Sermons by Marlin Harless


(Text: Hebrews 13:4)
By Marlin L. Harless


I. Marriage Defined
The latest dictionary defines marriage as "the social institution under which a man and a woman establish their decision to live as husband and wife by legal commitments, religious ceremonies, etc."1 From a general knowledge of scripture we may say that marriage is an institution from God to man for the birth, preservation and comfort of children and the perpetuation of the human race; for the comfort and pleasure of the husband and wife; for the cultivation of moral purity and refinement which are so necessary in a society where Christianity flourishes; and a union which God forms intended to last until death parts them. Originally, marriage was intended to be the union of one man and one woman for life. The prophet argues this point by saying God made only one woman for Adam, when He could have made more, "And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That He might seek a Godly seedЕ" (Malachi 2:15a). But the "hardness of heart" of man has caused God to allow exceptions to the original plan.

II. Elements of Marriage
I. A. Love and submission. Paul says, "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the churchЕ" (Ephesians 5:25a). Perhaps in days when parents mated their children and formed the marriage union at an early age (12 to 15 years) there was little or no love at first, but in our age when people chose their partners in marriage love is a necessary element. Again Paul said, "So ought men to love their wives as their own bodiesЕ" (Ephesians 5:28a). And he says, "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.'' (Ephesians 5:22a). And Peter teaches the same (1 Peter 3:1).

B. Intention to live together. This union is to be formed in harmony with God's law, which governs the union. Jesus recalled the creation and institution of marriage when it was said, "And they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one fleshЕ" (Matthew 19:5d, 6a). To marry for social or financial gain, or with a view to physical enjoyment for a few years, is no marriage in God's sight. The union is to be taken seriously and with a view to the accomplishment of God's purposes when He instituted marriage!

C. Compliance with mores of society where the union is formed. In some ages of the world little formality was required or practiced, but I have not been able to find a society in any age or area of the world where absolutely no form of ceremony was required. Even in what are called "common-law" or "informal" marriages; Colorado law requires "mutual agreement to be married, presentation to others generally as being married and cohabitation." 2 And those who have taken advantage of common-law marriage cannot separate and take other partners without being guilty of bigamy. They must go through courts to get a divorce before taking other partners.

II. It is true that the law of Moses did not contain any requirements as to formal ceremonies for marriage, but it is not true that no ceremonies were observed by the Jews under that law. Histories and other documents of those times reveal elaborate agreements and ceremonies requiring seven and sometimes fourteen days to complete. One encyclopedia gives us a copy of the "ketubah" (sometimes "kethubah") 3 which is a Hebrew word for the formal contract joining a man and a woman in Jewish marriage and including specific arrangements for securing her financial condition in the event he dies or divorces her." 4 And the rule was for the rabbi to read this "ketubah" aloud at the completion of the formal ceremony so the public would be witness to its terms. Since this was common practice among the Jews in the days of our Lord and His apostles, we may be sure that the word marriage in their minds included the idea of a public recognition of the union of a man and a woman.

This is shown to be true from what Jesus said to the Samaritan woman when she said she had no husband. Jesus said, "Еthou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husbandЕ" (John 4:18). She had met the requirements of society five times, but with the sixth man she had not met the requirements of society and Jesus said the man she was living with was not her husband.

III. This not only teaches us that we must not only comply with the mores of society where we live, but it teaches us that mere cohabitation does not mean marriage. We have some among us who teaches that sexual union alone joins male and female in marriage. If that were true Jesus erred when He said the man the Samaritan woman was living with was not her husband. And if that were true Joseph and Mary were living in very intimate relations before they were married. They were betrothed before Mary was found to be with child, but betrothal did not give the privilege of living together. The angel told Joseph to take Mary as his wife, which he did, but "knew her not" (had no sexual union with her) until after the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:25). So here we have a marriage taking place, and a man and a woman living together, for some months before sexual union. Sexual intercourse is the privilege of married partners, which one partner must not deny the other (1 Corinthians 7:3-5); it is not the act which joins a man and woman in marriage. This erroneous idea comes from a misunderstanding of Paul's teaching in (1 Corinthians 6:16, 17).

