Alfred Place Baptist Church

10:1-12 Marriage And Divorce

Mark 10:1-12 “Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them. Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ ‘What did Moses command you?’ he replied. They said, ‘Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.’ ‘It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,’ Jesus replied. ‘But at the beginning of creation God “made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.’ When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.'”

The Lord Jesus submitted to baptism in the river Jordan by John the Baptist. Christ totally identified himself with John’s message calling the nation to repentance and summoning the people to turn from sin to God. The Saviour forbids us to put anything between what John had said and what he himself continued to say. He agreed completely with John’s message. There wasn’t a membrane of difference between these two divine prophets. John’s ministry had centred on this particular region of Judea and across the Jordan. Since the great awakening that had occurred there under John’s preaching that wilderness had become identified in the minds of the nation with John; it was the parish of the servant of the Lord; it was the place of the outpouring of the Spirit of God. That is where many men had met with God. It was to this area that people from all over the nation had travelled to hear John preach, and Mark is now telling us that it is to this same region that Jesus chose to go. So, just as vast crowds had once gathered there to hear John they gathered there now in the same Judean wilderness to meet with Jesus, and as was his custom the Saviour taught them. He had been doing this for two years, and now as he nears the cross he doesn’t start to move away from a word-centred ministry to a sacrament-centred ministry. As his ministry is drawing to a close Jesus doesn’t begin to build altars, or set up a table with bread and wine as if to show his apostles that this was the future and the mature way ahead. No! He began his ministry with a message that the kingdom of God had come, and they needed to repent and believe the gospel, and at the close of his earthly ministry the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus is doing the same. He goes through the Scriptures and he preaches the word to two disciples. Jesus Christ is the last prophet whom God has sent to the world, and when he walked this earth his people wanted to hear what he had to say. They still do. There is no mention that he ever gathered crowds around him to sing. Not once. His custom was to teach, and they came to him to be taught. That is why they were drawn to him, by his preaching. Isn’t that so?

Why had John’s ministry suddenly come to an end? He was arrested by King Herod Antipas for having the temerity to criticise this king for taking his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias, and marrying her. The issue of divorce and remarriage was red hot; a year after his death John’s disciples would feel this question was the test of the true religion. Their own blessed teacher had lost his life because he preached from the word of God that it was wrong for a woman to leave her husband to marry someone else. This was a live issue in the land. That is one of the reasons that the Pharisees came and tested Jesus there in the wilderness across the Jordan. Mark tells us that they asked him, ” ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?'” (v.2). Could the Pharisees get Jesus to say something treasonable? What would Christ do? Would he back down on John’s position? Would he say that he wasn’t going to judge other people’s actions, and that everybody had to make up their own minds about relationships, and what might be wrong for one person could be all right for another? Would he blather on like that saying nothing? Is this the sort of Lord from heaven you want? Would Jesus mollycoddle and be silent? Would he draw with his finger in the dust and ignore the question? No. Our Lord will make his answer spectacularly clear. Aren’t you glad that the Lord spoke out about marriage and divorce, that we can know the mind of God for the human family?

There are some teachers who specialise in just certain limited themes, but the Lord Jesus Christ spoke about everything and whatever he said he spoke infallibly. The Son of God spoke about the end of the world; he spoke about the nature of God, and worship, and who is my neighbour. He spoke about oaths, and the law, and creation, and children, and always his words were spirit and life. Never man spake like this man. The Lord Jesus also spoke about marriage. It would be incredible if he’d ignored this subject. Haven’t you overheard Christians saying that the most important choice a person can make after choosing to serve the Lord is the choice of a husband or a wife? Our civilisation is absolutely besotted with this matter of relationships, with the marriages of the royal family, and sportsmen, and opera singers, and film stars, and people in the media. Can such people tell us how to find a husband or a wife, and how to stay married to them, and how to be happy in that institution? No, they cannot. Marriage is an absolute disaster for many of them. We know that it is not easy for many Christians. This subject is a tender matter for some of you; perhaps if you’d known that I was going to speak on this theme today than some of you might even have chosen to stay at home. So let’s be tender, and yet let’s learn from the words of Jesus because they are wonderful words of life. God sent not his Son into the world to condemn our marriages but that our marriages through him might be saved.

