Aun Quek Chin—Singapore
Compared to society in general, divorced couples are relatively uncommon in the True Jesus Church. Undeniably, however, there are many couples whose hearts have long separated although they themselves have not. The ripples of marital conflict and broken relationships spread far, causing unhappiness for the entire family, and eventually hurting even the larger church family. It is thus critical for us to understand the fundamentals of marriage, and God’s will in bringing a man and a woman together. Marital difficulties may be inevitable, but our Lord who esteems marriage is willing to help those in such situations. Jesus performed His first miracle—turning water into wine—for the benefit of a newly-married couple. Key to this miracle was the protagonists’ belief in the Lord and their willingness to follow His instructions. No problem is beyond the Almighty, but we must do our part by repenting and turning back to His path. By relying on Him, we can protect the institution of marriage, bringing blessing to our families and glory to God.
IS DIVORCE PERMITTED?
They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to dismiss her.” And Jesus answered and said to them, “Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mk 10:4–9)
Today, marriage rates are falling even as divorce rates rise. One reason for this is that society no longer esteems the institution of marriage in the same way it once did. For those who do marry, separating when things do not work out is a natural solution. Such societal norms have crept into the church. Some believers are adamant that marriage and divorce are private matters, and do not welcome “interference” from the church. They forget that marriage is instituted by God, and that they are accountable to Him. This was also a problem in Jesus’ time. When He reminded the Pharisees of God’s will, they challenged Him, saying, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” (Mt 19:7). Jesus replied, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (Mt 19:8).
To some, it may appear that Moses was giving in to those who stubbornly asserted a right to divorce. However, Moses did not condone divorce; he merely set out the legal parameters.
“When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house…” (Deut 24:1)
The Law of Moses clearly states that the only grounds for divorce was uncleanness in the wife. Before a divorce was granted, the matter would have to be brought before the elders who would judge whether the man’s reason was justified. The Pharisaic challenge to Jesus arose because the rabbis themselves were divided on what constituted reasonable grounds for divorce. One group, the Shammaites, argued that only sexual immorality or unfaithfulness were acceptable; another group, the Hillelites, held that the husband could divorce his wife simply for falling out of his favor. So Jesus had to remind the Jews that the only justification for divorce was infidelity:
“And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” (Mt 19:9)
Jesus’ teaching holds true for Christians today. In the absence of infidelity, the covenant stays intact, and the couple remains as one body in the sight of God. If they divorce and one party re-marries, the latter commits sin. Therefore, we must heed Jesus’ words: “What God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mk 10:9). Since God made man and woman, and brought them together to be one body, one flesh, marriage is the will of God. We must, thus, remember that marriage is a divine institution, not a mere human invention.
MAKING THE RIGHT CHOICE
Many cultures have the idea that each person is destined to marry his or her soulmate—a match made in heaven. We may also have heard people say that if you cannot win a person’s heart, then it is not meant to be. The truth is, although marriage is established by God, He does not predetermine our spouse. So we need not worry that we may choose someone whom God has not intended for us—the “wrong rib bone,” as it were, or the wrong Adam. We are free to choose whom we wish to marry, subject to the important condition that God has set: we should find our spouse from within the church. Some misunderstand the rationale for this condition, thinking that it is based on the assumption that individuals in church are better. This is not the case, since none of us is perfect. In fact, there are many individuals outside of True Jesus Church who have good qualities. Nevertheless, God has stipulated this requirement because He cares about our faith.
In choosing a spouse, there are undoubtedly many considerations—the most fundamental being whether two people love each other. Another consideration may be health; for example, what if the object of one’s affection has many serious ailments? Looks are important for some people; while others prioritize strength of character, knowing that physical beauty eventually fades. Aside from personal preferences, the opinions of parents may also be a factor. All parents want a better life for their children. Hence they would be concerned whether their child and their child’s potential spouse have the financial resources to build a secure life together.
How should the matter of faith feature in the choice of spouse?
Some dismiss faith as a factor, arguing that good character transcends choice of religion. However, the reality is that marrying someone of a different faith will bring many issues. Not only will it affect our personal faith, it will also have lasting implications for our children, grandchildren, and wider family. The couple may love each other and agree on most issues, but how will they decide in matters of faith? Should children be baptized? How should non-Christian in-laws be handled if they expect participation in their religious traditions? And if we decided to give in and give up on our faith, how will we give an account to God on the day of judgment?
Parents need to encourage their children to marry in the Lord. This starts with the correct mindset. Rather than focusing on wealth, societal accomplishments or status, parents should guide children to prioritize Christian virtues, such as the fear of God, in their choice of spouse. If we uphold the principle of marriage in the Lord in our lives, then God will esteem our marriage and the marriages of our children. On the other hand, if we consistently prioritize wealth over faith, status over service to the Lord, love for leisure over love for the Lord, how will God bless our marriages? When things go wrong, we cannot say to God, “Forgive me, I made the wrong choice. Let me switch spouses now.” To err is human, and for some things in life, we get second or third chances to try again. But marriage is not one of them because two have become one, and what God has joined, man cannot separate. This is why we must exercise much care in choosing wisely.
