24 January 2012

1 of 3: Why the Church and Society need Marriage

by Frank Turk

Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to spend the weekend with my wife and the extremely-gracious folks in Warsaw, IN, at Christ Covenant Church & Trinity Evangelical Church (and their friends at the St. Regis Club) for a conference on the meaning of human sexuality & marriage.  

Tim Challies gave two very fine talks about definitional issues surrounding sexuality and marriage, and I got the simple and uncontroversial topic, "Why Marriage Is Necessary to a Civilized Society."

What follows today, tomorrow, and Thursday will be the substance of that talk, edited only to remove the topical items related to the conference.  Enjoy.

From the book of Matthew, Chapter 19:
1Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. 2And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. 
 3And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?" 4He answered, "Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? 6So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." 7They said to him, "Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?" 8He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery." 
10The disciples said to him, "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry."
Let’s open in a word of prayer:

Jesus, you are life for all men, and the light to all men.  You shine in the darkness, but the darkness has never understood it, and never overcome it.  The Law was given through Moses, but through you, we receive Grace and Truth.  Today, God, forgive us because sometimes we forget we are not the givers of law but in fact the ambassadors of Grace.  Teach us, God, to say what you say about this subject for the purpose that you say it – which is to call your people to yourself.  And help us, God, to be a light on a lamp stand in this dark world, the salt of the earth, and good and true neighbors to those who need you.  We pray this for your glory and honor, Jesus.  Amen.

Most of you have no idea who I am or why I’m qualified to speak at a conference like this.  Maybe I’m not actually qualified, but I am pretty deeply attached to this subject because I am a married man – and I haven’t always been one of those.  In fact, I can say with confidence that I was, for a long time, not qualified to be a married man.  When I realized this, I was ruined.  I mean: who doesn’t want to get married, right?  And it’s not like anyone would have stopped me – it wasn’t illegal for me to get married.  But there was no right-minded woman who would have married me.

And that was part of the conviction that led me to Christ: not that if I liked Jesus I could find a girl, but that there was something inside me which was deeply broken, and that anyone who knew me well enough to consider marrying me would know that much about me, and they’d say, “No.  No way!  He’s good for a laugh sometimes, but he’s a car wreck.”

So when I found Christ, I handed him my car wreck and told him simply, “I have no idea what to do with this.  I just need you to save it.”  And he did – he saved me from the car wreck of my sin so that the wrecker of judgment wasn’t going to haul me off to the junk yard of God’s wrath.

Which brings me back here to this topic of marriage.  The title of my talk today is, “Better Together: Why the Church and Society both need God’s plan for Marriage.”  It may seem obvious to most of you, but Jesus doesn’t just save us from the final judgment – although that’s important.  Jesus saves us for the sake of doing something with and for the sake of this Gospel we want to proclaim.  Right? Eph 2? “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”

See: for me, I had to ask God to make me into a man who could be a good husband. God: what is a good husband?  God: who must I be in order to find a good wife?  God: what will our marriage look like, and how will I know when I have done what you have expected from me?

So to answer the first question here – that is, what qualifies me to come here to you and tell you why the church and society need God’s definition of marriage – it is because I need God’s definition of marriage, and you’re just like me.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a believer who will ponder these few minutes we have together deeply or an unbeliever who has already tuned me out because of my Jesusing up here: you are just like me, and you’re a car wreck.  I know what the tow truck looks like, and I know what it means to be towed out of the scene of the accident and be put back together.  Often.

Let’s turn back to our passage of Scripture for a few minutes, and find God’s definition of marriage.  I would be hard pressed to believe that most of you here today have never heard this story from the book of Matthew before: Large crowds were following Jesus around, and the Pharisees were worried about that.    So they came to him, as they usually did, with a question.  The question was simple: can a man issue his wife a divorce for any reason?

Now, this is a broad question – and in some way it seems almost too easy, right?  “Any reason?  You mean like for burning his lamb chop or not finishing the dishes?  What sort of question is that?  Of course divorce is not for just any reason.”

But it turns out that this is exactly what they meant – among the rabbis, there were two schools of thought on the matter.  One of them did in fact say that a man could divorce his wife for any reason at all, and the other taught that divorce was only for adultery, and even then only for intentional and persistent infidelity.  It’s a pretty big gap, and the commentators on this passage say that the purpose of this question was, of course, to trip Jesus up.  The thinking here goes that the question was made so that if Jesus answered in favor of one school or the other, it would effectively split his followers in half – or worse, split them so desperately that they fighting would disperse them altogether.

