“What God has yoked together, let no man put apart.”—MARK 10:9.
1, 2. What should Hebrews 13:4 motivate us to do?
ALL OF us want to honor Jehovah. He deserves our honor, and he promises to honor us in return. (1 Samuel 2:30; Proverbs 3:9; Revelation 4:11) He also wants us to honor other people, such as government officials. (Romans 12:10; 13:7) But there is a certain area where we 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.” (Hebrews 13:4) Paul was not just making a general statement about marriage. He was telling Christians that they had to honor marriage, that is, view it as precious. Is that how you view marriage, especially your own marriage if you are married?
3. What important advice about marriage did Jesus give? (See opening picture.)
3 If you view marriage as precious, you are following a very good example. Jesus himself honored marriage. When the Pharisees asked him about divorce, he mentioned what God had said about 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; Genesis 2:24.
4. What was Jehovah’s purpose for marriage?
4 Jesus agreed that God was the one who created marriage and that marriage should be permanent. When God performed the first marriage, he did not tell Adam and Eve that they could get a divorce. Instead, his purpose was for “the two” to remain united in marriage forever.
THINGS THAT TEMPORARILY CHANGED MARRIAGE
5. How did death affect marriage?
5 You know, however, that when Adam sinned, many things changed. One of those changes was that humans began to die, and that change affected marriage. The apostle Paul explained to Christians that death ends a marriage and that the surviving mate is free to remarry.—Romans 7:1-3.
The Law teaches us that God viewed marriage as very precious
6. What does the Law of Moses teach us about God’s view of marriage?
6 The Law that God gave to Israel provided details about marriage. For example, an Israelite man was allowed to have more than one wife. This custom had existed even before God gave the Law. However, the Law protected women and children from being mistreated. For example, if an Israelite man married a slave and later took a second wife, he still had to care for the needs of his first wife as he did before. God required that he continue to protect and care for her. (Exodus 21:9, 10) We do not follow the Law of Moses today. But it teaches us that God viewed marriage as very precious. This certainly helps us to honor marriage.
7, 8. (a) What did the Law say about divorce according to Deuteronomy 24:1? (b) How does Jehovah view divorce?
7 What did the Law say about divorce? Although Jehovah never intended for a husband and a wife to get divorced, the Law did allow an Israelite man to divorce his wife if “he found something indecent about her.” (Read Deuteronomy 24:1.) The Law did not describe what could be considered “something indecent.” However, it must have been something shameful or very serious and not just a small offense. (Deuteronomy 23:14) Sadly, by Jesus’ day, many Jews were divorcing their wives “on every sort of grounds.” (Matthew 19:3) We certainly do not want to develop that kind of attitude.
8 In the prophet Malachi’s day, it was common for a man to divorce his first wife, perhaps to marry a younger woman who did not serve Jehovah. But God made it very clear how he viewed divorce. He said: “I hate divorce.” (Malachi 2:14-16) God’s view of marriage had not changed since the beginning, when he said that a man “will stick to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) And Jesus supported his Father’s view of marriage when he said: “What God has yoked together, let no man put apart.”—Matthew 19:6.
THE ONLY REASON FOR DIVORCE
9. What do Jesus’ words at Mark 10:11, 12 mean?
9 Some might ask, ‘Is there ever a reason for a Christian to divorce and remarry?’ Notice what Jesus said: “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 honored marriage, and he wanted others to do so. If a man divorced his faithful wife and remarried, he would be committing adultery. The same would be true if a woman divorced her faithful husband. That is because divorce alone does not end a marriage. God still considers the couple to be “one flesh.” Jesus also said that if a man divorced his innocent wife, she would be in danger of committing adultery. How could that be? Well, back then, a divorced woman might feel that she had to remarry for financial reasons. Such a marriage would be the same as adultery.
10. What is the only reason a Christian could divorce and be free to remarry?
10 Jesus taught that there is one reason that a person could get a divorce: “I say to you that whoever divorces his wife, except on the grounds of sexual immorality, and marries another commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:9) He made the same point in the Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5:31, 32) Both times, Jesus referred to “sexual immorality.” Sexual immorality may include sins such as adultery, prostitution, sex relations between unmarried individuals, homosexuality, and bestiality. If, for example, a married man commits sexual immorality, his wife can decide whether to divorce him or not. If she divorces him, God would no longer view them as married.
11. Why might a Christian decide not to get a divorce even if his or her mate commits sexual immorality?
11 Notice that Jesus did not say that if a married person committed sexual immorality, the innocent mate had to divorce. For example, a wife might choose to stay married to her husband even though he committed sexual immorality. Why? She might still love him and might be willing to forgive him and work with him to improve their marriage. Also, if she got a divorce and did not remarry, she would have certain difficulties. For example, what about her material and sexual needs? Would she be lonely? How would a divorce affect her children? Would it be more difficult to raise them in the truth? (1 Corinthians 7:14) Clearly, an innocent mate who chose to obtain a divorce would have serious difficulties.
