From this time Forward: Faithful
in all things
After breaking up with his fiancée, a young man realized the error of his ways and wrote: “Dearest Marie, No words could ever express the great unhappiness I’ve felt since breaking our engagement. Please say you’ll take me back. No one could ever take your place in my heart, so please forgive me. I love you! Yours forever, Jimmy…P.S. Congratulations on winning the lottery.” I’m not sure how sincere this guy was, but at least he was right to restore their broken relationship at any cost.
It is hard to talk about strained or broken relationships isn’t it? As Phillip Jensen and Richard Pulley say in Burning Desire,
“Many of us know it close to hand, and it may be almost impossible to discuss it without bringing complex emotions to the surface. It is one of the most painful and pervasive social issues… and it is one of the most personal. We would prefer to avoid raising it. However… when God says “I hate divorce” we cannot leave the matter to one side. We need to understand the warnings of Scripture about breaking faith, and then heed them. It’s a difficult task, but one which we must try to do, in prayer, humility, and with an eye open to those of our Christian brothers and sisters around us for whom this subject will be very relevant indeed.”
So, please, please, remember what we learnt two weeks ago in the opening verses. “I have loved you,” says the LORD” (Malachi 1:2a). Remember how this oracle begins –
God declares His unfailing love: “I have loved you,’ says the Lord.” He doesn’t begin by pointing out their sins or listing his complaints. The word “love” is in the perfect tense, indicating that God not only loved in the past but loves in the present as well. “I have loved and do love you.” And the word He chooses for “love” is not the typical OT term that describes “tough love” or “covenant love.” This word is more relational: “I have embraced you. I have expressed my affection for you,” At its core then, Malachi is really a love letter from God. A love letter full of hope and encouragement. And it is a love letter containing some heated exchanges.
Malachi contains six such disputes between God and his people:
1. A dispute about God’s love (1:2–5)
2. A dispute about God’s honour (1:6–2:9)
3. A dispute about Godly Faithfulness (2:10–16)
4. A dispute about God’s justice (2:17–3:5)
5. A dispute about God’s blessing (3:6–12)
6. A dispute about God’s mercy (3:13–4:3)
Today we come to the third. Please turn with me to Malachi 2:10-16. A dispute about Godly faithfulness. I’ve entitled this, “From this time Forward: Faithful in all things”. Because five times in this passage we encounter the word “faithless”. Twice the Lord commands, “do not be faithless” (2:15, 16).
Sometimes comparing translations gives us a clue to a word’s meaning. The King James and New American Standard translates the phrase, “deal treacherously.” The TNIV: “unfaithful”, and the Amplified Bible: “deal faithlessly and treacherously.” Treacherous… unfaithful… The word conveys the idea of pillaging something that was supposed to be protected. Notice secondly it is linked to the word “covenant” in verse 10 and 14. Here we have the clue – our relationship with God and with our partner, family, or church, are linked.
As the Apostle John says in his letter, “If we say we love God yet hate a brother or sister, we are liars. For if we do not love a fellow believer, whom we have seen, we cannot love God, whom we have not seen.” (1 John 4:20)
A covenant is a solemn and binding mutual agreement between two parties. An oath was made and it was formally and publically ratified. This is similar to what the Old Testament means by “shalom.” All relationships – with others, with God, and with our spouses, are to be held together by a compulsory keeping of covenant that encompasses the entire community of faith. Sadly, there were three ways God’s people had broken faith in their relationships and each has an application to us.
(I am grateful to Wayne Field and John Piper for both content and outline). The headings are put in the positive and negative:
1. Be loyal to each other: Don’t ruin
your relationships (2:10)
2. Be loyal to God: Don’t unite with an unbeliever (2:11-12)
3. Be loyal to your spouse: Don’t get divorced (2:13-16)
1. Be loyal to each other: Don’t ruin your relationships
“Do we not all have one Father? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our ancestors by being unfaithful to one another?” (Malachi 2:10)
Malachi is really focusing their attention on God as their creator and heavenly Father. Isaiah acknowledges, “Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8). As believers in Jesus Christ we belong to the same family because we have the same Father. As such, we must be devoted to one another. The word “profane” means “to wound” or “dissolve.” I wonder if another believer has ever wounded you? My guess is that you’ve been hurt at least once. Have you wounded someone else? I have, more than once. You probably have too.
