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Reset // Matthew 5:31-32 // Week 4

CityRise October 26, 2020 sermons, christian, church, houston, marriage, Reset, Roger Patterson, sermon, texas,

The following is a transcript from the sermon presented by Dr. Roger Patterson on Sunday October 25, 2020 at our West U Baptist Campus and in our Online Experience on youtube.com/cityriseorg. To view the sermon in full, please visit our YouTube page.

A man told his wife one day that he hadn’t been feeling well. So they went to a doctor and ended up getting some tests run. The doctor ran the tests and while the man was in recovery, the doctor went to the waiting room to see the wife. Doc said, “your husband has a rare disease (he explained it to her). What he’s going to need in the days ahead is unconditional love, lots of TLC, and steady presence and compassion from you.”

A little while later, the husband began coming out of his anesthesia and saw his wife sitting there. He said to his wife, “Honey, what did the doctor say?”  She said, “I’m sorry, dear, he said your not going to make it.”

We are in week 4 of our series called Reset: Lessons from the Mount.  And today, we are going to look at what the Bible teaches about marriage. 

And my message is titled, “How to Win at Marriage.”

Let’s take a minute and look at our text in Matthew 5.

Matthew 5:31-32

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

This is the third of Jesus’ antithesis statements – “You have heard that it was said…I say to you,” statements.

And when you simply look at these two verses, it seems that Jesus is simply talking about divorce and who is allowed to divorce and why you may get a divorce.  Frankly, these two verses might have been best taught alongside last week’s portion on lust and adultery.

But it’s interesting that in Matthew’s Gospel that we see these words again from Jesus when Jesus is asked about divorce.

Notice Matthew 19.

Matthew 19:3-9

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

You see, there were two schools of thoughts, literally, when it came to teaching on marriage and divorce.  Two Rabbis, Hillel and Shammai, famous first-century Jewish scholars who had very opposing views of divorce. 

  • Hillel interpreted Moses’ allowance for divorce for almost any reason.
  • Shammai, on the other hand, took a stricter view and said Moses was speaking only about sexual sin. 

These were the most prevalent interpretations on the topic.  So, no matter how Jesus answered the Pharisees, he was going to offend somebody.

What Jesus does, though in his response here, is take us back to the Garden of Eden.  Instead of stopping to deal with Moses’ interpretation of things, Jesus takes us back to God’s original intent for marriage. 

Notice again, these words in Matthew 19:8.

Matthew 19:8

He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.”

Q: What is Jesus saying here? 

A: Somewhere along the way, something changed.  Originally, there was a covenant…that’s what marriage was in the beginning.  But now, you view it as a contract, and you act as a consumer.

Wamdi Wicasa says…

A contract is an agreement made in suspicion.  The parties do not trust each other, and they set limits to their own responsibility.

And the language of the contract is always stressed…

Contractual Language Says…

  • You had better do it!
  • What do I get?
  • What will it take?
  • It’s not my responsibility or my fault.
  • I’ll meet you halfway.
  • I’ll be faithful for now.
  • I am suspicious.
  • I have to.
  • It’s a deal.

Wicasa says…

A covenant is an agreement made in trust.  The parties love each other and put no limits on their own responsibility.

Covenantal Language Says…

  • How may I serve you?
  • What can I give?
  • Whatever it takes!
  • I’m happy to do it and I accept responsibility.
  • I’ll give 100 percent.
  • I’ll be faithful forever.
  • I am trusting.
  • I want to.
  • It’s a relationship.

If you are a consumer, coming to your marriage as if it is a contract vs. a covenant, you will come to a place of trouble and will likely take the out. But if you understand that God sees marriage as a covenant, broken only by death, then you can choose a pathway to a life-giving marriage. 

To understand the Covenant approach to Marriage, the way you win at marriage, I want us to turn to Ephesians 5:25-31.

Ephesians 5:25-31
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

Throughout history, there have always been two types of relationships—Contract Relationships and Covenant Relationships.

In a Contract Relationship, the relationship lasts as long as the other party is meeting your needs at a cost that is acceptable to you. If one party breaks their end of the deal, then you go look for another who can deliver what you need.

            Many people mistake this type of relationship for love because of the feelings and emotions it invokes, especially in the early, romantic stage of the relationship.

