Furthermore, it has been said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.” But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery. Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.” But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your “Yes” be “Yes,” and your “No,” “No.” For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. (Matthew 5:31-37)
Fidelity To The Marriage Vow
The sermon on the mountain is one of the most challenging and impactful sermons to be read and put into practice. Jesus was teaching a great multitude of people a message they had never heard from their own teachers as the Son of God established the foundation of His ministry with a direct statement of absolute truth. The constitution of the sermon on the mount is the description of the life of Jesus as He lived every word with sinless perfection. His message would resonate throughout Israel as the man behind the message. He challenged the corrupted view of the Jewish teachers about the Law of Moses. In the six hundred years since the fall of Jerusalem, Israel had become a hybrid nation of pseudo-religion judged more by the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, Sadducees and Jewish leaders than the truth of Moses’ law. Jesus would contrast the meaning of the Law and the prophets with the true teaching of His Father was He came to fulfill the law and establish true righteousness in the hearts of the faithful. A man did not have to take the life of another to commit murder but merely have hatred in his heart to be guilty. Adultery was not only the carnal engagement of infidelity but the thought of such a deed that would bring condemnation. Marriage was sacred from the time when God created Adam and Eve and yet the religious leaders had manipulated the definition of divorce to be for any reason. Jesus restores the principle of the law of God from the beginning that marriage was a lifelong commitment. Divorce for reasons other than sexual immorality would bring the wrath of God. Jesus fortifies His position on divorce when He reminds the people that God takes very serious the keeping of vows.
It had become common for people to use oaths often in their speech. The Law of Moses prohibited swearing by the name of the Lord falsely and profaning the name of God would bring His wrath. When a vow was made from their lips they were obligated to keep that vow. However the common practice had long been held to interject oaths in the common language by swearing by the temple, the head, and heaven itself. This created a dulling effect on the value of oaths and that failing to keep those oaths irreligiously given would be no better than failing to keep the vows of marriage. A domino effect is created when the importance of vows is degraded to be a frivolous bunch of words with no serious effort to keep the oath. The forbidding of oaths by Jesus was to highlight how the hearts of the people had taken spiritual commitment to the place of noncommittal agreement that can be changed if the position dictates. In other words, as fallout from the same practice, making a vow of marriage is viewed as a contract to be broken rather than a covenant to be honored. God hates divorce because a man and woman made a vow standing before Him to honor one another and to honor the Lord. Breaking that vow is breaking a covenant created by God as He joined a man and woman together. Jesus told the Pharisees that what His Father had joined together no man had a right to break asunder. God takes very seriously the vows of men who declare their faithfulness and then break their vows. It would have been better to not make the vow than to have taken the vow with no promise of keeping it.
While there are two distinct problems Jesus addresses in the sermon about divorce and the frivolous giving of oaths, the two are intertwined as a result of one another. Marriage will be sacred because man views the bond of matrimony as a holy communion with God. If the heart of a man looks at oaths as vanity, keeping a vow of marriage will be easily broken. Marriage is characterized by problems but the child of God knows the most important part of their union is the covenant they have made with their spouse as a vow to God. They will not take the words of the marriage vow as a trifling matter but declare their yes and no in faithfulness to the Lord God who formed the union. It will require second-mile allegiance and love beyond the bounds of human understanding but the will of the Lord will be the guiding force in their marriage. Jesus did not suggest the vows were wrong but the attitudes of men can make the promise of an oath to be a trivial matter. This does not characterize the heart of the child of God and this is especially found in the marriages of God’s people. Vows are sacred because words are sacred to God. In whatever station of life a person finds himself, their speech is seasoned with the salt of grace and the foundation of truth in keeping the promises made as true and holy.