Mark 10:1-16: Marriage, Divorce and Children in the Kingdom
Jesus has coming declaring the Kingdom of God. We know from Mark’s introduction that Jesus is the King, the Messiah of this kingdom. But this reality is being slowly unfolded for Israel and the disciples. That the Messiah must suffer and die and be raised up is a radical center for this kingdom, and we should expect that this will have ramifications for the rest of Kingdom Life.
Starting with the Obvious
All of Scripture is God’s authoritative Word. It is authoritative on every subject it discusses and is discusses every subject. This fact is established in Creation itself, indicating that God is sovereign and rules over everything. His opinion matters about all the details: how you decorate your house, how you keep your checkbook, and what movies you watched last night. And not only is God’s authority something that extends in space, but it is also something that extends throughout time. What is right or wrong on Tuesday is still right or wrong on Wednesday and Thursday. And what is true and certain on Sunday at Church is still true and certain throughout the week. This means that no amount of supposed scientific progress will ever undermine the Word of God. God already knows all of the questions and all of the answers; He’s aware of all the details and therefore we can trust Him, especially when it comes to marriage and children. But we are really good at getting truth wrong. We do this by isolating our thoughts from our actions (Js. 1:22ff) and we do this by replacing words with actions (Rom. 2:17ff).
Starting at the End
“…[W]hoever does not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” We see here that while the Kingdom of God is an objective, public, and political fact, it is nevertheless not automatic. While it assumes jurisdiction, it never assumes blessing. Everyone is liable; no one is automatically in. The fact that Mark takes us directly from Jesus’ instructions on marriage to this incident with children is important. Given the fact that Jesus was teaching and then he was asked a question about divorce (10:1-2) and this event is followed by people bringing their children to be blessed, we can surmise that Jesus was teaching on some aspect of the institution of the family. As we seek to obey Jesus, we must first distinguish between “childishness” and “childlikeness”. The former we are to deplore (1 Cor. 13:11, Prov. 22:15); the latter we are to imitate (Mk. 10:15). An example of the former is the 38 year old youth pastor with a goatee and earring, trying desperately to be “relevant”; an example of the latter is the simple delight of a child raising his hands during the Lord’s Prayer or shouting “Amen!” with enthusiasm at the end of a hymn. Just obey. Just believe. Just follow Jesus. Sin is the great complicator; and sin doesn’t make sense. “The human heart is a factory of idols…Everyone of us is, from his mother’s womb, expert in inventing idols.” Says John Calvin. “…the corruption of man be such as is apt to study arguments…” (WCF 24.6) But these are always steps away from the childlike faith we are to have with God. If God says to do it; do it.
Marriage and Divorce and Remarriage
Books have been written on this subject and there is some disagreement even among Bible believing Christians in the details. But the basic outline is simple. What God has made into one, let no man separate (10:8-9).
1. First, it is important to point out that divorce is possible: there is no such thing as “spiritual” marriage. Divorce really dissolves marriage. This also means that cohabitation, even for 30 years, is not marriage. There is no such thing as “married in the sight of God.” It is fornication and more akin to the ancient practice of men taking concubines.
2. Secondly, we must recognize that divorce is only morally allowable in cases of porneas (Mt. 5:32). This is a Greek word basically meaning “sexual immorality” and can refer to adultery, sex prior to marriage (Deut. 22:20-21), and desertion (1 Cor. 7:3,15). Paul also instructs Christians who are living with unbelieving spouses to remain with them as long as they are “willing” to do so, or “pleased to do so” (1 Cor. 7:12-13). Certain levels of abuse would qualify a believer to lawfully divorce his/her spouse on the grounds that the offending party is not “willing”, but this is to the end that we are pursuing the “peace” of God (1 Cor. 7:16).
3. Thirdly, where divorce is permitted, it is not necessary; Christians should always hate divorce just as God does and seek to avoid it as far as it depends upon them (Mal. 2:16). The assumption however, is that in these cases where it is morally allowable to divorce, it is also lawful for the innocent party to remarry.
4. Fourthly, we should also distinguish between civil and moral law or between sin and crimes. While under the Old Covenant it was a crime and a sin to commit adultery (for example), covetousness is not/cannot/should not be a crime. Nor has sin been committed every time a civil law is broken (e.g. Acts 4:18-19). Divorce was lawful under the civil code of Israel, but it was no more morally righteous than now (Mk. 10:4-5). Those who divorced for any reason are required under the moral law to repent of that sin and remarry their offended spouse, if possible, or remain unmarried (1 Cor. 7:10-11).
5. Fifthly, death or remarriage make full reconciliation impossible (Dt. 24:1-4, 1 Cor. 7:39) and in such cases the offending party must make all efforts to restore the relationship as far as possible and then (in my opinion) he or she is free to remarry.
6. Finally, we should note that those who divorce their spouses unlawfully and remarry both commit adultery themselves and cause adultery to be committed. The sin of unlawful divorce multiplies further sin very quickly (Mk. 10:11-12). We should also remember the way these particular sins affect children.
Conclusion and Application
Apart from evangelical faith in Jesus Christ born, suffered, dead, buried, resurrected, and ascended, marriage and family is like hitting your finger over and over again with a hammer. You cannot get this right without faith and childlike trust in the crucified Messiah. It is a cruciform marriage, a cruciform dining room table, a cruciform work ethic, cruciform child rearing, a cruciform marriage bed, cruciform thoughts in your head, cruciform words in your mouth, and cruciform actions with your body. Jesus is Lord.