So in one sense, the question is asked to make sure Jesus cannot win.

But in another sense, the question is asked to measure Jesus against the standard of the Law – against the standard of Moses.  If Jesus did not answer the way the Law says he ought to, he was certainly a guilty man – someone inventing his own standard and teaching it to others.  It would be easy to call him wicked if he did not make it clear how the Law should govern the matter, or if he was releasing people to act in any way which looked right in their own eyes.

But let’s look at the question a moment before we get to Jesus’ answer. It’s one of those moments in the Bible when we have to be careful not to read too solemnly, or else we’re bound to miss how utterly human and relevant the text is.  Here are the Pharisees – the keepers of the Whole Law – asking Jesus when it was time for divorce because it was a common question. In a nutshell, the question is one that, if we are honest, is common in our culture: when is it OK to get a divorce?

Jesus, however, isn’t stumped by the question.  He’s not left to ponder it a minute – he sees right through the question and takes it directly to the heart of the matter.  We’ll come back to the first part of his answer is a few minutes: “Have you not read …?”  There’s a very important special plea there that we have to look at, but it’s important enough to take up last even though he started there.  But he said, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them.”  That is: if we’re going to talk about marriage, we can’t start anywhere but “the beginning,” which is to say, the purpose of men and women.

This is a hard sell even in religious circles today – that people are made and are not making themselves.  People want to be what they imagine they want to be, rather than what they ought to be.

This comes out of us in so many different ways.  You know: we want to be comfortable and leisurely, but look at how we are made – we are made to work.  We want to be somewhat sophisticated and cosmopolitan – in secular circles that is done by association with the rich and famous, and in our reformed circles, it’s done by quoting Calvin, Spurgeon, Luther and obscure puritans; we want to be very clever and be seen as clever, and if we were really clever, we’d write the pithy quotes rather than memorize them.  We’re not clever and self-taught: we need instruction.  We are made to be something by nature, by kind, and it’s no accident.

And Jesus underscores this: he actually takes out the question of “any reason” by pointing to the first reason: God made men and women.  That is: “he made them and said.”  That goes back to the over-arching argument, “have you not read?” but look at it simply from the standpoint of telling the story for a second: from Jesus’ perspective, God didn’t just make people with the animals, and the animals would be a kind of example for people and vice versa.  From Jesus’ perspective, when God created man and woman, he had something to say to them right at the beginning, and it matters.  What the Pharisees have asked him, then, is a sort of nonsense question: can marriage end for any old reason?  Well, of course not – because it wasn’t started for any old reason.  It was started when God made man and woman, so when you think about marriage, you have to think of God’s purpose in it, not man’s.

And here’s what God said, according to Jesus, right at the beginning when he made them: 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’

I think it’s interesting that a recent best-effort to set the law straight here in the United States was the Proposition 8 effort in California.  The State of California presented a ballot initiative called commonly called Proposition 8  which would amend its constitution and formally define “marriage” under the law.  The law read simply:
Section I. Title
This measure shall be known and may be cited as the "California Marriage Protection Act."
Section 2. Article I. Section 7.5 is added to the California Constitution, to read:
Sec. 7.5. Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.
Jesus says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

In Malachi 2, the Bible says it this way:

      But did He not make them one,
      Having a remnant of his Spirit?
      And why one?
      He seeks godly offspring.
      Therefore take heed to your spirit,
      And let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth.
      “For the LORD God of Israel says
      That He hates divorce,
      For it covers one’s garment with violence.”

And somehow we offer that up in secular law as, “we only recognize marriage between a man and a woman.”

See: when Jesus says what he says, there are things which, frankly, the people asking him questions have either not remembered, or never learned.  “The two shall become one flesh,” he says.  Paul picks that up later in Ephesians, and tells us that a man who is married must treat his wife like his own flesh, and care for her, and nurture her.  To say that marriage is only “between a man and a woman,” seems to be missing something by comparison.

Jesus’ point is that the first purpose is that man and woman are made for each other.  That is, before we can talk about what the law might say about marriage, we have to see what marriage is for, and who it is for, and where it comes from.  And Jesus’ point is utterly unambiguous: the law does not create marriage.  Marriage comes far before the law, and it is built into the purpose of creation.

Now, there’s nothing new there for anybody in this room, right?  Whether you’re a believer or an unbeliever, you have heard some version of this before.  It shouldn’t be news to anyone that the Christian ideal of marriage is that man and woman are made for each other, and that they are to be joined together in a permanent way, in a miraculous way.

