Let Not Man Separate (Mark 10:2-12)
God on Marriage
This morning we are concluding our three-week study entitled, “God on Marriage”. The premise of this study is quite simple, but nevertheless, revolutionary. Here it is: God is the designer of marriage, therefore He is the best one to tell us what marriage actually is, and what we should and should not do in light of His definition. Our definitions of marriage have failed us. We need God to teach us.
If you’ve been with us either of the last two weeks, then you may remember this how we described God’s definition of marriage according to the Bible: Marriage is a divinely-forged oneness, a sacred bond in which kinship is created and through which our covenant faithfulness to the other points to the unshakeable and unconditional love of God for His people through Jesus.
We learned from our first study that God’s definition of marriage is based on Genesis 2:24 and the reality of a man and a woman becoming “one flesh”. Last week, we talked about living in light of this definition, specifically, how each spouse is called to walk in that covenant faithfulness for which God himself is the only standard. We also saw last time that the ultimate expression of that faithfulness was the servanthood and sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
This morning, we need to go back to a passage we looked at in the first study: Mark 10:1-12. Turn with me there. Just as we talked last week about what we should do in light of God’s definition of marriage, in light of what marriage actually is, this week we need to hear from Jesus about what we should not do in light of God’s work and God’s word.
Now, I will be turning the biblical ‘fire hose’ on this morning. There’s a lot here; so be ready to take notes, and remember that all of this will be available online.
II. The Passage: “What God Has Joined Together…” (Mark 10:2-12)
Listen to what we learn here from verse 1-9 of Mark 10:
And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” 5 And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. 6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Now, from Mark 3:6 we know that the Pharisees were bent on destroying Jesus. So here we see them coming to Jesus in order to force him to publicly take sides on the always volatile issue of divorce. Their methods are not exactly clear. Maybe they thought that he would alienate people with his opinion. Maybe they believed His followers would be divided because of His teaching.
A. The Pharisees’ Question (10:2-4)
But what is clear is their question: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
Look at how Jesus initially responds. “What did Moses command you?” Jesus does what any good rabbi would have done. He goes back to the law. But as we’ll see, Jesus does not intend the law of Moses to be His final destination in this discussion. He is simply setting the Pharisees up for where He will go next.
So the Pharisees respond to His question by referring to the ordinance given in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. Now even though the specific purpose of this law was to prevent a twice divorced woman from returning to her first husband, the law does, of course, assume the reality of divorce, and does not legislate against it.
So even though he did not “command” it, the Pharisees are correct here when they say that Moses “allowed” divorce. In fact, even though the Pharisees were all agreed on this allowance, they were divided over the allowed grounds for divorce. They were divided over the interpretation of the phrase “something indecent about her” from Deuteronomy 24:1.
One group favored the strict view of Rabbi Shammai who argued that sexual immorality was the only grounds for divorce. The other group favored the more lenient view of Rabbi Hillel who taught that a man could send his wife away if she burned his dinner or if he saw a woman he liked better. So the Pharisees probably believed that in confronting Jesus in this way, he would be forced to take one of these positions.
B. Jesus’ Answer (10:9)
But I want us to skip a few verses and look at the last verse in order to see how Jesus answers their initial question. They asked: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Jesus response is clear: “let not man separate”. That is Jesus’ answer here in Mark 10:9, and that is Jesus’ answer in a parallel verse, Matthew 19:6.
In addition to this, the Apostle Paul explicitly references this teaching and makes this same point in I Corinthians 7:10 and 11: To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord)[that is, this is directly from the teaching of Jesus]: the wife should not separate from her husband 11 …and the husband should not divorce his wife.
Paul uses the same word in Greek that Jesus used, the word chorizo, which means “separate or divide”. Now, why are we focusing this morning on the topic of divorce, if our series has to do with marriage? Why spend time on the difficulties of divorce when we could be extolling the glories of marriage?
