By Ron Halbrook
Christ’s basic law on marriage is just not that hard to understand! We realize some difficult questions arise regarding complicated circumstances into which men get themselves; even here, a safe course can always be found. “The practice of divorce was an ancient and traditional custom, which Moses limited by insisting on a definite motive, and on a regular bill of divorce” (John Peter Lange, Matthew [Philip Schaff, trans. and ed.], p. 115). In contrast to the “writing of divorcement” allowed by God through Moses, Jesus said, “But I say unto you . . . … God’s law under Moses required death for adultery, but allowed a man to give his wife “a writing of divorcement” if she was guilty of some other shameful or offensive thing. Christ revoked the latter permission, made marriage a lifetime bond, and allowed divorce only on grounds of sexual immorality (Matt. 5:31-32; 19:3-9; Mk. 10:11; Lk. 16:18).
Men seem obsessed with finding loopholes in the marriage law given by Christ. The theories are as numerous as the flies on a watermelon rind at a roadside park on a hot, August day. On the other hand, a few brethren have overreacted in their effort to counter the theories which broaden Christ’s law. They want His law to be even stricter. In view of all this ferment, we ask, “What shall we do with Christ’s law on marriage?”
Shall we bend it to modern times? “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men?” Paul said he was “a bond-servant of Christ” and therefore he did not preach a message which was “according to man. I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:9-12). He warned the Romans against being “conformed to this world” or “age.” Instead of trying to change the will of Christ, they were to be “transformed” or changed by it (Rom. 12:1-2).
Tighten it or loosen it? Jesus defined the extent of His authority when He said, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18). He also explained that He would exercise His authority from the Father’s right hand through the Apostles, when He said, “Truly I say to you, whatever you shall bind on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” (Matt. 18:18; NASB). Men have tried to loosen the requirements of Christ (I Jn. 2:4; Rom. 6: 1) and to tighten those requirements (1 Tim. 4:3). Either way, men break out of and proceed outside the boundary of Christ’s law – they “have not God” (2 Jn. 9).
Alfred Plummer in his commentary on Matthew tries to make the law of Christ tighter than it is by eliminating the part of his law dealing with divorce and remarriage. He understands what Matthew reported Christ as teaching, but he tries to erase it! Speaking of Matthew 5:32, he says, “According to this passage, Christ said. . . . nothing short of adultery justified divorce, but adultery did justify it. It is very improbable that Christ did teach this. If we want His true teaching we must go to Mark and Luke. . . .” He says someone added the words “except for fornication” in Matthew 19, and that “saving for the cause of fornication” in Matthew 5 was not “part of the original Sermon” (pp. 81-82, 259-260). In other words, he just subtracts the part that does not fit according to his own thinking.
Allow elders or preachers to set it aside? Some who are in adulterous unions or wish to enter such sinful relationships seem to think that if they can just find a preacher or elder to approve, all will be well! So they go from preacher to preacher and elder to elder until… sure enough, they find one who says, “Yes, I think in your case, it will be all right.” Sometimes Such parties lie to a preacher in order to get him to “say a ceremony,” apparently thinking if they fool the preacher they have fooled God. They seem to think it works like this: What man hath joined together, God must recognize. The truth is that when they are bound to an original mate by God’s law, no man on earth can unjoin them and rejoin them to new mates. The law of God stands no matter how many “magic formulas” some ungodly preacher mutters in a ceremony. “Fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Heb. 13:3).
Allow it to drive people away? Yes, if God’s law on marriage “runs people off,” then so be it – we cannot change God’s law! ‘ In Luke 16:1-18, Jesus uses His law on marriage as an example of something the Pharisees would not be willing to obey. This law would be a barrier to them entering “the kingdom of God.” But Christ did not change His law “to attract them” or “to keep them, and then maybe we can help them later.” The same message that converted 3,000 in Acts 2 turned men into raging murderers in Acts 7. If men do not want God’s word, God will deal with them, but He will not change His word to suit them.
Change it. to suit “needs” of family or friends? The changes some seek in the strictness of Christ’s law just “happen to fit” the “needs” of someone in their family, a friend ‘ or themselves! No matter how much we claim to love our family and friends, we cannot change God’s law for them. Their true need is to submit to Christ’s teaching, no matter what the cost; true love will do all in its power to get them to submit to Christ (1 Jn. 5:1-3). If Christ’s law offends them, we must remember Christ told us to expect this in many cases: “I came not to send peace, but a sword. . . . And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household” (Matt. 10:34ff).
Study it! The man of God delights “in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night” (Ps. 1), The noble Bereans “searched the scriptures daily,” and Paul told the young preacher Timothy, “Meditate upon these things. . . . Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine” (Acts 17:11; 1 Tim. 4:15-16). A little meditation reveals that any position which denies the application of Christ’s law on marriage to aliens is a position based on a dangerous fallacy. The false premise is that those outside the Lord’s kingdom are not held accountable for breaking the law of Christ. But that is the only law God has put into effect today. If the unconverted are not held responsible or guilty for breaking it, then they are as perfectly innocent as new-born babes. If the unconverted are “sinners,” then they have transgressed “the law” – the law of Christ, the only divine law in effect during the Gospel Age (1 Jn. 3:4; Gal. 6:2).
A little meditation reveals that those people who claim there is no scriptural basis for divorce and remarriage base their argument on a false premise. They claim Christ allowed divorce and remarriage in His recorded statements, but that in so doing He was only explaining the law of Moses. Such a claim overlooks the preparatory work of Christ in laying down principles in preparation for His kingdom. Also, those who make the argument need to study Moses’ law. That law required death for the adulteress, not “a writing of divorcement” with guarantee of the right of remarriage! God’s law under Moses allowed divorce for several reasons other than adultery; in contrast, the law of Christ allows divorce and remarriage only on the grounds of adultery or sexual immorality.
Obey it! No matter what the cost, we must submit to the law of Christ. “He that findeth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” (Matt. 10:39). We shall all be “judged by the law of liberty” – the law of King Christ. We must look “into the perfect law of liberty,” continue “therein,” and “fulfill the royal law” in order to please Christ (Jas. 1:25; 2:8f). A man who keeps “the whole law” except for his continuing in an adulterous relationship, “is guilty of all” (Jas. 2:10-11).
Teach it! Christ wants His word carried to “all nations” and to “every creature” (Matt. 28:19-20; Mk. 16:15). But before men can be converted, they must realize they are sinners – violators of the divine law of Christ (Jn. 16:8; Rom. 3:23). Many have violated Christ’s law on marriage; only when they realize they are guilty of this and other sins, will they come for cleansing in the blood. Christ’s law must constantly be taught to Christians “to stir you up by putting you in remembrance” (2 Pet. 1:13; 3:1-2). As one young lady, a Christian with serious marriage problems, recently said, “I was baptized when about 13; why were brethren not teaching more on these things then during my formative years?” All of us need reminding in a time when more husbands and wives in the church are violating the marital bond to seek the pleasures of sin for a season.
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 16, pp. 489-490
August 18, 1983