“For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” — Matthew 5:20
Having a strong and lasting marriage doesn’t just happen. Without a proper focus, we will drift apart. As believers, this proper focus comes from God’s Word. And this month we are turning our attention to Christ Jesus and His teachings in Matthew 5-7–what we’ve come to know as the “The Sermon on the Mount.”
We could never do justice to all the lessons found here in one month. But we will pull from some of Jesus’ teachings and see how these truths can be applied to our marriages. We begin this week with Matthew 5. It would be beneficial for you to read the whole chapter to see the full context. We suggest that you meet together as a couple sometime this week to read through the chapter and discuss the truths God reveals to you. (See Couple Connect.) At the end of this post, there are also questions to ask yourself and a list of suggestions for applying it to your life. Learning God’s truth together and making it come alive in your daily life helps keep your focus right where it should be.
Our focal passage this week is Matthew 5:21-48. It is a long portion of Scripture, but there are several truths here that are essential to all relationships. And since our marriage relationship is our closest, we must be careful to live by these truths.
Jesus begins each section of teaching with the words, “You have heard that it was said….” He then presents an expanded teaching about it. He is quoting from the Old Testament teachings, and then he proceeds to expand it to its fullest meaning. This is preceded by the words “But I tell you….” Jesus makes it clear in Matthew 5:17-20 that He did not come to change what God had already taught but to “fulfill them.” He is giving us instruction that to live life with a proper focus, we must go beyond what is in the law. We must live a better way.
Keep a Right Relationship
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” – Matthew 5:21-22
Murder seems so extreme. But if it wasn’t a temptation, God wouldn’t have added it to the Ten Commandments. Hopefully none of us has had that desire. But Jesus breaks it down to the root–anger. And we’ve all been there, haven’t we? Jesus tells us that even if we become angry enough that we wish bad things against our spouse in our heart and mind, we have begun a process that could lead to murder. Our actions that follow our angry thoughts and emotions will lead to harm.
The word Raca in Matthew 5:22 is not an actual Greek word, but a guttural sound that comes just before one spits. Spitting on someone to a Jewish person was like saying to them, “I wish you were dead.” Jesus says even calling a person a fool is sinful. Again, being called a fool is about as low as it can go in Jewish culture.
So what are we supposed to do when those angry thoughts and feelings arise? Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:23-24 to go to that person and make it right. Notice it doesn’t matter who is at fault. If there is something coming between you and your spouse, drop everything else, put your pride aside, and go to him or her. Seek immediately to make it right. You cannot be right with God until you do. And there will be a wall in your relationship with your spouse. The focus here is on reconciliation. That takes letting go of your anger and reaching out in love. That is the better way.
Keep Your Marriage Vows
Next, in Matthew 5:27-37, Jesus teaches about the importance of our marriage vows in three ways: adultery, divorce, and oaths.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” — Matthew 5:27-28
The command here is obvious–you must be faithful in your marriage. Certainly it includes not having sexual relations with anyone but your spouse, but Jesus says it is so much more. Adultery occurs first in the heart and mind and then moves into the physical act. So He teaches that we must be careful not to look at anyone with lust or think about them with sexual desire. To do so is unfaithfulness to your marriage vow and adultery has already begun. The process must be stopped before more harm is done.
So what is Jesus’ answer for this? He gives some pretty drastic measures in Matthew 5:29-30–gouging out your lustful eye and cutting off your sinful hand. I don’t think Jesus is telling us to literally harm ourselves here, but He is making the point we should cut from our lives anything that would tempt us to harm our relationship with our spouse and, ultimately, our relationship with God.
Lustful desires can take different forms. Men, are you having a struggle with pornography or other forms of sexually explicit thoughts? You can’t play with it. Get it out of your life. Ladies, are you reading romance novels? Anything that sets your heart and mind to desire someone other than your spouse or a marriage other than the one you now have is harmful. Remove it from your life.
