Working through books of the Bible like this is a good thing. It helps us to understand broad passages of scripture and themes that run through scripture. Another thing it does is forces us to deal with some of the more difficult passages. Mark 10 brings us to one of those types of passages. Jesus talked about things that many people would rather not hear. But, if Jesus takes on a subject, it is certainly worthwhile for us to hear what he says about the matter. In Mark 10:1-12, Jesus teaches about divorce, but this passage is about more than divorce.
All of us are deficient in our relationships with other people. God designed us to live together, not isolated, and he designed us to love one another, not to look out for ourselves foremost. But, all of us eventually and inevitably will put ourselves first in some ways in our relationships with other people. One example of this fracture in our relational abilities has been divorce. Divorce has been a human problem across cultures and throughout history, and it’s no different in our day. Most studies will show that around %50 of marriages end in divorce. There’s a University of Connecticut sociology professor named Bradley Wright who published a book in 2010 called “Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites…and Other Lies You’ve Been Told”. In this book, he deals with how research is conducted and how statistics about Christianity are interpreted. He challenges his readers to view statistics about Christianity with critical eyes. One thing he discusses is the statistics of divorce amongst Christians. He takes on the stat that 50% of Christian marriages end in divorce. He analyzes it from a different perspective because a lot of how you interpret that statistic depends on who you understand to be a Christian for the purposes of the study. About 6 out of 10 Christians who rarely or never go to church have marriages that end in divorce. About 4 out of 10 Christians who attend church regularly have marriages that end in divorce. That means that you are %50 more likely to get divorced if you are a married Christian who doesn’t attend church. But, again, statistics are only as valuable as their accuracy and their interpretation. One example is that studies like this often count two people who are divorcing one another and this changes statistics as well. What this does show, is that regular church attendance makes a large difference in our marriages. So, be encouraged because statistically speaking, all you have to do is show up!
Divorce is symptomatic of the larger human problem of sin. If husbands and wives weren’t sinful people, divorce wouldn’t be a problem. One of my favorite principles about relationships is “sinners react sinfully when sinned against”. This means that when people are sinned against, our reactions are often sinful. This is something that leads to divorces, but it also leads to sibling rivalry and severed friendships. In examining Mark 10:1-12, our task isn’t to figure out how to avoid getting divorced. This isn’t a “5 steps to a successful marriage” passage. Our task is to understand what Jesus says about divorce and how, by teaching about divorce, he is calling us (married or not) to believe the Gospel and align our lives with it.
There are four lessons that we can learn from this passage:
First, divorce is a case study in human sinfulness. In verse 1, it says he was teaching the crowd which was his custom. And verse 2 says, the Pharisees came to test him. Their custom was to try to undermine Jesus’ authority and ministry. Jesus was not teaching about divorce, he was teaching what he had always been teaching: the time being fulfilled and the Kingdom of God coming near. But the Pharisees’ bring up a tricky and obscure aspect of the law as a ploy to try to undermine Jesus’ authority and make him mess up in front of the crowd. So, when they ask him about divorce, he simply says in verse 3 “What did Moses say?” In verse 4 they say, Moses said there were rules that had to be observed if divorce was going to happen. Then Jesus does what he did over and over in verse 5. He explains why the Law says what it says and in doing this, he also explains why the Law is deficient to cure our hearts of their sinfulness. He explains the background to the laws just like he did with the dietary laws in Mark 7. He says Moses allowed a concession to the best way of living in Marriage because of the people’s sinfulness, because of their hard hearts. The reason there was a law about divorce, or murder, coveting, and bearing false testimony or dozens of other laws, is because people could not live properly in relationship to one another. Nothing about that has changed. Even if divorce never happened, our ability to live properly in relationship with one another would still need help. All the laws were given because people had hard hearts. God gave the Law to Moses to teach people boundaries that they couldn’t find themselves because of their sinfulness.
Jesus teaches that there is a better way. The better way is that we would love one another. If people loved one another as God intends, there wouldn’t need to be laws about murder or theft. If spouses loved one another, humbled themselves, and placed the other first every day and in every way, there wouldn’t be any need to talk about divorce. Jesus says there was an intention in marriage from the outset when God first brought man and woman together, but ever since then it has been corrupted. Our hard and sinful hearts have wrecked our ability to live properly with one another. This is why we see adultery, prostitution, and multiple spouses, among other deviations from what God intended for marriage. I’m not even talking about what can be seen on TV or in the Movies; this is what we see in the Bible. In verse 6 and following, Jesus describes what God intended in the beginning, but with sin came corruption. It corrupts every aspect of our environment and our being, so of course it affects our marital relationship. But this is certainly not limited to divorce.
In verse 7 Jesus speaks to the separation that comes from parents when two people are married. There are countless marriages that one spouse or another hasn’t figured out how to keep his or her parents from meddling. In verse 8 Jesus speaks to the unity that marriage brings and yet there are countless marriages where people resemble roommates more than they resemble God’s intention. Rather than unity in marriage, there is competition in marriage. This is seen when each spouse has to have their own identity separate from the other. The desire for their own friends, hobbies, and places is something seen in many marriages that is opposed to God’s ideal for marriage where there should be oneness and unity.
