Marriage is Regulated by God
When two people desire to be married, they go to the local courthouse and pick up a marriage license. After a ceremony by a preacher or a judge, the documents are signed and deposited at the courthouse. The state has rules about who may marry (you cannot be siblings, you cannot be already married to someone else, etc.). There may even be requirements for tests of sexually transmitted diseases. Is it any wonder that many people see marriage as a government instituted and regulated relationship?
However, we have seen in our Bibles that the institution of marriage existed before there was any governmental body. Government might regulate marriage, but marriage is an institution of God. “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined 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 no man separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6). God does the joining of a man and woman in the bonds of marriage – not man. Even when a marriage takes place outside of a religious context, it is still a marriage bonded by God.
Since God joins the husband and wife, it is God who reserves the right to define what might dissolve a marriage. When mankind seeks to end marriages without consulting God’s will on the matter, they place themselves in opposition to God.
Even the attempts to avoid the full covenant of marriage is simply an attempt to avoid God and His laws. Some European countries have instituted temporary marriage licenses. A couple can get married for a predetermined length of time, such as a year or even as little as two weeks. Even in our country, some people alter their vows to say “until love ends,” instead of “until death.” With increasing frequency, a person doesn’t even bother getting married but simply moves into another’s home. All of these are nothing but foolish attempts to avoid the real issue – God said that marriage is a lifetime commitment.
Marriage is for Life
Paul used the covenant of marriage to illustrate why the Jews who were under the Mosaical Law were free to leave that covenant for the Law of Christ (Romans 7:1-4). What was obvious in Paul’s day needs to be emphasized in our own time. The marriage of a man and woman lasts as long as both live. Adultery is where a married person has sexual relations with someone who is not his or her spouse. If a married person leaves to marry another person, it is called adultery because that person is still married to his first spouse. However, if a person remarries after the death of his spouse, then it is not called adultery because the death of the spouse ended the covenant between the husband and wife.
When discussing divorce with the Pharisees (Matthew 19:3-11), Jesus points out that God instituted marriage at the beginning, but He did not institute divorce. This is the point of Matthew 19:6. What God joins, man cannot separate. I’m sure the Pharisees were rubbing their hands with glee over Jesus’ answer. They were sure they had caught our Lord in a mistake. “Why,” they asked, “did Moses command divorce?” Jesus pointed out two flaws in their reasoning. First, Moses allowed divorce. He never commanded that it must take place. Second, divorce only existed because of the stubbornness of man. It did not originate with God.
Think about the significance of this fact. A divorce only occurs when someone sins and the other spouse is unable to forgive him. The inability to forgive may be due to the sinner’s stubbornness to remain in his sin or due to the faithful spouse’s inability to overlook the wrong (which is yet another sin). Is it any wonder that God said He hates divorce (Malachi 2:16)? Divorce originates with the sins of man, not with God.
Jesus then explains God’s law regarding divorce and remarriage. A person who divorces his spouse encourages the divorced person to commit adultery. How? Because the lack of a spouse means a lack of sexual relations (I Corinthians 7:5, 9). The desire to have sex will tempt the divorced person to have sex with someone who is not his spouse. Even if he marries someone else after a divorce, Jesus said it is still adultery. Just because man decides to end his marriage, it does not mean that God goes along with man’s decision. God does the joining and in God’s sight they are still married. Therefore, to marry someone else is to commit adultery. In addition, the person who marries a divorced man or woman is also guilty of adultery (Matthew 5:32).
There is one exception to this general rule. If a spouse commits a sexual sin, the faithful spouse is permitted (not commanded) to end the marriage. Because of the placement of the exception clause, the implication is that the faithful spouse is permitted to marry another without it being called adultery by God. However, there is no exception clause for the unfaithful spouse. The fact that he had violated the marriage covenant by sexual immorality means he has given up his right to marry again.
Compared to the freedom to divorce and remarry today, Jesus’ rule seems very restrictive. Even compared to the allowances of Jesus’ day, Jesus’ teaching was difficult to swallow. His disciples declared that if one had to live with his spouse his whole life, he would be better off never marrying. Jesus’ reply was that if a person wishes to be a part of His kingdom, he may have to live as a eunuch (celibate). The question is whether pleasing God or satisfying your own desires is more important to you. (See Galatians 1:10.)
Even today people object to Jesus’ teaching. “What if my spouse is abusive, is a drunk, or abuses drugs? Do you mean I have to live with him for the rest of my life?” Perhaps Paul’s discussion of divorce will clarify this matter. “But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.” (I Corinthians 7:10-11). Again we have a general rule and an exception to that rule. In general, as Jesus had stated, a man or a woman may not divorce his or her spouse. However, if this is not possible, a divorce is allowed with the understanding that they will remain unmarried for the rest of their lives. The reason is simple. A Christian must allow for the possibility of repentance and forgiveness. If they marry someone else, there is no possibility of reuniting with the erring spouse. (Besides the fact that marrying another would be adultery in God’s sight.) In modern terminology separation, which does not permit a remarriage, is grudgingly allowed, but divorce, which allows a remarriage in our society, is not permitted.
Obviously, the choice of whom you will marry becomes an important decision. For most couples, you will have the opportunity to make one choice and you will then live with that person for the rest of your life. A wrong choice will lead to misery and possibly forced celibacy for the rest of your life. The reason couples are encouraged to have a long engagement (say a year) is not to create misery from the delay, but to make sure the couple truly understands whom they are marrying. When a person is infatuated, he often overlooks the truth about the object of his love. Hopefully enough reality will settle in during the engagement that no one can later say “I didn’t know.”
Once a marriage is made, every effort needs to be expended in making it a happy union. You will be living the rest of your life with your spouse. You can make it a joyous time or a miserable time – it is your choice.
Beautiful is the marriage of Christians, two who are one in hope, one in desire, one in the way of life they follow, one in the religion they practice. They are both servants of the same Master. Nothing divides them, either in flesh or in spirit. They are two in one flesh, and where there is one flesh, there is also one spirit. They pray together, they worship together; instructing one another, strengthening one another. Side by side they visit God’s church; side by side they face difficulties and persecution, share their consolations. They have no secrets from one another, they never bring sorrow to one another’s hearts. Unembarrassed they visit the sick and assist the needy. They give alms without anxiety. Psalms and hymns they sing. Hearing and seeing this, Christ rejoices. To such as these He gives peace. Where there are two together, there also He is present; and where He is, there evil is not.
Tertullian of Carthage, 160-230 A.D.