In Matthew 19, some people ask Jesus about the circumstances in which divorce is possible. Jesus basically tells them that they’ve got it all wrong. Marriage is not a contract which you can choose to end at a given point and so they shouldn’t be looking for the get out clauses. The only reason when a divorce can come into play is when one party has committed sexual immorality. In other words, it is only when the person has been unfaithful. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul gives us a bit more expansion on that when he describes circumstances where an unbelieving partner deserts the marriage.
Jesus’ words at first seem terribly strict. His disciples are astonished. They think it is impossible. Now, one of the things we have learnt on Faithroots is that God’s Law will always be far more compassionate, loving and merciful than our human attempts at mercy. Our temptation is to see something that the Bible says and think “That’s too hard. Let’s offer something gentler.”
The better way to handle things is
1. To take time to understand the grace behind the law and see why it is commanded.
2. To go back to the Gospel as the only solution for when we break or struggle to keep God’s Law.
So, I want us to have a think about why Jesus insists that marriage is permanent and denies the opt out clause. I want to suggest two good reasons here.
The first is that in human marriage we see a wonderful portrayal of God’s Love to us. God does not love us on a contractual basis where he can opt out at a time of his choosing. Rather, he commits to us in covenant that is characterised by his faithfulness.
The second reason is that since the Fall, we live in a messy and fragmented world marked by conflict. This means that sadly throughout marriage there are going to be ups and downs. In my marriage vows I committed to love my wife “For richer, for poorer. For better, for worse.” This is an “until death do us part” commitment.
In other words, I promised my wife that when the going got tough, when circumstances were hard when we were hit by suffering then I wasn’t going to walk away. We have been joined together as one flesh and so we face those things together.
That commitment also means that when you face serious disagreements ahead about work, money, where to live, how to raise children etc that those things will never be seen as more important than your marriage vows.
This means that in effect there are some constraints around your marriage that are there foryour own good. In a sense, you are locked into your marriage and there isn’t a get out clause. You can’t just walk away from it. This means two things.
First, it means that when you do disagree on something you can express that disagreement safely (it does not need to be an angry argument) and your wife or husband can also hear the disagreement safely. They do not need to fear that if they disagree with you then that’s it you are walking away. Our marriage vows disarm us of a cruel weapon that we tend sinfully to use in disputes, the ultimatum, the threat to quit.
This means that because we are locked in to this that when troubles come, we are constrained to do everything to seek a solution within the marriage. This pushes us towards repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation.
There will be times when that may sound idealistic and impossible. Yet this is what Jesus is asking of us. That’s where the Gospel (or good news) comes in. It is the Gospel that will enable us to stick in there. It will be grace.
Past Grace: W can forgive my partners now because I know how much I was forgiven by Christ at Calvary.
Present Grace: We can face these trials together because we have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit
Future Grace: We repent and forgive now because we look forward in hope to the day when Christ will come for his bride, the day which our actions in our marriages now are pointing towards.