One Plus One Equals One
by Thurman C. Petty, Jr.
Marriage is one of the greatest blessings that God has given to the human race. It provides opportunities for companionship and for the thrill of unity with the person you love. Marriage offers the ideal environment for the raising of a family, and the best breeding ground in which to form a Christ-like character.
But marriage can also become a galling yoke. Satan hates it with a passion. He knows the happiness it can bring into the lives of those who enjoy its benefits. So the devil has sought through the centuries to destroy this relationship. And if he fails at that, he works to make marriage a miserable hell which destroys the morale of every family member.
Among the weapons Satan has used to degrade marriage have been polygamy and its close cousin, divorce and remarriage. These cause a break-down in people’s moral restraints and reduces the marriage union to a mere physical relationship.
Perhaps even more successful than either of these has been his plan to destroy love through the selfishness of individual family members. So even though he may fail to break up the marriage, Satan accomplishes his purpose. He degrades this beautiful union into a millstone around the neck.
Jesus spoke about these diabolical attacks on marriage as He taught in the region of trans-Jordan, near the borders of Judea. The Pharisees came to Him with a question regarding divorce. They desired to trick Him into compromising His principles before the people, thus losing their support. But instead of falling into their trap, Jesus explained why God created marriage, and how its participants can derive the greatest benefits from it.
Matt. 19:3-9 3. Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?" 4. "Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' 5. and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? 6. So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate." 7. "Why then," they asked, "did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?" 8. Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery."
In these verses, Jesus points out three things about marriage, and from them we can learn many lessons.
First: He explains that in marriage a person leaves father and mother and becomes joined to a spouse.
Second: He says that when an individual becomes joined to a spouse, the two become one entity.
Third: Since the two have been joined by God, human beings should never seek to divide them.
Jesus quoted from Genesis 2 when He said, ‘for this reason a man will leave his father and mother, and be united to his wife.’ (vs. 5)
Throughout childhood and youth, we’ve been taught to honor and obey our parents. But when we marry, a change must take place in this relationship. We will still honor, and as far as possible, obey our parents. But our duty and loyalty to our spouse will now take precedence over that due to our parents. If at any time there arises a conflict between the interests of our spouse and that of our parents, then our mate must come first. Untold misery will result if we stray from this principle.
Often parents wreck the new home because they fail to realize their responsibility to leave their married children alone. They may, of course, offer counsel and encouragement, or even financial aid when needed. They might find it wise to lend a helping hand from time to time. But they should no longer attempt to make decisions for their children, nor insist on their obedience to parental demands. There needs to be a complete break in order that the new home may have the best possible opportunity for survival.
You see, when father and mother interferes with the new marriage, competition builds up between the parents and the children, driving a wedge between the new partners. If for any reason parents are forced to live for a time with married children, then the families need to decide which will be the host family, and which will be the guest family. All the household decisions should then be made by the host family in order to prevent needless friction.
Jesus really said, in our language, that a man should become glued to his wife. And I might add, that it had better be with permanent contact cement. Husband and wife have been united into a new family. They have become a complete unit, and should no longer think of themselves as divisible!
Jesus said that when a person becomes glued to a spouse then the two become one flesh. Everything about the marriage relationship aims at this total one-flesh-ness—the molding of two people into one family unit.
Perhaps the most important part of this unity involves making Christ first, and last, and best in everything done in the home. When a man or woman loves Jesus with the whole heart, soul, and spirit, then their love for each other will grow remarkably. There can be no limits to the heights of ecstasy a marriage can achieve when Christ rules in the home.
We hear a lot today about compatibility. It does stand high on the list of important items to be considered in marriage. But so often people think of it too late. They get married and later discover their lack of common interests. But in doing this they build the house before they lay the foundation.
Compatibility should engross the mind BEFORE marriage not afterward. If we insist on compatibility before we say the vows, we have no need to worry about it later. In fact, if we failed to take this into account before the ceremony, it’s already too late. We only cause trouble by considering it after the wedding has taken place.
Never make the mistake of thinking you’ve married unwisely. When you’re married, you’ve vowed before God to remain faithful to one partner—“until death do us part.” Even thinking that you’ve made a mistake can only lead to disunity, and may even wreck an otherwise happy marriage. So if you’re married, then strive to work together and to love each other. Many a happy marriage has been built upon a union that others would have thought had no chance for success.
The wedding bells usher us into the world’s best school for character development. God designed that marriage should aid us in our quest to become more like Jesus. We learn many valuable lessons from the close relationships within the family.
In the marriage school we learn self-restraint through the control of our tempers, thoughts, and actions. We learn self-sacrifice as we seek the happiness of the family as the whole instead of merely our own pleasure. We learn industriousness as we seek to make the family corporation successful. And we learn, through self-forgetfulness, to keep up the kind, loving attentions of our early days together.
We became one when we were married, but we need to remember that each partner retains his/her own individuality. We must grant freedom of choice to our mate, or we’ll sever the cords of love. We should constantly strive to understand each other, and to increase the love that binds us together.
As Jesus spoke to the Pharisees about the beautiful bonds of matrimony, they became impatient. They didn’t want to discuss the joys of marriage. Their only interest lay in divorce. They sought to bring Christ back to the subject of their original question by quoting Scripture.
Notice verse 7: “They say unto Him, ‘Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?’”
Jesus answer them without hesitation: verse 8: “He saith unto them, ‘Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.’”
Sin had brought discord and woe into the marriage relationship Satan had succeeded in making even the homes of God’s people so unbearable they felt it necessary to separate from their spouses in order to have peace. And so God granted permission for them to do this under certain controlled circumstances.
