Sunday, January 19, 2014

Marriage, Divorce, and Children

I owe much to the book "Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the Bible" by Jay E. Adams in guiding my preparation for this. It is a wonderfully balanced and concise examination of the issues. Thanks to Greg Hagues for sharing it with me.

These are my notes from the talk I gave this morning at One Hope Church. Download the audio here.

As Chet mentioned last week, one of the benefits of preaching, teaching, or studying through a book of the Bible is that you can't skip the tough issues. Mark 10 certainly brings us to one of those tough issues: divorce. Divorce has had a huge impact on my life. My parents divorced when I was very young; I know what it is like to spend weekends and split summers and holidays with a non-custodial parent. I also know the difficulties that can come along with step-parents. Beyond my parents, many of my closest family members, friends, classmates, co-workers, and even fellow ministers have gone through divorces. Even now, some of the college students in our church are going through tough times with parents facing divorce. Whether directly or indirectly, divorce touches everyone involved.

Some statistics on marriage, divorce, and remarriage (I have others from some scholarly sources that are not available online; feel free to ask me for them).

Mark 10:1-12

Before we can properly address the issue of divorce, we need at least a basic understanding of what the Bible says about marriage. Just as Jesus did, we need to go back to the beginning: Adam and Eve.

Genesis 2:18-25

After recounting the institution of marriage from Genesis, Jesus then adds, "What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate." We often hear this at the end of wedding ceremonies. God is at the center of the union, even if the couple is oblivious to the truth and mystery of it; it is God that has made them one flesh.

From this passage and others that deal with marriage, there are several things we can observe:
  • Marriage was instituted by God (not man)
  • Marriage is the first and most fundamental institution
  • Marriage is a covenant and binding
  • Marriage is a covenant of companionship
  • Marriage is the place for true intimacy
    • It is not equated with sexual relations
    • It is different, bigger, and inclusive of sex and reproduction
  • Marriage is to conform to the model of Christ and His church (the bride of Christ)
Mark tells us that the Pharisees were asking Jesus about divorce to test Him. Why would they do this? If they could get Jesus to say something that conflicted with the Law of Moses, then they would have a valid accusation against Him. Jesus responds with a question, "What did Moses command?". By doing this, he used a great rhetorical device to get at the motive and root of the issue: their hardened hearts.

Divorce is not a recent invention. The Bible actually provides us more details about divorce than it does about engagements and wedding ceremonies.
Deuteronomy 24:1-4 Law of Divorce

The Bible also tells us that God hates divorce.
Malachi 2:13-16

In Jeremiah, we God divorce Israel because of her unfaithfulness (idolatry).
Jeremiah 3:6-10

Throughout the Bible, a few different words are translated to English as "divorce." These words carry the meanings of 'cut off,' 'expel,' 'put away,' 'dismiss,' 'let go,' 'send away,' 'leave,' or 'separate.' From these passages and others, we can draw several key principles regarding divorce.
  • Divorce always stems from sin, but
  • Not all divorces are sinful
    • In Jeremiah 3, God divorces Israel; surely this was not sinful
    • In Matthew 1:19 when Joseph discovers that Mary is pregnant before they had come together, he "being a righteous man...planned to send her away secretly." To do so would have constitute a divorce even though they were not yet married. Engagements were much more formalized then than in our culture.
  • Divorce is never necessary (required) among believers (1 Corinthians 7:10-11)
  • Divorce is legitimate when an unbeliever wants to divorce a believer (1 Corinthians 7:12-16)
  • Divorce is legitimate on the grounds of sexual sin (Matthew 5:32; 19:9)
  • Divorce is forgivable when sinful
    • It is not mentioned in any of the lists of heinous sins (1 Cor. 6; Gal. 5; etc.)
    • But sin is sin and shouldn't be taken lightly; it requires forgiveness
    • God neither winks at divorce nor denounces it, so neither should we
Matthew 19, a parallel passage to Mark 10 tailored to Matthew's Jewish audience, includes a few additional details that are noteworthy. In verse 3, we see the phrase "for any reason at all" referring to the divorce. It was apparently a practice among the Jews at this time that virtually anything could be a viable reason to divorce someone. In verse 9, Jesus includes "except for immorality (fornication)," an echo of Matthew 5:32. In verses 10-12, we see Jesus' disciples taking His statement as a indication that it would be better to not marry at all. Jesus acknowledges this statement but recognizes that most people cannot fulfill it. Jesus does not discourage marriage.

Given Jesus' response to the Pharisees, we may be left wondering why God through Moses would include divorce in the Law...why did God permit it? We should be reminded that God did not institute divorce; it was already going on before the time of Moses. It is important to note why the Law recognized and regulated divorce:
  • To make sure that it was permitted only under certain circumstances and not under others
  • To make sure that it was done in an orderly fashion
  • To ensure that those considering divorce were aware of the possible consequences, to discourage hasty and foolish divorces
So what should we as a church do if members are facing an illegitimate (not permitted by scripture) divorce? I believe that the church should play an active role in preventing divorce among its members. This includes all aspects of church discipline for the person at fault of seeking an illegitimate divorce, with the goal of restoring the marriage. Even if the divorce is legitimate, it is not inevitable; unfaithfulness can be forgiven. Marriage was instituted by God, so marital problems should be resolved within the church, not the courts (as with any conflict among believers).

For those who have divorced, the question of remarriage arises. Obviously, the believer will want to avoid the sin of adultery that Jesus describes in verses 11 and 12 of the passage, but remarriage is not prohibited outright. It is a complex issue involving certain restrictions and obligations (more than I can outlined here), but all of these restrictions are in place to encourage and facilitate the restoration of the original marriage...even after a divorce. The goal of reconciliation isn't lost when the divorce is final.

Mark 10:13-16

It is important that this event, Jesus blessing the children, immediately follows the discussion of divorce both in Mark and Matthew, “the Lord’s assertion of the sanctity of married life” (Swete). If there are children involved, they are affected greatly by divorce, regardless of age. The children in this passage are of various ages, including infants, and Jesus' response to His disciples preventing them from coming is strong and emotional. The disciples, seeing that the children were not in need of healing or capable of receiving Jesus' teachings, thought that there was no reason for Jesus to interact with them. They thought that they understood the mind of Christ; man, were they wrong. Jesus loves children! Though He was never married or ever had biological children (the Da Vinci Code was fiction, y'all), He welcomed the children's interruption.

With the warning from the previous chapter in mind, we should be mindful to NEVER cause a child to stumble or prevent them from coming to Jesus. It should be noted that Jesus did not baptize them, so no connection to salvation or church membership is implied, but it should also be noted that Jesus didn't merely use the children as an object lesson when He said, "Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all." It was more like, 'By the way, you got this wrong, and this how wrong you got it.' Believers are to be like children in several ways:
  • We are to be as connected to Christ as a small child is to their parent
  • The relationship should be trusting and simple...loving obedience
  • Like a child, we should be inquisitive of and about God
  • We are also to be under the government of God as a child is under its parents
If a child is the first to become a Christian in a family, there is a 3.5% probability that the rest of the household will also. If the mother is first, the probability increases to 17%. If the father is first, the rate jumps to 93%. (BP) What does this mean if the father is not in the home?

We must look at our marriages through the eyes of the cross; it is about sacrifice, not self-fulfillment. Also, the church is the Bride of Christ, and this relationship...this new unconditional; it doesn't depend on our faithfulness, but rather on the perfect faithfulness of God.

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