Marriage, Divorce & Remarriage

The following is a manuscript from the message “Life Lab” (Mark 10:1-12) where we discussed marriage, divorce, and remarriage:

This is going to be an uncomfortable message. Today I am going to talk about marriage, divorce, and remarriage. For some, this is an uncomfortable message because you are married and you’re either contemplating or in the middle of a divorce. For some, you have gone through a divorce, and it’s still painful and always will be. For some, you are not married, and you really want to be, so any message that focuses on marriage is painful.

Now with that disclaimer up front, this message is still for all of us. First, let me address those who are married. For those who are happily married, our passage grounds us in the heart of God for the sacred covenant of marriage… and you will be encouraged and challenged to continually live in that place of deep union with God and with each other. For those who are married and having a rough time of it, God’s Word will possibly confront your reasons for thinking about or pursuing divorce. For those of you who have been divorced and are either contemplating remarriage or are already remarried, hopefully this message will help point you towards a path of success in your new marriage. Second, let me address those who are single. You have friends who are married, and this message will help you support and pray for them more effectively. And if God has marriage in your future, better to start learning now what a marriage covenant is to look like before you make that commitment. So I think I addressed every person in the room. Here’s the overarching question:

What if God designed marriage to make us more holy than happy?

As we go through Mark 10:1-12, I want to answer three questions: (1) What is God’s design for marriage? (2) Are there biblical grounds for divorce? (3) What about remarriage? Let’s read our passage and then begin to answer these three questions.

1Getting up, He went from there to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan; crowds gathered around Him again, and, according to His custom, He once more began to teach them.

2Some Pharisees came up to Jesus, testing Him, and began to question Him whether it was lawful for a man to divorce a wife.

3And He answered and said to them, “What did Moses command you?”

4They said, “Moses permitted a man TO WRITE A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE AND SEND her AWAY.”

5But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.

6“But from the beginning of creation, God MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE.

7“FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER,

8AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH; so they are no longer two, but one flesh.

9“What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”

10In the house the disciples began questioning Him about this again.

11And He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her;

12and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.”

Question#1: What is God’s design for marriage? (vv. 6-9)

Before we can talk about any possible biblical grounds for divorce or the possibility of remarriage after a divorce, we need to establish God’s design for marriage.

The Context. In the context of the passage, Jesus and His disciples are heading south towards the region of Judea and out towards the Jordan River in the east part of Israel. A crowd gathers around Jesus, and as He is teaching, some Pharisees begin to ask Jesus some questions. They are trying to trap Him. And what they ask Him is whether it’s lawful for a man to divorce his wife. They’re asking Jesus this question because Herod Antipas rules this region of Israel. Remember that John the Baptist was executed because he confronted Herod’s illegal and immoral divorce to his first wife so he could marry his sister-in-law Herodias. And they are trying to set Jesus up so that Herod will find out about it and take Jesus out. We’ll come back to Jesus’ answer of the legality or grounds for divorce, but I want to look at vv.6-9 to establish God’s design and ideal for the covenant of marriage.

v. 6. Jesus establishes that marriage was part of God’s design for humanity from the beginning of creation. Jesus quotes part of Genesis 1:27, “God made them male and female.” The rest of Genesis 1:27 tells us that we are image bearers of God, and part of that image bearing is relationship and community. God exists in community with Himself… God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We call this the Trinity. And since humanity is created in the image of God, some aspect of being in harmonious relationship with others is implicit in how God designed us. And in the text, the first place we see this design for relationship is in God’s covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.

vv. 7-8. Next Jesus quotes Genesis 2:24. In marriage the man and by implication the woman, leave their parents and become one flesh. And “one flesh” is much more than a sexual union. It’s an emotional, spiritual, and psychological union. They are no longer two… they are one.

v. 9. And God has created marriage to be a place where this deep, deep union takes place. And since He has created it, no man is to separate it. We’ll discuss the question “are there biblical grounds for divorce?” in a moment, but don’t miss v. 9 as Jesus clearly says that God’s design for marriage is permanence. Husband and wife are interwoven into each other.

 

Marriage is much more than a contract between a couple and the state. It is much more than simply a vow between two lovers. It is the fashioning of two worlds into one. And it is a profoundly spiritual journey. In marriage, we can experience the depths of love, selflessness, and sacrifice, which are at the core of the character of God. But marriage is also incredibly challenging because marriage exposes us… our sin, our selfishness, our pride, our anger. At its core, marriage is a spiritual journey that teaches us about God and about ourselves

1. Marriage teaches us about God. Paul tells us in Ephesians 5 that the relationship between a husband and wife is supposed to be a tangible object lesson of the true reality… the relationship between Jesus Christ and His bride the church. God establishes human marriage as a living, breathing illustration of the depth of His love for us.

