When Marriage Gets Difficult
Topic: Sunday Sermons Scripture: Matthew 5:31
The Declaration of Independence has conditioned Americans to a sense of entitlement to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Be that political document as it may, what we who follow Christ, those who are Christians must realize is that there is a greater declaration from Jesus Christ that says something different about the pursuit of our lives and what the goal of living is. In Matthew 6:33 Jesus said, "seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." This is really fundamental, beloved. It is fundamental to realize, understand and embrace that the primary goal for a Christian is not liberty and happiness. That's not the first goal of life for those who belong to Christ. The first goal, the primary and the defining aspiration, the main ambition in life for you is the righteousness of God; to be the person of character and conduct that God calls you to be in response to the great saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross. The one who was sinless and gave himself up for us calls us to follow him, calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him, and we must realize, we must let our sense of the reason for our existence be defined by that. I realize that the words of the Declaration of Independence, as it were, are sort of tattooed on our minds growing up in this land of ours and we love those words in their own proper perspective as a political statement but, beloved, you must understand that when it comes to living your own personal life in the presence of God, that the goal, the purpose is not happiness. It's not that life would be necessarily pleasing to you, that things would go the way that you want them to go. The thing for you as a Christian is that you would live in a way that reflects what God calls you to be in Christ and perhaps those two things will come together and living righteously will bring you happiness and contentment, but even if it doesn't bring the happiness that you might aspire after, you live life with a different perspective.
Part of the commitment to pursuing righteousness is your approach to marriage and the way that you think about marriage, and this has applications whether you're actually married or not but beloved, knowing especially the difficulties with which some of you walk in that sacred institution, let me say this: your marriage is not to be lived with the thought, "I have a right to be happy." That's the wrong approach to marriage and will eventually bring you to much sorrow and grief if you approach it from that self-centered perspective. Rather in light of Scripture, in light of the words of our Lord Jesus Christ who called us to lay down our lives and to follow him, you should think about marriage from this perspective, not saying, "I have a right to be happy. It's guaranteed to me in the Declaration of Independence, after all." You should say, "I have a responsibility to be righteous in my marriage," and that's a completely different defining aspiration.
Let's carry those thoughts into this morning's passage, Matthew 5:31-32. We'll read these verses together. We'll deal with the first verse this week and verse 32 next week. Matthew 5:31 and 32.
31 It was said, 'Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce'; 32 but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
Now, I promise you that by the end of this message everyone whether you're married or not, the application of what we're going to have to say today extends far beyond marriage, but marriage is the focus of what Jesus is saying here and so we are going to take a look at it from a couple of perspectives, I guess you might say, here this morning, realizing that we're talking directly about marriage but also in a broader sense we're talking about the way that we think about life and the way that we respond when life maybe doesn't go the way that we want to, whether that's marriage turned out to be a piece of sorrow that you weren't expecting when you took your vows, or whether other circumstances or people or relationships have conspired to make you unhappy and finding life to be difficult to walk through. We need to think from the perspective that it's not, "I have a right to be happy," so that you are making demands horizontally on those around you, it's rather, "I have a responsibility to be righteous," and your focus is vertical in what God calls you to do and be.
Now, in verse 31, we're going to break this message down into two parts, kind of hinge it that way, and in the first half of the message we can just simply title this "The Pharisees and Divorce." The Pharisees and divorce, so we are stepping back for a moment to see the context of what Jesus was talking about and I think by the end of the message it will be very clear why we framed things away that we did here this morning because the Pharisees were approaching marriage from a sense of an entitlement to happiness in what they wanted marriage to be. The Pharisees and the way that you see this and the way that you know this is found in what we're just going to say just now. The Pharisees practiced divorce, they regulated divorce based on an Old Testament text found in Deuteronomy 24, and I'd invite you to turn back to that long book, the fifth book of the Bible, the fifth section of the book of Moses, Deuteronomy 24. And we're not going to try to exposit this passage, just to refer to it so that it is in your mind as we see and examine what Jesus has to say here in Matthew 5.
