Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Theme: Marriage and Divorce
Volume 6 No. 368 September 3, 2016
II. Lectionary Reflections:
Marriage and Divorce


by Dr. Jacob Mathew, Malankara World

This Sunday falls in the middle of the 8-Day Lent. So, instead of the daily specials we have for other days of the 8-Day lent, we are featuring the lectionary reflections on the Gospel Reading for this Sunday.

The Gospel Reading prescribed for this Sunday is Matthew 17:22-27, the story of Jesus paying the temple tax. This had been well covered in the Sermons section as well as in the archived editions of Malankara World Journal in the prior years. So, we will instead cover Matthew 19:1-12, the Gospel Reading prescribed for Saturday Evening. This is also the Gospel Reading we hear on our marriage ceremony. Jesus clarifies in this passage that marriage is not a temporary arrangement. It is instituted by God when he created Adam in the Garden of Eden and provided Eve as a helpmate. Pharisees questioned Jesus to trap him about the provision for divorce given by Moses. Jesus makes it clear that God designed marriage to be a permanent relationship and, except for sexual misconduct, divorce and remarriage are not permitted.

We examine this issue here in some detail. For completeness, please refer to the referred articles from the archive.

In Syrian Orthodox Church, marriage is a sacrament. There are three persons involved in a marriage. The bridegroom (husband), bride (wife) and God. It is important that we include God in our family. That is the secret of success. When you get into difficulties, share your problems with God in your prayers, singly and then together. God will find a way for you. Obey God without questioning.

The best defense against divorce in the bible is illustrated in the story of the Holy Family. Mary was betrothed to Joseph. Joseph had all the rights to divorce her when Mary got pregnant. But he trusted in God and didn't. Mary had a unique role to play here. She knew she was carrying the son of God in her womb. But she did not plead any superiority to Joseph because of that. She humbly surrendered to Joseph as the Head of the Family as prescribed in the bible. Joseph took care of his wife and Jesus gladly. He took Mary on the long journey to Bethlehem without any complaint. He obeyed God. When the angel told him to go to Egypt, he packed everything and departed to Egypt with the Mother and Child. When the angel later appeared and asked him to return to Israel, he did that too without any complaint. When Jesus, at the age of twelve, came face to face with His Virgin Mother and with Saint Joseph in the temple, uttered the mysterious words,

"Did you not know, that I must be about my father's business?" (Lk 2:49),

Joseph bowed to the mystery of the Father from whom all fatherhood takes its name. Adoring God's Will, Joseph accepted his role as the earthly shadow of the invisible God. Any other person would have created a terrible scene out there, including throwing the child out of the house for disobedience. For Joseph, obedience to God was the first and foremost priority. As a result, he had a great family life.

Fr. Pere Binet, S.J. explains:

"As Sara, according to the Holy Scriptures, called Abraham her lord, so also the Blessed Virgin, penetrated with respectful love for her spouse, gave him no other name than that of lord and master. And what is still more, Joseph was such in very deed, having absolute command and disposal of her, and of her Son.

Whilst Mary addresses her holy spouse by the name of lord, listen to the divine voice of the Infant Jesus calling him, 'My father, My father.' And this, not once, but a hundred times a day. It seems to me, that, were the Seraphim capable of jealousy, they would feel a holy envy of this blessed Patriarch; since it is their highest glory to be the servants of Jesus and of Mary, whose lord and father Joseph is...."

[Excerpted from the book "The Divine Favors Granted to St. Joseph," by Pere Binet, S.J., reprinted by TAN Books]

Father Mark in his essay, 'Why I Love Saint Joseph' (Vultus Christi) explains further what was so special about Joseph vis-a-vis the Holy Family:

"Saint Joseph is described as a flourishing palm tree and as a Lebanon cedar. That is to say that Saint Joseph was a man with deep roots. If there is anything that wreaks havoc in families and in society today, it is, I think, the instability of men: the inability or unwillingness to put down roots before presuming to spread one's branches.

Deeply rooted in the portion chosen for him by God, Saint Joseph was able to stretch heavenward, and to extend his branches rich in foliage and laden with fruits. The Son of God found protection and security in his shadow. Saint Joseph was sturdy, but supple. He was strong, but flexible. He was rooted, but able to bend. Thus was he able to weather the storms of adversity and the winds of temptation without breaking."

When you combine the humility of St. Mary with the Obedience and Stability of St. Joseph, it provides for a stable home environment. No wonder why Joseph and Mary were selected to care for Jesus Christ before he was ready for his public ministry. It also tells us clearly God is an integral part of a successful Christian Family.

Gospel Reading - Matthew 19:1-12

Matthew 19:1-12 (NKJV)

Marriage and Divorce

19 Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these sayings, that He departed from Galilee and came to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. 2 And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them there.

3 The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?"

4 And He answered and said to them, "Have you not read that He who made [a] them at the beginning 'made them male and female,'  [b] 5 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'? [c] 6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate."

7 They said to Him, "Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?"

8 He said to them, "Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted 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, [d] and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery."

10 His disciples said to Him, "If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry."

Jesus Teaches on Celibacy

11 But He said to them, "All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: 12 For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother's womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it."


a. Matthew 19:4 NU-Text reads created.
b. Matthew 19:4 Genesis 1:27; 5:2
c. Matthew 19:5 Genesis 2:24
d. Matthew 19:9 Or fornication

"Is It Lawful?"

by Mark Dunagan

Gospel: Matthew 19:1-12

Also read:

Deuteronomy 24
1 Corinthians 6
Leviticus 18
Genesis 1, 2

Some might claim that many questions that surround marriage, divorce and remarriage are unanswered in Scripture. Not so. When it comes to the question of divorce and remarriage there is no need to speculate. This precise question came up and Jesus addressed it quite clearly. In fact, the Holy Spirit chose to give us an abundance of information to examine on the subject in four specific contexts (Matthew 5:31-32; 19:1-13; Mark 10:1-12; Luke 16:18).

To Whom Do the Verses Apply?

