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I really don't understand this verse, would Jesus really want me to leave everything (spouse)? Because then all the other verses about becoming one flesh don't make sense to me. I understand that spouse shouldn't be more important than Christ, but can you just walk out of marriage because of Matthew 19:29? Can somebody please explain this verse to me. Thank you

Manuela

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Taking a look at the full text of the verse (NIV):

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.

The key words here are "for my sake" (that is, Jesus' sake). The statement isn't some kind of blanket permission to walk out on your wife (or anyone or anything else, for that matter). It's only when you are doing so for Jesus' sake.

A couple of concrete examples might be useful here:

  1. A man from a country or culture that's hostile to Christianity becomes a Christian. His wife, parents, children, and other relatives reject and disown him for it. This man has effectively "left them" for the sake of Christ.

  2. Someone who feels a deep calling to be a missionary in a dangerous location, answers that calling -- but after discussing the matter with his/her family, agrees to go alone (they don't feel called, and of course he/she cares about their safety). The missionary ultimately loses his/her life in that dangerous place. That person, likewise, has "left" his/her family "for the sake of Christ."

The point then is this "leaving" of the people closest to you is blessed and rewarded, IF it is for Jesus' sake -- that is, in obedience to God's will.

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  • +1 I don't think I could have said it better myself! – Pascal's Wager Oct 4 '18 at 20:52
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In other passages in the New Testament the original Greek word is translated as "women", not wife. So perhaps a man is in love with a women and wants to marry her but it is not the Lord's will. The young man may be torn but if he leaves this 'women' he is doing the Lord's will. It is possible to be in love with someone contrary to God's plan for your life.

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Leaving one's wife would most likely have ended up with a couple getting divorced, and since Jesus was against divorce, I don't think He would recommend to people to leave their spouses as part of 'leaving everything' to follow Him.

I believe Jesus was referring to the person's occupation (bricklayer, banker, baker, tax collector, etc.) and leaving that occupation in order to take up the new occupation of spreading the gospel, i.e. becoming a preacher. Men certainly can become preachers and still remained married to their spouses.

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Verse 29 has to be taken within the context of verses 13-30. The verse is not about physically leaving your family or job to follow Christ. There is a spiritual application here.

13 Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. 15 And he laid his hands on them, and departed thence.

In verse 13, Jesus gives his disciples an object lesson that will tie directly to the story of the rich young ruler starting in verse 16. In verse 14, Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like little children coming to the Lord. The spiritual application here is that children are completely dependent on their parents for their life; a child’s works have no impact at all on sustaining their life. A child has no rights to anything; they have not produced anything, they don’t own anything and have no claim to anything. This is a metaphor for life under the grace of God. Jesus is stating in order to get into heaven, you must be like these children with no claim to any of their own works of holiness or self righteousness; they must accept the free gift of love from their Father no claim to anything on their own.

16 And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?

Verse 16 starts the story of the rich young ruler which is directly connected to verses 13-14, for the young man here (don’t know “how” young he is) asks how to get into heaven. I hope you can see the connection between the little children coming to Jesus and the question the rich young ruler asks, ie, “how can I come to you also” (even though he doesn’t realize to whom he’s speaking).

17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. 18 He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, 19 Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 20 The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?

In these verses, the young man defends himself (justifies himself) by insisting that he has kept the law flawlessly all his life. Again, he is sighting his own works as worthy to get himself into heaven.

21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. 22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.

In verse 21, Jesus goes directly the heart of this young man’s issue, covetousness. Jesus trumps the young man’s resume of flawless law keeping and tells him to sell all that he has and give it to the poor. By doing this, Jesus is illustrating the truth of what he preached at the Sermon on the Mount; where he demonstrated it is impossible for anyone to get into heaven by their own works. Jesus used the same format throughout that sermon where he said “you have heard it said” (or what the commandment stated) “but I tell you” (or what is really needed). Jesus put keeping the law out of reach of any human.

23 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. 24 And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. 25 When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? 26 But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; (PLEASE NOTE) but with God all things are possible.

In keeping with the spiritual nature of what Christ is teaching, it is impossible for any man to get into heaven on their own or by their own effort. That is what the metaphor of the “rich man” represents. Obviously, the NT covenant of grace would not eliminate a rich man purely by being rich since the way to heaven is by God’s grace and mercy alone.

27 Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore? 28 And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life. 30 But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.

Then good old Peter demonstrates that he also cannot understand the spiritual application and asks his question in verse 27 based on a physical understanding. Jesus just keeps on the same spiritual theme and says that anyone who has “followed me in the regeneration” (ie, spiritually reborn) will be blessed beyond measure. So, verse 29 is just the logical conclusion to Christ’s spiritual application; ie, anyone that has lost anything along the way in following Christ by grace and faith will be rewarded exponentially above what we could ask or think, for after all our reward is eternal life.

All verses KJV.

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No, you can't just "walk out of marriage" because of this one verse. That would be causing your spouse to commit adultery!

(Matthew 5:32, KJV) But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.

