Jesus’ Teaching on Marriage and Divorce :: By Dr. Donald Whitchard

Genesis 1:27, Genesis 2:24, Mark 10:1-12, Hebrews 13:4

Summary: Jesus taught that marriage is a sacred and serious undertaking by any man and woman who want to unite as one under the protection and direction of the LORD. We tend to make it less than God’s ideal for us.

What I am writing down here is the product of a message I originally presented to a group of men and women during a chapel service at our local rescue mission. The topic of marriage was probably not on their list of favorites for the fact that many of them had left abusive and toxic relationships with their spouses or significant others.

Some had been the victims of physical and emotional abuse, and some women had their children with them in the audience because their father, stepfather, or latest boyfriend decided that these little ones made excellent punching bags or victims of perversions that do not need to be described here. Both sexes had representation of lives destroyed by alcohol, drugs, or instability of some kind in the family structure, and as a result, were now in the midst of other sufferers and those who had made wrecks of themselves in one way or another.

The common bond of all these heartbreaking situations was that few had heard of Jesus or what He said about real marriage. God, in His Sovereignty, had brought these lost souls to a place where they needed to know that even if no one else loved or cared for them, He did and was ready to make all things new if they would come to Him for salvation and true rest from the burdens of life (Matthew 11:28-30).

Problems in relationships are not confined to economics, status, ethnicity, race, educational levels, or even with couples and individuals who claim to be religious or “spiritual,” the preferred term in social circles these days. The sad fact is that even professing Christians who are devout followers of Jesus and His Word are entering the local courts to sign the papers that end a marital bond and, all too often, put the children in the middle of the conflict as to who gets custody, visitation rights, and to play the game of “favorite parent” against one another.

My parents got divorced decades ago and are now both gone. By the grace of God, they both got remarried to the individuals whom I considered my other parents, so it worked out alright. But that scene is all too rare, as the very idea of a family has become a conglomeration of whatever people decide to do concerning being together, and it is often a mockery of the sacred foundation of what God intended for us. Divorce is as common as green grass in spring and seen by some as a rite of passage, chalking up the wrecked relationship as a part of life’s process and to move on, no matter if the offended party sheds tears of sorrow or regret as the other walks away.

Deep down, we know better but refuse to look at the original guide to a successful and loving marriage created by the LORD and taught by the Lord Jesus, as we read in this continuing look at Mark’s Gospel.

I have the right to discuss the seriousness and success of marriage, not because I am a minister of the Gospel and have performed weddings for friends, relatives, and even some couples who had purchased their rings from me when I worked for a major retail jeweler years ago as a sales associate. That in itself was a ministry and a subject for another time, but I have been married for nearly forty years to my first and only girlfriend, whom I met while we were college students way back in the 1980s. I met her on February 22, 1982. I asked her to marry me six weeks later, on April 6. We wed in August of 1983, had three children along the way (one of whom is in heaven), held several jobs, traveled several places, survived a major hurricane, and had rough times that tested us, often to our limits.

The issue of divorce was brought up a couple of times, but we remembered the vows we took and got everything back in line. We are now both dealing with varied health issues but have broken down together and know where each other’s medicine is located in case of an emergency. We finish each other’s sentences mainly because I cannot hear all that well, and I can figure out what she is going to say anyway. We are both a couple and a team, and our daughter sees us as models of a strong marriage that she wants to have with her husband, whom we consider as another son.

I also need to tell you that our spiritual maturity and growth did not always play a role in how we approached some problems and decisions, so I do not even come close to being “Mr. Spiritual” in that regard, and I want to be honest with all of you as I proceed. I will say that God’s love, patience, and reprimands have helped us both, and we regret missed times of prayer and consultation with Him that could have saved us a lot of trouble.

Both successful and failed relationships have never taken the LORD by surprise or caught Him unaware. He created us and has our lives in His hands (Psalm 139:1-16) and does not need our advice on how to run things (Job 38:1-41, 40:1-14). Jesus has the final word on this topic.

The situation presented in Mark 10:1-12 finds Jesus and His disciples in the region across the Jordan River east of Judea. He is teaching the people when His adversaries, the Pharisees, show up, not to be enlightened, but to engage Jesus in what seems to be never-ending arguments and bickering about the Law and traditions. He is well aware of their intentions but tells them to stay as He teaches them and the crowd a valuable lesson concerning marriage and divorce.

He starts the lesson by hearing the question from the Pharisees on whether a man can divorce his wife or not. They should know the answer but instead see an opportunity to put the Lord Jesus in an unwinnable situation, or so they think. The Pharisees approached the topic of divorce based on two schools of rabbinical thought established prior to the first century by two noted teachers, Shammai and Hillel. Each of these rabbis had differing views on reasons to issue a warrant of divorce.

Shammai was the stricter of the two by teaching that divorce was to be granted only on the grounds of marital infidelity, or adultery, based on the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18). There was no middle ground or discussion of compromise. What the Scriptures taught was to be obeyed, period. But, do people, even “God’s chosen,” choose to obey the Word of God in their own strength, or do they want some exceptions and “loopholes”? What do you think? Be real – of course you would.

