Preaching Biblical marriage in this age of secularism has become a big challenge. Are today’s preachers up for the call to preach God’s vision of marriage?
Preaching Biblical Marriage In A Secular Age
Often when you are asked in today’s situation anything about marriage, it’s not that the person wants to learn from you, they want to test you.
We have the example of Christ in his sacrificial love for the church and then we have the example of the church that submits to the lordship of Christ. We also have the blood of Christ for forgiveness and we ought to thank God for that because I think we’ll all agree that we’ve stumbled in our marriages quite a bit. We’ve not only needed our spouse’s forgiveness, we’ve needed God’s forgiveness, and it is available through the shed blood of Christ.
Topics & Timestamps
0:00 – Biblical marriage in a secular age
7:12 – A look at the Old Testament
14:45 – Marriage is God’s idea
20:41 – Jesus takes us back to basics
31:02 – A covenant bond
35:36 – The bringing forth of children
40:03 – The two shall become one
43:49 – A permanent bond
48:58 – Christ and his church
Top Quotes: Preaching Biblical Marriage
“Often when you are asked in today’s situation anything about marriage, it’s not that the person wants to learn from you, they want to test you.”
“Therefore marriage is between a man and a woman. Once upon a time that did not even need to be said.”
“The world sees two sinners living out biblical marriage. It will cause them to ask, “How can that be?” Thankfully we can point them to the cross”
Other Content On This Topic
Text: Matthew 19:3-19
Date preached: 6 January 2020
Location: Grace Ministers Conference, Johannesburg, South Africa
Biblical Marriage In A Secular Age
Turn with me to Matthew and chapter 19, Matthew chapter 19. And as you are making your way there allow me to begin by thanking the organisers of this conference for having me back after many, many years to be part of the conference, have fellowship with you. A number of you are familiar faces from a few years back. And then also to have the privilege of speaking here.
I’ve been asked to handle three topics and all the topics are related to our work as shepherds and not so much in terms of our lives. I think the other preachers are handling how we experience that in pastoral marriages and pastoral families. Mine is to talk about our work in other words how do we deal with the flock that we are shepherding in such a way that we honour God in the lives of God’s people as they live in their marriages. my very first topic as you may have noticed from the program is preaching biblical marriage in a secular age and I trust that the very way in which the topic is phrased is meant to bring out the contrast that we are living in a secular age which has its own definitions of marriage. And notice have used a plural there, there’s no real agreed definition of marriage but it is you know whatever it is you want that’s what you end up with and so forth. And that’s really the context that we live in today.
We’re coming from traditional values of marriage which are now also being thrown out together with the dirty bath water. And so the most popular view is simply that people who like each other begin to live together, when they don’t like each other they go their separate ways. It’s as simple as that. And consequently what matters the most is in terms of just making sure that there is some kind of fairness at the point at which individuals are parting. The challenge that we have is whether we as a church and we as pastors should acquiesce to that, whether we should conform to it, or whether we should stick to what the bible teaches concerning marriage. And ultimately the view that we hope to present even this evening is that it doesn’t matter what is happening and changing in our society, our community, our different nations, we are to still teach what the bible teaches concerning marriage. That’s our job. It’s to simply declare the mind of god.
Now thankfully we have an example of this and it is found for us in Matthew chapter 19 and more specifically beginning with verse 3. What we have there is a situation of a current understanding being brought face to face with a biblical understanding. And thankfully our saviour the Lord Jesus Christ stands on the side of scripture. So let’s just quickly read that and then we will look at the context, look at the content, and then conclude. So really that’s the work that we have this evening. All right so we’ll read that Matthew chapter 19 beginning with verse 3. The bible says, “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 there 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 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 said to you whoever divorces his wife except for sexual immorality and marries another commits adultery.” We’ll end our reading there.
As I said to you it’s fairly evident here that our Lord Jesus Christ is giving us something of an example that we ourselves should follow as we are labouring away in the world. He came as a saviour he came as a priest in order to offer himself as a sacrifice for sin but he also came as a prophet. He came to make known to us the mind of god. And it is that second role that we also are called into play as we proclaim what the bible says concerning marriage.