Here’s why: we’re talking about divorce this morning because we absolutely affirm the glory of marriage when we understand and honor God’s warnings about divorce. (2x)
Here is the cut-and-dry reality of this teaching. In the definition of marriage I quoted earlier it stated that our covenant faithfulness to the other points to the unshakeable and unconditional love of God for His people through Jesus. Don’t you love those words: unshakeable…unconditional? Isn’t that our hope? Isn’t this our comfort in Christ? That no matter what, God will never leave us or forsake us, because our relationship with Him is not based on what we do, but on what Jesus has done? On the finished work of the cross?
And if Ephesians 5:32 tells us that marriage was designed to be a living illustration of God’s faithfulness to His people, then God’s will for our marriages is that they be defined by an “unshakeable and unconditional love”. If nothing can “separate [chorizo] us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39), then no husband or wife should separate a marriage, which God designed to reflect this divine reality to the world.
Now I could bring you lots of data this morning about the societal and psychological consequences of divorce, and we would see the wisdom of Jesus' warning in light of those things.
But Jesus actually gives us, in verses 5-9, several reasons, more foundational reasons, for why He answers the Pharisees the way He does. Let’s look back at why Jesus tells them, “let not man separate”.
C. The Reasons behind Jesus’ Answer (10:5-12)
First, look again at verse 5: And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.
So, given the context, we see from verse 5 that one of the reasons Jesus warns them about separating a marriage is because, in most cases, divorce is the fruit of a hardened heart that rejects God’s desires.
I have been in too many conversations with men and women who, although they know what Jesus Christ would do in their situation, are still unwilling to forgive their spouse...because... they have elevated their pain and their rights over the will of God. That is a heart that is growing hard to the desires of God.
When the fires of love begin to ‘cool’, when arguments become our basic mode of communication, when a husband and a wife grow emotionally distant, when different priorities begin to pull a marriage apart, when finances are tight, when the bedroom is a battleground, when unforgiveness and bitterness fester, Jesus lovingly takes divorce off the table as a viable option, and calls us to soften our hearts through the power of His own Spirit.
But, second, look again at verse 6-9. In these verses Jesus gives His main argument against divorce. He says: But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Jesus is warning them here about divorce by reminding them that marriage is God’s masterpiece. “What God has sculpted, do not smash. What God has tied, do not untie. What God has fused, do not split.”
One commentator put it this way: “One flesh vividly expresses a view of marriage as something much deeper than either human convenience or social convention . . . To see divorce as man undoing the word of God puts the whole issue in a radically new perspective.” (R.T. France)
Think about it this way. When you recognize that God is the one who builds his church and knits believers together in Christ, how should that affect your attitude toward this body?
When you recognize that God is the maker of the sea, the sky, and the land, how should that affect your treatment of His creation?
When you recognize that God is the one who knits a baby together in a mother’s womb, how should that affect our view of pregnancy, whether it’s planned or unplanned?
And if you recognize that God is the author of your marriage,of every marriage, that your covenant union is a result of God’s unifying power, how should that change the way you treat your marriage?
Jesus warns us about divorce because divorce is our attempt to undo what God himself has done.
Please listen to me. As long as there is sin in the world, divorce will exist. Many people, even many here this morning, have suffered through a divorce they didn’t want. My intention this morning is to strengthen all of you for the present, not stir you up in regard to the past. My intention is to let Jesus lovingly warn every married couple who is listening to these words: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
And yet, this passage provides us with a third reason for Jesus’ response to the Pharisees, a third reason for his warning about divorce.
Look at verses 10-12. We see here that Jesus’ conversation with the Pharisees has ended and His own disciples have questions about this teaching. Verse 10…
And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
Now what I hope we see here is that Jesus’ is simply explaining the implications of the teaching on marriage He just announced to the Pharisees. From verses 11 and 12 we learn something else about this “one flesh” unity, this oneness that God Himself has crafted: this union cannot be undone by human declarations. Do you see that?
There is only one possible reason that Jesus can say what he says in verses 11 and 12. There’s only one reason he can equate remarriage with adultery. He can only say this if the “one flesh” union, this divinely-forged oneness, is inviolable or indissoluble, that is, if it is permanent. He can only make this shocking statement if the original marriage is still intact, in spite of a human divorce decree.
And so the word that has to be qualified here is the word divorce, literally, “to send away”.