The Pharisees’ highlight the problem of divorce, but divorce is often the end result of two people who cannot figure out how to place the other before themselves. And again, this isn’t only a problem in marriages and divorces, but in any relationship that any of us have. We have to learn from Jesus by following him, how to put others before ourselves. The Pharisees’ highlight the problem of divorce, but they don’t really care about it. This is a question about Jesus’ authority more than on divorce. They aren’t asking if divorce is a desirable situation, they ask if it is lawful. They expect Jesus to oppose Moses, but Jesus affirms what Moses taught and in the process he reveals the sinfulness in the hearts of those who attempt to discredit him.
Secondly, even in passages like this we need to remember that Jesus is more concerned with our hearts than our ability to uphold a moral standard outwardly. The Pharisees feel free to ask questions about divorce, because none of them were divorced. This was a way for them to declare their moral superiority over other people who had been divorced. But Jesus won’t let them get away with that. We’ve probably all seen this in the church or other Christians too. Because I don’t sin the way you do, does that put me on a higher moral plane before God? Jesus says absolutely not. The Pharisees lived impeccable lives and were nearly flawless morally. Yet, Jesus continually takes issue with them, because many of them didn’t love God from their hearts. If you’ve never gone through divorce, you should thank God for that. But you should also guard your heart against thinking yourself better than anyone who has. There absolutely are outward moral standards that we need to live according to. But, simply because we uphold a moral standard, doesn’t mean God has our hearts. Just because a couple isn’t divorced doesn’t mean that their marriage reflects God’s ideal for marriage. Jesus says the problems people have in marriage arise from hard hearts. Instead of desiring God’s best for our lives and the lives of others, our hearts are inclined to demanding our preferences and placing ourselves first. In a marriage, this often leads to divorce, but even if it doesn’t lead there, it leads us away from God’s ideal for our lives.
Having a hard heart has nothing to do with whether or not we are married. If we allow our lives to be directed by our own preferences and ambitions rather than being directed by God’s love for us and our love for him, we are leading ourselves to destruction. The Law was given to a sinful people who couldn’t figure out how to love God and one another more than they loved themselves. This is the human predicament in our sin. It doesn’t mean that we always love ourselves more, but everyone will at some point place themselves before others in some way. This problem can’t be fixed by trying harder or by disciplining ourselves. We need rescued. We need forgiven. We need restored. We need new hearts. This is why Jesus comes. He comes to give us life in him where we grow in the church learning how to love God and others more than we love ourselves. He comes so that one day we can live together with him forever in the Kingdom of God where we all place one another before ourselves. Can you imagine what that would be like? It will be heaven, because of course, it will be heaven! God designed us to live a certain way, and when we deviate from that way, we are opposing his plan.
Third, Jesus taught that divorce is opposing the plan of God. This isn’t intended to lay a guilt-trip or to make anyone feel bad. We have all opposed God’s plan in some way and at certain times. But anyone who has gone through or been around divorce knows that although sometimes it’s necessary, and sometimes it’s unavoidable, it’s still terrible. It still leaves scars. There are still repercussions. Even if it was the best thing for the long-term, it still brings problems. God’s plan for our lives is for our best and when we oppose it we see the chaos and the pain that is brought about. This is illustrated over and over again as people go through divorce. This is why it’s important to look at divorce as an example of what all of our sin does. Whether, we’ve been divorced, or we are greedy, or we are angry, or we are selfish, or we are lustful, there are consequences and chaos that comes from our sin. Sometimes we need to be reminded of this so our flirtation with sin or our tolerance for sin in our own lives will bring us to repentance. Jesus deals with sin. He does so because it is not just wrong, it’s harmful, it brings chaos, it is the opposite of loving God and loving one another.
Last of all, Jesus deals with sin…period. He doesn’t exclude divorce, but he also doesn’t highlight it as the worst sin.Jesus shows in this passage that divorce is wrong for many reasons, but that having a hard heart is worse than being divorced. All sin is harmful, destructive, and painful. Healing only comes in Jesus Christ. Forgiveness can only be found in Jesus. This applies to unmarried people, to people with horrible marriages, and even to people with great marriages. Our sin causes us to have problems with one another. It also causes us to have problems with God. Jesus doesn’t sit on his throne in heaven pointing his finger, he steps out of heaven and takes on human flesh. He places himself amongst sinful people who misunderstand and mistreat, and who reject him and kill him. But in his holy perfection, he loves them in the midst of it. Because of our King’s great compassion on his people, he allows the rebels who nailed him to the cross to be forgiven and set right and he allows us to become citizens of his Kingdom. He forgives us and he renews us and one day he will complete his work in us. He calls us today to believe in what he has done to deal with our sin, and to repent, to align our lives with his way of living. So, whether you need to repent of the ways you are living in your marriage in relationship to your spouse, or the ways you are sinning against your family, your friends, your neighbors, or even yourself, Jesus invites us to come to him and deal with our sin. He bore the punishment of our sin in his death. In his resurrection, he displays the promise of the life he is bringing us to eternally.