Perhaps you’ve been tempted to want to just dissolve some relationships. It’s easier to avoid people you don’t like, treating them as if they don’t even exist, isn’t it? Friends, because we have one Father and we are in covenant with Him through Jesus Christ, let’s not rest until the people of our community can say of us “See how they love one another” Peter says “Love one another deeply from the heart (1 Peter 1:22). John says “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8) Be loyal to each other: Don’t ruin your relationships
2. Be loyal to God: Don’t unite with an unbeliever
“Judah has been unfaithful. A detestable thing has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem: Judah has desecrated the sanctuary the LORD loves by marrying women who worship a foreign god. If anyone does this, whoever he may be, may the LORD remove him from the tents of Jacob —even though he brings an offering to the LORD Almighty. “ (Malachi 2:11-12)
God’s people had not only been treacherous and unloving toward each other, they had disengaged from God Himself. Verse 11 begins with some strong words: “Judah has been unfaithful. A detestable thing has been committed…”
The word “detestable” is translated “an abomination” in some versions and means something “morally disgusting” and “abhorrent.” This term was reserved for the worst of evils, such as immorality, witchcraft, or idolatry. Notice that they had “desecrated the sanctuary the Lord loves…” This is the same word that is translated “profane” in verse 10. The word “sanctuary” literally refers to God’s holiness. Their behaviour was a direct affront to the Lord God almighty.
What is it that is so revolting to God? The answer is found at the end of verse 11: “…by marrying women who worship a foreign god.” The word for “marry” here is the word “Baal,” whose sensual religion had been an ongoing temptation to the Israelites. We read in Numbers 25,
“the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate the sacrificial meal and bowed down before these gods. So Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor. And the LORD’s anger burned against them.” (Numbers 25:1-3)
It has never been God’s plan for believers to marry unbelievers. This is what God says to Christ followers: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.” (2 Cor. 6:14)
The idea of being “unequally
yoked” is taken from Deuteronomy 22:10, where the Israelites were told not to plough
with an ox (a clean animal) and a donkey (an unclean animal) yoked together. An
ox and donkey were incompatible and uncooperative because their natures and
temperaments are vastly different. The application to marriage is obvious. A
believer is to be yoked with another believer so that together, they can serve
the Saviour by pulling His light load in tandem.
Paul reinforced this principle by asking five rhetorical questions in 2 Corinthians 6.
“For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God.” (2 Corinthians 6:14-16)
Brothers and sisters, if you claim to love God, and then wilfully choose to unite yourself with a non-Christian in the most intimate union this side of heaven, the Bible says that you are desecrating the holiness of God. Don’t let your drive for human intimacy lead your heart to grow cold toward your heavenly Father. Now before you go into a nose dive guilt trip, remember what we learnt in the first few verses “I have loved you and I love you now.” (Malachi 1:2). Here in chapter 2:11, God reaffirms that He has strong affection not only for His people but also for His sanctuary. The reason’s God’s admonition is so strong is because He loves you and he wants the best for you. He doesn’t want anyone to take His rightful place on the throne of your life and He doesn’t want you to make a decision that you will live to regret in eternity. Verse 12 teaches that those who go forward and marry someone who is not a spiritual soul mate are asking God to turn His back on them.
“If anyone does this, whoever he may be, may the LORD remove him from the tents of Jacob —even though he brings an offering to the LORD Almighty. “ (Malachi 2:11-12)
Now let me qualify this with two additional observations: It is of course possible for unbelieving spouses to come to Christ. If you’re married right now to someone who does not confess faith in Christ, pray for them, love them and practice the principles taught in 1 Peter 3:1-6.
