Laws of Marriage

Now, dear brothers and sisters—you who are familiar with the law—don’t you know that the law applies only while a person is living? For example, when a woman marries, the law binds her to her husband as long as he is alive. But if he dies, the laws of marriage no longer apply to her. So while her husband is alive, she would be committing adultery if she married another man. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law and does not commit adultery when she remarries.”
Romans 7:1-3 NLT

I don’t know why Paul used the illustration of marriage to make a point that “the law applies only while a person is living”. And in such a misogynistic way as well. Of course, we could write these verses from a man’s perspective as well, and they would be just as applicable. But we mustn’t be too hard on Paul – that was the culture of his day. His message, though, is a very unpopular one in today’s societies. It’s not just about the failure of a man or a woman to keep and honour their marriage vows. There is also the current societal preoccupation with single sex marriages. Paul used a straightforward example in his letter but I’m sure he never envisaged that it would open a “can of worms” on 21st Century Planet Earth.

To take the problem of marriages demanded between single sex couples, we first have to ask the question – do we believe that the Bible is the inspired and infallible Word of God, or is it a book of writings that can be interpreted and ignored in the light of the society in which we live? My writings in this blog always assume the former position, the infallibility of Scripture, because that is what I passionately believe. If you, my reader, lean towards the latter then what I am about to write might not sit easily with you. Genesis 2:24, “This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one“. Right in the beginning of Genesis, God states two positions – marriage is a union between a man and a woman, and He also implies that there are only two genders (but that’s for another day in another blog). Jesus referred to this Scripture when He was asked about divorce. We read what He said in Mark 10:6-9, “But ‘God made them male and female’ from the beginning of creation. ‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’ Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together“. 

In Deuteronomy 24:1-2 we read that divorce was allowed in the Israelite culture of the time – “Suppose a man marries a woman but she does not please him. Having discovered something wrong with her, he writes a document of divorce, hands it to her, and sends her away from his house. When she leaves his house, she is free to marry another man“. Some Pharisees tried to trap Jesus with a question over divorce (perhaps it was just as hot a topic then as it is today), and we read in Matthew 19:7-9, ““Then why did Moses say in the law that a man could give his wife a written notice of divorce and send her away?” they asked. Jesus replied, “Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended. And I tell you this, whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery—unless his wife has been unfaithful””. Jesus’ disciples were appalled by what He said, it seems, responding with, “ … If this is the case, it is better not to marry!”” (Matthew 19:10b). They took what He said very seriously.

So Paul, in his example about the law, stated that a marriage contract between a man and a woman could only be broken by the death of either partner. Then the remaining partner was free to remarry. There is another “can of worms” for our societies today over the marrying of a divorcee, but that too is for another day. Marriage is a legally binding contract in God’s eyes which ideally should not be broken. But we also have to balance this apparently dogmatic position with other Scriptures, such as God’s love and grace. We who are married pray for both our own marriages and for those of our friends and families. The devil is in the business of destroying marriages, as he is for anything that is God-ordained. Forewarned, we keep close to God and in difficult times we pray for more love and grace.

Dear God. You established an order on earth with two genders, who were to be joined together in a holy union. I pray for protection both for my own marriage, but also for the marriages of my friends and family. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


Breaking Promises

They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy.
‭‭Romans‬ ‭1‬:‭31‬ ‭NLT

Yesterday we looked at the background to Paul’s first attribute in verse 31 – the “refus[al] to understand”. Paul’s second character trait is that wicked people, those who “thought it foolish to acknowledge God”, also “break their promises”. Are these any promises or just those concerning God? The dictionary describes a promise as a declaration assuring that someone will or will not do something. We shouldn’t make promises lightly, but sadly, many do and then break them, if it suits them better. Or promises are made rashly without thinking of the consequences or how they can be implemented. Sometimes people make promises just to get themselves out of a hole, with no intention of fulfilling what they had promised. The days of a word being a bond are long forgotten. But to answer our question, Paul was referring to all promises, not just vows for or to God.

God has made many promises. In fact, the Bible is full of them. Take for example Isaiah 41:10, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand”. Or how about Isaiah 43:2, “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you“. Here’s a verse from the New testament, “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you“. (1 Peter 5:7). The Apostle John wrote in 1 John 5:14-15, “And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for.”‭‭ For those of us concerned about our countries, 2 Chronicles 7:14 is a verse worth camping around for a while. “Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land”. 

But we shouldn’t think that God only promises good things. Right back in Genesis 3:17, we see the consequences of Adam’s sin, “And to the man he said, “Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it”. And ever since, mankind has found life hard. Because of Adam’s sin, human beings in subsequent generations found themselves unable to easily access the plentiful supply of food originally planned by God.

But these are not just divine words, implanted in the Bible to make us feel good. These are promises God has made, and if there is one thing that God is incapable of doing, it is that He is unable to break a promise. If God has said He will do something in His Word, the Bible, then He will keep that word. We need to heed everything God has promised.

But Paul highlights the wicked behaviour of those who make promises and them break them. Why would that be a character trait of “sinful, wicked people” (Romans 1:18). The very cohesion of society relies on people behaving in a way that builds it, not breaks it down. And promises are one of the roots of a secure society. One of the promises that is broken far too readily is the one made in a marriage ceremony. Here in the UK, over four in ten marriages end up in divorce. A tactic of our enemy, the devil, is to break up families because he knows that broken families can contribute to broken societies. Marriage was ordained by God. We receive a glimpse of God’s heart in Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church. In Ephesians 5:31-32 we read, “As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one”. A broken marriage promise strikes at the very heart of God’s plan for His church. But for those despairing in a broken relationship, God’s light and guidance will bring illumination and the right course of action. There is always hope, no matter how hopeless things might appear. There is a life after divorce. God will always bring forgiveness to a penitent sinner.

We pilgrims must be careful in making promises, treating them as being sacrosanct. They are not something we should make lightly. A man or woman who keeps their word oils the wheels that keeps our families and communities together. In many ways we are living in the light of a promise. One day we will be welcomed into God’s presence in Heaven, A promise He made and will never break.

Dear Father God, we worship You and thank You for the loving promises You have made to each one of us. Please help us too, to keep our promises and extend Your promise of Good News to all we meet. In Jesus’ name. Amen.