A Covenant Relationship is different. It is a binding agreement between 2 parties. In ancient Israel, a covenant was often sealed with cutting an animal in half. The parties would then walk between the halves, through the blood, to signify the oath they were taking. It was the most serious of promises, because a death was involved. 

Many people mistake this type of relationship as DUTY because of the description and many argue that there is no passion or excitement in what appears to be such an antiquated definition of a relationship. 

Our culture defines love as a response to a spontaneous desire, not a response to a legal oath or promise. 

You see, modern thought does not see duty and passion as compatible.  But the bible doesn’t draw such hard boundaries – that you are either in a dutiful relationship out of obligation or in a passionate relationship of spontaneous desire.

The Bible describes the Marriage relationship as a Covenant and it is, as Tim Keller states, “A stunning blend of law and love.”

And in this covenant, a death is involved. That’s why Paul says that marriage is about laying your life down for the sake of the other, just as Christ laid down his life for us.

You see, I think Paul knew of our tendency to claim covenant yet act like consumers.  And that becomes the core problem, doesn’t it? 

Here is the primary difference—the Contract Relationship makes the individual’s needs more important than the relationship. But, in a Covenant Relationship, the good of the relationship takes precedence over the needs of the individual.

How would your spouse say that you are approaching your marriage?  A Covenant or a contract?

The Bible teaches that the essence of marriage is a sacrificial commitment to the good of the other. That means that love is more fundamentally action than emotion.  

Tim Keller, in his book The Meaning of Marriage, says…

“When the Bible speaks of love, it measures it primarily not by how much you want to receive but by how much you are willing to give of yourself.”

So, if we are going to live out this idea of Covenantal Love, we have to understand what it is and how to put it into practice.

There are 3 important truths that we must know about covenantal love…

Covenantal Love is…

  1. Powered by Promise
  2. Catalyzed by Commitment
  3. Grounded by Grace

I.           Covenantal Love Is…Powered By Promise. V. 31

Covenantal Love is…

  1. Powered by Promise
  2. Catalyzed by Commitment
  3. Grounded by Grace

Ephesians 5:31

31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

In v.31, Paul is quoting Genesis 2:24. There, we see the first marriage ceremony, and the text describes what is happening there as holding fast” or “cleaving.”

In the Hebrew word it literally means to be glued to something. And the use of the word came to mean “a binding promise.”

So, when we talk about a covenant, we are talking about a Promise. It is a Promise that is both vertical and horizontal.

It is grounded in God’s promise to us (vertically), and then it is lived out horizontally in our Promise we make to one another.

Q: But, why do so many struggle to keep the promise?

A: We get shortsighted. We think in terms of current love rather than future love.

When couples get married and speak vows to one another, they usually think in terms of current love. But, covenantal love is not just a promise of present love; it is a promise of future love—

“…to honor and cherish you from this day forward; for better or for worse; for richer or for poorer; in sickness and in health; till death do us part.

Q: So, what is the promise for the future and what difference does it make?

A: When we hold fast to the Promise of God and the Promise that we made with our spouse, we are acknowledging that marriage is a vehicle of my sanctification.

In other words, Marriage is a vehicle of transformation in my life.

So, rather than cut it short, fight it or leave it, I will yield to it and allow God to refine me. I will say, “God, use my marriage to draw me closer to you and make me more like you.”

Many people find this offensive or oppressive. But, when we choose this path, allowing the promise we have made to power our marriage relationship, it actually fuels and sustains our love.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor, sent to prison in Hitler’s Germany and later martyred for his faith. In 1943, while in his cell, he wrote a wedding sermon that he was never permitted to deliver. In that sermon, he said, ‘It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.’

That leads to the 2nd point about covenantal love…

2. Covenantal Love Is…Catalyzed By Commitment. V. 28

Covenantal Love is…

  1. Powered by Promise
  2. Catalyzed by Commitment
  3. Grounded by Grace

Ephesians 5:28

28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.

Do you see the word, “should”? The wording here is significant. It can be translated as ought to and means that this love is not based on feeling, and it is not based on circumstances. Rather it is based on covenant. Love is a choice. We decide to love.

If your definition of love stresses affectionate feeling rather than selfless action, you will not be able to grow strong love relationships. But, if you stress the action of love over feeling, you will enhance and establish the feeling.

