Marriage is a permanent bond-for life. When God joins you in marriage to your husband or wife, He forms a bond which cannot be dissolved except by God Himself in death. Not even divorce dissolves a marriage so that you are free to be married again to another while your spouse lives. When God joins you to a wife or husband He makes for you a lifelong bond.
And He calls you to glorify Him by living with each other in the true love of God which is faithful, sacrificial, and enduring-a love which seeks not your own, but seeks the good of the other. You are to view this Word of God not as if you are now prisoners in the same cell. You are not to be bitter against each other or to allow distance to form between yourselves. You are to live with each other in forgiveness and to grow in the intimacy and the experience of the love of God which does not put away.
What I have been saying is the teaching of Jesus Christ the Lord, the teaching that Jesus Christ Himself gives in the holy Scriptures. We read in Luke 16:18 these words of Jesus Christ: “Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.” It is Jesus who is teaching in that verse of Scripture that marriage cannot be broken – that the marriage tie is a lifelong bond which is to reflect the faithfulness of God to His bride, the church.
To understand these words of Jesus Christ, let us look for just a moment at the context in which the Lord spoke these words.
Christ, in this chapter, had been insisting on the dignity and inviolability of the law of God – of the Ten Commandments of God. He had been teaching that the Law of God remains in effect and cannot be overturned or circumvented. Sometimes the Lord Jesus Christ in His ministry defended the Law of God against man-made additions. The Pharisees, for instance in the fourth and fifth commandments, would make their own additions to the Law of God and pass them off as God’s law. At other times Jesus defended the law of God against the Pharisees’ attempt to circumvent, to get around, to evade the force of the Law of God.
That is what the Lord is doing here in the context of Luke 16. He is exposing the Pharisees for their attempt to set aside the requirements of the Law of God by teaching that a man may divorce his wife by giving her a writing of divorcement or for other reasons. The Pharisees, in this chapter, had just heard what Jesus said about covetousness, about a person’s attitude toward material possessions. The Pharisees were lovers of money, and they tried to get around the tenth commandment, which said, “Thou shalt not covet.” When they heard the Lord’s instruction concerning that commandment, that it pressed even into the heart of a man, that he could not even lust after material things in his heart, they sneered at what He said. So the Lord, in verse 15 of Luke 16, said, “You Pharisees are ones who pass yourselves off before men as those who are living in harmony with the law of God. But it is only a facade. God has your number. He knows your religion is a sham. You think that you can enter into heaven by circumventing the law, by trying to get around its demands. But the Master says, regardless of your evasions, the Law of God retains its force. And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass than for one tittle of the Law to fail.” A tittle is just a little hook or line which would distinguish one letter from another in the Hebrew alphabet. Jesus says, “Not in the slightest respect will the Law of God ever be invalidated. Understand,” He says, “that belonging to the Lord Jesus Christ, the One who fulfilled the Law of God, does not mean that you can go around the Ten Commandments and ignore them. Rather, belonging to Jesus Christ will mean that you will be eager to obey God’s Law out of a heart of love.”
Then, to give an example of the permanence of the Law of God, Jesus points to the seventh commandment, which upholds marriage and forbids adultery. This was a commandment which the Pharisees made all kinds of attempts to set aside by putting their own ideas of divorce and remarriage in its place, by allowing for remarriage – to marry another while one’s first spouse lives. Jesus says that this is to commit adultery, it is to violate God’s Law in the seventh commandment. He says, “Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.” Whether one puts away his wife to marry another or whether one marries her who was wrongly put away (the woman from her husband), this, says Jesus, is to commit adultery.
Note that. The Lord does not speak in this passage of any reason why a man may put away his wife. In another place he speaks of fornication. And He teaches that divorce is permissible on the grounds of fornication, that is, of marital unfaithfulness, but even then a man or woman who divorces for fornication may not marry again. But here the Lord adds no qualifications. He speaks only of putting away one’s wife. And He says that whosoever puts away his wife and marries another, this is to commit adultery. Literally, is committing adultery (a present, active state). And He goes on to say that for another man now to marry her who was put away, even put away falsely and wrongly, is to commit adultery. Again, the word is “is committing adultery.”
