God’s Guide to a Well-Lived Life: Take Marriage Seriously (Mark 10:2-12)
God’s Guide to a Well-Lived Life:
Have a Deep Respect for God’s Guide on Marriage
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the marriage rate is 6.1 per 1,000 people while the divorce rate is 2.7 per 1,000. That is not quite, but almost 2 divorces for every 1 marriage. These numbers are from June 2019. Nearly everyone, liberals and conservatives, recognize that divorce has negative effects on all who are involved.
Consequently, more people, young people, are living together without marriage today than there has been in America’s history. According to a Barna Research poll conducted back in April (2016), 65% of American’s believe that cohabiting is a good idea. Unfortunately, among those who claim to be Christian, even 41% say cohabiting is a good idea.
The older you are, the less likely you are to think it is a good idea - 72% of millennials think it is a good idea while 36% of those older than 70 believe it is a good idea.
The reasons for “cohabiting” are these: 1.) To test compatibility (84%); 2.) It is convenient (9%); 3.) Cheap rent (5%). Man’s wisdom does not ultimately concern us at this point. We do not come here to worship man’s wisdom. We come here to worship the God who made man.
On the first Sunday of every month this year, we are walking with Jesus through the Gospel of Mark and looking for God’s guide to a well-lived life. Our study today brings us to Mark 10 and the question of marriage and its durability.
In a fashion magazine, called Red, published out of Great Britain, there was recently an article on “polyamory,” which is having more than one lover, whether it is male or female. According to the article, 5% of relationships in the UK are “open relationships.” According to the article, from a 2016 survey, 29% of adults in the US under 30 years old believe the relationships are morally acceptable, while only 6% of adults over 65 believe they are acceptable.
It seems that many people - and not just Hollywood - have decided that the sexual relationship is worth worshiping. That’s what happens when people choose to put the sexual relationship or their own sexual fulfillment before the commandments of God. So, people who have sex without being married, are worshiping sex. That’s their god.
THE ORIGIN OF SEX IS LINKED TO THE ORIGIN OF MARRIAGE:
When God designed Adam and Eve, He created them with the ability to have children, to create others after their own image and their own likeness. In Genesis 2:23-25, in essence, the first “marriage ceremony” (this one officiated by the God of heaven), He pointed out to them that although they were two individuals, they now had one marriage. The sexual relationship is a physical symbol of the oneness of that marriage because it is through that relationship, the joining of a husband and wife, that children are born who are composed of genes from both the husband and wife.
That relationship was created by God to be enjoyed in the marriage covenant. Under the law of Moses, if anyone violated that unique relationship, that man or woman was to be stoned to death and then their bodies were generally burned. The word “fornication” is the broad word that includes any kind of sexual relationship that God has not approved. That means that “fornication” is the large category. Sexual relationships between married people is called “adultery.” Sexual relationships between people of the same gender is homosexuality. Sexual relationships with animals is called bestiality. All of these forms of perversion are classified as fornication. And they were all punished by death under the law of Moses.
Short of your spouse committing adultery, if you, as a Jew, wanted to divorce your wife, God required you to give her a divorce certificate that would testify to the fact that it was not any sin on her part that you are putting her away (Deut. 24:1-4). The Jews largely ignored God’s laws because, like Americans today, they would rather have sex than go to heaven. Many of the Jews, maybe the majority, ignored God’s restrictions on divorce, just like Americans but that did not change God’s view of the marriage relationship. In Malachi 2:16, God says very simply, “I hate divorce.”
THE NEW TESTAMENT COMMAND:
That background brings us to the Son of God, Jesus Christ, and His expectations for His followers. We take a look at Mark 10:2ff.
The Question (10:2):
President Ronald Reagan was the first governor of a state in America who signed into a law a bill legalizing “no-fault” divorce. In other words, you don’t have to have proof of adultery; you can divorce your spouse for any reason. That is the question that the Pharisees ask Jesus here in verse 2: “Some Pharisees came up to Jesus, testing Him, and began to question Him whether it was lawful for a man to divorce a wife.”
First, observe that the Pharisees were “testing” Jesus. That means that their motive was impure. They were not wanting to know the truth so they could honor God. They were wanting to trip up Jesus and make Him say something that would cause Him to lose popularity with the people. Unfortunately for them, Jesus never changed what He said for popularity’s sake but always taught what was consistent with the nature of the God of truth.
So, was it “lawful” for a man to divorce his wife? That is, was it acceptable for a man, under the law of Moses, to put away his wife. Under Jewish law, it was generally the man who initiated the divorce proceedings. Yet, in verse 12 and in 1 Cor. 7:13, we see that God accepts that a woman might initiate such proceedings.
