KNU International English Church
September 21, 2008
Nothing is more beautiful than a beautiful wedding. Two people love each other and commit to live in whole-hearted love for each other.
When Sarah and I are renting a movie, Sarah always looks for the love stories. And what always attracts her most is a story that has a wedding. She loves watching weddings.
Sarah and I have been married 7 years, 6 months and 3 days. September 18 is our half-versary. I know that’s kind of cheesy, but we like to celebrate. We write it on the calendar; we look at each other with a special smile, and I buy her flowers. It helps us remember all of the love and commitment and dreams of our wedding day.
Will you have this man to be your wedded husband, to live together according to God’s plan in holy matrimony? Do you commit to love him, comfort him, honor him, cherish him, and care for him in sickness and in health; and forsaking all others, keep yourself only for him, so long as you both shall live?
I, so-and-so, take you, so-and-so, to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better – for worse, for richer – for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy plan. In this way, I pledge you my faith.
When I was performing Mark and Naomi’s wedding, Emma was about 3 years old. When I got to this part, Emma said out loud, “No matter what!”
When people get married, they expect it to last forever, no matter what. They expect to stay together, through thick and thin, through problems and crises of life. They expect their love to be enough to carry them through.
But the honeymoon beauty of a marriage doesn’t last forever. There is always conflict. There are not many guarantees in life, but there is one certain, 100%, fail-proof guarantee: If you get married, you will have conflict. There will be times when being married will be hard.
When the problems mount, when conflicts go unresolved, when the love tanks are empty, when betrayal breaks your heart, when people get tired of fighting, tired of wishing for more and getting less … then many people start to say the “D” word.
It starts with a quiet thought on a lonely day. Then, maybe there’s a conversation with a friend, “Maybe it’s time to end this.” And, finally, it comes out in a fight, “I want a divorce.”
In ancient times, women were like property or slaves. If a man grew tired of his wife, he could just kick her out of the house. She was often forced to choose between starvation and prostitution.
Moses put some limits on this mistreatment: “Suppose a man marries a woman but she does not please him. Having discovered something wrong with her, he writes her a letter of divorce, hands it to her, and sends her away from his house” (Deuteronomy 24:1). At least, this gave the woman rights to remarry and avoid prostitution, and it forced the man to take the time to think about it long enough to go to a scribe and get something written down.
However, Jews began to wonder what exactly this verse permitted. What does it mean not to “please him”? What does “something wrong” mean? Jewish teachers basically divided into two groups on these questions.
One group said that the Hebrew word “something indecent” could only mean a sexual sin. This group said that a man could only divorce a woman if she was caught in adultery.
Another group took a much more liberal view. They said that a man could divorce his wife if she displeased him in any way. If she was a bad cook, or even if he found another woman who was more beautiful, he could send her away with a letter of divorce. This view was more popular among the men!
The Pharisees came to Jesus with this hot-topic issue. Listen to the story in Matthew 19:1-12.
The Pharisees want to know where Jesus stands on divorce, but Jesus answers by explaining marriage. Jesus says, “You guys are looking at this all wrong. You’re wondering what it takes to get out of a marriage. That’s backwards. The real point is what happens in a marriage.”
Then, Jesus goes back to the very beginning of the Bible, by quoting two lines from Genesis. To really get what he’s saying, we need to read those passages in context. First, let’s read. Genesis 1:26-28.
The first thing to notice here is that God says, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like ourselves.” From the beginning God was community. God was loving Trinity. Relationship is within the heart of God.
Second, humans – as male and female – are made in the image of God. The interaction between husband and wife demonstrates in a real way the life and heart of God.
Third, humans participate with God in creative management of the world. They are to make babies and take care of the earth. Both male and female are needed for this God-like creative leadership.
OK, now let’s read the second passage from Genesis 2:7-8, 18-25.
Verse 18 reads, “Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.’” However, “helper” is probably a bad translation. It implies inferiority or less power or less worth. This word “helper” is usually used of God. God is the helper when he rescues his people out of trouble. Joseph Coleson, one of my seminary professors says a better translation of the total phrase is: “a power like him, facing him as equal.” She is “bone from my bone and flesh from my flesh” (Genesis 2:23) “She is just like me, made from the same stuff I am. She is my equal.” (This should make up for the quarrelsome wife crack last week.)
Jesus quotes verse 24: “This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are one.” This is a counter-cultural statement. In ancient culture, the wife belonged to the husband’s family. She was a servant and child-producer in the husband’s family. But the Bible teaches a different plan. Husband and wife are equal, and when they marry they are united into one. They are a new family together. They are the image of God together, male and female, sharing mutual love and support.
So Jesus says, “Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together” (Matthew 19:6). Marriage is not just a human arrangement. When two people are married, God fuses them together as a representation of his character to the world.
The basic goal of marriage is for two people to join God in mutual love and creative power. They love and support each other. They give pleasure to each other. They make each other stronger to do the work of God in the world.
But the Pharisees are not content. They bring up Moses again: “But Moses said we could get a divorce as long as we do the proper paper work” (Mt. 19:7). Jesus said, “Aghh, Men! You are thick-headed and hardhearted. Moses was just trying to keep you from abusing women by kicking them out without papers. That’s not what God wanted originally. If you toss your wife out and get a new one, you’re committing adultery unless the marriage covenant is already broken because of her adultery.”