The teaching of Jesus is plain. When taken in the light of all the Scriptures, Jesus is saying, to marry another while one’s spouse lives is to commit adultery. The Lord says that the marrying of another woman or another man, so long as one’s first spouse lives, is adultery. That means that divorce, even for the reason of adultery, can never be understood as the end of the marriage bond, so that one is free to marry another. Only death breaks the tie of marriage. And the woman who is put away from her husband is still considered to be his wife, so that he may not marry another, nor may she. To do so, says Jesus, is to commit adultery. There may be no remarriage as long as one’s spouse lives. That is the teaching of Christ.
Is this some cold, unfeeling legislation from God intended to make us suffer in an unhappy marriage? We ask the question, Are not there exceptions? What if one did this before his conversion? Are not some marriages doomed to failure? Would it not, perhaps, be better to find another and to be happy? Does the Word of God, we ask, does Christ here in this verse, have no feeling for the circumstances that God’s children can find themselves in? Is this Word ignorant of how it can be sometimes? Is it not better at times to start over and to enjoy a good marriage with someone else? This word will bring heart-rending suffering. Where does mercy and forgiveness fit in?
Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ, I intend to answer those questions in a moment. But right now I want to caution you and me for just a moment. Can you, can I, ever say that Jesus Christ is unfeeling? Are we going to put our way over God’s way? What does the Word of God say? What is the teaching of Jesus? Will we put our ideas over God’s and say that our feelings are truer than God’s Word? Will we accuse Christ of being cold and insensitive and giving a teaching intended only for suffering? No. We may not say that! This word of Jesus Christ is a hard saying. But it is not a cold saying. Yes, there is a cost in following Jesus-a great cost at times-such a cost that would make us shrink back of ourselves.
But there is a truth here. There is a way here revealed that is right and that is pleasing to God. Why is marriage a lifelong bond? The Scripture answers, because marriage is given of God, not, first of all, for us. That is the most fundamental thing you will ever hear about marriage. Your marriage is not given, first of all, for you and for the sake of your happiness. But marriage is given to be a reflection of God, of the covenant bond, of the marriage bond that God makes between His elect and redeemed church in Jesus Christ. And that marriage bond which God has made with His children in Jesus can never be broken. Marriage is given to be a picture of the relationship between God and His church. And that bond is permanent. The picture, marriage, is therefore a lifelong bond to reflect the truth of God’s unchanging, never failing covenant of love and grace with His people.
There is no passage in the Word of God which gives such a beautiful picture of this as we find in Hosea 2:19, 20. Here we read, “And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the LORD.” The prophet Hosea was called by God to proclaim to a rebellious people the truth that God’s covenant with His church and people is unbreakable. He pleads with the people of God with eloquence and tenderness. And He says, “The Lord’s bond to His people is like a marriage. He hath betrothed us to Himself. And He hath done that in faithfulness.”
That is a very rich truth and we could spend much time talking about and explaining what that means practically for our own marriages. The fact that our marriages are to be a picture of God and His people, of Christ and His church-that has everything to say about the daily practice of your own marriage. Husbands, you are to reflect God. As God deals with His people, so must you deal with your wife. The faithfulness, the wisdom, the lovingkindness, the judgment, the mercies of God revealed to His church in Christ must be seen in you. Did you ever think about that?
And wives, you are to be a loving picture of that love that the church returns to God for her salvation. Did you ever think about that? Do you picture, in your life with your husband, the church’s love for Jesus?
But right now there is only one point that is at issue, that is most important. That point is this: The covenant bond of God which He makes with His people, His church, with those who are redeemed by the blood of Christ, is permanent, unchanging. That is the truth of God’s Word. God does not break His covenant, though we do. God stands fast. His marriage to His church is never broken. It is established forever in His eternal counsel of election and it is sealed with the blood of His own Son upon Calvary’s cross.
We could refer to many passages of God’s Word. Look at Jeremiah 3:1, 14, or Psalm 89:33,34. In Psalm 89 we read: “Nevertheless my lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail. My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips.” That truth, that God does not break His covenant marriage with His redeemed people in Christ, is the basis of everything! Do you see that? If that is not true, if it is not true that God’s covenant is sure and that His love is faithful and unchanging, then I, personally, would hang it all up. There is no sense in preaching. Then there is no message to bring to you, unless I could join the world and say, “Well, I’ve got a possibility. I’d like to talk to you about a chance-a reasonably good chance-that God will continue His work of grace and, once saved, you might possibly remain saved, hopefully.” That is no message! That is the same message as the world which has no sure hope. If God’s love to His people whom He foreknew is broken, if that is so, then what is the use? Then all hope is crushed! I cannot understand how anyone would ever want to deny that truth. This is the truth of the Bible. With all the power that God gives to me, I declare to you in God’s name this truth: God will not cast away His people whom He hath chosen in Jesus Christ, whom He has redeemed with the blood of His Son. Evermore the love of God is changeless! His covenant sure, no change can know. You may cling to that today! You are not grasping at straws. You are not building upon the air. But when you believe that, by the grace of God, you stand upon the pillar of time and eternity. And that means exactly this: Marriage is an unbreakable bond till death because it must serve God’s purpose to reveal His unchangeable love towards His children in Jesus Christ.
