Christ on Divorce (Mark 10:1-12)

Christ on Divorce (Mark 10:1-12)

I.) Common Practice

This morning we come to Mark’s recording of our Lord’s teaching on the matter of divorce. The separating of those whom God has joined.

The subject of divorce is not foreign to us. 40-50% of marriages in America end in it. If we are honest, we will acknowledge that the church makes up a portion of this figure. It is safe to assume that nearly everyone here has been either directly or indirectly impacted by divorce.

Our culture has a casual view of marriage, which is evidenced by the sheer amount of marital separations that occur each year. Marriage is not understood as a vow before the Living God till death do you part. It is seen almost as a trial run where if you are not satisfied with your product you can return it money back guaranteed. The only guarantee of such a careless view of marriage is familial destruction.

Our culture in its arrogance has convinced itself it has the authority to redefine marriage, or to lessen the seriousness of the union before a Holy God. We understand it does not matter what mankind defines marriage to be, because marriage is not an invention of man, but of God.

He is the author, definer, and sustainer of it. We err when we lend ourselves to the possibility that psychology or sociology can better explain and preserve that which it had not part in creating. Therefore, our greatest concern on the topic of marriage and divorce is not what man says about the matter, but what God declares of it. If you seek a man’s input, give heed only to those whose convictions are based on solely the Word of the Living God.

II.) Creator of Marriage

Since God is the Creator of marriage it should be no surprise to us as to what He thinks about divorce; the legal act of separating those whom He has joined:

“’I hate divorce,’ says the Lord, the God of Israel.”[1]

These are hard words for us to hear when divorce is common practice among those we love. Common practice; however, does not nullify the truth and weight they carry.

Marriage did not originate in the mind of man, but God, who established it in His infinite wisdom. After fashioning together man from the dust of the earth, and breathing into him the breath of life, God took from within that man a rib and made a woman.[2] He formed from one man another person. The man rightly assessed that God did not make her from the dust of the earth like him, when he said:

“This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man.”[3]

Since she was made from man:

“For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.”[4]


Q.) What did God do?

A.) From one flesh He made another, and through marriage He made the two into one.

Yes, physically they are still two people, but God by His design has mysteriously joined them before Him. His design for marriage is that husband and wife be so joined together and united in heart, mind, and will that they function as one. They are indivisible and inseparable before God until death parts them.

III.) Marital Dispositions

This was established in the Garden of Eden in the beginning, but tragically it does not remain that way. After sin enters humanity at the fall of man we see that it wreaks havoc on those who have become one. In regards to the curse we are under, God makes this statement to Eve:

“Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”[5]

This statement does not seem like much, but we must understand it is part of God’s curse upon humanity for sin, that curse has these two effects:

The wife having a desire for her husband is not some romantic and loyal love for him. The picture that is painted is that her desire will be for his authority in the family unit. Her desire will be a domineering one, which is contrary to God’s design.

The word for desire is the same word used in the next chapter when God tells Cain:

“Sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”[6]

Just as sin sought to dominate Cain, the inner inclination of the wife will be to dominate her husband.

The husband will rule over her, but this too is contrary to God’s design for marriage. The inner inclination of the husband will not be to lead his wife in love and patience, but to control her selfishly and overbearingly.

If you deny this reality all I will say is this:

“40-50% of marriages in America end in divorce.”

Q.) Why is this?

A.) Not only is marriage viewed as a casual union, but the inner inclination of the husband and wife is the dominating force of such union.

Pride seeks to govern those whom God has joined.

Whether you are married, engaged, single or divorced, this is a sobering truth that every person needs to come to grips with.

Divorce is not new to the 21st century. In fact, divorce was not new in Jesus’ time or even when God gave His law through Moses. Divorce was a common practice, and our portion of Scripture this morning reveals this.

