Marriage is forever. Or, at least that is the way it was designed by our Father. Unfortunately, we Americans have a completely different view of this. Marriage in our culture seems about as durable as the purse we carry or the car we drive, so we set it aside and/or change spouses as it seems necessary. And despite the narrative of too many that such thinking does not hurt anyone, the long-term damage is too real. I know because as a pastor I talk to too many of the mates left behind and the children still trying to understand it all.
But this is not a modern-day American phenomenon. It is as ancient as the Scriptures themselves. Consider, therefore, this passage from Mark 10:1-12:
[quote]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.
And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” And 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.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”[/quote]
Granted, the Pharisees hate Jesus and wish to spring a trap in which to marginalize him and destroy him. Indeed, they may well think they will have a perfect ally in this, in that they are challenging Jesus in the same realm where John the Baptist had previously challenged King Herod about his illicit marriage, only to be killed for it. Perhaps King Herod would execute Jesus as well. Nonetheless, the Pharisees confront Jesus regarding his thoughts on divorce and marriage, and by so doing we get a marvelous glimpse into the heart of the Father regarding such real-life things.
One of the primary things we learn is that from God’s perspective, divorce is a reflection, ultimately, of hardened hearts. Indeed, the Greek word used to describe such a heart (sklerokardia), implies stubbornness, obstinacy, coldness, and so forth. The person with this spirit is unmovable, rigid, and rough. We learn, too, that in the most ancient days Moses allowed for divorce because of this hardness of heart (see Deuteronomy 24:1-4). He did not encourage it, but recognizing the prevalence of it, allowed it so as to ensure relief from evils still worse than divorce itself. He was especially concerned that the woman in particular be treated with dignity if dismissed by her husband, thus Moses’ concern about legal documentation regarding the divorce.
Another primary thing we learn is that despite what may be allowed, God’s expectation and design is always that marriage endure forever. This is why Jesus, while acknowledging the Pharisees’ reference to the Mosaic code, quickly moves to an even older principle, that which is presented in Genesis 1 and 2 regarding the establishment of covenant marriage. Here we are reminded of two very important things that desperately need to be underscored in our society today: one is that God’s clear design is that marriage must be between one man and one woman. There simply is no way to get around this without being intellectually dishonest (see Genesis 1:27; 5:2). Secondly, marriage is a lifetime proposition, that is not to be nullified. The imagery behind Jesus’ words “has joined together” is of a farmer who has yoked two oxen together. The farmer is like God, the authority figure who facilitates the yoking of the pair, and the oxen, of course, are like the man and woman, bound together as inseparable. The Pharisees have come to Jesus to see what his thoughts are regarding the durability of marriage, and they suggest that Moses thinks divorce is okay. Jesus makes it clear that Moses never said it was okay, just sometimes permissible because of hard hearts, and that, in fact, God expects it to be a forever-proposition.
One last thing we learn is that when divorce and then remarriage happens apart from some very narrow exceptions—namely, gross sexual immorality (see Matthew 19:9) or abandonment by an unbeliever (1 Corinthians 7:15)—adultery is the result. God sees this is an act of unfaithfulness and wickedness, something falling short of his demand.
We close with a couple of valuable considerations. First, if you have divorced and even remarried, please bathe yourselves in the marvelous and cleansing grace of God. Perhaps through the scrutiny of God’s Word you would acknowledge that how you got to where you are today falls short of God’s best for your life. Confess that to him, ask for his forgiveness, affirm deep gratitude for your current mate (if you are remarried), and move forward celebrating the promise of Romans 8:1, which tells us there is no condemnation for this in Christ Jesus. But please remember, this grace in which you bathe yourself did not come cheaply; it came at the cost of the life of Jesus.
Secondly, if you are married, stay the course. God’s plan is that you endure, and he is able to help you do so. One huge key is that both husband and wife have hearts of tenderness toward one another and God; hearts that are not hardened. Keep yourselves tender, humble, soft toward one another and God. Then, watch God help you thrive!
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“Write This Down” is a summary of select teaching moments offered by Pastor Matthew. The preceding material is from the message “Marriage is Forever,” part seven of the sermon series entitled, “Ransom,” a study through the Gospel of Mark, presented on the weekend of June 22, 2014, at Bethel Church.