The Realities of Marriage - Radical

The Realities of Marriage

In a culture so riddled with shame and various opinions about divorce and marriage, how can we uncover what Scripture says about the two? In this message on Mark Chapter 10, Pastor Mike Kelsey guides Christians through the realities and responsibilities of marriage and divorce. When analyzing the institution of marriage, it is vital that Christians look honestly at what Jesus says in order to consider how we move forward with our lives. Pastor Mike Kelsey walks through the realities of marriage with such grace as he tackles the gravity of this intimate relationship, and the graciousness of God in every aspect.

  1. Obedience
  2. Scriptural Background
  3. Marriage is Beautiful
  4. Marriage is Hard
  5. Divorce is Devastating
  6. God is Still Gracious

The Realities of Marriage

All right, we’re going to be in Mark chapter 10. So go ahead and meet me in the Gospel of Mark. I want to welcome those of you who are new to our church. My name is Mike. I’m one of the pastors here, and I’m going to give a special shout out to those of you watching online and from our different locations around the DC Metro area. We’re going to be in Mark chapter 10, and we’re going to be talking about a pretty sensitive subject this morning. And so before we dive into it, I kind of want to set up our time together, and particularly so you understand kind of what I’m bringing to the table and my heart as we approach this topic.

I was hanging out with a friend of mine a couple of weeks ago, a friend that I grew up with, and he just recently had pretty severe back surgery for really severe back pain that he had been experiencing. And this is something that’s been going on since we’ve been kids. When he was really, really young, the doctors noticed some curvature in his spine, realized it was scoliosis, and the doctor just told him it’ll correct itself. And just the severity of the curvature, from what I understand, he should have been given a brace or something. And so a few years later, going into high school, ninth grade, he’s having really significant problems and he ends up having to have surgery at that point for something that really should have been, could have been corrected or in some way improved. And then fast-forward years later into his adult life, and now he’s had this just really severe surgery that not only affects his mobility for the rest of his life, but he’ll probably live with some measure of pain for the rest of his life.

Consequences of Our Actions

And we were talking just a couple of weeks ago, he and his wife, and they were just grieving what in their words was medical malpractice. And it made me think about so many medical professionals that are in our church family, people here, people that are watching, and just the weight that you carry. I mean to think about the fact that the advice that you give, the procedures that you perform really do have significant consequences.

I mean life-giving consequences in so many ways and man, God forbid, just devastating consequences in people’s lives. And the reason why I share all of that is because I feel, and so many of us that stand here and preach God’s word, we feel that kind of weight every single time we stand up here to preach God’s word to you. We feel that way. I feel that way.

Now, being a pastor is fun. I know some of y’all are like, I don’t think so, Mike, but thanks. Nice try. It is, it’s fun if you’re called to do it. It’s a huge privilege. But every young pastor has a moment, and I remember my moment specifically. You have a moment where you realize that the sermons you preach and the pastoral advice that you give actually has life altering consequences, at least for the people who listen, that there are actually people… And many of y’all know, I’ve been standing up here, right here preaching since I was like 24 years old. That was dumb, crazy, irresponsible for anybody to put me up here. But I stand up here and there are people who listen to what I say, when I point them to the truth of what’s in God’s word, and they actually make changes based on what they see in scripture. That’s real.

But that’s a weight and it’s a responsibility that we feel, and I feel that weight as we approach our passage for today and address the topic of divorce. It’s a sensitive topic, not just theoretically, but for so many of us here, so many people watching, it’s a real time sensitivity. It’s a very personal reality for us. And if you’re divorced, I want you to hang in here with me as we walk through this passage that we’re going to study because God’s desire and my desire isn’t to shame you or minimize how painful and complicated divorce can be, but I want us to look honestly at what Jesus says and then consider what that means for the way we move forward with our lives. I want to say to those of you who are here watching and you’re single, and specifically to those of y’all that are under the age of 18 years old, I know how it is, already you’re about to tune out.

You like divorce. What is that? I mean, I’m just trying to figure out what college I’m going to, what are we talking about? But it has everything to do with you because you are becoming the kind of person right now that will either contribute to a healthy marriage or you will contribute to an unhealthy marriage. And let’s just be honest, you probably going to do both. Because we’re made in the image of God, but we are all sinners and we contribute the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Reading Mark Ten

And so as we dive into Mark chapter 10, I want to encourage you, there’s a series we did a couple of years ago called Beauty and Brokenness out of First Corinthians. It is it’ll be a helpful compliment to what we’re going to talk about today because we took a whole series to talk about sex, dating, marriage, divorce, singleness, and I’d encourage you to look that series up on our website because we dive deeper and more comprehensively into some of the things we’re going to be talking about this morning. Actually we made it very easy for, you can go to, and the whole series is right there.