IV.) The Pharisees Intent

In our text today we see that Jesus has left Capernaum and traveled:

“To the region of Judea, and beyond the Jordan; and crowds gathered around Him again, and, according to His custom, He once more began to teach them.”[7]

Mark tells us right away what happened:

“And some Pharisees came up to Him, testing Him, and began to question Him whether it was lawful for a man to divorce a wife.”[8]

Matthew tells us they asked if a man could divorce his wife “for any cause at all.”[9]

There are three important things we should know:

1.) They do not really care about knowing His answer. This is a malicious question, which is intended to discredit Him among the people hoping He will answer it unsatisfactorily.

2.) They already know His view on the matter for He addressed this at The Sermon on the Mount:

“And it was said, ‘Whoever sends His wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”[10]

It is paramount we understand that Jesus is not teaching against the law of God, but against the distorted teachings of the Rabbis. Rabbis had taken Moses statements on divorce and twisted them to meet the desires of their hearts.

3.) The Pharisees understood there were two rabbinic schools of thought on Moses’ teaching over the matter of divorce known as Shammai and Hilel. The school of Shammai was the stricter and unpopular belief that a man could only divorce his wife if adultery had been committed. To the majority this was restrictive, and they hated it. The school of Hilel was the lenient and popular belief that a man could divorce his wife for a variety of reasons:[11]

1.) She appeared in public with her head, arms, or ankles uncovered.

2.) She was seen with disheveled hair.

3.) She was a bad cook by burning food or putting too much salt on food.

4.) She could not have children.

5.) She spoke to other men or had a bad reputation among people.

6.) She insulted her in-laws, or spoke poorly of them in her husband’s vicinity.

7.) She got angry and spoke loudly enough that neighbors heard.

8.) She was quarrelsome.

9.) She simply was not who he wanted, and he found someone else attractive.

Wives had absolutely no say on the matter. Men were the only ones who had the right to divorce their wives, and they would do so over these trivial matters.[12]

The people loved the thought process of Hilel, because it allowed them to live by the flesh and indulge it.

There are two things the Pharisees want:

1.) They want Jesus to align Himself with the stricter school of Shammai and lose popularity.

2.) Given they are in Herod’s jurisdiction they want Him to meet the same fate as John the Baptist when he condemned Herod’s adulterous relationship.[13]

They ultimately want Him dead, and they are hoping what He taught on the Sermon on the Mount will expedite there evil intent.

V.) What Did Moses Command?

Notice what Jesus does:

“And He answered and said to them, ‘What did Moses command you?”[14]

This question attacks their false understanding that God actually commanded divorce, and that divorce was permissible for any cause. This is why they respond the way they did:

“Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”[15]

In Matthew they ask Jesus:

“Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

They are operating as if God established divorce, but Shammai and Hilel are wrong in that God never commanded divorce to occur. Divorce was not the invention of God, but the invention of man, and man was doing it regularly before Moses’ time.

Turn to Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and see what was actually commanded by God to the Israelites:

“When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that 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 from his house, and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man’s wife, and if the latter husband turns against 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 husband dies who took her to be his wife, then her former husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be his wife, since she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the Lord…”

Notice verses 1-3 contain no command at all. They describe a scenario in which a man gets married, does not like his wife, divorces her, and she marries another person.

The Rabbis took verse 1 and distorted it into a command to divorce a wife for some indecency in her. The school of Shammai defined it as adultery, and the adherents of Hilel defined it as anything that bothers the husband.

The only command is in verse 4, which prohibited a man from remarrying a woman he had divorced, and who was married to another man at one point. In this passage, God neither condemns, commands, nor condones divorce, but regulates it:

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

In Matthew he answers them:

“Because of your hardness of heart, Moses permitted you to divorce your wives…”[16]

God never commanded people to do so. He allowed them to do it, and with a command he regulated their decision made from a hardened heart.

VI.) Is it Lawful to Divorce

The Pharisees wanted to trip Him up, because they believed and taught it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause. Jesus says to them in Matthew:

“Have you not read?”[17]

Not only do they not understand what they have read of the Law of Moses, they do not even read all that God wrote through Moses. It was through Moses that God penned the pages of Genesis. So to answer their malicious inquiry He points to the truth found in the first book written by Moses:

“From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall become one flesh; consequently they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”[18]

Q.) Is it lawful to divorce a wife for any cause?

