“…Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘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.” Matthew 19:4ff

I remember my astonishment as a young pastor when I recognized that most people see the wedding ceremony as the prelude to the main attraction, the reception. The average couple give more thought to the preparations for the reception than to the content of their vows. I even had one couple ask me to pick the vows out for them! I remember my response, “Hey, I am not marrying you, you are marrying each other. The vows are the most important part of your day! You need to pick them out together.”

The whole preparation for the wedding ceremony and the events to follow ought to be planned in the context of a worship service, especially to a seriously committed, religious couple. Our text is one of the prime passages of instruction uttered from our Lord’s own lips. Our present culture is seeking to obliterate even the faintest application of this sublime text.

In the preceding verses, Jesus is being tested by the Pharisees on a matter of biblical law. There were two schools of thought among the Pharisees. One was strict in its interpretation of divorce and the other was quite lenient. Thus their question, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason?”

Our Lord will clearly answer their question in due time, but first, He succinctly states the framework from which God’s instruction hangs. Verses 4 through 6 is an exposition of Genesis 1:27 and 2:24, from the record of the very first marriage, where there were only three, God, Adam, and Eve. God made them “male and female.” His words could not be plainer. Our Lord’s point in the quote is that marriage is supernatural. God does the “making” and He chooses the rules, the design, and the order. One preacher stated, “God made Adam and Eve and not Adam and Steve.” By the same token God did not create a transforming Adam or Eve. The very concept and definition of “marriage” is the joining together of two disparate persons. It is a structure that binds these two emotionally, biologically, and distinctly disparate persons together. For such a structure to be successful it better be supernatural.

Our Lord’s second quote teaches that marriage is ordained by God. Its institution is preeminent over other human institutions, including the state, as it precedes the institution of human government. Human government did not arrive until after the flood in Genesis 9 and the institution of “lex talionis,” “eye for an eye.” A man leaving his father and mother (the definition of a family), joined to his wife (the institution of marriage), and the two becoming one flesh, is fully understood in the supernatural realm, the realm of spiritual harmony with God and with each other.

Proverbs 6:23–31 is a grand statement of parental warning to a beloved son prohibiting sexual relations with any woman outside of the God-ordained institution of marriage. If, in disobedience to his parents and to God’s prohibition, the son pursues relations with an “adulteress” or a “harlot,” he does so to his own ruin. Even though there are physical relations, there is not even the remotest idea that physical relations establish a Genesis 2:24 marriage. There are no promises exchanged, there is no structure of relationship as instituted by God, there is no marriage as ordained by God in either the sin of fornication or of adultery (Proverbs 5:15–23). Marriage is not simply physical union, but it is a mutual yielding of individual interests, a surrender of absolute autonomy, and a commitment to encourage and work toward the same goals of establishing a family as God defines it.

After quoting two verses to teach that marriage is supernatural and that marriage is ordained by God, our Lord goes on to explain that marriage is a divine act, not just a covenant between two people. He says, “So then, they are no longer two but one flesh.” This He explains to mean that God has acted. He says “therefore what” not “whom.” He is creating a “what.” The “what” He is creating is a joining together (welding together). This act man cannot separate. (Divorce is a separation, never a termination.) In other words, as is borne up by His subsequent teaching in verses 7-10, He is teaching that God institutes “one flesh” and man has instituted divorce (Malachi 2:16). There is a supernatural, ordained, and divine action in what we know as the institution of marriage. This is why a wedding is, at its heart, a worship service to which family and loved ones are invited to attend, to give audience and to witness. Marriage is sacred (Hebrews 13:4).

Just a short note on verses 7-10 is in order. Moses permitted divorce in the instance of a sexually impure marriage (the only reasonable, biblical explanation of the meaning of this is found in Leviticus 18:6 and Deuteronomy 24:1–4 where it is expressive of “too near marriage,” for example marrying your first cousin or sister). The disciples understood His meaning to be quite restrictive, as is seen by their conclusion in verse 10, they see His bar as placed quite high. The take-away truth is—choose well the first time.

A God-honoring marriage is a grand testimony of God’s love lived out before a lost world. Biblical marriage is the establishment of a new unity, intimacy, partnership, identity, and is the greatest venue of testing and displaying the authenticity of the fruit of the Spirit. Trust and obey.