Mark 10:1-12 How to Defend Biblical Marriage in a Secular Society
Two questions come before the Supreme Court this year, which have broad consequences for our faith. First, can an individual state define who gets married? This is the question of Proposition 8 which was passed in California, then struck down. Prop 8 said that marriage was between a man and a woman only. The Federal District Court in Perry v Schwarzeneggar struck down this law because it violated the Due Process and the Equal Protection clauses of the United States Constitution. The Supreme Court has heard this case and will decide this week.
The second question is this: Can the federal government decide which states can allow same-sex marriage or restrict it? A conditional question related to this question is this: Can the federal government limit benefits to only those marriages between a woman and a man? The Supreme Court has also heard a case about the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a federal law that restricts federal marriage benefits and required inter-state marriage recognition to only opposite-sex marriages in the United States. In other words, this law says that no state is required to recognize a same-sex marriage from another state. The question here is do same-sex marriage partners have the same benefits in this country as opposite-sex married partners. DOMA recognizes what the Bible teaches for marriage, and it does not recognize same sex marriage – for the purposes of federal benefits like Social Security, and all kinds of federal support.
So on the one hand, we have individual states who have recognized traditional marriage, and other states who have recognized same-sex marriage. We have a federal government who has until recently defended a traditional marriage law passed by Congress. During the present administration, the President changed his mind and ordered the Justice Department to stop defending DOMA. In essence, the Executive Branch of the Federal Government has decided to stop protecting traditional marriage. It is taking a secular position. They are saying that all states should accept both traditional and same-sex marriage. We will soon see what the Supreme Court says about it.
No matter what happens with the Supreme Court decision, we are still in a land which is changing its views about marriage. People are going to make statements about marriage. You and I have to defend our marriages. We have to defend how marriage is defined. We have to speak up and speak out about the Biblical idea of marriage. Here in this passage, Jesus gives us some tools about what the Bible says and what He says about marriage. We can use what Jesus tells us here to help us protect and defend our marriage.
THE MEANING OF MARRIAGE
Jesus points to what God intended marriage to mean: ‘the two become one flesh’ (v. 7). A new creation takes place—the two become one. In some ways this is what the gospel is all about—marriage is the icon of the union between God and humanity, heaven and earth, male and female, slave and free, Jew and Gentile—all are one in Christ.
The purpose of marriage is that two persons shall become one. Anything short of that is a failure and a compromise of God’s purpose. The New Testament gives one reason, which God approves, for divorce. There is absolute silence regarding remarriage, even if the reason for divorce is biblical.
Jesus confirmed the intent of God for marriage as one man, one woman for life. Anything else is not the ideal. The problem comes in how to balance Jesus’ words in this context with His words of forgiveness in other contexts. The standard for Kingdom followers is high, but so, too, is the grace of God! In this area, a case-by-case approach is better than rigid legal rules.
This district was ruled by Herod Antipas, which may explain why the Pharisees tried to trap Him by asking a question about divorce. After all, John the Baptist had been slain because he preached against Herod’s adulterous marriage (Mark 6:14–29).
But there was more than politics involved in their trick question because divorce was a very controversial subject among the Jewish rabbis. No matter what answer Jesus gave, He would be sure to displease somebody, and this might give an opportunity to arrest Him. The verbs indicate that the Pharisees “kept asking Him,” as though they hoped to provoke Him to say something incriminating.
THREE BIGGEST ATTACKS AGAINST BIBLICAL MARRIAGE
At the time when Jesus was asked the question by the Pharisees, the difficulty in Jewish society was understanding why there could be divorce. Today’s society is more complicated than the first century. In the twenty-first century, we are dealing with the breakdown of the traditional family in a secular society. The most difficult problem for Christians today is explaining my biblical marriage should be protected and other forms of marriage should not be protected in society. If we stay silent on the issue then we implicitly are telling people that we agree with the changes in society. If we are violently vocal in our views, Christians can come across as hypocritical, insensitive, intolerant, and strangely unloving.
It will feel like the ultimate “Catch-22.” How can I defend marriage in a society that continues to question the nature of marriage? We are hearing about homosexual marriage being brought before the Supreme Court. We hear about the difficulty with chaplains defending their Christian faith in the military. We hear about “Switch Parties” in public schools and special groups who are eager to promote alternative lifestyles.
So I was watching “What Would You Do?” this week. John Quinonas had a story about a guy who is in “transition” to be a girl. He is going to a store to try on a dress. The story was about how people would react to such a situation. The father doesn’t accept it, the mother is telling the father to accept the transition. The people react. After their reaction, John comes in and asks questions about why they did what they did. Every person was accepting of the transition. There was this conversation between the father and one young guy. The young man supported the father about his conviction that this wrong. After this, the young man went to the young man in transition. The transition guy named “Lisa” said that this is who he feels he is. The young man said that if that is your answer, then go with it.
So when you deal with people who because of society and its melting of values, how do you deal with these changes in marriage in society. Let me share with you the three most important and difficult challenges we as Christians and as the church will have to address. Let’s look at it as THREE BAROMETERS of the culture.
“But Jesus told them, “He wrote this command for you because of the hardness of your hearts.” (Mark 10:5, HCSB)
The Greek word translated “hardness” is skleros—from which we get “sclerosis,” a word most often used in conjunction with a hardening of the arteries. Whenever a divorce occurs, the reason is never what people say it is. The reason is always hardness of heart.
“to write a certificate of divorce” The quote is from Deut. 24:1–4. Moses enacted a legal procedure to protect the wife (cf. Exod. 21:10–11). This legal procedure would have several requirements: (1) it took some amount of time; (2) it took a priest or Levite to write it; (3) it probably required the return of the dowry. Hopefully, these procedures would give the couple a chance to reconcile.
