Sunday, February 25, 2024

Marriage Is a Commitment


Marriage 3

          It is inarguable that our society's concept of marriage is enormously flawed. But society's idea of marriage is but the individual's concept of marriage writ large. This is one of the primary reasons such things need to be discussed in print and in person. Far too many people get their concept of marriage from a faulty source – their parent's marriage, their friend's marriage, how the media portrays marriage, their own experience, etc. Our philosophy of marriage ought to instead be driven by the Word of God. And as the Scripture informs our marriage, it will also, in turn, transform our marriage.

          Last week, we saw God's original intent for marriage, which was to have three purposes: a sweet intimacy, to banish loneliness, and for the wife to help her husband. Today, we will see that God views marriage as a commitment. We find this in I Corinthians 7.10-11. And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.

          Discussing divorce is like driving through a minefield blindfolded. There are bound to be explosions. But we cannot discuss marriage and avoid the topic. The balance of Scripture shows us that while divorce is allowed in certain circumstances, God's desire is for us to remain married. Words mean things, and the words with which we wed are no exception. Marriage is a commitment.

          “Yes, but God does allow divorce.”


Matthew 19.3 The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?

4  And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,

5  And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?

6  Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

7  They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?

8  He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.

9  And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.

          David Smith gives us some helpful context here in his 1911 work, The Days of His Flesh:

The Mosaic Law permitted divorce when a wife proved faithless; but the Rabbinical interpreters after their wont disputed over this enactment. The school of Shammai, adhering to the letter of the Law, held that a wife should not be divorced except for unfaithfulness; whereas the school of Hillel, with a laxity very agreeable to the general inclination, allowed a husband to put away his wife "for every cause" - if he disliked her, if he fancied another woman more, if her cookery were not to his taste. The doctrine of Hillel was the common practice in our Lord's day, and it operated disastrously. It violated the sanctity of domestic life; and there is a hideous passage in the Talmud which shows what havoc it make of the obligations of morality. It was customary for a Rabbi of the school of Hillel, when he visited a strange town, to make public advertisement for a woman who would serve as his wife during his sojourn there. It was an inhuman system and inflicted cruel wrong upon womankind. It put the wife at her husband's mercy. She could not divorce him, but for any whim he might divorce her and cast her upon the world.

          To this, the 1930s era Southern Baptist John Shepard agrees, writing in his work, Christ of the Gospels:

The school of Hillel said it was lawful "for every cause," even for the most trivial offenses. The Jewish woman could not divorce her husband, as could the Roman and Greek women; but the man could put his wife away for almost any senseless excuse. They took the words: "the matter of shame" in Deuteronomy, in the widest possible sense: if "she found no favour in his eyes," or "he found another woman more attractive" - which sounds modern enough - he could put her away. Many specific offenses were enumerated, such as going public with uncovered head, entering into conversation with other men, speaking disrespectfully of the husband's parents in his presence, burning the bread, being quarrelsome or troublesome, getting a bad reputation or being childless (for ten years). The school of Hillel had prevailed, and there was great general moral laxity now. The Mosaic law really permitted divorce only for the cause of unfaithfulness, but the popular conception among the Jews at the time of Jesus was that of the Rabbinical interpreters of the school of Hillel. Women had become mere chattel of man, subject to his inhuman and cruel treatment. The Pharisees well understood that if Jesus took the side of Shammai or the stricter view of divorce, He would alienate a greater part of the multitude.

          The Pharisees in this passage were attempting to chip away at Jesus' popularity by forcing Him to take a strict stand on divorce publicly. Jesus, of course, could have easily outwitted their conversational trap if He so desired. We know this, for He often did in other contexts. Yet in this one, our Lord chose to answer plainly, knowing his answer would be unpopular. In other words, He felt strongly enough about this to lose a verbal skirmish with the Pharisees and take a hit in the people's minds.

          Does God allow divorce? Yes, but only for sexual infidelity.

          Does God allow divorce? Yes, but He does not desire you to divorce, no matter the reason; He only allows such because of the hardness of your heart. In other words, it is plain and clear to me that God views marriage as an irrevocable commitment rather than a temporary election. In the first mention of marriage, we looked at the last time we saw this in the use of the word "cleave" in Genesis 2. It does not mean separate, i.e., a cleaver. It means to be joined fast together, i.e. welded. You weld two metals together if you are looking for a permanent union, one that will endure under the most harrowing circumstances.

