Mark 10

Today’s reading is Mark 10.

Two people join together in the covenant of marriage with great hope for what their lives together will be like, great intentions about how they interact with each other, and an expectation that their marriage will last for the duration of their lives. This is how God intended it to be, as Jesus said in verses 6-7, “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.” If Adam and Eve had not sinned, every marriage would be perfect because two perfect people would enter it with the ability to have perfect obedience to God’s intentions and commands for marriage.

Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world. When two people marry, both of them bring a sin nature, a sinful past, and sinful desires and impulses into the marriage. No matter how strong their resolve and how good their intentions may be, they will have an imperfect marriage. If problems accumulate and are unresolved, one or both of them may start thinking about what it would be like to be married to someone else.

In Moses’ time, men held all the power. They decided whom their daughters would marry and a man who had the means could accumulate several wives (or several hundred wives, in the case of Solomon). Part of the reason for polygamy was that war and farm accidents created a world where there were not enough men available to marry all the women who existed. A man who disliked his wife, then, could just add another one to his life and hope she would do for him what the first wife did not. But if he disliked one of his wives enough, he could kick her out. Because he inherited his property from his father, he had absolute ownership and his wife had no legal ownership at all. If he told her to leave, she was trespassing if she didn’t go immediately.

If a man sent his wife away, she didn’t have many options. She could return to her father’s house but dad might not be able (due to age or poverty) to care for her and her children. If another man liked her, he would be in a tough position because what if her husband cooled off and wanted her to come home? Moses, in the words of verse 4, “…permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” The certificate of divorce clarified a woman’s status. It told a potential second husband that a woman was free to remarry because her original husband had repudiated her and dissolved their relationship legally. This is why Jesus said, “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law” in verse 5. The “hardness of heart” referred to the tendency of men to marry a woman, then kick her out but without actually divorcing her so that he would have the option of bringing her back into his life and his home again. This would be an abuse of his power so, to protect a woman from being starved and homeless due to a husband who wouldn’t decide whether to live with her or break it off legally with her, Moses required any man who kicked his wife out to make it all official and legal-like.

Divorce came into existence, then, to protect women from being legally bound to men who wouldn’t keep his commitment to his wife. If a woman is legally married but moves in with another man, we call that adultery. If she has been divorced, however, there is no adultery–legally speaking–because the divorce legally dissolved the marriage agreement.

All of this makes sense to us and it made sense to Jesus and his audience. If you sign a contract with Comcast but then decide that they are not keeping up their half of the bargain, you can dissolve the contract. There may be penalties to pay (as there are in divorce, actually) but nobody will judge you for using legal means to end a bad contract.

Jesus, however, taught that marriage is more than just a legal contract. His teaching reflected the intentions of God as stated in Genesis 2:24 and quoted by Jesus in verses 7-8 of our passage, Mark 10: “‘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 flesh.” We know from 1 Corinthians 6:16 that “one flesh” refers to sexual intercourse. God created sex not only so that a couple could make children together but also so that they would be bound together at a physical level, not just a legal level. Divorce dissolves the legal aspect of marriage, but it is impossible to dissolve the psychological bond that physical intimacy creates. Sex permanently bonds you to your partner in a way that is impossible to completely break. This is why remarriage is, according to Jesus, an act of adultery because God created and intended marriage to be one man and one woman for one’s lifetime.

The disciples were concerned by how strict Jesus was about divorce so they asked him to clarify his remarks in verse 10 of our chapter today. Jesus explained that someone who divorces his wife to marry another person has committed adultery. Legally, they can do that but morally and spiritually, they cannot. Notice that Mark here did not include the exception clause that Matthew included in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9. The exception clauses allows someone to divorce and remarry for “sexual immorality.” In that case, Jesus said, the divorcing spouse has not committed adultery because the sin of adultery was already committed by the spouse who was sexually immoral. Sexual immorality is a breach not only of the legal covenant of marriage but of the “one flesh” relationship. You are supposed to be “one flesh” with only one person so adultery separates “what God has joined together.” Mark did not include the exception clause because most divorces are not due to adultery. Jesus warned us all in this passage that, although divorce is legal and (regrettably) sometimes necessary because of a hard hearted spouse, it is not what God wants nor what God intended for marriage.

The application to all of us is obvious, isn’t it? If you’re unmarried, don’t become one flesh with anyone except for your spouse after the wedding. If you are married, be faithful to your spouse and determine to stick with the marriage for the duration of your life.

Although it takes two consenting adults to get married, it only takes one to divorce. It is sad, but true, that your spouse can unilaterally end your marriage whether you want it to end or not. If you’re divorced and this passage opens an old wound for you, I understand and am sorry. The application for all of us is really the same, however: be obedient to what God wants no matter what situation you are in now. If you are married, don’t get divorced or commit adultery. If you are single (whether because you’ve never been married or because you’ve been divorced), live a pure life now and seek to uphold God’s design for marriage in your own life as best as you can.

1 Corinthians 7

Today’s reading comes from 1 Corinthians 7.

