Matthewby Mike Raiter
Having spent most of His time ministering in Galilee, Jesus now moves south into Judea. This journey will culminate in His death, as the hostility of the Jewish leaders intensifies. Here they test Him with the thorny question of divorce. Unlike today, when either the husband or wife can initiate divorce proceedings, in ancient Israel a man could simply terminate a marriage, often leaving the wife destitute.
Jesus responds by taking them back to Genesis 2 and God's original plan for marriage. From the beginning, marriage was to be a lifelong, exclusive relationship between a man and a woman. This is still the abiding will of God.
Moses, knowing human sinfulness and weakness, permitted divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). Some interpreted this concession strictly, allowing divorce only for serious sexual misconduct, but the majority had broadened the concession so that a man could end a marriage on almost any whim (v. 3). However, Jesus says that this concession was in no way intended to undermine God's perfect will for marriage (vv. 4-8). While unfaithfulness breaks the marriage bond and is grounds for divorce (v. 9)-although, as Jesus has just pointed out, even there we should be willing to forgive (Matthew 18:21ff)-Jesus highlights the permanence of marriage, and calls on His disciples to commit to God's original will and design for it.
The disciples, who have been raised in a context of ″easy divorce″, recoil at Jesus' words (v. 10). Would it not, they reason, be better not to marry? (v. 10). Jesus concedes that some are called to celibacy, but marriage is still the norm, and therefore faithfulness is still God's will for marriage.
Few things are more important than making every effort to keep our marriages pure and loving. In her book, How the West Really Lost God, Mary Eberstadt argues that the decline in the family over the last generation, particularly in the West, has fuelled the decline in religious faith. Numerous surveys have demonstrated that when you weaken marriage and the family, one of the many harmful consequences is weakened faith in God. Furthermore, stable, loving marriages are the healthiest environment for raising children, and they also honour God. As Paul says, a faithful marriage testifies to the greater truth of God's unfailing commitment to His people (Ephesians 5:22-32).
What are the pressures placed on marriages today?
What can the church do to help strengthen the marriages of its members?