Back to basics: the kingdom 11


Matthew 5:27-32

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Keep marriage special


Marriage is not a convenience which one party can get out of, if it doesn’t seem to be working for them. That’s not such a modern idea as it might seem – Jesus was confronting the double-mindedness of many religious leaders of his own times, especially the “looking good on the outside” Pharisees who made rules and also made ways round them.


Matthew 5:27-28, 31-32 NIV
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away…
“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery…” 

THE SCRIBES, many of whom were Pharisees, knew the Law inside out and like every lawyer of every age, knew clever ways to get around it. The Law which Moses expounded set boundaries around marriage but at the same time, the 10th Commandment (Exodus 20:17) put wives in a class of what was not to be coveted — most of which we would call possessions.

It was an unhappy association which made for many a dishonouring and unhappy marriage. In Jesus’ time, wives could be divorced for pretty much anything, real and imaginary, and the Pharisee group were the worst offenders in granting such sham divorces. This is what Jesus is confronting. He is saying that marriage is a special relationship, a covenant, established in the sight of God and it doesn’t just run until a more favourable candidate, who may herself be married, comes along. It all sounds quite contemporary to us and I am reminded that I was told by another minister about a local scandal before my time which was all about wife-swapping.

Jesus is very much for marriage (and not redefined marriage) and it is under attack as never before. Men are wired for visual stimulation, and where there is a demand, people will offer to satisfy it – for a price. What used to be on high shelves in newsagents has turned into a flood of pornography – including violence – on the internet, and with such accessibility, it is hardly surprising that so many are falling into addiction. It is said that younger teenagers’ expectations of a sexual relationship are becoming largely shaped by pornography – no one ever told them that sexual expression comes out of a committed, love relationship. There’s often a lot of stuff they have to unlearn, before they can enter into a more grown-up kind of relationship which has a chance of maturing and lasting the course.

The typical way a rabbi taught a profound point was by exaggeration. It’s a figure of speech, hyperbole, which we do use but not quite in that way. He is simply saying that the slippery slope of starting to covet what is not yours and what you should know is never to be considered yours, is so destructive a pull that it calls for you to take decisive, preventative action.

At the same time He is bringing another, underlying message about the kingdom of God: God’s order for us and how it works. Later, Paul was to express it as the principle of honouring one another (Romans 12:10). This truth confronts our ‘easy come, easy go’ mindset today, and it hit up against the Pharisees’ use of false arguments (casuistry) to justify what they, males of course, wanted and expected to maintain their position of control.

The kingdom of God is about trust, not lust; it’s not about getting our own way, but getting hold of God’s way. It’s not a mandate for coercion, but a set of values that add up to attraction. If you are looking for away through life that is refreshingly different, here it is.


• How much are your moral standards shaped by the world around us?

• Does this help or hinder those you know who are trying to get life together again after a marriage failed?

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