November 16, 2016 • Life for Leaders
“Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
“What God has joined together, let no one separate.” I’ve repeated that line dozens of times as I’m getting ready to conclude a wedding. After this, I offer a benediction and then invite the new husband to kiss his new wife. They kiss, sometimes more than once these days and then everyone applauds.
Nobody was applauding Jesus when he said, “What God has joined together, let no one separate” (10:9). This line comes in a conversation about divorce and marriage. It began with some Pharisees asking Jesus a question: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (10:2). They were trying to test Jesus, to draw him into a no-win debate about the appropriate grounds for divorce. This was something that Pharisees disagreed about among themselves.
Jesus, in response to his questioners, first pointed them to the Old Testament law, which allowed for divorce (Deut 24:1). Yet he explained this law as a concession of hard hearts (10:5). In other words, it wasn’t reflective of God’s deepest intentions for marriage. This is to be found, rather, in the first chapters of the Torah. Quoting from Genesis 1 and 2, Jesus underscored the profound unity between husband and wife, concluding: “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Mark 10:9).
For obvious reasons, this text from Mark has been scrutinized when Christians consider the rightness and/or wrongness of divorce. But sometimes we neglect the main point of Jesus’s teaching, which has to do with marriage, not divorce. God intended marriage to be a unique relationship of bonding between a man and a woman. Since husband and wife are “joined together” by God, this relationship is sacred. This means, not only that it should be preserved, but also that it should be nurtured, protected, and cherished. If we took Jesus’ teaching on marriage more seriously, then we’d be less likely to need his counsel on divorce.
It can be tough to preserve, nurture, protect, and cherish a marriage, especially for those of us who work in the marketplace. I’m not thinking mainly of temptations to infidelity – though I have seen co-workers fall into this trap – but rather of the demands placed upon us by our work. If you’re working a zillion hours a week, if your work requires you to travel a lot, if your work spills over into your home, then your marriage can suffer. It takes a special commitment, as well as God’s grace and a supportive community, to ensure that what God has joined together will not be separated, even by the workplace.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
If you are married, are you nurturing, protecting, and cherishing your marriage? How?
What have you done recently to strengthen the bond with your spouse?
If you are not married, are there ways you are encouraging your married friends to have healthy marriages?
Gracious God, thank you for the gift of marriage, for the joy and the growth that comes through this unique relationship. Thank you for strong words about the sanctity of marriage and the rightness of keeping marriages together.
Today, Lord, I pray for all who are married, that they might not just stay together, but be committed to stronger, healthier marriages. Help couples to invest time in their marriage, listening to each other, enjoying each other, and growing in their mutual love. Help especially those who face heavy demands for their workplace not to neglect their marriages.
Help all of us, Lord, to encourage and support those who are married. May your church be a greenhouse for growing healthy, fruitful marriage relationships. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: “You Shall Not Commit Adultery” (Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.