This is probably the only topic in my preaching career that I have ever heard anyone raise the question "to whom do the verses apply?" On just about every other topic it is assumed that a teaching in the New Testament applies to everyone. In the context of Matthew 19:1-13, Jesus makes a number of points that tell us that these verses do apply to everyone, Christian or non-Christian, Jew or Gentile alike.

Jesus answers their first question about divorce from quoting the first two chapters of Genesis and then drawing a very logical conclusion (19:4-5). If God created two genders, and a man leaves father and mother and cleaves to his new wife, and as such they become one flesh, it is rather obvious that divorce is not allowed for every cause. By quoting Genesis, Jesus made the point that God's original design for marriage has not changed, that the teaching in Genesis 2:24 is still valid, and seeing that such a command was given before the formation of the Jewish race, or Christians and non-Christians, the teaching is universal and has always been.

Jesus only reinforced this last point when after they wanted to go to Deuteronomy 24, He pointed out that Deuteronomy 24 was never a green light for divorce, this should have been obvious, seeing that the same covenant that contained Deuteronomy 24:1-4 also contained Malachi 2:16 in which God emphatically says, "I hate divorce".

Jesus then says, "But from the beginning it has not been this way" (Matthew 19:8). He did not say, "at the beginning it was not this way", but rather, "from the beginning". This means that Genesis 2:24 is still God's will on marriage, that is, "one leaves and cleaves" and it has always been His will.

In addition, we could likewise offer the following evidence that unbelievers are under God's marriage law as well as believers.

Unbelievers can commit the sin of adultery (Leviticus 18:20,24; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10), which would only be true if they were under God's law on marriage.

Unbelievers can likewise be guilty of the sins of homosexuality and fornication (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) which equally violations of God's will on marriage (Hebrews 13:4).

Some have said that it is not fair for unbelievers to be under such a law seeing that they might be ignorant of God's will on the matter. Yet, with some reflection this does not make much sense. Unbelievers are clearly under God's will against murder, theft, lying and every other sin, and all these sins do have severe consequences, often far more severe than not having a right to remarry.

Finally, there is a problem when one tries to argue that the unbeliever is not accountable to God's marriage laws.

First, does this mean that God does not care what they do in this area? Can they marry, live together, divorce and remarry countless times and remain sinless in God's eyes? Passages such as Leviticus 18:24 say otherwise.

Secondly, if they are under a marriage law different from Matthew 19, where is that law found in Scripture?

Finally, if they are not under Matthew 19, then this would mean that they also do not have the right of the exception in verse 9, for the exception is only stated in the Gospels.

Do The Passages Apply Today?

Some have argued that Matthew 19 is not part of the gospel, but is only Old Testament teaching and thus was not valid after the death of Jesus.

Yet Matthew says that when Jesus started to teach He was teaching "the gospel of the kingdom" (Matthew 4:23). In the very next chapter, Jesus gives teaching on marriage, divorce and remarriage (5:31-32).

Jesus then said that since the baptism of John the gospel had been proclaimed (Luke 16:16).

Jesus taught a number of things that clearly were true before the Law of Moses (Matthew 19:8), and yet would also be true after its removal (Matthew 18:15-17).

If these passages apply to no one after the cross, then no one has the right to put away their mate for the cause of sexual unfaithfulness (Matthew 5:32), for that clause is only given in the Gospels.

Why Only One Cause?

Some have a problem with Jesus giving only one cause, the cause of sexual unfaithfulness (Matthew 19:9). What about things like physical abuse, and drug addiction?

Women in the First Century were married to abusive men and addicts as well as in any other age, yet Jesus only gave one cause for divorce with the right of remarriage. Does this mean such a woman is expected to just put up with such behavior? Of course not. Those who break the law need to be arrested, confronted by the men of the congregation and held accountable for their actions. The police are there to remove such a man from the household and protect the woman and her children. There are many resources to deal with such evil men. Thus, a woman is not prevented from protecting herself and her children, in fact she has an obligation to do so.

"Why did Moses command to give her a certificate and divorce her?" (19:7)

Moses did not command divorce. A reading of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 will find that Moses never "commanded" a man to put this woman away or give her a certificate. All Moses "commanded" was that the man could not remarry the woman, even if the second husband died (24:4), or if the second husband divorced her. Moses equally stated something that should have caught the eye of all those reading these verses. The divorced wife was said to be "defiled" by such a process and the husband who had put her away could never have her again – even if her second husband died.

What about the Unfaithful Mate – Can They Remarry?

No Scripture ever gives them the adulterer the right to remarry, even though the faithful spouse is allowed (Matthew 19:9). The right of remarriage is, however, given to widows and widowers (1 Corinthians 7:39).

How Long Does The Adultery in Matthew 19:9 Last?

The word "adultery" is in the present tense indicating continuing action. "She is committing adultery" (Mark 10:12).

The adultery in the verse follows a marriage, indicating that the new marriage is what causes the adultery, because the divorce in 19:9 did not dissolve the former marriage in God's sight. This same principle is found in Romans 7:3 and 1 Corinthians 7:10-11.

Like every other sin, the sin can only be forgiven when the sin is stopped, that is, when the sinful relationship is ceased: "It is not lawful for you to have her" (Matthew 14:4; Mark 6:17-18).

Jesus Answers Clearly

Can one divorce for any cause and retain the right of remarriage?

When can I divorce and have the right to remarry?
If my spouse is unfaithful: Matthew 19:9

What happens if I divorce a faithful mate and remarry?
Adultery (19:9)

To whom does this teaching apply?
"Whoever" (19:9)

What if I divorce my faithful mate and they remarry?
(Matthew 5:32 "makes her commit adultery").

What about the person who marries her?
"Whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery" (Matthew 5:32).

Does this teaching apply if a woman divorces her husband?
Yes (Mark 10:12).

