“What God has yoked together, let no man put apart.”—MARK 10:9.
1, 2. Hebrews 13:4 should move us to do what?
DO YOU enjoy honoring Jehovah? Certainly you do! He merits your honor and promises to honor you in return. (1 Sam. 2:30; Prov. 3:9; Rev. 4:11) He also wants you to show honor on a human level, such as to government officials. (Rom. 12:10; 13:7) But there is a personal area in which you especially need to show honor. That is in marriage.
2 The apostle Paul wrote: “Let marriage be honorable among all, and let the marriage bed be without defilement.” (Heb. 13:4) Paul was not making a mere casual observation. Rather, that text was directing, yes urging, Christians personally to esteem marriage, to view it as precious. Is that your view of marriage in general and particularly of your own marriage if you have a mate?
3. What important advice about marriage did Jesus give? (See opening picture.)
3 In honoring marriage, you are in the best of company. Jesus honored marriage. When the Pharisees asked Jesus about divorce, he referred to what God had said regarding the first marriage: “For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother, and the two will be one flesh.” Jesus added: “What God has yoked together, let no man put apart.”—Read Mark 10:2-12; Gen. 2:24.
4. Jehovah set what standard for marriages?
4 Jesus thus agreed that marriage is of divine origin and stressed its permanence. God did not tell Adam and Eve that marriage could be ended by divorce. The standard set in that Edenic marriage was monogamy, “the two” being joined together in a lasting union.
TEMPORARY CHANGES FOR MARRIAGE
5. What effect does death have on the marriage union?
5 You know, however, that Adam’s sin brought changes. One was death, which would affect marriage. We can see that from what the apostle Paul wrote when explaining that Christians are not under the Mosaic Law. He revealed that death ends a marriage and that the surviving mate can thereafter remarry.—Rom. 7:1-3.
6. How did the Mosaic Law reflect God’s view of marriage?
6 The Law that God gave to the nation of Israel provided details about marriage. It allowed for polygamy, a practice that existed even before God gave Israel the Law. However, polygamy was regulated, prohibiting abuses. For example, if an Israelite married a slave and later took a second wife, he could not diminish his first wife’s food, clothing, and marital due. God required that he protect and care for her. (Ex. 21:9, 10) We are not under the Law, but we can still see from it Jehovah’s interest in marriage. Does that not help you to esteem marriage?
7, 8. (a) According to Deuteronomy 24:1, the Law contained what provision for divorce? (b) What is Jehovah’s view of divorce?
7 What of divorce under the Law? God maintained his high regard for marriage; yet, as a concession he did allow divorce. (Read Deuteronomy 24:1.) An Israelite man could divorce his wife if “he found something indecent about her.” The Law did not describe what was meant by “indecent.” It must have been something shameful or serious, not some petty offense. (Deut. 23:14) Sadly, by Jesus’ day many Jews divorced “on every sort of grounds.” (Matt. 19:3) We would surely not want to adopt their attitude.
8 The prophet Malachi revealed God’s view of divorce. That was at a time when it was common for a man treacherously to divorce ‘the wife of his youth,’ maybe to marry a younger, pagan woman. Regarding God’s view, Malachi wrote: “I hate divorce.” (Mal. 2:14-16) That was in line with what God’s Word says about the first marriage: “[A man] will stick to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” (Gen. 2:24) Jesus upheld his Father’s view of marriage, saying: “What God has yoked together, let no man put apart.”—Matt. 19:6.
ONLY ONE BASIS FOR DIVORCE
9. How are Jesus’ words at Mark 10:11, 12 to be understood?
9 Someone might ask, ‘Is there ever a basis for a Christian to divorce and remarry?’ Well, Jesus stated his view on divorce: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if ever a woman after divorcing her husband marries another, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10:11, 12; Luke 16:18) Clearly, Jesus thus honored marriage and wanted others to do so. A man divorcing his faithful wife (or a woman, her faithful husband) on some pretext and marrying another was committing adultery. This is true because merely divorcing one’s mate does not end the marriage. In God’s eyes, the two would still be “one flesh.” Moreover, Jesus said that a man’s divorcing his innocent wife would make her subject to adultery. How so? Back then, a divorced woman might feel compelled to remarry in order to gain financial support. Such a remarriage would amount to adultery.
10. On what grounds can a Christian divorce and be free to remarry?
10 Jesus did state the grounds on which a marriage can be ended: “I say to you that whoever divorces his wife, except on the grounds of sexual immorality [Greek, por·neiʹa], and marries another commits adultery.” (Matt. 19:9) He had made the same point in the Sermon on the Mount. (Matt. 5:31, 32) On both occasions, Jesus spoke of “sexual immorality.” That expression covers a range of sexual sins outside of marriage: adultery, prostitution, sex relations between unmarried individuals, homosexuality, and bestiality. If, for example, a married man engages in sexual immorality, his wife can decide whether to divorce him or not. If she divorces him, that would end the marriage in God’s eyes.
