AN IMPOSSIBLE IDEAL?
Lord God, you are the one who is, and was, and is to come. As this new year begins, I surrender anew to you.
Read MATTHEW 19:1–12
19 When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. 2 Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.
3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’[a] 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’[b]? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”
11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Married Christians: ask for God to bless your marriage with joy, love, and faithfulness to one another and to God. Single Christians: ask for the grace to be able to serve God wholeheartedly.
The question Jesus is asked is not random. Although Deuteronomy 24:1 was agreed to be the key text on divorce, it was interpreted variously. Hillel Pharisees allowed for a man to divorce his wife for almost any reason. The Shammai group limited divorce to sexual infidelity. Jesus was being asked whose side he was on.
In Matthew’s version, Jesus aligns with the Shammai group but goes further, implying what Mark 10:1–12 makes explicit. Referring to creation texts,1 Jesus describes faithful, monogamous marriage between a man and woman as an ideal that is etched into God’s desires for humankind. He explains that divorce was permitted because of ‘hardness of heart’ but allows remarriage on the grounds of sexual immorality. This verse and 1 Corinthians 7:12–15 show that some early Christians recognized that remarriage was sometimes permitted. Jesus doesn’t really answer his disciples’ question concerning whether it is better not to marry. Instead, he speaks of eunuchs and of ‘those who voluntarily accept a celibate lifestyle’ for God.2 Overall, Jesus endorses marriage and makes it clear that the ideal for societies is long and faithful marriages. Yet, he envisages some remaining single and serving God faithfully (like Paul). As with married Christians, they are to renounce objectifying others sexually3 and are to maintain celibacy.
Are these impossible ideals, as some in society argue? They are clearly not, though we cannot take them for granted. My wife Emma and I have been blessed with 35 years of marriage. Jesus and Paul show that it is possible for a single person to be celibate and serve God faithfully.
For married readers: commit yourselves afresh to God and do something special for your spouse. For the single: renew your commitment to purity, celibacy, and God’s service.
Gracious God, I pray for those who are struggling with their life situation. Impress your way upon them, as they seek your will.
1 Gen 1:27; 2:24 2 Craig L Blomberg, The New American Commentary: Matthew, Broadman & Holman, 1992, p294 3 See Matt 5:27–30
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