This is a perfect example of how a wayward focus can get us into trouble. We must be determined to keep our eyes on the ways of God and the one we have committed our lives to–our spouse. In this is the better way.
“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress…” – Matthew 5:31-32
Jesus next discusses divorce. Divorce often occurs after adultery, whether it’s physical or emotional (as with pornography). And Jesus tells us here that only adultery is a biblical reason for divorce. But even then, given other teachings on divorce in the Bible, the end of the marriage is not God’s first desire. He would prefer forgiveness and reconciliation to occur. In Matthew 19:6, Jesus says: “…they are no longer two but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” Read Matthew 19:1-12 for a fuller teaching on divorce by Jesus.
Seeking reconciliation even after adultery, although extremely difficult, is the better way. It is what God desires. It is renewing your commitment to the vow you made “until death” separates you.
“…you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all…” – Matthew 5:33-34
One final teaching that directly relates to our marriage vows is found in Matthew 5:33-37 on keeping our oaths. Jesus teaches that the Old Testament commands us to never break an oath. And He affirms this is absolutely true; but once again, He takes us deeper. We should not have to take an oath for our word to be true. If we say “yes,” we should mean it; if we say “no,” we should mean it. Making an oath should be unnecessary.
Our governmental law sometimes requires us to take oaths, and so we obey the law when it calls us to (as long as we’re not breaking God’s law in the process). And when we take our marriage vows, we are following the laws of the land in which we live. So it is honoring God’s Word in this way. When we make a vow to our spouse–we must mean it and be faithful to it. It is saying “yes” before God and to Him that we will love, honor, and cherish this one, forsaking all others, until death parts us. Our focus is to be true to our word and true to God’s Word in everything.
Keep Your Focus on God’s Truth
Jesus ends this section of His teaching in Matthew 5:38-48 by giving guidelines for dealing with conflicts in our relationships when they arise. We’ll deal with this more in a future teaching. But I encourage you to read through these verses now and start using their instruction when conflicts arise in your marriage.
Learning to focus on God’s truths in His Word and apply them to our lives will make our marriages stronger and able to last through the conflicts that come our way. Jesus instructs us to surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees. They lived by the letter of the law. But when we follow Christ, we are to live by the love of the Lord. We are to live the better way…to give up our own desires for the sake of our spouse and others.
I pray God has shown you some important ways to make your marriage stronger and to make it a light to the world for Him. Next week, we’ll look at Matthew 6 and continue to learn important truths that can help us grow closer in our marriages and shine brightly for His glory.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- Have I been growing closer to my spouse or drifting apart?
- How have I been guilty of holding anger toward my spouse?
- Is there anything in my life that might be causing lustful thoughts and desires for anyone other than my spouse?
- Am I fully committed to this marriage and to reconciliation with my spouse following conflict?
- Am I true to my word? Am I trustworthy? Can my spouse count on me to do what I say?
- What kind of things can I do on a daily basis for my spouse that will show “the better way”?
Suggestions for Applying This to Your Life
- Determine to focus on growing closer to your spouse and making your marriage stronger so that it will not drift apart.
- Whenever anger comes between you and your spouse, go to him or her and seek to reconcile. Don’t wait–things will only get worse.
- If you have things in your life that cause you to lust after someone else or something else, get rid of it. Seek counsel. Get help, if necessary. This will drive you apart from your spouse and cause harm in every area of your life.
- Talk about your commitment to your marriage with your spouse. If your relationship has been struggling, recommit to each other to focus on growing closer and strengthening your bond.
- If you say you will do something, follow through. Be trustworthy.
- Choose one thing that you can do today to show “the better way” for your spouse.
May God bless you in all His wonderful ways,
Other posts in A PROPER FOCUS series:
Part 1–How to Keep Your Marriage from Falling Apart
Part 3–How to Have Peace and Contentment
Part 4–The Best Way to Deal with Problems in Marriage
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Header photo by Hans via pixabay (CC0), cropped, text added.