In Deuteronomy 24:1-4, let me just pause and remind you of what we said about God's view of marriage a couple of weeks ago. God, as Scripture makes very plain even from the beginning in Genesis 2, God designed marriage to be a permanent union between a man and a woman in a covenant bond of marriage; that that would be a union that was permanent, it was exclusive, it was intimate, and it was loving. That is how God designed marriage to be from the very beginning and marriage, therefore, holds a high and lofty purpose in the plan of God, in the design of God, in the order of God in the universe, the order of God in the moral universe. God put marriage on a pedestal, not only designed to bring companionship to the couple but also to manifest, to be a living illustration of what ultimately would be a picture of the love that Christ has for the church and the love and submission that the church has to Christ. When you start to tamper with marriage, you start to tamper that which is right at the heart of the plan of God and the picture of his redemptive purposes, it's very very serious to do that. And so as a culture and as individuals, we are to treat marriage with respect; we are to realize that this is a sacred institution set apart by God to be treated with the utmost respect and care and devotion.
Now, by the time of Moses, the Jews had already begun to lose that perspective and it developed a rather loose attitude toward divorce, and in Deuteronomy 24, God gives law to regulate the nature and the practice of divorce. Now, that might sound strange for God to do that when he intended marriage to be exclusive and permanent. Why would he make allowance for divorce? Well, we'll see that as we go through but basically you need to understand that God never approved of divorce, he never commanded divorce, he never condoned it, but what we are about to read in Deuteronomy 24 was necessary to regulate the practice that had developed in order to prevent even further chaos from taking place.
So let's look at these first four verses of Deuteronomy 24 with that background in mind, that the responsibility is to be righteous and that God intended marriage to be permanent, loving and exclusive and intimate. Chapter 24, verse 1,
1 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 indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house, 2 and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man's wife, 3 and if the latter husband turns against her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her to be his wife, 4 then her former husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be his wife, since she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the LORD, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance.
Moses at this time is speaking just shortly before the children of Israel would enter into the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua, and so he's speaking at this time there at the end when it says, "don't bring sin on the land which the LORD your God gives you," it's looking forward to their life in the land of Canaan.
Now, this bill of divorcement was given as a means of providing protection to the wife who was being sent away. The prohibition against remarrying her original husband was designed to protect the sanctity of marriage and to protect the woman from a casual husband who was simply manipulating circumstances against her. The prohibition against remarriage kept the husband from walking in and out of the marriage saying, "I divorce you. I take you back. I divorce you. Oh, I take you back. I divorce you. I bring you back." By saying that when divorce occurs it is final and there is no coming back after the wife remarries someone else, it's establishing a parameter of seriousness that says when you break this marriage bond, something serious and permanent is happening and you can't go back to it later on. If you send your wife away, the purpose of this text is, you can't get her back if she remarries and then that marriage for whatever reason comes to an end. And the Lord said you must give her a certificate of divorce. You must document this properly and give your wife a certificate that protects her and gives her a measure of legal status and protection going forward as you send her away. That's not to say God loves divorce. No, Malachi 2:16 says God hates divorce, but it was a means of regulating a practice that otherwise was going to spin out of control. How would it spin out of control? When you go back to Matthew, you find the answer to that question.
Flash forward from Deuteronomy 24 to Jesus in the midst of the Pharisees. At this time and you don't find this so much laid out directly in the text of Scripture but it's well documented in extra-biblical sources, at the time of Christ, the Pharisees had – now watch this – the Pharisees had an internal dispute over the proper grounds for divorce. There was a Rabbi named Shammai who said that divorce was justified only for the case of adultery. There was another Rabbi named Hillel who said that a man could divorce his wife for any reason whatsoever. If you turn to Matthew 19, you'll see indication of this. Matthew 19:3, you'll see this indication of what was happening amongst the Pharisees. They were a separate group to themselves and yet within their group they had a difference of opinion over what the proper grounds for divorce were. So Matthew 19:3, "Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, 'Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?'" Can you divorce for any reason that you want? And Jesus goes on to correct him in a manner that we will see in just a moment.
But beloved, step back with me and let's think about what we see going on here. God's view of marriage required intimacy and sacrificial love and permanence and that was laid out plainly and clearly in the Old Testament as we have seen. In light of that, how on earth did certain Pharisees ever get to a point where they could say that you could get divorced for any reason whatsoever? How in the name of God did they get to that point in teaching their followers about marriage? Well, they did this and, beloved, this is much closer to home than you might realize, what I'm about to say. When Deuteronomy 24 spoke of a man finding indecency in his wife, here's what they did. The Pharisees, that group of Pharisees, interpreted indecency according to the subjective views of the husband. If the husband found something to be indecent in his wife, that was a sufficient grounds for divorce so that, literally speaking, if the wife burned the food, the husband had grounds for divorce. If the husband found a more attractive woman, he had grounds for divorce under this kind of teaching. And what the Pharisees said in light of that was, "Well, you found indecency, then what you need to do is this, just be sure that you give your wife the proper certificate of divorce." In other words, do the paperwork and you will have no guilt before God. You can divorce your wife for any reason that you want. Just give her the certificate of divorce that Moses commanded. They trivialized divorce so that they could live however they pleased. They wanted to a pursuit of happiness and totally disregarded and demolished the institution of marriage all in the name of God, all in the name of saying, "This is God's will for me. Look, I'm doing the paperwork. Here is the certificate of divorce."
