My Sunday sermons given at Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR, for those who missed church or just want to see what we're up to. You can also listen to these sermons if you prefer. Just go to our church website and click the "Online Church" tab. Here's the link:

Monday, March 8, 2010

"The Master's Marriage Manual" - (03/07/10)

"The Master's Marriage Manual"

When you want to get an Oregon driver’s license you have to study the Oregon Driver’s Manual prepared by the Dept. of Motor Vehicles so that you can pass their written test.  It’s the same thing for getting a CDL to drive the big rigs.  And if you want to work as an engineer in a commercial radio station you have to study the FCC manual to pass the GROL exam to get your General Radiotelephone Operator’s License.  In fact, for many different kinds of jobs there are manuals you have to study to prepare you for the required examination, because it is so important that you do the work correctly.  You have to study the book to pass the test to prove that you are qualified for the job.  And you can’t get hired without it.
However, when it comes to marriage people can jump into the job with a bare minimum of study and preparation, and no test whatsoever.  This stupid system results in a 50% failure rate because people have little or no idea of what they are getting into, or how to make the marriage work.
The sad part of all this is that God, the Architect of Marriage, the One who invented the idea in the first place, has given us a detailed Marriage Manual, which if studied and followed, will guarantee marital success.  That Manual is called the Bible, God’s Holy Word.  It lays out in detail what a Christian marriage should be like, the obligations and privileges of both the husband and wife, not to mention the warnings of what not to do if you want to have a happy home and a blessed marriage.  The tragedy is that many people, including many Christians, ignore the Marriage Manual that God has provided for us. 

In our passage for today Jesus is questioned by a group of Pharisees who just want to trip Him up, and find a reason to accuse Him of heresy or blasphemy.  Their question centered on the issue of marriage and divorce.  Jesus used the opportunity to teach them and the other people who had gathered around concerning God’s original intentions for mankind with respect to marriage.  Turn in your Bibles to Mark chapter 10.

Verse 1: Getting up, He went from there to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan; crowds [multitudes] gathered around Him again, and, according to His custom, He once more began to teach them. 
  • The NASV has kind of a funny way of putting it because it is such a literal translation.  It sounds like maybe Jesus jumped up out of bed and took off running for Judea.  That’s not how it was.  You’ll remember that in our last study Jesus was in Capernaum, perhaps in the house of Peter.  This just means that it was from there that He and His disciples set out headed south toward Jerusalem.  They chose the route that ended them up on the east side of the Jordan across from the ruins of ancient Jericho.
  • “He began to teach them.”  The Greek verb here is in the imperfect tense signifying a continuing occurrence, rather than a one-shot-deal.  He taught them along the way—kind of a walking classroom.

Verses 2-3: Some Pharisees came up to Jesus, testing Him, and began to question Him whether it was lawful for a man to divorce a wife3 And He answered and said to them, “What did Moses command you?”
  • “Testing Him.”  The Greek word used here can mean either to tempt (KJV) or to test.  Obviously, the Pharisees had an evil ulterior motive here for their question and were hoping to trip Jesus up in some way.  This question posed by the Pharisees was a hot-button issue of that day and was being debated all over Israel by the scribes and other teachers of the Law.  The scribes and Pharisees, who followed the teachings of Rabbi Hillel concluded that a man could divorce his wife for almost any cause.  On this subject they were the liberals of that period.  On the other hand, those who followed Rabbi Shammai were more conservative and insisted that divorce was lawful only in the case of adultery.  In either case, the Pharisees who posed the question to Jesus were not interested in His position.  They were just trying to trap Him into saying something that they could use to discredit Him and make Him look stupid in front of the crowd.
  • Matthew chapter 19 is the parallel passage in Matthew’s account and there he adds some words to their question that Mark leaves out of verse 2—“for any cause at all?”

Verse 4: They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”
  • The Pharisees are referring here to Deuteronomy 24:1-3.
  • However, the Pharisees themselves skirted Jesus’ rebound question by not stating the condition under which Moses permitted divorce.  There was only one—sexual indecency.  They know that and so did Jesus.