Now, we’re in a section of Mark’s gospel that has some tough passages in it. If last week was your first week, I’m sorry. Because last week we talked about sin and hell. Today we’re covering divorce. In a few weeks we’re going to talk about wealth and greed and materialism. And there’s a reason why Jesus’s teachings seem to be getting a little more intense in this section because Jesus, as we’re following the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is slowly making his way to Jerusalem where he’s eventually going to be crucified. And not only has he been telling the disciples that he’s getting ready to suffer, he’s also been preparing the disciples and trying to help them understand that following him will require that they also be willing to suffer.

And sometimes that suffering includes the pain of persecution, but other times that suffering includes what I’ll call the pain of obedience. It’s the pain of obeying God when every fiber of your being wants to go your own way.

And there’s a lot of people who pick and choose what they’re willing to believe and obey from the Bible, even professing Christians. And our position as a church is that that doesn’t make any sense. That makes no sense. Why worship a God whose wisdom is inferior to ours? Why follow Jesus if there are times or topics when in reality we expect him to follow us? Where we say to him, it’s 2023, Jesus. Times have changed. So I’ll take it from here. Why follow and worship that God? No, if Jesus is who he claimed to be, and if he truly rose from the dead like he promised he would, then the only appropriate response is 100% submission to his perspective on everything in life. Everything.

And listen, none of us will do that perfectly. If you’re new to church, that’s not why people are clapping because they like, I’m killing it. No, none of us will do that perfectly. But as followers of Jesus with God’s help and each other’s support, we should be striving for that sincerely. So I want us to pause and pray and let’s ask for God’s help as we hear his word. Let’s pray. Father, we want to pause and we want to pray. We want to humble ourselves under your word. And Father, I pray that you would not only speak to our hearts, but that you would work in our hearts by the power of your Holy Spirit. We pray all these things and if you agree, say amen. Amen

All right, Mark chapter 10 verse one, Jesus has been ministering up in Northern Israel in a region called Galilee. And verse one, we’ll pick it up from there, it says, and he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again and again as was his custom, he taught them. And Pharisees came up and in order to test him, asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” That’s what the rest of this passage is going to be about. Is it lawful? Is it okay for a man to divorce his wife?

Now, if you’re new to the Bible, the Pharisees were the religious leaders of the day. They were the popular teachers of the law in first century Israel and the Pharisees are trying to get Jesus to say something that they could use against him. Like, come on. Some of y’all know, especially in an increasingly hostile culture, especially when people be talking crazy on social media, that there’s a difference between a sincere question and a setup. Politicians know that very well. And so most likely they’re trying to get Jesus in trouble with King Herod. You got to remember, Jesus has left the region of Galilee and now he’s teaching in King Herod’s territory. And if you know the Bible at all, you know King Herod was well known for having divorced his wife in order to marry his brother’s sister.

And earlier when John the Baptist spoke out against it, Herod had him arrested and eventually beheaded. And now here’s Jesus in the same region being publicly questioned about his views on divorce. Pharisees got their phones out. TMZ is ready. They like we got him. Today is the day. Verse three. Jesus answered them and said, “What did Moses command you?” And that question is also a setup as we’ll see. And they said, “Well, Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.”

Now, let me give you a little bit of background so you understand what’s going on here. The Pharisees are referring to a passage in Deuteronomy chapter 24, where Moses gives some instructions on divorce, and we won’t turn there, but let me give you a summary. Moses said two things. You can read this on your own, Deuteronomy 24, verses one to four. Moses said, “If a man divorces his wife, he has to give her a certificate of divorce that gave her the legal freedom to remarry.” Second thing he said was, “If a man divorces his wife and then she marries somebody else, and then at some point in the future that new husband either dies or he divorces her, then Moses said the original husband cannot just pick things back up and remarry her.” Moses prohibited those things.

Now, let me just clarify off the top. Moses was regulating not recommending divorce. What was happening is men in the Israeli community were divorcing their wives in flippant and irresponsible ways. This was widespread. And so Moses is laying down some regulations that would number one, force men to take divorce seriously. Remember in that culture, men had all of the social power in that culture. So number one, he puts these things in place to force men to take divorce seriously. And number two, to offer some protections for women who were completely vulnerable and dependent on their husbands. And yet, by the time of Jesus, people had distorted Moses’ instructions in Deuteronomy 24. And that passage in the first century had become the source of major cultural debate.