When Jesus tells the Pharisees that marriage was meant, from the beginning, to be an inseparable bond, they ask him a question: “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?"  That is: Jesus – what you’re talking about here doesn’t look like the Law of Moses. How do you run this thing?  We were asking you a practical question, Jesus, and you’re giving us a very lofty, but unworkable, answer. “One flesh? Moses gave us instructions on how to handle a divorce, and you come across with ‘one flesh’.”

It doesn’t look like a Law at all, does it?  It looks like something far more impossible, more incredible than any law.

This is an important point in this story: the Pharisees came to undo Jesus, to ruin him as a teacher and a leader, and in some sense as the very Messiah, with the Law.  They came to him with a point of law, with which they were experts, and they believed they asked him a question that could not be answered wisely – from the Law.  But Jesus gives them an answer that exceeds the requirements of the law.

... to be continued ...


Robert said...

This makes me think of how I should come humbly to the Word of God for instruction. Granted, the Pharisees weren't doing this, but imagine if they were and if they hod done so. They had God right before them to explain everything to them. And we have His words before our very eyes to read, meditate upon, and follow. May we be encouraged to do so and to understand the implications of the fact that God did create man and woman...mainly that He is the One Who we should listen to when looking for guidance as to what we are supposed to do because He created us.

Can't wait for the rest of your message, Frank.

canewbie said...

What, exactly, constitutes "marriage" (1 man/1 woman) in God's eyes?. What are His criteria?
Need there be a legal document? Must there be a ceremony conducted by a church or state official?. Or may a couple simply recite vows in His presence?

MStephan said...


God’s criteria – it seems that you have answered this one already (one man and one woman).

Does there need to be a legal document? If you want to be married in the eyes of the state and receive any benefits contained therein then, yes. I could be wrong, but I know of no state that would accept a person’s word that they were in fact married. A document seems only practical for this purpose.

Should a marriage be conducted by an official of the church and or state? And your final question (proposition?), May a couple recite vows in His presence and be married in the eyes of God? Interesting question. For we do see God acting as a priest, at the cross certainly, but he also ordained the office of priest for His people. So, the priests act on behalf of the people in religious ceremonies and rites. Even Jesus told the leper, after he healed him, to go and show himself to the priest and make the offering that the Law prescribed (Matt. 8:1-4; Mark 1:40-44). Jesus and the leper both knew he had been healed but the cleansed leper was to go to the priest anyway.

It also seems that the parents should know that their children are getting married. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh (Gen. 2:24).” A man is purposely leaving the family in which he grew up to begin his own family.

I my mind, it is fairly clear that a man and woman, who consent to be married, should go to a minister of the gospel, before witnesses and declare that intent. Just my thoughts off the cuff.

Rachael Starke said...

Worth reading for the prayer and the testimony alone.

I wonder if parts 2 and 3 will get into some of these details. Methinks/mehopes it will.

Aaron said...

Ok...I don't like this already. I don't like having to wait for the rest. ;)

FX Turk said...

canewbie asked:

What, exactly, constitutes "marriage" (1 man/1 woman) in God's eyes?. What are His criteria?

That a man leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.

Need there be a legal document?

Marriage is not a function of the law; from the beginning the Law did not define marriage.

Must there be a ceremony conducted by a church or state official?

As I read it, only because of the hardness of your heart. That is: because you are prone to do what is right in your own eyes (that is: what is prolly wrong), you need the law and to help you see your shortcomings.

Or may a couple simply recite vows in His presence?

Any sinner who marries another sinner without the witness of people is prolly doing it wrong.

In this case, I think the church is the right witness of the event, but society depends on the church the be the minister of this vocation because of its very nature.

Aaron Snell said...


Can you try that last sentence again? Didn't quite catch what you're saying. Thanks.

Nash Equilibrium said...

"he saved me from the car wreck of my sin so that the wrecker of judgment wasn’t going to haul me off to the junk yard of God’s wrath."

Well now I know that I have to finish this article tonight when I have time!

FX Turk said...

"In this case, I think the church is the right witness of the event, but society depends on the church to be the minister of this vocation because of marriage's very nature."

Aaron Snell said...

Ah, got it. Thanks!

Do you know if the talks for the conference will be offered online somewhere?

FX Turk said...

When they go live, I will tweet them and then link them in part 3 of this series.

Halcyon said...

Frank Turk multi-blogging about the biblical definition of marriage.


Frank Turk will single-handedly crash the internet.

And it's only January.

(Word verification: "stroir"; noun: the sound the internet makes when it crashes.)