Could a man divorce his wife, and the implication was, for any reason. The argument was over the meaning and interpretation of Deuteronomy 24. There were two main Jewish rabbis at that time who argued for their interpretation. One, named Shammai, said that divorce could happen if the wife did something “lewd” or sexually immoral. The other rabbi, named Hillel, said that a man could divorce his wife for any cause, even if she burnt the bread she was baking - in effect, a “no-fault” divorce! Is Jesus going to side with Hillel or with Shammai? That is the question.
Well, if you know Jesus, you know that Jesus only sides with God…
The Answers (10:3-9):
Jesus always directed the Jews to go back to the “Book,” in this case, the law of Moses: “And He answered and said to them, “What did Moses command you?”
Here, they refer to Deuteronomy 24… “They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”
Notice that Jesus answers with three responses: 1.) Here, Jesus goes back to the law of divorce in Deuteronomy 24. Notice that Jesus here says that Moses “permitted…” That is, God tolerated such practices under the law of Moses, just as He tolerated polygamy by men such as King David. But that’s not God’s law from the beginning and, as we will see, it’s not God’s law today under Jesus Christ.
2.) Jesus goes on to allude to God’s original intent for marriage when He created Adam and Eve (Genesis 1:27; 2:24; 5:2): “But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall become one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” One thing that we observe here is the fact that Jesus goes back and points out what God’s law on marriage is, the fact that using Genesis as the basis of His argument, Jesus shows that His law supersedes both the Mosaic covenant and any of man’s cultural laws. In other words, God’s law of marriage that dates back to the Garden of Eden encompasses all mankind, in every nation, country, tribe, and tongue. It is a universal law.
First, Jesus points out that polygamy was not God’s plan - having more than one wife; nor is polyandry - having more than one husband. Jesus did not say God gave Adam ten wives, for example. Second, Jesus points out that it is God who created the act that would unite them as one: “they are no longer two, but one flesh.” Marriage joins two together. Sex before marriage is a lie because it suggests that they two have the unity of marriage when, in fact, they do not. Divorce also breaks up that union that God created when He joined the man to the woman in the marriage.
3.) The third part of Jesus’ response is that “What God has joined together, let no man separate.” In other words, when God has brought two people together and they have become joined as husband and wife, man must respect God’s union and God’s law and not separate what God has joined. What that means is that no governor, no president, not even a king can create laws that separate what God has joined.
Jesus is telling the Jews in His day: “Stop ignoring God’s law on marriage!”
JESUS’ LAW ON DIVORCE (10:10-12):
In verse 10, Jesus and His disciples go back to the home where they are staying, likely in Capernaum (9:33), and they ask Jesus further about the matter: “In the house the disciples began questioning Him about this again.” So, Jesus gives some clarification:
“And He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.”
Let’s break this law apart because it is so very important if we want to honor God in our lives.
1.) “whoever” - shows that Jesus’ law applies to everybody, not just Christians.
2.) “divorces his wife and marries another” - The idea of “divorce” is that idea from Deut 24, that you are intentionally separating yourself from your spouse, giving her a “certificate of divorce.” But, if you “marry another,” Jesus says:
3.) “you commit adultery against her,” that is, the first wife.
In verse 12, Jesus looks at the other side of the marriage. Again, under Jewish custom a man usually initiated the divorce but Jesus has in mind that a woman might need or want to initiate the divorce proceedings. He says: “if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.” Under the law of Moses, committing adultery was punishable by death. Under the law of Christ, you also forfeit your hope of eternal life: 1 Cor. 6:9ff.
THE ONE EXCEPTION CLAUSE:
If Mark 10 was all Jesus said on the subject of divorce, we would understand Him to be condemning or forbidding all divorce and second marriages, without exception. Yet, in two passages in Matthew, Jesus does say that God allows divorce in one specific situation. Again, remember that it is God who joins a marriage and only God can dissolve a marriage. On what basis would God dissolve a marriage? That exception is found In Matthew 5:32 and 19:9.
First, let’s read 5:31-32, in the heart of Jesus’ “sermon on the mount: “It was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce’ [This is a reference to the Jews’ understanding of Deut. 24]; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
Before we make further comment, let’s read Jesus’ words from Matthew 19:9. This text is the same context as the Mark 10 passage we just studied but here, Jesus adds an exception to His law on divorce: “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
Notice that phrase “except for immorality.” I have already mentioned that “sexual immorality,” the Greek word is porneia (from which we get the word “pornography” or “writing about sex"). This is the broad word for any sexually unauthorized behavior which would include adultery (married people), homosexuality (same gender), and bestiality (with animals).