And there were two schools of thought based on different interpretations of that passage. You had one school of thought that argue that divorce was possible, or man could divorce his wife under one condition, if she was unfaithful to their marriage. Now, that didn’t usually work both ways. This just gave men permission in one situation to divorce their wives if she was unfaithful. That was one school of thought. The second school of thought argued that a man could divorce his wife for any reason at all. If there was anything he didn’t like about her, he had legal and moral permission to send her away.

Now, let me explain because I can already feel your eyes rolling. I can feel your neck move. I can feel all of that. What you mean send her away, number one? And if he just doesn’t like something about her… Let me read you one ancient writing literally gave men permission to divorce their wife. This is a quote, “If she spoiled a diss for him.” So needless to say, divorce was a common practice that not only diminished the sacredness of marriage, but disenfranchised women in the process, and the religious leaders of the day were twisting Moses’ instructions in order to justify it.

Jesus Responding to the Old Testament

And so look at how Jesus responds. Verse five, Jesus said to them, “It was because of your hardness of heart that Moses wrote you that commandment.” It wasn’t Moses’ desire, it wasn’t his recommendation. It was because your heart was so hard, because you refused to listen to God’s word. You refused to actually care for and love and provide for your wife. It was because of your hardness of heart that Moses put those safeguards in place.

And then let me summarize what Jesus is about to say moving forward from verse six. Here’s what he’s about to say, and this is where it becomes so practical for us. He’s saying, “How do you make a decision about whether to get divorced?” Don’t start with your desires for marriage. Don’t start with the difficulties of marriage. Jesus says, “Start with God’s design for marriage.”

And that’s exactly what Jesus does. He takes us back to the very beginning and he quotes from Genesis one and two. In verse six he quotes from Genesis one, verse 27. Verse six, he says, “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.” Now, pause there for a minute. What Jesus is saying is marriage… He’s saying, male and female are the fundamental building blocks of marriage from God’s perspective. Jesus is saying marriage by definition and design requires sexual difference. And then in verse seven, he quotes from Genesis 2:24. Verse seven he says… This is a direct quote.

He says, “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife.” Meaning that the marriage relationship now takes precedence over every other relationship, including your family of origin, including your frat brothers, including your friends at work, including first take, including the Super Bowl. Although we’re all going to compromise together today, we’re going to watch, unless my wife doesn’t want to, and I’m going to lay down my life for her.

She just says, “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife.” Verse eight, “And the two shall become one flesh, so they are no longer two but one flesh.” And here’s the key principle, verse nine. Jesus says, “what therefore…” In other words, based on God’s intended design, based on this theology of marriage, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Here’s Jesus’s answer to the Pharisees question.

What God has joined together, let not man separate. And in verse 10, in the house, the disciples asked Jesus again about this matter. So this is challenging for the disciples because they’re having multiple conversations about it. And Jesus, verse 11 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.”

Jesus Discussing Divorce

This is Jesus’ answer to the question that the Pharisees asked. Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? And Jesus actually broadens that to include men and women, and he answers the question, is it lawful? Is it okay for a person to divorce their spouse? Period. And Jesus says to answer that question, you don’t look to your desires or to the difficulties. You look to God’s design. And by God’s design, marriage is this permanent union. And so what is God saying to us from this passage about marriage and divorce? But here’s what I want us to do. I want us to reflect on four realities about marriage and divorce from this passage, and then I want us to leave some room to reflect on what all that means for us in the particular season or situation we’re in personally.

Marriage is Beautiful

Here’s reality number one that we see from this passage. Marriage is beautiful. It’s beautiful. Look again at what Jesus said about marriage in verse six. He said, “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast, cleave to become united with his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Jesus here is doubling down on the nature of marriage that God revealed from the beginning, and here it is in summary.

According to God, marriage is the lifelong covenant relationship between one man and one woman. It’s the lifelong covenant relationship between one man and one woman.

And here’s the thing that we see in the text and in the teaching of scripture that when two people get married, when you get married, the two of you do something and then God does something to the two of you. And here’s what I mean. The two of you make a covenant commitment to each other expressed in public vows.

