Accompanying John MacArthur sermon: The Truth About Divorce Part 1 and Part 2
Accompanying David Legge sermon: The Sanctity of Marriage and the Security of Children
Accompanying Robert Rayburn sermon: A Test Case
I love that Rayburn points out that Jesus' point was not about how to get out of a marriage but the importance of staying in it.
Yes, there is an exception clause - marital unfaithfulness. In the OT marital unfaithfulness called for the death penalty. An unfaithful partner would be executed, and the innocent party would be free to remarry. God's grace in allowing the unfaithful partner to live, does not tie the innocent party to permanently stay with an unfaithful partner. Divorce is allowed (but certainly not required) in cases of adultery, particularly unrepentant adultery.
In Jesus' day, divorce was now being allowed for virtually any reason, and Jesus took them straight back to God's original intent for marriage, that it was between a man and a woman for a lifetime.
In the context we are being taught what it is going to require of us to be a faithful follower of the Lord Jesus. We are being given to see what loyalty to Christ is going to look like and what its implications are. And Mark starts with that relationship more profound and more consequential than any other, that of husband and wife. To be a follower of Jesus one must be a Christian there first of all. One must desire to honor Christ and do his will as a husband and as a wife....
Jesus is as much as saying that those who wish to follow him must do so in loyalty to his will and in obedience to his commandmentseven if that loyalty and that obedience are punishingly difficult. That is precisely what is going on here. That is precisely what the Lord means to say here. That is precisely what Mark is intending to teach us by including this conversation here as he does. Everyone reads this passage the same way. Everyone thinks about the same things when he or she reads it. They did in Jesus’ day and they do in ours.
What about the person who is married to a jerk? There are, alas, many women in this world married to jerks. What about the man who is married to a shrew? There are plenty of men married to shrews. Sometimes there is a jerk and shrew in the same marriage and the two spouses simply deepen the sinful tendencies in one another. What about the poor woman who does not and cannot respect her husband? What about the man who has lost all interest in his wife? What about the unkind, critical, sharp-tongued, angry husband? What is the poor woman to do? And on and on it goes.....
And so reading a passage like this we pour our energies into the casuistry of marriage and divorce. Just when is divorce an option for a Christian? For what crimes against the marriage covenant can a Christian sue for divorce? And, if divorced, which spouse, if any, can remarry? I do not say that these questions do not have to be answered. Of course they do. I served on a study committee appointed some years ago by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America to study precisely such questions and, in particular, whether persistent physical abuse could be construed as a ground for divorce. At some point such questions must be asked and answered.
But that is not Jesus’ interest here. What he wants his disciples to do is not to think through the possibilities of divorce but to embrace the divine intention for marriage and especially to accept that loyalty to him may very well come at a price. As we learn in Matthew’s parallel account the disciples were not entirely ready to hear what Jesus said on this point. They still wanted to know that they had an out if the marriage turned out to be a disappointment. But Jesus wasn’t interested in talking about the failure of a marriage. He wanted his disciples to make a commitment to the divine purpose of marriage and to demonstrate that commitment in their lives as husbands and wives. That is what it would mean to follow him. And the fact that he spoke this way when asked specifically about divorce indicates that he intended them to realize that a bad marriage in most cases would have to be borne. That is precisely the cost of discipleship in certain Christian lives. That is precisely what loyalty to Jesus will mean for some of his followers. He is precisely not saying that it is of first importance to him that all his followers be happy and that, therefore, a way should be found for them to dump a disappointing spouse and find a better match.
Christians in unhappy marriages are accustomed to look at believers in very happy marriages and complain that it isn’t fair that they should be unhappy while others are happy. They don’t usually put it that way, of course. What they usually say is that these other Christians don’t really understand what they are suffering, how hard it is, and so on. That is what they say; but what they mean is that they shouldn’t have to be stuck in an unhappy marriage when other Christians are blissfully happy in theirs.
But that isn’t a viewpoint any serious Christian can very long entertain. There are some Christians who suffer the loss of children in their infancy or youth but most do not. There are some faithful followers of Christ who die young but most do not. There are some ardent Christians who live in intense poverty and want but most do not. There are some who are sick most of their lives but only a comparatively few. There are some who wish to marry and are never able to – there is a growing number of such people in our time – but still most Christians marry. There are some whose spouses betray them and blight the otherwise happy situation they might have enjoyed in life. But, thankfully, that is not the lot of most believers in the Lord Jesus. And there are those who face danger every day because they are Christians; but most Christians live in safety. What the Lord summons any one of his followers to suffer for his sake is no other Christian’s business, but that our loyalty to Jesus will be tested in one way or another and that in our following Jesus we will find that we have come to some cross that must be carried, that Jesus makes very clear.
The great interest of this text is not to forbid divorce. It is not to discuss the question of what constitutes a ground for divorce. It is to summon believers in Jesus to live for him and demonstrate their loyalty to him in every aspect of their lives, even when the particular aspect in question is a source of deep disappointment and sadness in his or her life.
The brute fact and the challenge of this text is found precisely here: loyalty that does not demonstrate itself in a willingness to suffer for its sake is not loyalty no matter the protestations to the contrary. Fidelity to Jesus is proved, it has always been proved and it is proved today, by what people are willing to suffer for its sake, what they are willing to endure, what they are willing to strive to improve and perfect however seemingly unlikely the improvement or impossibly distant the perfection.
A marriage that for its unhappiness some Christian might be tempted to end with a divorce is the example used to make the point. A hundred other examples might be used to make the same point. Jesus never said it would be easy. What he said was that those who were his faithful followers would go to heaven; those who turned aside from him because the going got to be difficult would not. People who worry less about adultery than their own personal peace and fulfillment are in a fair way of going to hell. That is the moral equation Jesus has written out for us here. Follow him, come wind, come weather. That is what Christians do.
Tomorrow's scripture focus: Mark 10:13-16