What Does the Bible Say About Divorce and Remarriage?

by Dr. Ray Pritchard

Gospel: Matthew 19:1-12

Perhaps the place to begin is with a few quotes taken from The Abolition of Marriage by Maggie Gallagher:

"Over the past 30 years a consistent 96% of the American public has expressed a personal desire for marriage. Only 8% of American women consider remaining single ideal, a proportion that has not changed over the past twenty years. Almost three-quarters of adult Americans believe that 'marriage is a lifelong commitment that should not be ended except under extreme circumstances.' Even 81% of divorced and separated Americans still believe that marriage should be for life" (p. 8).

"The marriage rate has fallen nearly 30% since 1970 and the divorce rate has increased about 40%" (p. 5).

"Half of all children will witness the breakup of a parent's marriage. Of these, close to half will also see the breakup of a parent's second marriage" (p.76).

"Ten percent of children of divorce will go on to witness three or more family breakups" (p. 76).

Here are the raw numbers taken from the National Statistical Abstract: In 1950 there were 385,000 divorces in America; in 1970, 709,000; in 1990, 1,175,000.

Divorce is taking its toll on Christians also. Columnist Chuck Colson revealed some shocking statistics. "Pollster George Barna discovered that born-again Christians actually have a higher rate of divorce (27 percent) than nonbelievers (23 percent)." He added, "Fundamentalists top them all (30 percent); and 87 percent divorced after accepting Christ, presumably aware of the biblical teaching on divorce."

Two Extremes to Avoid…

In thinking about the question of divorce and remarriage, there are two extremes we must avoid.

First, we must avoid saying more on this subject than the Bible actually says.

Second, we must also avoid saying less than what the Bible actually says.

In this message we will consider the central passage in the gospels dealing with the issue of divorce and remarriage. Let me tell you in advance this passage will not answer every possible question, but it does clearly lay down the teaching of Jesus Christ on this subject. Since he is the head of the church, this is where our thinking must always begin.

I. A Tricky Question: 1-3

The passage opens with a tricky question put to the Lord by the Pharisees. Because this is Matthew 19, we know that this discussion takes place near the end of Christ's earthly ministry. I call it a tricky question because it isn't really a sincere attempt to discover the truth.

You need to know one important piece of background in order to understand this question properly.

In the first century the Pharisees were divided into two groups led by two great rabbis-Hillel and Shammai. With regard to divorce Hillel was a liberal. He taught that a Jewish man could divorce for any reason whatsoever-no matter how flimsy. For instance, if a wife burned the toast, the husband could divorce her. Or if he felt his wife had insulted his parents, he could divorce her. Some of his followers said that if a man found a woman he liked better, he could divorce his wife and marry the one he liked.

By contrast Shammai was a conservative. He said that divorce could only be obtained on the grounds of sexual immorality. As you can imagine, a lively debate raged between those two groups. With that background, we turn to the text:

When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. 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?" (1-3).

The key is the last phrase-"any and every reason." When the Bible says they came to test him, it really means they came to trap him-to force him to choose sides. If he sided with Hillel, that would be popular with the liberals; if he sided with Shammai, the conservatives would love him. That's what I mean when I say the question was insincere. They weren't seeking the truth, just trying to force Jesus into a corner.

II. A Biblical Reply: 4-6

I find it very interesting that in his reply, Jesus quotes the book of Genesis. Specifically he quotes Genesis 1:27 and 2:24. He combines them together to make two points:

  • First, marriage between a man and a woman was God's idea.
  • Second, marriage is meant to be a lifetime commitment.

The Pharisees asked about divorce, but Jesus replied by talking about marriage. He wouldn't be drawn into their little debating game.

"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" (4-6).

This is hugely important for the many social issues in our day.

Marriage from God's point of view is always one man with one woman joined in a legal union for life. This rules out so-called gay marriage since it is always outside the will of God. It is always wrong because it perverts the divine design given by God in the Garden of Eden. In the beginning God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve or Alice and Eve.

Second, this passage also shows us how Christ regarded the Old Testament. He understood it as the literal Word of God and thus absolutely authoritative.

Third, this passage also teaches us how to approach the book of Genesis-as literal truth. When you read Genesis 1-2, you need to read it the way our Lord did - not as myth or legend, but as actual, historical fact. The man and wife of verse 4 are Adam and Eve - the first two human beings on the face of the earth.

Fourth, and most importantly, this passage establishes the permanency of marriage in the strongest possible terms when it says, "What God has joined together, let man not separate" (6). This simply means that divorce was never part of God's original design. God didn't think up divorce, we did that all by ourselves. This means that divorce always represents a failure at some point in the marriage relationship. As we will see in a moment, not every divorce is sinful, but sin is always involved in every divorce.

Before going any further, I think we must say plainly that this answer by Jesus is not a "soft" or "easy" answer. This is tough love in action. Sometimes in our desire to make people happy, or to relieve them of their very real pain, we have unwittingly disobeyed verse 6 by separating what God joined together. Sometimes we do this by encouraging divorce, sometimes by joining unhappy spouses in criticizing their mates, and sometimes by turning away and refusing to challenge those who rush to divorce without any biblical justification. And sometimes we just wash our hands off the ugliness and say, "I can't get involved." By doing nothing, we thus encourage the culture of divorce inside the church.

When the Pharisees asked Jesus, "What do you think about divorce?" he responded to them by saying, "What do you think about marriage?" Divorce isn't the issue, marriage is. God sees marriage as two people becoming one, committed to one another, in a covenant relationship that lasts a lifetime. Until you understand that, you aren't ready to talk about divorce at all.

III. A Second Tricky Question: 7

I said this was a tough answer. The Pharisees definitely took it that way. Instead of taking the bait and choosing sides, Jesus had ignored their question and gone right to the heart of the issue-God's original design in marriage. So now the Pharisees ask a second question-this one even trickier than the first:

"Why then," they asked, "did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?" (7).

The background of this question comes from Deuteronomy 24:1-4 where Moses laid down some basic principles regarding divorce and remarriage. This was a central passage in the debate between Hillel and Shammai because the passage speaks of "some uncleanness" the husband discovers in the wife. But it doesn't define that term, which is why Hillel took it to mean almost anything the husband didn't like and Shammai restricted it to sexual immorality.