This chapter from 1 Corinthians contains several instructions around the subject of marriage. Verse 1 began the chapter with the phrase, “Now for the matters you wrote about.” The Corinthian believers had many questions about what was right and wrong for Christians to do, so they wrote a letter to Paul spelling out their questions. The first question was about sexual ethics: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” This is not a statement from Paul; rather, Paul is quoting back to them their first question or point of confusion: “Is celibacy Christian?”

Paul explored this question from a number of angles. First, there is nothing morally wrong with marriage and a person should marry (v. 2) and have regular sexual relations with his or her spouse (vv. 3-5). One reason for this is to protect against a church full of single people giving into their sexual desires (v. 2a), committing adultery (v. 5b) or burning with lust (v. 9).

Second, Paul commended the single life if a person can be single without giving into temptation (vv. 8-9, 25-40).

Third, he commanded believers not to divorce (vv. 10-14) but also not to contest a divorce if an unbeliever divorces his or her unbelieving spouse (vv. 15-16). This is the passage which gives an additional exception for divorce to the exception Jesus gave in Matthew 18.

The main principle in this passage is “remain as you are” (vv. 17-24). If you are a married person, give your spouse what you promised (vv. 3-5) and don’t divorce him or her–even if he or she is an unbeliever (vv. 12-14). In fact, faith in Christ has a sanctifying effect on the unbelieving spouse which is a reason to stay in the marriage (v. 14). But if your non-Christian spouse leaves you, you do not have to contest the divorce and are free to remarry (vv. 15-16).

Although marriage is the dominant topic in this chapter, Paul suddenly references circumcision (vv. 18-19) and slavery (vv. 21-24). These have nothing to do with decisions about marriage, but they are other applications of the principle, “remain as you are” (v. 17, 20) In other words, your faith in Christ applies to your life whether you are single or married, circumcised or uncircumcised, slave or free (vv. 21-24). There are no second class Christians; whatever situation you are in is an opportunity for you to live for God today. Christians who are married to other Christians have advantages that others do not have, but God isn’t evaluating you based on your circumstances. He’s called you and empowered you to live a godly life in whatever circumstances you are in today.

What circumstance are you in today that you wish were different? Do you find yourself thinking that you could be a more godly Christian if you had a different spouse–or no spouse at all? Do you think it would be easier to be holy if you had a different job or that God would be more pleased with you if left your secular job to work in the ministry full-time? This passage should cause you to reconsider. There is nothing wrong with changing your circumstances if you can do it without sinning (vv. 21b-23), but a change of circumstances is not what you need to live a godly life. You already have what you need to live a godly life–God’s divine power–no matter what circumstances you are in. So believe that by faith and live within your situation differently for the glory of God.

Matthew 19

Today’s reading is Matthew 19.

Compared to doing whatever you want to do and whatever the culture around you allows you to do, following Jesus is hard! If you want to follow Jesus you:

  • shoudn’t get divorced unless your spouse is unfaithful (vv. 1-10).
  • would be better off staying single, but that requires something unusual that isn’t for most people (vv. 11-12).
  • need to be childish in your faith, something that is really difficult to do (vv. 13-15).
  • must follow Jesus absolutely, even if he commands you to give everything you have away (vv. 16-24).
  • have to rely on God because what Jesus requires is impossible apart from his grace (vv. 25-26).

Quite a discouraging list, yes?

But what rewards Christ promised to those who trust him and follow him in obedience (vv. 27-30). This kind of submission to Christ may cause you to fall far behind in the rat race of human life. Human life, however, is over quickly; eternity, …um…, lasts forever. Jesus promised more than fair compensation to those who follow him in this life. According to verse 29 you will get eternal life and far more, far better stuff in eternity when you actually have the spiritual capacity to enjoy created things without worshipping them.

Following Jesus in this way might make you feel like a loser in this life but expectations for this life are upside down. As verse 30 put it, “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”

Matthew 14

Today we’re reading Matthew 14.

John the Baptist died as he lived–outspoken about right and wrong. He lived in a society where freedom of speech was not protected by law. Though most people could speak their mind without fear of punishment, there was no guarantee–legal or otherwise–that a person would not be prosecuted or persecuted for what he or she said. The safe thing to do in a society like John’s was to keep your mouth shut about the behavior of anyone who had the power to hurt you. If you did speak about someone’s behavior or morals, it was safest to do it in private with people you could trust.

John, however, disregarded all these safeguards. Herod Archelaus (Matthew calls him “Herod the tetrarch” in verse 1) had an affair with his brother Philip’s wife Herodias. She divorced Philip to be with Herod Archelaus. Her divorce was not legally valid nor was it morally acceptable, so her marriage to Herod Archelaus was both illegal and sinful. Since Herod was in charge of Judea, however, there was nobody but Caesar, way off in Rome, who could hold him accountable. Caesar didn’t care, so Herod was able to get away with his sin. He also could harm anyone who spoke out about his sin, so there was no pressure on him at all to do the right thing.

