Lawful? (Mark 10:1-12)

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Is it lawful? 

Sometimes a question reveals a wrong motive that is underlying.

By way of illustration; If a young man asks me; “How far can I go physically with your daughter?” I know already that this guy’s not the guy for my daughter. 

He should be asking different questions like; “How can I glorify God? How can I honour your daughter’s integrity and purity? How can I respect her and keep her for her wedding day!”

That guy’s asking the wrong question! So I might even reply with a question of my own; “How much do you value your life dude?” And urge him to think twice before ever messaging my daughter again.

The Pharisees come to Jesus while He is teaching, with a question of interpretation regarding the Law and marriage, divorce and remarriage. Their intention was to ‘test/trap’ Jesus (Mark 10:2). It’s worth remembering that when seeking to understand this passage. 

“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” – wrong question! Just because something is lawful doesn’t mean it’s wise, never mind godly.  

Take Wing-suits as a silly example (check this link out if you’ve never seen this sort of thing – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RbcbjMhvjEs) It is lawful to throw yourself off a mountain, but it doesn’t make it wise?

Or think of smoking marijuana, it’s legal, but that doesn’t make it a wise or godly thing to participate in. Likewise, gambling is legal but not wise and is discouraged in Scripture.

So with just three examples, it is clear that something being legal is a poor indicator of whether or not it is wise or godly.

So with the Pharisees asking; “Is it lawful…” they were barking up the wrong proverbial tree and in so doing revealing their sinful hearts and the patriarchal culture of the day.

Jesus answers them, asking them what Moses said on the matter and knowing their Pentateuch they reply in effect that Moses allowed men to divorce their wives by giving them a ‘certificate of divorce’. The debate of theirs they were trying to trap Jesus in was probably over what constituted ‘indecency’ in the wife that made it legal for a husband to divorce his wife (see Deuteronomy 24:1-4).

Jesus’ response shows that the law given by Moses was meant to limit evil being committed against women not to give reasons for men to eject themselves out of their marriage vows! A ‘certificate of divorce’ was a way of limiting the evil being committed against women and was not God’s good plan for marriage from creation (Mark 10:6) but due to sin and hardness of heart of men and women (Mark 10:5).

Some Pharisees were teaching that men could divorce their wives for ‘any and every reason’! God never intended that there be any divorces, much less divorce for any and every little reason or because someone else was catching their attention. Their question reveals a sinful motive.

Jesus reaffirms God’s plan as found Genesis (Mark 10:6-9); In marriage, God intends for a man and a woman to leave mom and dad to be ‘glued to’ one another in such a remarkable way that those two people become one flesh, no longer two but one. (Genesis 2:24)

And so because of this remarkable one-flesh union that God creates when a man and a woman get married, human beings should not separate what God has joined together.

Jesus answers them, not with a legal answer but reaffirms that God intends marriage to be for life! That was God’s plan from the start of creation, Moses had to introduce a law because of sinful hearts, but God’s plan for men and women and marriage has not changed one iota. 

And so, in the house, Jesus explains further to his disciples that anyone who does divorce their spouse, separating what God has intended to not be separated is doing what God is not pleased with. 

So much so, that to go and marry another person is to ‘commit adultery’ meaning that God sees the first marriage as still being joined together (Mark 10:11-12)

I can hear you wanting to interject; ‘But….!’ 

Remember that Jesus is correcting a wrong, sinful attitude that is underlying the question; “Is it lawful…”. Jesus has answered that question emphatically – God’s plan for men and women is that when they marry it is for life, a covenant that holds through life’s storms, through the up’s and down’s of married life, that creates a context of love, vulnerability and commitment.

And that covenant is sacred to God. Our culture treats marriage like a ‘social contract’ that is only valid while the ‘parties’ are getting what they want from the marriage. 

Much like the social contract, one might have with your hairdresser – you really like your hairdresser, you always go to the same one, until they mess your hair up one day and then you are free to walk out and end the social contract. 

God doesn’t treat marriage in that way and nor should we. Jesus takes us back to something far more beautiful, more robust and more romantic – covenant love that endures through anything. Covenant love that if broken for any and every reason is a major problem in the eyes of God.

Application:

  1. If you are not yet married: Choose today to pursue God’s ideal for marriage and not the way of the world. God’s plan for marriage is beautiful, it’s not easy, but it is beautiful and will bless you richly if you do marriage God’s way with God at the centre of your married life. Pray for your future spouse now and pray that God would prepare you and keep you for each other and help you to find each other.
  2. And if you are already married: Remind yourself of those covenant promises you made to each other before God, your family and friends. Find them, pray through them together again, recommit yourselves to them! Those promises were not about romance but absolute statements of commitment and love that are what you’ll need in dark or difficult days to hold you together and see you through.
  3. And if on some issue in life you find you’ve been asking questions of legality, stop and ask yourself if that is really a question you ought to, or want to be asking? Is it a question you would want Jesus to answer?
  4. Lastly, in all things a great question to ask is; ‘Jesus show me your will in this thing, what will please you?’

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

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