Verses 5-8: But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he [Moses] wrote you this commandment.  6 But from the beginning of creation, God MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE.  7 FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER, 8 AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH; so they are no longer two, but one flesh.”
  • “Because of your hardness of heart.”  This phrase is very interesting.  In telling them why Moses granted this concession Jesus used a long medical word, sklerocardía.  You’ve undoubtedly heard the terms arteriosclerosis, meaning hardening of the arteries in the heart, “multiple sclerosis,” and “sclerosis of the liver” meaning hardening of the liver, etc.  The Greek word for heart is cardía (καρδία) and sklerós (σκληρός) is a word meaning, “hard, tough, or dried up.”   Put these two words together and you get sklerocardía, “hardening of the heart, or hardheartedness.”  Even back in Moses’ day, because of sin men’s hearts had become dry and hard and as tough as old saddle leather or moose jerky.  Moses’ stipulation in Deut. 24:1 was not a command, but rather a concession, because of men’s unsatisfactory spiritual condition.  It was his attempt to regulate and control divorce rather than to encourage it.  
  • “But from the beginning of creation.”  Here Jesus goes back beyond Moses’ concession in Deut. 24:1 to quote Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 as His supporting arguments against the position of the Pharisees, who supported Rabbi Hillel’s very popular liberal view of divorce for almost any cause.  By doing this He was aligning Himself with those who followed Rabbi Shammai’s teaching on this subject, which further ticked off the Pharisees.  But rather than make this just a theoretical rabbinic debate Jesus points them to God’s ideal, laid out in His original design.  He reminds them that God intended for marriage to be an “until death do us part” union, with no exceptions.

Verse 9: “What therefore God has joined together let no man separate.”
  • Here we can hear the iron in Jesus’ voice.  There is a threat implicit in His words.  Oh, man is so proud, and so full of himself.  But the Bible makes it clear that marriage is God’s doing, not man’s.  It was God who performed the first wedding, back in the Garden of Eden.  He made Eve and then presented her to Adam.  God is the Architect of Marriage and of the Home.
  • Yet man has trampled this sacred relationship and taken it upon himself to decide when it starts, and when it’s over.  People break the covenant for the most stupid and selfish reasons.  Now we’ve even written it into our legal codes—“dissolution of marriage due to irreconcilable differences.”  What does that mean?  There are no irreconcilable differences if both parties are willing to work at repairing the marriage.  The final rift only happens if one or both of the parties decides that they want out at all costs and are unwilling to work at repairing the damage.  However, if both the husband and wife are committed first to God, as well as to their marriage and their vows, then there is nothing that can tear them apart—not financial problems, not infidelity, not differences over child-rearing, nothing at all!  But if one gives up and decides to walk, then all the superglue in the world won’t be able to hold that marriage together.

Verses 10-11: In the house the disciples began questioning Him about this again.  11 And He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her.”
  • First Jesus takes up the case of a man wanting to rid himself of his wife.  He is talking about a man divorcing his wife without cause, that is, without her having committed adultery.  That is bad enough by itself.  However, if he divorces his wife and then goes on and takes another woman, then according to Jesus he has inextricably shattered the marriage covenant and is an adulterer in the eyes of God.  Jesus explains that the man, in this case, commits adultery against his wife, not because of the divorce itself, but because of the remarriage to someone else.  Even though he may have gone through all the manmade civil/legal divorce procedures in the world, in God’s eyes he is still married to his first wife and not free to remarry.
  • Matthew’s Gospel adds a couple of enlightening words in Matt. 19:9: “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” This word, translated “immorality” is interesting.  It is the Greek noun, porneía (πορνεία), from which we get the words pornography and pornographic.  It is a general term which means illicit sexual intercourse, and in fact, sexual immorality of all kinds.  It is sometimes translated as “fornication or harlotry” other times as “adultery,” though there is also another Greek word specifically meaning adultery, which is moichós.  This word porneía always carries the idea of filthiness, impurity, and shamefulness.  I can think of quite a few common 21st century practices that I think fit into that category, though Jesus does not spell it out for us here in our text.
  • Related: fem. noun pórnei (πόρνη), harlot, whore, or prostitute
  • Related: masc. noun pórnos (πόρνος), whoremonger, fornicator, “john”
  • Related: verb porneúo (πορνεύω), to commit fornication, adultery
  • I think it’s important to point out here that porneía is the one exception that Jesus gives here to the divorce/remarriage rule.  Porneía breaks the marriage covenant and opens the door for divorce to occur, with eventual remarriage of the non-adulterous, innocent partner.  In other words, if there are biblically justifiable grounds for the divorce then for the innocent party there is biblical justification for remarriage as well.  There are Christians today who claim that remarriage is never allowed after a divorce.  However, Jesus does allow remarriage of the innocent party, but not of the guilty one.

