Marriage Belongs to God - Matthew 5:31-32
I spent some time this week reading about inventors and it’s interesting that in many cases, there’s disagreement over who invented things such as the telephone, the TV, the radio, and the light bulb. Often, there were key inventors who managed to build on the discoveries of others and make the invention widely known.
Those inventors usually get the credit, so in many cases it’s an oversimplification to give all the credit to just one person. But with some products, the invention history is clearer. For instance, Steve Jobs and his Apple team invented the iPhone. Dr. James Naismith invented basketball. And Harry Burnett, a farm boy from York County, PA, invented Reese’s peanut butter cups.
Throughout history, people have conceived some amazing inventions. God gave them the ability, opportunity, the knowledge and necessary components, but people thought of and created so much of what we use and depend on every day. Today in our Scripture passage, Jesus refers again to marriage. So, who invented marriage? And as the inventor or originator of it, to whom does it belong? We often associate a person with an invention so much so that we would say the invention belongs to that person. So, though he had some help, in our minds Mickey Mouse belongs to Walt Disney,Though he built on the work of others, the printing press belongs to Johann Guttenberg.
So, to whom does marriage belong? Does it belong to people? Did man invent marriage?
Well today, marriage is treated largely as an invention of man. And like any invention, many believe it should be changed to suit whatever desires the parties involved might have or updated to fit the times. Marriage is thought to be a contract, the definition of which is adaptable to popular opinion. But according to Scripture, marriage is a creation ordinance instituted by God. In other words, God invented marriage for his own purpose and it belongs to him.
Since God instituted marriage at creation for his purposes, we should look to him to shape our understanding of it. What do we come to understand about marriage when we look to God? Looking at the words of Jesus here in Matthew 5 and in other places, we see two things.
1. Since God invented the marriage union at creation, only He determines its definition. (v.31)
And 2. Since God establishes the marriage union between a man and a woman, only He authorizes its dissolution. (v.32)
Since God invented the marriage union at creation, only He determines its definition.
Look again at verse 31. Jesus states, “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’
There’s a backstory on Jesus’ words here. Throughout Matthew 5, Jesus has been cleaning up incorrect views of God’s moral law, calling out abuses of the law, and exposing sins of the heart. There were many misconceptions and warped teachings on the law. Here, Jesus refers to part of Deut. 24, in which Moses addressed divorce. Deut. 24 didn’t condone divorce, but it recognized that broken marriages would inevitably take place because people are sinful. Moses described a hypothetical situation in which a husband finds what the Scripture calls “some indecency” in his wife and then wants to writes her a certificate of divorce. Moses says that if the woman got remarried and divorced again, the first husband could not marry her again. Moses was trying to discourage a quick, casual approach to divorce. Now why is Jesus addressing the interpretation of Deut. 24? Well, in the early first century, there were two main groups who had opposing views of the law.
Sound familiar? The best way to describe the two groups would be that one was conservative and one was liberal. Sound familiar? These two groups had different interpretations of many things, one of them being the meaning of the words “some indecency” in Deut. 24. The conservatives said “some indecency” referred only to sexual immorality committed, but the liberal group’s view, which was a widely adopted view in the first century, was that “some indecency” could refer to almost any problem that a husband might have with his wife. This made divorce very easy and much more common. The disagreement boiled down to a simple question: what are the legitimate grounds for divorce?
Jesus contradicts the idea that divorce is permissible for almost anything. To understand Jesus here, it helps to consider his words in Matthew 19. On one of many occasions, the Pharisees were trying to trick him into contradicting the Old Testament law.
Listen to the exchange between Jesus and those religious teachers in Matthew 19.
Imagine them in a public place, and this group of men confronts Jesus to debate him.
The Word says, “Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?”  He answered, “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.”
 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?”  He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.
Jesus points them back to the creation event, Genesis 2 in the Old Testament, to remind them that marriage was invented by God at creation for His own purpose and plans. The first man and woman, who were the first married couple, were to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth with more people. They were to have dominion over or rule over the creation.
Earlier I mentioned Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of basketball. In 1891, while working at the YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts, Dr. Naismith needed to create a game that could be played indoors during the winter. He nailed peach baskets at opposites ends of the gym and gave the players a soccer ball. Dribbling did not yet exist. The players had to pass the ball and could not run with it. As time went on, the game evolved. And the progression has been good. For instance, before the invention of the shot clock, which forces a team to shoot the ball within a certain number of seconds, teams would get the lead and then hold the ball or pass it back and forth
for the remainder of the game.
