[This entry follows a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church titled "Jesus and Marriage". Click on the title to listen to the audio.]
We interrupt this blog entry to bring you the following two book recommendations. The first is John Piper's This Momentary Marriage. This book helps set the foundation of marriage from a biblical perspective, and it does so in a very practical way. Second is a book by Dave Harvey called When Sinners Say "I Do". The title of the book says it all...the focus is on the power of the gospel in a marriage. We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog entry.
As you could imagine, I ran into many different teachings while preparing for a sermon on marriage and divorce. I wanted to briefly address one of those teachings...namely, the idea of "repenting of an adulterous remarriage."
Those who speak of such a thing use, as their foundation, verses like Mark 10:11-12: "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery." In their zeal to hold to the Bible's teaching on the permanence of marriage and God's hatred of divorce, these well-meaning believers say that if one has remarried, that person should repent by leaving the second marriage and either (1) reconcile with their former husband/wife or (2) remain single. Their logic is that God does not see this second marriage as a real marriage at all, so leaving that person is only a divorce in the legal sense. Therefore, the person repenting is only leaving an adulterous affair and going back to their marriage.
This idea has great appeal to some people, but we must consider what the Scripture says. Is it true that these second marriages are only 'marriages' in our society but not really marriages before God? If the answer is 'yes,' this has incredible implications...wouldn't you agree? My answer to this is that these second marriages are real marriages, and they should not be broken in an attempt to repent. Let me share why I answer in this way.
Let's read Jesus' words from Mark 10:11 again: "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her..." When we read these words, we must first note that the plain reading in our English translations tells us that the adultery Jesus is talking about happens in the act of marrying another. When we look to the original language, we find that the word for 'marries' is the word 'gameo.' When this word is used, it always refers to real marriage...the coming together of a man and woman in a lifelong covenant before God. Here are a few examples of where this Greek word appears (and I have purposely excluded any that may be labeled as adulterous re-marriage in order to make the point):
1. When the disciples heard Jesus' teaching on marriage in Matthew 19, they responded, "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry [gameo]" (v. 10). In other words, if marriage is to be as permanent as you say, Jesus, maybe we shouldn't get married at all!
2. In talking about the days that were leading up to the flood of Genesis 6, Jesus says that normal activities were happening. People were "eating and drinking, marrying [gameo] and giving in marriage" (Mt. 24:38).
3. In the parable of the great banquet in Luke 14, one of the excuses for not coming to the banquet to which a man was invited was "I have married [gameo] a wife" (v. 20).
4. In 1 Corinthians 7:9, Paul writes, "But if they [i.e. the unmarried and widows] cannot exercise self-control, they should marry [gameo]. For it is better to marry [gameo] than to be aflame with passion."
5. Other texts where this word appears are 1 Cor. 7:24, 1 Cor. 7:33-34, 1 Tim. 4:3, 1 Tim. 5:11, 1 Tim. 5:14.
All of these texts refer to real marriages, so I conclude that the marriage Jesus speaks of in Mark 10:11-12 is a real marriage. Those who say that God doesn't really see this as a real marriage should have difficulty here. 'Marry another' cannot only mean that the divorced man has begun a sexually monogamous relationship with another woman, or vice versa. Marriage, in the Scripture, is never merely used to describe a sexually monogamous relationship. Rather, 'marry another' must mean a man and woman have come together in a lifelong covenant before God.
Since this is the case, then we must say that God would hate the breaking of this marriage covenant as much as He hated the first. Jesus would say, of this second marriage, that God created them male and female, that the man has been joined to his wife, and that the two are one. Jesus would conclude, "What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate" (Mk. 10:9). Man must not assert his prerogative to divorce even if he thinks he's doing a good thing to try and reconcile with a first spouse. Why? Because it is a real marriage, and God brings together real marriages.
One good thing becomes clear from examining this bad teaching. It is very difficult to demonstrate biblical repentance once you have married another person. Biblical repentance does not merely involve being sorry about something...it is a change in one's mind that changes one's behavior. Repenting of lying, for example, is not just feeling bad about telling lies or confessing your sin to the person to whom you lied. It's actually a change in your mind about the act of lying that leads to the avoidance of lying. That becomes difficult when the sin for which repentance is needed shows itself in a lifelong covenant relationship.
That may be a bit confusing, but the long and short is this...those who are divorced and contemplating remarriage must take the words of Mark 10:11-12 very seriously. Those who are married and contemplating divorce should take the words of Mark 10:11-12 very seriously. Marriage, divorce, and remarraige are not always easy subjects, and for many, it is connected to a lot of pain. So, while we want to uphold the truth of the Bible with regard to even difficult subjects, we want be sure that we do so in a way that communicates compassion to all who are hurting.
In doing this, our prayer is to do as Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:15-16: "Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love."