Verse 12: “And if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.”
  • Here Jesus speaks of a woman who divorces her husband and bails out of her marriage.  Again, that is bad enough.  However, if she then goes out and takes the next step of getting remarried while her former husband remains single, then it is she who has finally shattered the marriage covenant and sinned against God and her marriage vows.
  • You see, while neither one of them involved themselves with another person there was always the chance of repairing the marriage and reconciling their differences.  However, the moment one of them remarries someone else, all hope for reconciliation is gone.
  • A supporting passage showing Jesus’ view of marriage, divorce, and remarriage is Matthew 5:31-32.  It says, “It was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce’; 32 but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”  As I stated before, in cases of marital infidelity (adultery) even Jesus allowed remarriage of the innocent party, but not of the guilty one.  He left the door open for divorce in cases of marital infidelity, though that step is never encouraged in the scriptures.  Divorce is always a tragedy, under any and all circumstances.

            In the United States today, with our “no-fault divorce” laws, the most commonly given reason for marital breakups is “irreconcilable differences.”  I don’t know who came up with that term but they were not very bright, and certainly not aware of the truth of Scripture.  There is no such thing as an “irreconcilable difference” as long as both partners in the marriage are willing to hang in there and work at fixing what is broken and willing to allow God to have His rightful place in their marriage as the third partner.  Even when adultery or some other form of marital infidelity or porneía has occurred, the marriage can be repaired and healed if both partners are willing to invest the time, effort, and forgiveness needed to plug the holes and shore up the foundations of the marriage.
            My goal today is not to make anyone feel guilty.  Praise God!  The purpose of the Gospel is not merely to inform, but to transform.  Many of us have been down the marriage failure trail and we can understand very well why God says in Malachi 2:16, “I hate divorce!”  Notice however that He does not say that He hates divorced people.  There is a big difference between those two things.  He hates divorce because He knows the devastation that it brings to the people that He loves.  So He follows up those words with these: “So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.”
            The wonderful thing about God is that He is always ready to forgive and to let us start over again.  Just because we have failed in the past does not mean that we are locked into being a failure for all time.  The Word says that if we confess our sin He is faithful and just to forgive us, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  We can begin today to make our marriages divorce-proof by following the Marriage Manual that God has provided.  We can decide to put aside all forms of porneía so that they cannot work like an acid to erode our marriages.  God is committed to good marriages.  He will be the third partner of our marriage if we let Him in, the glue that holds us together through anything that comes along.

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About Me

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Since 1994 I have been the pastor of Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR. Before that I was a missionary in South Brazil for many years. Until just recently I have also served as a police chaplain with the Portland Police Bureau. Now, however, God has a new assignment for us. My wife and I have been appointed with WorldVenture and are preparing to move to Ireland to help plant a new church in Sligo, a small city in NW Ireland. I'm married to Ramel, a crazy, beautiful redhead that I love more than life itself. We have three great kids, Jonathan, Chris, and Simoni who have given us ten wonderful grandchildren. We are truly blessed.

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