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Marriage & divorce, money & discipleship

Back to all sermons Savior and Lord

Date: March 25, 2018

Speaker: Eric Stillman

Series: Savior and Lord

Scripture: Mark 10:1–10:31

This morning, we are in the twelfth week of a sermon series I am calling “Savior and Lord,” looking at what it means to relate to Jesus as both Savior – the one who died for our sins to give us eternal life – and Lord – the one who we follow and emulate. We are working our way through Mark’s gospel in this series. Mark was Peter’s traveling companion, and the Gospel of Mark is mainly Peter’s eyewitness testimony of Jesus (Peter was first known as Simon before Jesus changed his name). This morning we’ll be in Mark 10, looking at some specific aspects of the countercultural reality of the life of discipleship.

 

Mark 10:1-31 - 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.  2 Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"  3 "What did Moses command you?" he replied.  4 They said, "Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away."  5 "It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law," Jesus replied.  6 "But at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female.'  7 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,  8 and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one.  9 Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."  10 When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this.  11 He answered, "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her.  12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery."  13 People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them.  14 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.  15 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."  16 And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.  17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"  18 "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good-- except God alone.  19 You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'"  20 "Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy."  21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."  22 At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.  23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!"  24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!  25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."  26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, "Who then can be saved?"  27 Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God."  28 Peter said to him, "We have left everything to follow you!"  29 "I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel  30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields-- and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.  31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first."

 

Last week, we looked at three countercultural aspects of discipleship that Jesus highlights in Mark 9: Power comes from dependence. Greatness comes from serving. Significance comes from pursuing holiness. In Mark 10, we see these elements played out in two very down-to-earth realms: Marriage and money. Let’s begin in v. 2:

 

2 Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"  3 "What did Moses command you?" he replied.  4 They said, "Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away." 

 

Whenever you are trying to understand what the Bible teaches, you have to pay attention to the context. In Mark 10, Jesus is not addressing a hurting, battered woman, or a couple in crisis who are asking him about divorce. He is answering religious leaders who have come to test him. I say that because you see how Jesus interacts with the woman caught in adultery in John 8, or the Samaritan woman who had been married 4 times and was on her 5th husband in John 3, and you see a man of tenderness and compassion. But here, this is not a context where he is offering pastoral care to a hurting, broken person. The context is questions from religious leaders who want to test him.

 

What is the background to this question? The reference to Moses and divorce in the OT is found in Deuteronomy 24:

 

Deuteronomy 24:1 - If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house,

 

If a man wants to divorce his wife, he must give her a certificate of divorce, and he cannot remarry her after she has married another man. In those days, before God gave the law to Moses, women were treated as property of the man, and could be put away whenever the husband felt like it. The certificate of divorce was to protect the divorced woman so that she would not be seen as an adulterer. It read something like “behold, thou art permitted to any man.”

 

In Jesus’ days, there were different views on what Moses meant by “finds something indecent about her.” The liberal Hillel school interpreted this in the widest manner possible: even if she burned his dinner, or walked about with her hair down, or spoke to other men on the street, or said a wrong word about her mother-in-law, that could be grounds for divorce. The more conservative Shammai school interpreted it as a type of sexual misconduct, shameful exposure. Remember that adultery was punishable by death in the Mosaic law. But the Shammai school taught that there were other kinds of sexual misconduct that could be grounds for divorce.

 

And so they ask Jesus to weigh in on this. Jesus responds by going back to the beginning, to God’s original intent and command with regards to marital relationships.

 

5 "It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law," Jesus replied.  6 "But at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female.'  7 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,  8 and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one.  9 Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."  10 When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this.  11 He answered, "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her.  12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery."

 

What is Jesus saying about marriage and divorce? Three things I want to highlight:

 

  • Marriage is a God-ordained covenant, not a human contract

 

The focus of the religious leaders is on this question: “What does the law allow me to do?” Where is the boundary? At what point can I divorce my wife if she is displeasing to me? At what point does God allow me to get out if I don’t like my spouse?

