Hello, and welcome to Friday’s podcast. Our Bible reading today is Mark 10:1-16.
This section of Mark’s Gospel is a challenging one, and I am not even going to suggest that this short podcast is sufficient enough time to tackle the painful and difficult topic of divorce. I know that there are people reading or listening to this that are divorced or separated themselves, or who have grown up with this in their family. There will also be people who feel let down or condemned by the church on this issue.
Whatever our backgrounds, experiences or feelings about divorce, my prayer is that today each one of us would hear God speaking a new, life-giving word through this passage, and that this would impact our lives and our relationships.
Right at the outset, we need to remember that God is for marriage. He is for single people too. Jesus was single. But in the context of this passage, and against the tide of our culture, we need to remember that marriage is good and marriage is Godly, marriage is important and marriage is a responsibility. We need to stand up for marriage.
In Jesus’ time, the value of marriage had been eroded, and divorce on the most trivial grounds, for example a wife spoiling a dish of food, or spinning around in the street, had become acceptable. Indeed there is evidence that no-fault divorce is not a new, modern concept, but a sad reality from 2000 years ago.
Fast forward to 2019, and we see a younger generation fearful of making a lifelong commitment, and lacking the relational skills needed to make a long-haul relationship work. It is perhaps hardly surprising, as approximately 50% of children in the UK grow up witnessing their parents getting divorced. Marriage rates are at their lowest level ever, as millennials replace marriage with co-habitation. Check out the BBC article published 2 weeks ago, describing a young woman’s experience of being ‘marriage shamed’ because she got engaged aged 22. The value or importance of marriage has all but gone.
As Christians we believe the Bible is the word of God, and that it speaks truth into our culture and context at all times and in all seasons. So what does Jesus have to say on this topic?
In the passage today, Jesus does not say that there is anything specifically wrong with the legal provision that Moses created to enable divorce. However, in verses 6-8, Jesus also makes it clear that he has not come to change or alter God’s original plan – that marriage between a man and a woman is a lifelong, permanent, covenant relationship, where the two become one.
The key here is verse 5, where Jesus says, “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law.”
Tom Wright defines hardheartedness as “the inability to have one’s heart in tune with God’s best intention and plan.”
No person on their wedding day sets out with the intention of getting a divorce. But, as in so many areas of our lives, despite our best intentions, it is the failure or weakness of the human heart that means we fall short of God’s ideal for us.
What should our response to this be?
Firstly, as a Christian community, we should be doing everything that we possibly can to support and encourage those who are thinking about marriage and those who are engaged.
If Jesus says that our hearts can become hard, then we need to be giving couples support, input, teaching and encouragement to keep their hearts soft, in tune with one another and in tune with God.
It has been fantastic to be involved with the Marriage Prep course here at STC for many years. Today I would encourage all of us to pray for the team who lead it – that their own marriages would be strong and healthy and that God would bless them as they serve in this way. Let’s also pray for the couples who are taking part – that this course would build firm foundations in their relationship, and that they would begin to learn how to connect with their partner’s heart.
Secondly, we also need to offer the same level of compassionate love and support to those for whom their ideal of marriage has not turned out as they intended, and we need to pray that the Holy Spirit would come and heal their hearts.
And finally for those of us who are married, or know anyone who is married, we need to listen to Jesus’ words in verse 9: “Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
This verse challenges all of us to think about how we support people to stay close, stay together, and stay married, rather than grow increasingly apart and separate.
For example, do you know a couple who’ve recently had a baby? Chances are they haven’t had any time to themselves for a few months, and that in their sleep deprived state it’s difficult to communicate properly, so they begin to feel increasingly separate from one another. Could you offer to babysit for just a few hours, so they can go grab a coffee or a glass of wine together? It would do wonders in helping them to stay close and stay connected.
If you are married, who do you have that can speak into your life and ask difficult questions. Like when was the last time that you went on a date with your spouse, had a meal together, had sex, or even just had a conversation that was about more than whose turn it is to clean the bathroom or cook tea. Who is encouraging you, cheering you on, supporting you to grow closer in your marriage relationship, and not allow a slow separation to creep in?
Because in these verses Jesus doesn’t primarily talk about divorce……he talks about marriage. How important it is to God. How we should seek to restore it to the position it ought to have, rather than allow it to be demoted to a temporary, legal relationship, than can be discarded with ease. And he acknowledges that all marriages take effort, work and commitment to ensure that hearts do not become hard, and lives do not become separate.
How can we champion marriage today?
Lord Jesus, thank you for the covenant relationship of marriage. We pray for all those we know that are married. Show us how we can support, bless and encourage the marriages of those around us. Amen.
READING: Mark 10:1-16
Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.
Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’
‘What did Moses command you?’ he replied.
They said, ‘Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.’
‘It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,’ Jesus replied. ‘But at the beginning of creation God “made them male and female”. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’
When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.’
People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.