A Look At The Old Testament
So what do we learn this evening from the example of our Lord Jesus christ? First of all the context, the context. I’m sure you’re aware that the pharisees were perhaps the worst enemies of the Lord Jesus christ. They wanted him discredited they in fact wanted him dead and in the end they achieved their purpose. And so even in this text when they came with the question that is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause, the bible makes it clear in our text that it was in fact not as learners wanting to learn from him they came as individuals to put him to the test. We are told here the pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking. aAd really in posing the question they, did is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause? It is coming from what is taught by Moses in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. And I’ll quickly want us to peep there although we will not have time to open up that text. Deuteronomy 24 and the first four verses the bible says there, “When a man takes a wife and marries her if then she finds no favour in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her,” that little phrase there, “she finds no favour in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her.” Well, the story goes on. “And he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house and she departs out of his house. And if she goes and becomes another man’s wife and the latter man hates her and writes a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house or if the latter man dies who took her to be his wife, then her former husband,” that is the first husband, “who sent her away may not take her again to be his wife after she has been defiled for that is an abomination before the Lord and you shall not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.”
So it’s really this passage of scripture and the effort to understand and apply this not finding favour in the eyes of the man and also something indecent about her. We learn from scholars that there were essentially two schools of thought. One was the ShammaI school of thought that said that this had to be gross indecency. In other words something that’s very, very, very serious. Not necessarily adultery because often in those days you lost your life if you were guilty of that. But there was another school of thought the Hallel school and for them it was literally anything that you would be offended by as a man. It did not matter what it was. Someone cooked a poor meal, a wife did that and you could send her packing. Well, with these two schools of thought Jesus was being put on the spot: on which side would he fall? On the side of gross indecency or on the side of anything. They were simply putting him to the test.
And in many ways brethren you will agree with me that often when you are asked in today’s situation anything about marriage, often it’s not that the person wants to learn from you, they want to set you up they want to test you. And often especially if there’s more than one individual asking yo, you can be sure you are about to offend someone. Whichever answer you give especially when it is related to the subject of divorce and remarriage. What therefore we need to learn to do especially in a secular age as we are in right now where views are as varied as the number of people in this room, is to say, “But what is God’s mind about this?” So then were not saying, “Well I think… This is my opinion…” But we are saying, “Well according to what I have learned from the good old book this is what God says.” And that’s what we find our saviour doing.
Often when you are asked in today’s situation anything about marriage, it’s not that the person wants to learn from you, they want to test you.
Let’s go back to Matthew and chapter 19. When Jesus is asked is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause he tells us first of all in verse four, he answered, “Have you not read? Have you not read?” In other words the Lord Jesus Christ though he is God and consequently could have as it were, shot from the hips, to give a direct answer immediately simply challenges the pharisees by saying, “Well look there is what is already in writing concerning the nature of marriage. It’s already in print as it were and all we need to do at this stage is to go back to that divine reference manual in order for us to learn from there.” Now that should make our work pretty easy as pastors. If we can only learn to do that. To say, “Let’s get back to the bible. Let us study this book. What does it say?”
Marriage Is God’s Idea
And the reason is quite simple it’s the fact that marriage was not a human invention. We did not come up with it as a good idea as human beings. It is a gift of god, ours is the task of being good stewards of it. That’s all. Otherwise someone else made it and in making it he provided a user’s manual or an operator’s manual or a manufacturer’s manual, whatever phrase you might want to use. Now all of you recognise that when you buy anything that’s really an expensive gadget it normally comes with that little book that goes by one of those titles. You will notice while I’m with you here that I’m carrying quite a big camera almost the size of my own height, bit of exaggeration there. But the flash itself has a very thick manual that teaches you how to use the flash. Well, the camera itself has an even bigger manual in terms of how you are to ensure that you operate that big thing in an appropriate way. The one who made it, the company that made it has ensured that there is a book to go with it. Well, God has done the same thing concerning human life. He’s done the same thing especially concerning marriage. It is written in the good old book. We should run to it and refer to it.
The second thing that we see from our Lord is that in going back to the good old book he doesn’t go to Deuteronomy where he knew the question was coming from. He went right past all the way to the book of Genesis to answer that question. Look at the way he puts it. “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female.” And even later on when they said, “Hey but look Moses permitted us to do this.” Look at the way he answered in verse 8. 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.” In other words in order for us to rightly understand marriage, we need to go to the period before the fall because that’s where it was given. It was not a redemptive ordinance it was a creative or creation one. And therefore we are to go back there and ask the question, “Well when marriage first came out of God’s hand, as it were, as a gift to us as human beings what kind of institution was it?” And it’s important to do so because it must be defined in its own right.
