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The Meaning of Marriage and the Value of Children

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Matthew 19:1–15; Mark 10:1–16; Luke 18:15–17

It is critical that we have a firm grasp of the Bible’s teaching on the family so that we can resist challenges both from the world and from professing Christians. Jesus’ own responses to such challenges demonstrate some biblical priorities in family matters.


I read some time ago the statement that “the family is under attack today like never before.”[1] Now I don’t think very many Christians would argue with that statement. I agree with it in one sense, but I happen to disagree with it in another sense. The family has been under attack since God created the first one. It did not take Satan very long at all to divide and conquer Adam and Eve. It did not take very long for the seeds of jealousy and resentment to grow in the heart of Cain, their firstborn son, who rose up and murdered his younger brother, Abel. And that was the first family on planet earth.

Let me rephrase that statement to read this way: The family is under attack in every generation. From the moment God instituted marriage and the family, Satan has been unrelenting in his attempts to weaken the marriage commitment, to devalue the blessing of children, and even to redefine the meaning of gender and the meaning of marriage today.

I think it is interesting that two thousand years ago Jesus confronted some of these same issues. He is making His way now toward Jerusalem for the final time. He is traveling south from the Galilee region and east of the Jordan River, into the area known as Perea. There, we read in Matthew 19:2, “Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.”

And it is not long, of course, before the Pharisees show up to antagonize Him. They ask Him the age-old question He has answered before; but here it comes again—verse 3: “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?”

Now we have already dealt with this subject twice before in our Wisdom Journey. I noted that the Bible allows divorce for adultery—and that includes immorality—and also when there is abandonment. Abandonment is when one spouse does not consent to dwell with the other in harmony, as set forth in 1 Corinthians chapter 7. The word Paul uses there for consent refers to pleasing agreement. And let me tell you, even if a person says he wants to stay married, if he subjects his spouse to abuse or addictions or threats or deception, such actions clearly indicate a lack of consent; and the suffering spouse is no longer bound to that individual (1 Corinthians 7:15).

But why are these Pharisees coming around to ask Jesus this question all over again? Well, I think geography has a lot to do with it. Jesus is in Perea, and this area is governed by King Herod Antipas.  

Earlier, Herod had convinced his brother Philip’s wife to divorce Philip and marry him. It was a tabloid scandal at the time. But John the Baptist publicly condemned them for it, and Herod’s new wife ended up having John the Baptist beheaded as a result. Well, these Pharisees are hoping Jesus will get into hot water with Herod by answering their question on divorce.

But instead, Jesus delivers this brilliant answer here in Matthew 19:4-5:

“Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?”

In other words, He’s saying, “You Pharisees only want to talk about how easy it should be to get a divorce, but I want to talk about God’s design for marriage.”

Jesus quotes from Genesis 2, where the first marriage is described. There are some timeless principles here that give us the meaning of marriage as God designed it. First is the principle of severance. Genesis 2:24 says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother.”

Marriage does not mean that you eliminate all your other family relationships—that you cannot call family members on the phone or visit them over Christmas break. No, this means that the marital relationship has priority over every other relationship—even good old Mom and Dad.

The meaning of marriage also includes the principle of permanence: “A man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife.” The Hebrew verb for “hold fast” means to bond—literally, glue together. This describes a lifelong bond.

Then there is the principle of oneness. At the end of verse 24, the Bible says, “and they shall become one flesh.” The Hebrew word for “one” here is echod—it means “uniquely one.” In marriage two people become uniquely one. And this is more than sexual or physical oneness; this is one-ness in purpose, one-ness in direction, one-ness in life.

Jesus takes these Pharisees all the way back to Genesis and the creation account. Mankind did not invent marriage; God did. Mankind did not come up with the idea of family; God did. The only thing we do with it is mess it up—that is our contribution. But if we follow the design of God, we can experience and enjoy the meaning of marriage: severance and permanence and oneness.

You will never fully master the meaning of marriage, but if you belong to the Master who created marriage, He can empower you to humbly pursue what He designed. 

Now back in Matthew 19:10, the disciples follow up with an honest question. It is essentially this: “Since we’re sinners and we might fail in marriage, wouldn’t it be better to never get married in the first place?”

Jesus answers that there are some whom God calls to be single; it is really a matter of following what God wants for your life as He reveals it. With that, Jesus refers to three kinds of single individuals here in verse 12:

“There are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”

First, Jesus refers to some men who are born with physical defects that render them unable to have children, and the likelihood is that they will remain unmarried. Second, some men were castrated for some kind of appointment; we know from history that kings often castrated servants who would manage their harem or hold some position in the palace. Third, some believers effectively choose to live as eunuchs—that is, single for life—because of their ministry responsibilities.[2]

Two of my cousins—two women—served on a mission field that effectively eliminated the potential for marriage. They chose singleness for the sake of the gospel.

What happens next is a rather fitting follow-up to a discussion on marriage:

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (verses 13-14)

Now Jesus does not say that the kingdom belongs to children but to those who are like children—with nothing to offer the Lord but childlike humility and trust.

The disciples, like their culture around them, viewed children as a nuisance and a distraction. But far from being a nuisance and a distraction, children are a part of Jesus’ ministry, and He delivers a powerful message through His actions: do everything you can to help a child come to Jesus.

If you are serving in some ministry for the sake of children, well, here is your verse: “Let the little children come to me.” And let me thank you for helping children come to Jesus. Many people, including myself, can remember the impact of a loving children’s worker, a Sunday school teacher, or a Bible study leader who showed interest in us and helped us. Beloved, yours is a precious ministry because, just as that little chorus says, children are precious in His sight.

[1] Ken Ham and Steve Ham, Raising Godly Children in an Ungodly World (New Leaf, 2008), 151.

[2] Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Matthew: Volume 2 (Tyndale House, 2020), 105.

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