1. MARRIAGE WAS MADE THE THEME BY WHICH JESUS WAS TESTED.

Some Christians have certain doctrinal obsessions, and they will judge an entire ministry by their speciality. Some of them have certain views on divorce. I do not think there are any in this congregation, but we have had people who have vehemently held certain other distinctives. I would simply plead with them to refrain from stating them too often or too loudly. Maurice Roberts once wrote these words, “Beyond a certain point of common biblical agreement there are views of doctrine which good men may choose to hold or not, according as they are persuaded. The temptation is that some men feel conscience bound to crusade for their shades of opinion. Overlooking the ninety-eight per cent of agreement held in common with good men almost everywhere we can develop a mentality of striving always over that small fraction of truth which is peculiar to our own group” (Maurice Roberts, “Great God of Wonders,” Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 2003, p.83). Divorce is one of those issues.

So these Pharisees came to Jesus and they did not come with a sob in their voices and a cry in their hearts about marriage. In fact they did not mention marriage at all, they spoke about divorce. These men had the privilege of gathering around the incarnate God, but they didn’t ask him, “Can you tell me how I can fulfil God’s goal for myself to become a better husband? How can I be a holier man and live more to God’s glory in my home? How can I strengthen my marriage?” They were not interested in that. They were interested in divorce, in the degree of license God gave them to end their marriages and put away their wives. “Can we get out of marriage? Am I bound to my wife for the rest of my life?” That was their concern. You have it today in the question, “May a Christian make a prenuptial agreement before marrying someone?” Anyone who has known the pain of divorce will know that they cannot enter another marriage with the slightest thought that this one might end in divorce.

You see that the Lord Jesus characteristically replied by asking them a question in return, “What did Moses command you?” (v.3) The Pharisees immediately replied by referring to the opening verses of Deuteronomy 24. Let me remind you that Moses wrote the first five books of the Scripture, but these Pharisees didn’t go to the book of Genesis, they went to Deuteronomy. In other words, they didn’t go to the great foundational creation ordinances that describe the institution of marriage. They went to the Israel’s civil legislation many of whose regulations applied particularly to the people of God under the Mosaic covenant. Indeed, these Pharisees went to a passage in the Bible that has a certain ambiguity. They didn’t go to the passages at the opening of Genesis that are absolutely lucid about marriage. They referred to Deuteronomy 24 which begins like this, “If a man marries a women who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce . . .” and so on. That is not easy to understand. What is all this about, this thing, we are told, that displeases the husband? And what is this next reference, to something that he finds indecent in her? The rabbis debated Deuteronomy 24 at length. Some, like the followers of a famous teacher named Hillel, were pretty permissive in their interpretation. They said that if there was anything at all that displeased a man about his wife he could divorce her. Others, the school of Shammai, restricted divorce to adultery and to adultery alone – even if a woman was behaving like Jezebel.

So here was a national hot topic because of Herodias leaving her husband and marrying his brother. John had denounced the king and queen’s behaviour and had been murdered for what he’d said. Would the Lord Jesus denounce their divorce and marriage too? Here was one of the burning issues of the day because the people of God were themselves divided over the meaning of this civil law of the Old Covenant. So marriage was made the theme by which Christ was tested.

2. LIFELONG MARRIAGE WAS THE THEME THE LORD JESUS AFFIRMED.

How does the Lord answer these Pharisees? What is very significant is that he deals with them by appealing to Scripture and explaining the word of God to them. We take that for granted. Why do I bother to mention that? Because it underlines the unchallengeable authority which Scripture had in the heart and mind of the Son of God. Jesus did not say, “Verily, verily I say unto you . . .” and make some pronouncement. Here were the Pharisees who prided themselves in their knowledge of the Scriptures. They could tell you the number of verses in any and every chapter in the entire Bible. They could tell you the number of letters in every chapter. They could tell you what was the middle word in every chapter, and what was the middle letter in each chapter. The Pharisees elevated the Scripture to be the very Word of God. If they were wrong in this the Lord had many opportunities to correct them, because they seem such loathsome characters, but Jesus never tells them that they have a wrong doctrine of biblical infallibility. He told them clearly on other occasions when they had a wrong interpretation of the law of God, and making oaths, and praying, and fasting, and giving. He corrected their views of those matters and their abuse of the Temple, but he never once said to them that their view of Scripture was too high. He viewed Scripture as highly as they did, but the difference was this, that he understood it better and obeyed it perfectly. Jesus is here appealing to the opening chapters of Genesis, and he’s not saying that they are myths and that we don’t have to take them as true. “At the beginning of creation God made them male and female” – those are the Lord Jesus’ words, and if you worship him as your God and Lord then you are under a theological and moral obligation to believe that to be the case because for us Jesus can say nothing wrong. For us a thing is true when the one who said, “I am the truth,” said it. Then the Saviour goes on to explain Deuteronomy 24.