Back home in Zambia we have individuals who want to appear rich but they’re not really rich, and so they end up buying you know Mercedes Benz vehicles that were probably for the 1960s or 1970s. Yes, it looks like a Mercedes Benz until you get a ride in it. And you find that as you sit there and you try to hold on to anything you’re told, “Don’t, don’t, don’t. It might come apart. Don’t hold up it like this.” And so you don’t quite enjoy the Mercedes Benz ambiance because the shocks are gone, you can’t open the windows, the air-con is gone, and so on. But they still want to say I own a Benz. Now marriage can be like that. If we get too carried away with the divorce rate and what people are saying about their bad marriage and so on and so forth, we can easily define marriage in a very unfair way. W e need to go back to that Mercedes Benz that’s coming out of the factory line with plastics still on the seats on the inside. That experience is the real Mercedes Benz.
Jesus Takes Us Back To Basics
That’s what Jesus is doing here. He says, “You’re asking me about marriage, let’s go to the factory. Let us see marriage coming out of this building where God has put it together. Let’s examine it, let’s experience it, let’s see what it really is.” Well, brethren let’s go there. Genesis and chapter two, Genesis and chapter two, the passage that was read to us a little earlier. What do we learn there? Well, first of all we see the need that God saw in verse 18 of Genesis and chapter two when he said, “Then the Lord God said it is not good that the man should be alone, I will make him a helper fit for him.” It’s fairly clear there that it was God’s idea, we’ve already touched on that. But in our teaching and preaching biblical marriage, lets emphasise it for all we know Adam was blissfully ignorant of a need that was in his life but God himself said it what we have up to this point is not good or better still it is not good enough. Let us give this person a companion but more than a companion a suitable helper. Someone with whom he will be able to fulfil the purpose that I have for him in this life. Well, we are shown in the following verses Adam doing some amount of the work that God had given him but at the end of verse 20 we are told, “But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.” In other words in the whole of creation there wasn’t a companion that would fit him in being an assistant for the purpose that God had created him. And then it was out of that that God in his own initiative, we are told in verse 21, that the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man and while he slept took one of his ribs closed up its place with flesh and the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. We are already seeing there that therefore marriage is between a man and a woman. Once upon a time that did not even need to be said.
Therefore marriage is between a man and a woman. Once upon a time that did not even need to be said.
In today’s world we need to say it with a megaphone. We need to shout loudly that that’s the way God intended it to be. He made a woman and brought her to the man. We are told that the man rejoiced and said this at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh, she shall be called woman because she was taken out of man. I don’t have all the time in the world to open that up, let me quickly run on to verse 24. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife and they shall become one flesh.” Clearly what we have there is the coming together of a man and a woman in marriage. Up to this point there was no father or mother. Adam did not have parents other than God his creator. It’s fairly obvious that this was being plugged in there in order for us to see the normal way in which marriage comes into being. In other words what we have in this verse is something that had become the norm and Moses in ensuring that this was being written would have wanted to enshrine it into permanence. That we may see that the biblical nature of marriage involves a leaving, a cleaving and one that results in becoming one flesh. And that’s what we ought to insist on as we are teaching biblical marriage.
The aspect of leaving refers to the commencement of a totally new unit. It is not an extension of a previous marriage or a previous home. There’s an actual leaving before the cleaving. Now where I come from which is back home in Zambia we are not yet at the danger of the secular age, we are more in the cultural norm. And when you emphasise what I’m emphasising here right now that there is an actual leaving, that as a man’s family you are not gaining a daughter into your family, you’re actually also losing a son, the two are starting a totally independent unit, their own government. And it doesn’t matter how powerful an uncle you might be you are going to find yourself there as a mere visitor. They get upset. In fact I recall one situation where I went to visit the home of a couple that had married and I had preached something like this, and the man’s mother was visiting. As soon as I went through their door she says, “Aha, I’ve been waiting to talk to you. I not only disagreed with what you said when you preached at my son’s wedding, I was actually very upset. Where were you when I was nursing this boy? Bringing him up? For you now to come and tell me that today I’m a mere visitor to his home.” And on and on she went. Thankfully the sun had been taught sufficiently for him to say, “It’s not just what my pastor was saying that’s also what I believe as a christian.” Which did not endear him to his mother.
