Please open your Bibles to Malachi 2.
The Lord is speaking to his people who have grown cold to him.
He wants to revive them spiritually and bring back into the circle of blessing.
He says: I love you. And I have some hard things to say for your good.
Listen to me.
INTRO: What happens to a nation or to a society when marriage is not
appreciated and protected?
Perhaps you’ve followed some the public conversation since our President’s
announcement that he wants to institute a national pre-school program.
The argument is that pre-school is the key to solving the falling educational
competencies that are harming the poor and certain ethnic minority groups.
If kids are in pre-school, then supposedly they will go on to be bright and diligent
students in elementary and beyond.
But the fact is that the single most determinative factor for success in school
is a two-parent home. The flip side is that as marriage rates have plunged and out
of wedlock births have soared, there has been a corresponding academic decline.
There are some experts who are pointing this out.
Saying that if you really want to help those demographics that are suffering
the most academically, then marriage must be encouraged.
But that sort of positive talk about marriage is shouted down by the intelligentsia.
A decline in marriage not only leads to educational decline,
but to greater poverty and anti-social behavior.
Charles Murray is a Harvard trained political scientist.
Recently published, Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010.
Limited his study to whites so his conclusions wouldn’t be labeled racist.
Shows that in 1960, whites in America, both upper middle class and lower
working class married at the same rate—about 94%.
Both classes had common values concerning the importance of work,
education, honesty, child-rearing, thriftiness.
But Murray shows that in the last 50 years, although the rate of marriage among
the white upper middle class has declined slightly, it has fallen by almost half
in the lower working class—down to 48%.
And that decline in marriage has produced a lower class that is mired in poverty
and dependency. Many of the values of previous decades are lost.
There is a growing disdain for work, education, child-rearing, saving, etc.
He says that somehow the decline of marriage must be reversed,
or the consequences for the long-term health of country are dire.
Murray’s book caused a stir because here was someone in the New York-
Washington elite with the audacity to say marriage is a foundation of society—
and backing it up with sociological data.
Now, I don’t have to tell you that marriage is essential to civilization.
I think it’s amusing when the smart people hate the idea of family values,
bump into this fundamental reality.
This is the way God has made human society.
Marriage is the foundation since the Garden of Eden.
Marriage produces a family, and in that family next generation reared.
You don’t have to be a Christian to understand that, and to value marriage.
Marriage is a creation ordinance, and part of God’s common grace to the race.
But as a Christian, you should have a much deeper appreciation for marriage.
Because Christians know that marriage is not just essential for human society—
it is essential for the well-being of the church.
When marriage is honored and defended, the church prospers.
And the flip side is what when marriage declines among Christians—
there is a corresponding spiritual decline and poverty.
That’s what was happening in Malachi’s time.
God’s people had fallen in to a state of spiritual decline and poverty.
The values and loves that they once had were ebbing away.
The Lord comes to them and says—It’s your marriages.
You’re failing to appreciate and protect godly marriages in the church.
And it’s doing you great harm, taking you out of the circle of covenant blessing.
Listen to me and come back.
Malachi’s word to us is timely.
This is not so much about your marriage—you might be married, might not.
It’s about how we, as a body, as a church must value, protect, fight for, affirm,
and love Christian marriage.
And about the spiritual benefits that accrue to the body as a whole
when marriage is honored.
There are always forces in the world that negatively affect the life of the church.
And the erosion of marriage is certainly one of the key issues of our time.
It was in Malachi’s day as well.
1. The blessings of Christian marriage
2. The standards of Christian marriage
3. The source of Christian marriage
MP#1 The blessings of Christian marriage
Malachi points out two great blessings that flow from Christian marriages
and that have a direct impact on the spiritual condition of the church.
The first blessing is in verse 15.
“Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his.
And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring.”
That’s the first blessing of Christian marriage that flows to the church—
godly offspring—another generation of covenant children—
boys and girls born to believing moms and dads, who then grow up in the faith.
It’s through these godly offspring that redemptive history moves forward
and God’s kingdom is advanced in the world until the coming of Christ.
This is not saying a Christian who is a single parent can’t raise godly offspring.
Timothy was raised in the faith by his mother and grandmother.
No, the point is that the way God ordinarily works is for two believers
to become one in flesh and spirit—that is, united in their faith in Lord Jesus.
And then for the two of them to pour their united efforts into telling their children
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord.
This is so ordinary that we can forget how important it is.
How does the church grow? How does the church continue in the world?
Missions. Evangelism. People hearing Good News and getting saved.
Yes. The church grows that way.
But the primary way it grows and continues is through covenant children being born
and reared in the faith. Church historians have pointed out that if you take all of
the great revivals and missionary movements, when great numbers of people have
come to faith—those add up to just a minute fraction of past 2,000 years.