“‘It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,'” Jesus replied (v.5). What happened was this, that God had set a divine and unchangeable standard for marriage from the very beginning. It was a holy, just and good standard, but the people were taking the precious gift of marriage and they were exploiting and abusing it. Weren’t they an extraordinarily stubborn people? How long were they out of Egypt before they were making a golden calf and falling down and worshipping that idol? “Behold your god O Israel!” That was just some months after their deliverance from Egypt. If they could dismiss the Lord himself then they certainly weren’t afraid of throwing out their wives and getting a younger model. So God looked at these rejected wives and children and he took action; he instructed Moses to write those words in Deuteronomy 24. You understand that those words don’t change the validity and obligation of the original divine institution of marriage. Deuteronomy didn’t abrogate God’s design, and didn’t even suspend it, but what was happening was this. God saw that the Israelites were disdaining marriage. They were protesting, “We can’t live like that. That’s too idealistic. We must be able to divorce our wives. You can’t expect us to live in an unhappy marriage.” The problem was not with the abiding sanctity of marriage; the problem was with the people’s hearts, their inability to control their lust and impatience and hatred.

So God was saying words like these to them, “You really are a hardhearted people, but I am going to make sure that your wives get some protection. If there is a divorce I require that you men must solemnly certify in writing that you are leaving your wives.” That is the purpose of Deuteronomy 24, to give some protection to wives from the contempt of hardhearted husbands. The legislation was designed to restrain this sin of the abuse of women and children. It made it impossible for a man impetuously, after another spat with his wife, to shout in anger at her, “I divorce you. Get out!” he had to sin down and fill out a certificate of divorce which would be acknowledged in the community. So divorce was being tolerated by God and suffered by him because of the hardness of men’s hearts, but divorce didn’t have the divine sanction. It was no part of God’s original purpose. Deuteronomy 24 says that if the wife was guilty of some unspecified shameful and offensive behaviour – not something slight and trivial – then the husband could choose to divorce his wife. Deuteronomy 24 also goes on to prohibit the husband moving back in with his ex if she’s moved on and married someone else (Deut. 24:4). In other words, you don’t lend your partner to another. If some authoritarian husband dismissed his wife and then he took her back when the next man had finished with her then such conduct would not only degrade the woman, it degrades marriage itself. The Bible is always protecting the dignity of women. God always forbids his people to treat women like chattel. God prohibits them playing fast and loose with their marriage vows.

So the Lord Jesus appeals to Genesis one and two, to the divine origin of mankind, of man and then of woman. Now we know those great words of John about Christ, that without him was not anything made that was made whether it was powers or authorities, he made them. In other words, Jesus made Adam and Eve, and Jesus made marriage, and Jesus explains the nature of marriage to us. Now that again is something that these Pharisees never grasped, that the divine designer of marriage and the creator of man and woman was actually telling them all about it there that day in the region of Judea.

Let me illustrate this point in this way. In Australia you have one of the oldest cultures in the world. There are aborigine wall paintings that go back many thousands of years, and you can have an Aborigine tour guide whose culture has not changed very much since the time his ancestors painted those figures, and he has access to them. He understands and can explain them to you. What would you think of a living culture group in France today the members of whom knew instinctively and comprehensively the meaning of the fabulous cave drawings that are found in certain parts of France? Wouldn’t that be remarkable? “This is what these signs and figures represent,” they could tell you.

This is what we have here. The God who made man and woman and marriage itself has himself become a man, and he is now telling us what marriage is, but what is more remarkable is that he does so by citing words from a book. He quotes from Genesis chapters one and two. First, Jesus quotes from Genesis 1:27 which tells us how gender, sexual differentiation, is part of the most fundamental nature of our structure as human beings: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Do you understand the significance of those words? Maleness and femaleness are part of our being created in the image of God.