2. Marriage teaches us about ourselves. Marriage teaches us how to love like Jesus. Marriage confronts our selfishness. Marriage “forces” us to think of another person first and to put their needs above our own. But marriage also teaches us that there is a joy in giving ourselves away to another person. God’s design for marriage is a permanent bond between a man and a woman where we have the opportunity to learn to deny ourselves daily and together surrender our hearts and lives, our sin and our selfishness, to Jesus so that He can do His transforming work in our lives so that He can use us to reveal His love to our world. What if God designed marriage to make us more holy than happy?

 

Q#2: Are there biblical grounds for divorce? (vv. 2-5)

So back in the passage, the question that prompts this whole conversation was the Pharisees asking Jesus whether it was lawful for a man to divorce a wife. So Jesus initially responds with a question in v. 3, “What did Moses command you?” And in v. 4, they respond that Moses permitted a man to “write a certificate of divorce and send her.” So let’s take a look at what the Old Testament has to say about divorce, what was being taught in Judaism in the days of Jesus, and then we’ll look at a couple of New Testament passages that talk about divorce as well.

Deuteronomy 24:1. The Pharisees respond to Jesus by quoting part of this verse. The phrase that needs interpreting is “he has found some indecency in her.” Some people take the word “indecency” to mean “adultery.” It could mean adultery since the word “indecency” in Hebrew means nakedness, but one challenge to this view is that in the Old Testament, adultery was punishable by death, not merely by divorce. The precise meaning of the word “indecency” is unknown. It implies something unseemly or unbecoming and cannot simply refer to something trivial but something that violates the essence of the marriage covenant.

Intertestamental Background. In the days of Jesus, the question of permissible grounds for divorce was a source of dispute in Judaism. Some argued that a man could divorce a woman for any act, even one as trivial as a badly cooked meal. Others held that immorality and adultery was the only legitimate cause for divorce.

v. 5. Notice what Jesus says, “Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this commandment.” Jesus tells us that divorce, even on the narrow grounds allowed by Moses, was only tolerated, not recommended. It was permissible, but still not preferable. Jesus said that God’s intent is permanence in marriage.

Other NT Passages. We need to take a look at some other New Testament passages that talk about divorce.

Matthew 5:31-32 & 19:9. Jesus seems to say that marital infidelity is possible grounds for divorce. Once again, permanence in marriage is God’s will and design, but recovering from infidelity may not always be possible. But I want you to notice something about the context of the Matthew 19 passage. What comes immediately before this conversation at the end of Matthew 18? An extended parable and discussion on forgiveness. Here me on this… I am not saying that extending forgiveness and moving into a place of trust and intimacy is easy after adultery has been committed, but if God has given us the opportunity to receive forgiveness for sin, no matter how heinous, shouldn’t that be the ideal and the heart of God for us? Once again, that’s why I think divorce in the case of adultery is permissible but still not preferable. I think about the OT character Hosea who was to by God to marry a prostitute. Even as she committed adultery time and after time, God told Hosea to take her back as an object lesson of God’s covenant faithfulness and forgiveness towards us even though we commit spiritual adultery and rebellion against Him time after time. Once again, I’m not assuming this is easy, but I want you to ponder the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation.

1 Corinthians 7. Even though we don’t have time to read 1 Corinthians 7 (but I encourage you to read it), this is Paul’s most in-depth discussion on marriage, divorce, and remarriage. One thing that he discusses in-depth is the marriage between a believer and an unbeliever. Now, you need to hear this… Paul is not saying it’s okay for a believer and an unbeliever to marry. Paul is addressing the reality that in the ancient world and in ours that after marriage, one of the partners, either the husband or the wife, might become a follower of Jesus. And therefore, now in the marriage, there is a believer and an unbeliever. And in this situation, Paul taught that it was better for the believer to stay married for the spiritual sake of the unbelieving spouse and any children. But if the unbeliever sought divorce and deserted the believing spouse, then the believer should allow the unbelieving spouse to leave. But if the unbelieving spouse wants to remain married, the believing spouse should not pursue divorce.

