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  • Writer's pictureRobert Phillips

Marriage & Commitment

If the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart, then one of the goals Jesus had in His sermon was to reframe issues of righteousness that are merely treated with an external focus. To understand what and why Jesus was trying to accomplish, we have to understand his audience.

  • Audience 1: the Pharisees had abused the law for personal gain.

  • Audience 2: the common worshipers who had been victimized by the pharisees poor interpretation of the law.

There is a progression in Christ’s teachings that is intentional: Anger, Lust, Divorce, an inability to do right, conflict, and creating enemies. It’s almost as if Jesus is walking us down the land slide before He starts climbing the slope again into charity and prayer and fasting.

The "Out Clause"

In Matthew 5:31–32, Jesus says,

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."

I have learned that a blanket teaching on divorce will be insensitive to individual contexts. I’m not cowering from this teaching, and I am most certainly willing to speak individually with concerned parties. My intent is to stay on the fairway and avoid the weeds. This passage was not meant to deal with every difficult marriage situation. This passage was meant to deal with the hypocrisy of a selfish attitude in marriage.

Jesus pointed out the Pharasaical "out clause" of His day. "What you have heard: divorce is unfortunate but acceptable." To paraphrase this message to the Pharisees: If you think you are avoiding adulterous behaviors by divorcing your wife to find something better, you are mistaken about your behavior. Jesus says something similar in Matthew 19:3–9:

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

The Pharisees were masters at finding a way to use the law to their advantage. The Pharisees had worked hard to reinterpret Deuteronomy 24:1-4, which stated that only adultery already committed released one from marriage vows. Wayne Grudem points out in his book on Divorce and Remarriage that “[Jesus] is directly contradicting the viewpoints promoted by followers of the rabbinic school of Hillel and the followers of Akiba, because 'the school of Hillel say…[he may divorce her] even if she spoiled a dish for him…Rabbi Akiba says, [he may divorce her] even if he found another fairer than she' (Mishnah, Gittin 9:10)" (Grudem, 26). The Pharisees were looking for ways to get out of their unhappy marriage situations, and Jesus was making the point that marriage was never about one’s personal happiness. From the beginning it was about a picture of God’s faithfulness and love.

Marriage Matters

The heart of the matter: marriage matters.

Why is marriage important? Because it represents the faithfulness of Christ! Marriage is loving the best in a person, but it is committing to the worst in a person, because that is the model of Christ in His marriage to us. We naturally cling to what we love, we chose to marry what we despise. That is why marriage involves commitment vows!

Allow me to illustrate with a visual. For decades I have used this illustration with young couples seeking to get married, and it represents the different layers and phases we experience in marriage. The top layer is romance, and just as the pinnacle of a pyramid is what seems to catch our eye, so romance tends to be the most exciting layer and phase of marriage. But just as the pinnacle is the first portion of a pyramid to erode, so romance tends to be short-lived in a marriage as the sands of time beat and blow against marriage. When romance has eroded, the pyramid is still rather majestic and beautiful if friendship is intact. There is still much to appreciate and admire, but time and stress can erode this layer as well. The pyramid still offers much to appreciate when there is active partnership, and there is still much to be accomplished, although it may not be as fun or beautiful. When the top three layers have eroded, for a marriage not built on Biblical, or at least moral commitment to vows, the marriage is usually done and disposed of. But if the commitment remains, the goal of marriage is to rebuild the pyramid one layer at a time.

The couple must look for ways to partner and work together of a common cause or goal. Over time this partnership can become amiable and result in a rebuilt friendship. If the friendship is strengthened, it can result again in romance, although that romance may look different from the early stages of the marriage. The true goal of marriage is to continue to rebuild each layer one layer at a time, again and again. Why? Because God wants every layer of the pyramid with us, and our marriages reflect our relationship with Him! God wants beautiful intimacy with us, and pursues us with love. The Bible says Jesus is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. The Holy Spirit partners with us and aids us in our sanctification. God is committed to us with His faithful covenantal love (His Hesed).

This is why Paul speaks about marriage being a metaphor for Christ and the church! He says in Ephesians 5:29–33:

"For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband."

The Words “nourish” and “cherish” here are important words. The idea of "cherishing" in the original Greek carries the idea of "keeping warm". Christ nourishes us and keeps us warm with His love. We are a struggling bride, Christ is a faithful husband.

Marriage is loving the best in a person, but it is committing to the worst in a person.

Incapable Of Commitment

The Pharisees were looking for a way out of commitment to the women they were married to thinking that they could find someone to make them happier. Essentially, they were avoiding a life-long commitment thinking they would be happier with another life-long commitment. Just like the Pharisees, we really have an odd view of marriage today. We have made it all about being happy, but we don’t often think about the reality of where marriage ends. 44% of marriages end in divorce, but that means 56% of marriages don’t! How do those marriages end? Death rather than divorce! What this means is that marriage will cost us something no matter what, because even though marriage can offer wonderful years of joy, ultimately it is about committing to stick with someone knowing that it will be painful at some point down the line! And isn’t that what Jesus did in His commitment to us? He endured the ultimate pain in His commitment to have us as His bride!

The Pharisees, and society today, are incapable of committing to what might not pay off with personal happiness. This is why we don’t even get married today. We just create a relationship where we can live together, have sex, and abandon the relationship with no strings attached. Jesus, in contrast, wanted to show that the Pharisees were incapable of measuring up to their commitments, even if they wanted to keep them (hence the word usage of “again” or “also” in the next teaching on keeping our commitments.) Matthew 5:33–37 continues:

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil."

What you have heard: keep your promises religiously. The heart of the matter: in humility, recognize your propensity to fail, and seek the Lord’s strength to be faithful.

We are a struggling bride, Christ is a faithful husband.

Where is the Gospel here? Jesus said what he meant, and he meant what he said. Jesus is everything we struggle to be. There is so much hope in the words of Hebrews 4:14-16:

"Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."


Grudem, W. A. (2021). What The Bible Says About Divorce And Remarriage. Crossway.

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