“Wives… Your beauty … should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. …Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life…” (1 Peter 3:1-6)
If you’re married to a non-Christian, don’t try to get out of the relationship. Paul addressed this to the church at Corinth, arguing in 1 Corinthians 7:12-13 that the unbelieving spouse is sanctified through the faith of the believer and therefore the believer must stay committed to his or her spouse.
If you are single, and “If the choice of a marriage partner still lies before you, settle it in your mind right now never to marry anyone that does not love the Lord Jesus with all his or her heart.” (John Piper). Teenagers, you are not too young to make that decision right now. Don’t even go out with someone who does not share your faith. “Missionary dating” very seldom works because it goes against God’s word. If you are not fully committed to Jesus you’ll be tempted to compromise and give your heart to someone who is not submitting their life to Jesus either.
That is why the time to determine not to marry an unbeliever is before you become emotionally involved. Instead, be loyal.
1. Be loyal to each other: Don’t
ruin your relationships (2:10)
2. Be loyal to God: Don’t unite with an unbeliever (2:11-12)
3. Be loyal to your spouse: Don’t get divorced
God hates divorce. You know what it says in Hebrew? Why?
3.1 Divorce is the breaking a sacred covenant (2:13-14)
“Another thing you do: You flood the LORD’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer looks with favour on your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. You ask, “Why?” It is because the LORD is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.” (Malachi 2:13-14)
Marriage is a covenant. A three way relationship in which God is the marriage broker not the marriage breaker. He brings us together and he intends us to stay together.
3.2 Divorce violates God’s will for marriage (2:15)
“Has not the LORD made the two of you one? You belong to him in body and spirit. And why has he made you one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth.” (Malachi 2:15)
God’s design in marriage is for the birth of godly offspring. There are two ways of coming to faith. The least effective is to tell people about Christ who have little or no prior experience. The most effective means? For children to be blessed with two godly parents who know and love Jesus.
That is God’s will for marriage. Spiritual procreation.
Divorce is the breaking of a sacred covenant.
Divorce violates God’s will for marriage.
3.3 Divorce is an act of social violence (2:16)
divorce,” says the LORD God of
Israel, “and I hate it when people clothe themselves with injustice,” says the LORD Almighty. So be on your guard, and
do not be unfaithful.” (Malachi 2:16)
Literally “covering one’s clothes with violence” or “crime on your clothes” – like being covered in blood – the connotation is of obvious and inescapable guilt. The idea of a “no-fault divorce” does not exist in the Bible. Just the reverse. God hates divorce. But God does not hate divorced people. There’s a difference. Many of you are victims of divorce and are suffering pain as a consequence right now. Whatever the circumstances God does not hate you. He loves you. God hates divorce but he does not forbid all divorce. Under certain restricted conditions, there are two exceptions to the “no divorce” dictate of Scripture.
1 Corinthians 7:15 teaches that if the unbelieving spouse wants to break it off, the believer can reluctantly let their partner go. And, in Matthew 5:32, Jesus recognized that in the case of adultery, the one who was wronged is not obligated to stay married. Having said that, God’s heart is always for reconciliation and restoration of the marriage covenant.
There are five groups who can benefit from these verses. They all begin with ‘n’
The “not married.” Some of you are teenagers or adults who are single. Maybe you want to get married, or perhaps God has given you the gift of singleness so that you can serve Him with an undivided heart. Others of you are divorced. And some of you are widows or widowers. God celebrates singleness.
The “nearly married.” Maybe you’re engaged or thinking seriously about getting married. Marriage is God’s plan. But God’s plan is that you marry a believer. Why? Because he wants godly children.
The “newly married.” Perhaps you’re just starting out and things are going great or maybe you’re experiencing some turbulent waters right now.
The “numbly married.” Maybe
you’re just going through the motions but feel numb.
Take care because you are an “affair waiting to happen.”
The “narrowly married.” Perhaps you’re in the process of divorce right now or thinking seriously about it. Please think again. Lets talk about it.