Well, what does Jesus say about that? Look at Matthew 19:4. I believe you're still in Matthew 19. He corrects them and admonishes them and says, "Haven't you even read the Bible if you're talking this way?" In verse 4 he says, "He answered and said, 'Have you not read?'" You claim to be those who teach people about God and about his ways and about what God requires, haven't you read this? "Haven't you read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said," verse 5, "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?" Haven't you read that? It's in the Bible and here you are telling men that they can divorce their wife for any reason whatsoever. Just give her the certificate of divorce. This is a total contradiction of the institution of marriage as God established it as it is plainly written in the word of God, Jesus says to them. So in verse 6 he says, "So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate." Jesus says divorce is not appropriate. Divorce is not to be treated so casually.
And the Pharisees had a question in light of Deuteronomy 24, in verse 7, "They said to Him, 'Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?'" Why is it then that divorce is provided for in the Old Testament if, Jesus, what you're saying is true? And Jesus answers them and explains to them, "He said to them, 'Because of your hardness of heart,'" "your" meaning the Jews, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives," in other words, you were going to do what you wanted to do anyway, you had already abandoned God's view of marriage with the way that you were handling it. Since you were going to do what you wanted to do anyway, Moses permitted it and regulated it in order to steer your disobedience into a realm that would minimize its consequences. Look at the end of verse 8, "but from the beginning it has not been this way." This was never the design of God. Your hardness of heart, your indifference to marriage was never what God planned marriage to be. So he goes on and says in verse 9, "I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery." Jesus just threw a lasso around the loose practices of divorce of the day and tightened it and said, "This is not how marriage is to be treated. This is not how you are to do it."
Now, with that in mind, go back to Matthew 5:31 with all of that background in mind. This is what Jesus is alluding to in summary form here in verse 31. And remember what's going on here in verse 31, that this is part of Jesus' series of illustrations indicating how, for his disciple, their righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees.
Look over at Matthew 5:20 for a moment. Jesus said in verse 20, "I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." And so the Pharisees had this practice of so-called righteousness with respect to marriage and divorce and they said, "Brother, don't worry about it. Just give her the paperwork and go on your way. Get rid of that woman. As long as you give her the certificate, all will be well with you and God." Do you see that that simply guaranteed the most selfish, sinful approach to marriage imaginable? To give to a man the liberty to send his wife away for any reason whatsoever according to his own subjective desires guaranteed that sin would be at the center of marriage, selfishness would be at the center of marriage rather than the selfless, sacrificial, permanent, exclusive, intimate love that God intended marriage to have. This is about so much more than dotting the correct i's and crossing the correct t's. Jesus says, "You're thinking about it all wrong. You're looking to make marriage fail because you are selfish and self-centered in what you want. You need to think completely differently about marriage. Go back to God's original intent in marriage and honor that, honor the principles." The certificate of divorce on the back end was just an accommodation to hard hearts. That has nothing to do with being a faithful follower of Christ, a faithful disciple of the living God. You can't toss away marriage just because you're unhappy. Marriage is far more than that.
And here's the thing, beloved, as we step back and as we look at these things and we consider what's being said here: for the Pharisees, their unhappiness, their discontent in marriage, was a revelation of what was in their hearts. The fact that they could divorce on any grounds whatsoever and have the approval of their religious leaders as they did it was an indication that they viewed marriage lowly, that they wanted what they wanted, they wanted their own pursuit of happiness, and they had no regard for the things that God had revealed as being preeminent in his plan. So their discontent brought all of that to bear. It was like throwing open the closet and saying, "Here's what's inside the closet. Go through and see all of the dirty laundry in the garments. Here's what's in here," and what's in your heart, Pharisee, is great sin and selfishness because of the casual way that you treat marriage.
