Let’s start today with a scenario – imagine that you are having lunch with a friend. They are married and have two small kids at home. You know that your friends marriage has been struggling for a couple of years. Today your friend tells you, “I just don’t think it’s going to work anymore. I’ve met someone new. I think it’s time for a divorce.”
What would you do?
Let’s turn to Mark 10:1-12.
Here’s what I learn from Mark 10 for sensitive and important conversations on marriage.
1. Remember that the kingdom of God comes in word and power. (verse 1)
When Jesus traveled to Judea, large crowds gathered around him. What did he do? As was his custom, he taught them. Verses like this and Mark 1:33-34 show us that Jesus had two customary practices with the crowds. He taught them. And he healed and delivered them.
In Jesus, the kingdom of God came with words and with power. Acts 10:38 tells us that Jesus performed mighty deeds because God was with him. Jesus’ Spirit-empowered ministry of words and deeds was an example for the Spirit-empowered disciples who would follow him.
God is with you. The kingdom has come with words and power. You are never alone. Every moment of service and ministry to others is carried out in the presence of God, with the power and wisdom of God available to supply what we lack.
When a friend asks a sensitive and weighty question, remember that you are not alone. God is with you and you will find grace for every need.
2. Tell them they need a view of marriage that can handle it’s weight. (2)
The Pharisees came to test Jesus with questions. Their motives were mixed. In one sense they sought to trap him.
John the Baptist was imprisoned and murdered by King Herod for speaking up about a biblical ethic of marriage. Was Jesus willing to risk the same? It was a tricky moment.
We easily see the fault with the Pharisees, and rightly so. But the practice of testing is not all bad. It was right for people to test Jesus in the sense of considering his teaching. Does he have authority? Is there weight in his words?
There aren’t many things heavier in life than marriage and family. We need a foundation that can hold them. We need something solid that will hold under life’s load.
3. Tell them that religious and secular views of marriage won’t hold weight. (3-5)
The secular view of marriage is a social contract. Like everything else, marriage exists for my happiness and prosperity. The moment a marriage fails to meet my needs, it is no longer valid.
This was the view of Herod who had divorced his wife in order to marry a woman (also married) he had just met.
What kind of damage did that decision leave in its wake? What did that new relationship do to those left behind?
Experience has taught us too often that the pursuit of individual happiness for happiness’ sake is a destructive path. The human heart is an unreliable and dangerous captain of a ship.
The religious view falls short as well.
The Pharisees based their ethics on the law. Some interpreted it narrowly – marriage can’t be broken unless there is a unfaithfulness. Most interpreted the law more broadly – marriage can be broken whenever a man finds fault with his wife.
Half of the room can see very clearly that this view falls short. Religious traditionalism seems to always elevate one group of people at the cost of another. Insiders over outsiders. Men over women. The Pharisee’s view gave all agency to the men and left women vulnerable to the whims of the male heart.
Both the secular and religious views fail to take into account the hardness of the human heart.
Both failed to take into account the divine purpose of marriage.
4. Tell them that Jesus is weighty enough for all of life. (6-9)
Jesus told the Pharisees that Moses’ law did not represent God’s intention for marriage, but was a concession for the hardness of the fallen human heart.
He then went back to the beginning, to Genesis 1:27 for the foundation of marriage ethics. In the beginning, God made them male and female.
The Biblical view of humanity is what we can call a teleological anthropology. It is a view of humanity saturated with meaning and purpose. Every aspect of our identity, including marriage and gender come loaded with design and purpose.
What is the purpose of marriage? A divine union of souls. One man. One woman. One relationship. One lifetime.
Jesus added his own commentary in verse 10. What God has joined together, let not man separate.
Jesus’ view of marriage is much more than a social contract. The joining of one man and one woman in marriage creates a new entity. A real union of souls, profoundly interconnected and attached together.
This view gives great comfort for those whose hearts have been broken by divorce. Your pain is meaningful. It should not be this way. You hurt so bad because something really bad happened.