Whatever your circumstances God
says to each of us, twice -
“be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful … So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.” (Malachi 2:15-16)
The word, “guard” means “to hedge with thorns” or “to protect by attending to.” Since God hates divorce, how can we build a hedge to protect our marriages? Getting married today is like flying an airline where you know that 50% of the planes that take-off will crash. Statistically, the odds are stacked against life-long marriages today. But God never intends couples to experience marital breakdown. God wants marriages to last for life. If we look at the statistics, we can get discouraged, but when we consult the Scriptures, there’s reason for hope.
Dr. Nick Stinnett, Chairman of the Department of Human Development and Family at the University of Nebraska undertook a study several years ago. He interviewed 3,000 strong families: single parent families, black families, white families, and ethnic families. The only criterion was that each of these families rated themselves high in marriage satisfaction and parent-child relationships. Dr. Stinnett found good families shared six common qualities.
(1) They are committed to the family
(2) Spend time together
(3) Have good communication
(4) Express appreciation to each other
(5) Have a spiritual commitment
(6) Solve problems in a crisis.
Based on them, here are 5 biblical ways to build strong marriages.
1. Take responsibility to grow spiritually
The greatest leadership challenge is not those around me,
but what’s going on inside of me. You will not be the partner your spouse needs unless you take responsibility to cultivate your daily walk with the Lord. Only an open, teachable person will develop the Christ-like character needed in a good marriage partner. Then every day of your marriage can be an exciting adventure. An older couple was discussing their upcoming 50th anniversary in the supermarket checkout line, when the young cashier interjected, “I can’t imagine being married to the same man for 50 years!” The wife wisely replied, “Well, honey, don’t get married until you can!”
2. Set boundaries for your marriage
Jerry Jenkins wrote a book called Hedges (1990: Wolgemuth and Hyatt Publishers). He argues that the greatest gift you can give to your spouse is to plant some hedges, set boundaries.
Don’t flirt: Treat others as
brothers and sisters
Don’t be alone with the doors closed with another person of the opposite sex. Treat others as you would a brother or sister (1 Timothy 5:1-2). Ensure your partner knows where you are.
Don’t lust: Think pure thoughts
When you are alone remember Job’s determination to maintain his purity: “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl.” (Job 31:1) If you don’t have an Internet filter, get one. Set boundaries for your marriage.
3. Communicate with your partner daily
It’s important for you and your spouse to spend quality time talking every day. Good communication is the mark of a healthy marriage. A breakdown of communication will cause problems. For example, when I travel I call or text Joanna every day. We aim to stay in touch. Make time to talk. And, when you disagree, don’t go to bed angry. “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” (Ephesians 4:26-27)
4. Serve your partner willingly
Never expect your partner to do something you are not prepared to do yourself. Your model is the Lord Jesus himself.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy.” (Ephesians 5:25-26)
Let me illustrate what that might look like: Jack Benny was very shy when he was young. One day he spotted a young lady but was too timid to talk to her. He went to the florist and ordered one red rose to be sent to her without any card enclosed.
He did this for a week until finally she went to the florist to find out who was sending her roses. They eventually met and started dating, and the roses continued to come every day. Then they got married and Mary thought the roses would stop but they kept coming. When they were on their honeymoon, the roses still arrived. She figured they’d stop when they got home but they didn’t. Every day of their married life she received a red rose. But then Jack died. The very next day, another rose arrived. Thinking the florist didn’t know that her husband was now gone, she called to let him know about Jack’s death and that the roses could stop now. To which the florist replied, “You don’t understand. Before he died, Jack made all the arrangements. You’ll receive one red rose every day for the rest of your life.”
5. Forgive your partner as you have been
When your husband or wife does something that annoys you, think they are “Not wrong, just different.” Distinguish between moral issues and personal preferences. Give your partner a break when they don’t act like you. The mistake men make is to think their partner will stay the same. The mistake women make is to think they can change their husbands. No matter what you’ve done, or not done, or how hurt you feel, allow these words from Psalm 103 soak in: “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:11-12).
There is a beautiful statement in Thornton Wilder’s 1942 drama “The Skin of Our Teeth.” The wife says to her husband: “I didn’t marry you because you were perfect. I didn’t even marry you because I loved you. I married you because you gave me a promise. That promise made up for your faults. And the promise I gave you made up for mine. Two imperfect people got married and it was the promise that made the marriage. And when our children were growing up, it wasn’t a house that protected them; and it wasn’t our love that protected them–it was that promise.”