C.S. Lewis said…

“Do not waste your time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor; act as if you did…and you will presently come to love him.”

Many people say that they give 50% and their spouse gives 50%.  They say that marriage is a 50-50 proposition.  But those who have been at it awhile know that this just isn’t so.  Marriage isn’t 50-50, it is 100-100. 

But, what do we do when we fail to live out this idea of Covenantal Love? This is a lofty ideal. It is God’s holy standard. And we all fall short. None of us live this out the way we should.

Did you know that 2/3rds of couples who stick it out after a tough season where they considered divorce, 5 years later described themselves as happily married?

I want to challenge you to Cleave to your Spouse. Hold Fast.  Be bound by the glue of your covenant and demonstrate your faithfulness to Christ by being faithful to your spouse.

You know, there is something powerful about an oath and call. 

When someone comes to me to discuss a career in ministry, I stop and ask them about their call experience.  “Do you have a call to ministry, or is it just something that looks appealing to you?”

I’ll then tell them, “Don’t get into ministry vocationally unless you have a calling.  For there are going to be days in ministry where the only thing that will keep you in this work is your call – the vivid reality that God has personally picked you for this.  It is so important that you go back to your call and find strength in your call.”

The same is true in marriage.  Look at Ephesians 4:1.

Ephesians 4:1

“I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called…”

Church, did you realize that you are called to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord?

Church, do you grasp that in your marriage, there might be some days where all you have is your calling, your oath? 

But here is what I have learned, God sees me through and strengthens me even more when I lean on my calling.  Those are the times when I look more like Christ.

Wherever we are, the point is to grow closer to Christ and closer to each other. Take a step toward His Grace. That leads to our last point…

3. Covenantal Love Is…Grounded By Grace.

Covenantal Love is…

  1. Powered by Promise
  2. Catalyzed by Commitment
  3. Grounded by Grace

Ephesians 5:25

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church, and gave himself up for her…”

Marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church. It is a picture of His covenant of love. And His covenant love is given to us, not because we deserve it, but because it is grounded in grace.

The secret of walking in this kind of love is learning to become a conduit of God’s grace.  His demonstration of grace becomes the ground for our demonstration of grace. He demonstrated his love by laying down his life. And that’s what we are to do for our spouse!

Here are a few questions to consider:

  • Have you died to yourself for the sake of your spouse?
  • Have you emptied yourself for your marriage and your home?
  • At a minimum, are you gracious toward your spouse?

Anything less than gracious action toward them is a front upon the grace that we have received in Christ.

In other words, we are to give unconditional and Covenantal Love to our spouse, not because they deserve it, but because, like us, they don’t.

When I truly realize my own sin, failures, and weaknesses, and the depth of Christ’s amazing grace, it frees me to walk in grace toward my spouse.

And the reason this works in marriage, is because the marriage relationship is a picture of Christ’s relationship to the Church. It mirrors the gospel.

When Jesus was looking down from the Cross, he didn’t think “I am giving myself to you because of what you did for me or because you are so lovable.” Rather, while he suffered in agony, he saw us denying him, abandoning him, and betraying him.

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they are doing.”

Tim Keller says—

“He loves us, not because we were lovely to him, but to make us lovely.”

That’s what Paul means in Ephesians 5:26 by “sanctifying her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word…that she might be holy and without blemish.”

We have the privilege of giving Christ’s love to our spouse to make them lovely.

Covenantal Love is…

  1. Powered by Promise
  2. Catalyzed by Commitment
  3. Grounded by Grace

So, what am I asking you to do?

  1. Examine your life – am I approaching my marriage as if it is a contract or a covenant?
  2. Ask your spouse the same question – am I approaching our marriage as if it is a contract or a covenant?
  3. Go back to that moment when you said your vows:
    1. Maybe you should go watch your wedding ceremony and remember your vows.  Remember the vertical and horizontal promises you have made.  Draw strength from this oath and remember to what you have been called to.
    1. Recall what your vows mean:  I promise to Show compassion to you, to be kind, forgiving and loving to you!
  4. Show the Grace of Jesus to your Spouse

You too, can win at marriage! If you don’t remember anything else, remember this:

If you will serve your spouse more than you serve yourself, you will be doing your part to win at marriage. When you both do it, it’s an unstoppable force!