Return to Faithful Marriage
Please read Malachi 2:10-16 in your Bible. I Used the NLT to prepare these remarks.
Today’s message is obviously about marriage, and someone might think that a more careful planner would’ve reserved this passage for next Sunday, the day before Valentine’s Day. To such a person I would say, “No, this way you get a week to put into practice what God is saying and then celebrate it next Monday. Instead of 24 hours’ notice, God is giving you a full week’s notice!”
Let’s get into a proper frame of mind with a couple of brief stories from The Reader’s Digest.
First, a tale of an accommodating girlfriend submitted by Theodore Bologna. “Driving through Southern California, I stopped at a roadside stand that sold fruit, vegetables and crafts. As I went to pay, I noticed the young woman behind the counter was painting a sign. ‘Why the new sign?’ I asked. ‘My boyfriend didn’t approve of the old one,’ she said. When I glanced at what hung above the counter, I understood. It declared: Local Honey Dates Nuts.”
Second, a tale of wartime romance from Sandra L. Caron: “During World War II my parents had planned a romantic Valentine’s Day wedding. Suddenly my father, then stationed at Camp Edwards in Massachusetts, received orders to prepare to ship out, and all leaves were cancelled. Being a young man in love, he went AWOL. He and my mother were married four days earlier than originally planned and he returned to base to an angry sergeant. After hearing the explanation, the sergeant understandingly replied, ‘Okay, okay!’ Then, as an afterthought: ‘But don’t let it happen again!'”
Working backward from the two issues Malachi addresses in this section, we can speculate that the men of Judah were repeating a mistake made by their forefathers: marrying pagan women. This situation was worse: the men of Judah were divorcing their Jewish wives to marry pagan “trophy wives.” Whether this is a correct understanding of the historical context or not, the situation was serious, as indicated by the stern warnings of the passage. From God’s response, we will examine four relational principles that serve to improve all our relationships, including marriages.
You can’t be unfaithful in marriage and be faithful to God.
1. Faithfulness glorifies God. (10)
Relational Principle #1 = God made us to be in relationship with each other and with Him. Malachi began with a set of rhetorical questions that prove the following truths that are foundational to all marriages.
- We all have God as our Father.
- We are all created in His image and likeness.
- We are partners in one covenant with Him.
Given these three facts, we must stress our commonality and downplay our differences. This attitude is in marked contrast to the Marxists in our media, public education, and government who are trying to divide us from one another. Malachi was inspired to write all of this to say, “Treat one another with the respect we all deserve.”
For all three of those reasons, relationships are serious business. Moreover, when we BETRAY one another, we are guilty of violating the COVENANT (God’s agreement with us, established with our ANCESTORS). God takes our relationships with one another seriously as seriously as our relationship with Him.
2. Unfaithfulness distances us from God and from one another. (11-14)
Relational Principle #2 = Marry within your faith. (11-12) In Deuteronomy 7:3-4 God forbade marriage between the Israelites and the pagans who lived nearby. A reason for that command is that intermarriage would lead to idolatry. This was repeatedly proven in the history of Israel to be the case. In 2 Corinthians 6:14 Paul commanded believers to not partner with unbelievers, extending this principle to relationships other than marriage. All of us can cite personal experience or that of people we’ve known where marriage between a Christian and a person of another faith was difficult, even disastrous.
Here in Malachi, that general principle is used in a specific situation: God condemned Judah’s men who were MARRYING WOMEN WHO WORSHIP IDOLS. He expressed God’s displeasure in no uncertain terms.
First, he called it an UNFAITHFUL and DETESTABLE THING. Men who did this DEFILED THE SANCTUARY every time they entered it; their offerings were unacceptable to Him. Second, he warned God would CUT OFF FROM ISRAEL EVERY LAST MAN who was guilty of this sin.
Relationship Principle #3 = Messed up relationships make our worship unacceptable. (13-14) They were offering worship that was at least superficially repentant, with TEARS, WEEPING, and GROANING. God, however, knows everything, including the things we think we conceal in our hearts, and He saw past the superficiality and/or hypocrisy and rejected their worship. Because their worship was only “skin deep” God rejected it: He paid NO ATTENTION to them and did not ACCEPT THEM WITH PLEASURE. They thought they were making brownie points with God, but their score was actually a big zero.