That’s why whenever I officiate a wedding at some point, I always say to the couple, your presence today is a testimony to the fact that you love each other. But when a man and a woman stand before God in a wedding ceremony, it is not simply a sentimental expression of current love. It is a covenant pledge of future love. You are standing here today not simply to say I love you, but to say I will love you.

That’s what you’re saying in front of witnesses and before God, you are saying, I am making a promise, a covenant. I am making a vow to you today that I will love you tomorrow and the next day and the next day. I will love you in sickness and in health, for richer or for poor. I will love you till death do us part. I’m making a commitment today. Do I know what’s going to happen tomorrow? No. But what I do know is that I’m going to love you, that I’m going to show up and I’m going to honor these vows to you before God and I’m going to love you. That’s what we do when we get married.

But then here’s what’s so profound that God ratifies that covenant in heaven and fuses your lives together under his divine blessing. And the Bible calls this becoming one flesh. And that one flesh union is symbolized and celebrated and strengthened in sexual romance literally anatomically and biologically. It’s the two halves of humanity, male and female, beautifully created with complimentary parts. I won’t go farther than that. Uniting their bodies together as a way of saying, I give you all of me.

As Tim Keller says, “It’s this covenant renewal ceremony.” That’s what sexual romance is. It is me saying again what I said on that day we exchanged vows. I am making a decision to give you all of me in the most vulnerable way. And this is why sex is reserved for marriage, because sex was created for marriage. It was designed to be an expression of a lifelong covenant relationship with God. You were not designed to give yourself to someone physically and yet not give yourself to them emotionally and financially and socially and in every other way. It is designed as a whole life union. And the sexual relationship is an expression that celebrates and deepens and strengthens that union. It’s a covenant relationship and that covenant relationship is designed as Paul explains in Ephesians five to showcase the profound wonder and beauty of God’s covenant love for his people.

Marriage Reveals the Beauty of God’s Eternal Love

Marriage is beautiful, not just because of the everyday beauty of human love, but because of the beauty it reveals about God’s eternal love. Reality number one, marriage is beautiful, but reality number two, marriage is hard. We know that from our own experience and observation, but the disciples seemed to understand that as well. You go back to Mark chapter 10, verse 10, and after Jesus said, “What God has joined together, let not man separate.” Mark writes this, “That in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter.” And when you read Matthew’s account, it’s clear that the disciples are struggling with what Jesus is saying because Matthew, which is common for Matthew, he actually includes more of the details. Matthew chapter 19, verse 10, Matthew records, the disciple said to Jesus, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it’s better not to marry.”

In other words, they’re saying, wait, but what if I get stuck in a marriage that I don’t want to be in anymore? You’re telling me I have to stay in it, and if I don’t, I’m in sin, then I might as well just stay single.

And some married people are like [inaudible 00:24:43]. We’re going to get to that. They’re acknowledging the reality that marriage is hard, and the idea of permanent marriage often seems impossible. I remember me and my wife, I can’t remember if we were dating or if we were engaged, but we were at an event on dating and marriage and all this stuff. And I remember there was an older couple on this panel, and I vividly remember the guy say… I think he was like 75 or he might not have been 75, but just in my mind, I’m just hyping it. You know what I mean? But I think he was… They had been married a long time though, I do know that. And I’ll vividly remember him saying, there has never been a single day of our marriage where I didn’t want to come home. I remember hearing that, it was imprinted on my brain.

And I remember thinking, I want to be sitting on a panel in my 70s saying that. Fast-forward a few years later, I’m working full-time, working on my Master’s Degree. My wife is working full-time. We got a young baby. She’s feeling overwhelmed, alone and frustrated with me. I’m feeling overwhelmed, annoyed, frustrated with her. And I remember coming home after work, sitting in the car outside of our house because that’s the classic millennial parenting move. You pull up to the house and you just wait, and you just take your phone out in the car. You just enjoy those last moments of freedom before you climb back into the house. It’s just what we do.

And I remember sitting in the car outside my house, and I remember that older man’s words coming to my mind and thinking to myself, I can’t say that because I don’t want to go inside right now. We’re just overwhelmed, frustrated with each other. It did not feel like it felt when everything was all butterfly and all that type. No, it didn’t feel like that in that moment.