Paul does not teach the Christian man who commits fornication with a harlot is one body, in the sense of being married to the harlot, but rather that he has brought his body which is a member of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit into a union with the harlot's body which desecrates his body and makes it unfit to be used by Christ and unfit as a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. The body of the woman of Samaria was "one body" with the man with whom she was living yet Jesus said he was not her husband. So being "one body" with a harlot does not constitute marriage with that harlot. It is unthinkable that such an unholy act as fornication can form such a holy union as marriage, or that God would join two in holy marriage who had no love for each other and had no intention of forming a union which would fulfill the purposes of God, but rather would only fulfill their unholy lust for gratification of unholy desires. 1

IV. MANY TODAY ARE TRIFLING WITH GOD'S MARRIAGE LAWS, AND WILL BE VERY SURPRISED AT THE JUDGMENT! One big mistake that many are making with reference to marriage is this, they have come to think of marriage as being only a contract between two people, and, if you don't like it, you simply get out of it, and try another one! Beloved there are three things wrong with this mindset. 1. Three persons are involved in any marriage authorized by God: God, the man and woman. "And I say unto you, whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adulteryЕ" (Matthew 19:9). God intends for His laws to govern all marriages, no exceptions!! 2. If you don't like it, you simply get out of it! God didn't say that, and man should not believe it! Why? Christ said, "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" (Matthew 19:6b). Judges and lawyers think they can uncouple what God has coupled, thus, they deceive themselves! 3. Apparently, it is easier for some to get a divorce, than it is to be married! The divorced spouse is not free to marry again, except in the case of fornication, as Jesus states so clearly in (Matthew 19:9 ), above, and in (Matthew 5:32). Even then, only the innocent party (or spouse) is free to marry!!

V. WHEN A SCRIPTURAL MARRIAGE IS THREATENED BY INFIDELITY AND DIVORCE, WHO HAS THE SCRIPTURAL RIGHT TO REMARRY? To state the case more succinctly: When a divorce has been obtained by the innocent party in a case where fornication occurred, and the innocent party has remarried, may the guilty party in the original marriage also scripturally remarry? Some among us so believe, and teach; but, I am not of that number! I believe the position to be clearly, plainly and unmistakably opposed to the simple, clear and explicit teaching of our Lord in (Matthew 19:9). I am unable to see when His words in this passage would ever apply if the guilty party, as described in the query, is free to remarry. He said, "Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery." (1) The adulterous action which the Savior describes would not characterize the innocent party, because Jesus affirms the right of such a one to remarry. (2) If, as it is alleged, the guilty may also remarry, with the approval of the Lord, the union thus resulting would not be adulterous, since scriptural marriage does not involve adultery. When, then, would (Matthew 19:9) ever apply?

It may be argued that the restriction on the guilty is applicable only so long as the innocent party remains single. But, this is to read into the passage what is not there. Jesus did not say, "Whosoever shall put away his wife, even if guilty of fornication and, before his former wife remarries, shall marry another, committeth adultery:" nor, did He say, "Whosoever shall put away his wife, having been guilty of fornication, and waits until his former wife remarries, is also free to remarry." What He did say is, "Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery!" In any case where any one---man or woman---puts away his companion for any reason, except fornication, and remarries such is guilty of adultery in God's sight.

There are those who ask, "How can the innocent party 'put away' the guilty party, become 'free' of the marriage bond, and the guilty party still be bound?" The illustration of two men handcuffed together is often used in this connection. One of the men is released; does the other remain bound? Here is an excellent example of the fact that illustrations are often inadequate because they tend to over-simplify. Were the marriage bond nothing more than a legal contract into which two parties enter and agree to perform certain duties and obligations, on the non-performance of one of the parties the contract might properly be broken thus loosing both from further responsibilities therein. But, marriage is far, far more than a contractural relationship; it is a spiritual union made in heaven not subject to being dissolved except on the basis of the will of Him Who joined the parties. This Will He expressed in three plain and simple words, "Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery; and whoso marieth her which is put away doth committeth adultery." (Matthew 19:9).