 

So here’s the bottom line to the question, “Are there biblical grounds for divorce?” I believe the only biblical grounds for divorce is adultery or divorce by an unbelieving spouse. And even with adultery, I believe it’s permissible but not preferable. I truly believe that the heart of Jesus always calls us ultimately to be like Him, and that includes a radical willingness to forgive. I know many of you are asking are there any other exceptions. I would pastorally address this on a case-by-case basis. Some of you are thinking about or have experienced an abusive spouse… physically or emotionally. I would pastorally have to hear more about the circumstances and situation surrounding this before I could make a pastoral, biblical, and theological recommendation.

Q#3: What about remarriage? (vv. 10-11)

 

I think that this is the most difficult part of the passage and the message. In the passage, after Jesus’ conversation with the Pharisees is over, He and the disciples have a private conversation about remarriage.

vv. 10-12. If a husband or a wife divorces their spouse on unbiblical grounds, then Jesus says they cannot remarry. If they marry, they are committing adultery because technically they are still biblically married to their former spouse because they cannot dissolve the marriage covenant on unbiblical grounds.

If we believe that the only permissible grounds for divorce is adultery or divorce by an unbelieving spouse, then the implication is that the only permissible opportunity for remarriage is for one who has been the victim of adultery or one whose unbelieving spouse has left them. If your spouse has committed adultery and it ultimately results in divorce or if your unbelieving spouse has left you, then I believe it’s okay for you to get remarried. And here’s another case in which I believe the Bible allows remarriage. If your spouse divorces you, even on unbiblical grounds, and they get remarried, they have committed adultery. They divorced you on unbiblical grounds. So technically and theologically, you were still married. And if they got remarried, I am going to assume they consummated that marriage, and therefore committed adultery. The marriage covenant is broken, and you are now allowed to get remarried.

So that leaves the intense, personal, and painful question about all the other people who were divorced on potentially unbiblical grounds and then remarried.  Let me be as pastoral, loving, and caring as I can possibly be when I say this. I have to ground what I am saying in what God’s Word says. If you divorced your spouse on unbiblical grounds, seek forgiveness from God. That’s the starting place for anything in our lives, which is contrary to God’s heart. Also, seek reconciliation with your former spouse. If you are remarried or they are remarried, that doesn’t mean restoration of your previous marriage, because God doesn’t expect your new marriage to end in divorce to restore your previous marriage. But if there is lingering pain and offense that you caused and you haven’t dealt with it, you need to. If neither of you are remarried, is there a possibility of restoration and reconciliation?  If so, pursue it to that end. Get help from a pastor or biblically based, Christian marriage counselor to help you walk this journey.

 

Conclusion

Back to the original, overarching question: What if God designed marriage to make us more holy than happy? God has designed marriage to make us more holy than happy. And as I titled this message “Life Lab,” I believe there is not other earthly relationship that has the potential to help us live, love, and look more like Jesus. So we start by asking Jesus to help us in our marriage. We start with realizing that we need Him desperately if we are going to have a successful, thriving marriage.

At Northshore, we love helping to cultivate loving, thriving marriages. One opportunity that you have to grow and pursue a deeper, life-giving, life-transforming marriage is through a new marriage elective we are offering called The Art of Marriage. Here’s a short video that gives you a taste of what you’ll experience in The Art of Marriage.

Here’s the schedule for The Art of Marriage at Northshore. Check “Grow” on our website for more information.

  • Married with or without kids under 12 years old
    Sundays 8:45am starting February 6, Room 212
  • Married with teens (POTS)
    Sundays 8:45am starting February 13, Room 141
  • All Marrieds Wednesdays 7:00pm starting February 16.
  • Young Marrieds without kids or expecting
    Thursdays 7:30pm starting February 17

If you’re interested in any of the “Art of Marriage” classes or need some help in your marriage, please contact Pastor Wayne Phillips (waynep@nsb.org).

What if God designed marriage to make us more holy than happy?


One Reply to “Marriage, Divorce & Remarriage”

  1. Pastor, I appeciated the theme of your closing prayer Sunday…that all this is for God’s glory! The striving to realize God’s vision for our marriages does transform us, strengthens the church, and gives powerful witness to the world. On the other hand, the rate of failed Christian marriages in our culture is a tremendous stumbling block to the rest of the world in our witness for Christ and in the cultural, and moral battles of our day. Jesus told us that “this is how they will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” How hypocritical do we appear when we can’t love each other in our marriages?
    I like this quote from Dedrich Bonhoeffer as he presided over the marriage of his sister. ” It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.”

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