Jesus was questioned about marriage and divorce by hostile Jewish religious leaders. They hoped to trick him into saying something that would cause him trouble.
Jesus quoted from Genesis, reminding them that God established a design for marriage when he created Adam and Eve. He made them male and female, and for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and they will become one flesh.
Jesus emphasized the permanent nature of marriage by adding these words: “They are no longer two but one flesh, so what God has joined together let no one separate.” God’s design for marriage is one man and one woman freely and fully committed to each other for life.
The religious leaders thought they had trapped Jesus into contradicting Scripture. They said, “Why, then, did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
Jesus corrected them. Moses allowed divorce; he did not command it. And he allowed divorce, Jesus said, because of people’s hard hearts. It was not God’s design or desire. In fact, God sees unwarranted divorce and remarriage as adultery.
But God also knows that hearts sometimes become so hard that broken relationships are the inevitable result. So he makes concessions, but he does not change his design. The goal is still a faithful union between one man and one woman. A divorce in the past need not keep us from succeeding at God’s design for marriage now.
Jesus is saying that some parts of the Bible are weightier, or more fundamental, than other parts. God’s original design for marriage is more fundamental than his allowance for failed marriages. The concession does not cancel the design.
Jesus’ disciples were listening carefully to this discussion. They were surprised by Jesus’ strict view of marriage. Perhaps it would be better not to marry at all, they suggested.
Jesus agreed that some people are called to live single, but not so they can engage in open and temporary physical relationships. God’s call to live single is a call to live celibate, and to devote oneself to God’s kingdom work in a special way.
Jesus’ words are helpful for Christians today. Our culture is rejecting God’s design for marriage. As a result, many people have suffered broken homes and strained relationships.
If we reject everyone who has deviated from God’s design for marriage, then we are raising unnecessary barriers to the life-changing experience of God’s transforming grace. On the other hand, if we follow the world in redefining marriage and sexual morals, then we are misrepresenting God and his truth.
We should model our lives after Jesus. He unapologetically exalts God’s unchanging design for marriage, but he also extends God’s mercy and grace for hearts that were once hard but are now open and willing to come home to God’s truth.
May we be faithful agents of God’s holiness and his grace,
Brother Richard Foster