Marriage is Hard

You see, there’s the idea of marriage. It’s beautiful and profound and we love each other and sacrifice for each other. But the reality is marriage is hard. There’s communication challenges, sexual challenges. Can we be real? Sexual challenges that we don’t talk about in church circles. It’s financial challenges and pressures, parenting challenges, challenges with extended family, unmet expectations. And I don’t remember where I read this. It was probably in Psalm or Solomon somewhere, but I think that’s the exclusive purpose of Valentine’s Day, is to unnecessarily produce unmet expectations. And it’s already happened, and it’s not even Valentine’s Day yet. Stayed up all night reading through Yelp, made a reservation and didn’t tell my wife. And her response was, oh, that’s where you want to go? Noted. Outback it is.

And then there’s things like tragedy and grief, on the one hand, it’s helpful and beautiful to be able to walk through that with your spouse, to have someone to sit with and cry with. But on the other hand, that grief can actually put strain on a marriage because it actually changes your personality, at least for a season. You’re not as joyful and as energetic as you would normally be. They’re not as fun and attentive as they used to be. And there’s this cloud of heaviness hanging over your marriage. I think about couples who have lost a child. I think about chronic disease. I think about so many parents in our church family who have the joy and the privilege of parenting children with special needs and disabilities.

In fact, last night partnering with the Tebow Foundation, we hosted a night to shine for this… Kind of prom. Yeah, give it up. This kind of prom for people with special needs. Beautiful, beautiful event, and yet parenting kids or young adults or caring for parents who have special needs and disabilities, it’s hard and it can put pressure on a marriage. And all of that stuff I’ve mentioned is external.

Those are the circumstances and challenges that put pressure on marriage from the outside. But what about the challenges that come from your own heart? The ways you sin against each other because of your own selfishness and resistance toward God? Or the deep brokenness and dysfunction that gets aimed at your spouse even though they aren’t the ones that caused it? External challenges, internal challenges. And we haven’t even mentioned the spiritual challenges that God designed marriage so Satan attacks marriage.

And so we live in a fallen world. We have sinful, broken hearts, and we’re facing spiritual forces of evil that are constantly trying to wear us down and pull us apart. And the combination of all of those challenges and pressures makes marriage hard and sometimes unbearably hard, and that’s where some of you are.

And so we might not give up on marriage, but we’re often tempted to give up on our marriage, which leads us to reality number three, that divorce is devastating. You think back for a minute to what Jesus said about God’s design for marriage. That when you get married, you aren’t just entering into a legal contract, you’re entering into a covenant relationship that is sealed by God himself. That’s why Jesus says in verse nine, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” And so when you do separate, when you do sever that bond that God has sealed, has devastating effects.

Divorce Is Devastating

Divorce is devastating relationally, even for couples who have grown to hate each other, divorce still takes an emotional toll as you sever the marriage, pull your lives apart and find a new normal. So it’s obviously devastating to the marriage itself, but for those who have children, it’s even more devastating to them. Listen, some of y’all still haven’t healed from your parents divorce, and now even well into your adult life, you still carry the pain and the anger and the sense of disorientation and instability and insecurity that you felt when they first split.

Divorce is devastating relationally for the couple, for the kids, for extended family and friends. But divorce is also devastating practically.

Financial implications, custody agreements, childcare arrangements, asset allocation. Devastating, practically, devastating culturally. As we see right now in the western world, we see the breakdown of the family and the ripple effect of that in our society. Divorce can be and has proven to be devastating in so many ways. But in Mark 10, Jesus focuses on the fact that divorce is ultimately devastating spiritually. That’s what Jesus says in Mark 10 verse 11. This is where he takes things up a notch, even more serious than the other two schools of thought. 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.”

Now, we’re going to talk about some exceptions in a minute before we close, but before we jump to nuance Jesus’ teaching or try to balance it out, let’s just sit with what he says for a minute because we need to feel the weight and seriousness of Jesus’ words here. He’s saying, do you want to know how God views divorce? He views marriage as so sacred and divorce as so sinful that a divorced person who gets remarried is guilty of adultery. That’s not my interpretation. That is literally what Jesus just said in Mark chapter 10.

Now this is intense. But I want you to just think about this with me for a minute. I mentioned I have young kids, and when they were really young, we typically had them eat and use plastic cups and plates. Every once in a while marriage is overwhelming. And so all that stuff would be dirty. And so we would risk our lives and actually give them real glassware. And I can remember times where one of my kids was on the way walking to the sink and their hand would slip or they would trip over something.

