Matthew 19:1-9 “God’s Standard, Not Ours”

“God’s Standard, Not Ours”                           January 29, 2023                               Matthew 19:1-9

Introduction:  God created man in his image (Gen. 1:26)

  • We should know God—Romans 1:19
  • Sin keeps us from knowing God
    • The puritan John Flavel writes, “man, originally, was of one constant, uniform frame of spirit, held one straight and even course; not one thought or faculty was disordered:  his mind had a perfect knowledge of the requirements of God, his will was in perfect compliance with God…but by the apostasy, has become a most disordered and rebellious creature, opposing his maker, as the first cause, by self-dependence; as the chief good, by his self-love; as the highest lord, by self-will; and as the last end, by self-seeking.  Thus he is quite disordered and all his actions are irregular.”[1]
  • The Christian is able to know God because God the Holy Spirit has regenerated him
  • The World cannot know God this way…
  • The Christian still has a sinful nature, so we revert to a state of forgetfulness

We have to be on guard against the world’s view of life, and we have to guard against our own view being influenced by our sin and the world’s sin

  • We have to remember these things, because we walk that precarious line of
    • Holy yet sinful
    • Positional holiness—“in Christ” as a believer
      • Justification means you are pronounced holy because Jesus is holy
    • This means our holiness is less than holy in terms of our actions, thoughts, and words
  • We live in a dangerous place in terms of world-view.
    • For starters, even when the world’s ideals coincide with God’s in certain points, the world’s ideals have a different goal than God’s
      • So we know to be wary of the world’s way of thinking
    • But, there are times when we’re wrong too
      • We mean well, but our world view isn’t biblical
    • And there are times when the church is wrong
      • Modernist controversy—in the name of trying to be acceptable and relevant to the modern person, Christian pastors gave up the core of Christianity
        • Anti-supernatural religion
          • Miracles
          • Virgin birth
          • Deity of Christ
          • It all began by denying the divine authorship of the Bible
      • Bonhoeffer, “there’s no theology here”

We see this same kind of thinking in the Pharisee’s question, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?”

  • The modernist controversy gave up the ghost on supernaturalism—the truth that God acts in history
  • The Pharisees had given up the ghost by looking to the law to show them how far they could go without sinning, instead of seeing the law as the guard-rails that take them toward godliness
  • So, Jesus answers them by pointing to a principle instead of the specifics
    • The specific they wanted to know—as a way to trap him, was about what grounds constitute a lawful divorce
    • The principle Jesus uses is  God made everything good
      • AND marriage was given before the fall—not after the fall
      • The point Jesus is making:  Instead of looking for the accepted exceptions in a sinful world—start by understanding how God intended the world to be
      • Their way leads to legalism, looking for loopholes, and licentiousness by exploiting the loopholes
      • God’s way leads to godliness—but it takes work
        • Work that leans on grace—John Flavel writes on “keeping the heart”—“the duty is ours, though the power is of God; what power we have depends on us rousing in ourselves the strength we’re given in Christ”[2]
        • grace for obedience and grace for understanding

So let’s get our three points out:  1. Marriage and divorce;  2.  Using God’s Principles;  3.  Near and Present Danger