          Put another way round, marriage is more covenant than contract. A contract can be broken with no more fuss than a financial penalty, perhaps. A covenant in the biblical context was almost always irrevocable. In God's view, marriage is a covenant decision whose permanence is essential to producing godly children.

Malachi 2.13  And this have ye done again, covering the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping, and with crying out, insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more, or receiveth it with good will at your hand.

14  Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant.

15  And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.

16  For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.

          In my experience, there are two different responses from Christians at this point. I should say rather that this teaching exposes two different kinds of Christians. The first kind is Christians who search the Bible to see precisely what God allows so that they may live right up to the edge of that which is permissible. Their approach can be summed up with the immortal question, "But what's wrong with…?" Anything not ruled out is thus fair game.

          The second type of Christian responds to the exact same scenarios with an entirely different question: "But what is right with…?" Such Christians do not want to know what God will let them get away with; instead, their heartbeat is to discover what God wants and give it to Him. After all, when you love someone, you do not seek to establish how much you can get away with. No, your goal is to ascertain their slightest wish so that you can grant it to them as an expression of your love. 

          As of this writing, I have pastored for twenty-seven years. In that time, I have never advised any couple to get divorced. Why? Because I understand that divorce is not what God wants, even if it is what He allows in limited circumstances. Why? I think there are several answers here. Pragmatically speaking, contemplating divorce undermines the total commitment essential to being a good partner. Pictorially, divorce ruins the frame God seeks to place around marriage, that of Christ's relationship to the local church. Additionally, divorce produces a severe negative impact on the ability of the father and mother to raise a godly seed.

          Regardless of whether I am correct in my analysis of God's position on divorce, it cannot be argued that a sense of commitment is the very ground on which a stable marriage is built. We are fallible, changeable, malleable, temporary creatures. We must hem in the emotional roller coaster of our whims with the iron rails of the marital vow.

          What is marriage? It is many things, but first, it is this: commitment.



When I quote the vows for young people as they are getting married, there is not a single statement that is based on bargaining, agreement, or contract; it is a commitment.

- Jack Hyles, Marriage Is A Commitment


Sunday, February 18, 2024

Marriage: God's Original Intent


Marriage 2


And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him. And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.

Genesis 2.18-25



          In jurisprudence, the doctrine of original intent asserts that in interpreting legal texts, one should seek to understand and apply the original purposes or meanings intended by the authors of the law. For example, it comes up significantly in the context of the United States Constitution. Any document can be interpreted spiritually or loosely, and thus, the entire intent – there's the word – of the document is ruined. Original intent fences in those interpretations and thus preserves the result within boundaries deemed best when the document was birthed.

          I do not believe in evolution; I believe in Creation. As such, I do not believe marriage as an institution is an evolved social construct. It was designed and created by God to accomplish certain purposes. What were those purposes? What was God's original intent? If I can answer these questions right, I can build a marriage that accomplishes what God intended for it to accomplish.

          What are they then?

God’s Original Intent Was a Marriage of Sweet Intimacy

          I read Joseph P. Lash's 1972 biography of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt some years ago. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, “Eleanor and Franklin” is a highly regarded dissection of their lives as they intersected with one another, of their marriage, essentially. And it is a sad book. As a younger man, Franklin developed a long-term adulterous relationship, and though he eventually broke it off, the impact on Eleanor was enormous. They remained together for the sake of politics, but as their professional success grew, their marriage deteriorated. At Hyde Park, they lived in different houses. In the White House, Eleanor kept her lover ensconced in a hideaway bedroom. She threw herself into her charitable work. He rescued the country from the Depression and the world from war. There was no joy, no fun, no union, no intimacy, no life of any kind at all together.

          I have also known of some Christian marriages like that.

          This is not how God designed marriage. What He intended was a mingling of each partner's life with the other to the point that you cannot tell where one ends and the other begins. Where there used to be two, now there is only one. It is not to be his life and her life; it is to be their life.

          Five months before I got married, I was sitting one day at my perch by the front door of Toyota Youngstown. There was not a customer within a mile. I had recently gotten engaged. Thinking about Mandy and our upcoming marriage, I picked up a pen and a piece of paper and composed the following:

Sonnet XI

I want my life to merge with my dear Man,

To twine itself around her own until

Others looking closely at us will

Not tell where she would end and I begin.