The key word in the question is the word "command." Why did Moses command a man to give his wife a certificate of divorce? Good question. There's only one problem: God never commanded a man to do that. That's not in Deuteronomy 24. So it's a bogus question based on a deliberate distortion of the Bible.

IV. A Biblical Clarification: 8-9

In order to understand Jesus' answer, let's break the text down into four basic observations.

A. Command vs. Permission

First, Jesus begins by correcting their distortion of the text. He reminded them that "Moses … permitted you to divorce your wives" (8). Do you see the crucial difference? The Pharisees used the word "command" and Jesus used the word "permission." There's a world of difference between what God commands and what he permits. The Pharisees were saying that God commanded divorce. Jesus said, No, God permitted it, but he never commanded it. God's original plan was that married couples would never divorce.

B. The Hardness of your hearts

Second, Jesus now goes to the heart of the issue when he reveals the reason behind Deuteronomy 24. Moses gave that instruction "because your hearts were hard." In one phrase Jesus swept aside all their cheap, selfish excuses and exposed the real reason behind every divorce-a hard heart.

These words of Jesus are just as true today as they were 2000 years ago. Nothing has changed. Human hearts are still hard and that's why our divorce courts are backlogged. Christian hearts are hard, which is why divorce has invaded our churches.

C. Original Intent

Third, Jesus goes on to remind them once again of God's original design: "But it was not this way from the beginning" (8). God instituted marriage before the Fall; man devised divorce after the Fall. If you want proof of universal sinfulness, visit any divorce court and listen to the arguments, the accusations, the veiled threats, the struggle over money, property, alimony, and child custody. None of this was part of God's original design for humanity.

D. A warning against improper remarriage

Fourth, Jesus now gives a stern warning against improper remarriage: "I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery" (9).

For a moment, set aside the little phrase "except for marital unfaithfulness." We'll come back to that soon. If you leave the phrase out, Jesus is saying that a man who divorces his wife and then remarries another woman commits adultery. (By the way, in the parallel passage in Mark 10:1-12, the exception clause does not appear, suggesting that sometimes Jesus included it and sometimes he didn't.) How can that be? Because in God's eyes if the divorce is improper, so is the remarriage. This means that God takes our wedding vows seriously. When you stand before a minister and pledge to be faithful "till death do us part," God says Amen from heaven. And if you divorce on unbiblical grounds and then marry someone else, in God's eyes you have committed adultery because you are still bound to your original vows.

Let me point out that the real issue here is not divorce but improper remarriage. This means that divorced men and women must be very careful about remarriage lest they end up committing adultery by the very act of remarriage.

E. One clear exception-porneia

Fifth, Jesus here gives us one clear exception to this total ban on divorce and remarriage. He says you are not to do it "except for marital unfaithfulness" (9). The Greek word is porneia. It's a very common word (from which we get the English word "pornography") and has a broad meaning. Sometimes it is translated as "adultery," sometimes as "fornication," and sometimes as "sexual immorality." All those translations are correct. It basically refers to any pattern of sexual sin that has the effect of breaking the marriage vow. It certainly includes premarital sex, extramarital sex, adultery, prostitution, homosexuality and pedophilia. I would suggest that it may also include the habitual addiction to pornography.

This simply means that sexual immorality does provide grounds for divorce from God's point of view. But remember, this is a permission, not a command. While God never commands his children to divorce, he does permit it when one partner has flagrantly violated their sacred marriage vows.

V. A Practical Application: 10

Where does all this leave us? Precisely where it left the disciples. The Pharisees had tried to trap Jesus into some kind of argument that would force him to choose sides. But Jesus rises far above that by emphasizing the divine intention that marriage is for life. Divorce is never anything other than a desperate last step to be taken when the marriage vows are broken by immorality.

As the disciples ponder all this, they uttered words we can all understand:

The disciples said to him, "If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry" (10).

That happens to be entirely correct. Even though most people want to be married, it's better never to marry unless you are willing to abide by God's standards. It's better to be single than to wish you were.

Let me step aside from this passage and, in light of the entire New Testament, summarize the three legitimate biblical grounds for remarriage:

1. Death of the spouse (1 Corinthians 7:39-40)

2. Sexual immorality (Matthew 19:9)

3. Desertion by an unbelieving spouse (1 Corinthians 7:10-15)

I do not believe there are any other legitimate grounds for divorce and remarriage given in the Word of God. If the question of spousal abuse is raised, several points might be made.

  • First, the Bible does not directly address this issue.
  • Second, nothing in the Bible prohibits a wife from removing herself (and her children) from an abusive situation for her safety-and theirs. In most cases, this will be the prudent thing to do.
  • Third, a pattern of abuse may, in the end, be regarded as proof that a husband is in fact an unbeliever masquerading as a Christian. If he rejects all attempts to help change his abusive behavior, then he might fall into the category of an unbelieving spouse whose sin has the effect of destroying the marriage. Wise spiritual leaders and godly Christian counselors can help a wife make proper decisions in such cases.

To the Divorced

I would like to add a special word to those in our congregation who have been divorced. The words of Jesus in Matthew 19 apply especially to you. I know that many of you yearn to be married again-and for some of you, the sooner the better. But marriage isn't necessarily better or easier the second or third time around. If you are divorced, no matter what the circumstances were, I urge you to seek the Lord, not another mate. You need time to heal, time to rebuild, time to learn to walk alone through life, time to grow spiritually, time to discover the riches of God's amazing grace. If it is God's will that you should remarry, then in God's time he will bring it about. Don't rush the Lord; he's never in a hurry.

To the Never Married

That same word applies to all the singles in our congregation. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul plainly urges singles not to seek marriage but to serve the Lord right where you are. He even says, "Do not seek a wife" in verse 27 (although he also adds that if you do marry, you have not sinned-verse 28). Then he advises those who have wives to act as though they have none (29)-which means that dedication to Christ must come before dedication to your spouse.