Now, Jesus in verse 32, and we'll see this next week, goes on and explains a proper view of divorce, but I didn't want to hustle into that and hurry into that when there are things to be said here about us. We should not think about this passage and look at verse 31 and just say, "Oh, those Pharisees," and look at them and externalize it all and miss the fact that this has something very important to say to us. You see, beloved, speaking to those of you that are married, when you are discontent in your marriage, there is an occasion at hand to display what is in your heart. There is the occasion at hand, how you respond to that discontent becomes a measure of what's in your heart, and if you approach it from the sense, "I have a right to be happy," then you're going to respond to that in a selfish way that is going to spin things out of control even moreso. If you realize that the idea in marriage is not for you to be happy but for you to live righteously before God, you'll come out in a different position altogether.
What am I saying? What do I mean by this? How could we illustrate what I'm saying? Well, let's say that you are discontent in your marriage. I'm not making accusations here. As far as I know, you're all happy in your marriage. We're talking about principles here. How could you recognize a spiritual Pharisee in marriage? Well, here's one way that you could recognize a Pharisee in marriage: when he or she becomes discontent in the marriage, she just becomes indifferent to what her spouse thinks, what the spouse feels, what the spouse says. That's a spiritual Pharisee that says, "Do you know what? I don't care. I don't care what they say. I'm not going to engage. I'm just going to check out of this. We may live in the outer shell of marriage but I'm checking out of here. I don't care what they say." Beloved, that's a spiritual Pharisee at work.
How do you know that? How do you know that that's not just a preacher making an accusation? Well, go back to God's intent for marriage. It was meant to be permanent, loving, exclusive and intimate. If you are married, that is God's call on your life that you would give that to your spouse. To say, "I'm going to check out. I'm not going to talk. I'm not going to listen. I don't care what this person says. I'm not going to engage or give myself to the relationship because I'm not happy." Well, stop thinking horizontally and start thinking vertically. The God that you say that you know says that marriage is to be like this. You do not have the liberty, then, to say, "I'm not going to do that," because you are to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.
Let's get more serious, let's get more detailed about it, and we say these things to build you up and to protect you and to help you. You're a spiritual Pharisee if you have flirtatious relationships with others outside your marriage relationship. That's a great sin against God because marriage is designed to be exclusive. And that's not simply a matter of what you do with your physical flesh, that's a matter of what you do with your heart.
I remember decades ago before I was even married, I knew of a couple where a man and a woman were living together. They were married, living together, and the man comes home and announces that he's in love with another woman. He said, "We haven't had any kind of physical relationship, but we've been talking and sharing things together and I love someone else but I'll stay married to you." This fine, so-called Christian man, speaking this way, violating in a horrific way God's spirit of marriage. Under the Pharisees' standard, having found another woman, he could have sent his wife away. No, that's a sin against God. You see, when you are married, you are not to be flirting with other people. You are not to be cultivating friendships and private moments with people outside of your marriage and starting to develop a kind of a secret relationship on the side where sweet nothings are exchanged to someone who is not your spouse. That's a great sin against God. That's a great violation of marriage because it's a violation of the exclusivity that God calls marriage to be.
Let's look at it from another perspective. You are – this one is going to hurt but the Lord bruises us in order to heal us – you are a spiritual Pharisee if you punish your spouse with the silent treatment or the withholding of intimacy because you're unhappy about something that has gone on in the marriage. That's a violation of marriage. That's a violation of the intimacy of marriage. It's a violation of the loving nature of marriage. And you say, "But you don't understand, preacher. You don't understand this witch that I live with. You don't know what my husband is like. You don't know how long this has been going on. Don't talk to me about being a spiritual Pharisee." Well, look, this is an entirely wrong way for someone to think. This is not the right way to think at all. This is not the right way to be at all because it has nothing to do with the preacher, it is about what God has said and declared, this is what marriage shall be. It shall be loving. It shall be intimate. It shall be permanent. It shall be exclusive. And when God speaks, he speaks with authority and we are not at liberty to define our own terms and say, "Well, I will have marriage be what I want it to be." That's what the Pharisees did. That's not so for the one who belongs to Christ who is seeking first his kingdom and his righteousness.
Now, we could multiply examples ad infinitum but there is no need for that. You get the point, don't you? You get the point. All of these things which are so common even within the church of Jesus Christ, all of these things, all of those attitudes, all of those actions, are all a violation of God's standard for marriage. They're wrong. They're sinful. They call forth repentance.