12, 13. (a) What happened in Hosea’s marriage? (b) Why did Hosea take Gomer back, and what can we learn from his marriage?
12 The prophet Hosea’s experience teaches us much about how God views marriage. God told Hosea to marry a woman named Gomer, who would become “a woman of prostitution” and would have “children of prostitution.” Gomer and Hosea had a son. (Hosea 1:2, 3) Later, Gomer had a daughter and another son, likely from another man. Even though Gomer committed adultery more than once, Hosea stayed married to her. Eventually, she left Hosea and became a slave. Still, Hosea bought her back. (Hosea 3:1, 2) Jehovah used Hosea to show how He repeatedly forgave Israel after the nation was unfaithful to Him and worshipped other gods. What can we learn from Hosea’s marriage?
13 If a Christian’s mate committed immorality, the innocent Christian would have to make a decision. Jesus said that the innocent mate would have a valid reason to get a divorce and then be free to remarry. However, it would not be wrong if the innocent one chose to forgive his or her mate. Hosea took back Gomer. After she returned to Hosea, he told her that she could not have sexual relations with any other man. Hosea did “not have relations” with Gomer for a while. (Hosea 3:3, footnote) But eventually, Hosea must have had relations with his wife again. This represented how God was willing to accept the Israelites back and continue his relationship with them. (Hosea 1:11; 3:3-5) What does this teach us about marriage today? If an innocent mate begins to have sexual relations with the guilty mate again, that would show that the innocent one has forgiven him or her. (1 Corinthians 7:3, 5) Then there would no longer be a valid reason for divorce. After that, the husband and the wife should work together and help each other to view marriage as God does.
HONOR MARRIAGE EVEN WHEN THERE ARE SERIOUS DIFFICULTIES
14. According to 1 Corinthians 7:10, 11, what may happen in a marriage?
14 All Christians should honor marriage as Jehovah and Jesus do. However, at times some do not do this, because we are all imperfect. (Romans 7:18-23) So it should not shock us that some of the early Christians had serious difficulties in their marriages. Paul wrote that “a wife should not separate from her husband.” But sometimes that did happen.—Read 1 Corinthians 7:10, 11.
15, 16. (a) What should be the goal of a couple when there are problems in their marriage, and why? (b) How does this apply if a mate does not serve Jehovah?
15 Paul did not explain what situations caused couples to separate. But we do know that the problem was not, for example, that the husband had committed sexual immorality. Otherwise, the wife would have had a reason to divorce and remarry. Paul wrote that a wife who separated from her husband should “remain unmarried or else be reconciled with her husband.” So God still viewed that couple as married. Paul said that whatever problems or difficulties a couple might have, if neither of them had committed sexual immorality, their goal should be to reconcile, that is, to solve their problems and stay together. They could ask the elders for help. The elders would not take sides, but they could offer practical advice from the Bible.
16 However, what if a Christian is married to someone who does not serve Jehovah? When there are problems in their marriage, is separation acceptable? As already mentioned, the Bible says that sexual immorality is a valid reason for divorce. But the Bible does not state reasons why a couple may separate. Paul wrote: “If a woman has an unbelieving husband and he is agreeable to staying with her, let her not leave her husband.” (1 Corinthians 7:12, 13) This applies today too.
17, 18. Why have some Christians stayed married even when they have serious difficulties?
17 However, there have been some cases where “an unbelieving husband” has shown that he is not “agreeable to staying” with his wife. For example, 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 materially or make it impossible for her to serve God. In such cases, a Christian wife may personally decide that, despite what her husband might say, he is not “agreeable to staying” with her and that it is necessary to separate. But other Christians in similar situations have decided to stay with their mate. They have endured and tried to work on improving the marriage. Why would they decide to do that?
18 If a couple separated in such a situation, they would still be married and would have the difficulties we mentioned earlier. The apostle Paul also gave another reason for a couple to stay together. 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 Corinthians 7:14) Many Christians decided to stay with their mate who did not serve Jehovah even though the situation was very difficult. They were especially glad that they made such a sacrifice when later their mate became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.—Read 1 Corinthians 7:16; 1 Peter 3:1, 2.
19. Why are there so many successful marriages in the Christian congregation?
19 Jesus gave counsel about divorce, and the apostle Paul gave advice about separation. Both wanted God’s servants to honor marriage. Around the world today, there are plenty of successful marriages in the Christian congregation. You can probably find many happy couples in your congregation, where loyal husbands love their wives and loving wives respect their husbands. All of them show that marriage can be honorable. And we can be happy that millions of husbands and wives are proving God’s words true: “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.”—Ephesians 5:31, 33.