Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:31-32, Genesis 2:20-25, Malachi 2:10-16, Matthew 19:1-12, 1 Corinthians 7:10-16
Last night, my husband and I held hands as guests at a wedding. Outdoor summer weddings in the South are the epitome of idealistic thinking. As I enthusiastically fanned us both with a pink fan glued to a wooden stick, I thought about how ridiculous it was for us to be casually, affectionately holding hands at a time like this. Watching the fresh, glorious young bride and her awestruck groom make their vows in earnest to one another, I couldn’t help but think how the whole thing is just completely impossible.
We fall in love, and that love leads us to make wildly extravagant promises to each other. We promise, in our best clothes and in front of all our aunts and uncles, to “love, honor, and obey as long as we both shall live.” It is the bravest, most ridiculous promise I’ve ever made.
Have I kept my wedding vows? Have you? Truly? Even before we drove off into the sunset I had broken my vows. My heart was full of love, but my soul was still inclined to offer my new husband selfishness and dishonor. We make extravagant promises we cannot keep, but that’s why marriage is a covenant we make first with God, and then with each other. God keeps His promises. He created marriage and designed it to last.
I love marriage. I want to go even further than the Pharisees and say that “what God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:6). I want no one to ever get divorced. But this is exactly what the Sermon on the Mount is all about. It’s rubber-meets-the road Christianity. And when the rubber meets the road, sometimes people have to get divorced. When the Pharisees ask about the conditions for divorce, they are, as per usual, trying to see how high they can draw the water line to measure who was right and who was wrong. And Jesus gives them “sexual immorality” as the only possible grounds.
But the grounds for marriage and the grounds for divorce aren’t to be our chief focus here. Christ Himself is the center of our covenant vows. When the Apostle Paul speaks of marriage, he says, “I am speaking of Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32). This means that marriage doesn’t exist apart from Christ. To ignore Christ in any consideration, either of marriage or divorce, is peril and destruction. Whether sin bears its ugly fruit in divorce, or grace intervenes to reconcile, these things must all be laid at the feet of Christ the faithful.
Whether it’s our parents, our siblings, our friends, or our own marriage—divorce has touched all of us in some way. The truth is, marriage doesn’t always work out. Even Moses made provision for divorce (Matthew 19:8). But when the Pharisees asked Jesus about divorce, they were thinking of marriage in strictly human terms; therefore, they also thought of divorce in merely pragmatic, human terms.
The things we think about at a wedding are exactly the things we should think about at a divorce. Yes, the world is a broken place, and we are broken people. But our brokenness is not the final standard for marriage or divorce. The extravagant promises of a wedding day are secured for us, not in our own strength, but in Christ. Both the making and the keeping of vows are only possible by His sustaining grace. And, knowing His faithfulness, we can have confidence, despite our folly.
And that’s why we keep engaging in this impossible mystery of marriage. God made us for love. He gave us marriage to make us holy, and to teach us about Himself. And that’s why we keep doing crazy things like getting married outdoors in the south in the summer.
Marriage isn’t about us. It’s about Him. He is the one who keeps vows.