Divorce and Remarriage
Topic: Marriage Passage: Mark 10:1–10:12
If you are visiting us this morning, we are going through the book of Mark so please turn with me to Mark chapter 10. The passage this morning brings us to Jesus’ teaching on divorce and remarriage and I know this is a subject that can stir up strong emotions for many people. I believe the Lord gives us two charges this morning: first I believe the Lord charges us to handle God’s word faithfully and not try to water down the hard things Jesus says about divorce and remarriage – cause he does say some very strong things. Secondly I believe God charges us to be tender towards people who have lived through the pain and heartache of divorce, and to point them to the infinite hope and redemptive grace that is so abundant in the gospel.
So we’re going to tackle some hard questions: what does God say about divorce? Does God ever permit a divorced person to remarry? What about the so-called “exception clause”? And more than all that, why is God so fiercely committed to marriage – so much so that the Bible says that God hates divorce? We’ve got a lot of ground to cover this morning and so with a commitment to deal with God’s word faithfully and sensitively, let’s pray.
Read Mark 10:1-12
ILL: In their book, Divorce: How and When to Let Go, John Adam and Nancy Williamson write this about divorce:
Your marriage can wear out. People change their values and lifestyles. Change and personal growth are traits for you to be proud of, indicative of a vital searching mind. You must accept the reality that in today’s multifaceted world it is especially easy for two persons to grow apart. Letting go of your marriage – if it is no longer fulfilling – can be the most successful thing you have ever done. Getting a divorce can be a positive, problem-solving, growth-oriented step. It can be a personal triumph.
In one paragraph these authors have managed to repackage divorce from the failure of a marriage into one of the “most successful things we can ever do”. Divorce is rebranded as the result of growth, evidence of a vital, searching mind, it’s a positive, problem-solving step that a person can be proud of. That’s got to be welcome news in Hollywood where so many marriages wear out with stunning speed. Here are just a few examples of how quickly these famous couples take the positive, problem-solving step of divorce:
• Scarlett Johansson and Ryan Reynold’s marriage lasted 2 years
• Katy Perry and Russell Brand’s marriage lasted 14 months
• Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries were married for all of 72 days.
• Drew Barrymore and Jeremy Thomas ended their marriage after just 19 days. Barrymore’s second marriage to Tom Green only lasted a little over a year.
• Britney Spears and Jason Allen Alexander didn’t need a calendar to measure their marriage – a watch would do as their marriage lasted just 56 hours.
Our culture says that divorce is no big deal – and makes it pretty easy to get one. All a couple has to say is that they have “irreconcilable differences” which is vague enough and subjective enough to mean whatever anyone wants it to mean. All this means that marriages are essentially disposable – when things get rough, it’s time to throw it away and get a new one.
But this desire to get out of a marriage when things get rough or someone better comes along or marriage just cramps someone’s style – that isn’t some new thing that our culture came up with. In Mark 10 some Pharisees come to Jesus and basically they want to know if it’s ok to get a divorce pretty much any time they want to.That’s pretty much the question the Pharisees are asking Jesus here in Mark 10.
Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?
The question is, does God allow a man to divorce his wife? Is it lawful? Now, Mark tells us that the Pharisees weren’t asking this question out of a sincere desire to hear Jesus’ answer; they were trying to catch him in his words, that somehow they could use his answer against him. But Jesus, being aware of their motive, answers the question as he so often does, with another question, what did Moses command you? And the Pharisees refer to Deuteronomy 24.
Now Deuteronomy 24: 1 actually says that if a man marries a woman and then finds “some indecency” in her and if because of this ‘indecency” he writes a certificate of divorce and she remarries, that first husband can never remarry that woman. I think it’s more a protection for the wife that she have a written certificate proving she has been divorced and keeping her from becoming a victim of a man’s fickle whims. But in Deut. 24 Moses does allow (he doesn’t command) for a man to write a certificate of divorce if he finds some indecency in her. And that’s where the controversy comes in. What does some indecency mean?
There were two camps in Jesus’ day: the followers of Shammai argued it meant if the husband found something morally shameful – so some indecency had to be something pretty bad. But the followers of Hillel argued that anything displeasing, embarrassing, or annoying about the wife was sufficient grounds for divorcing her. According to Hillel’s camp, if a man found a better looking woman than his wife, or if he came home one day to find that his wife had burned his dinner, that would be sufficient grounds for divorce. So the debate is between a lax standard for divorce and a stricter standard for divorce, but both parties believed that divorce was a viable option according to the law.
Jesus takes them behind the commandment and tells them that Moses allowed divorce only because of the hardness of the human heart. Divorce was an allowance made because of sin
and hardness of heart, but it was never a part of God’s original plan for marriage.
God’s intention for marriage
Jesus teaches God’s plan for marriage beginning in verse 6 by taking them all the way back to creation. Marriage is this amazing thing where a man and a woman who previously didn’t know each other at all, voluntarily leave the closest bond know to humans – the parental bond – and form a new and closer bond with each other. The two shall become one flesh. It is a closer bond than parent-child. It is a covenant bond that is the closest earthly picture of the relationship between Jesus and his beloved church.