That being said, there are certain cases when it is necessary to leave one's spouse behind in order to do the will of God, as JDM-GBG pointed out in his answer. How does this not contradict Jesus' teaching on divorce?

I answer that, if two Christians have a consummated marriage†, the only way it can be dissolved is if one spouse dies. Even if the two spouses were physically separated from each other for years, for whatever reason, they would still be married to each other in God's eyes. This is the teaching of the Council of Trent.

(Council of Trent, Session 24, Canon 5) If any one saith, that on account of heresy, or irksome cohabitation, or the affected absence of one of the parties, the bond of matrimony may be dissolved; let him be anathema.

This explains why "whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery." (Matthew 5:32) The so-called "divorced" woman is still one-flesh with her husband, even though she's physically separated from him. You can't marry someone who's already married!

However, the Council of Trent does teach that, under certain special circumstances, it is OK for husband and wife to physically be separated from one another. (Although this would in no way dissolve their marriage.) This might be the case if, for example, the husband is excessively violent and the wife is in danger of death.

(Council of Trent, Session 24, Canon 8) If any one saith, that the Church errs, in that she declares that, for many causes, a separation may take place between husband and wife, in regard of bed, or in regard of cohabitation, for a determinate or for an indeterminate period; let him be anathema.


Conclusion

Under normal circumstances, you shouldn't leave your spouse behind, otherwise he/she would be tempted to "remarry" while still being indissolubly married to you.

On the other hand, there are certain [rare] cases where leaving one's wife and living in chastity (not "remarrying") is justified. For instance, if your wife falls into apostasy and threatens to leave you if you don't deny Christ, you should let her leave for His name's sake.

(Matthew 19:29, KJV) And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.


Footnotes:

† For the purposes of the above answer, when I say "marriage" I mean a valid, sacramental, consummated marriage. I will briefly comment on the other cases below.

  • If the marriage isn't consummated yet, Trent teaches that it's dissolved if one of the parties makes a solemn profession of religious vows. (Perhaps this is also "leaving wife for sake of the kingdom.")
  • A non-sacramental marriage (viz. where at least one party is unbaptized) can be dissolved by ecclesiastical authority. This explains how it was possible to have divorce under the law of Moses.
  • If the "marriage" isn't valid (as in the case of a man "marrying" a "divorced" woman), then one would be a fornicator or adulterer to continue having intercourse with his/her de facto "spouse." Cutting off ties, in this case, might be the proper thing to do for the sake of the kingdom.
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For reference, the same teaching is found in the other two synoptic gospels:

And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life (Matthew 19:29).

Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life (Mark 10:29-30).

And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake, Who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting (Luke 18:29-30).


The understanding of this verse in antiquity was not that one should frivolously leave one's spouse or relatives, but rather that one should not allow their attachment to them be a hindrance to following Christ. This is an explanation for why the teaching follows on the heels of the encounter with the rich young man (Mt 19:16-22), who was prevented from following Jesus because of his attachment to his possessions.


In the late 4th century, John Chrysostom commented here:

He saith not this, for marriages to be broken asunder for nought, but as He saith concerning one’s life, He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it (Mt 10:39) not that we should destroy ourselves, neither that while yet here we should part it from the body, but that we should prefer godliness to all things; this too He saith also with respect to wife and brethren.

But He seems to me here to intimate also the persecutions. For since there were many instances both of fathers urging their sons to ungodliness, and wives their husbands; when they command these things, saith He, let them be neither wives nor parents, even as Paul likewise said, But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart (1 Cor 7:15).1

"The Lord does not bid us simply to separate from our families," Theophylact (11th c.) would later summarize: "but only when they impede our piety."2


1. Homily LXIV on Matthew (tr. from Greek)
2. Explanation of the Holy Gospel According to Matthew (tr. from Greek; Chrysostom Press, 1992), p.168

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No, it is not incumbent at all for a follower of Christ to leave a spouse, for otherwise Jesus would belie His own statement about a radical responsibility of a husband to a wife (and vice versa for that matter) (Matthew 19:19).

However, if a spouse, or a child, or anybody else is spoiling one's relationship with God, then it is incumbent to a Christian to save this relationship, for on this depends all the rest, on it depends the health of one's soul, and "what profit is for man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" (Matthew 16:26).

Thus, if a wife becomes an official of Nazi bureaucracy, sending thousands of innocent Jews to gas chambers, a husband of such a wife can leave her, until she repents, for living with her as usual, can and will make him also complacent of her moral depravity.

We see how the priest Eli is punished for loving his sons more than God (1 Samuel 2:29: "Wherefore kick ye at my sacrifice and at mine offering, which I have commanded in my habitation; and honourest thy sons above Me?"), the same here: Jesus claims His divine dignity, the same as that of the Father, for no prophet or angel is authorized to say this, requiring putting Him at the summit of everything. Thus, "leaving behind" means giving a lesser value to all the rest than God and His commandments; yet "all the rest also has, in fact, a relative value and God knows that those relative values are also needful to men (Matthew 6:32).

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