“Also, if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”” (Mark 10:12, HCSB)
This would have been a radical statement in the ears of the disciples. You see, nowhere in Levitical law or rabbinical thought could a woman divorce her husband. Thus, Jesus is placing woman on a level she had never before known—not only in the history of Israel, but in the history of the Roman and Grecian empires as well. Paul would go on to say that in Christ there is neither male nor female (Galatians 3:28). We have different functions and responsibilities, to be sure—but there is a wonderful equality in Christ.
“And He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. Also, if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”” (Mark 10:11–12, HCSB)
This doesn’t say the person who remarries after divorce will live in adultery, but that theirs is an act of adultery, the missing of God’s best. After a failed marriage, there can be a second opportunity—but it must be approached with great sobriety. No matter how innocent they think they might be, both parties must accept responsibility for their part in the failure. For where sin abounds, grace abounds more.
So divorce is one threat which we need to defend our marriage. It is rampant in society and is even in the Christian community. It will be hard to share our witness to the world when my past opens the door to threatening my beliefs. How do I defend that? Simply acknowledge that just like everyone, I am a sinner, who God loves. God forgives. God redeems. God recycles my pain. God uses my difficult experiences to help others who have gone through similar experiences. At the same time, God teaches me to be faithful to my spouse. I may have messed up, but God gives me a chance to show Him and the world my faithfulness to Him.
The second barometer of society and the second attack which will be used to fight against me, my marriage, and my faith is homosexuality. However, that word won’t be used today. More often than not, you will hear the word “same-sex” marriage.
Jesus spoke about “same-sex marriage” and this is what He said:
“But from the beginning of creation God made them male and female.” (Mark 10:6, HCSB)
Here is a sample paragraph taken from the Internet which shows the classic argument for homosexuality:
Scientific and medical understanding is that sexual orientation is not a choice, but rather a complex interplay of biological and environmental factors, especially with regard to early uterine environment. While there are those who still hold the view that homosexual activity is “unnatural” or “dysfunctional”, research has shown that homosexuality is an example of a normal and natural variation in human sexuality and is not in and of itself a source of negative psychological effects. Prejudice and discrimination against homosexual and bisexual people (homophobia) have, however, been shown to cause significant psychological harm, and are especially damaging to children who are homosexual or bisexual.
You see how difficult it will be to argue against homosexuality? You see how people will use science to make homosexuality acceptable? They will even use discrimination to say that our beliefs are damaging to society’s children. Our belief that homosexuality is wrong is a danger to society. So this is the challenge we face as Christians. Do you accept society’s claim about homosexuality? Do we accept the Bible’s claim? Why is the Bible claim better than society’s claim? Because it works. The reason why society’s claim doesn’t work is that it will eventually lead to society’s demise. No society which has held to the Biblical ideas has even faltered. They may have been conquered by a foreign power. However, they never decayed from the inside.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule by late June in two cases involving same-sex marriage. One is a challenge to California’s voter-approved Proposition 8 that defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The other seeks to strike down a portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that denies to legally married same-sex couples a range of benefits that generally are available to married heterosexuals.
We need to be ready as Christians to protect and defend our marriage based on biblical values and foundations, even when the legal foundations in our society change. We live in a country, when today in the United States, a recent poll has shown that 58% of people surveyed believed that same-sex couples should have the right to get married.
The values of our society are changing rapidly. The Christian values which we hold dear are being challenged in ways which were never made before. With the advent of the internet, anyone can find out for themselves without any guidance all kinds of information which can lead to all kinds of ideas. Some of these ideas are good, but many are bad. In the case of homosexuality, society says it is acceptable, but the Bible says it is wrong.
The third challenge to my marriage which I will need to defend against society is polygamy.
Jesus also spoke about polygamy. He said this:
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother [and be joined to his wife], and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” (Mark 10:7–8, HCSB)
The same difficult challenge comes with polygamy. However, with this, the Bible gives us more ground, as well as science. Polygamy was never God’s design. This was never God’s intention. You can see that when you look at the progression of the family after Genesis 2. Adam and Eve have Cain and Abel. Cain kills Abel and flees from the Lord. He goes away to the land of Nod – from the presence of the Lord.
“Then Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” (Genesis 4:16, HCSB)
We don’t know much of what happened to Cain, but obviously, he took more than one wife. Two verses and five generations later, Lamech is a polygamist.
“Lamech took two wives for himself, one named Adah and the other named Zillah.” (Genesis 4:19, HCSB)
There is no mention of God’s presence. There is no mentioning of following God’s ways. It is clear that they developed their own society apart from God. Polygamy was a result.
In this passage, Jesus said the “two” will become one flesh. Jesus did not say “three” become one flesh, or “four” become one flesh. Marriage, according to Jesus, is between two and only two people, one male and one female. Marriage is a unique relationship between two people, where God designs a special form of unity between two people.
WHAT’S THE POINT OF MY MARRIAGE AND WHY DO I NEED TO DEFEND IT?
Why do you need to defend marriage in today’s secular society? God designed marriage to point people to Christ.
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:31–32, HCSB)
Ultimately, marriage is not about two people who love each other who come together in a special relationship. It is not about having children. Ultimately, there is a redemptive and evangelistic purpose to marriage. Marriage points people to Jesus Christ. Marriage is the physical reminder of the spiritual reality. The church is the bride of Christ. We are His wife. Christ is our husband. He cares for us and guides us. My marriage is not just about my myself, wife, or my kids. My marriage is about my witness. It says something very basic to society. Do I follow Christ? Insomuch my marriage follows how God designed it, it will point people to Christ for their salvation. So defending my marriage carries eternal consequences.