I also want you to notice this point… Jesus says if you divorce your wife, except for immorality, and marry another, you are committing (present tense verb) adultery. So, as long as you are in a relationship with this second wife, whom you had no permission to marry, you are an adulterer, you are (present tense) in an adulterous relationship.
Jesus also said, “Whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (5:32). That means that if she was guilty of sexual immorality, she cannot remarry. If she divorced for any other cause, then she cannot remarry; otherwise, the man would be guilty of adultery.
Now, the apostle Paul foresees occasions where a divorce might occur but not for sexual immorality. In that case, Paul says you have to remain unmarried or be reconciled to your first spouse (1 Cor. 7:10-11).
These two texts are so narrow and restrictive that men have developed many ways to try to get around them:
1. Some suggest that since Matthew records Jesus’ words before Pentecost, therefore His teachings were just for those Jews and do not apply after the kingdom is established. That position effectively makes all that Jesus taught worthless to those living past Pentecost. The truth, however, is that John was preaching the kingdom was coming (Matt. 3:2) and Jesus was preaching the kingdom was coming (Mark 1:15) and the Sermon on the Mount (including Matt. 5:32; 19:9), teaches what God expects out of men in order for them to enter into that kingdom and to remain faithful in that kingdom.
2. Some teach that non-Christians, the world, pagans, are not required by God to obey Matthew 5:32 until they become Christians. Then, they must submit to the teachings of Christ on marriage, divorce, and remarriage. However, as we have already shown, the Sermon on the Mount gives the ethics which God requires of everyone if they are going to enter the kingdom and remain in the kingdom until it is consummated in heaven. This means that one cannot be an adulterer, having entered a marriage he / she was not authorized to enter, and then enter the kingdom of heaven. By what standard of biblical interpretation could such a person argue that non-Christians are not obligated to live by Matthew 5:32 but they are obligated to live by Matthew 5:44 or even Matthew 28:18-19? The truth is, the Gospel is one message, the entire NT (and including the OT in its most broad definition), and the Gospel is God’s law for all of humanity after the establishment of the church in Acts 2. Marriage was created by God in Genesis 2; God governs and regulates, even blesses, all marriages which have been contracted with His authority. Additionally, we note from Matthew 7:28 and 8:1 that Jesus was teaching the crowds, not just His disciples, about the requirements for living in the kingdom.
3. Others desire to argue that marriage is a covenant and that adultery breaks the covenant so that adultery would terminate a marriage and then both the adulterer and the innocent spouse are free to remarry. In response, first, this position would entirely negate Jesus’ whole discussion here and in Matthew 19. Effectively, He wasted His breath, if this position is true.
4. Still others desire to argue that baptism washes away sin (Acts 22:16), therefore baptism would wash away the sin of adultery for a non-Christian and he or she might still remain in the “adulterous” marriage after baptism. Again, the arguments against this position are numerous. Effectively, prayer does for a sinning Christian what baptism does for a non-Christian. In that case, a Christian could commit adultery, pray for forgiveness, and continue in the adulterous relationship. That would, as in #3 above, negate what Jesus said about marriage and divorce.
Secondly, if a behavior or relationship is sinful in its nature before baptism, it is still a sinful behavior or relationship after baptism. Baptism does not automatically create a scriptural divorce and a scriptural remarriage. Third, the relevant verbs in verse 32 are all present tense verbs: “The one divorcing his wife except for the cause of fornication is making her to continue to commit adultery and whoever having been divorced (this is in the perfect tense rather than the present tense), is committing adultery.” Clearly Jesus is forbidding the relationship, not just a one-time-act which baptism could wash away. Baptism does not change the nature of the relationship.
5. If one finds himself / herself an adulterer, defined by Matthew 5:32, but has children with the adulterous wife or husband, it would involve breaking up a family. Therefore, the argument is, Matthew 5:32 cannot be understood as it is written. It is only “an ideal.” While a man and a woman who bring a child into the world are both responsible for that child’s welfare, they cannot be husband and wife, in the marital relationship, without violating Jesus’ instructions. See the case of the Israelites in Ezra and Nehemiah’s day and observe that having children did not allow the Israelites to remain in unauthorized marriages (see especially Ezra 10:44).
Sinful man will do what he can to rationalize the position he desires to take in rebellion agains the word of God. But we need to be humble and accept what Jesus says and then have the courage to change our behavior to make it fit what Jesus teaches.
Take home message: To enjoy God’s guide to a well-lived life, we must have the level for respect for the marriage relationship God intended. Sexual sins are an offense to God. Let us honor God by honoring His marriage law and hold one another accountable.