The second passage quoted by the Lord is found in Genesis 2 and there we find a more complete report of the way woman was created. It is a completely supernatural event. There is no way that the creation of woman can be explained by means of evolution. Let us read a few verses leading up to the actual words which Jesus quotes in our text: “But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called “woman,” for she was taken out of man.’ For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Gen. 2:20-24). Then the Lord Jesus gives his own commentary on those words, saying, “So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate” (vv. 8&9).

3. IN MARRIAGE A MAN AND A WOMAN BECOME ONE FLESH.

“One flesh,” Jesus says. “They are no longer two, but one,” he emphasises. In other words, marriage is a permanent relationship. Compare a sperm and an egg that unite and that one new cell multiplying and multiplying until a baby is born. The coming together of those two elements makes one new person permanently. Marriage is to considered in that way. The two become one flesh. What should we think of this “one flesh” idea? Naturally we regard it as having reference to the sexual union that is a part of marriage. Joel Nederhood has said, “We generally think of sexual intercourse as being rather ‘fleshly,’ often in contrast to the more spiritual elements of our lives. And surely the union is very close and intimate, even to the point where the two people might be called one. And because this ‘one flesh’ idea is so easily related to the sexual dimension of marriage, some have concluded that a marriage shouldn’t be dissolved, because once a couple has shared such intimacies, it would be improper for them to leave each other.”

However, let us see this oneness in the context of the creation of Eve. Adam says quite deliberately about her, “This is flesh of my flesh.” John Stott says about this, “This is teaching that heterosexual intercourse in marriage is more than a union; it is a kind of reunion. It is not a union of alien persons who don’t belong to one another and cannot appropriately become one flesh. On the contrary, it is the union of two persons who originally were one, were then separated from each other, and now in the sexual encounter of marriage come together again. It is surely this that explains the profound mystery of heterosexual intimacy, which poets and philosophers have celebrated in every culture. It is much more than a union of bodies; it is a blending of complementary personalities through which, in the midst of prevailing alienation, the rich, created oneness of human being is experienced again.”

A husband and a wife complement one another. I don’t mean that they take it in turns to say pleasant things about the other, but that each supplies what the other lacks. Think of a glove complementing a hand on a cold day. They go together and the person is more comfortable as a result. So a man and a woman complement one another physically, and also at a deeper level because God built differences into his design of the man and the woman whom he created. When Eve was taken out of Adam’s side they were apart, but as they came together in marriage then that ‘oneness’ of being human was restored.

So the only relationship that can be considered to be marriage is what occurs between a man and a woman who publicly enter the marriage state by means of the marriage ceremony, and those who enter this state have the obligation before God and before man to remain faithful to one another for their entire life. They cleave to one another. As Jesus says, man must not try to separate what God has joined together. So marriage is very different from what people often view as marriage these days. Marriage is a bond between two people that is so deep and so profound that both of them are inescapably affected by it. It is so profound that once a person is married, everything he thinks about involves the person to whom he is married. A husband and a wife have become one flesh. They are no longer two, but one. One. One. One. This word must be stressed over and over again.

4. ARE THERE NO GROUNDS FOR DIVORCE?

Are there no grounds for Christians to divorce? Yes, there are two mentioned in the Scriptures. The first is adultery, and we find a reference to this in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:32, “anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress.” The phrase ‘marital unfaithfulness’ refers to all types of sexual immorality. Outside of marriage it means fornication; within marriage it means adultery. Marital unfaithfulness is a ground of divorce because it violates the marriage bond. Should a husband raise the children of his wife that he thinks are his own children, but they’re not? She has been unfaithful to him and the children are those of another man.

The other ground of divorce in the Bible is being abandoned by an unbelieving husband or wife. I Corinthians 7:15, “If the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances.” Marriage can be pictured as an easy yoke that joins together a man and a woman. Then one day the non-Christian tells his yoke-fellow who has become converted, “I’ve had enough. I’m going,” and he leaves her. Now see her walking on through life so awkwardly, a yoke across one of her shoulders, the other yoke sticking out into space. Is she going to go on through the rest of her life like that? No husband, and yet the evidence there that once she was married? No, Paul says. Let him go. Take off the yoke from your shoulders. You are not bound in such circumstances. You may remarry a Christian. Those are the two reasons that the Puritans themselves wrote in the Westminster Confession of Faith 450 years ago as the grounds of divorce. Our Lord Jesus, knowing the hardness of men’s hearts, has given to his church these two cases whereby Christians may remarry after a divorce.