You would then favor the interpretations of Rabbi Hillel, who was an active teacher for decades before and after the birth of Jesus, dying in 10 A.D. He was what we would refer to as a “liberal” and more sympathetic to human nature. He agreed with Shammai that adultery was grounds for divorce as taught in the Scriptures, but he also taught that there could be other reasons, such as not properly cooking a kosher meal, or burning the food, or displeasing the husband for any reason. This view was more popular from the view of the men, but women ended up being shafted no matter what happened.

Jesus did not subscribe to either interpretation, but what was specifically presented in the Scriptures. He asked them what Moses had said on the subject. They replied by saying that a divorce certificate had to be given to the woman and that if the man had to go through all of that trouble in the first place, whatever offense had been done would have been settled and rectified already. Calm heads and tender hearts would have prevailed.

Jesus gave legal rights to women by telling the Pharisees that they should receive the complaint in writing and not by word of mouth where she had no legal standing in that day. In other words, our LORD was the One who initiated the need to get everything in writing when it came to affairs of the law. He knew that there was coming a time where a handshake was not going to cut it as the days grew more wicked and verbal deals would be as valid as a return ticket on the TITANIC. The real issue is the value that Jesus placed on marriage.

Marriage is a divinely created institution between one man and one woman, no exception (Genesis 1:27, 2:24, 5:2). It is based on a love that looks out for the welfare and benefit of one another. It is an act of commitment, with the plan and idea to stay together through good and difficult times. When we lost our daughter at birth years ago, we each thought the other would ask for a divorce due to the emotional trauma and sorrow of the situation. We stuck it out and ended up as the facilitators of a ministry that helped families who had experienced the same thing and needed healing in all areas of their lives. It also was a major factor in helping me as a chaplain minister to couples who either lost their babies at birth while in the hospital or in the Neo-Natal ICU from varied difficulties.

Marriage is an act of responsibility where you vow to one another to love and cherish each other until death. This vow tends to be overlooked or ignored today by couples of every age, unfortunately, and is a sign of the growing loveless attitude Jesus spoke about concerning the last days before His return (Matthew 24:10-12; 1Timothy 5:12).

A lot of marriages have been founded on lust, not love. One popular rock group years ago performed a song with a lyric saying, “I couldn’t stand to be away, just for a day, from your body…” One band sang about a lady being built like a “brick house.” There are songs talking about women and men being “smoking hot” or “fine,” and in the olden days of disco, dance songs were filled with lyrics about women and men wanting to be “taken home.” And it did not mean escorting them to the door and telling them good night, either.

Now, there is nothing wrong with being pretty, or handsome, or well-groomed or dressed, but those are not in any way, shape, or form a basis on which to get married. Do not look to the entertainment world as a model for fidelity or matrimony, either. I do not think I need to give examples. Those folks tend to go through relationships as quickly as changing clothing, when they decide to wear clothes. We read of second and third marriages that ended up in flames because of lust or materialism. Few of these ever last or succeed. Such is the end of any situation not founded on the standards of the Bible and the holiness of the LORD.

When adultery does happen, then divorce is permitted, but it is a better thing to attempt to reconcile and work through the difficulties. It says something to other couples when the offended spouse decides to work it out over time with the other by going to counseling and the support of groups that specialize in marital reconciliation and strengthening, preferably through a local Bible-believing church. It takes time for wounds to heal and trust to be regained, but it can be done and be seen as a testimony that a failure in marriage does not mean a finality to the relationship.

I have a friend in the ministry whose spouse had an affair, and through counseling and time, along with prayer and forgiveness, they now have a strong marriage and a ministry to young couples at the church we attend. Jesus Christ can break the hardest hearts and put the pieces of a broken family back together. He has done so in numerous ways and times, and with the most dysfunctional of couples.

However, for the safety of the offended spouse and children, occasions arise where they need to get out of the relationship and end it, especially in cases of physical, emotional, and especially sexual abuse without excuses or exceptions. No woman or child is to be a doormat for a violent or abusive spouse. Submission in marriage does not mean being willing to be pummeled by some brainless ape who thinks his machismo is measured by chest hair or chauvinist ideology. God more than understands when you have got to get away for your own safety, and He will avenge you for being done wrong. That is a Biblical worst-case scenario for anyone who thinks they can outsmart or hide their evil nature from the Sovereign LORD of all Creation.

Marriage as we know it will not be part of the new creation, but relationships will be so much better, so much purer, so much holier and righteous that it will not be needed. We will have the perfect marriage of the Lord Jesus and His Bride, the remnant church in eternity, already united in love, trust, adoration, respect, and reverence. The true children of the LORD will be with Him, and that will occur when He returns in glory as Scripture teaches.

If you are not already a part of the bride of Christ, that is, someone who has repented of their sins and surrendered their life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ (John 14:6; Romans 10:9-10; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Philippians 2:9-11), then take care of that NOW (2 Corinthians 6:2). Your groom is ready at the altar, and the feast is prepared.

Join me for “The Reality City Daily Review” weekday mornings at 10:00 CST on YouTube (USA). It will then be posted on Facebook and on my website. My main area of discussion will be on the basics of the Christian faith but will also deal with prophetic issues and other topics as the Lord impresses upon me to handle.