God had one purpose in uniting you in your marriage. That purpose has not changed. That purpose was to show His never failing love, His victorious and powerful love. That purpose has not changed after one year or five years of marriage, or ten years, and now you see how opposite, weak, selfish you are. Now you see that side of him that you never knew before. God’s purpose has not changed when the other partner becomes sick and decrepit. God’s purpose has remained the same in your marriage since day one. It never really centered in you. Oh, yes, God is concerned about your happiness. And you will find it in obeying Him. But His purpose was not first your happiness. His purpose in your marriage was to give a picture of the one sure thing: the love of God which does not change.
I would like to take that one step further and explain to you then (and I hope that young people are listening) why God has given to marriage the intimate bond of sexual union. That intimacy of sexual union in marriage is given to reflect the truth that God has taken a people to Himself in Jesus Christ in all the wonder and all the thrill of His lovingkindness and infinite mercy. Outside of marriage sexual intercourse is sin. It is not good, it is not right, it is not love. But it is pure selfishness and lust. Despite all the glamour and acceptance today, it is a horrible, destructive sin. Oh, do not sin so against God. That is why adultery is not a fling. It is not an affair. But adultery is an arrow dipped in the poison of hell to destroy a marriage and to strike to the heart, to destroy trust and love and intimacy. You turn your head (as a man) and look at another woman? You do that? You allow your mind to entertain lust-filled thoughts? Though apparently adultery and sexual uncleanness are little thought of today, it remains the most damaging sin that can be committed. No sin will put more distance between God and ourselves and destroy the assurance of God’s presence and rob us of the enjoyment of a walk of joy and peace with the holy God more than will adultery. Keep yourselves from fornication is the Word of God.
Bride of Jesus Christ, those who belong to the Lord Jesus, young people, husbands and wives, in the vibrancy of your body and of your youth, keep yourselves holy unto your Master Jesus Christ and unto the wife or husband whom God will give to you. Do not put away your wife. Do not do that in act and do not do that in your heart. Do not be bitter against your wife, says the Word of God in Colossians 3. Do not have a marriage which becomes little more than a cease-fire, a stand-off between two proud sinners who are not going to bend. But cling to each other in the love of God. When the world blows on you as a hurricane trying to sweep you away from each other, and when your flesh is as a raging torrent, cling by faith in all humility and strength to the love of God! That means that the love of God must actually be placed in our hearts by a wonder of God. That is why you must marry in the Lord. And that is why your marriage needs the pure preaching of the holy gospel Sabbath after Sabbath if you are to be preserved in the love of God.
The answer to marital problems is not to put away. The answer is not to walk away. The answer is not to wait stubbornly until the other one bends or gives in first. The answer is not to quit and to say “we made a mistake,” and to marry someone else, thinking that that will be happiness. If the church allows that, then she has lost the most dear and precious picture she ever had – the picture of the never failing love of God. In all this world of woe and pain, of sin and change and hatred, we in the church have one thing: the love of God which changes not. That is the truth at issue behind marriage as a lifelong bond.
Hold to that truth and you will be blessed. For some, it may mean suffering. It may bring a cost which you fear is too much. It may mean a life of loneliness now because you are deserted by an unbelieving spouse. It may mean loneliness now, but Christ is your portion and fullness of joy. And abiding in Christ will bring you blessedness both now and eternally.
Marriages in the church are a picture of what awaits us when our Husband will take us up in His arms and wipe away all tears from our eyes. Sin shall be no more and we shall have perfect fellowship with God. And we shall enjoy Him for evermore. It is Christ who speaks. Not I. He says, “Your marriage is a lifelong bond, the purpose of which is to show the faithful and unchanging love of God.” Believe this word of Christ. Embrace it and live all your life resting upon and supported by nothing else but the unchanging love of God in Jesus Christ.
Let us pray.
Father, we have heard Thy Word. Keep us in the love of Christ. Amen.