Marriage and Divorce

May 21, 2017

So far in 2017 there have been some notable divorces. After 4 years of marriage, Scarlett Johannson and Romain Dauriac, Janet Jackson and Widdam Al Mana were divorced. After 5 years, Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, Drew Barrymore and Will Kopelman were divorced. After 7 years, Khloe Kardashian and Lamar Odom, David Schwimmer and Zoe Buckman were divorced. After 12 years, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were divorced, and we could add many more.

Divorce is as common as apple pie in our society. And it brings great heartache into the lives of the couples involved and their children. If you have been divorced or are contemplating divorce, my goal this morning is not to dump guilt on you. That would not be helpful. In Mk.10 Jesus discusses divorce by talking about marriage. Marriage is a matter of discipleship and followers of Jesus Christ pursue marital fidelity.


Jesus was teaching and at some point the Pharisees tried to trap him with a question about divorce. It seems as if they were trying to pit Jesus against the Mosiac law. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

The background for this question comes from Dt.24:1-4. “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and becomes another man's wife, and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the LORD.” Based on these verses people thought that divorce and remarriage was always a viable option because Moses permitted divorce.

In Jesus’ day there were two ways of looking at these verses. The School of Shammai said that the only ground for divorce is adultery. That is what the word, “indecency” refers to in Deuteronomy. The School of Hillel focused on the phrase, “finds no favor in his eyes.” Hillel said that the word “indecency” refers to anything that might cause the husband to no longer find favor in his wife. In this view if your wife burned your dinner or if you found someone you liked better, that could be grounds for divorce.

The Pharisees were asking Jesus to weigh in on the appropriate grounds for divorce. You notice what Jesus says in v.5. “Because of your hardness of heart Moses wrote you this command.”

The command given by Moses in Deuteronomy was not intended as an encouragement to divorce. Moses wasn’t saying a husband ought to divorce his wife. Rather it was a means of protection for the wife. In that day women were property. A girl was the property of her father. When she married, the father transferred his property to his new son in law. If the wife’s husband died she became the property of her son. In Deuteronomy Moses said that a husband had to write out a certificate of divorce. He couldn’t just put his wife out. He had to give the reason. The certificate allowed the wife some dignity because it would show that she was not divorced because of adultery. She could remarry. The point I want to make is that the Jewish people and teachers took what Moses wrote and turned it into license, making marriage a contract that could easily become null and void. And this is the way of the world.

Jesus puts his finger on the real matter. Divorce occurs because of hardness of heart. It may be hardness of heart in one or both spouses. By hardness of heart I mean that one or both are unwilling to have a tender heart and a willingness to work together to build a healthy and strong marriage. Hardness of heart takes place when things have to be my way. Hardness of heart takes place when I must be in control. Hardness of heart takes place when my focus is on getting my needs and desires met. Hardness of heart takes place when I am unwilling to do whatever it takes to strengthen my marriage. Hardness of heart is seen when I am unwilling to listen and understand my spouse. Hardness of heart is found in always assigning blame. Hardness of heart is seen in an unwillingness to bless and serve one’s spouse.

Before I go further let me say that I rarely counsel divorce. But if you are in an abusive marriage, whether it be verbal, physical or sexual abuse, I would encourage you to, at least, separate for safety’s sake. And if you are abusive you need to get help. No matter the cause of your being an abuser, you need help, especially if you profess to be a follower of Jesus.

If you are engaged to someone who is abusive, or who has an addiction of some kind, or if you suspect that there is a problem, I would encourage you to, at the very least, postpone your wedding. Much work needs to be done.

And then I must say that there are times when the marriage relationship is so broken perhaps because of adultery or ongoing abuse or neglect, that divorce is unavoidable. But when that happens you can be sure there has been much hardness of heart.

We are all broken and flawed people. Marriage is not easy. It requires a daily commitment to love, great humility, and dying to self. If your spouse is not a believer it can be especially difficult because you do not share Christ. This is why committed followers of Jesus should marry committed followers of Jesus, and even then it can be tough going.

Every so often someone will ask for marital counseling. When I ask about their spouse, they will say, “O he or she will not go to counseling.” Really? What is that all about? That is hardness of heart driven by fear, anger, pride, or all three. Why would a Christian husband or wife not seek help? That said, it is better to seek help alone than not at all.

The way of the world is the way of self and selfishness. “If my spouse does not meet my needs then he or she is not the one for me. I’m getting out.” This is the way of hardness of heart. Isn’t it interesting that the Jewish people, God’s chosen people, found a way to turn this scripture passage into a license for divorce and remarriage? Instead of focusing on what it takes to have a strong marriage they were trying to find permissible escape clauses. Even the people of God can think like the world when it comes to marriage and divorce. How do you look at your marriage? When things are tough do you think about getting out? Is that your first thought? What is the condition of your heart? Is it hard or tender?