But it’s an important point because remember we must be preaching biblical marriage, it doesn’t matter what context we are in. Whether it’s a cultural or secular age. And then there is the cleaving, the cleaving. And it is this cleaving that must be emphasised as a bond, a most permanent bond. It is a bond in which the man and the woman are the closest possible unit on the planet. Closer in fact than the children that God gives them when he pleases to give them children. Again that’s a matter that we often fight over in our context back home. To say to a man that yes these may be your children but there’s somebody closer to you than your children, your wife. Often the answer is, “No but she’s not my blood.” So what? There’s nothing about blood here. It is that a man shall leave his father and mother and my vision uses the phrase and hold fast, hold closely, hold tightly, hold intimately, to his wife and they become one flesh.
A Covenant Bond
This bond also refers to a covenant relationship. A covenant relationship which is absolutely exclusive. It’s not supposed to have a third person entering into it. It is a man leaving his father and mother and holding fast to his wife and not to his wives. It is between one man and one woman, that’s the biblical teaching. And in that relationship the man is the head because remember God was giving him a helper fit for him, a helper suitable for him. And then the wife comes alongside him as one who submits to his leadership as one who is a suitable helper as we have seen. Therefore if we had the time we would go into a number of passages across the bible but these are truths that we must insist on. That the man’s responsibility therefore is to love his wife with tender loving care. We’ll come to see the example of the Lord Jesus Christ a little later on, the high example. And then the wife is to support and submit to her husband’s leadership. Again we will see the example of the church in that respect. But the point I want to mention here very quickly as we proceed is the fact that it’s not a 50% to 50% ratio agreement. So you come halfway and I meet you halfway. No, the man’s love for his wife is to be 100%. whether she is giving him the support and submission he loves or not, he is to love her with tender loving care. Sacrificial love, nourishing her, cherishing her, 100%. Wives as well. You may have a husband who is tyranny walking on two feet. We must still teach the wife submission. You cannot have a two headed monster in the home, they can only be one. Yours must be one of submission.
But let’s hurry on because the becoming one flesh that we go on to notice here at the end verse 24 reminds us that it is the only legitimate context for sexual union. The one flesh may have a number of other implications such as simply being one, but as we look at it with hindsight from the new testament, it’s fairly clear that it also refers to sexual union. It is the only legitimate context. Again in today’s secular world they will say to you that’s being ultra conservative. They’ll say to you that you’re talking about something that may have been true in a bygone era but brethren we must teach it. That’s our job, we must preach it. That as the book of Hebrews puts it the marriage bed must be maintained with all its purity.
The Bringing Forth Of Children
And one of the reasons why this makes sense is because the marriage then becomes the right ambiance for the fruit of sexual union, that is children. For children to come into the world, for children to be nurtured all the way to adulthood. They need both. That masculine father figure and the feminine mother figure. That’s the norm, that’s what God the one who instituted marriage put into place in order to ensure that the coming generation is prepared in a biblical way. If we go a few verses before to chapter 1 and beginning with verse 26, we notice that marriage was part of the idea and it was in that marriage context that children were to come forth. Genesis 1 and verse 26, “Then God said let us make man in our image after our likeness and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in his own image in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them. And God blessed them and said to them be fruitful,” notice, “and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the ground.” It is in this context that children are to be brought up and turned into stewards of God’s world and unleashed upon the world so that we can say our job is done. The multiplication comes from there.
Single parenting should only be the case because a spouse has died or because divorce has taken place. It must not be by design. To simply say, “Well I’m a woman, I’m getting on in years therefore I can have a child and I will raise that child on my own.” That’s to overlook God’s picture, the design of god. Because as children grow up they must have as I said the masculine fatherly figure and the feminine motherly figure. But also you’ll notice that a lot of social misfits that end up often giving headaches to law enforcement officers, a lot of them come from broken homes. It’s already suggesting to you that someone is missing. You’re trying to raise a human being with only one hand when you are meant to have both hands to do it. I can go on the same but all I want to do here is to insist that brethren we must teach that, we must teach that because it’s the biblical norm, the biblical norm.
The Two Shall Become One
Now finally I want us to go back to Matthew 19 because what we notice from Matthew 19 after Jesus says that therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife and the two shall become one flesh, Jesus says so they are no longer two but one flesh. And then he says what therefore God has joined together let not man separate. He says they are no longer two but one. Yes, there are still two human beings with all the gifts and graces that God has imbued them with. But you see God considers two people who get married that they have now become one unit. And that’s important. They’re not just living under the same roof, sharing a common bed, and having sex, there are one entity. And it is because of that that Jesus says here what therefore God has joined together let no man separate. In other words marriage is God’s idea and he is the one who joins two people together into marriage into one.
