Matthew 19 challenges us to understand what Jesus meant when he responded to the Pharisees’ question, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” (verse 3). They disagreed over how to apply the laws that Moses laid down; their attitudes were becoming similar to those we are reading about in Jeremiah, who were denounced.
Jesus astonished them and his disciples by reminding them of God’s original action, saying, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female … and they shall become one flesh. What therefore God has joined together let not man separate” (verses 4,6). This is the foundation purpose of God; if we ignore that foundation then what we build can ‘fall over’! Jesus observes that it was “because of your hardness of heart that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (verse 8).
The disciples are very concerned and suggest, “it is better not to marry” (verse 10) if this is the situation as God sees it. “But he said to them, ‘Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given’” (verse 11). Jesus then uses the word “eunuch” meaning men who do not marry, usually humanly initiated because they are in the service of a king (e.g., Isaiah 39:7); but those in service to God may chose, in giving their all to God as Paul and Barnabas did, (see 1 Corinthians 9:5,6), putting service to God first in their lives and not marrying.
We may ask, ‘Were the disciples right in saying, “it is better not to marry”’? This was a human reaction from their unenlightened state of mind. Paul’s words to the Ephesians put the marriages of dedicated followers of Christ into a true perspective. “Husbands, love your wives”, wrote Paul, “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her … by the washing of water with the word” (Ephesians 5:25,26). He then writes, “He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church …” (verses 28,29).
God’s word is food for lifelong meditation and it can be that “to whom it is given” to remain single, that is for them the better way to live their lives in service to their Saviour. Finally, we note what Peter was to tell husbands, “live with your wives in an understanding way … since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7). The same applies to wives in living with their husbands.