There is still another aspect of this matter which, to my mind, has all the logical force of a demonstration in determining on what conditions, if any, any party to a marriage relationship may sever it and marry again. In his treatise on Marriage to the Corinthian church, Paul advised the wife ''not to depart from her husband," but should circumstances be such that this must occur, he solemnly told her to "remain unmarried," or else "be reconciled to her husband" (1 Corinthians 7:10b, 11b). Instances might arise where it would be impossible for her to maintain the relationship which marriage enjoins---her husband might mistreat her or interfere with her service to the Lord; and, in such cases, she would not be required to continue her wifely duties; however, there were but two courses she might properly follow: (1) be reconciled to her husband; or (2) remain unmarried. Are we to assume that an innocent person, unjustly put away by a wicked partner is not free to remarry but that a faithless cheater in the marriage relationship may indeed do so? He who concludes such has, in my view, abandoned both reason and revelation! And, any "argument" grounded in an allegation of hardship, impossibility to restore the original relationships, etc., must give way to the plain and simple affirmations of our Lord in this matter, and all others. There is no graver sin than questioning the wisdom of the divine edicts. 2

There Is One---And Only One---Ground For Divorce And Remarriage

VI. The Bible plainly teaches that, so long as one's scriptural spouse is still living, there is one--- and only one---ground for divorce and remarriage: fornication (marital unfaithfulness) on the part of the one "put away" (Matthew 19:9; cf. 5:31, 32). In spite of the clearness and simplicity of the biblical record on the matter, many reject this very important truth. Likely, much of this rejection can be traced to the philosophical conditioning to which our society has been subjected

"How Times Have Changed"

In what is surely a strikingly clear indication of what has been happening, morally speaking, to America within recent years, on the editorial page of one of the large daily news papers in Memphis, under the heading, "How Times Have Changed," one writer said,

So, the girls out at. . . , a topless dancing place on. . . , are cavorting around bottomless. Nude. Without any clothes on. . . .

The manager of the place says, "We're trying it out to see what happens."

Thus far, nothing has happened. A police vice squad officer doesn't know vice when he sees it, so he turned to the city attorney for an opinion. The city attorney couldn't find a law that covers the situation, so he referred reporters to a legal officer in the police department, who is trying to find out what charges can be placed against bottomless dancers.

Memphis has come a long way. There was a time when a female caught dancing naked on a table in a nightclub would have been hauled off forthwith to the pokey (wrapped in a sheet or something) and charged with "open and notorious public lewdness." Now we don't even seem to know what such words mean. (Memphis Press Scimitar, October 8, 1977).

Indeed, "we" (that is, we in America) have "come a long way" from how America was just a few years ago. To point up that fact just a little more sharply I quote a well-known television actress from the current issue of a well-known magazine. She says,

I think the time has come for religious groups to realize that some Marriages do not work. Instead of viewing divorce in terms of morality, religious leaders should ask whether or not lives are being nurtured---children's lives and the lives of people in unhappy marriages?

Must we force people to submit to marriage "to have and to hold till death do us part?" There's something very sick about that! It does not allow for change.

Given the truth that Jesus taught that what "God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" (Matthew 19:6b) and that "whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth committ adultery" (Matthew 19:9), it follows that this famous actress has branded the teaching of Jesus on divorce and remarriage as "sick"! In these times, especially, this is not altogether surprising! That vice officers do not know what vice is and that city attorneys cannot find a law which covers the situation of a woman dancing naked on a table in a nightclub is bad enough, but "the story" actually gets worse. "The story" gets worse because presently some men who, no doubt, sincerely and honestly think they are preaching the gospel of Christ are saying that the Bible teaches that a man (or woman) who has ended a scriptural marriage by unscripturally divorcing his (or her) legitimate spouse and who has unscripturally married (following that unscriptural divorce) may continue in that marriage without further sin! Saying basically the same thing, some are implicitly teaching that one can, with God's approval, abide in (continue in) any practice, state or relationship (in which he may be involved at the time he is baptized) after he is baptized.

The Significance of the Foregoing

To understand the enormous significance of this doctrine, one must remember that any doctrine which implies 1 a false doctrine is itself false. Here is a specific instance. Let it be supposed that a man affirms "Men are saved by faith only." But, it is obviously true that if the proposition "Men are saved by faith only" is true, then the proposition "Men are saved without being baptized" is also true. But the proposition "Men are saved without being baptized" is false (John 3:3-5; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Romans 6:3-5; Galatians 3:26, 27; 2 Timothy 2:10). Therefore, the proposition "Men are saved by faith only" is also false.