None of this is meant to downplay the value of a Christian marriage. Hebrews 13:4 clearly tells us that marriage is an honorable estate. But you must not make an idol out of marriage and raise it to the point where your desire for marriage controls life. When that happens, something good (marriage) has become an idol for you.

To the Married

If you are married, I have two suggestions for you.

First, commit yourself to be a man of God or a woman of God in your marriage. Husbands, that means loving your wife and laying down your life for her. Wives, that means respecting your husband and looking to him for leadership in your home.

Second, put the word divorce out of your vocabulary. Just get rid of it. Rip it out of your personal dictionary. For the believer, it should simply never be an option. If you are truly committed to God and to each other, you can survive any storm that may come your way. I would like each husband to say to his wife, "Sweetheart, there is nothing you can do that will ever cause me to divorce you. And let the wives say that to their husbands. Then say it to each other in front of your children. This will cement your commitment by making it part of your family's shared heritage.

A Word to the Whole Church

How should we as a congregation respond to the multitudes of divorced and remarried people in our midst? I like those little bracelets you see the teenagers wearing-the ones that say WWJD, which stands for What Would Jesus Do? We know how he treated the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). He forgave her, refused to condemn her, and said, "Go and sin no more." He didn't ignore her past, but he urged her not to dwell on it either. He gave her a new start and then challenged her to live a brand-new life.

Divorce is not the unpardonable sin to God and it shouldn't be to us. Here's a simple rule: We should be quick to forgive and slow to judge. Remember, we're all in the same boat together-saved by the grace of God. Who are we to stand in self-righteous judgment over others because their sin is different than ours? That doesn't mean lowering the standard, but it does mean having the heart of a forgiving God. If divorced and remarried people don't feel comfortable in the church, perhaps that says more about us than it does about them.

Put Jesus First

The teaching in all this is very clear even if we sometimes wonder about the details. Christ must come first in every area of life. He must come before our dreams, our desires, our plans and our hopes. Christ must be first! He must be Lord of all that we are and have. You must not make marriage more important than Jesus, and you must not make your personal pain preeminent over God's Word. And for most of us, we must resist with all that is in us the prevailing divorce culture that elevates personal happiness above our marriage vows. Remember, God never called you to be happy but he did call you to be faithful. Here is the ultimate paradox: When we sacrifice faithfulness for happiness, we lose both; when we commit ourselves to faithfulness over happiness, in the end we gain both.

I do not suppose that what I have said today is easy to hear, but I am absolutely certain it is true to the Word of God. Marriage is for life. It only works when we follow God's plan. If you can't keep your vows, don't get married. If you aren't willing to live up to God's standard, don't get married. And in all things, make Jesus Christ the Lord of your life. Let him reign in every area. Submit your will to him. Wait on the Lord and you will be satisfied.

Remember the first rule of the spiritual life: He is God and we are not. Let God be God whether you are single, divorced or remarried. If you try to be God and make your own rules, you'll end up wrecking your life and hurting other people.

One final word and then I'm done. What if you've already broken God's rules for marriage and divorce and ended up in the ditch of life? Here's the good news. God is God of redemption and new beginnings. Start where you are and seek the Lord with all your heart. If you have wronged anyone, such as an ex-spouse or your children, confess it and ask for forgiveness. Do everything in your power to seek reconciliation and healing. If you are on the verge of divorce, live in such a way that others will know that you did everything possible to save your marriage. Determine in your heart that from this day forward you will serve the Lord no matter what happens in the future. Don't worry about getting married. Give God your future and let him lead you step by step. He will never turn you away if you are truly willing to do his will.

Your Greatest Need

Your greatest need has nothing to do with marriage at all. You need a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That applies whether you are single, married, divorced or remarried. You need the Lord. If your life is messed up because of bad choices you've made, you really need the Lord. The good news is that the worse you've messed up your life, the better candidate you become for the grace of God. He specializes in hopeless cases.

Perhaps you find yourself with that "hard heart" Jesus mentioned. You'll never get rid of it on your own. What you need is a heart transplant-the kind only God can give you. No matter who you are or where you are or what circumstances brought you to this point, run to the cross of Christ. Lay hold of the Son of God who loved you and gave himself for you. There you will find forgiveness, mercy and a brand-new heart.

© Keep Believing Ministries

Marriage - What's Nailed to Your Cross?

by Pete Briscoe

"Crucifixion… produced death not suddenly, but gradually… True Christians… do not succeed in completely destroying it (that is, the flesh) while here below; but they have fixed it to the cross and they are determined to keep it there till it expires."
- Jay Brown

True Christianity is pretty crazy stuff. Its ways are so backwards from the things we have learned in the world that the whole thing seems to be paradoxical - so much so, that we might overlook the essential principles that can free us from the normal way things work in the world. That's absolutely true when it comes to issues of death and life, because Scripture says that life only comes through death.

Galatians 2:20 says, "For I was crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me."

That key passage is echoed by numerous others. They all talk about who we are in our spirit, about that transformation that Christ brought about by His co-crucifixion with us, and His raising again to new life so we can be born again spiritually. But what about the flesh?

Because the best marriages are two people walking in the Spirit, loving one another; and the flesh tries to get in the way of that. How do we overcome the flesh?

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. - Galatians 5:24

What in the world does it mean to "crucify the flesh"? Well, this is not the same crucifixion that Paul describes in Galatians and Romans 6. Crucifying the flesh is different, and most believers don't even know what that means, let alone actually following through with it.

One commentator puts it this way, "The basic demand of Christian discipleship is that we take up our cross daily and follow Christ." Paul stretched this metaphor further by saying that we must not only take up our cross and walk with it, but actually see that the execution takes place. As long as we are here on earth, we're never going to be done with the flesh. It's always going to be part of our life, but letting it control us is always optional. As soon as we become aware that we are "in the flesh," we can choose to respond "in the Spirit":

· Recognize our flesh and see it for what it is.
· See its effects, and hate them.
· Accept that God's Spirit in us is greater than the flesh.
· Declare that the flesh has no more power over us.
· Turn towards the love and will of God to take it's place.