Now, does conviction come upon you in light of these things when you realize that there is more than just the external form that you're going through? There is more than the external form of a certificate of divorce, Jesus went right to the heart of marriage. Well, what we have to have the humility and the clarity of mind to recognize and to see is that there is more than the outward form of just staying within the shell of your marriage when you're not honoring the principles of marriage at all within it. There is no virtue in that. There is no obedience in that. And does conviction come upon you in light of these things and you say, "Oh, this hurts. This describes me. I, myself, have sinned against God in this way." Well, beloved, don't dismiss that conviction which the Spirit brings upon your heart. Start here. Start here. Remember, this is vertical and I'm not going to tell you here's what you need to do to fix things with your spouse. I want you to fix things with God. I want you to fix things with Christ because the way that you are approaching your discontent in marriage is a reflection of the way that you are vertically aligned with God and the alignment is out of whack when it's like that. You must understand that.
So your first point in this, your first response to this, is to come to God in a spirit of confession, invited by the text in 1 John 1:9 that says, "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." To realize that that selfish, withdrawn, angry perspective toward marriage is a sin against God and until you start with the recognition that this is a sin against God and I must confess my sin in order to be restored to God, nothing else matters. Everything else is just rearranging the furniture on the Titanic. It's still going down in your spiritual life. Don't do that. Recognize that your primary responsibility in marriage is to be obedient to God in it, that you have a responsibility for righteousness in it, and start there. And if you have failed in that with your angry explosive temper or with your silent treatment, realize that you need to fall on your face before God and say, "God, I am sorry. Please forgive me. Please help me." There is a great relief in that. There is a great relief in that, it's that our Lord Jesus Christ is so gracious, so merciful, so loving toward his own, that he will cleanse you even from your sins against God's plan for marriage. He'll forgive you. He'll wash you. He will not hold it against you. He will cleanse your conscience and restore you, but you need to come to him in confession and to realize that there is a standard, to realize that there is restoration when you violate that standard and it is a great relief. But you get into that position by bringing to marriage a sense of entitlement, "This is what I am owed." And when it gets difficult and you're not happy, then all this other stuff comes out.
Well, is there a better way to go when marriage gets difficult? And I speak here knowing that for some of you this is going to sound like a contradiction to what I just said earlier about assuming the best about everyone's marriage. I do assume the best but I do know that for some of you marriage has brought you immense heartache, and if the comparative responsibility for the failure of marriage were weighed out, beloved, I realize that maybe it's more on your spouse than it is on you and to simply lay out declarations of spiritual Pharisaism doesn't give you a good way forward. We need to diagnose the problem and deal with that problem, but having dealt with it and, you know, you deal with it sincerely and you go out and you're still in a difficult marriage when you walk out, then what? What's the positive side of this, in other words?
Well, point 2 here this morning: when marriage gets difficult. There is no parallelism in my points this morning whatsoever. The first point was the Pharisees and divorce. The second point is when marriage gets difficult. What can we say to help those that are in that situation here this morning from God's word? If marriage has brought you sorrow and hurt, what do we say? What can we do? Well, beloved, here's the best news of all. If marriage has brought you great sorrow, understand that not all is lost, that not everything is ruined, that there is still a way forward. And remember, we could say it this way and we can be honest. We don't have to play games about this. We don't have to pretend that it's something that it's not. It is okay for you to say, "This marriage is hard. This is difficult. It hurts." It's okay to recognize that reality in your life. What do you do with it? Well, you see, when you're seeking happiness you say, "Therefore there is going to be payback. Therefore I am going to withdraw. Therefore I'm going to find somebody who can make me happy." No, no, no, no. We covered that. We know that that's not the way. When you say, "This marriage is hard," here is the next thing that you say to yourself. This is the pivot point that changes everything. "This marriage is hard. I must turn my eyes to Christ. I must look to Christ now," because unhappiness is not a reason to leave the marriage and when you turn your eyes to Christ, you realize that not all is lost.
Look at Matthew 11 and we're just going to build a mindset for living within a difficult marriage, not with silly points of application that tell you to go and buy candy and flowers and try to make it better. That superficial Band-Aid doesn't help in the long run, plus it's expensive. Yeah, I said that. That's okay. No, let's get to that which would actually help your heart, which would actually give you perspective in order to move forward with hope even if your marriage doesn't change. What you must say when this marriage is hard, you must turn your eyes to Christ and remember that he is gracious. He is gracious to you even if your spouse is not.