As a result, the scores would be extremely low and the games were boring. Instead of scores like 99-89, the worst was a game in 1950 in which the Pistons beat the Lakers 19-18. The rules needed change and develop. Dr. Naismith invented the game and fostered its growth in the beginning, but it’s much larger than him now. And like many inventions, it needed updating.
But marriage does not need to be updated or redefined. It does not belong to us. God invented it, and he defines it, and he has not changed his definition of it. Do you approach marriage with reverence, recognizing it as the God-centered union that it is? If you are married or desire to be married, do you look at marriage in light of God’s definition and intention, or do you focus more on your own intentions. Are you more concerned with how marriage can serve you, rather than how you can serve and glorify God through marriage?
Now, not only has God invented marriage, but he also is the one who established each marriage between a man and woman – and therefore only He can approve its dissolution.
Notice verse . Jesus says, But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife,
except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery,
and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Jesus counters their belief that divorce is permissible for a variety of reasons by giving only one permissible reason for divorce: sexual immorality. Previously in verses 27-30, Jesus made it clear that lust in the moral equivalent of adultery. Here he states that divorce for reasons other than sexual immorality is also adultery. Marriage is a relationship of covenant commitment. Malachi 2 states that a wife is a wife “by covenant.” It then says that God makes a husband and wife one. Remember that a covenant is more than simply a promise. Biblical covenants have rewards for keeping the covenant and penalties for breaking it. God establishes the marriage covenant.
Again, Jesus says, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” How does divorce make the wife commit adultery, as Jesus says here? Well, the assumption is that the wife would remarry, yet she is still in union with her first husband. Whenever I discuss divorce with people in troubled marriages, Malachi 2 in the Old Testament is often quoted as evidence that God hates divorce. And that’s true. The covenant relationship of marriage is meant to be forever. But sadly, it is not always forever. Divorce is permissible is certain situations, such as what Jesus says here, and also circumstances of what we’ve termed “abandonment” or “desertion.”
In 1 Cor. 7, the apostle Paul describes a situation where a spouse leaves the marriage. These are cases where God pronounces the marriage union dissolved. It’s not just that the covenant is broken; the covenant is no longer there. Jesus’ statement here speaks to a general misunderstanding of the covenant and a devaluing of the covenant relationship. In fact, the prevalent view at that time shows a complete disregard for it. These people, and especially their religious leaders, walked around puffed up because they had the covenant and promises of God. But they had no clue about relationship with the covenant God and their view of marriage and divorces proves it.
I’ve stated before that the theme of Matthew’s gospel is that Jesus is the True Israel. We haven’t talked about that as much in the recent weeks, but it’s still clearly in view here. A common thread running through each part of Matthew 5-7, is the continual covenant breaking of the people of Israel. They can’t keep the covenant of God; they don’t even understand it! They were handing out divorces for offenses as trivial as a wife burning a husband’s dinner. But marriage is essential in our understanding of God’s covenant with his people. Ephesians 5 says that the mystery of marriage is that it is a picture of the union between Jesus Christ and the church. Marriage has a unique ability to show the saving relationship between Jesus and those whom he would save from sin and death. Romans 5 tells us that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Marriage demonstrates love within a covenant commitment. Love like Jesus has for the church: founded on grace, in other words, undeserved favor. Love that is not self-focused but sacrificial, just as Christ sacrificially laid down his life for the church, to save his people not because of their works or good deeds, but saving them by faith in him alone. Christ calls us then to turn from our sin, that we would feel the weight of our sin and sorrow for it, and that we would put our full trust in Jesus’ saving work: his perfect life, his atoning death, and his glorious resurrection and ascension to heaven. By faith, those who trust in Christ enter into an eternal, covenant union with him. Marriage is a picture of this union. God determined, from the beginning, that it would be so. Even now, as we think about marriage, Christ speaks to us. He invites us to repent and believe. He calls us to trust in him alone.
God does not flippantly jump in and out of covenant with his people. He binds himself to us. We see that in the death of Jesus on the cross we see God bearing the sin of the broken covenant as he demonstrated that he would in his covenant ceremony with Abraham in Genesis 15. God showed that unlike a covenant where each side bears its own penalties, he would absorb the penalties of both sides. He would shed blood for the covenant breaking on the part of his people. We see that shed blood, the payment for sin, at the cross. As we sing together now, let’s reflect on the eternal, loving commitment of our covenant God toward an adulterous people – adulterous in that we run to other things for worship, hope, and life. But at the cross, our very real sin debt was borne and paid for by God the Son.