Father, right here, right now, give me a moment to walk through this process, so that I can be free to walk in the Spirit in love. Gently, reveal one aspect of my flesh so that we can deal with it right now. Let me affix it to the cross until it expires that day I see You face to face. Amen.

Source: Experiencing LIFE Today  

Genesis 2:18-25 - Foundational Principles of Marriage

by Dr. Stephen Felker


This morning I want to discuss the subject of the Christian family. There was a time in our society when the family structure was much stronger than it is now. Divorce was uncommon. Most children grew up in two-parent homes. Few children were born out of wedlock.

But something terrible has happened to the American family. About 1 in 2 marriages are ending in divorce, and the divorce rate has almost doubled since 1965.

A Time magazine poll reveals that 74 percent of women and 77 percent of men feel it is difficult or very difficult to have a good marriage today. Increasing numbers of couples aren't even getting married at all. As a result, the total number of children born out of wedlock is increasing at dramatic rates.

In 2004 there were 1.5 million babies born to unwed mothers, which was a record. Many children & youth are almost raising themselves. They spend much time without the supervision of a parent. Most children on average spend 30 times more of their time watching TV than spending time with a father.

Now what has this change in the American family done?

I believe it is a major factor in the rise in such things as juvenile crime, teen suicide, lower test scores, and teen pregnancies. Though TV, movies, and rock & rap music have a role in the rise of such things, one of the more fundamental problems relates to the fact that too many children are not being raised by their parents in a loving & disciplined home.

The secular world looks at the problem and says that we need to start some new government programs. Some want government-run daycare & after school programs. But what we really need is to do is to get back to following God's plan for the home. I can't change the whole nation, but I hope to have an impact on the families of our church, and perhaps some others in our community.

Now I believe the starting point for a good family, and a good marriage, is to look at God's original design for marriage found in Genesis 2. In fact, when they asked Jesus about the issue of divorce, He also took them back to the account in Genesis 2 (Matt. 19:3-9; Mark 10:2-12). And so that will be the starting place of my series of messages on the Christian family.

Following God's plan for marriage and the family will much more likely produce children that become healthy, productive, and well-adjusted members of church & society.

So let's consider together God's plan for marriage. And as we think of marriage, consider first of all:


This is rooted in the reasons why God created the woman. But I believe the following reasons apply to both husbands and wives. If you are not married, there are some good reasons to get married. And if you are already married, you need to make sure you are doing your part to fulfill the following reasons for marriage:

A. Companionship

Notice what the LORD God said in v.18, "It is not good that man should be alone…." The Hebrew construction of v.18 accentuates the negative phrase "not good" by placing it at the head of the sentence. Up to now all that God had created He called "good" or "very good." But now He sees something that is not good. God has made the man and provided a beautiful environment with honorable work, but God announces that more is to be done to achieve the ideal for the man. Isolation is not the divine norm for human beings. So God created animals, and brought them to Adam so that he could name them, and exercise his dominion over them. We all know that a cat or a dog can provide a degree of companionship for people. But the last part of v.20 says, "But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him." None of the animals were fit companions for Adam. They just aren't on our level. Have you tried to carry on a conversation with a dog? A dog may try to talk to you, but their vocabulary is rather limited. So God created Eve, and she didn't have any trouble carrying on a conversation! She met the need expressed in v.18. She would be his companion, and he would no longer be alone.

Furthermore, the fact that Eve was created from the side of Adam symbolizes the truth that Eve was to be a companion for Adam. They were fit for one another as companions. Is your marriage fulfilling the fundamental purpose of providing companionship? Do you spend time together? Or does your spouse feel alone most of the time, even when you are not working? If so, you need to fulfill your spouse's need for companionship.

B. Help

We men do not like to admit it, but we need help. So in v.18 God says that she would be "a helper comparable to him." The words "helper comparable" mean a help that is like him. The Hebrew indicates a correspondence between the man and the woman. I believe this is in contrast to the animals. Some animals can offer some companionship. Some animals can even help by working for us. But a woman is a helper that is much more like unto a man. Man and woman share in the "human" sameness that cannot be found elsewhere in creation among the beasts. She corresponded to Adam; one who would be like him, yet opposite to him in a helpful way.

Now let's focus on the wife's function as a "helper" (ezer). The term means "help" in the sense of aid and support. Just because the woman is called a "helper" does not at all diminish her role. After all, Moses spoke of God as his "helper." "Helper" means that the woman will play an integral part in human survival and success. What the man lacks, the woman helps to accomplish.

Now I believe this purpose in marriage should go both ways. Wives should help their husbands, and husbands should help their wives. After all, God created men and women to have different strengths and weakness. Where man is strong, woman is usually weak. Where man is weak, woman is usually strong. So men help their wives with tasks that require strength. For example, how many times have you men been asked to open a jar? Men are better at providing protection; they tend to be stronger and braver.

On the other hand, women tend to be much better nurturers and care-givers, and so they can help with those kinds of assignments. Women tend to be better about taking care of the home. They are nest builders. So they are best suited to provide domestic help. In fact, in Titus 2:5 Paul commands the older women in the church to admonish the younger women to be "homemakers." I have been talking in generalities, but each couple should offer help to the other based on their own unique combination of strengths & abilities.

Husbands, wives, are you fulfilling your purpose in marriage? Are you helping your partner, or hindering your partner? Are you doing your share of the overall responsibilities that need to be taken care of? Are you showing love by helping your partner?

C. Reproduction

Back in chapter 1, v.28 God said to the first couple, "Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it…." God created man and woman to reproduce. And marriage and family are the divine ideal for carrying out this mandate. Of course, in order to reproduce, this requires sexual intimacy. This means that God is the One who introduced the subject of sex. This is a wonderful, glorious truth. Just think. Through the plan of God we can join with God in creating new life. What a privilege, and what a responsibility! Yet man has made sex into a dirty, filthy thing by practicing it outside of marriage, or by perverting it, or by exploiting it to sell pornography.

