A few months back my son, Lincoln, got ahold of one of my Bibles and ripped out a small section from one of the pages. When I looked at the verses he tore out, I found Mark 10:9-11 which reads:
“What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
I found it somewhat ironic that, of all the pages he could choose, he ripped out this one. The truth is, many of us would prefer to take this passage out of the Bible. If God said, “Pick one teaching to throw out” many would likely choose our Lord’s teaching on marriage, divorce, and remarriage. In fact, some have done that very thing by refusing to teach the difficult truth of this topic. Yet, if we hope to remain faithful to God’s word, we must proclaim several important truths.
Universal. Notice that Jesus says “Everyone”; that is, this command is universal in its scope—It applies to all people everywhere. While Jesus recognizes that God previously allowed men certain concessions (Mat. 19:8) this was not his initial intention. Now he commands “all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). Some may try to say that this only applies to Christians, yet Jesus universal language (everyone) and the basis for his teaching (the creation of all humanity) show that such cannot be the case. This law applies to Christian and non-Christian alike.
Twofold Action. Here is the most difficult aspect of this teaching: the twofold action of divorce and the subsequent marriage is what Jesus considers adultery. The conjunction “and” combines the actions of “divorce and marries another” and thus equals adultery. That is, the remarriage itself is an act of adultery. This a serious issue and one we must discuss, for Paul says that adulterers will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9). This is why Paul would say that if a woman is married to another man while her first husband is alive, she is considered an adulterous (Rom. 7:3). Repentance from such would demand a great sacrifice for the individual to follow Jesus: to get out of such a relationship.
Lasting consequences. In Matthew’s account, Jesus does give an exception for divorce: if unfaithfulness has occurred (Mat. 19:9). If a spouse has been sexually unfaithful (i.e. fornication) then the innocent party has a right to remarry. Yet, what about the one who has been unfaithful? Sadly, the Lord informs us there are lasting consequences for the guilty party: they are unable to remarry. Notice Jesus says that if someone “marries a divorced person” they are committing adultery. Since the exception isn’t given in this instance it seems he is speaking of the one who has been put away by their spouse legitimately (Mat. 5:32).
Our hearts break with those who find themselves in such a situation. The church must do all that it can to support those who discover they are in adulterous relationships. We must show grace, love, and mercy to them at every moment. Yet, we cannot allow our emotions to cloud the reality of the difficult truth Jesus teaches.