1. Marriage was a part of God’s plan at creation (vs. 6-7)
Marriage isn’t a result of the fall, it’s a part of God’s original, perfect plan for men and women.
2. In marriage, the two shall become one flesh (vs. 8)
This speaks of the profound intimacy and oneness that marriage establishes in the sight of God, but it also gives us a clue as to why there are so many relational challenges and conflicts and trials in marriage. Think of this: when God first said that the two would become one flesh in Genesis 2, that flesh had not yet been corrupted with sin. That union was a union of two perfect fleshs (perfect people) into one perfect flesh, so unity and harmony and love and consideration and selflessness and faithfulness and all those peace-making things would have been perfect too.
After the fall, marriage still binds a man and woman together as one flesh, but now that flesh is fallen. One of the words the Bible uses to describe our sinful nature is the “flesh”. So when two sinners become one flesh, it does speak of the intimacy created at marriage, but it also speaks of the increased platform for sin. If our flesh is the problem, marriage is kinda like flesh squared – opportunity to sin is exponentially increased in the bond of marriage.
So marriage has the potential for the greatest union of love and intimacy of all earthly relationships but it also has the greatest potential for sinful flesh to do its destructive work.
ILL: On July 21, 1861 the first major war of the Civil War broke out just before dawn in Virginia as the Union and Confederate armies clashed among the farms by a stream called Bull Run. But strangely, a group of people gathered excitedly on a hill near Manassas to watch the battle, complete with opera glasses to watch the fighting and picnic baskets to make a day of it. As they watched soldiers being slaughtered on the field, they idly speculated on how long it would take for the Union armies to overrun Richmond.
But then unexpectedly a Confederate onslaught forced the Union Army to retreat and this group of spectators suddenly realized that their picnic spot was about to become a part of the battle field. That’s how it is with marriage. What begins as a picnic soon becomes a battlefield. But the war isn’t really with the other person.
Paul Tripp says this about marriage:
I’m essentially proposing that marriage is war. What I mean by that is not those skirmishes at the horizontal level between husbands and wives that so often are the content of marriage books. But that marriage is really the product of a deeper war, and that war is fought on the turf of my heart.
When two sinners who are each bent towards their own self-love marry each other, at first that self love is so satisfied and happy that you got this amazing, beautiful person to become your wife or husband. But little by little, that self-love begins to want its own way and finds that the other person doesn’t live to give you your own way the way that you do. In fact, that other person lives to get their own way. And so, couples begin to make demands of each other, take offense at the other, feel wounded by the other and conflict grows, bitterness grows, and distance between the married couple – the one flesh - grows. The war is the war of two selfish hearts wanting their own way. I think this is why so many Hollywood marriages fail so miserably. Many celebrities, not all but many, are filled with themselves – crowds adore them, producers pamper them, they are celebrities in the eyes of millions of adoring fans, and they expect that their partner will live with them at the center too. But their partner lives with themselves at the center and it’s not long before their self-centered orbits collide with each other. It’s not so much irreconcilable differences as it is irreconcilable similarities: they are both living with themselves at the center. And we all do that. We all have irreconcilable similarities: “judge, I can’t live with this person anymore – they aren’t putting me at the center of their universe the way I do, they are putting themselves at the center. we have irreconcilable similarities." The war is fought on the turf of the heart.
This war, however, is good news for the Christian who wants to grow in holiness because marriage has a way of confronting us with the war inside our hearts like few other things can. The war isn’t ever with our spouse, it’s a war between the Spirit and the flesh, between living for God and living for self. The problem is that, even for Christian couples, so often when they look at the problems in their marriage, they think the starring role goes to their spouse. The husband sees the wife as the primary cause of the problems – she’s always nagging, always critical, always this, always that. And the wife sees her husband as the primary cause: he never leads, he’s always watching football, he is insensitive or angry or disconnected. Paul Tripp points out, often the spouse doesn’t even have themselves in the video – all they talk about is what the other person contributes. They’re pulling out picnic baskets when they should be asking God to help them win the war that’s going on on the turf of their own hearts.
As each Christian spouse dies to their own flesh, their own self-centeredness (whatever shape that takes) then a more accurate and beautiful picture of marriage can emerge: the picture of Christ loving the church and laying down his life for her, and the picture of the church loving and obeying Christ and humbly following his leadership takes shape in the marriage.
This is one big reason why we are not to be unequally yoked. For the Christian, marriage isn’t primarily about having sex or having children or buying a home, it’s about growing in our knowledge of Christ together, our love for Jesus together, and our service of the Lord together. And together imaging Christ and the church together. Can’t do that if one of the people isn’t a believer and so God’s primary purpose for marriage is missed.
It also a big reason why marriage is never to be severed by divorce.
3. Marriage was never meant to be severed by divorce (9)
The union is to be a lasting one, severed only by death. For a Christian couple, divorce is never meant to be an option. A Christian couple should never speak of divorcing – it should never be a threat or an option considered. That’s why Jesus says that man should never separate what God has joined together. And then in verse 11, when the disciples ask him privately, he says whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.