In fact, I want you to notice something important. God brought the couple together and blessed their marital union before He gave this command to reproduce. Also, look down at 2:24,

"Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh."

It is only when the couple formally leaves their parents, and is joined together in marriage, that they are to become one flesh sexually. This is God's plan. Yet more and more couples are living together in a sexual relationship apart from marriage. More and more couples are even having children apart from marriage. That is not God's plan, and you are just asking for trouble when you violate God's plan.

So we see that we should wait until marriage to have sexual intimacy. And when you get married, I believe that it is generally God's will for you to produce children, unless you are not able to have children. And Ps. 127:5 says, "Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them…." Now men, consider all that your wives do for you: they offer companionship, they help in many ways, and they bear & raise your children. And when you consider all that they do, you should express appreciation for them, and do things for them.

Some guys don't do so well at this. A customer brought an exquisite greeting card to the counter and reached for his wallet. Pushing in the keys on the cash register, the store clerk said, "That will be $5 please." "$5" he bellowed. "Forget it!" He jammed his wallet back into his pocket and stormed out of the shop. When the clerk returned the card to the rack, she noticed that it read, "To My Wife, Because You Mean So Much." (1)

So we need to fulfill the reasons for marriage.

Next, we need to consider:


How are husbands and wives to relate to one another in the home? Well let's start off by looking for clues in the way woman was created. In chapter 2, v.22 it says that God made a woman from Adam's rib. The Hebrew word usually means the "side," or it can refer to a portion of the side, such as the rib. The correctness of "rib" as the translation is evident from the words, "God took one of his [ribs]," which show that the man had several of them. So the woman was created, not from the dust of the earth, but from a rib of Adam, or perhaps from part of a rib. I have read that when surgeons do reconstructive surgery, they often choose to remove part of a rib, for the rib can grow back. (2) I like to think of Cheryl as my prime rib!

Now Bible scholars for centuries have debated the question, "Why did God choose the rib?" Well, here is one explanation that I found humorous.

Supposedly Adam was talking to God in the Garden of Eden and he said, "I'm lonely, I need to have someone around for company."

God said, "Okay, I'm going to give you the perfect woman. She will be beautiful, intelligent, and gracious. She'll cook for you, clean up after you, and never nag you about anything."

Adam said, "God, that sounds wonderful, but what's she going to cost?"

God said, "An arm and a leg."

Adam thought for a moment and said, "That's pretty steep. What can I get for just a rib?"

Now I want to emphasize that I do not believe for a moment that's what really happened!

God had His reasons for creating Adam's wife from his rib. I believe it was to convey some important lessons regarding relationships within marriage. First:

A. There Should Be Equality

God creates the man first and derives the woman from the man to demonstrate that she is his equal in substance. Remember, God said in v.18, "I will make him a helper comparable to him." Likewise, Adam said in v.23 of Eve, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh…." Also, you have probably heard it said that woman was not created from the head of man, lest she rule over him. Nor was she created from the foot of man, lest he trample upon her and treat her as his slave. But woman was created from the side of man, to be his companion and friend (Aquinas).

Men, I believe this means that you should treat your wife as an equal, not as an inferior. Peter said in 1 Pet. 3:7 that husbands are to give "honor to the wife… as being heirs together of the grace of life…."

Let me try to explain. A dog is not your equal. That means that you should not feel bad about making that dog sleep outside most of the time. You should not feel bad that your dog has to eat dog food. But your wife is your equal. She should be able to sleep where you sleep, and eat what you eat & where you eat. Don't treat your wife like they do in Muslim countries, like a 2nd class citizen!

Another lesson regarding the marital relationship is that:

B. There Should Be Interdependence

It is important that when God created the woman, He did not create her independently of man. He certainly could have created her from a separate pile of dust, similar to the way the man was created. But He didn't. God took woman out of man to reveal the fact that she is part of man. God never intended for the woman to be independent of the man. And man has a very hard time being independent of women! In fact, until you get married, part of you is missing man! And you need a woman for companionship, for help, and to bear your children, and help raise them. Men are very dependent upon women.

I believe this is one reason why married men on average live 7 years longer than unmarried men. Most men are just better off with a good woman by their side, to help keep us straight. In fact, most of the crime in America is perpetrated by single men. Single men are less responsible about their bills, their driving, and other personal conduct. So I want all the married men to recognize how important your wives are to you, and treat them accordingly. And I want all the wives to understand how important you are to your husbands. They are dependent upon you. And you need your husbands as well to fulfill the best life that God has for you.

But for the past 40 years feminism has preached that women need to be more independent. They say you should do your own thing. They say you can't count on a man to take care of you. So more and more women are becoming financially independent and even socially independent. More and more women are no longer insisting upon marriage, but are even rejecting the institution of marriage. Feminism has not helped to produce better families. Overall it has hurt families and children.

Another basic principle of marital relationships is this:

C. There Should Be Unity

This is mainly based on v.24, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." Instead of marriage being a relationship between 2 independent people, v.24 indicates that the 2 are to become one flesh. Instead of a 50/50 relationship, God calls for a merger of 100% from both. Marriage is not a federation of two sovereign states. It is a union. Of course God is primarily speaking of the physical union between a husband and wife, but that unity should extend to other areas as well. Marriage should create an emotional bond. Couples should also strive for oneness of mind. Set aside petty differences, and really seek to be unified on what's really important. Couples should strive for spiritual oneness. In fact, marriage is to reflect the very nature of God. Just as God is 3 in 1, in a similar way, 2 persons become 1 in marriage. Even in differences they should complement each other, and not compete with each other. Why should man be strong and ambitious if there were no one for whom his labor could be spent? Why should he need courage if there were no one to protect? Why should he need love if there were no one to cherish? Why should a woman follow if there is no one to lead? Why should a woman spend time and effort to attain the height of loveliness unless there were one to see and enjoy her beauty?