A.) No, because it is contrary to God’s plan.

Since God has joined them together, man should not tamper with the holy work God has done between a man and a woman. As John Macarthur points out:

“Divorce is a denial of His will and destruction of His work.”[19]

Since the disciples had grown up under the distorted teachings of the Pharisees we see that after they entered a house they:

“Began questioning Him about this again.”[20]

Jesus reveals the truth about remarriage after a divorce occurs for any cause:

“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.”[21]

Though people may construct a legal document saying a husband and wife are separated does not mean God does. If God does not acknowledge the separation then adultery will occur if remarriage is to take place.

VII.) Divorce Exceptions?

This brings up a highly debated, extremely controversial, and often heated topic:

Q.) Are there exceptions to divorce?

Q.) Is there ever a time when someone can divorce, and remarry without committing adultery?

Before we look at the Scripture I want us to know that many Christians differ on this subject. There are roughly four commonly held views:[22]

1.) Marriage is to be permanent, there is never a need for divorce, and remarriage is not permissible.

2.) There are legitimate biblical grounds for divorce but not for remarriage.

3.) Scripture allows for divorce and remarriage in cases of adultery or desertion.

4.) The bible decries divorce, but nevertheless points to a God of grace that will not condemn those who divorce and remarry for any cause.

The common denominator of all four is that God detests divorce and it is never His will for a divorce to occur within a marriage. People differ on whether or not there are exceptions when God graciously permits divorce and remarriage.

Simply reading our Lord’s teaching, and Paul’s letter to Corinth, will help us to discover whether or not there are exceptions:

Consider His remarks in the Sermon on the Mount:

“But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”[23]

Consider His teaching later in Matthew:

“Whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”[24]

The word used in both instances is Pornea, and its literal rendering is to have illicit sexual intercourse.[25] The exception here is adultery. If a spouse commits adultery, the innocent party is permitted to divorce them and free to remarry.

3.) Consider also this statement made by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:15 in regard to an unbeliever deserting a spouse who has believed on Christ:

“If the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases.”

To Leave is to divorce, which means a believer is free to remarry another believer if their unbelieving spouse divorces them for their faith.[26] The context makes it clear divorce is in mind since Paul just said to believing couples:

“But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband (but if she does leave, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not send his wife away.”[27]

We see God’s will in consistently instructing spouses to stay together. Those that divorce for reasons other than adultery or desertion for ones faith are to remain unmarried or be reconciled to their spouse. To marry another will ultimately result in adultery.

VIII.) Christ Centered, God Exalting, Gospel Driven

God is the Author and Definer of marriage. His design for marriage is that husband and wife be so joined together and united in heart, mind, will, and purpose that they function as one flesh. They are indivisible and inseparable before God until death parts them.

God’s will for every marriage is that it be maintained and not end in divorce. He hates divorce, but He has graciously permitted a way for innocent parties to freely separate from their guilty spouse without incurring any guilt.

Realize, adultery does not need to end a marriage. The book of Hosea demonstrates this when God has Hosea marry a prostitute named Gomer, who continually commits adultery. Yet Hosea always remained faithful and merciful to his wife. Hosea’s longsuffering love for Gomer pictured God’s enduring love for His people who continually committed spiritual adultery. They constantly turned to idols, rather than the Living God who loved them and was faithful to them.

Out of a Desire to warn against rushing headlong into a divorce, Matthew Henry said:

“The bond which God Himself has tied, is not to be lightly untied. Let those who are for divorcing their wives for every offence, consider what would become of them, if God should deal with them in like manner.”[28]

Again, it is never God’s will for a divorce to occur, but that every marriage is cultivated and maintained. The greatest thing I want those who have divorced and remarried to know, is that forgiveness for both divorce and adultery is possible in Jesus Christ. If Christ will freely forgive those who renounce such acts, and turn from them to embrace Him, then so should we.