In that day, they would have thought, as we do today, that divorce by its very definition means that you have severed that union with your spouse. But Jesus is telling His disciples, “No, human certificates cannot separate what God has joined together.”
Human wisdom is the same today as it was back then. Many of the men Jesus was responding to here would have had opinions about divorce that were shaped by their desire to 'trade up' wives if they saw fit. If their current wife was not pleasing them in some way, or they saw a woman they liked better, then they should have the freedom to get rid of this one and get another one.
Of course, these temptations have not changed. When we feel like things are getting to the breaking point in our marriage, there is a part of us that whispers, “Don’t you know there is someone better out there for you? Wouldn’t it be easier to start again with someone who is not so difficult; someone who will really meet your needs? Don’t you know the problem is who you’re with, not who you are?”
Again, Jesus’ hard words in verses 11 and 12 are intended to sober us up and close those doors that seem to us to be a means of escape from our marital disappointments.
So if human divorce decrees cannot sever this divinely-forged oneness, what can?
The permanence of the marriage bond, the permanence of this oneness is the basis for Paul’s argument in Romans 7:1-3, where Paul makes the point that Christians have died to the Law through the death of Christ. And he makes this point by using the example of a wife who is only free from her marriage bond when her husband dies.
Paul makes this point even more clearly in I Corinthians 7:39: A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord [that is, as long as he is a believer].
So it’s this biblical truth about death that stands behind our traditional marriage vows: “to have and to hold…until death do us part.”
As disturbing as it sounds to our modern ears, Jesus’ warning about divorce is also a warning about remarriage. Listen again to how Paul applies this teaching from Jesus to the Corinthian church, listen to how he addresses both divorce and remarriage; listen again to the complete text of I Corinthians 7:10, 11…[I only gave pieces of it to you earlier]
To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband 11 (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.
III. Considering the Exceptions
Now, since we have dealt what is most clear in Scripture, we need to touch briefly this morning on the two exceptions that Scripture gives us to Jesus’ teaching about divorce. One is found in Matthew 19:9 and the other in I Corinthians 7:15. These are important to consider if we want to fully understand what God himself says about divorce.
Within the church today, and throughout a good part of its history, there are and have been two different views on these exceptions. And the fundamental question that’s been debated in respect to these passages is this, “Do these passages describe for us something else, beyond death, that can break the “one flesh” bond of marriage?”
I Corinthians 7:15 describes the believer who has been abandoned by an unbelieving spouse. Paul writes: But if the unbelieving partner separates [chorizo], let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.
In Matthew 19:9, Jesus’ warning from Mark 10:11, 12 is qualified by the addition of an exception about porneia, a Greek word translated here as ‘sexual immorality’: "And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
So there are many within the church that believe that abandonment by an unbelieving spouse and sexual immorality, or adultery, are each unique realities that directly violate the “leave and cleave” nature of marriage, as described in Genesis 2:24. Therefore this group believes that the marriage bond itself is severed in such cases, and therefore, these exceptions apply to both divorce and remarriage.
On the other hand, there are many within the church that believe only death can break the marriage bond and these exceptions only apply to divorce, that is, they believe that there are two situations in which divorce eventually cannot be avoided and in which the believer is not condemned.
For example, from this perspective, I Corinthians 7:15, because it does not mention remarriage explicitly, and because Paul has already qualified divorce in 7:10-11, this verse is simply an affirmation that the abandoned believer is not in sin if they let an unbelieving spouse leave.
But what about Matthew 19:9? If porneia, translated in that verse as “sexual immorality” if porneia does not break the marriage bond, in contrast to what the first group believes, what would explain Matthew's exception here for divorce, not remarriage?
One biblical issue that the Jewish readers of Matthew's gospel would have to think about, that we have to think about when we talk about divorce, is the reality described in the opening verses of Jeremiah 3. Turn there with me. Look at verse 1:
“If a man divorces his wife and she goes from him and becomes another man's wife, will he return to her? Would not that land be greatly polluted? [that's from Deuteronomy 24] You have played the whore [“porneusas” in the Greek OT] with many lovers; and would you return to me? declares the Lord...[drop down to verse 6] The Lord said to me in the days of King Josiah: “Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and there played the whore? [porneusas] 7 And I thought, ‘After she has done all this she will return to me,’ but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. 8 She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce. Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore [porneusas]. 9 Because she took her whoredom [porneia] lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree."
