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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- Lastly, in all things a great question to ask is; ‘Jesus show me your will in this thing, what will please you?’
How long was Gomer waywardly unfaithful to Hosea? We don’t know exactly, but it was long enough to have conceived and weaned two children – so presumably a minimum of 4-5yrs!
All that time, Hosea must have cycled through the whole exhausting range of conflicted emotions. Then God spoke to the prophet; “And the LORD said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and loves cakes of raisins.” (Hosea 3:1)
This woman who is not named, who is not even called Hosea’s wife she is so estranged relationally from him (see Hosea 2:2), is still rightfully understood to be his wife Gomer for this is the dominant illustration of the book.
And yet God commands Hosea to love her again. Since this is what God does to us, His people, loves us even when we are unlovely.
Hosea obediently goes and buys his wife back from some form of slavery or bondage she has gotten herself into. The fact that Gomer had to be purchased back reveals the desperate situation she has sunk into. No detail is given as to how she got into this situation but for Hosea to reconcile her back to him would cost him the guiltless one.
Forgiveness always precedes true reconciliation, and forgiveness always costs the one who was wronged.
Hosea’s having to pay a ransom price to be able to be reconciled with his wife foreshadows what it cost God to be reconciled back to right relationship with us wayward sinners (Rom. 5:6–11).
God was going to purify Israel through exile in a foreign land – a time when they would have no king of their own. In exile, they would be removed from what had become their everyday idolatry so prevalent in the Northern Kingdom during the years preceding this. (Hosea 3:4)
But after that appointed time, Israel would; ‘return and devote themselves again to the LORD their God and to David’s descendant, their king’ (Hosea 3:5 in NLT). God would reconcile them to Himself after this time of exile. The wayward tribes of the Northern Kingdom who had been in rebellion against God’s appointed line of kings will have to return to be included in the covenant promises to David’s line and the ultimate King of kings who will come from that line – King Jesus!
What does this mean for us today?
- God is patient, merciful and forgiving!
- God loved us and still loves us even when we are unlovely & ungodly.
- God wants a real relationship, a loving, committed relationship with us, and because of that God paid the ransom price by sending Jesus the Son to die on the cross in our place for our sin SO THAT we could be freed from the penalty of our slavery to sin and be reconciled back to right relationship with God.
- What a love story! What a King, what a Saviour. Worship and love Him with all you have for He is worthy.
[All Scripture references today are from the NLT translation]
Hosea’s painful ordeal as a spouse who’s marriage partner is openly unfaithful represents another pain – God’s sorrow over Israel’s idolatry & unfaithfulness toward God.
Hosea, the husband, stumbles through conflicting thoughts and emotions towards his unfaithful wife.
One moment he wants nothing more to do with her or her children; ‘for she is no longer my wife, and I am no longer her husband’ (vs2); ‘for their mother is a shameless prostitute and became pregnant in a shameful way.’ (vs5)
The next moment he wants her shame to be exposed and wants his anger vindicated (vs3) for she has longed after her lovers and the perceived material benefits she has gained from loving them (vs5).
Then he wants to build a hedge around her, to keep her from them, to stop her path to these lovers, so that she won’t be able to catch them anymore and will lose her way to them (vs6-7).
He does this because he thinks, maybe then she will come to her senses and think; ‘I might as well return to my husband, for I was better off with him than I am now.’ (vs7)
Hosea is still hoping, still willing to forgive her and take her back and begin to rebuild their marriage – if only she would come back to him!
But his hurt is deep, she thinks these lovers of hers provided for her, but it was he, Hosea her husband all along but she took all the gifts he provided her, and she sacrificed them to Baal! (vs8)
God had provided for Israel his people had provided for them even when they were chasing after other gods, and yet Israel took the very provision God lovingly gave them and sacrificed these things to Baal. What a tragedy! What pain. What an offence.
Hosea cycles back into thinking – enough! I will remove that which I provided for her; I will strip her naked, I will put an end to her celebrations and parties. I will remove from her the material things she thinks came from her lovers (vs9-12).
I will punish her for all those times she loved others. God is speaking through Hosea’s experience about Israel who he has eventually decided He will punish for all her Baal worship and the fact that she; “‘forgot all about me,’ says the LORD.” (vs13)
Can you feel the terrible confusing pain of Hosea, the whole range of emotions and thoughts experienced? The anger, the desire to still be reconciled and to protect and yet the tiredness that’s come from repeated rejection.
What does this mean for us today?
- Not all jealousy is wrong. God is rightfully jealous for our exclusive love and worship, just as married people are rightfully jealous over the exclusive love of their spouse.
- God’s command to His people was; “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). This Jesus said was the first and the greatest commandment.
- So, is your love and devotion exclusively for your God? Anything less than everything is a painful sinful rejection of God. Don’t be like Gomer or the Israelites towards your God. Love Him, adore Him, live for Him only.
The little section (3:18-4:1) that follows Colossians 3:17 expands on what it looks like in a number of life-spheres, to have Jesus as our Lord. What it looks like to ‘do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus’, to live a life that is ‘fitting in the Lord’ (vs18) and a life that pleases God (vs20).
Now some of a section like this might ruffle your modern-day feathers and ways of thinking but before you baulk at anything in this section it’s worth noting something…
This section of Scripture is not an appeal to some societal norms at a point in history. Why do I say this? Simply because in just nine verses the imperatives are rooted in the foundation of Jesus being Lord (or some similar phrase) seven times!
This is not some out-dated teaching, but is rather instruction regarding the type of life that is worthy of someone who has been saved by Jesus Christ and who has professed Him as their Lord.