Matthew 11:28, he says, "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." Beloved, for those of you especially that are in Christ, understand that Christ loves you even if your spouse does not. Understand that Christ through his work, through his shed blood, through his righteousness, that God accepts you into his family even if your wife pushes you away, or your husband pushes you away. You must come to a point where you start to have transcendent affections and transcendent satisfaction in the love of Christ and in the love of God the Father, even if earthly love is proving to be a great disappointment to you. You start there. He is gentle and humble in heart.
Now, having done that, what will you find when you turn to Christ in his word? What will you find when you adopt that mindset? Well, I'm going to give you five principles of application as we close here. Five principles of application and, by the way, those of you that have been patiently bearing with me when either you're in a good marriage or you're not even married and you say, "What does this have to do with me?" all five of these points of application apply to every situation. They apply to everything, not just marriage but they are helpful, especially in the realm of marriage when you are in a marriage relationship that doesn't give you a whole lot of reason to be optimistic about what the next day is going to bring.
What will you find when you turn to Christ and his word that can help you in these things? Here are five points of application. 1. This might surprise you that I would start here but 1: you should remember that you are also a sinner. You are also a sinner. I'll assume that your spouse has sinned against you and made life difficult but don't forget in the midst of it, beloved, that Scripture says that we all stumble in many ways, James 3:2. We all stumble in many ways and the truth of the matter is probably this, is that you haven't been exactly everything that your spouse had hoped for either. You're a sinner also and I say that simply to make this point: the fact that you are a sinner in life should do this, it should temper your sense of entitlement with a sense of humility. Temper your expectations, temper your sense of entitlement with a sense, "Do you know what? I haven't been everything in this marriage that I could be. There are things that my spouse would find deficient in me and legitimately so. Maybe I shouldn't be quite so hard on her, so hard on him, and realize that I myself have fallen short of the glory of God here," and humble yourself in the midst of the reality that you're a sinner also in this season of your marriage.
Now, secondly, those of you that have been with us on Tuesday evenings will not be surprised to hear me say this. But secondly, talking about being in a season of a difficult marriage, secondly recognize this: that God has appointed this season for you. God has appointed this season for you. Scripture says in Ephesians 1:11, that God works all things after the counsel of his will. God has appointed everything that would ever happen and that includes the outworking of marriage in your life. And the way that you should think about this, the way that you should think about the fact that God has appointed this season for you is this, beloved, this is so crucial and this can change everything in your perspective and give you hope. God, you say to yourself, you preach to yourself or maybe you just listen to this message again and again and let me say it to you in a recorded voice, the God that you know, I'm speaking to you as though you were a Christian, the God that you know is sovereign over everything. He is sovereign over the rise and fall of nations. He is sovereign over the orbit of planets. He is sovereign over the hairs on your head. He is sovereign when a sparrow falls to the ground. That means that he is sovereign over your marriage. He's sovereign over this difficult season in your life and what you should think and the way that you must process these things in your mind is this, is you start here and you step back from everything that disappoints you, everything that frustrates you and angers you and all of those other emotions, step back from all of it and say this simple thing in your mind, "Somehow this is what God has for me at this point in my life." You can say that about anything in your life whatsoever, we're just applying it to marriage. Somehow this is what God has for you at this point in your life, and in the midst of your difficult marriage, the call to Christ is unchanged. Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness. That lets you set aside the certificate of divorce, that lets you set aside the sense of entitlement and lets you ask a different question. "God, how would you have me live here? How can I be righteous in the midst of this difficult relationship?" And all of a sudden there is a whole new purpose and a whole new motivation infused in this. You understand that my responsibility here before God is for me to be a righteous spouse, not to change my spouse or to find another way to make myself happy.
Beloved, if you pursue righteousness, in time God will bring you contentment, but you can't put the caboose before the engine, not that they have cabooses anymore on railroads. But your first and primary goal is, "I must be righteous here. Out of respect, out of love, out of obedience to my Lord Jesus Christ who loved me and gave himself up for me, who purchased my salvation with his own innocent blood, and he has called me to be his own and he has placed me in this marriage, oh, I must respond righteously here, not as a spiritual Pharisee. Somehow, God, this is what you have given me at this point in my life. I submit. I accept this. I receive this." And beloved, what you do is that you trust the purposes of God even if you cannot see it, and even if you cannot feel it. You trust the purposes of God that for today, for this season, this is the marriage that he has given to you. That doesn't mean that it will always be difficult. It doesn't mean that it will always be like this. Just focus on today. Today, this is what God has given me. And trust him for that.
