Never Gonna Give You Up
Matthew 5:31, 32
By Lee Jones
In recent years there has been a rash of studies focused on the decline of marriage in western culture, usually focused on the US. Generally, the consensus is that fewer people are getting married and the ones that are getting married are doing it later and later, usually after long periods of cohabitation. That isn’t the focus of this piece, but I begin with this to say that the institution of marriage has been degraded for a very long time.
Jesus diverts from his pattern here by going after a popular teaching not expressly rooted in the Ten Commandments. He corrects the Pharisees’ flippant divorce ethic. Basically, they taught that if a man who “sends his wife away” just needs to do the right paperwork and everything was all right. It’s been said that a man could divorce his wife over bad cooking, while women had no ability to divorce their husbands.
God’s covenant people have broken covenant with him so many times that each one of us should be wearing a whole scarlet alphabet, yet he remains faithful to his faithless bride.
The carefree attitude of the Pharisees toward divorce was repugnant to Jesus, as it should be to us also. Jesus here, and also in Matthew 19:3-9, says that the grounds for divorce are slim but serious.
Jesus teaches that unchastity or immorality are the only acceptable grounds for divorce because such actions violate the marriage covenant. Paul also adds in I Cor. 7:12-15 that an unbelieving spouse may leave the believing spouse, which is another exception.
As Jesus explains in chapter 19, God views marriage as a covenant between one man and one woman who pledge to be monogamous with each other for life, becoming one flesh that God has joined together.
As you can imagine, this is a really difficult topic and should not be discussed lightly. This passage has been used as a shame-bludgeon against people when we should view it as helpful guidance for husbands, wives, and even those not yet married (such as myself). The sins mentioned in these two verses are not the unpardonable sin.
The larger story of Hosea tells us that YHWH has covenanted to remain faithful to an unfaithful bride, the church. God’s covenant people have broken covenant with him so many times that each one of us should be wearing a whole scarlet alphabet, yet he remains faithful to his faithless bride. He’s perfectly able to do that, the sexual immorality exception in Matthew 5 is mercifully present for those who cannot move past such a violation in their own marriages.
The church should take marriage seriously, and follow the words of scripture in all our conduct, especially that of husbands and wives. When we die to ourselves, we are better able to let molehills remain molehills and to forgive each other.
For my brothers and sisters who have had this passage thrown in your face, I would like to say that there is grace for tot as there is for anyone else who believes. If you have sinned, confess your sins to Christ, any and all, and you are forgiven. Let us strive to live in the righteousness of Christ, and give no occasion to the flesh and stumble.
It is a sweet thing to be in communion with the loving, just, merciful, holy God who keeps covenant with his beloved and helps her, rather than discarding her in her sin.
Glory to God alone.