of himself to guarantee its trustworthiness. Christians keep the promises (big and small) they make, and they don’t make any they can’t keep.
Relative to marriage, Jesus wants us to keep our oaths, CALLED VOWS, to love one another. Personally, the only requirement to fulfill the vows to my wife is that she is alive. I did not choose to include any exception clauses into my vows regarding my bride’s health, her weight, her attitude, or even her faithfulness to me. That is because my commitment to her is not based on her love for me, or my love for her, but my love for God. In other words, it doesn’t matter if I like her or not—I will love you. Do you remember you vowed to do? Your vows were not to endure, tolerate, or withstand your spouse until they die. Your vows were to love until you or this person is separated by death. This is hard. WHY?
Anyone who has had a deep friendship or anyone who has been married knows that you don’t always “feel” in love. We wrongly understand love as a feeling that is foundational to a relationship. Love is not a feeling—the Bible never connects the two. That is because, no matter who you love, it is guaranteed that at some point you will fall out of “like” with them. Love is an action before it even becomes a feeling.
This is no clearer than on the cross where God chose to love those who were not likeable. The only reason we can keep such difficult vows, or maintain difficult friendships, especially when people are difficult, is because Jesus kept his vows to us when we were rebellious—vows based on Himself. Jesus had every reason to “divorce us” but He chose to shows us a love that goes beyond the law because Jesus wants us more for us than to not get divorced. Until we see the love of Christ, we will not choose to love because we won’t know how: My love for others comes from God’s love for me in Christ.
• Christ loved me when I was unlikeable—I was an ugly bride. I was immoral, impure, idolatrous, angry, jealous, indulgent, etc.
• Christ loved me when I did not love Him—I was a reluctant bride. I didn’t believe I deserved to be loved, I didn’t believe I could be loved, I didn’t believe I needed to be loved
• Christ loved me even though he found adultery in me and could rightfully divorce me. And as Christ chose to love me, I began to change me and became more lovable.
The unrelenting love of Christ changes US just as our unrelenting love changes OTHERS. As Christ continues to love me, especially when he finds more things not to like, I become more likable—because I become more like Christ. And the more he loves me, the more I am able to love others the same way. Christ’s love empowers us not only to love someone I don’t like, or likes me, but loving like Christ actually causes me to begin to like those I am loving—they become more likable.
Communion is the confession that we are not likable, but the belief in God’s declaration that He loves us knowing that. Our participation in this ceremony is our reminder of God’s vows to us, and our power to love like He did.
More in The King Has Come | Matthew
May 11, 2014Jesus the Rock | Matthew 7:24-29 (Mville)
May 11, 2014Jesus is (Scary) Gracious | Matthew 7.15-23 (Snoh)
May 4, 2014Kingdom Admission | Matthew 7:13-23 (Mville)