Now, thirdly. First of all we said that you're a sinner too, you're a sinner in this season, let that temper your thoughts. Secondly, God has appointed this season for you. Thirdly, this season is not more than you can handle. It's not. It is not more than you can handle. Are you a Christian? Then there is an implication to that. God measures trials out to you with perfect wisdom and care. God does not just indiscriminately dump hardship on you without regard to what you are able to bear or where your spiritual development is at. Now, it may seem overwhelming and too much, but the testimony of Scripture is much different. The testimony of Scripture from 1 Corinthians 10:13 is that, "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it." You must think biblically. You cannot fall into the trap that says, "I can't handle this." A Christian should never talk that way because a Christian is under the sovereign hand and care of God and God measures out trials in proportion with what he knows you are able to endure. And the way of escape for you is not withdrawal, it's not the silent treatment, it's not, by all means, it's certainly not an unbiblical divorce. This season is not more than you can handle.
Fourthly, God's grace is enough for you in this season of life. God's grace is enough for you in this season of life. This is the cure for resentment, it is the cure for self-pity, it is the cure for anger against that person who just won't be what you want them to be. Turn over to 2 Corinthians 12 and just a reminder of a familiar passage. 2 Corinthians 12, beginning in verse 9. Paul had prayed three times that his thorn would be removed from him and the Lord said, "Nah, I don't think so. I have a better plan in mind." In verse 9, the Lord said to Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." And Paul says, "Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong." How can that be true? It is when you're weak that you say, "Ah, I must look to Christ." And when you look to Christ, what do you find? He says, "Come to me all ye who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest." You have an open invitation from a gracious Savior to find contentment for your soul there and when you go to him, you find that he says, "My grace is sufficient. I am all that you need," Christ would say to you.
And finally, fifthly, point number 4 was God's grace is enough for you in this season, fifthly, God will bring you through this season to a place of blessing. God will bring you through this season to a place of blessing. You know, Christ intends, Christ plans, Christ has revealed that all that we go through is going to lead us to an ultimate destination in glory. This is only for those who are in Christ. Those of you who are not Christians don't have this hope but Christ offers it to you if you would receive him. But for those of us who are in Christ, there is this promise that it will come out well for us in the end, and the hope of that future reformation, that future restoration, better stated, is that which gives you the motivation and the heart contentment to persevere even in a difficult marriage.
Look over at Romans 8, and with this text we will close. Romans 8, we'll read the familiar verse and then go into the other two that are not quite as often stated. Notice where the outcome of our hope is in verse 28, Romans 8:28, "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God." Are you a Christian? Yes, you say. Great, praise the Lord. Is your marriage difficult? I'm sorry to hear that. I sympathize with you. Do you understand that your difficult marriage is included in the statement, "all things work together for good to those who love God"? Do you see that?
Paul goes on and says, "all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." Now, watch this, your hope is profoundly theological, "For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified." Your perfect bliss in heaven is so certain and secure in the mind of God it can be described now as a past tense event. It is so certain that it has already happened and you will enter into that, beloved. And in that time when you are in glory, you will find that God has taken even your difficult marriage and somehow used it in order to produce that end and final and glorious result.
So what do you do when marriage gets difficult? You remember Christ and you keep your eyes on the prize.
Let's bow together in prayer.
Oh friend, we understand that human relationships can make you miserable. Maybe you're here and this talk about Christ sounds foreign to your ears, but let me just offer him to you in this moment. Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God and he made a blood atonement, a sacrifice for sinners just like you to rescue them from their sin and he says if you'll come to him, he will forgive all of your sins and receive you into heaven. Isn't that a wonderful offer? Won't you come and give yourself to Christ? Father, as we've said these things about a difficult marriage, we realize that we speak to that which is most intimate and things which people don't even like to discuss openly. Father, with that in mind, we ask for a special measure, a special grace from your Spirit, that you would take your word and take your promises and take your sufficiency and apply it by the power of your Spirit to each heart in here to enable them to rise to the occasion and to trust you and to manifest a righteous life even in this season of life. For those of us, Father, that are blessed with good marriages, we thank you. We realize that you have given us wonderful kindness in that. Let it renew us all the more to continue to honor your plan for marriage in a way that would be righteous and pleasing to you. We pray these things in the name of Christ. Amen.