That is the hard truth Jesus says – divorce is not an acceptable option and divorce doesn’t end the marriage in God’s sight – if that person goes on to marry another, they are committing adultery, which means in God’s sight they are still married. The divorce didn’t sever the marriage bond. So let me say again: if two Christians marry, or two people who are married become Christians, no matter how bad it gets, no matter how hard the war, divorce is not an option.
The question is, are there any exceptions? What about the “exception clause” found in Matthew 19:8-9? Let’s turn quickly to it.
Are there exceptions?
I believe there are two exceptions wherein divorce and remarriage is allowable. The first is, as Jesus says in Matthew 19 (and also in Matthew 5) that when one spouse commits “sexual immorality”. The Greek word is “porneia” from which we get the word “pornography”. Some have questioned why Jesus didn’t use the Greek word for adultery – that if a spouse commits adultery than divorce is allowable, and some have taken that to mean that Jesus does not consider adultery to be sufficient grounds for divorce.
Porneia is a word that encompasses a broad range of sexual immorality and as such I think it includes the many shapes that marital adultery can take. Because sexual immorality breaks the vows of marriage, I believe it gives the sinned against person the ability to acknowledge the reality of the other person’s having shattered the wedding vows. Now, in the case of a Christian who sins against their marriage and repents and asks forgiveness, there is a beautiful opportunity here for the Christ-like aroma of forgiveness and redemption to flow. I know of several strong and beautiful marriages where one of the spouses did commit porneia and yet repented and the sinned against spouse was able to forgive them (it wasn’t easy) and oh, how wonderful and beautiful and redemptively glorifying to Christ that is when it happens.
But I also know of many cases where there is no repentance. Where there is a hard-heartedness, or a commitment to leave the marriage, or a long time pattern of breaking the vows. It has been said, it takes two people to get married but only one to get divorced. In these cases, I believe the sinned against spouse has the ability to divorce the one who has committed porneia and, if the Lord wills, to remarry.
The other exception, which I am not going to teach on at all, is from 1 Cor. 7 and that is in the case where a wife or a husband comes to Christ in a marriage but the other spouse does not. Such would be common in regions such as Corinth where the gospel was being preached and it would not be unusual for one spouse to come to faith in Christ but the other not.
If the unbelieving spouse chooses to remain in the marriage, then the believing spouse should too. But if they leave, Paul says the believing spouse is not bound (not bound to the marriage vows) in that case. I take that to mean they are free from the marriage vows – which again, were broken by the other spouse - and free to remarry.
Apart from these two possibilities, Jesus gives no option for a believer to divorce. None. In the covenant of marriage the two become one until death does them part and what God has joined let no man sever.
This is a hard teaching and a sensitive issue, and I want to close by speaking to the different places a person here might be. Let me begin with the person who experienced a divorce because your spouse left you, maybe breaking his or her promise to be faithful by leaving you for another. Please know that the Lord sees your heartache, He feels compassion for your deep hurt. In Malachi 2 God speaks to His people and says,
And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord's altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand.14 But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union?6 And what was the one God7 seeking?8 Godly offspring. So guard yourselves9 in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. 16 “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her,10 says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers11 his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.” Mal 2:13-16
There is a violence to divorce that God hates. It tears hearts and homes and families and communities apart. If you have experienced that violence, may you experience the Lord’s comfort and healing. May you entrust the rest of your life into His hand – knowing He will never betray you. And He might have a loving, godly person for you – God is the God of redemption.
For those who perhaps have felt like divorce is no big deal to God, Jesus’ statement that those who divorce, if they remarry commit adultery is very serious, especially if you take into consideration that the Bible says that there will be no adulterers in heaven. This tells me that the person who claims to be a Christian, divorces his or her spouse, remarries, and throws up a prayer asking for forgiveness (in other words, treating it like it’s no big deal) is in danger of hell. Hard to say that, but as RC Sproul says, “hard preaching makes soft hearts. Soft preaching makes hard hearts.” If that’s you, your greatest danger isn’t hearing a hard truth – it’s having a hard heart.
But for the one who might have sinned against a spouse, maybe betrayed your vows, maybe even left a wife or husband for another, if you truly repent and confess your sin to the Lord, if you turn from the sin and towards the Lord, He will forgive you.
9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous[b] will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,[c]10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Cor. 6:9-11
Christ’s blood is strong enough to cleanse that stain completely away. He is strong enough to redeem what your sin damaged. I have seen – I have personally experienced in the lives of my parents – the Lord brings great redemptive good out of the failure of divorce.
Finally, married couples – take a moment and ask the Lord to reveal where the battlefield is in your heart. Maybe you’ve been looking at what’s wrong with your spouse (and they are a sinner) but not looking at your own heart, which is where the primary war is fought. Right now, in quiet of the Spirit’s presence, ask the Lord to search your heart and shine the light on any area of selfishness or self-centeredness that is unyielding to the cross Jesus has for you to die upon.
Let’s pray together.
More in Gospel of Mark
March 31, 2013Shock and Awe at the Empty Tomb
March 31, 2013Shock and Awe at the Empty Tomb
March 24, 2013A Glorious View from the Mt Everest of Our Redemption