Yesterday I preached from Mark 10:1-12 on the subject of marriage, divorce, and remarriage. What exactly does the Bible say about this often debated subject? My sermon was one of the longest sermons I’ve ever preached and I sought to deliver it with pastoral sensitivity while not compromising one ounce of God’s truth. I felt as if I had delivered a weighty message upon the completion of the sermon. This is a very important subject in our age of compromise regarding marriage.
Jesus’ Ministry of Teaching (Mark 10:1)
Upon arriving in the Perean region beyond the Jordan, a great crowd came to Jesus. Their agenda was to receive healing of physical disease and perhaps to see this man who had literally become famous through His preaching and miracles. Jesus, as was His custom, taught the people. While He did perform miracles, His foundational ministry objective was teaching and preaching. This should be emphasized when reading about how Jesus ministered and it should not be forsaken in the church’s ministry in our present day.
Jesus’ Teaching on Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage (Mark 10:2-12)
First, we must note the way Jesus ended up teaching on this subject. The Pharisees were seeking to trap Jesus, and they raised a question about divorce. According to the parallel account in Matthew 19:3, they asked, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” Two competing rabbinical schools existed in Jesus’ day, one ultra liberal and the other somewhat conservative, both had opposing views on the subject. The Hillel school purported the liberal position which created loopholes for divorce for almost anything. The Shammai school taught a more conservative position. Jewish history accounts for instances of men divorcing their wives on the basis of an inappropriately cooked meals, talking too loud, speaking to men in public, or dishonoring the husband’s mother-in-law.
The Pharisees wanted to trap Jesus to see if He would deny the Law of God or align Himself with the conservative position that John the Baptist preached which would therefore position Jesus against the house of Herod. In either direction, they were looking to trap Jesus. Jesus pointed out that Moses never commanded the practice of divorce, but it was merely a concession based on the hardness of the people’s hearts. Rather than looking at Deuteronomy 24 as the basis of His answer, He went back to the beginning of creation to establish God’s plan for marriage. Jesus said:
But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’  ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife,  and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh.  What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mark 10:6-9).
Furthermore, after entering a house with the disciples, they needed additional clarification on the subject and Jesus said, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her,  and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:11-12). In other words, don’t divorce your spouse. God’s intention for marriage was not for the holy covenant to be broken by divorce. God never created a pool of people for Adam and Eve to go shopping and find someone that they believed to be a better match for them. God established their covenant and it was designed to last for life.
The question remains, based on the parallel account found in Matthew 19:1-12, is divorce ever permissible and what about remarriage? There are a few positions on this subject in evangelical circles.
- The permanence view of marriage (no divorce and no remarriage under any circumstances)
- The semi-permanence view (divorce is permitted, but no remarriage)
- The permissive view: one clause view (one option for divorce and remarriage based on adultery only – Matt. 19:9 and Matt. 5:31-32)
- The permissive view: two clause view (two options for divorce and remarriage based on adultery and abandonment -Matt. 19:9; Matt. 5:31-32; 1 Cor. 7)
Although I fully respect the permanence view of marriage taught by many able theologians, scholars, and preachers – some of which are friends of mine, I simply don’t hold to that position. I feel that the permanence view seeks to uphold and protect the sanctity of marriage, and for that I’m extremely grateful. The reason I reject the permanence view (no divorce and remarriage) is based on the exception clause spoken by Jesus. I recognize that Paul never used Jesus’ clause nor did any other apostle in the New Testament, but Jesus did teach it and it’s recorded in two places in holy Scripture.
I hold to the two clause permissive view that allows for divorce and remarriage based on adultery and abandonment of a believing spouse by an unbelieving spouse. While that may seem like it’s a fairly cut and dry issue, it’s really not. All positions embraced by evangelicals who truly seek to honor God and His holy Word will find many difficult circumstances to work through on a pastoral level. For instance, in the permissive view (two clause), if a person claims to be abandoned by an unbelieving spouse, there is much work that must be done on a pastoral level before a pastor can condone the divorce and subsequent remarriage. Were both the husband and wife unbelievers when they married? How long until one of the two became a follower of Christ? Exactly what caused the problems in the marriage? Did the unbelieving spouse walk away based on a rejection of the gospel or based on other circumstances? How much patience and true prayer has gone into a pursuit of reconciliation? Is there any hope of saving the marriage?
The point is abundantly clear, God’s intention for marriage is not divorce and remarriage. We, as Christians, must not allow marriage covenants to end with the ease of instant potatoes or a drive-thru happy meal. God’s intention is for the marriage covenant to be kept in order to honor God and put on display the covenant keeping love of Jesus toward His bride – the church. Even if a person is married to an unbeliever, Paul is clear in 1 Corinthians 7:10-14, it’s best to stay married. The goal is not divorce – the goal is to remain married in order that the believing spouse might win the unbelieving spouse with the gospel. However, as Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 7:15-16, if the unbelieving spouse separates, the believing spouse is not held under bondage.
Based on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 19 and the Sermon on the Mount, I believe that the sin of adultery (porneia) is grounds for divorce and then a subsequent remarriage. Based on Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7, if a believing spouse is abandoned by an unbelieving spouse, that is grounds for remarriage. In a great number of situations that time does not permit me to explain, as a pastor I would be forced to counsel a person to remain single for life. If a person divorces on trivial reasoning as a lost person and then after a period of serval years passes and he becomes a Christian, I can’t condone remarriage even after he has become a believer. In such cases, I would have to counsel this brother to remain single. As you can see, these issues can become extremely complicated, but we must honor God and His Word.
- My pastoral counsel to the unmarried: Remember that marriage is not a video game and God takes the marriage union seriously. Enter into that union with humility and a desire to honor God.
- My pastoral counsel to the married: Create no room for divorce. Remember, Jesus never commanded divorce. Paul never commanded divorce. Divorce is not forced on a couple – even when faced with the horrific sin of adultery. Always seek reconciliation and restoration in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Seek to finish your course well and remain married for life.
- My pastoral counsel to the divorced: If you don’t have biblical grounds to remarry, lean upon God and remain single for life. It would be far better to live a life of singleness and holiness as opposed to entering into a relationship knowing that you will be committing adultery.
- My pastoral counsel to those who have been remarried without biblical grounds: Confess your sin and trust that God is capable of forgiving you. Adultery is not the unforgivable sin. David found grace and forgiveness in God, but we must never use God’s grace as a license to sin. We must never tempt God and play Him as a fool.
I conclude with words from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones regarding forgiveness:
“‘Have you nothing to say about others?’ asks someone. All I would say about them is this, and I say it carefully and advisedly, and almost in fear lest I give even a semblance of a suggestion that I am saying anything that may encourage anyone to sin. But on the basis of the gospel and in the interest of truth I am compelled to say this: Even adultery is not the unforgiveable sin. It is a terrible sin, but God forbid that there should be anyone who feels that he or she has sinned himself or herself outside the love of God or outside His kingdom because of adultery. No; if you truly repent and realize the enormity of your sin and cast yourself upon the boundless love and mercy and grace of God, you can be forgiven and I assure you of pardon. I hear the words of our blessed Lord: ‘Go and sin no more.’”