A False Proposition

Just so it is with the proposition (let us call it "proposition X"): "A man may abide (after he is baptized) in whatever state or relationship he finds himself at the time he is baptized and not be guilty of sin because of abiding (continuing in) that relationship." Proposition X implies not merely one but quite a number of false doctrines. When one sees that such is the case, he should then also see that proposition X, which implies those false doctrines, is also false. Proposition X is seen to be false because it implies doctrines which, in the light of Bible teaching, are obviously false. Proposition X is seen to be false because it implies that a man may (1) divorce his wife in violation of Bible teaching, (2) marry again in violation of Bible teaching, and (3) continue in that second marriage, with God's approval, even if it is one of the following.
1. A homosexual "marriage" (that is, either a man "married" to a man or a woman "married" to a woman).
2. A bisexual "marriage" (that is, one in which either a man is "married" to both a man and a woman or a woman is "married" to both a man and a woman).
3. A bigamous "marriage" (that is, one in which a man is "married" to two women or a woman is "married" to two men).
4. A "group marriage" (that is, a group of, say, five men and five women are all "married" to each other, with each member of the group having "marital" (sexual) privileges with any and all of the rest of the group. Thus, for example, a man in the group could have sexual relations with four male "wives" and five female wives).
5. An "open marriage" (that is, one in which each partner, even though he (or she) lives sexually with his (or her) "marriage " partner, it is part of their "marriage " contract that each one will be free to have sexual relations with another person (male or female) whenever he (or she) wishes and can find a willing partner).
6. A "wife-swapping marriage" (that two men may agree---with the approval of the wife of each---to simply "swap" wives and children).
7. A polygamous "marriage" (that is, one in which either a man is married to a multiplicity of women or a woman is married to a multiplicity of men).
8. A "bestial marriage" (that is, one in which a man (or a woman) considers himself (or herself) married to a beast (e.g. a dog or a cow).
To affirm proposition X (as set out above) is also to affirm that all of the above eight types of "marriages" are acceptable to God, who is infinite in holiness and righteousness. Where is the decent Christian man or woman that can believe it? Beloved, will you heed God's Word in the following scriptures: (Matthew 5:31, 32; 19:3-12;2 Romans 1:18-32; 7:1-4; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Galatians 5:19-21; Revelation 21:8). 3

CONCLUSION: Are you absolutely sure of your salvation in Christ? Beloved, you cannot 'be sure of your salvation,' if you "Have Not Obeyed The Gospel of Christ"!! You must carefully follow Jesus instructions to become a Christian, as follows: 1. You muse hear the unadulterated gospel of Christ, (Romans 10:14); 2. You must believe the unadulterated gospel of Christ, (Romans 10:14); 3. You must repent of past sins, (Luke 13:3, 5); 4. You must confess faith in Jesus Christ, (Matthew 10:32, 33); 5. You must be immersed or baptized into Christ for remission of past sins, Acts 2:38); 6. You must live faithful until death, (Revelation 2:10). Beloved, will you do it Today! Today! Today?


1. Your Marriage Can Be Great, by Thomas B. Warren, Ph.D., Editor, What Is Marriage? By brother Roy H. Lanier, Sr., Chapter 15, pages 89-91

2. Questions and Answers, Open Forum, Freed-Hardeman College Lectures, By brother Guy N. Woods, Divorce and Remarriage, pages 237-239

3. Your Marriage Can Be Great, by brother Thomas B. Warren, Ph.D., Editor, There Is One---And Only One---Ground For Divorce And Remarriage, Chapter 54, pages 356-358,


1. The King James Version of the Bible, The Thompson Chain-Reference Bible, TheFifth Improved Edition

2. The American College Dictionary

3. The American Heritage Dictionary

4. The Expanded Vines, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, by W. E. Vine

5. The New Interlinear Greek-English New Testament

6. Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament

7. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, by Geoffrey W. Bromiley

8. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology

E-Mail address: ( (Telephone number: (304) 247-6895). Dear reader: In the event you find errors in this sermon, spelling, misquotes, scripture references, etc., please inform me of the same, at your earliest convenience, as I want to be as accurate as I possibly can! Than you! (MLH)

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