Then the rib which the LORD God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man. And Adam said:
“This is now bone of my bones
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.”
Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed. (Gen 2:22–25)
When God made Adam, He said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him” (Gen 2:18). He then proceeded to put Adam into a deep sleep, removed one of his ribs and used it to create a woman. God could have created Adam and Eve simultaneously but chose to do so sequentially. This was not due to lack of planning for the Omniscient Creator. Nor could Eve have been a mere afterthought for a Creator who loves all His creatures (Ps 139:13–16). God deliberately delayed the creation of Eve. We can infer three possible reasons for this.
Being Alone Is Not Good
First, God wanted Adam to know that being alone was not good. When God brought his wife to him, Adam’s reaction was telling: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Gen 2:23). Adam had been lonely, and was extremely appreciative when God gave him a companion. It is a blessing to have a God-given spouse. However, there may be times when we do not treasure our companion. Worse, we feel glad when we are away from them. This ought not to be the case. Cherish the time we have with our spouse. Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but let us not take each other for granted when we are together each day.
Needing a Helper
In Adam’s case, being alone was not good because he was without a helper (Gen 2:20b). There is always a great sense of achievement when we are able to succeed independently. However, sometimes in life, one pair of hands is not enough and an additional pair of helping hands is warmly welcome. This is the second reason God created Eve through this process: He wanted Adam to realize that he had limitations before He brought him a helper. This is our amazing heavenly Father and Creator—He knows that no matter how capable one is, there will be occasions where support and help are needed. He provides such a person for us. In turn, we ought to thank God and treasure this helper for life.
Two Become One
The third reason for this sequence of events is that God wanted Adam to know that His will was for two to become one. Eve was taken from Adam’s body, but through marriage, God joined them back into one. When Adam saw Eve, he said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” God enabled Adam to understand this truth, and He wants us to understand as well.
If we understand God’s will in relation to marriage, we will not be casual over our relationships. Engaging in pre-marital sex is wrong because we are treating this most intimate of relationships as a game. God only permits sexual relationships within the confines of marriage. When two become one, they are husband and wife and cannot be separated. In addition, there cannot be a third party, for this would be adultery—the breaking of the marriage covenant.
Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge. (Heb 13:4)
We must honor marriage, the One who instituted marriage, and we must honor our spouse. Many forget they have to honor the marriage bed and ensure it remains undefiled. As a result, some defile the bed even before they are married. Others defile the marriage bed after they are married through adultery. God sees all things: even though the spouse may not know, God will know. The guilty party may view it as a one-off affair, or a bit of fun, but in God’s eyes that person has defiled the marriage bed, and He will judge. Therefore, we need to stay holy before and during marriage, and be alert to possible temptations. The devil would like to destroy our marriage, and some have been enticed to sin against God in this way.
Sexual relations are less frequently addressed in the True Jesus Church’s pulpit ministry and, within more conservative societies, there may be some embarrassment about open discussion on this topic. But there is some urgency to facilitating a clear understanding in this area, as sexual relations is a key issue in the marital problems faced by couples in the church. When a husband and wife have problems, their sexual relationship will inevitably be affected. This leaves a foothold for the devil and, left unresolved, can lead the parties concerned to fall into temptation—that is, to look for fulfilment outside their marriage.
Satan would like to see marriages destroyed—for us to defile the marriage bed, and for us to hurt our spouse by withholding the intimacy that is due to them as part of this sacred covenant. Therefore, it is important that we understand God’s will and His purpose in instituting marriage. In His infinite wisdom and love, He does not want us to be alone and lonely. He wants us to have a helper, someone with whom we can share a life and grow together as one in faith and love. Marriage is a gift from God that we should honor. What God has joined, let no man separate.
REMAINING SINGLE IS A GIFT
It is a fact of life that, for a variety of reasons, some believers are still single despite being of marriageable age. Anxious parents may fret and urge them to quickly settle down. Well-meaning friends may incessantly offer to matchmake them, some going even so far as to propose non-believers!
While having a companion is good (Eccl 4:9–11), remaining alone can be a positive thing for some believers. The Lord Jesus Himself spoke about this:
“For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.” (Mt 19:12)
Jesus mentions three categories of individuals who may opt out of marriage. The first are those whom He terms “eunuchs from birth”—those who have certain congenital conditions that prevent them from being married. Putting pressure on them to do so would be inappropriate. The second are “eunuchs” because of a situation or their environment: for example, illnesses that make them unsuitable for marriage. The third category consists of those who wish to serve the Lord wholeheartedly, making a personal decision to stay single. The True Jesus Church does not impose marriage as an eligibility criterion on her full-time workers, as the church understands that marriage has its share of issues. If a worker of God decides that he or she does not want to bear the potential burdens that arise from marriage—and this worker has the special gift from God to remain single (1 Cor 7:7)—then we should respect and commend his or her decision.
In short, we should not presume that being single is undesirable. We must never ridicule those who are single, or assume they have a problem; if we do, then we are undiscerning and do not know the word of God.