 

Jesus refocuses them on another question: What is God’s intent with marriage? And from his response, we see that the original is intent is a man and a woman joined together in a monogamous, permanent, and intimate, marriage. It is monogamous: One man and one woman. It is permanent: God has joined them together, Jesus says, so it’s not really up to a human being to separate two married people. And it is intimate: the two have become one flesh. Marriage is not a man gaining property that he can discard like a worn out coat. This is a man and a woman, both created by God. As Adam says, this is bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh. The two become one. This is not a question of property. You can divide up property in a divorce, but you can’t just go back to being single. The one you married is still a part of you, whether because you have to co-parent or because you have given each other a part of yourselves.

 

C.A. Whitaker – “Divorce is leaving a part of the self behind, like the rabbit who escapes the trap by gnawing one leg off.”

 

So marriage, Jesus says, is a God-ordained covenant – an agreement that is both legal and intimate. It is not just a human contract that can be dissolved because the chicken got burnt.

 

  • Divorce is not a command, but a concession to the hard-heartedness of men and women

 

5 "It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law," Jesus replied. 

 

Never in the OT is someone commanded to get divorced. Instead, we read that God hates divorce. Divorce is a concession made due to the hardness of our hearts, the stubbornness that keeps men and women from repenting, from serving, from laying down their lives for each other. This is how God feels about it:

 

Malachi 2:13-16 - Another thing you do: You flood the LORD's altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands.  14 You ask, "Why?" It is because the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.  15 Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.  16 "I hate divorce," says the LORD God of Israel, "and I hate a man's covering himself with violence as well as with his garment," says the LORD Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.

 

God hates divorce. He does not hate divorced people. Some of you have been divorced. Once again, know that God loves people who have been hurt and broken by divorce. But the fact remains that divorce is not a command, but a concession to the hard-heartedness of men and women. Although God’s intent is always a monogamous, permanent, intimate relationship, there are times in which divorce is permitted due to the hardness of our hearts. In another section, Jesus says:

 

Matthew 19:9 - I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery."

 

In the case of unrepentant sexual immorality, marriage is permitted. It is not commanded. You don’t need to divorce the person. In fact, it is better to work as long as possible towards reconciliation. But divorce is permitted, because a hard-hearted person has broken the marriage covenant through their sexual unfaithfulness.

 

In another section, Paul addresses marriage:

 

1 Corinthians 7:7-16 - I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.  8 Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am.  9 But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.  10 To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband.  11 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.  12 To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her.  13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.  14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.  15 But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.  16 How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?

 

There is a lot there, but for the purposes of our topic today, Paul again encourages people to stay married, even to an unbelieving spouse, because you may save your spouse through your faith and love. But he concedes that there are situations where an unbelieving spouse deserts you, and in that case, divorce is again the concession to the hard-heartedness of men.

 

Some have argued that it is under this category you put other unrepentant behavior, like abuse or addictions. They would link this passage with Matthew 18, where Jesus talks about how to confront someone who has sinned against you. As a spouse sins against you, you confront them, and if they won’t repent, you take another along, and if they still won’t repent but persist in sinning against you, you bring it to the church leadership, and if they still won’t repent, then treat them as an unbeliever. If you find yourself in a position where a spouse is sinning against you, perhaps by abuse or addiction, and they will not listen to you, take another along – a pastor, a counselor, and plead with them to repent. If they will not listen, bring it to the church leadership. And if they still will not repent, you are permitted to treat them as an unbeliever and separate from them.

 

The point is that divorce is a concession to hard hearts. It is not commanded. God’s intent is a man and a woman committed in marriage for life in a monogamous, permanent, intimate covenant.

 

  • Marriage is not primarily about your personal happiness, but is about glorifying God and making you holy

 

As I said earlier, the Pharisees were starting with the wrong question. Divorce is not about what I can get away with, what the minimum standard is before I can cast off my spouse and look for another. Marriage is about how I can bring maximum glory to God.  God has joined them together. Why? To bring Him glory.

 

2 Corinthians 5:14-15 - For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.  15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

 

Remember back to last week. Marriage is another opportunity God gives us to learning to depend upon Him. It is an opportunity to learn about serving the other. And it is another opportunity to make you holy. Listen to those themes play out in this passage:

 

Ephesians 5:21-33 - Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.  23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.  24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.  25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her  26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,  27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.  28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  29 After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church--  30 for we are members of his body.  31 "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh."  32 This is a profound mystery-- but I am talking about Christ and the church.  33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

 

Notice that marriage is meant to point to Christ’s love for his church, and is all about serving and holiness.