That is why I am passionate about people renewing their marriage vows. That is why as a church family we renew our membership vows, our membership covenant together on Easter Sunday each year. We promise, with God’s help, to uphold the standard of marriage entrusted by Christ to His Church. To care that children are brought up to love and serve the Lord. Because He is the covenant-keeping God, with his help, you and I can keep our covenants, we can remain loyal to one another, with Him and with our spouses.
With grateful thanks to
Phillip Jensen and Richard Pulley Burning Desire
David Baker, Malachi NIV Application Commentary
Steve Gaukroger, Hunger for Holiness
Ralph Smith Malachi: Word Bible Commentary
David Dykes, How to Build a 3-D Marriage
Brian Bill, Making a Marathon Marriage
Wayne Field, Remain Loyal
Nick Stinnett, Family Building: Six Qualities of a Strong Family
Girl of God, as I watched you tonight, I wished for an opportunity to talk with you. I watched your beautiful face as you sang and worshipped. You reminded me of myself seven years ago.
And then, after Church, I watched you as you got into that car with a boy who does not know God. Oh, yes he was at Church tonight. He even went to the altar and shed a few tears. I am sure that you would not accept the idea that, for him, this is just a means to an end.
Seven years ago I was in your shoes. I had known God since my early teens, and had grown up under God-anointed preaching and teaching. I didn't lack boy friends or dates, as is so often the case in Churches where the girls outnumber the boys. Some very wonderful, consecrated young men came my way. But Satan, who watches diligently and waits patiently to ensnare a soul, saw me one day as I was lukewarm.
Oh, I was still going to Church and playing my accordion and singing and doing all the right things outwardly. But I had never really had that special moment with God when His will and mine were made one.
I met the young man at work. And before long, without anyone else's knowing it, I felt I couldn't live without him. He knew about my Church, and when he attended with me, he went to the altar and cried. And so I married him, while my family and those who loved me wept and agonized.
It was just six months later that I realized my soul was in danger and that I had to have a touch from God. I prayed through and got a grip on God.
Then the battle began. No, he wasn't going to Church anymore. I could count on my fingers the number of times he went during the last seven years. Before I married him, the thought of living without him was unbearable. "How lonely it would be!" I thought. But now I know what loneliness really is, and I'd like to tell you about it.
Loneliness is receiving a blessing from God and going home to a man you can't share it with. He isn't interested; he's watching television.
Loneliness is going to a Church social alone and watching the young couples enjoy God's blessings together. You can go alone or stay home alone; he has other interests.
Loneliness is feeling the urgency of Christ's coming and knowing that the one you love most on this earth is not ready, and shows no sign of caring.
Loneliness is seeing two children born and knowing that if your influence is to outweigh his, it will be a miracle.
Loneliness is lying awake struggling with the suspicion that he's unfaithful. Then comes the unbelievable pain of knowing for sure. He doesn't care if I know. She even calls me on the phone. After a time, he makes an effort to break it off. I vow to do everything humanly possible to keep this marriage together.
I will love him more and pray for him more. Seven years of my life are involved in this! There's a little girl and a little boy!
Loneliness is now. My children and I will go home to a dark, empty apartment that will be my home until the lawyer says it's all over. I, who have always been afraid to stay alone, now welcome the peace and solitude. As I look in the mirror; I see that seven years haven't changed my face so much. But inside I am old, and something that was once alive and beautiful is now dead.
Of course, this is not an unusual story. The remarkable thing about it is that I am still living for God. I am thankful for my family and their prayers of intercession for me.
Oh, I am praying for you, girl of God! Please believe me when I tell you that no matter how wonderful he is, how loving, how tender--you cannot build a happy life upon disobedience to God's Word. You see, no matter what the future holds for me, I have missed His perfect will for my life. I will never stop paying for breaking a commandment of God! Don't let it happen to you!