I want, to name a word I oft have used

To mesh with her, to join, to be, to blend

So tightly, nothing can be used to rend

A seamless union, welded, melded, fused.

Often in my daily chosen path

I meet with those who in unseemly wrath

Have severed lives not meant to be apart

Because they did it wrong right from the start.

Let us be together fifty years

Transformed so that our twain as one appears.

          Please understand me here. I am not saying my marriage is a shining example of this, though I seek to move toward my wife constantly. But if your partner, in contrast, is lazy, unspiritual, or selfish, you may need to endure your marriage, but that was not God's original intent. It was that the two of you would be so close to each other that there would not be two any longer, just one.

God’s Original Intent Was a Marriage That Banished Loneliness

          In the first chapter of Genesis, seven times, we find the phrase, it was good. In the very next chapter, we see the term, it is not good. What was not good? A man alone.

          I know some precious single adults, good Christians who love the Lord and who struggle with loneliness. I do not fault them for it. But there should not be a single, married individual who does; God designed marriage to eliminate the hollow pain of loneliness.

          In our culture, we choose a partner by dating. What is dating? I defined it in a recent blog series on the subject as any specific period in which the two of you are purposely getting together to enjoy each other's company, get to know each other better, and pay attention to each other. Marriage follows when two people have dated well enough long enough to say, "Let's just stay together all the time." 

          Cohabiting, as it is termed these days, is fornication. No Christian should ever enter into such an arrangement. Before marriage, then, you are always saying goodbye to one another. The more you grow together as a couple, the more those goodbyes bother you. You want nothing more than to be together.

          I have a distinct memory in connection with this. I was sitting in the front seat of my 1991 Honda Prelude, top down, entering a tight onramp on the Pennsylvania expressway. It was a warm, sunny December afternoon. My bride was seated beside me; her wedding gown puffed up all around her. And I thought, "I do not have to drop her off anywhere. How wonderful is this?"

          Now, before you say to yourself, "I sure hope my partner will read this because I'm lonely," I want you to ask yourself a question, namely this: Is my partner lonely? I am not saying you have to be together 24/7, but I am saying that there ought to be a deep sense of companionship, partnership, and togetherness in your marriage.

          We are social creatures. Solitary confinement is our worst form of living punishment. Do not sentence your partner to a lonely, solitary existence. Such is not God’s intent for your marriage.

God’s Original Intent Was for the Wife to Help Her Husband

          Political correctness and what is societally acceptable at the moment have no part in the framing of this following sentence. God designed man to serve Him; God designed woman to serve man. God put Adam in the Garden of Eden to dress it and keep it. (Genesis 2.15) God put Eve in Adam’s life to be an help meet. (Genesis 2.18) The animals were not suited to help Adam accomplish his service to God, but Eve was. In other words, God told Adam what God wanted Adam to do in serving Him. Adam could not get it all done or all done correctly by himself. Adam tried to enlist the animals, but they were not suited to help him. So God gave Adam a helper exactly suited to Adam's needs – Eve.

          Allow me to reach to another God-designed institution, the church, to illustrate this. God gave the pastor to the church to shepherd the people. God gave the deacon to the pastor to help him shepherd the people. The best description of a deacon is that he is the pastor's helper. In whatever way the pastor needs help, the deacon should structure his life to help the pastor do his job. Does God love the pastor more than the deacon? Of course not. Are they both equal in the sight of God? Of course. But one was designed to serve the church, and the other was designed to serve the one serving the church.

          Wife, in what areas does your husband want your help? How does he want you to perform that help? Ask yourself those questions, seek the answers, apply what you discover, and you will fulfill God's original intent for your marriage. Husband, in what areas has God asked you to serve Him? How does He want you to perform that service? Ask yourself those questions, seek the answers, apply what you discover, and enlist your wife alongside you, and you will fulfill God's original intent for your marriage. 

          The most miserable person you know is the most selfish person you know. And the more selfish your approach to marriage is, the more miserable your marriage will be. A husband will only find satisfaction, contentment, and deep happiness if he gives himself to serving God as God wants to be served. A wife will only find satisfaction, contentment, and deep happiness as she gives herself to helping her husband as he desires to be helped.

          This is God’s original intent.