My wife and I just completed eight years of marriage. We celebrated by witnessing two young people exchange vows to be husband and wife. During the reception, the newlyweds honored the couple present who had been married the longest (50+ years!). We spent a good portion of the evening with another young couple who themselves intend to get married sometime in the future.
All of this (on top of my parents’ anniversary tomorrow, and both of my sisters’ anniversaries earlier this month) got me to thinking about how the world seems to struggle with the concept of marriage. I won’t cite divorce statistics—they’re often misleading, skewed, or just plain inaccurate—but we almost certainly know someone who is divorced or is going through a divorce. We know people who have decided to forego marriage altogether for one reason or another. And then there’s the ongoing effort to redefine marriage.
While many have abandoned any pretense of caring what God has said on this subject, many in the above situations are still seeking to serve God in some way. They, I think, genuinely want to follow God’s plan, but they may not be completely sure what God’s plan is or how it reconciles with *their* situation. The truth is that God’s plan for marriage is fairly simple. The problem is that we want to make it fit us instead of us fitting it.
## The Blueprint for Marriage
In Matthew 19, the Pharisees tried to use a longstanding disagreement on the subject of divorce in order to “test” Jesus. They asked whether a man could divorce his wife for “any cause.” Jesus’ response was to remind them of God’s plan for marriage. Notice His answer:
> Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast 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 not man separate.
God’s intent was for man and woman to come together and be joined as “one flesh” as husband and wife. This is what happened in Genesis 2 in the garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, and serves as God’s model for marriage throughout history. Jesus made an important application of the last part of that. He said that *God* joined them together as one flesh, and therefore man should not separate what God has joined.
The Pharisees understood what Jesus was saying in relation to their original question. They were debating the nature of the “indecency” in Deuteronomy 24.1 that would lead to a man writing a certificate of divorce. Jesus was taking divorce off the table entirely. God’s plan does not include a couple who have been joined together in marriage being split apart somewhere down the road.
## Exceptions, Exceptions
In hearing this, the Pharisees may have thought they had Jesus, because it seemed like He was disregarding the law of Moses. They asked, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and send her away?” After all, if Moses said in Deuteronomy 24 for a man to give his wife a certificate of divorce when he put her away, divorce must be okay in at least come circumstances, right?
Jesus said otherwise. “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” That a certificate of divorce was to be given did not mean that God wanted the Israelites to divorce. Indeed, He said through the prophet Malachi, “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her covers his garment with violence” (Mal 2.16). But the people were intent on divorcing anyway, so God through Moses established certain regulations around divorce.
In looking at what Jesus said, we do have an exception: “Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” However, this is intended as an exception, and (in my opinion) not one to be sought out. I struggle with the idea of one spouse aggressively searching for proof that the other has committed adultery so that they can divorce them. In many such cases, the truth is that they want to divorce for other reasons and they’re looking for infidelity in order to legitimize the divorce. That may follow the *letter* of Jesus’ teaching here, but does it reflect God’s intent for the marriage relationship?
The bottom line is that God wants those whom He has joined together to remain so. Whatever exception may exist should not be viewed as a magic “get out of wedlock free” card. If a marriage has progressed to the point where this is even a real conversation, it is a sad state indeed.
## Such Hard Teaching!
The truth that Jesus presents about marriage is very simple. It’s carrying it out that is hard. Jesus’ own disciples said in response to His teaching, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” I can imagine what was going through their minds was something like, “You mean, we’re going to be *stuck* with our wives?!” That’s what a lot of people think. People aren’t who we think they are, or they become someone different, or whatever. We don’t like being “stuck” in situations (especially when it doesn’t exactly match our expectations), so essentially, we always want a return/refund policy.
There’s a fundamental problem here. With this mindset, we’ve made the marriage relationship about us. The truth is, how we conduct ourselves in our marriages isn’t about us. It’s about glorifying God. We glorify God in our marriages when we follow His pattern for marriage. Yes, a big part of that is fulfilling our roles as husband and wife, but **the most fundamental way we glorify God in marriage is by honoring and respecting that God has made two into one flesh.** We do this even when it’s hard, and even if we think that getting married was the biggest mistake of our lives. That may have been, and maybe you *shouldn’t* have gotten married (or shouldn’t have married *that person*), but that’s in the past. Now, it’s a question of how we honor God from this day forward.
This is a hard truth, but it’s a liberating truth. Taking divorce off the table changes the conversation. It’s no longer a question of whether I still want to be married to this person; it’s a question of how I make my marriage the best possible—how to make it a God-glorifying marriage. It motivates me to seek my spouse’s good rather than just my own. It motivates me to seek solutions to problems, rather than escapes from them. It allows husbands to “enjoy life with the wife whom [they] love,” and to “rejoice in the wife of [their] youth”—and vice versa.
The reason why God’s plan for marriage doesn’t make sense sometimes isn’t because God’s plan is flawed. It’s because we are unwilling to lay aside our pride and our will in order to glorify Him. That’s a problem whether we are married or unmarried, but it’s a problem that each of us must overcome if we are to be pleasing to Him.