But the Jews, through their traditions, had greatly altered God’s permission to make it a blanket authorization of divorce for any offence. In fact, their traditions went so far as to say that a man could divorce his wife merely because she burned his food!
Jesus loathed the selfish cruelty that would condemn a wife to the misery of leaving her family simply because she didn’t suit the whims of her husband. And so, Jesus sought to clarify the original spirit of marriage. He also gave the only cause God recognizes as a reason for divorce.
Verse 9: “And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be fore fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.”
Christ allowed fornication as the ONLY grounds for divorce. In His vocabulary, fornication is an all-inclusive word that describes all forms of illicit sexual behavior.
When God made us male and female, He intended that the union created by marriage should join two individuals together for life.
And He provided the sexual act as a way to bind them into harmony. They become one physically through the act of love, and they can experience this as often as they like. It’s one of the joys of marriage. And God intended that it should be enjoyed only within the bounds of the marriage bond.
But once they are joined together, nothing can break the tie, except for one of them to join themselves to another person. This is fornication, and that very act breaks the marriage bond. Any alliance into which either husband or wife may enter, except for this reason, becomes, to the guilty ones, the sin of adultery.
Under Moses’ law, anyone who committed fornication or adultery, were put to death if the offended spouse brought charges against them. At the very least, the offended party had the right to sue for divorce. But Christ doesn’t make divorce mandatory when fornication breaks the marriage. He allows it of course. But how much better for the innocent to forgive the guilty, and seek to build the marriage once more.
Only God knows the real heartache of the millions who have ended their marriage in divorce. It causes the loss of friends, the loss of family, and the loss of financial security. Frequently it causes the loss of the job, the loss of the home, and the loss of most of the things the family have worked so hard to obtain. It may even cause the loss of the soul.
Divorce is Satan’s plaything. We should put forth every effort to prevent it, at all costs. If we’re not getting along together, then instead of switching spouses, why not let Jesus transform our lives so we learn to love each other.
When both partners wish to work toward unity and happiness, success is guaranteed. Even where only one spouse is willing to sacrifice self for the cause of harmony, often the unwilling partner can be won over by the love of the first. I know, because that’s the way it happened to Martha (my wife) and me.
Early in my ministry I was so eager to succeed that I worked from 14-18 hours a day, seven days a week. I seldom ate with the family, or spent any time with them.
I saw my daughter in the morning when I sent her off to school.
I pecked Martha on the cheek as I left for some church responsibility.
And I often arrived home late at night after the rest of the family had gone to bed.
Then one horrible day I realized that Martha hadn’t told me she loved me for a long time. Being somewhat naïve, I asked her why. She told me, quite frankly, “because I don’t.” That came as a shock to me, because I thought we had a good marriage, based upon love. And now, it seemed, Martha didn’t love me any more. Why?
Over the course of a few days I began to realize that I was the guilty culprit. I had driven her love away by my lack of attention, by my ceaseless work, and by my selfish grasp for the goodwill of my employers.
I’d spent so much time with my work as a pastor that she didn’t even know me any more. And it soon became just as obvious to me that I didn’t really know here anymore either.
What should I do? I still loved her, and I didn’t want to lose her.
About that time I was transferred to another conference to pastor a two church district. The ministerial secretary was a close friend whom I had known for many years. I told him: “I’ve got a problem with my marriage that I have to straighten out. I think I’m going to need to spend a lot of time on it.”
“That’s all right with me,” he told me. “Whatever time it takes . . . then you should spend it.”
And so for the next two years I spent about half of my time with Martha, doing things with her that she enjoyed. We worked together around the house, made picture puzzles together, went out to eat together, went shopping together. All during that time I didn’t know if anything was happening in her heart—if she was growing to love me again.
And then came the glorious day when she said, “I love you,”—for the first time in over two years. I’ll never forget the relief and joy that flooded my heart—and my thankfulness that God had brought us together in love once more.
I decided right then and there that, God help me, I would never allow our love to become estranged again. And so today, I spend a lot of time with her—time well spent on nurturing our family life. After all, she’s one of the members of my parish too.
I know what it’s like to lose the love of someone I treasure very dearly, and I don’t ever want that to happen again!
It seems obvious to me from what we’ve learned here today, that Christ would have us take a great deal of thought concerning the marriage contract. To those who are planning to be married in the future, Jesus implies, “Look before you leap.” Make sure of your compatibility before you take the vows if you want to spare yourself life-long misery.
Making sure of compatibility does not include living together, as so many are today. When a woman lives with a man to whom she has no formal marriage, she has reduced herself to the class of a concubine.
This common-law form of marriage has many of the liabilities of formal marriage, but few of the benefits. Actually, studies show that people who live together before marriage have a higher rate of divorce than people who don’t.
People who live together fool themselves when they think they’re not married, because God considers such an arrangement a binding form of marriage that should continue for life. If you find yourself in such a relationship, the Bible indicates that you should formalize your marriage. That way you’ll guarantee your family every possible chance for success and happiness.
To those who have already been divorced and have not remarried, the Bible says that you should ask God to forgive you for the sins of the past, and to give you the wisdom to avoid making the same mistakes again in the future. Strive with all the power that God has given you to remain lovingly faithful to the spouse you now have.
And to those who are experiencing their first marriage, the Bible says that we should do all in our power to build a loving Christ-filled relationship that will survive the difficulties through which we will pass.
Let’s forget about supposed incompatibility. Jesus can change our hearts so that we can live together with our families in harmony and love. For Jesus said:
“He which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, for this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they twain shall be one flesh . . . . What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”