It is interesting that Jesus didn’t focus on Moses’ command in Dt.24. Deuteronomy 24 is not a teaching about marriage. Instead He turned their attention to God’s work of creation. “Let’s go back to the beginning.” When we go back to the beginning we are immediately presented with some foundational principles or values for life.

We see for example, that God created man as male and female. Maleness and femaleness are both equal expressions of humanity. The oppressive patriarchy that we see in the world of the Old Testament and even in our own world is not found in creation. Marriage was never intended by God to enslave a wife to her husband or to give a husband the upper hand of control over his wife. Marriage is designed for the benefit of husband, wife, family, and society. It has nothing to do with control and power.

We also see that marriage involves faithful allegiance between husband and wife. Now think about it. In the Ten Commandments it says, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” But in marriage, faithful allegiance usurps one’s primary allegiance to their parents and places that allegiance onto one’s spouse. This doesn’t mean that husbands and wives have no regard for their parents or do not help their parents, but their parents are not to have place of priority over or interference in their marriage. When we marry we no longer look to our parents. We hold fast to our spouse.

Notice something else. In v.8 Jesus continues to quote from Genesis when he says, “And the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh.” You might say marriage brings about a new creation. In becoming one flesh, God is establishing something brand new. I do not think this refers only to sexual intimacy, but it surely includes sexual intimacy. Two believers who are married to each other have the greatest potential for becoming one because they are both indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God. They are both seeking the righteousness, peace, and joy of the kingdom of God. Sexual intimacy is just as much a matter of discipleship to Jesus as anything else. It requires surrender to Christ as Lord and surrender to each other. It is difficult to be sure because men and women are different creatures, not to mention all our idiosyncrasies. But God specializes in reconciliation.

Think about it. In the church God is making one new man by bringing people from every tongue and tribe together in Christ. In marriage God is making a new relationship and when husband and wife are both in Christ it is similar to the church.

In v.9 Jesus continues, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." This statement does not come from Genesis but from Jesus. This statement clarifies God’s intention for marriage. Marriage is to be a lasting union until death. We don’t go into marriage thinking that if it doesn’t work out, I can always get a divorce. That is the way of the world. Christians go into marriage with Christ as Lord. He is Lord of the church. He is Lord of our lives. And he is Lord of our marriage. We are Christians. Again, this suggests that we will seek to marry a Christian. Marriage is another venue for discipleship to Christ.

In v.10-12, it’s as if the disciples want to make sure they are hearing Jesus correctly and so Jesus clarifies what he is saying. In essence Jesus is saying there are no grounds for divorce. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus seems to allow that adultery is grounds for divorce, and I believe it is. But adultery does not require divorce. I think Jesus is focusing on God’s intension for marriage. God intends that marriage lasts until death. If adultery has taken place Christian husbands and wives will seek to repent and reconcile and cultivate renewed trust.

One more observation. In v.11 Jesus says that if a man divorces his wife and marries another he commits adultery against his wife. In the Jewish culture an adulterous man would commit adultery not against his wife but against the woman’s husband. Women didn’t count for much. Jesus elevates women in this verse to the same status as men.

Now I imagine that there were any number of people in the crowd that day who could have said, “Yeah, but Jesus you don’t know my situation.” Jesus wasn’t trying to deal with everyone’s specific situation. He was defining important values that frame marriage. There are many situations that are very difficult. Not everyone who professes to follow Christ, is following Christ. Growing up in our family of origin can bring great dysfunction to our lives. Many times we do not want to see or know the truth about ourselves and that complicates things. When two unbelievers are married and one turns to Christ that can bring difficulty to a marriage. But as followers of Jesus, let us commit ourselves to embrace God’s design for marriage. In God’s design, husbands and wives cling to and serve each other at sometimes great personal cost. We are committed to love our spouse. Joy in marriage accompanies committed love.

Now if you’ve been divorced I’m sure that has brought its share of difficulty and sadness. God is a forgiving God. If you are married you may feel that you got a bum deal. Your marriage isn’t what you signed up for. You feel alone, starved for affection & love. You & your spouse continually hurt each other/ It seems that no matter how hard you try, nothing changes. How difficult/ I’m sure there has been a great deal of struggle, frustration, weariness, and sadness. As a follower of JC I know your desire is to live for JC & not for yourself. I want to encourage you to do your best to serve, bless, and forgive your spouse in the name of Jesus without expecting anything in return, even if that means giving a cup of water in Jesus’ name. Instead of casting blame, seek to deal with your own stubbornness, selfishness, and unwillingness. Cry out to God for your marriage. Ask God for his help, strength, and comfort. We all make many mistakes. We all get defensive. We all know how to hurt each other. Fix your eyes on Jesus and seek his righteousness, peace, and joy. Amen