Yet no Christian should enter marriage thinking that there are two back doors out if things go wrong. There is no back door. That is the only way to think and act if you are contemplating marriage. This is a lifelong union. The apostle Paul learned this lesson from his Lord very well, and when he opens up this theme of marriage in his letter to the Ephesians he says that, “husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself” (Ephs. 5:28). This is astonishing, but this is God’s explanation of marriage. As Joel Nederhood has remarked, “I’ll confess that if it weren’t for what we have here in the Bible, I probably wouldn’t think of marriage like this. We think of marriage in terms of the satisfaction of our needs. We think of it as a social convention that should be preserved, if possible. But what Ephesians 5 is saying is that God calls a husband and wife together and joins them in a union so deep and profound that it enables them to express the fullness of their personalities as God’s image bearers. For a husband this means that his wife’s strengths are his strengths, and that his strengths are her strengths. It also means that her weaknesses are his and that his weaknesses are hers. That is what makes marriage so awesome.” (The Radio Pulpit, The Back to God Hour, Volume 32, No. 2, February 1986, p.13)

Every husband feels this. He looks at his praying wife; the power of her righteousness; her time spent with the children; her ministry to them; her love for whatsoever things are true and noble and of good report; her care for her own parents. What formidable strengths, and these have become his own strengths. I think of one of my colleagues in the ministry and the long illness his wife suffered and the way he dedicated his life to caring for her, how at the end he had to wait on her hand and foot. Who would tell a preacher with a seriously ill wife that in order to care for the congregation he ought to have put her in an institution, get a divorce and move on to another church married to someone stronger? No Christian will say that because we know that the wife’s sickness was his sickness. On the other hand, his strength was her strength. So the two lived out the fulness of their lives together complementing one another’s strengths and weaknesses. They were one; they were one flesh in the deepest and fullest sense of that truth.

5. GOD’S DEFINITION OF MARRIAGE.

So we have come to God’s definition of marriage: “Marriage is the lifelong union between a man and a woman whereby they become one flesh, and, as such, they express the image of God in their lives.” That is it. That is what the church tells the world. The children in our schools are given a very different definition which must be wide enough to cover any kind of relationship between two men, or two women, or temporary live-in members of the opposite sex. This Christian definition seems to come from another planet: “Marriage is the lifelong union between a man and a woman whereby they become one flesh, and, as such, they express the image of God in their lives.” Well, it probably sounds as if it is from another planet because it’s a divine revelation. The one who made marriage explains marriage in that way in the Bible. The Lord Jesus make that definition very clear when his listening disciples have been mulling over all they have heard. “When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery'” (vv. 11&12). You cannot avoid what he is saying. Christ wasn’t being legalistic, but all of us have to make spiritual and moral judgments in this realm. It is important for congregational decisions and for the discernment necessary in the officers of the church who do not want to grieve the Spirit of Christ, to know what the Bible teaches. It is important that there be harmony between pulpit and pew on this issue. And for the mere disciple whose conscience is sensitive to the Word and the Spirit, it is of greatest importance that he or she knows what is right or wrong. If we ministers are silent on these areas there is no doubt that the standards of the world will become the standards of the Lord’s people

What of the view that when a man or woman becomes a Christian then he or she has a fresh start, and the past marital problems involving divorce are covered by the atonement of Christ? Is it true that that old life was lived in ignorance without the aid of the Spirit or the truth – just as Paul viewed his former persecuting activity as being done “ignorantly in unbelief” (I Tim. 1:13)? Is all that a ‘clean slate’ in the eyes of God? We need to clarify that tender point. Let us affirm our conviction, that our past sins are fully and freely pardoned through the merits of Christ’s blood, but let us add that the earthly consequences of these sins often remain and must be endured. For example, the thief must restore what he has stolen and be prepared to suffer the punishment due to his crimes; the debtor must pay his debts. It will not do to say, “You once left your wife and children but Calvary covers it all, and so marry whoever you choose in Christ.” It is probable that if your former wife has remarried then you may indeed be free to marry. Certainly your conscience is not to be burdened in situations where nothing you can do can make things right. Christians all covet a good conscience, but sometimes we have to endure an uncertainty in these areas, and the best of men will not be united in knowing what most honours God. There are situations which cannot be sorted out on earth. There are marital problems that cannot be undone. Where there is faith and repentance there is forgiveness in Christ and then strength sought from God to bear the earthly consequences of our past follies and cruelties. All this makes us long for the marriage supper of the Lamb and the sight and presence of our eternal Husband, Christ.