Let me try and put it this way to you that even non-christians, their marriages bring them to become one whether it’s the world of Hindus or African culture or wherever else it might be God still considers that as a union for which there must be stewards for which he would judge them on the final day, if they mess it up. And therefore just because they do not acknowledge him as Lord and saviour, does not mean that they can be swapping wives and husbands at will. As I said earlier on it’s a creation aspect and consequently they must still live according to the way God ordained marriage to be. They have no right to simply say, “I don’t like the way your nose has become I’m quitting.” Their maker is the one who says through providence I brought you together into this institution that I have made, you have no right to break it up. Your relatives have no right to come in and break it up. It is a permanent bond.
A Permanent Bond
Allow me to quickly say this that notice Jesus went to the beginning before sin entered the world and before sin entered the world there was no death. So it’s not even as we put it in marriage vows for better or for worse, until death parts us. In the original design of marriage that last part wasn’t even there. The moment you got in the door locked behind you. There was no door to get out. In other words if Adam and Eve had never sinned and this world is a good say six thousand ten thousand for some of you maybe it’s 10 million, I don’t know, years old, well I want to assure you they would still be married. Because it’s permanent. It’s part of his definition. And that’s why Jesus says, “What therefore God has joined together let not man separate.”
In tomorrow’s session I’ll be dealing with us pastoring troubled marriages. But one of the things we should say from the very beginning is to individuals going through a troubled marriage, is to say to them, “Look in the eyes of God they actually aren’t a few doors around for you to already begin entertaining. Therefore what you should be concentrating on is how to resolve those difficulties by you as a husband loving your wife 100% and you as a wife submitting and supporting your husband’s leadership 100%.” That’s God’s definition of marriage that’s marriage as God intended it to be as it was coming off the factory line. Now as we go on to see tomorrow something happened after that sin came into the world we’ll talk about that later.
The thing I want us to do tonight is to put a full stop there or as Americans would say a period, not a comma, but a period. Because that’s what Jesus does. Do you realise that he actually stopped there? Until they said, “Hang on, hang on but what about Moses?” And then he went on to talk about this Moses thing. But in terms of marriage he actually stopped there. He simply said, “Therefore what God has put together don’t dare separate,” is that what we do?
Let me hurry on to close this is what we learn from the example of Jesus to help us today as we teach on marriage in a secular age. Let’s face it brethren it’s definitely not the secular view, it’s not. It’s not what our societal laws have legislated in our national constitutions, in the books of the laws of our nations. But let’s remember that our role as a church is to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. So we’re not supposed to be copying the world we should be leading the world. They should be learning about marriage from us and especially from us who are the preachers. We should not be an echo of the laws of the land or our cultural norms. We should be a megaphone that says this is what the bible says. Have you not read?
Christ And His Church
And thankfully for us as I already hinted we have the role model of Christ and his church for those of us who are believers. That in itself helps us to know how to deal with our marriages. We have the example of Christ in his sacrificial love for the church and then we have the example of the church that submits to the lordship of christ. May also add that we have the blood of Christ for forgiveness and we ought to thank God for that because I think we’ll all agree that we’ve stumbled in our marriages quite a bit. We’ve not only needed our spouse’s forgiveness we’ve needed God’s forgiveness and it is available through the shed blood of christ. So all of us can put our past mistakes behind us and start afresh but we also have the spirit of God to energise us. So there’s no excuse for us to say, “But that’s a high standard who can live by that?” Well, the spirit of God in our hearts should be inspiring us towards those great heights.
So we have the privilege brethren as the world sees two sinners living out biblical marriage it will cause them to ask the question, “How can that be?” And thankfully we can point them to the cross that it is in the cross that we have found forgiveness and we have found the ability in the cross. It’s not about me and my ability it is the salvation that Christ purchased on the cross. And we can say to them, “That can be yours too. Come to christ. And one place you will see that has really saved you will be what will be happening in your marriage and in your home.” May that be true as we teach biblical marriage in this same secular age, Amen. Let’s pray
The world sees two sinners living out biblical marriage. It will cause them to ask, “How can that be?” Thankfully we can point them to the cross
Our Father in heaven we thank you that your word is very clear there is no equivocations about marriage. We realise the heights from which we have fallen and we plead that you help us, especially those of us who are preachers, not only to teach this truth but to live it out as well. There are church members who look at our marriages and our family lives as examples, as a challenge to them concerning how you want us to live as your children. Father save us from succumbing to the pressure of both our cultural norms and our secular age, especially as preachers keep us faithful to the biblical picture. This we pray in Jesus name, amen.