11. Why might a Christian decide not to get a divorce even though having Scriptural grounds to do so?
11 Significantly, Jesus did not say that a mate’s immorality (por·neiʹa) must absolutely lead to divorce. For example, a wife might choose to maintain the marriage despite her husband’s having been immoral. She might still love him; she might be willing to forgive him and work with him to improve their marriage. Realistically, if she got a divorce but did not remarry, she would face challenges. What of her material and sexual needs? What about loneliness? Are there children to consider? Would a divorce make it harder to raise them in the truth? (1 Cor. 7:14) Clearly, the divorced innocent one would face serious issues.
12, 13. (a) What developed in Hosea’s marriage? (b) Why did Hosea take Gomer back, and what can we learn from that as to marriage now?
12 The prophet Hosea’s experience is enlightening. God told Hosea to take a wife (Gomer), who would become “a woman of prostitution and [would have] children of prostitution.” Gomer “conceived and bore [Hosea] a son.” (Hos. 1:2, 3) Later, she had a daughter and a son, both likely the results of her adultery. Despite Gomer’s repeated adultery, Hosea stayed married to her. Finally, she left Hosea and became a slave. Still, he bought her back. (Hos. 3:1, 2) Jehovah was using Hosea to illustrate how He repeatedly forgave Israel’s adulterous course. What might we learn from this?
13 If a Christian’s mate committed immorality, the innocent Christian would face a decision. Jesus said that the innocent one would have a basis for getting a divorce and then be free to remarry. On the other hand, the innocent mate could extend forgiveness. That would not be wrong. Hosea took back Gomer. Once Gomer was back with Hosea, she was not to have relations with any other man. Hosea did “not have relations” with Gomer for a while. (Hos. 3:3, ftn.) In time, though, Hosea must have resumed marital relations with her, thereby reflecting God’s willingness to accept his people back and resume his dealings with them. (Hos. 1:11; 3:3-5) What bearing does that have on a marriage today? If an innocent mate decided to maintain the marriage, resuming marital relations would show forgiveness. (1 Cor. 7:3, 5) That course would cancel what had been grounds for divorce. Thereafter as a couple, they should work to reflect God’s view of marriage.
HONOR EVEN IN A TROUBLED MARRIAGE
14. According to 1 Corinthians 7:10, 11, what may happen in a marriage?
14 All Christians should strive to show regard for marriage, even as Jesus and Jehovah do. However, some may fail to do so, for humans are imperfect. (Rom. 7:18-23) Thus, it should not shock us that some Christians in the first century had troubled marriages. Paul wrote that “a wife should not separate from her husband”; yet, in some cases that did occur.—Read 1 Corinthians 7:10, 11.
15, 16. (a) Even if a marriage has problems, what is the goal, and why? (b) How does this apply if a mate is not a believer?
15 Paul did not explain what led to such a separation. The problem was not, for example, that the husband had been immoral, giving the wife a basis for divorce and remarriage. Paul wrote that a wife who was separated from her husband should “remain unmarried or else be reconciled with her husband.” So the two were still united in God’s eyes. Paul advised that whatever the underlying problems, if sexual immorality is not involved, the goal should be reconciliation. The two could seek Bible-based help from congregation elders. While the elders avoid taking sides, they could offer Scriptural advice.
16 There would likely be more complications if just one mate was a believer seeking to live by God’s standards. In the event of problems, is separation a justifiable solution? As noted, the Scriptures say that sexual immorality is a possible basis for divorce, but they do not outline various grounds for separation. Paul wrote: “If a woman has an unbelieving husband and he is agreeable to staying with her, let her not leave her husband.” (1 Cor. 7:12, 13) That applies in our day too.
17, 18. Why have some Christians stayed in a troubled marriage?
17 Admittedly, there have been instances where an “unbelieving husband” seems to prove that he is not “agreeable to staying with her.” He might be extremely physically abusive, even to the point that she feels that her health or life is in danger. He might refuse to support her and the family or severely endanger her spirituality. In such cases, some Christians have personally decided that, despite what he might say, the mate is not “agreeable to staying” together and that a separation is necessary. But other Christians in comparably difficult situations have not; they have endured and tried to work at improving matters. Why?
18 In such a separation, the two are still marriage mates. If they lived apart, each one would face challenges, as mentioned earlier. The apostle Paul gave another reason for staying united. He wrote: “The unbelieving husband is sanctified in relation to his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in relation to the brother; otherwise, your children would be unclean, but now they are holy.” (1 Cor. 7:14) Many loyal Christians have remained with an unbelieving mate under very trying circumstances. They can testify that doing so was worthwhile in a special sense when their mate became a true worshipper.—Read 1 Corinthians 7:16; 1 Pet. 3:1, 2.
19. Why do successful marriages abound in the Christian congregation?
19 Jesus provided comments about divorce, and the apostle Paul offered inspired advice about separation. Both wanted God’s servants to honor marriage. Worldwide today, the Christian congregation abounds with successful marriages. You can likely find many happy couples in your local congregation. They are made up of loyal brothers who love their wife and devoted wives who prove to be loving mates, all showing that marriage can be honorable. We can rejoice that millions are living proof of the truthfulness of God’s words: “For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and he will stick to his wife, and the two will be one flesh.”—Eph. 5:31, 33.