Jesus’ view of marriage is full of power – it explains so much of our experience.
You were created for a purpose. When you cooperate with that purpose, life becomes solid and abundant.
A note on biblical ethics.
In his response, Jesus shows us how to develop ethics weighty enough for life.
Let me give you a little background to explain what I see him doing.
We say that the Bible is a story. It is 66 books which together form an extraordinary unity, a unified storyline. You can only understand the parts in light of the whole. One simple way to explain the story line is like this:
Creation – Fall – Redemption – Restoration.
God created the world, filled with purpose and meaning and goodness.
Humanity turned from the creator to the worship of created things and the human heart became hardened and crooked. This brought a curse on the world which makes life thorny and difficult.
Jesus came to save humanity from the curse. Through his perfect life, his death on the cross and his resurrection Jesus atoned for human sin and opened a way for sinners to find salvation by grace through faith. As we cooperate with Jesus through faith, our fallen humanity begins to be redeemed.
Some day Jesus will come back and make everything right. God will dwell with his people in glory. He will be their God. He will wipe away every tear and bring fullness of joy and life everlasting. Everything will be the way it is supposed to be.
The Pharisees built their view of marriage in the chapter of the fall.
Jesus explained a view of marriage that fills the whole story.
Marriage was a gift given at creation.
The fall introduced hardship into the marriage relationship.
Jesus died on the cross to create a clean and pure people who will be “married” to him forever.
His return will be a great marriage feast. We will experience perfect faithfulness and perfect intimacy with Jesus.
Every marriage is built on God’s design and every marriage points forward to eternity.
5. Tell them that divorce creates moral boundaries. (10-12)
The disciples came back around to the question of divorce with Jesus. He explained that the oneness created by marriage lasts beyond divorce. It creates moral boundaries.
A woman who divorces a man and marries another one still carries ties to the first husband. This makes the new marriage an adulterous one.
A note on gender.
Did you see what Jesus just did in verse 12? Jesus gave agency and responsibility to both male and female.
“By expressly mentioning the two sexes, Jesus declares that maleness and femaleness are rooted in the creative will of God and are foundational for marriage. As a sovereign creation, woman is not man’s subject but his equal. . . The greatest difference between Jesus and the rabbis, however, is this: by giving a husband principal control over his wife, the Jewish divorce policy made the man the lord of the marital relationship. According to Jesus, however, it is neither man nor woman who controls marriage, but rather God, who is the lord of marriage: “ ‘what God has joined together, let man not separate.’” -James Edwards
Because God has joined together a man and a wife in marriage, divorce is a heavy, heavy decision. The decision carries moral weight.
There are two general interpretations on marriage and divorce in the New Testament.
The first view holds that remarriage after divorce is adultery in every instance in which the ex-spouse is still alive. This view takes verses 11-12 and the principle behind them very seriously. Any remarriage after divorce violates an enduring covenant.
The second view holds that there are exceptions, some instances in which the marriage covenant is broken in a way that opens a way for righteous remarriage.
In Matthew’s account of this conversation (19:9), a clause is added – “except in the case of adultery.” This addition acknowledges a scenario in which remarriage after divorce does not violate the marriage covenant of oneness. It has already been broken by a spouse’s unfaithfulness.
Within the second view of divorce and remarriage some make allowance for one exception. Others see more exceptions in 1 Corinthians 7:15.
In this chapter Paul address the scenario of a new believer whose spouse is not a believer. What happens when that non-believer is no longer willing to be married? They are no longer bound to the marriage covenant.
Paul uses the phrase, “in such cases” to give that answer. Some see the plural in that phrase to open up a category of cases that allow for divorce and remarriage. This would include unfaithfulness, unbelief and other cases such as abuse.
In the area of marriage and divorce, we all feel the effects of the fall. Some more than others. Jesus’ teaching gives us a heavy responsibility while also offering comfort to those who have been hurt.
Know that God has a purpose for your marriage. He has grace for your need. The one who asks a lot of us is more than willing to give even more in return.
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown