Let Man Not Separate
Key Verse 10:9
“Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”
Last week we talked about influence, how Jesus helped his disciples to be of good influence on the world. Bad influence is so easily accomplished. Just give in to your sinful desires and act on them as you live your life. Complain about everything. Criticize others. Do things that you know you should not do. Live and act as everyone else does— as the world does. Live by your feelings and follow your heart. I guarantee you that you will spread bad influence wherever you are. Let others know that you are a Christian while you are doing all this, and your influence will have the stink of hypocrisy. Defend yourself when someone points out that your words and actions are not godly, and your influence will have the stink of self righteousness. That’s bad influence. And its not so hard to spread around. But good influence. Now, that’s hard. It’s hard because you need to take the teachings of the Lord to heart, and you need to implement them at any cost. Sometimes it will cost you the respect of your friends. Sometimes it will cost you to hurt your pride in the process of doing what you know is good and right in God’s eyes. Good influence is when you deny your own will and submit yourself to the will of God. Good influence is when you give up your own worldly hopes and dreams and taking up God’s hopes for you. Good influence is when you know how much the Lord loved you and you try to reflect that love on to others, especially those you cannot love. Good influence is when you choose to serve rather than to be served, when you choose to give when you would rather take. Good influence is when you humble yourself, just because the Lord wills it. When you forgive without end just because the Lord tells you to. Good influence is when you choose to reconcile with those who hurt you when your heart is telling you to turn your back to them. Good influence is when you greet your brother with a cheerful face when you are actually hurting on the inside. You do that because its what the Lord wants you to do. Good influence belongs to those whose hearts belong to the Lord. And there is no greater influence than those who live by faith and whose purpose in life is to preach the gospel and to expand the kingdom of God. Jesus taught his disciples and us many things, so that we might know how to be men and women of good influence in our lives.
Read verse 1. “Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.” It seems that wherever Jesus went, he was always teaching. Jesus valued one thing above all else in serving people. He valued the word of God and he taught it. What might he have taught them? He taught them the word of God— the Bible. He taught them the gospel. He taught us to put our faith in God. He taught us to put our hopes in the kingdom of God. He taught us to humble ourselves before God, repent of our sins, and to ask for God’s forgiveness and mercy. Contrary to what some may think, Jesus really did not teach them what to do and what not to do (do this and don’t do that). He rather taught them who to be and who not to be (be this and don’t be that). He taught us to be humble and not to be proud. He taught us to be giving and not to be selfish. He taught us who God is and who God is not. He taught them and us that God will judge sin but he will be merciful to the repentant sinner. He taught them and us that God is righteous, but that he gave his Son to secure righteousness for us who are weak and helpless before the power of sin. Jesus taught them that God is not legalistic, that he is more concerned with their souls than with their religious activities. What Jesus taught them opened their eyes to see God in all his glory. They had never known God because those who represented God to them were corrupt themselves and far from understanding who God is. So Jesus introduced God to them and to us. He inspired them with his teachings. He ignited life in their hearts through what he taught them. Jesus “taught them” wondrous things.
Judging from the Pharisees inquiry in the following passage, Jesus may have well been teaching them about the influence of marriage— about relationships between men and women— relationships between husbands and wives— about the importance of prayer in the home in order to keep a healthy family together. He may have been teaching them about the importance of wives respecting their husbands in the Lord, and of husbands loving their wives in the Lord. He may have been teaching them not to blame each other for things that may go wrong in the family, but to take the blame themselves, because one of the best ways to keep a family healthy spiritually, is to take full responsibility for all that happens within a home. Jesus may have been teaching them to set a good example of healthy godly living for the children who respond to the Lord according to what they witness in the home. Jesus may have been teaching them about the role of a wife and a husband in the family— that their roles can only be solidified and blessed if they bring their problems to God in prayer— if they are willing to forgive each other— if they are willing to sacrifice for one another. Jesus may have been teaching husbands and wives that their influence on their children, on their community, on their society, on the world— is great! Jesus may have been teaching how important it is for a husband and wife to be and to remain faithful to each other in the Lord. Perhaps at this, someone took the opportunity and spoke up. It was not a genuine question, but rather a question aimed at trapping Jesus in his own words.
Read 10:2-5. “Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ ‘What did Moses command you?’ he replied. They said, ‘Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.’ ‘It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,’ Jesus replied.” These Pharisees’ influence was so bad. They were like snakes in the grass poisoning everyone’s hearts with their venom. And the venom was the venom of their hypocrisy and self righteousness. Here’s how their venom poisoned the world around them. They knew the law of God— the Bible— so well that they could easily manipulate it to serve their own purposes. Here’s an example! A law was given them by Moses in regards to the divorce. There are many other laws of course to consider, to think on, to meditate on, to digest, to practice and to keep. But of all the laws they could have asked about, they liked to keep this particular law of divorce. Of course, not many of them used this law. But it was a handy law to keep just in case divorce became necessary to them. Its interesting that they asked Jesus what he thought about it.