 

The world emphasizes personal happiness. And so if your life is about your personal happiness, then what happens if your marriage is hard, if you feel unhappy in it, if you fall out of love with your spouse, if you notice someone else who you think might be a better match for you? YOLO – you only live once, right? Trade up. Divorce and go for the other person.

 

As John Adam & Nancy Williamson put it in their book, “Divorce: How and when to let go”:

 

“Your marriage can wear out. People change their values and lifestyles. People want to experience new things. Change is a part of life. Change and personal growths are traits for you to be proud of, indicative of a vital searching mind. You must accept the reality that in today’s multifaceted world it is especially easy for two persons to grow apart. Letting go of your marriage – if it is no longer fulfilling – can be the most successful thing you have ever done. Getting a divorce can be a positive, problem-solving, growth-oriented step. It can be a personal triumph.

 

Or think of the new term for divorce, Conscious Uncoupling – ending a marriage in a gracious and generous way. That’s not God’s intent for marriage.

 

In Christ, we are not living for worldly happiness. We want to know and honor Him, no matter where it might lead us. Is it God’s will for you to unhappier in marriage than you might be if you got divorced or remarried? The answer could be yes, if you are viewing things from a worldly standpoint. His goal is your holiness, your eternal happiness that comes from surrendering to His will, even when it is hard and painful. I believe that some of you might experience more worldly happiness if you were to get divorced. And to you I say, “What good is it to gain the whole world and yet forfeit your soul?” Don’t choose to disobey God for the sake of your worldly happiness.

 

You miss out on the real work God is doing in your life by choosing worldly happiness over a lasting holiness. You miss out on His power that comes through our dependence upon Him. You miss out on the greatness that comes from choosing to serve, even when you don’t feel like serving.

 

As the Ephesians passage we read points out, the gospel shows us Christ laying down His life for us. And so we can live for Him, and lay down our lives for each other.

 

Moving on:

 

13 People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them.  14 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.  15 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."  16 And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.  17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"  18 "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good-- except God alone.  19 You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'"  20 "Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy."  21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."  22 At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.  23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!"  24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!  25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."  26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, "Who then can be saved?"  27 Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God."  28 Peter said to him, "We have left everything to follow you!"  29 "I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel  30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields-- and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.  31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first."

 

The disciples want to send away the children, because they do not contribute anything to the cause, but Jesus blesses them and honors them and says “let them come to me.” And right after that comes the opposite, a man with much to contribute. He is morally upright, desires to inherit eternal life, and has a huge bank account. And yet Jesus doesn’t just say “come along!” but challenges the man, lovingly, to give up all he has and to come follow Him, and the challenge is so hard that the man walks away. Three things from this passage:

 

  • No one is right with God because of their own “goodness”

 

The man asks him, good teacher, what he must do to inherit eternal life. Two big glaring misconceptions right there. Right off the bat, Jesus challenges the man: why do you call me good? In other words, there is a flaw in your idea of goodness and badness. No one is good but God alone. We’ll get back to that.

 

The second glaring misconception is that there is something this man, or any of us, can do to inherit eternal life. Jesus lists some of the commandments, the ones that have to do with your moral behavior. The man says that he has done all of those things. And then Jesus says, “one thing you lack – go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

 

Jesus boils it down to one thing. Follow me. Imagine your life without money. All you have is me. Can you live like that? And he couldn’t. Jesus had put his finger on the man’s real god, his real security, his real savior. And the man goes away sad. Later on we will read this exchange:

 

26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, "Who then can be saved?"  27 Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God." 

 

No one will be saved on the basis of their goodness. But with God, all things are possible. Anyone can be saved, even a little child. In fact, Jesus goes as far as to say that you must become like a little child to enter the kingdom of God. What does that mean?

 

We enter the kingdom of God through helpless dependence. Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling. I do not come with my resume of spiritual accomplishments expecting reward and favor. I come empty-handed, looking to the Lord for blessing and favor.