And I don’t know why when glassware is falling, it always happens in slow motion, but I’ll be diving toward it saying, no, trying to save our lives. It’s a strong reaction, not just because dropping glassware is terrible, but because the glassware itself is so valuable. Now, let’s be honest, we not talking… It wasn’t like it was antique China or nothing like that. It was Ikea. But when you’re on a budget, all glassware matters. Here’s my point. Jesus speaks so strongly against divorce because he feels so strongly about marriage.

And we can get to the point where our marriage doesn’t feel that valuable to us anymore. But listen, you got to understand this, especially if you’re in a marriage where you’re struggling, we can get to the point where our marriage doesn’t feel that valuable to us anymore, but our marriage is still valuable and precious to God. Those vows we made, that covenant bond that he sealed, it still matters to him, and he still has plans for our marriage even in the midst of our challenges.

Is It Ever Okay to Get a Divorce?

Now, all of that raises two questions, which I’m sure you’re already processing. And the first question is, is it ever okay to get a divorce? Well, first of all, let me say that God’s heart is always repentance and reconciliation. And I think that’s important to emphasize. That’s his desire in our relationship with him and his desire in our relationship with other people. And here’s the thing, we tend to sing as Christians. I’m talking to Christians now. We tend to sing about and be so overwhelmed by just how radical God’s persevering love and forgiveness and mercy is toward us. And yet when people disappoint us or sin against us, we struggle to imagine that God will be calling us to show that kind of radical persevering love and mercy and forgiveness toward them. God’s heart is always for repentance and reconciliation, and yet God is not naive, and he’s not cruel. He’s not.

He knows that we live in a fallen world where sometimes marriages don’t work out. And so while he designed marriage to be a lifelong commitment, he also allows divorce and remarriage in two situations. And I should add here that there are faithful believers and Bible teachers that would disagree on this. And I don’t have time to explain all the nuances of the debate, but let me share with you the position that our elders have landed on here at NBC. God allows divorce in cases of adultery and abandonment. Adultery, you see that in Matthew 19 where Matthew records the same situation but adds in more of the details. And in that, Jesus says in verse nine that, “Whoever divorces his wife except for sexual immorality and marries another commits adultery.” So Jesus says it is permissible to divorce a spouse who has committed adultery against the marriage. And the reason is because unlike other sins within marriage, adultery undermines the marriage bond itself.

And so God gives freedom to the offended spouse in that situation. Now, he never says it’s required or inevitable. In fact, I’m so thankful for the couples in our church who have seen God heal and restore their marriage after walking through the pain of adultery. But sometimes the trust has been so shattered and the heart so hardened that the offended spouse decides enough is enough, and God gives freedom in that situation. So adultery and then abandonment. The Apostle Paul addresses that in first Corinthians seven and says, if you’re a Christian who’s married to a non-Christian, you should love them, pray for them, model God’s grace toward them. But if they for some reason decide to pursue a divorce, it’s better to honor their request than to fight against them.

And so is it ever okay to get a divorce? Based on our interpretation of scripture? We would say yes under two circumstances, but only as a last resort when repentance and reconciliation is just not realistic. And to be honest, y’all, that process of repentance and reconciliation might take a long time. In fact, one of my favorite weddings that I got to officiate was on a weekday, literally in my office, and it was a couple who threw so much dysfunction and sin had ended up getting a divorce. They were divorced for a couple of years, and then God did a miraculous work in their hearts and brought them back together, and they asked me to remarry them. Repentance and reconciliation may take a long time.

But I know sometimes that’s not realistic and sometimes it doesn’t happen. Now you might say, okay, well that’s a nice story about them remarrying each other, but after a divorce, is it ever okay to remarry somebody else? And here’s a summary of what the Bible teaches on that. And again, there are faithful believers and Bible teachers who would disagree with us on this, but our position is this, that if a person had biblical grounds for divorce, then they also have biblical grounds to get married again. But if a person did not have biblical grounds for divorce, they do not have biblical grounds to get married again.

I mentioned we went into all this in much more detail in that series I referred you to, Beauty and Brokenness on our website. I encourage you to jump into that if you want to unpack more of those details. But God allows divorce and remarriage and cases of adultery and abandonment. But some of you might say, but what about abuse? Well, the Bible doesn’t address divorce and abuse directly, and I don’t have time to fully address this theologically, but let me just say this, abuse is injustice.

God’s Response to Injustice

And the Bible has a lot to say about how God feels and how he responds to injustice, and he gives very clear principles and commands for how his people should work to protect victims of injustice. So let me just say a couple of just quick practical things here. If you’re a victim of domestic abuse, then you should tell one or two people you can trust and you should seek physical safety, even if that needs to include some form of legal protection. Don’t let anybody distort scripture in a way that makes you feel like you have to stay in a situation where you or your children are constantly in physical danger.

