This is a passage which of necessity raises concerns for a Bible teacher. It gives very clear guidance on divorce. It is strange, I think, that one may consider Christians to experience life differently than the world. Close relationships of any sort bear difficulties of many sorts. Marriage is not immune from that. Christians are not immune from that. The difficulty for a teacher arises when the life of Christians and the teachings of Jesus’ do not mesh.
Christ’s teachings and Christian practice should be aligned, but many times they are not. It is reported that the divorce rate among Christians closely mirrors that rate in the general population. Since that rate is high most of us do not have to look too far to see divorcees among us. A lot of them are remarried many times with seemingly more happiness than they had in their original marriages. Does not their seeming happiness validate the choice? That is the easy answer. The difficult vantage point is when words like those of Christ are brought into the picture.
So a teacher must look out on a class and a church landscape that is dotted with this discord from the scriptures. Jesus said to divorce and remarry = adultery. Adultery is sin. Of course Christian’s sin, but it must never be done with eyes wide open.
Our text: Mark 10:1-12
1 And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them.
2 And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” 5 And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. 6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
10 And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10:1-12–ESV)
The teacher’s that gave bad tests
In verse 2 the Pharisees were about their usual bad business. They were running about with their made up minds dead set against Jesus. So they came to him with a test, but it is important for us to remember that the Pharisees tests were given in order to trip. They were not testing to determine quality, but offering questions to dredge up debris. Debris is what they got, but the debris that was churned up did not work against Jesus. He was not naive to their motives and his wisdom excelled anything they could imagine or throw at him. They would get more than they bargained for.
A great melange of people would have been in the crowd. Some would be married and others divorced. Others would be in a variety of stages of marriage or divorce. Most obviously there would have been men and women among the listeners and at that point the men were clearly those in the position of strength. The women were the vulnerable ones.
It would be safe to say that all the people in that crowd would have some take on this issue. Divorce was understood and divorce was experienced. I think that one of the Pharisee’s hopes was to fracture the people from Jesus. If they could bait him into controversy they would be satisfied.
Jesus’ gave a test of his own
Moses was a man whom Jesus, the Pharisees and all the people held in great respect. By invoking Moses common ground was established, but the tables were being turned. Jesus was getting them back to the foundations of God’s intention and getting underneath the foundations of the Pharisee’s attack. Jesus did not merely wish to trounce the Pharisees at their own game. He wanted to upend their improper understanding, but was going do so in a manner that taught the people, kept the peace and gave opportunity to further teach his disciples.
The law of Moses had things to say about divorce and so Jesus had them lay the statutes out. “What did Moses say?” That was the question.
The Pharisees answer
The answer the Pharisees gave was short and left many details out. They mainly focused upon the legitimacy of divorce as they saw it from the law of Moses. They, after all, were the dispensers of spiritual shape of their culture. In verse 4 they simply stated their viewpoint in brief, encompassing terms.
Jesus flips over the tables of divorce
Now that the argument had been laid and the tables turned Jesus would take the conversation into the dark place divorce had become. God hates divorce and Jesus would establish that and simultaneously collide with the Pharisees ease. The Pharisees were comfortable with divorce, but should not be. The people needed to avoid it.
Jesus granted the Pharisees point agreeing that Moses had written them that command, but the words used put the dark cloud over divorce. Jesus said that Moses gave that command as a concession. Moses did not give that command as a means to fracturing marriage after marriage. The people in Moses’ time had hearts that were hard and fussy and prone to struggle against the better things. In concession to the feistiness of that time Moses gave this command. It was not a “safety valve” in case the man in the marriage decided the woman should go.
Jesus goes further back
It was easy to consider Moses as the starting point of important things. Jesus, though, does not see Moses as the starting point, but God. The first book of the Bible says, “In the beginning, God…” Jesus brings that view to this conversation and lays again the groundwork that says marriage is of God.
As a man grows up he is to take a wife and be united to her. The ESV above has Jesus saying that the man is to “hold fast” to his wife. There is an intertwining of lives which happens and that intertwining is both good and creative. The new thing of a united family happens. God built that and God wants that to stand. Man injected sin and with that injection brought tremendous negative pressure into all situations marriage not the least of them.
The thing that was to be sacred was the union of marriage not the law of Moses. The people of Israel had been using Moses’ command as a loophole. They used it to get out of a union God built. Jesus said that what God built man should not unbuild.
God made the world and God made marriage
This is one of the principles that a Christian must stand firmly upon. God made the blue sky and we cannot change that, so we don’t try. God made gravity and we will be hurt if we defy it and jump off high places. A difference between marriage and gravity is that we can change marriage. We can discard and upend it. Jesus did not say good things about divorce.
Jesus concluded this section by saying, “…what God has put together, let not man separate.”
No “Yes, but’s…”
We love loopholes and we hate things that constrain us. We, like the crowd on this day in Mark 10, are familiar with divorce. I think that there is a great tendency to start looking for loopholes. We try to say, “Yes, Jesus and God are right, but what about this situation or that situation? What about the woman being abused? What about infidelity?” On and on these arguments go.
There are two great groups of Christians (or so-called Christians). The first group does not even realize or accept that they need a loophole from the things God has made. This group sees their marriage and the marriages of others in only a semi-sacred light. Marriage, to these, is something which can and should be discarded if a reason arises, and they determine the reasons.
God’s laws do not exist because we follow them. God’s laws are there regardless of what we know of them. Gravity works all the time and not taking it into account will be bad for you whether or not you accept it. In a marriage an intertwining of souls happens in some manner, like it or not. To jump from it will be less successful in the long run than one can imagine.
The second group accepts that God’s laws are crucial but spends enormous energy try to find a loophole. God’s laws are still there no matter what. It is far better to spend time figuring out how to hold fast than how to get out fast.
Obedience (staying married) will always exceed loopholes
On the basis of God’s ultimate force in the universe I would say that adherence to his principles no matter what happens will always generate the best outcomes. I do not like to make “always” statements, for they falter. God’s words, though, do not. To be successful in life one must ground oneself firmly. The troubles one will buy from marriage hopping will far outweigh the troubles one will have by staying inside the vow, the marriage one has established.
This presupposes being grounded in God. It assumes that one gathers one’s strength from his hand and not one’s own. I would say with great surety that if you stay in your marriage on the basis of God’s laws the benefits you will gain will be eternal. This does not mean that you will have a happy time. It does not mean that choices you have made were necessarily right, but never, ever violate one of God’s laws to “unviolate” another. If you knew you should not marry so and so, but did so anyway that is a choice made and place where you should stay. Look to God for strength. Submit to him where you are and live obediently in his strength. There will be great blessing.
Obedience will always exceed the value of disobedience. The way that value will be experienced may be different than you hoped for, but place your hope in God and stay there, always. Do not leave.