God’s ideal plan for marriage was stated quite clearly in Genesis 2:23-25. God had noted that it wasn’t good for a man to be alone. Among all the animals no suitable companion was found for him, so he put Adam to sleep, took a rib from his side and formed the woman from the rib and brought her to the man. “The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, for she was taken out of man. That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked and they felt no shame.” This is the only case in all history where there was a specific woman made for a specific man. She was made as a “Helper suitable for him.” They were intended to be a pair that fit each other, physically, emotionally and spiritually. For anyone else to think that there is some one woman or man that was made specifically for them and their mission is to find that one that is just right for them is to think incorrectly. In any marriage, we need to strive to fit with our partner and meet each other’s needs in the relationship, but there aren’t any perfect relationships that have no ragged edges in our time. It takes, work, submission to each other and to God, and the willingness to give as well as take for the marriage to be successful.
Through the Old Testament we see all kinds of marriages, many of which fell along the way. In the New Testament God again speaks strongly on the whole topic of marriage and he gave some very specific commands on what is required for the marriage to work. It is interesting that in the two longest discussions about making marriage work well, in Ephesians 5:21-33 and I Peter 3:1-9 there is one underlying point of submission to one another. He specifically challenges the woman to submit but starts with Ephesians 5:21 with “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” In I Peter 3:1-5 he pleads with the woman to submit even if the husband isn’t a believer and to allow her conduct to be the strongest voice in the marriage. In both text he challenged the man to lead, to love and to dwell with their wife with understanding. Notice in Ephesians 5:25-27 this charge, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church; without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” Peter’s challenge to the man is “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.”
If we followed the plan God gives for the marriage in these Scriptures it would be a tremendous blessing for every marriage. Far too often instead of submitting, we are demanding. Instead of loving and giving of ourselves we push for the other partner to do the giving and show the love. Instead of being one that brings out the best in our marriage partner we too often bring out the worst in them. Instead of dwelling with our wives with understanding or being considerate we push for our own way and demand that the other person understand us and be considerate toward us. Peter went on to lay out a charge for both men and women in the marriage in verses 8-9. “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” Imagine what a difference it would make in a marriage if we just obeyed those two verses. Most marriages would work if we followed this plan. Whether you have followed it in the past or not, this is the right plan for us in building the marriages we have from this point forward.
But, what if I failed miserable in the past? What if my failures led to the break up of my marriage and my partner went on to marry someone else and is now doing great in their new marriage? What if I too met someone else and have married again now and am really doing my best to make this marriage work? Can I be forgiven of the mess ups of the past and God bless the marriage I’m now in or must I go back and try to restore the previous marriage for either of us to be saved? I know that Jesus commanded us not to divorce our wife and marry another unless it was for sexual immorality, but I did wrong. I wasn’t the Christian God called me to be and I wasn’t the husband or wife that God wanted me to be and I lost my marriage in the process. My question is, what now? Can I start from here or must I destroy this marriage and try to restart the other one or must I live single from now on?
Let’s think about God’s whole plan for redeeming people. Jesus came into the world to “Seek and save those who are lost.” His mission was one of redemption. We have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. In Romans 321-26 Paul laid out God’s plan for redeeming people. “But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood – to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” We haven’t all failed God in the same way. But all have failed. Jesus paid the price for atonement for all who have sinned so they can be forgiven and be right with God through faith in him. A primary purpose of law of all sorts is to demonstrate to us our need for salvation. We not only haven’t lived up to God’s law, we won’t do so in the future. We can’t work our way into glory. We can’t earn our way in. We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus. No matter how I messed up in my life, whether in my marriage, or in my bringing up of my children, or my work on the job or in my relationships with others. Sin is part of everyone of our lives. There isn’t a sin big enough that God can’t forgive it. There isn’t a sin so awful that it can’t be cleansed by the blood of Jesus. He came to redeem fallen people.
But what if the sin is divorce and remarriage, can that sin be forgiven without me getting out of the relationship I’m in that led to the fall of my other marriage? In the last study with David and Bathsheba we learned that David not only committed adultery with Bathsheba, he murdered her husband and then took her as his wife. God confronted him for the sin. There was a price to be paid. Yet God forgave him and blessed the marriage of David and Bathsheba. Have things changed on that topic since then? When Jesus met the woman in John chapter 4, who was a Samaritan woman who had been married 5 times and was now just living with a man she never married, he brought her situation to the light, but he didn’t require her to go home and make it right before he would lead her to salvation, answer her questions about worship and send her back to town as a missionary to tell the others about him.
When we turn to God for forgiveness of all past sins we are turning from that sin to God in our faith and obedience to him. There will certainly be consequences for the sin that was committed. But the New Testament doesn’t ever teach us that we have to do some kind of penance in order to be forgiven of the sin. The people on Pentecost had been involved in the murder of Jesus but when they felt the guilt and cried out what to do, the answer was “Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Isn’t it interesting that he didn’t add, “Unless of course some of you have been divorced and remarried. If that is the case then you must separate from the one who you married and go back to the first partner.” Are we to suppose that of all the 3,000 who repented that none of them had sinned by divorce and remarriage? It makes far more sense that repentance means that I will stop the divorcing and remarrying from here on and not that I will now get another divorce to make things right.
But, what if the failure in my marriage wasn’t before I became a Christian but afterward and I now know I was wrong, and want to repent and be right with God. What do I do now to correct the problem I’m in? You change your way of life by repenting of the sin of breaking up your marriage and marrying another by changing the way of life and being true to the person you are now married to and live a holy life for the Lord.
God’s commands not to do a thing, never mean that failure in that area means I can’t ever be forgiven of the sin and go on from there to live for God. But, Leon, if I steal a car from a person, and then come to myself and want to be right with God, wouldn’t repentance demand that I return the car? Yes it would. But marriage isn’t like taking someone’s car. A car is simply a thing that one my possess. A marriage involves two people made in God’s image who make a choice of what they will do. If there has been a breakup in the marriage and one has gone on to marry someone else, it isn’t like taking someone’s property, but that two people have made a choice in life. You can divorce a partner but you can’t take them back to someone else and you can’t just take back a wife that has been divorced. Think about why God in Deuteronomy 24 in giving the law about writing a bill of divorce and giving it to the other person, said that if that one divorced went and became another man’s wife and he too put her away, then I couldn’t go back and remarry that woman that had been put away, and had become another man’s wife. He said that would be an abomination to God.
Marriage is a unique relationship. It is the one relationship in all the world where two people become one flesh. It is a bad thing to break that relationship and every person should work to make the marriage work and not allow Satan to get into the marriage and destroy it. But there is one bond beyond that one. It is our relationship with God. We enter Christ when we are baptized into him. God’s greatest concern is for us to be saved. No matter how royally we mess up in that relationship his first desire is our redemption. Redemption means that the sinner can come back, be forgiven and start again in service to the Lord. As God’s people, our place is to also be about redemption and bringing back the fallen, even if the fall was to break up our marriage. In repentance there are some things we can correct from the past and some that we can’t. In so many things the best we can do is start where we are and go forward. Thank God, he bases forgiveness and service to him on an obedient faith and on His amazing grace. Even when we can’t undo things that were wrong, by grace forgiveness is possible and God has a place of service for us in his kingdom. If God could take Paul, the worst of sinners, and not only forgive him but make him the apostle to the Gentiles, surely he can take us, where we are and use us to bring others to him from whatever background they may be.