This would be a wonderful country if many more people thought and acted in the light of the New Testament. Not until a great awakening of trust in Jesus Christ comes about would we see this national change of heart towards the Bible’s teaching on marriage. We have been speaking about the Christian view of marriage, and to live in this way you need to become partakers of the divine nature. Do you see the problem that is hinted at in this discussion of marriage in the Bible? In the Old Testament this high view of marriage was scuppered on the rock of the hardness of men’s hearts. Old Testament believers knew that their marriages ought to have been lived out as God had made plain in Genesis one and two, but those people were sinners who loved the world and the things of the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, and so many of them divorced their wives quickly and without any fear of God. Many of the most famous men of the Old Testament were bigamists.

There is a startling change in the New Testament. Elders in a church must be the husbands on one wife. Something has happened to hard hearts. In what the Lord Jesus has come to do, and in what he says in the gospels, there is a cure for a hard heart. The King has come and he can take away hearts of stone and he can replace them with hearts of flesh, hearts that will love their wives as their own bodies. It is no burden to such a man to be joined to a woman in riches and in poverty, in sickness and in health until death parts them. Christ has poured out his Spirit on the Christian husband and wife; they have the resources of the divine energy. Millions of Christians have found grace to be faithful to their marriage vows, often under great stress. They have found the way not only of survival but of celebration of the one flesh.

6 A WORD TO THOSE IN VARIOUS STATES OF MARRIAGE.

Let me say a word to those of you whose marriage is on the rocks and who are far away from what we have been talking about today. I urge you to turn to Jesus. Confess you sins, and ask Jesus to be the Lord of your life. Surrender to him. Stop living in rebellion against him. Believe in him, and begin to obey him. Marriage renewal begins with spiritual renewal. The power we need in order to renew our marriages comes first when we understand what marriage is all about, that it was designed by the living God. This God can work by his Holy Spirit in our hearts, and this is where marriage redemption begins, with us entrusting ourselves to the Lord Jesus Christ. Now I don’t believe that marriage renewal can be picked up in a Damascus Road experience. I don’t think that you get it in Holy Spirit baptism. Renewal comes through all the means of grace, as, year after year, the Word and Spirit work effectually in the Christian. Renewal also comes through the influence over us of older Christians who have gone this road before us. We watch them, and we wonder and praise God, and we are encouraged to go on.

Let me say a word to you who are married and who believe in Christ, that you must begin to look at your life partners in the light of the Bible’s teaching. As Joel Nederhood says, “When I look at my wife, I am not just looking at somebody else, but I am looking at myself, for our persons are intertwined to the point where we together enable each other to live as image bearers of God. And she must look at me the same way. Possibly you are saying, ‘This is nonsense; no one can look at another person that way.’ Well, ordinarily we never look at other people that way; everyone else is objective, everybody else is ‘somebody else’ – but not your wife, nor your husband. When you are married, you are one flesh. You are one, and in the light of the Bible, it is possible to see this.” (ibid)

Have you noticed this, in all I have said thus far, I haven’t talked much about love? Isn’t that strange? Usually, when we talk about marriage, we talk about love first of all. But that isn’t the way the Bible talks about marriage. It talks about the marriage union as something which may be occasioned by love but which, in essence, is something that goes beyond affection. The commitment, the loyalty, the faithfulness, the oneness are so basic and fundamental in marriage that when we do speak of love in marriage, we are practically speaking about loving ourselves. And that’s what the apostle said: “He who loves his wife, loves himself.”

Life is very short. And it’s important that we make as few mistakes as possible during our journey. If you don’t want to make a mistake with your marriage, look at it in the light of the Bible and live within it in terms of the way the Bible describes it. Marriage is a great adventure. It presents opportunities for self-fulfilment that are without parallel; no other social arrangement even comes close. It is so awesome that those of us who are happily married can only marvel that we have received this priceless gift. I urge you to think about marriage in biblical terms and to live in the marriage bond the way God wants you to.

13th June 2004 GEOFF THOMAS