I was asked in a marriage group a couple weeks ago to give just one piece of advice to both younger married couples and those looking forward to being married relatively soon. At the start, I wondered how I could boil everything down into one singular point, but then it hit me. I turned in my Bible and read a familiar passage to us all, yet one which is rarely seen in this light. The passage was Matthew 19:7-8 which says,
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…”
We have all read this passage probably a hundred times and we could spend an ample amount of time on the common things such as when Jesus corrected these guys on the fact that Moses never once commanded for divorce to occur, but merely allowed it to happen under certain circumstances. However, one thing that we usually read over in this passage is who is receiving the rebuke. The interesting thing is that Jesus is not, at least in this passage, rebuking the adulterous spouse. Yes, they have their issues and our Lord will never condone their actions, but He is rebuking the spouse who seeks to file divorce.
This may be hard for us to wrap our minds [and even harder for our hearts] around, but it is necessary for us to hear what Jesus is communicating and unhesitatingly apply His unconditional love in our lives towards our spouse. Many of us will get down on the world’s case for suffering and even encouraging so many divorces, but even in the “Christian” circle we do the same things. For how many of us would seek to be released from a wife or a husband who continued breaking our hearts repeatedly? We often say our love is unconditional and we may even get married in a church and recite all the Biblical vows, but I believe it is a shame to the Church of Christ that so many of us believe deep down that love has a limit.
Whether we would vocalize that statement or not, the truth is seen in the fact that so many Christian marriages end in divorce. We may not say it, but we too often believe and live in a way that will not allow another person to hurt us too many times before we take off. However, this is a problem because it is a poor reflection of our Savior and God. We are all eternally grateful that He did not just take off after being hurt so many times. We are all incredibly thankful that He still sticks around even though we continue [present tense continuous action] to rebel against Him. How often do we reject Him and fornicate our lives with idols, yet His love remains? This is the God we are called and commanded to represent appropriately and accurately to the world at large.
We serve the God who commanded His prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute and to remain faithful to her even through her unfaithfulness to him. Why? It is because marriage is to reflect God and His love for His people. Even though Gomer had affair after affair continually breaking Hosea’s heart, he remained. This is love. I admit that marriage is hard, and it would bring me to tears, and quite possibly depression, if my wife were to be found unfaithful, but I would never leave her. I would never seek to be released no matter what offense has been taken against me because how I love my wife in my pursuing of her reflects how much I am becoming more and more like my God.
If I would leave, then I would be representing God in a bad light to all people — believers and non-believers. In summary, we must always recognize that our spouse is not the problem — we are. If my wife says something to me or makes a comment which has the potential of causing an unholy reaction in me, then I must at that moment remember that the problem is not with her, but with me. The sinful reaction is not coming from her or her comment, but from my hardness of heart. Yes, my wife has her issues like all of us [though she says they are few and far between], but the Lord in this passage is challenging us personally to view our own hard heart as the reason for the possible sinful response.
So, What is the Secret to a Godly Marriage?
Repentance to God and the sacrificing of self. One author summarized it well when he wrote, “Marriage was not created for our happiness, but for our holiness.” When your spouse sins against you remember that God is working on both of your hearts as He conforms you both into the image of His Son. Remember, your spouse is not the problem. You are.