The Marriage Controversy

The One Year® Chronological Bible, NKJV (Tyndale, 2013), October 21

imagesJesus is absolutely unafraid to address the issues of His day. And the Pharisees make sure that no issue remains unaddressed. They confront Him with a question about marriage and divorce, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (Mk. 10:2; Mt. 19:3; Lk. 16:18). As always, Jesus begins at the root of the issue: “Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of creation, God ‘made them male and female’” (Mk. 10:5-6a). Jesus makes clear that permanent union was God’s original (and enduring) design, and that those who reject that design do so because they harden their hearts.

Marriage was instituted by God in the garden of Eden. The garden scene reveals God’s design for marriage and how sin affects the marriage relationship:

  • Man needed a complementary partner, and that partner was a woman.
  • Man and woman walked with God together before they sinned. They were naked and unashamed.
  • Man and woman not only hid from God after they sinned, they also covered themselves to hid their shame and nakedness from one another.
  • Sin transformed their complementary relationship, with loving headship and trust, into a competitive relationship of selfishness and doubt.

Later, when God gave Moses laws to restrain Israel’s selfishness, rebellion, and sinful tendencies, he addressed marriage: “You shall not commit adultery . . . . You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife” (Ex. 20:14,17). The righteousness of those laws revealed just how selfish and sinful people were. The laws could not change their hearts; they were given as a restraint to protect families and communities from the brokenness caused by adultery.

People are naturally selfish from birth. Without parameters they will self-destruct and hurt others. For example, without driving laws, no one would feel safe on the streets. Accidents and deaths would increase. Likewise, selfishness, self-centeredness, and unfaithfulness jeopardize the marriage relationship between a man and a woman. Without the marriage covenant, man and woman would soon tire of the challenges faced by those moving toward oneness. Unresolved and escalating resentment, bitterness, anger, and unforgiveness would soon harden one partner against the other, and they would divorce.

Jesus’ unyielding standard on the sanctity of marriage established a new norm that soon transformed the Roman empire. He exposed the sin of hardheartedness as the root of divorce. Those indwelt by His Spirit and energized by His grace would choose lifelong partners to honor Him and rebuild society.

The Pharisees’ question and Jesus’ answers offer a number of truths about marriage:

  • Marriage is God’s ideal and His plan.
  • Marriage is between a man and a woman.
  • Sin and selfishness cause hardness of heart and jeopardize the marital union.
  • Difficulties in marriage are God’s tools to root out selfishness, to move toward oneness, and to drive the couple to the Lord, both individually and as a couple.
  • Glorious marriages are not those without problems, but rather those whose problems bring them to true unity as a threefold cord with Christ at the center.

Questions from today’s chronological Bible reading (Lk. 18:9-30; Mk. 10:1-31; Mt. 19:1-30):
Review the characteristics of legalists and Pharisees in the previous readings on Oct. 14 and 19. How do those characteristics compare with today’s story about the Pharisee and the tax collector and the Pharisees’ question about divorce?
How does Jesus expose the rich young ruler’s true allegiance? What contrast is made between the rich young ruler and Peter? Between temporal and eternal rewards?