When my wife, Carol, and I were married in 1980, our goal was to be married longer than our parents. My parents were married 44 years when my father died of cancer in ’83. This fall, Carol’s parents will celebrate their 60th anniversary. We are fortunate to have godly models of commitment who set the bar high for us.
When I performed the wedding for my daughter and son-in-law in June, I explained that we can consult different sources to determine the role and responsibility of a husband and wife. We can turn to culture and see what the media or celebrities say about marriage. We can consider our capabilities, skills, and personality traits to answer the question. We can consult other Christians, pastors, and best-selling authors on the topic. Or we can turn to the commandments of Scripture to see what God says about marriage.
Going back to the book of Genesis, we discover that God’s plan for marriage is a simple formula—1+1=1; One man and one woman for life. Because God established marriage to be permanent, don’t un-one what God makes one. That is the message Jesus communicates in Mark 10:1-12.
On his journey from Capernaum to Jerusalem, Jesus passes through Perea (1). Some Pharisees show up trying to back Jesus into a corner (2). They ask a seemingly innocent question, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (Matthew 19:3 adds the phrase, “for any cause.”) However, they already knew Jesus’ answer because he addressed it previously in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:31-32).
Everyone agreed that that the Old Testament permitted divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1-4), that only the husband could initiate the event, and the right to remarry was implied. What they disagreed on was the grounds for divorce. The phrase, “if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her,” was open to various interpretations. The followers of Rabbi Hillel favored an open interpretation that allowed for divorce for any and every reason—she was a poor cook, she demonstrated disrespect towards her mother-in-law, or the husband found someone else more attractive. The followers of Rabbi Shammai preferred a narrow interpretation that allowed for divorce only in the case of immorality. Those who lived in the Qumran community followed a closed approach that made no allowance for divorce or remarriage.
Rather than answer the question directly, Jesus counters with a question of his own, “What did Moses command you?” (3). The Pharisees have to conclude that Moses allowed for divorce, but did not require it (4). Jesus points out that divorce was permitted because people were unwilling to forgive (5). If you look closely at Deuteronomy 24:1-4, the command was given not to require divorce, but to protect the wife from her husband’s whims.
Much like today, the Jews wanted divorce for any and every reason. Jesus contrasts the prevailing opinion by taking them back to creation (6-8). God’s plan from the beginning of time was one man and one woman for life. Since God established marriage in the beginning, he is the one who sets the rules. Despite what the State legislature approves, despite what the Supreme Court rules, despite what Hollywood celebrities promote, marriage is not between two men or two women. It is not a social contract that can be torn up and thrown away when we fall out of love. It is a divine covenant between a man and a woman standing before God.
Since God is the one who puts the marriage together and established the rules, we need to stop trying to tear it apart (9). Don’t un-one what God makes one. To do so in order to marry someone else sets both parties up for the sin of adultery (10-12).
Here’s a Summary of biblical teaching on marriage and divorce.
- Marriage is a permanent union of one man and one woman (Mark 10:6-9).
- Divorce is allowed under two circumstances:
- Unfaithfulness (Matthew 5:32; 19:9)
- Desertion by an unbelieving spouse (1 Corinthians 7:8-16)
- While divorce is allowed, it is not required or commanded. There is still an opportunity for grace and forgiveness.
- Remarriage is allowed under the above circumstances, as well as after the death of a spouse (Romans 7:1-3).
- A divorce that occurred before someone came to faith in Christ is covered by God’s grace, along with every other sin they committed (2 Corinthians 5:17).
During my daughter’s wedding ceremony in June, I spoke directly to Phillip and Amanda about the commitment required for a happy marriage.
Mom and I, or Carol and I, have some good friends, Phil and Ellen Tuttle. During the early years of their marriage, whenever they had an argument, they might throw out the “D” word, Divorce. On one occasion, Phil wanted to make a statement about his commitment to Ellen. So he grabbed the dictionary in their house, took an X-Acto knife, and surgically removed the word “divorce” from their dictionary. Years later, their daughter, Emily, who is your age, Amanda, would show that dictionary to her friends. It gave her a sense of security and pride to know her parents were committed to each other and had removed that word from their vocabulary.
I want to challenge you to make that same commitment to each other today. As you say your vows, you are making a statement to each other in front of us and before God that divorce is not an option. To help signify that, I have a gift for you. It is a dictionary with the word “divorce” removed. The downside is that you also lose whatever is on the other page, on the back side of that word. But it demonstrates that to say, “Yes,” to each other means you have to say, “No,” to other people and other options.
As it turns out, the other side of the word “divorce” in this dictionary is the word, “divide.” By removing both words from the dictionary, you commit to not allowing yourselves to become so divided that you think divorce is the answer.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on August 2, 2015. It is part of a series in the Gospel of Mark. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.