Somehow the hypocrites figured out God was ignoring them and got frustrated, crying out, “WHY DOESN’T THE LORD ACCEPT MY WORSHIP?” Malachi supplied the answer to this question. Because God has seen the sins for which they have not repented, the ones they hoped to keep secret from God and others, He rejected their offerings, ignored their tears and cries of protest.
The example of “secret sin” given here is that of adultery. We’ll talk about that next. It’s a classic example of a secret sin because adulterers generally work at keeping it secret. Read 1 Peter 1:7 to find out the effect infidelity can have on a person’s prayer life.
3. Be faithful by guarding your heart. (14-16)
The first sin God charges them with is adultery (14); the second is divorce (16). A way to avoid committing either of these sins is the fourth relational principle.
Relational Principle #4 = guarding your heart is the way to avoid sinning. This principle reinforces the message of Proverbs 4:23; GUARD YOUR HEART ABOVE ALL ELSE, FOR IT DETERMINES THE COURSE OF YOUR LIFE.
OK, great command: what does it mean? First, it means guard your heart against sinful desires. James 1:14-15 rightly identifies sinful desires as being the origin of sinful actions. Sinful desires are an appetite for doing wrong. If you don’t expose yourself to temptations, your appetite for sin will dwindle and it will have less influence on your decisions. Don’t indulge in sin with your eyes, ears, mind, or heart. Get away and keep away from all sources of temptation.
Follow Job’s practice: “I MADE A COVENANT WITH MY EYES NOT TO LOOK WITH LUST AT A YOUNG WOMAN.” (Job 31:1) You can’t avoid temptations that come at you suddenly, but you can avoid situations and persons that typically tempt you and you can avoid dwelling on the temptation until it becomes a desire.
Second, guarding your heart means not allowing an evil desire to become a sinful action. Be wise and do not act on every desire. Do not give voice to every thought that pops into your head. Every desire, thought, attitude, opinion that does not honor God needs to be disposed of in the trash can of your mind. It should never see the light of day. No one should ever know it was in you. Go one step further and bury the garbage. You do this by repenting of every evil desire, every hurtful emotion, everything you’ve dwelt on too long that turned from temptation into desire.
In this section of Malachi, guarding your heart was applied to marriage. We see it in this command: REMAIN LOYAL TO THE WIFE OF YOUR YOUTH. This command echoes another proverb: LET YOUR WIFE BE A FOUNTAIN OF BLESSING FOR YOU. REJOICE IN THE WIFE OF YOUR YOUTH. (Proverbs 5:18) Notice that God’s plan for marriage is that it should be a FOUNTAIN OF BLESSING. Wow! It should be a cause for both partners to REJOICE. How sad we ought to be when selfishness and sin become a permanent part of a marriage and it falls short of this heavenly standard. We should not expect God to be pleased with partners in a marriage that exists in name only, a joyless union. It’s better than divorce, but not as good as it should be.
If married people are guarding their hearts as God commands, then they will be unselfishly committed to one another and will not allow sinful or selfish desires and acts to break up their joyous union. Obviously, circumstances change, and people change. Over time, maintaining a joyous marriage requires both partners to constantly accommodate themselves to one another in godly and unselfish attitudes and actions.
God loves marriage and hates divorce. This is one reason - among many - why He condemns adultery as sin.
Let’s unpack that statement: First, why does God love marriage? This passage gives four reasons.
The first reason God loves marriage is found in verse fourteen: He witnessed your marriage VOWS. I hate it when people dismiss or trivialize the importance of vows, especially vows made before the Lord. Whoever dismisses a marriage license as “just a piece of paper” reveals a sinful attitude. If these statements seem legalistic, that’s too bad: marriage is a COVENANT relationship, which is a legal and binding relationship. Logically, there must be some legality involved, a certain amount of legalism is appropriate.
The second reason God loves marriage is found in verse fifteen. Upon exchange of vows, God makes husband and wife ONE IN BODY AND SPIRIT. Marriage is a legal relationship, but it is much more than a legal relationship alone. It is a joining that is sacred. It is called “Holy Matrimony” because God is involved. Our culture has trivialized both marriage and divorce. Marriage is reduced to a temporary combination of parts that can be broken and recombined in any number of ways. If we learn nothing else today, let this truth sink in deeply - God takes marriage and divorce seriously and you must too.
