Disclaimer: On Sunday morning at Capitol City, I preached from Matthew 5:21-32, covering (among other things) Jesus’ hard words on divorce in 5:31-32. This post is the first of two followups to that message, though I hope it benefits all who read. If you’d like, you can hear that whole message here.
I often say that the gospel is simultaneously completely free and devastatingly expensive. It is free because it involves the salvation of sinners who could not earn or deserve it; it is not received through our works or because of our merit, but through Christ’s work and because of Christ’s merit. But at the same time, it is expensive because Jesus demands, well, everything of those who follow him in faith.
Christ’s demands are likely never heavier than they are for those who struggle under the strains of a difficult or broken marriage. Jesus calls his followers to forever faithfulness in marriage, yet many of his followers suffer through heartache, various forms of abuse, rejection, loneliness, and worse in their marriages. Sometimes these wounds are partly self-inflicted; often they are undeserved. God’s design for marriage is a lifetime union between a man and a woman, meaning that followers of Jesus with broken or difficult marriages are called to remain married, even when head and heart beg for release and relief from that painful brokenness.
My heart goes out to any who struggle under such circumstances; I pray for you. And my heart goes out to any who have surrendered to the desire to divorce (hoping for a release from that brokenness and pain); I pray for you as well, knowing that the complex of emotions that surrounds and follows every divorce is anything but a release.
Having spoken to these issues on Sunday morning, and having listened in the few days since to the responses of many who have walked these roads, I want to make one point clear in followup. In marriage, the most crucial issue is not how best to love and honor your spouse, it is not what habits or characteristics happy marriages demonstrate, it is not what strategies you should employ to ensure a lifetime of marital bliss. The most crucial issue for the health of your marriage is a biblical understanding of what marriage is.
The apostle Paul says this about marriage in Ephesians 5:
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:31-32)
In essence, Paul is informing us that marriage – the union between man and woman, when the two become one flesh – is a living picture that portrays the union between Christ and the church. Marriage is a “profound mystery,” he says, meaning that its true meaning isn’t clear on the surface. Marriage really isn’t about a couple living happily ever after, raising kids, and living the American Dream together. Marriage is about Christ and the church – its deepest, most fundamental meaning is that it tells the truth to the world about the covenant Jesus has made with the Church. He is the groom, and the Church is his bridegroom. He loved her and gave himself up for her; she loves him and is devoted to him; together they live in a forever covenant relationship. Every human marriage is intended to portray this truth.
Now, what does this have to do with the issue of divorce? Everything. Christ will not divorce his Church, and his true Church – by God’s grace – will never forsake him. If we understand that our marriages reflect Christ’s covenant-keeping love with his Church, then we will never entertain the idea of divorce. Until Christ divorces his Church (and he will not!), we will heed his words regarding marriage: “What God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matthew 19:6).