You need to tell a couple of people that you can trust, and if possible, you need to seek safety, physical safety, and if necessary, legal protection.

If you are or your spouse is a member of our church, then you should contact one of our church leaders as soon as possible. Our security staff will connect you with the appropriate authorities and resources to make sure you’re safe. And our pastors will come alongside you to offer support and guidance from God’s word, and that guidance will often include some form of physical separation while we work with you on next steps. If the abusive spouse is a member of our church, then our pastors will pursue a process of care, accountability, and if necessary church discipline with them. And if that person is unresponsive or unwilling to make clear consistent changes, then our pastors along with our elders will help the abused spouse navigate what that means for the future of their marriage. But hear me, we will not just leave you alone in an abusive marriage. Amen.

And so let me summarize what we’ve covered so far. Number one, marriage is beautiful. God designed it for his glory and our good. And yet we’re sinful people in a fallen world and so the reality is number two, marriage is hard and sometimes harder than we feel like we can or should have to handle. But number three, divorce is devastating in so many ways and for so many reasons, but primarily because it violates God’s design for marriage except in a few specific situations mentioned in scripture. Now, I want to pause here before we land on this fourth reality that we’re just going to wrap up with because I just want to say a couple of things to you in your particular season or situation where you are personally, and I’ll just hit these quickly as we wrap up.

There is Hope for Your Marriage

To those of you who are in a difficult season of marriage, which in my pastoral experience is a lot of you. The first thing I want to say is that there’s hope. I know you don’t feel it. It’s hard to see it. It’s difficult to believe it. There’s hope. Here’s what I see oftentimes. Oftentimes I meet with couples who think that just because it feels too hard, it must not be God’s will or they feel like God would never call me to stay in a situation that’s making me unhappy. And here’s the only question I would ask you, particularly if you’re a Christian, where do you see that in the Bible? Just where do you see that in the Bible? Where do you see in the Bible that if it’s too hard, it must not be God’s will or God would never call me to stay in a situation that makes me unhappy? Where do we see that in the Bible? We don’t see that in the Bible.

In fact, this section is in a broader section in the Gospel of Mark on discipleship where Jesus is preparing his disciples that there are going to be times where you experience the pain of obedience, the suffering that’s involved in just humbling yourself and submitting yourself to God’s will and God’s design. And God’s promise is not that he will always take you out of an unhappy or difficult situation, but his promise is that he will always be with you in a difficult or painful situation and he will strengthen you, and he has the ability to give you the joy that you need and the power that you need to be Christ-like in that situation. In fact, one of my favorite verses of scripture, second Corinthians 16:9 says, “The eyes of the Lord roam back and forth throughout the whole earth seeking to strengthen those whose hearts are fully devoted to him.”

God will never leave you nor forsake you. And if he’s calling you to endure and to serve and to stay in that marriage, we’re not talking about the exceptions that we’ve already been discussing. But if he’s calling you to do that, he will give you what you need to do it, but you’re going to have to be honest and you’re going to have to stop putting on the mask. I’m talking very specifically to married couples, but more specifically to us men. Now we’re going to have to stop just faking it to make it and act like everything is okay. We’re going to have to be honest, and we’re going to have to get help.

Support Your Married Friends

To those of you with married friends, we need your support. We need your support. We need you to ask us specific questions about our marriages and then listen long enough for us to give you a real answer. And we need you to support us. To those of you who want to get married, those of you in our congregation are watching who are single, or I’m thinking of those of you who are attracted to the same sex, and you wonder, what does this all mean for me? And I want that beautiful picture of covenant lifelong relationship, but I want to be faithful to God’s word. If you want to be married, let me just say… So clear throughout scripture, and we’ve covered this before, marriage is not necessary in order to live a happy, fulfilled life.

The Bible is so… Jesus was single, and singleness is and can be a gift when we understand it, and we use it in ways that glorify God. But if you want to get married, listen, you need to be preparing not just to meet the right person, but to become the right person. Because listen, good marriages aren’t primarily built on good chemistry. Good marriages are primarily built on Godly character. So your number one priority needs to be cultivating Godly character in community with other people. And I’m talking about real community, real community that tests and helps you build relational endurance. I’m talking about being in relationships with people who frustrates you, who inconvenience you, who annoy you, staying in those friendships and family relationships and church family relationships long enough for someone to actually hurt you and for you to persevere in the kind of love that God has shown towards you. And listen to me.

