WHAT IF MARRIAGE IS NOT REALISTIC?


The Pharisees wanted divorce to be justifiable—the right thing to do because you were not satisfied. Jesus says that divorce is a concession, allowed because it validates the reality of a hardened heart. 

If you are divorced and successfully remarried, you know that you had to deal with forgiveness before you could move on.

You cannot understand divorce without seeing that one heart or the other had grown hard. Tenderheartedness may exist in one of the partners, but not both. This is not just about having one bad relationship that you need to terminate. The context of Matthew 19 covers a broader circle of relationships and outcomes.


The hardhearted person who cannot forgive or live in proper relation to others in Christ's body will also despise weaker people in society-- in Jesus' day, these included wives and children. By contrast, Jesus, who is not hardhearted, remains unimpressed by worldly status. When we hold grudges against a genuinely repentant spouse and remain hardhearted toward her or him-whether or not we officially cast the person away-we hinder our own communication with God and ultimately can invite our own damnation. It is thus no coincidence that in Matthew Jesus' teaching on marital commitment directly follows his teaching on forgiveness just as in Mark it follows a discussion of sinning against a "little one".[i]


As the disciples listen to Jesus teach about marriage and divorce, they weigh his words in their cultural context. Marriage was to be arranged by parents, and Jesus was getting rid of their escape plan. If she does not satisfy, perhaps the Law will allow them to divorce. Jesus is not making it that easy.


Matthew 19:
10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”
11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”


To marry without the possibility of divorce in a painful marriage seemed worse than not marrying at all! Responding to this objection, Jesus replied that some would indeed be better off not marrying; perhaps because of the intensity of their calling, it would be difficult for them to find a compatible spouse who would share their commitment (this is not only an ancient situation).[ii]

Jesus acknowledges that not everyone can accept this idea of being celibate as a gift from God. That raises the question to a personal level. If you are not married, can you accept celibacy as a gift from God? If you cannot, Jesus knows. I wonder how many are willing to even entertain the idea of being celibate?

Many would say that sexual drives are so strong that it is unrealistic to expect anyone to do that. It is largely unacceptable and a standard that is hard to impose and enforce.

Eunuchs were males who were castrated before puberty with resulting hormonal consequences. They were not sexual. This abuse was performed to create servants that could be trusted to not get in trouble sexually with the master’s household. Less commonly, a eunuch could be a man who was impotent or not at all interested in marriage and sexual intercourse.  

Jewish practice was to discriminate against eunuchs who were not manning up to their responsibility to marry and have children. There are Old Testament passages that speak of God giving special honour in His house to eunuchs who will follow his ways.

The eunuch gives us a model to consider in modern times. While deliberate castration is rare, who is discriminated against on the basis of not being sexually legitimate in the culture of faith? Could it be that God has a special honour in his house still for sexual castaways who are willing to receive the gift of celibacy? In what way might you feel sexually inadequate and ashamed of disclosure in the house of faith? Jesus offers the odd one out a way to turn their distinction into a chosen living for God’s Kingdom.

Jesus said many could not accept this. But, the one can accept it should.

A metaphor of such shame and sacrifice testifies to the value of the kingdom of God for which anyone would pay such a price.[iii]

As we deal with sexual brokenness in people, we would do well to err on the side of grace. Jesus demonstrated mercy to the sexual castaways of his day—the Samaritan woman will multiple failed marriages, the woman caught in adultery, the eunuchs, his own unmarried status… always merciful… Not condemning… redemptive.

Is that our story and is that our message? The New Testament church was filled with people with messy, sexual histories. Our church is filled with the same kind of histories. But, the gospel speaks deeply to the broken soul.


1 Corinthians 6:
11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.





[i] The IVP New Testament Commentary
[ii] The IVP New Testament Commentary
[iii] The IVP New Testament Commentary

Comments

Anonymous said…
Wow, remember you preaching of this last Saturday...*~Its a very intense topic to ponder & understand...*~I myself considered becoming a nun years ago...*~Yet my passion for music & this industry sucked me in...* Having stayed celibate for the entirety of my life outside of an assault...*well we never really want what we've never derived pleasure from...'Depression assisted with this throughout the majority of my life...~It being both a blessing & a challenge...* It was the catalyst which propelled me...drew me nearer to Christ...*~Amen&Amen...! Having been saved 3.5 yrs ago has reshaped my heart, mind,soul and perspective re:life...* «God has A Mighty Plan for each & everyone of us...!*~Ptl! ;)
Anonymous said…
A compassionate post, and as usual, Kevin, you show your good heart for people.

But having said that, I have to ask: surely you're not saying that someone whose life circumstances dictate celibacy are being given a "gift of celibacy" are you? It seems to me a "gift of celibacy" is an ability and DESIRE to be single. Life may deal the cards, for example, for a woman in such a way that she is not attractive enough that a man ever gives her the time of day, and so she never is chosen to be someone's wife; but you aren't calling this a gift of celibacy are you? It's a celibate condition, and God walks us through such things, to be sure.

Is someone who is divorced supposed to see himself or herself as having this new gift of celibacy? Is that like someone who lost their spouse to cancer is supposed to see their widowhood as a gift?

Maybe if you respond to this it will give me a better idea of where you're coming from on it. Thanks.
Anonymous said…
A compassionate post, and as usual, Kevin, you show your good heart for people.

But having said that, I have to ask: surely you're not saying that someone whose life circumstances dictate celibacy are being given a "gift of celibacy" are you? It seems to me a "gift of celibacy" is an ability and DESIRE to be single. Life may deal the cards, for example, for a woman in such a way that she is not attractive enough that a man ever gives her the time of day, and so she never is chosen to be someone's wife; but you aren't calling this a gift of celibacy are you? It's a celibate condition, and God walks us through such things, to be sure.

Is someone who is divorced supposed to see himself or herself as having this new gift of celibacy? Is that like someone who lost their spouse to cancer is supposed to see their widowhood as a gift?

Maybe if you respond to this it will give me a better idea of where you're coming from on it. Thanks.
Kevin Rogers said…
Hello Anonymous

Great questions. I think the key to celibacy lies in Jesus' words when he said, "Not everyone can receive this word."

For the single person (unmarried, widowed, divorced) a key question is, "Can I receive this gift of celibacy?"

While it is the plan of God (original intention) that a man and woman be joined for life, there is also the gift of celibacy. Both are ideal for the follower of Jesus.

Paul also said it is better to marry than to burn with desire, but he wished that more could receive the gift of celibacy that he experienced.

Paul also talks about "'whatever state you find yourself in, learn to be content."

In your example of a woman who feels unattractive and has no prospects, she has a choice between self-doubt or contentment. God's desire would be to give her a husband or empower her as a single.

Most people that divorce have to decide whether or not to marry again. Each follower of Jesus should examine the Scriptures on the matter and come to a clear conscience about what they will do.They, their potential partner and their family circle are the ones who live with the choices they make.

While I personally believe a person can successfully remarry, I believe it is essential that the gift of celibacy be seriously considered. Jesus said not everyone could receive it. How would they know unless the gift were seriously offered and they had to decide?

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