At this point, the disciples say, “If marriage is that hard to get out of, it’s better to not even marry!” Again, Men!
Jesus turns this into a teaching moment. “Actually it is best for some people not to get married. It gives them more freedom to work for the Kingdom of God.” This is a shot out to all the single people out there. Don’t feel bad about being single. You don’t have to get married to be a good Christian. Singlehood worked out pretty well for Jesus.
Paul explains more about singlehood, marriage, and divorce in 1 Corinthians 7:1-16, 32-35.
So, on the question of singlehood or marriage, Paul says, “Do whatever will help you serve the Lord best” (1 Cor. 7:35). Either way, the goal is to join God in creative work in the world. Parents, don’t push your kids to get married. Just encourage them to join God’s work in the world.
In terms of marriage, Paul affirms basic equality here. The wife belongs to the husband, but the husband also belongs to the wife (7:3-4). They live in mutual submission and mutual support.
For divorce, Paul carries forward Jesus’ basic rule, “A wife must not leave her husband … and a husband must not leave his wife” (7:10-11). But Paul adds another provision. “If the husband or wife who isn’t a believer insists on leaving, let them go” (7:15). It seems like Paul is saying, Christians should not initiate divorce. In fact, Christians should always work toward reconciliation. However, if the other spouse is dead set on getting a divorce, even after you’ve done all you can to reconcile, then it’s OK to let the marriage end.
But Paul quietly points out another option between marriage and divorce: long-term separation: “A wife must not leave her husband. But if she does leave him, let her remain single or else be reconciled to him” (7:10-11). There may be times when the couple can no longer live together, usually because of some kind of abuse. In these cases, a middle ground is long-term separation. Before giving up on the marriage, they take time apart to seriously work on their individual and mutual problems that make it so difficult to live together.
There’s another important point here. Paul does not cast shame on people who get divorces. He doesn’t kick them out of the church. He doesn’t say they are bad people. As Christians, we ought to do all we can to prevent divorce AND all we can to support divorced people. Divorce is hell! Maybe it was a bad choice. Maybe it was their only choice. Either way, it’s done now. There’s no going back. People who have been through a divorce don’t need us to shake our fingers at them. They need us to love them and help them heal.
To sum this up, the basic point is that God intends marriage to be a beautiful, permanent blessing to the couple and to the world around them. Divorce is never part of the plan. Christians should always patiently work toward reconciliation. However, in a few limited circumstances, divorce may be the best choice available.
I think we all agree that we’d rather avoid divorce, so here are three basic divorce preventatives.
1. A great marriage. “The best defense is a good offense.” The best way to prevent divorce is to maintain a great marriage. Spend time together. Take care of each other. Celebrate each other. Keep those love tanks full. Read books about marriage and romance together, maybe one a year. (Look in your bulletin for some recommendations.)
And let me just be honest here. Have good sex together, and do it on a regular basis. That’s great for a marriage! (All the married men are going, “You heard the pastor.”) Honestly, though, not having sex is very bad for a marriage, and it’s usually a sign that something else is wrong.
2. Get counseling. If you plan to get married some time in the future, make sure you get premarital counseling. It won’t solve all your problems, but it will help you enter marriage with more awareness of what the problems will be and how to work on them together.
If your marriage is struggling, don’t ignore it. Don’t wait until you’re desperate. Get help. Come talk to me. Call up the KNU Counseling Center. If you can’t afford it, our church will pay half the expenses. There’s no shame in going to a doctor when you’re sick. There’s no shame in calling a plumber when you’re toilet is stopped up. There is no shame in getting counseling. Sometimes we just need outside help.
3. Long-term separation. Many divorces could be prevented simply by slowing down. If you or someone you know is ready to call it quits and get a divorce, a long-term separation is probably a better choice. Simply living alone is often enough to convince people to try again. Never get a divorce with out trying this middle step first.
Most of you have met my parents, but most of you don’t know most of their story. My parents were married for 40 years, and about 9 or 10 of those were happy years. I’m not kidding. Their marriage started falling apart 6 months after their honeymoon. My dad was working, going to university, and pastoring a church. Throughout most of his life he was a workaholic, and he had secret addiction on top of that. My mom had her own issues as well.
By the time I came around, my parents had been fighting for so long that they were both bitter and not very nice to each other. I grew up seeing and hearing some really ugly stuff. They lived on the edge of divorce for decades.
While I was in university, my mom filed for divorce. My dad moved out. He joined a 12-step program, and God began to heal and transform him. Then, they started going to a new counselor together. God used the combination of separation, a 12-step program, and counseling to completely transform their marriage. They decided to reconcile and went to Paris on a second honeymoon. The last 8 years of their marriage were by far the happiest. There is always hope. No marriage is beyond hope. God can raise the dead. I have seen it in my family.
So, I’ve been thinking … maybe there is something more beautiful than a beautiful wedding. Lots of people have beautiful weddings and ugly divorces. Maybe the most beautiful thing is a beautiful marriage, a marriage that survives the tests of time and conflict, a marriage that shows God’s love and grace to the world. Yep, that’s it. Nothing is more beautiful than a beautiful marriage.