They were not so different from some shrewd Christians who obsessively engage in teachings on social issues and end times theologies, yet at the same time avoid teachings about sacrifice and commitment, about repentance and purity of heart and self denial and such. Jesus knew this kind of people well. He knew that they had no problem to divorce their wives, simply because they had or could find a law in the Bible that supports it. Jesus understood that a person like this who uses the Bible for his own purpose, usually had no problem to manipulate and threaten his wife to submit to him for fear of this law of divorce. Jesus grieved that a wife in this situation became no more than an object with servant status to this kind of man— instead of being a holy instrument in God’s hand. Jesus also understood this kind of man— the kind of man who holds this divorce law very close to his heart; Jesus understood that this man’s heart is set on adultery. So he is quick to find fault in his wife so that he can divorce her for another woman. This kind of man, even if he were outwardly religious, is usually comfortable holding on to the law of divorce, while he is clever to avoid God’s word— which clearly says: “I hate divorce” says the Lord. (Mal 2:16) (Malachi 2:16)
So Jesus explained why God had given them such a law of divorce in the first place. And God always has a good reason for giving us laws. Because, as Jesus said, they were hard-hearted. What does that mean? It means that they were un-forgiving. They were the kind of person who couldn’t forgive— and who easily held on to grudges. They were not kind or gentle with their wives. They weren’t loving towards their wives. Instead they were as hard towards their wives as a master was with his slave. For this reason, God gave them laws which made divorce not easier, but more difficult. The law of divorce was a tedious process, and only very few— those with the hardest of hearts— were willing to pursue. Sometimes anger and hatred can drive a person to pursue something that he or she otherwise would not pursue. But God’s law— in its difficulty— was designed to help them curb their hard hearts. At the same time, the law was designed to help protect a wife from becoming abandoned and destitute.
But this law of divorce did not curb their hard hearts. When the heart is set on adultery— on enjoying the pleasures of the flesh— no law can curb such a heart. The worst part is that they didn’t understand the heart of God through the law of divorce. And when they did not understand God’s heart, they turned around and began to use the law to justify their actions. They were the religious leaders of the land. They were supposed to be of good influence to those around them. They should shine the law and the heart of God on others so that everyone can be inspired and blessed by their actions. But their hearts were not set on God, but on doing what they wanted to do, to enjoy their lives even if it meant using the word of God to justify what their sinful hearts wanted to do. In that sense they were the source of bad influence! Their bad influence was so terrible that it justified divorce— as well as encouraged adulterous thoughts and activity. They were like those today whose hearts are hardened by their own desires. They say God is love, and justify pursuing unholy pleasures.
They wanted trap Jesus into saying something— against the Bible law of divorce. But Jesus didn’t. Jesus saw that these people did not know God. They did not know the word of God. They were experts in the Bible— they could recite verses— and appear as knowledgeable and holy. But they really did not know the heart of God, nor what’s on his heart. They had no idea about the meaning and purpose of marriage. They thought marriage was for them to enjoy for a time, and when they were tired of one woman, to enjoy another— legally!
It’s interesting how Jesus helped them. Amazingly, Jesus gave them a very basic Bible study from Genesis. Read verses 6-9. “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. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” He taught them the truth of God— the absolute and unchanging truth of God. Here is what Jesus taught them! When God instituted marriage (and it was God who instituted it not man), he made the institution of marriage— holy (meaning it belonged to God and was for God’s sole purpose— to honor and glorify God). When God made the two one, they were meant to remain one— regardless of their circumstances. When God established the family, he made it to— as instrument— to serve his purpose. It was not to serve man’s purpose but God’s purpose. The oneness of the two wasn’t meant to be broken— because it was a symbol of God’s union— oneness— with the church. A man finds a loophole in the word of God to break what was one to make it two. He thinks it’s his business and no other’s. He thinks it’s his right. But he’s wrong! It is God’s business. And it isn’t his right. Jesus said, “let man not separate”. The bad influence of divorce devastates men and women who use it for their own reasons— holy or unholy reasons. It damages the very fabric of the family, the children’s suffering is incalculable. It also ruins our society, and our nation and eventually the world. It’s bad influence.
The disciples were no different in the way they think than the Pharisees, although they were a little more receptive to Jesus’ teaching. When they asked him about it, Jesus explained to them that divorce cannot be justified regardless of what the reason behind it might be. For no matter what reasons men and women bring into their divorce, in God, adultery is at the heart of the matter. (10-12) Our culture is heading towards making divorce just a simple court procedure. The holiness of marriage has lost its absolute essence. And what was once “forbidden” has become common place. Why did this holy institute degenerated so much over the years? Bad influence! Bad influence is contagious and deadly. If we do not hold on to the absolutes of God (to what God has taught us), usually sin begins to creep in and it pollutes what is holy and it makes it unholy. Then what is supposed to be absolute and revered as such, degenerates to what is relative and casual. And that means that we regard the word of God, but it ultimately will depend on our situation. We obey the word of God, unless the situation we are in dictates otherwise. This is how we reduce what is absolute and make it relative.
A divorce leads to another. A sin leads to another. Until we are too blind to see our own decay, and until the decay looks natural— sometimes even beautiful! (like forbidden sex for example, or two lovers romping in a green field, or following the desires of the heart into forbidden places) But you the Christian must maintain a good influence in your life. When you see a cause for bad influence you should cut it off. When you face your sin, you should regard it exactly as it is— sin and not some thing to debate— then do as God tells us to do— repent of it and ask forgiveness and cleansing. We must make every effort to be of good influence on each other and on the world around us. Once I asked someone why she is determined to remain with her husband even though he was a jerk. She said: “Because God hates divorce. Also God wants me to pray for him and bear with him until God changes him and he turns to Jesus. Until we are a useful family to the Lord” This woman is not only of good influence, she’s saintly and humble and knows the heart of the Lord. She is also a shining hope— a hope that Christians can surely be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. Jesus wants us to grow in good influence. May the gospel work in our hearts until we reflect Christ in all things. Amen.