Some of you, your friend hurt you and you cut them off and your family annoys you, and so you avoid them. And listen to me, you are practicing habits that will sabotage your future marriage.

You need to be in community with people and stick around and endure in that community in ways that build your character and your relational endurance. And if you’re dating and considering marriage, then you need to prepare well. Not just premarital counseling. I’m actually encouraging you to get pre-engagement counseling. The way I describe it is premarital counseling is training for the marathon. Pre-engagement counseling is getting a physical to figure out if you should run the marathon to begin with. You need to find an older couple, a Godly couple that you trust that loves and knows God’s word, and let them ask you some hard questions. And let them press into your dating relationship before you already make the decision and plan the date, and send out the invitations, and put down a deposit, and have all this pressure. You need to prepare well. Take our preparing for marriage course, talk to one of our pastors or leaders in our church.

For Those Who are Divorced

And then to those of you who are divorced, here’s where I want to just land on reality. Number four, and this is true for all of us. Marriage is beautiful. It’s hard. Divorce is devastating, but listen, but God is still gracious. God is still gracious. And that’s the last thing I want you to hear from me before we end this time, that God is still gracious. He is full of compassion and steadfast love. And we’ve already talked about how the covenant relationship that we have in marriage is designed to point to the covenant relationship that God has made possible for us through Jesus. And here’s the thing, his covenant relationship is not dependent on ours.

And his covenant relationship doesn’t fail just because our covenant relationship fails. So listen to me. Your divorce is not your identity. If you are in Christ, you are a beloved son, a daughter of God. You are a part of the bride of Christ and a full member of the body of Christ. And God is gracious and he has the ability to redeem even the worst situations, even the deepest, most offensive sin. He can separate your sin as far as the east is from the west, not just because you’re trying harder, but because he sent his Son to live the perfectly righteous life that you and I couldn’t.

To perfectly fulfill his covenant relationship with God the Father, in ways that we have not. And he died on the cross in our place in order to secure this new covenant with his blood, and he rose from the grave so that we could have new life in the power of the Holy Spirit, to comfort us and strengthen us and change us from the inside out and empower us to be the Christ-like spouse or just the Christ-like person that he designed for us to be.

It Is Never Too Late

And so it is never too late. It might be complicated. There may need to be counseling conversations and pastoral conversations, but it is never too late to make a U-turn in your relationship with God, to turn from your sin, to repent, to put your trust in Jesus and to say, God, I am willing to do whatever you call me to do. If it’s to pursue reconciliation, if it’s forgiveness, if that’s not possible, if it’s just to move forward in life based on the principles that you’ve revealed in your word, God, with your help, I am willing to fully surrender to 100% of what you reveal about your perspective on every area of my life. And if you don’t have that kind of covenant relationship with God, then my prayer for you is that you would experience that today, that you would turn from your sin and you would put your trust in Jesus, and you would come to experience the eternal love that God is waiting, waiting, waiting for you to experience.

Let me pray for us. Father, we thank you for your word, and we thank you for your grace. And God, we pray, Lord, for those who are married, the beauty and the brokenness of all of our marriages, that you would meet us in those places and you would strengthen us God, and that you would write a beautiful story that would bring you glory and bring us joy. God, for those who have been divorced, I pray, Lord God, that you would comfort them and give them peace through the forgiveness received because of Jesus Lord, I pray God that you would God bring them an awareness of your love that gives them a clean slate before you.

Father, I pray for those who desire to be married. I pray God that you would comfort them and give them wisdom and contentment and joy in their singleness and those who are afraid to get married because of the brokenness that they’ve seen or experienced. Lord, I pray that you would renew their hope, in your power, in your desire, and I pray for all of us, God, that you would make us more like Jesus as we seek to follow him. We pray all this in Jesus name. Amen.

Mike Kelsey is Lead Pastor of Preaching and Culture at McLean Bible Church in metro Washington, D.C., where ​he has been a pastor for over 13 years. In his role, Mike leads MBC to engage in current cultural issues in order to reach new and emerging generations as well as people disconnected from and disenfranchised by the church. Mike and his wife Ashley live in the D.C. metro area with their three children.


That means that the people with the most urgent spiritual and physical needs on the planet are receiving the least amount of support. Together we can change that!