A third reason God loves marriage is found in God’s statement of what He wants from married people: GODLY CHILDREN FROM YOUR UNION (15). This desire is made known throughout the Bible, starting with His command to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:28 to BE FRUITFUL AND MULTIPLY, to the point of filling the Earth! Continue on to Deuteronomy 6:4-6, where God commanded parents to teach their children about Him in the midst of everyday life. Continue in the gospels where Jesus blesses the children and offers them as examples of a saving faith. Finish with the epistles where Paul gives advice on marriage and child-rearing.
The Bible is full of commands for the family to be the primary place for expanding the faith. I don’t mean to merely offend anyon, but it makes me crazy when believing parents don’t require their children to attend church. There is no excuse for this, and I’ve heard them all. The decision to receive Christ as Savior is simply too important to leave to others. DO IT YOURSELF AND BE CERTAIN!
A fourth reason God loves marriage is implied in the fact that God commands faithfulness in marriage. He always commands us to do what He loves and avoid what He hates. There are two commands: in verse fifteen, REMAIN LOYAL TO THE WIFE OF YOUR YOUTH. In verse sixteen He commanded the husbands of Judah, DO NOT BE UNFAITHFUL TO YOUR WIFE.
Now let’s ask the second question; why does God HATE DIVORCE? The obvious but unstated reason for hating divorce is that it terminates a marriage, which is something to be honored. Given all the blessings and joy that are supposed to be part of marriage, divorce frustrates God’s desire to bless you and who wouldn’t hate that?
Another obvious but unstated reason is that God hates sin. Sin is at the root of divorce just like the love of money is at the root of all evil.
A reason given explicitly in this passage is God’s statement, “TO DIVORCE YOUR WIFE IS TO OVERWHELM HER WITH CRUELTY.” It is an act of CRUELTY instead of the joyous outcome God intended. CRUELTY comes from an unguarded heart that has given free rein to evil desire and allowed that desire to manifest in sin.
In this culture, divorce left a woman destitute. Like a widow, she was left without a male head of household, and this usually meant homelessness. The fact that this is less frequently true in our culture does not make divorce any less something God hates. He is above the winds of change in human cultures.
It may be said to be a secondary purpose, but marriage is an institution God created for the protection of women. Divorce was an act of economic CRUELTY as well as relational and emotional CRUELTY as well.
Under the Old Testament Law, divorce was easy to obtain for the husband. According to Deuteronomy 24:1, he could divorce her for any displeasing thing, anything he saw as wrong with her. All he had to do was write out a document declaring the divorce, give it to her, then send her away. While this was undoubtedly more humane than other ancient societies, it’s still not much.
It’s a fair question to ask, “If God hates divorce, why did He allow for it in the first place? Why did He provide for it in the Law given through Moses? Jesus answered this question in Mark 10:5. “HE WROTE THIS COMMANDMENT ONLY AS A CONCESSION TO YOUR HARD HEARTS.” There’s the word heart again, a reminder to guard your heart. As far as I know, this is the only place in the Bible where God made an accommodation to the hard-heartedness of human beings.
You can’t be unfaithful in marriage and be faithful to God.
There are four places in our NLT Bibles where the phrase GUARD YOUR HEART is found. I’ve shared three of them with you already but have saved the best for last. We’ve already talked about some ways in which you can guard your heart, but the most effective way is found in this fourth verse.
Philippians 4:6-7 says, DON’T WORRY ABOUT ANYTHING; INSTEAD, PRAY ABOUT EVERYTHING. TELL GOD WHAT YOU NEED AND THANK HIM FOR ALL HE HAS DONE. THEN YOU WILL EXPERIENCE GOD’S PEACE, WHICH EXCEEDS ANYTHING YOU CAN UNDERSTAND. HIS PEACE WILL GUARD YOUR HEARTS AND MINDS AS YOU LIVE IN CHRIST JESUS.
There you are. Stop worrying about who’s in charge, where the money will come from, what the in-laws think, what the children are doing, and all the other worries that can come between a husband and wife. In prayer, give all of it up to God. If you are sincere, you will experience God’s peace personally and His peace will guard your heart.
As you live in God’s peace, your heart is safe. Things will still happen, but your heart is in no danger. You are free to love and serve your spouse in the way God has commanded. You will be able to have the fullness of relationship God wants you to have, the very reason He created marriage in the first place.
“Return to Faithful Marriage,” a sermon by Rev. Travis Peterson, delivered at Olney Southern Baptist Church on January 25, 2009.