The difficulty with Jesus' prohibition of divorce in Mark 10 is that God himself divorced his wife for her porneia, for her whoredom, her harlotry, her prostitution; a figurative way of describing Israel's worship of false idols, and thus, her betrayal of God her covenant partner. In the same way, this “divorce” was a figurative way of describing how God “sent away” or exiled His people, the northern kingdom in 722 BC and the south in 586 BC.
So did God do something wrong when he divorced His wife? Absolutely not. And that's why Matthew's very Jewish gospel makes this exception clear. If a man had a wife who was acting like Israel in Jeremiah 3, like an unrepentant harlot, then he would be just in putting her out of his house. And this is why Matthew's very Jewish Gospel begins with a righteous man named Joseph divorcing His betrothed, Mary, because he believed she had “played the whore”.
But again, this is where God's own covenant faithfulness must direct our thinking. Even though God divorced His wife, did he do so in order to take a new one, in order to remarry? No! As we saw last week in Jeremiah 31, God promised a “new covenant” through which He would be reconciled to His wife. This restoration is described beautifully in the first three chapters of Hosea. So not only were God's people restored from literal exile, but God also sent Jesus in light of His faithfulness to ransom and restore all those who belong to true Israel, the Israel of God.
IV. We Need His Definition. We Need His Grace.
But in all of this I don’t want any of us to miss the main point here or to miss the target audience. This message is first and foremost directed at every married couple who is listening to these words, whether this is your first, second, third, or twentieth marriage.
If you are married than God is calling you to live in light of His definition of marriage. And if you are living in light of His definition of marriage, then you will be demonstrating His covenant faithfulness to your spouse. And if you are demonstrating His covenant faithfulness to your spouse, then your love will be unconditional and unshakeable…which means you will not try to separate what God has joined together.
Listen, I’m a big boy. I know what life is really like. I know what has and what is going out there and within the church. I know a lot of this must sound like absolute nonsense to the world. And I know some of you are sitting here this morning and your mind is racing in light of what I’ve just shared. I also know there are many people who would take issue with the way I’ve presented this teaching.
Please hear me on this. I have presented God’s word to you in light of my study and my conscience. And my appeal to you is that you would consider all these things in light of your own study and your own conscience. In the end, it doesn’t matter what I have to say. What is critical is what God has to say.
Unfortunately, the teaching on the this subject, which of the two perspectives you take, the teaching has been woefully inadequate. Much Christians do not understand this issue in light of God's word.
I find it remarkable that, like most of us in the modern world, the Pharisees had accepted a pretty low view of marriage, even though they knew the Scriptures so well. Jesus had to take them back and remind them of the profound nature of God’s design. In responding to their question on divorce, Jesus reveals the issue is not their misunderstandings about the permissibility of divorce; the issue is their misunderstandings about the glory of marriage.
We need God’s definition. We need God’s example. And we need God’s grace…His forgiveness.
When it comes to God’s definition of marriage and all of the teachings we’ve looked at, all of us have failed. In one way or another, all of us have failed. We’ve failed to reflect the glory of God as we should. We’ve failed to reflect His faithfulness. We’ve failed to trust Him.
But I praise God this morning that there is only one unforgiveable sin listed in Scripture, and it has nothing to do with marriage. As a husband who has failed in so many ways and at some many times, I praise God for I John 1:9… If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Marriage is just one more area of life where we prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that we need the salvation of THE Savior and the leadership of THE Lord. Have you surrendered to Jesus Christ this morning?
When we turn to Jesus with sorrow for our sin, and trust in His finished work on the cross, with faith that He paid the debt to God that we could not, then we will discover something remarkable. We will discover, and continue to discover, the love and faithfulness of the perfect Spouse. He will never wrong us. He will never leave us. He will never forsake us. His lovingkindness is everlasting. That's the love we need for our marriages!
Through Jesus, and only through Jesus, can we enjoy the one marriage that will last forever.