One Man. One Woman. Till Death.
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 19:5a (Holman) . . .and He also said, “For this reason a man will
leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,. . .”
In Matthew 19, Jesus called us back to the Scriptures, to see what God’s original design for marriage was. He began with quoting Genesis 1:27c, “He created them male and female.” Marriage entails one man with one woman.
Jesus next quoted Genesis 2:24, the famous “leave and cleave” (KJV) passage, which teaches us the marriage union is more important than any other relationship, including that of parent and child. Marriages between older people sometimes fail because they marry knowing the other spouse will not be number one in their life; their priority is their children or someone else. As a result, the marriage stumbles from the first. Success is achievable, but harder.
Why is the spouse relationship most important? Because God is love, and the marriage relationship is based on love, on a person’s decision to choose to love another. Marital love reflects Him. Husbands and wives are expected to come to love each other even in arranged marriages, which were common when Paul gave the command. The person we choose to love for life has top priority.
Marriage is a beautiful picture of Jesus and His Church. He chose to love us in a covenant relationship, and we become one with Him if we choose to love Him in return by entering this covenant relationship. This is why trial marriage is a misnomer. It leaves out the very covenant that makes a union a marriage.
Matt. 19:5b-6a “. . .and the two will become one flesh? So they are no
longer two, but one flesh.”
Marital love results in a bonding that is spiritual, social, emotional, mental, and physical. Adam was one. Eve was one. Adam and Eve together were one. Hear a brief practical word here. We may not be able to define “one” precisely, but it for sure includes the idea of togetherness. Thus, beware anything that includes the word “separate”, for instance, separate vacations, separate bank accounts, separate lives, separate work hours, separate hobbies.
Matt. 19:6b “Therefore what God has joined together, man must not
To “one man; one woman” Jesus here added “till death.” Their oneness was to be ended only by death. God took Eve out of Adam’s side. Could the Lord have drawn a more powerful picture of two being one and inseparable?
Also, their intended oneness was enhanced by the fact neither Adam nor Eve could have left the other to marry someone else. The man-pool and chick supply were extremely limited in Eden. Like Adam and Eve, each married couple is to deem all other possibilities as limited to zero; their bond is absolute.
Don’t miss Jesus’ priceless gift to women here. He defended them in an era when they virtually had no rights. The Pharisees’ query was fatally flawed.
Something was missing in their question, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife on any grounds?” What about a woman’s rights? She had none. In Jesus’ day, males dominated; a wife was merchandise, an object to be traded or discarded. Easy divorce inhumanely separated a woman from her safety net and her children. The result was sheer sadness. A legend says when a couple divorces, the altar where they made their vows weeps. Jesus intended to keep this from happening. Women were not to be discarded easily, at will.
“No fault” divorce laws have had their most devastating effect on women and children. For women, it has become a fast track to poverty. Jonathan Pond, in his book “1,001 Ways to Cut Your Expenses,” says the worst thing we can do to our financial health is to divorce. Forty years of widespread acceptance of easy access to divorce in the USA has left its deepest money scars on women.
For many children, the weakest of the weak, easy divorce laws are a fast track to mental illness. We know by bitter experience that “divorce for the children’s sake” is often a misnomer, an oxymoron. Divorce can leave deep scars on children. It disrupts, but does not end, the parents’ interaction with each other. A divorce is often like a funeral after which the dead are never buried, and they keep returning to re-open old wounds in their children. Even amicable divorces can wound children. Divorce lingers, and long hurts children.
I had a boyhood friend whose preacher-dad and church-pianist mom had divorced. He and I were one day rummaging in a drawer to find something, and saw some old 45rpm records. Intrigued, we played them. They were recordings of his parents when they sang in a Gospel group together. He had no idea they had ever done this. As the music played, I saw tears roll down his cheeks in two huge streams—no crying—just a flood of tears. It’s the only emotion like this I ever saw him show. He seemed ok, but deep down pain was still there.
Our grandparents said, “Stay married for the children.” The old timers’ philosophy was usually right, and saved a lot of children’s mental health.
If you are married and having trouble, I plead with you—beg, borrow, or steal every idea, plan, counseling session, and anything else you can think of to save your marriage. In the vast majority of cases, it is very much to your advantage to save your marriage. Some of the best marriages I’ve ever known were in their earliest years a disaster, but over time developed into a blessing.
No fault divorce undermines the ideal premise underlying marriage. A home that can be broken up easily and quickly at any given moment is not a home. Instead of taking time and pain to make a marriage better, an easy way out tempts people to look elsewhere other than to each other for satisfaction.
For the sake of husband, wife, and children, our gracious and kind God meant for marriage to last “till death”. Marriage is a God-event. The marital knot He ties is sacrosanct, and should never be untied by humans.
“Till death do we part” is tough, a sacred solemn vow taken before God. When Ruth and I married, we chose to repeat to each other the vow Ruth made to Naomi (Ruth 1:16-17). Ruth had the address of this oath inscribed inside my ring. The oath ends with a dangerous vow. “Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.” At our rehearsal, we were repeating vows to each other at Dad’s prompting. He left out the death pledge. I mentioned it to him after rehearsal, thinking he had merely forgotten. At the wedding, he still omitted it.
Dad was protecting us. To him it was an inviolable oath dangerous to make. As a Pastor he had seen too many marriages shipwreck. Ruth and I, 40 years later, still consider ourselves as having made the death promise to each other, but we too have come to see danger in an oath so blatantly presumptuous.
Though I felt a need to voice this concession, I must hasten to repeat how inviolable believers must consider marriage vows. They are till death do we part.
This does not mean those who fail to make it till death are awful sinners, second class saints. Let me encourage divorcees. Many of you had no choice; divorce was forced on you; you faithfully loved your spouse, and worked harder at your marriage than some have that will never face divorce. Often you handled your situation better than your critics could have.
Let me speak to the church about the divorced. Our Master championed the cause of the hurting. We must do no less. Our role is not to be a judge standing over the divorced and telling them about divorce’s consequences.
They already hurt and sense enough embarrassment and failure. Most Christian divorcees I discussed this with abhor divorce now more than ever.
My deaf divorced Christian sister once sent Ruth and me a wedding anniversary card, congratulating us. She included two words that for me sum up the agony and hurt of God-fearing, Christ-loving divorcees, “I failed.”
Let’s not increase their pain. Heal the hurting as Jesus did. Jesus held the standard high, yet stooped to catch falling, broken people. Believers, be like Christ. Hold the standard high; hold the safety net low to catch the downcast.