God did not create man and woman to fight as enemies, but to maintain unity, and harmony. And don't let your roles within the home be something that you argue over. I heard about one husband who was complaining to his wife, and he said, "Why can't you cook biscuits like my Mama used to?" She said, "Why don't you bring home the dough like my Daddy used to?" So is your relationship with your spouse characterized by unity or by conflict? If there are conflicts in your marriage, be sure to come back next Sunday. I will talk about resolving marriage problems.

There is yet another truth about the kind of relationship that should exist in marriage:

D. There Should Be Intimacy

In v.25 we read, "And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed." There is to be an intimacy between a husband and a wife that is not found in any other relationship. Marriage is a relationship where there ought to be no secrets and no shame; where there is to be total acceptance and intimacy. A husband and wife should not only be lovers, they should be best friends. There should be intimate conversation. And where there is better emotional intimacy, there will be better physical intimacy.

Are you achieving and maintaining intimacy in your marriage? Are you tearing down any barriers to intimacy?


The words which follow in v.24 are not to be regarded as Adam's. They are the words of Moses, written to hold up monogamy before the eyes of the people of Israel as the form of marriage ordained by God. But as the words of Moses, they are the utterance of divine revelation; and Christ could quote them, therefore, as the Word of God (Matt. 19:5). So notice what God inspired Moses to say in v.24, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." It is clear that this statement was intended to have lasting significance, for Adam did not have a father & mother to leave.

So what is a man to do when he is ready to get married:

A. Leave Parents

The significance of the language "leave" is that marriage requires a new priority by the marital partners where obligations to one's spouse supersede a person's parental loyalties. When there is a direct conflict between pleasing your spouse and pleasing your parents you should please your spouse. But the leaving of father and mother applies to the woman as well as to the man. The only permanent relationship in the family is the husband/wife relationship, not the parent/child relationship. Some people put so much time and energy into the parent/child relationship that when the children leave home, there is nothing left of the marriage relationship.

And young ladies, don't run home to mama at the first sign of conflict or trouble, unless you are running from abuse. That will not solve the problem; it will probably just make things worse. When you parents become too old to care for themselves, you should not leave your spouse to care for them for years or for good. Elderly parents should be willing to move close to their children in necessary, or even move in with their children.

And this also tells us that in-laws should not interfere in the affairs of their grown married children! Adam lived in Paradise. One reason is he didn't have any in-laws! So let me offer some advice: The best wedding gift you can give your children is their independence. In order for the new relationship between bride and groom to flourish and their home to begin correctly, the cord must be cut with the parents. Don't try to meddle in the affairs of your grown married children. Don't try to micromanage them. Your daughter-in-law doesn't have to do things the way you did things. Hopefully they will be wise enough to seek your advice, but if they don't, be careful how you offer it. And don't worry if they make some mistakes. That's how they learn.

Now grown children shouldn't take this to the extreme of abandoning the parent/child relationship completely. But some of the emotional bond must be broken, and the new couple must no longer depend upon their parents financially. Furthermore, this means that until you are mature enough to live independently of your parents, you have no business getting married!

B. Cleave to the Wife

When you read this, you should think of being glued to your partner. When something is glued well, you can't separate the two parts without damaging one or the other or both. Too many seem to enter the marriage relationship thinking that if marriage doesn't fulfill their expectations, they can always get out through divorce. But from the very beginning divorce was not the plan of God. God's plan is not divorce but dedication to your husband or wife. That's what the marriage vows are all about. You are to stay joined to your spouse for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. Both of you need to have a strong determination to make the marriage work.

C. Lead the Home

This role of the husband as the leader of the home is indicated directly and implicitly. In 1 Cor. 11:3 Paul says that the "head of woman is man" or "the head of [the] wife is [the] husband." This truth is supported by the purpose of the woman's creation. Remember, the woman was designated in v.18 as a "helper." Even so, in v.9 of 1 Cor. 11 Paul supports his argument of male headship by saying, "Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man."

Second, the order of the man's creation is important for recognizing leadership-followship in the garden. Paul said in 1 Tim. 2:12-13, "I do not permit a woman to … have authority over a man… For Adam was formed first, then Eve." Man was created first, and he is to take the lead. Third, this truth is supported by the source of the woman's creation. The woman has her source in the man, suggesting that the man is the leader. Even so, Paul adds to his argument in I Cor. 11:8 by saying, "For man is not from woman, but woman from man." Paul argues the man's authority from this point. So notice carefully that God made the woman from the man and for the man; she was then given to the man, and named by the man. Now that is not coincidental, it is providential because it illustrates the proper relationship between the man and the woman. The man is to be in authority. The feminist and the humanist can scream bloody murder, but this is God's ordained order for the home, and it has not changed and it never will change in this life.

Man, God created you to be the leader in your home. Are you the leader God expects you to be? But remember, Jesus modeled servant-leadership. Your leadership is not to fulfill selfish goals, but you are to lead for the well-being of your family. Be the kind of man that your wife will look up to and respect as the leader of your marriage & home. Lead your children in the right way. Don't send your children to church. Take your children to church.


I encourage you to commit to following God's plan for marriage and the home. Now making a marriage work can be difficult. Being a parent can be difficult. But you can trust in God's enabling grace to help you fulfill God's plan for marriage and the family.


1 Sherry Barber, Reader's Digest, 12/88 [Illus.#C-31]



C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament in Ten Volumes, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978 reprint);

Kenneth Mathews, New American Commentary: Genesis 1-11 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996);

J. Vernon McGee, Thru The Bible, Vol. 1 (Pasadena, CA: Thru The Bible Radio, 1981);

Dr. James Merritt (notes from his sermon on this text);

Dot Patterson, The Sensuous Woman Reborn (Dallas: Crescendo Publications, 1976), 82-112;

Larry Pierce, Online Bible [CD-ROM] (Ontario: Timnathserah Inc., 1996);

Charles R. Swindoll, Strike the Original Match (Portland: Multnomah Press, 1974), 27-37.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982).

© Dr. Stephen Felker.

Malankara World Journals with the Theme: Marriage and Divorce
Volume 3 No 160: August 29, 2013
Theme: Marriage and Divorce


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