I appreciate MacArthur’s sentiments when it comes to the nuance of divorce:

“What about the hard questions Jesus didn’t answer? Jesus, like Moses before Him, didn’t give explicit answers to all the questions His teaching on divorce might raise in real life. For example, after a divorce is final and the innocent spouse remarries, if the guilty party then truly repents and forsakes his or her adulterous ways, is that person then free to remarry?

Scripture nowhere deals with that question or dozens like it. Unfortunately, divorce usually creates a tangled mess of broken lives and broken relationships. To set the aftermath of every divorce right again would be a task comparable to unscrambling an omelet made of a billion eggs. Some practical dilemmas that are created by divorce simply have no clear biblical solutions. Biblical counselors, and repentant Christians seeking to honor God by sorting out the ramifications of their past sins, sometimes simply have to do the best they can with the principles Scripture does give.”[29]

We live among a culture that trivializes that which God contrived within Himself in eternity past. Among our physical members lives inner inclinations which seek to dominate us, and to destroy that which God has joined together.

Q.) How do married men and woman protect themselves from the influence of the culture?

Q.) How do married men and women guard themselves from being ruled by their dispositions?

A.) They fervently pursue a Christ centered, God exalting, gospel driven marriage.

This is the marriage Paul commands in Ephesians:

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church…”[30]

Christ loved His bride by giving “Himself up for her.”

He gave Himself up for her by taking humanity upon Himself and becoming obedient to the point of death on the cross.[31] Upon that cross the Righteous Son of God hung as the unrighteousness of His bride was placed upon Him. He became her sin so that she might become His righteousness.[32] With her sin upon Him, He offered Himself as the sinless Lamb of God. He atoned for her sins with His blood, appeased God’s wrath with His body, and suffered the death she deserved. He vindicated Himself, and confirmed His saving work for her when He was raised back to life three days later and ascended to heaven. He will one day return for her whom He gave Himself up for.

Out of love, Christ gave Himself up for her:

“That He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless.”[33]

Christ loves the church by spiritually nourishing her with His word that she should be holy and blameless before Him:

“So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church.” [34]

Christ spiritually cares for the church, so husbands are to physically care for their wives. Do not try and control her selfishly or overbearingly; love her unconditionally. Love her as you love yourself.

Just as Christ’s bride submits to Him:

“Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is to be subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.”[35]

Do not try to rule over your husband; submit to his leading for he is the head of the family.

Q.) How do married men and woman protect themselves from the influence of the culture?

Q.) How do married men and women guard themselves from being ruled by their dispositions?

A.) Pursue a Christ centered, God exalting, gospel driven marriage, and grow together in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.

[1] Malachi 2:16

[2] Genesis 2:7,21-22

[3] Genesis 2:23

[4] Genesis 2:24

[5] Genesis 3:16b

[6] Genesis 4:7

[7] Mark 10:1

[8] Mark 10:2

[9] Matthew 19:3

[10] Matthew 5:31-32

[11] Faith Bible Institute: Volume II, John Yates; Page 281

[12] Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Merrill Unger; Page 272

[13] Mark 6:14-29

[14] Mark 10:3

[15] Mark 10:4

[16] Matthew 19:8

[17] Matthew 19:4

[18] Mark 10:6-9; Cross Reference: Genesis 1:27; 2:21-24

[19] The Divorce Dilemma: God’s Last Word on Lasting Commitment; John MacArthur, Page 13

[20] Mark 10:10

[21] Mark 10:11-12

[22] Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views, J. Carl Laney, William A. Heth, Thomas Edgar, and Larry Richards; Back Cover

[23] Matthew 5:32

[24] Matthew 19:9

[25] Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance; NT Number: 4202 (Pornea)

[26] Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance; NT Number: 5563

[27] 1 Corinthians 7:10-11

[28] Commentary on The Holy Bible: Matthew-Revelation, Matthew Henry and William Scott; Page 186

[29] The Divorce Dilemma: God’s Last Word on Lasting Commitment; John MacArthur, Page 27

[30] Ephesians 5:25

[31] Philippians 2:8

[32] 2 Corinthians 5:21

[33] Ephesians 5:26-27

[34] Ephesians 5:28-29

[35] Ephesians 5:22-24

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