John the Baptist did not allow Herod’s protected status or his power to keep him from speaking the truth about Herod’s sham marriage. Verse 4 told us that John confronted Herod directly (“John had been saying to him”) about his sin and called for repentance. It was costly to John personally to do this because Herod put him into prison (v. 3) and then reluctantly put him to death (vv. 6-12).

We live in a society that legally protects speech. While there are definitely those in our society who want to punish speech they dislike, for now we have legal protection to say almost anything we want to say. I don’t know about you, but I will admit that I am reluctant to say anything directly about the sins of our culture. I am not afraid to call sin what it is, but my approach has been to speak to people within our church family or those who attend our worship services about sin but not to society at large. John’s example has me re-thinking this. He was willing to speak out about a sin that everyone in his society knew about but nobody else had the courage to confront. His bravery cost him his freedom and eventually his life, but God highly approved of his message and his method.

If we are going to reach people for Jesus, we need to stand for righteousness. That requires speaking out against evil. We need to emulate the boldness of John. It is important, however, to remember that the purpose of speaking out is to turn hearts toward the forgiveness and righteousness of Jesus. It is also important to remember to speak in a way that shows gentleness and respect (see 1 Peter 3:15c). Many Christians can be downright obnoxious when speaking out against sin. That neither glorifies God nor wins a hearing for his word. So, let’s be bold but also wise about the way in which we speak.

In the interest of full-disclosure, this post by Douglas Wilson got me thinking about this application of John’s message. There are things I like about Wilson and his ministry and some things I strongly dislike about his theology. So, don’t take this as a blanket endorsement but it might be helpful for you to read his post that inspired my devotional on this text.

2 Chronicles 34, Revelation 20, Malachi 2, John 19

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 2 Chronicles 34, Revelation 20, Malachi 2, John 19. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can’t do all the readings today, read Malachi 2.

Malachi was the last prophet before the New Testament era whose prophecies were written down and included in the scriptures. This means, of course, that he lived and served the Lord after Israel and Judah had returned to the promised land after they were defeated and dislocated from the land by Assyria and Babylon. God’s people, who had struggled with idolatry all the way back to Moses, were finally cured of it after they returned to the land. Although they did not serve idols any more, they still struggled with genuine worship and service to God. Malachi wrote to God’s people to remind them of God’s love (1:1-5) and call them to genuine worship. He started with the priests who were offering damaged animals as sacrifices (1:6-14) and were not teaching the Law faithfully (2:1-9).

Starting in verse 10 Malachi broadened his audience from the priests to the Jewish people generally. He accuses them of breaking faith with God by marrying foreign women who did not worship the Lord (vv. 10-12). Although these Jewish men continued to worship the Lord (v. 13) their godless wives would eventually have turned their hearts back to idols; we’ve seen this numerous times in the Old Testament with Solomon being the highest profile example. So the Lord’s concern here was preserving the exclusive worship that the Assyrian and Babylonian defeats achieved.

The issue of foreign wives is deeper, however, than the idol worship of those foreign women. In order to marry these foreign wives, these Jewish men had divorced their Jewish wives (v. 14). Malachi reminded them that God was witness to the vows they made to their Jewish wives (v. 14) and that the spiritual problems they now faced were his judgment on their unfaithfulness (v. 13). Verse 15 reminded these Jewish men that they belonged to God who made them (v. 15a) and that what he wanted from them more than anything else was a family that worshipped him just as they did (v. 15b). Unfaithfulness and divorce destroyed God’s plan for godly families and it harmed women (v. 16) who would have to provide for themselves in a society where that was very difficult for a woman to do.

Times have changed. In the Bible only men had the legal authority to divorce; now husbands and wives both can terminate a marriage. Now, women can work to earn a living for themselves if they get divorced but in the Bible, men kept their ancestral property after a divorce so they could continue to earn a living. All a woman got when she was divorced was the bride-price her husband paid to her father when they were betrothed (engaged) and even that was sometimes spent. So a woman had only a few options when her husband divorced her–become a beggar, become a prostitute, or get remarried. Moses allowed for divorce so that women could remarry; it was designed to protect them from poverty or prostitution by forcing a man to clarify that he was completely releasing (repudiating, really) his wife. It gave her the ability to show another man that she was no longer legally bound to her first husband, so it was legally acceptable for the second man to marry her.

Although times have changed, God’s will regarding marriage has not. Those of us who worship God because of Christ made a covenant to our spouse before God. God is witness to that covenant and wants you to work together with your spouse to raise godly children. Unfaithfulness to your spouse puts God on his or her side against you (vv. 13-14) so it damages your spiritual life and jeopardizes God’s plan for your family. Divorce does the same thing which is why Jesus equated divorce with adultery and only allowed it if adultery had already occurred (Matt 5:32; 19:9).

So, protect your marriage! Guard it against outsiders who may be attracted to you and may seem attractive to you. Keep the covenant you made with your spouse and work with him or her as a team to raise a godly family and to have the loving relationship you both want from somebody.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we’ll talk scripture again tomorrow.