Throughout God’s Word, we see over and over again the importance of family. Family is the most important unit of society. God instituted the family before He instituted government, and He instituted family before He did the church. There are two essential elements of family worth noting. These elements are marriage and parenting that reveal God’s character like nothing else in creation. The love between a husband and wife is meant to provide a glimpse of Christ’s compassionate devotion to us as His bride. Similarly, the ups and downs of parenthood offer a compelling picture of God’s tenderness and patience toward us as His children.
Therefore, since family is so important, it ought not to surprise us that Christ’s sermon, which we call The Sermon on the Mount, speaks about marriage faithfulness and honest talk, which is an essential part of healthy relationships. Both marriage and honesty are very important to the health of our society. Thus, Jesus begins by addressing marriage faithfulness in Matthew 5:31-32.
Let me acknowledge that there is almost no unhappiness so deep as that found in an unhappy marriage. There is virtually no tragedy so great as the disintegration of a marital dream and what God meant for love and fulfillment to become a non-relationship of bitterness, discord, and despair. Although I believe that God’s way in most cases is not divorce, I hope I will proceed with sensitivity and with an understanding of the forgiveness and grace God offers all of us. I do not know many of your stories. I can’t presume how God would lead you in your specific situation. I know those who have felt the pain of a challenging marriage, and some an abusive one, which led to divorce. I do not want to add to anyone’s pain. Yet I trust that the teachings of Christ on every subject are good, good for us as individuals and society as a whole. So, I trust in Him and continue with the exploration of His Word on marriage faithfulness.
Jesus refers in Matthew 5:31-32 to an Old Testament law intended to protect a wife from a hasty divorce by commanding the husband to give her a certificate or notification. Some, however, used this law as an excuse for easy divorce. All the husband had to do was to notify the wife. Jesus teaches that marriage is intended to be a lifelong commitment between a husband and wife. Indeed, Jesus acknowledges that, for instance, adultery breaks the commitment of faithfulness. But, he also acknowledges that divorce breaks the commitment of lifelong faithfulness.
Speaking as a Christian and a pastor, whenever somebody talks to me about divorce, I begin by sharing my understanding of the Bible’s teaching on marriage – God’s purpose in instituting it. I start by talking about marriage and reconciliation. At times the discussion on divorce is put on the shelf as we dive into God’s power of restoring a marriage. Unfortunately, due to humanity’s fallen state and issues of personal safety, infidelity, and other tragic matters, a decision to divorce are sometimes made. I have never advocated for divorce, but I have been in situations where I have extended God’s grace and love as a situation has led to such a decision. It’s important to understand that Christ speaks of how women in marriage from the time of Moses to the time He was speaking were at times victimized. They were put into horrible situations where they had to do what they did to survive. Christ is saying how can a genuine follower of His filled with His love treat anyone, yet lone his wife with such ungodly love.
Now, Jesus moves on to an essential aspect of a healthy marriage and any other relationship, and that is honest talk. In Matt 5:33-37, Jesus addresses honesty by looking at vows. Several verses from the Old Testament prohibit false swearing or perjury, that is, making a vow and then breaking it (Ex 20:7; Lev 19:12; Num 30:2; Deut 23:21). Jesus says, “Do not take an oath at all”…“Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’” The point of this is that anybody who makes a vow must keep it. Simply put, Christians should say what they mean and mean what they say.
John Stott notes, “If divorce is due to human hard-heartedness, swearing is due to human untruthfulness.” Both divorce and swearing were permitted by law, but neither was commanded. Truth be told, neither should be necessary if the Christian ethic Jesus teaches in His sermon is followed by all. Therefore, as long as it is in our power to do so, we must keep our marriage vows and keep our word. The believer living rightly is in part seen in marriage faithfulness and in their honest talk. Of course, the Lord offers grace and forgiveness to all who seek it from Him with a genuine heart. God, after all, is our greatest example of faithfulness, love, and honesty. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!