 

No one is saved by their own goodness. If you can look at God’s law and end up saying “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” then you are likely misinterpreting Jesus’ words.

 

  • You must be ready to leave all to follow Jesus

 

Jesus is Savior. Anyone can be saved. But He is also Lord, calling you to follow Him and be willing to give up everything in your pursuit of Him. Are you willing to give up your possessions, your house, your car, your job, your phone – everything you own – to follow Him?

 

Maybe you say, “well, God doesn’t really want me to give is all up, does he?” Yes, and no. Let me explain. One of the best treatments of this passage was by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book “The Cost of Discipleship.” It’s a long passage, but I will try to sum it up. He talks about how the rich young ruler comes to Jesus expecting an academic discussion – what must I do to inherit eternal life? And instead, he gets a call to obedience. Give up your wealth and come, live in fellowship with me. We read that and we naturally wonder if God is saying the same thing to us. Bonhoeffer talks about how we have a tendency to spiritualize this: Sure, Jesus says to sell everything, but what he really means is to cultivate an inner detachment to our possessions. Therefore, Jesus is really saying that we can keep our wealth, but just not attach ourselves to it. Of course, the rich young ruler had no option of spiritualizing Jesus’ request. Bonhoeffer says that this is like a father sending his child to bed, and the child reasoning to himself, “Father tells me to go to bed, but he really means that I am tired, and he does not want me to be tired. I can overcome my tiredness just as well if I go out and play. Therefore, though father tells me to go to bed, he really means: ‘Go out and play.”

 

Now, there is an element of truth in this. In the end, it’s not really about the money, but about having faith in Jesus, and trusting in Him instead of money. You can give all your money away as a religious act to save yourself, not because you trust in God. And it is possible to be wholly trusting in God while still possessing wealth. Nevertheless, Bonhoeffer continues by saying this:

 

“Anybody who does not feel that he would be much happier were he only permitted to understand and obey the commandments of Jesus in a straightforward literal way, and surrender all his possessions at his bidding rather than cling to them, has no right to this paradoxical interpretation of Jesus’ words.”

 

Is this you? Or do you know deep down that you are not willing to even listen to God on this, not even willing to entertain the thought of giving your most prized possessions away. If that is you, then there very well may be ways in which you are like the rich young ruler, where Jesus asks you to follow Him somewhere and you refuse, going away, because you have great wealth.

 

When we come to Jesus as Savior and Lord, He begins to pry our hands off the things and attachments of our life, until we are attached to Him. It’s not just money – he may ask you to lay down your focus on your outward appearance, or your reputation, or your job. He may ask you to lay aside a relationship, or a hobby, or dream. What is that one thing you lack? What is it that you are afraid Jesus will come to you and say, “Leave that behind, and come follow me”?

 

But we must remember, that as He calls us to give up all and follow Him, that we are not alone. The rich young man is invited to join a community of believers who will take care of one another’s material needs. He will not be left alone to fend for himself. And the same goes for us.

 

Are you willing to give it all up to follow Him? Do you trust Him that much?

 

  • We can give it all for Him because He gave it all for us

 

Where do we learn to trust like this? By seeing how the rich young ruler points us to Jesus. He is the ultimate Rich young ruler, who left the wealth of heaven behind to come and save us, becoming poor for our sakes.

 

2 Corinthians 8:9 - For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

 

We can trust Him because He gave it all for us. And as He tells His disciples at the end of this passage,

 

28 Peter said to him, "We have left everything to follow you!"  29 "I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel  30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields-- and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. 

 

Matthew 6:19-21 - "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

 

The riches to come are so much greater than the riches you can have here on earth.

 

In the end, this passage, and discipleship in general, is not about money, or marriage, but about allegiance to Jesus as Savior and Lord. We can not save ourselves. No one is good but God. But with God, all things are possible.

 

Think about your marriage, if you have one, or your desire to be married, if you are not. Are you willing to give up your pursuit of personal happiness to bring Him the maximum amount of glory through your relationships? Do you trust Him that much?

 

And think about your money, your possessions. Are you willing to lay them down, to be prepared to give anything up that Jesus tells you to, because you trust Him that much?

 

Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!