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Relationship Over Restrain (Matthew 19)

Written by Thomas Kilian, Program Manager & Chaplain

Please read Matthew 19 in its entirety before reading this week’s study.

The Pharisees were trying to trap Christ with a question on the lawfulness of divorce, but He was not tricked. When posed with the Disciple's question on whether or not marriage was good, Jesus responded with a rebuke.

Recorded in Matthew 19, Jesus gives a two-paragraph response to both the law-keepers' question and his disciple's question. Oddly, Jesus concludes with a nod to voluntary eunuchs, and He ends with a rather elusive statement: "Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.” 

The Pharisees aimed to deceive Jesus in hope they could get Him rehearsing tortured variations of the Law. They asked a question concerning divorce in Moses’ Law; a highly controversial subject of the day. Any interpretive response would place him against most any group in the crowd that day, if not many groups (possibly even the Roman state). Meanwhile, Jesus' Disciples were deceived themselves. The deceptive game in which the Disciples were caught among was not the deceptive web spun by these professional “lawyers." Instead, the Disciples' hearts spun a web of evil desires. Desires of sins which so easily entangles. In context, the Disciples say, “I guess if there is no allowance for the comfort of divorce, one should not get married at all. Right, Jesus?” A poor, inappropriate response to Jesus’ teaching and recall of Scripture: "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning, it was not so," (verse 8).

The Disciples themselves were unwilling to give up the Old Testament allowance—a liberty—of divorce. Their desire came from thinking divorce was a practical solution for preserving “comfort" in the married state. The following is the possible bases for their belief: "If you have a way out of commitment, you could maintain comfort. If there was not allowance for divorcing, then your commitment could be your greatest mistake!” In contrast to statement made by the Disciples, Christ says: “ '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.” (Verse 5). Christ focused on the commitment as GOOD, SACRED, and liberating (in a sense)—something never to be destroyed. Later, Apostle Paul details in Ephesians 5:22-32 how the marriage union provides a man and woman with the opportunity to participate in a “profound mystery” in which the husband and wife take part (and must take part) in the work of Christ—glorifying God and sanctifying one another.

Divorce is always ugly in whatever form. Death of relationships are never pretty. Marriage (as an institution by God), on the other hand, is innocent, pure, and a symbol of life. Being married is hard, yes. But being a eunuch is hard too. Both require commitment to God—whom we derive our highest satisfaction and comfort.

If commitment to marriage is made on the bases of being able to end it (divorce), the marriage union no longer serves its full, God-given purpose. Its innocence must be restored.

The innocence of a child—a life of relationship over restraint—is what is acceptable in the eyes of God, as Christ says in verses 13-15.

The narrative teaches us several possible things: 

  1. Jesus is never the problem, but always the solution. Law-keepers wanted Jesus to be the problem, but He is the solution. When people approach God's Word with the hope that it will not apply to them, they become like law-keeper, looking for what they can question or even looking for the least they must adhere to.

  2. God's purpose for His people is to seek ways to glorify Him. It is not our purpose to seek ways to avoid sin. Let me clarify… Not enrolling in sin is a byproduct of seeking ways to glorify God. If we perceive avoiding sin as our sole purpose, we view life through the lens of law. Everything becomes a question of law, which Jesus alludes to in Matthew 19 as not being the primary goal. For example: If we view the musical instrument as an object that could lead us into sin, then we may imagine ways that it would be sinful. And it becomes sinful for us. But, if we follow Christ's higher law of loving God and people, most objects are viewed as tools to glorify God, not tools of possible sin. 

  3. Some questions require not a direct response, but an effectual one. As Christ did, questions which are a case of conscience or situational, which are often controversial, should be given a full answer. Look at Christ’s response in the passage once again, and look for how He talked of the ENTIRETY of God’s Word on the subject (but in a concise, responsible way). 

  4. Bad desires lead to bad doctrine. Christ himself would not lay down His judgment without Scripture proof to support it. This is unlike the Disciple's opposing statement, formed as a question. Our arguments should be Christ-like, with our statement coming not from our desires, but God's Word. 

  5. Just because you can, does not mean you should. Jesus clearly stated how the Law included provisions or tolerances because of man's heart-issue, such as divorce, which is a clear example of my above lesson point. Paul's instruction in 1 Corinthians 10:23 displays this concept in practical language. — This is where discernment and maturity is required.

  6. God is glorified when we are most satisfied in Him!  Become like a child with an innocent attitude... Those belonging to the attitude of being with their parents as their source of joy—such as displayed by a child— rather than a joy when testing the outer-reaches of a parent's restraint. The end of Matthew 19, which concerns the rich, young ruler, reaffirms this thought. Just because you follow the commands of God, doesn’t mean you have or want a relationship with Him. God is glorified when we are most satisfied in Him!

Hard truths to live by. So, I repeat the words of our Savior: "Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.” 

We thank our Risen Lord for extending grace through His Word. 


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