  1. Marriage and Divorce
    1. Quick summary of Jesus’ teaching here
    1. Marriage is for a lifetime
      1. Vv4-6  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.”
    1. Divorce is allowable for infidelity
      1. Vv. 7-9  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.”
    1. Paul expands on divorce in two places:  one in the instance when two unbelievers are married and one becomes a believer, the other is about abandonment
      1. 1 Cor. 7:13-15  If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.
      1. 1 Timothy 5:8  But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
  2. Using God’s Principles
    1. See how Jesus responds—
      1. They ask about divorce, when is it okay?
    1. Jesus responds by citing God’s original creation—before Adam and Eve sinned
      1. 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.”
    1. This is one basic principle we should use in how we understand everything
      1. Before mankind sinned—Genesis 1 and 2—is a picture of God’s holy intention for mankind and the world
      1. These chapters form the basis for how we should understand ourselves, each other, and the world
        1. Sabbath rest and work
        1. Serving God by serving creation in the role of royal under-shepherd (“vice-king”)
        1. Worshipping God in communion with him
        1. Marriage and family
        1. Genders
        1. And of course using what God has given you, but refraining from what God has forbidden
    1. So, interpret the world according to God’s good creation—don’t interpret according to the fallen circumstances we live in
      1. Dt. 24 that provision was given b/c we are hard of heart—those are fallen circumstances
        1. And in fact, the certificate of divorce wasn’t a convenience for the husband
        1. It was a protection for the wife
          1. Protection from abandonment—he would have to seek Israelite judges or elders’ permission to divorce
          1. Protection from later claiming she was his wife if she were to marry again
      1. Jesus’ point is divorce isn’t the ideal
        1. You don’t shoot for “good enough”
          1. Story about that slow kid at Oakwood—fired on Mother’s Day
          1. He strove for “good enough not to get fired”
        1. God gave us an ideal—marriage is forever
      1. But, we live in a fallen world: so, there are times when divorce is necessary
        1. The pharisees were looking for permission—we have to treat marriage as so sacred that divorce must be necessary before it’s even an option
        1. We have to apply God’s principles to our unique situations
        1. Use the guidelines of scripture, requirements for a biblical divorce:
          1. Sexual infidelity—there’s a broad range and narrow range in this passage, you’ll have to work through this on an individual level to apply it as the need arises
          1. Abandonment—this means material abandonment for extended periods, which would cover abuse
          1. Becoming Unequally yoked through conversion
          1. Again, just because the guidelines are fulfilled, that doesn’t mean divorce is necessary. 
          1. Reconciliation is always better—reconciliation is the gospel after all.
      1. When living a godly life in the fallen world, we have to be innocent as doves, but wise as serpents.  It’s not easy and it requires thought effort
  3. Near and Present Dangers—we face them all the time
    1. First—let me restate the principle we need to follow:  Don’t interpret the world according to the world’s sinful standards.  We are called to interpret the world according to God’s standard.
    1. And I imagine we’re all aware that even though the church isn’t the world, the church often behaves like the world
      1. Even us—you and me
      1. These are Pharisees, after all—church people
    1. So, some near and present dangers—at this point, I realize I’m preaching to the choir, but these are good reminders.  Especially for children growing up in this world.
      1. Marriage is under attack in the culture at large and even in churches
        1. It’s not just that marriage is a good thing among other good things.  Godly marriage should be pursued.  God’s people should pursue marriage, we shouldn’t be single so long. 
        1. Of course, not everyone is called to be married, but that’s not the typical plan.
        1. Two believers coming together in a life-long union are a symbol of Jesus and his church.  This is a glorious picture!
      1. Family is always under attack
        1. The culture’s general intolerance of and actual opposition to children.
          1. Drain on resources vs. greatest resource
          1. We are the only resource able to marshal other resources for a greater good than they could on their own.
        1. Don’t we see this in the church, too?  It’s not the Drag Queen Story Hour—at least not in our confessional Presbyterian and Reformed circles;  but we do see and hear of downgrading the importance of marriage, family and children.
        1. Kids that don’t desire to have families.  Boys and girls thinking first about making money, having great stuff, and seeing children as impediments to that?
    1. Jesus uses the principle of marriage to show the Pharisees the darkness of their hearts.  Later in this chapter, verses 16-30, he’s going to do the same thing with Rich Young Man.  In neither case do we read about a conversion.
      1. That doesn’t mean none of them came to faith.
      1. The truth is the point—not their experiences.
      1. Jesus uses the truth to point them inward first—to examine their hearts.  He uses their citation of the law to show them their misunderstanding of God’s design.
      1. The underlying point there is to see how Jesus is the one God sent to fix this.
        1. They misunderstood the law they were supposed to be experts at knowing.
        1. If they don’t the law, they can’t know God.
        1. If they don’t know God, how can they be called God’s children?

Our Lord Jesus answers their question with God’s principle to start them down the road to find him.  The one who fulfills the law on our behalf—Jesus.  The savior who reveals God perfectly, because he is fully God and fully man.  The redeemer who takes for himself a bride of sinnners and reconciles them to God, finally, fully, and forever.

Jesus didn’t say all these things that day, but his response shows us how God’s word gives us the principles we need to order our thoughts and actions appropriately. The Pharisees used God’s law as a way to find out what was allowable—how far can I go without sinning? —that’s legalism.  Jesus showed them that God gives principles to order our lives and relationships so that we can be more like him.  And in that way we bring light and salt to this world of darkness.  Amen.

[1] Flave, “Keeping the Heart”, p.18.

[2] Flavel, John.  Keeeping the Heart.  P. 15 (paraphrased).