- ….wives.,submit to your husbands and husbands are to love their wives with gentle affirming love – as this is fitting in the Lord (vs18-19)
- Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord (vs20)
- Bondservants (employees), obey…fearing the Lord (vs22)
- Whatever you do, work heavily, as for the Lord… (vs23) knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance (vs24)
- You are serving the Lord Christ (vs24)
- Masters treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven (4:1)
Jesus as our ‘Lord’ can also be understood as Jesus being our ‘King’. In a king’s kingdom, it’s the king that determines the way that life will be lived out, what will be prioritised and what will be outlawed. When we accept Jesus as our Lord, Jesus becomes our King and our whole lives need to then be lived out according to His plans and purposes, His ways.
Jesus’ kingship over us impacts marriage, family, the workplace, all aspects of our days and lives regardless of what we do for a living. We are not to resemble the world and its ways, we are to be a different people, walking to a different drum beat to that of the world around us.
So read and re-read this passage as a wife or a husband, as a child or parent, as an employer or and employee and whatever you do, whatever is your life situation – do everything remembering that ultimately; “You are serving the Lord Christ” (vs24) as you obey these instructions.
So read and re-read and ask Your LORD and Saviour to speak to you personally about anything you need to be challenged on or anything that needs changing.
“Marriage is a long-term binding commitment epitomised in a covenant.” – T.Keller
In Jesus’ day, the institution of marriage had been eroded by the sinfulness of men and women to the point that marriages were discarded for ‘any and every reason’ by some.
As a result, there was a debate amongst various schools of rabbinical teaching as to what God’s will was regarding marriage and divorce with some being very permissive and others taking a stronger view of lasting covenant.
The Pharisees approach Jesus looking to draw Him into their debate, with some seeking to trap or test Him; “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (vs2)
Jesus answers with a question; “What did Moses command you?” (vs3). Here Jesus is referring to Deuteronomy 24:1-4 where Moses gave some regulations for divorce. The Pharisees summarise saying that Moses permitted divorce.
Jesus then teaches them that divorce was never part of God’s original plan for us, but that broken covenants are now part of our sin-wrecked world and human experience because of our hardness of heart (vs5). Jesus explains that Moses wasn’t encouraging divorce, rather regulations regarding divorce became necessary because of sin.
Jesus then teaches those present about God’s original design for marriage:
- Marriage is heterosexual (‘God made them male and female’ vs6)
- Marriage is supernatural (‘two shall become one flesh’ vs8) (‘what therefore God has joined together’ vs9)
- Marriage is a covenant promise (the word is not in this passage but the concept is) that is not to be broken
Jesus’ day seems so similar to our day when it comes to the brokeness of marriage and how far our experiences are often from God’s original purpose. Today, for many, marriage is not considered as the only God-ordained context for all sexual relationships. In addition, marriage itself often resembles a consumer-contract more than a covenant promise.
Consumer-contracts are merely agreements that remain in force as long as both parties feel that their needs/objectives are being met by the other party and any failure to deliver or change of desired objectives is grounds for breaking the contract as it is no longer serving its purpose.
A good example is the ‘relationship’ (consumer-contract) you have with your hairdresser. You like your hairdresser, might even love them, you’re committed to them, you only go to them to do your hair. But that ‘commitment’ is only one bad experience away from being broken. In reality, what is really happening is you’re committed to them as long as they do what you want them to do for you. It is not a relationship, it is a self-serving consumer-contract that hold reserve the right to terminate whenever terminating it serves you.
Although you won’t hear many talking like this about marriage, it is in fact the default for many these days when it comes to marriage, and it was the same in Jesus’ day – that’s how far we are from God’s ideal.
A life-long covenant promise however is what Jesus and all of Scripture reveals is God’s desire for us in marriage. Unsurprisingly, God’s way of covenant promise has incredible benefits for marriages:
1) Covenant makes love deeper because it enables a covenant relationship to grow rather than consumer-contract relationship
2) Covenant creates a cradle of security allowing for true relational vulnerability and allowing for true sacrificial service of one another
3) Covenant creates stability through tough times, and gives you something solid to hold fast to when storms hit
4) Covenant gives freedom as you are not ruled by your feelings anymore, you’re not just a slave to the moment, to impulses, to feelings. You’ve made and keep these promises in-spite of feelings which makes you a truly free person.
5) Covenant provides a reason & a resource to resolve conflicts
A marriage relationship founded on a covenant promise provides the foundation for intimacy, stability, freedom and beauty!
How do you view marriage? Consumer-contract or Covenant-promise?
Which raises a question; “What should you do when your experience doesn’t match up with what you read is God’s will for you in Scripture?”
- Do you bend your interpretation of Scripture to line up with your experience?
- Do you begin to disregard Scripture?
- Or, do you repent if any repentance is needed and ask God to help your life to get restored back a place where it more closely resembles what is His revealed will for you?
Because of the brokeness of our world and our lives due to the fall and due to our sin and the sin of others against us, it is highly likely that your experience of marriage up to the present hasn’t been what God’s intended plan was for you. If that’s your story, may I urge you;
- To repent and make changes if you have been treating your marriage as a ‘consumer-contract’ rather than as a ‘covenant-promise’.
- To renew your covenant-promise commitment to your spouse if you’re married.
- To come and be prayed for to allow God to begin to heal you, if you have broken marriage(s) already.
- To honour marriage highly if you’re not married or not yet married, and to keep for marriage only, that which God has created for marriage alone (sexual relationships).
- To repent and make changes if you have been sinning sexually, to come approach leadership so you can be loved and helped to honour God in this area of your life.