Yes, we support missionaries. Yes, we share our faith and hope for conversions.
But the main way the church grows and continues is through Christian marriages
producing godly offspring.
There are so many ways we can push this home in our church life.
If you are a member of this church, you take a vow when a child is baptized—
to assist the parents in spiritual nurture of this child.
Our minds turn to most obvious like teaching children’s Sunday school.
But more fundamental is a positive stance toward marriage and children—
a delight in seeing parents with their children in worship.
It means praying that the young people of our church will marry well,
and when they do, to rejoice in that and in the children that are born to them.
I was talking to my parents this week, they were telling me about a seminary friend
of theirs who graduated and went to a little church in Mississippi and never left.
He told them that he’s starting to baptize the grandchildren of members
he baptized when they were infants. It’s a blessing for the church we all share.
The second blessing from Christian marriage that comes to the church as a whole is
divine favor. The Lord is particularly attentive to the prayers of the church
when Christian marriage is honored and upheld.
Vs. 13 and 14 state this in the negative.
“Another thing you do: You flood the Lord’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he
no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands.
You ask, “Why?” It is because the Lord is acting as the witness between you and the wife of
your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of
your marriage covenant.
What was happening in Malachi’s time? The church was full of people who were
breaking their marriage covenants, hard-hearted toward their spouses.
And the Lord was responding by turning his face away from them.
Not answering their prayers.
That sounds strange, but the very same thing is said in 1 Peter 3:7
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, so that nothing
will hinder your prayers.
The combined thrust of these passages is that when Christians disregard and
denigrate the marriage covenant, the Lord disciplines them by closing his ears
to their prayers. That’s sobering and worthy of consideration.
But I want to focus on what is being positively promised.
Marriage is so important to God, that when it is honored and upheld by believers,
he is pleased to pay special attention to our offerings and accept from our hands—
our prayers are not hindered, but rise into his presence.
As I look back over the life of this church, I can say that without a doubt,
the times when God’s Spirit has been most tangibly felt is when troubled
marriages have been restored, husbands and wives once estranged reconciled.
The rejoicing that has come from that, the sense of God’s hand at work.
The deep appreciation it gives you for solid, faithful marriages presses home
this spiritual reality—the Lord hold marriage, particularly the marriages of
his own people in the highest regard. Where they flourish, blessing.
MP#2 The standards of Christian marriage
What are the most fundamental standards of Christian marriage?
You might imagine it is a long list, but Malachi mentions just two things.
1. Marry in the Lord, do not marry an unbeliever.
Mark Twain’s wife was a woman named Olivia Langdon.
She was a professing Christian, raised in a very devout Christian home.
Twain pursued her. And even though he was openly critical of religion,
and her friends and parents warned her, she married him.
She expressed the hope that he would be converted by her example.
At first this seemed to be happening. Pray before meals, read chapter of Bible.
But eventually he said, “Livy, you may keep this up if you want, but I must ask you to excuse me from it. I don’t believe in the Bible; it contradicts my reason. I can’t sit here and listen to it”
His influence took its toll, eventually caused her to doubt the faith.
Talking to her sister, she confessed deep sorrow that she no longer believed
in the God of the Bible.
Years later, during a time of bereavement, Twain said to Olivia.
“Livy, if it comforts you to lean on the Christian faith, do so.”
She replied, “I can’t. I haven’t any.”
Believers must marry in the Lord. Christians must not marry unbelievers.
It’s repeated over and over in a variety of ways throughout the Bible.
This standard was being violated in Malachi’s day. Verse 11.
Judah has broken faith. A detestable thing has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem:
Judah has desecrated the sanctuary the Lord loves, by marrying the daughter of a foreign god.
A believer deliberately marrying an unbeliever called detestable and a desecration.
Probably not any sin God warns his people about more strongly.
He says that a man who does this may be cut off from the tents of Jacob.
Here is the reason in a nutshell. There is no act you can commit that has a greater
chance of ending the covenant line in your family and weakening own faith.
By choice, you bring children into world with a parent who does not know Christ.
His or her influence will be profoundly negative. An old Scottish preacher said:
By marrying a child of the Devil, you are choosing the Devil for your father-in-law and for your children’s grandfather, when in the covenant, you could have had the God of Abraham instead.
There are often Christians who find themselves, through conversion, in mixed
marriages. One spouse becomes a Christian and the other does not.
And sometimes two professing Christians will get married, and both give every
evidence of being a Christian, but one will apostatize and leave the faith.
There is nothing wrong with that. Paul says in 1 Corinthians, stay in that marriage.
Lord will extend special grace to you and your children.
But to choose marriage to an unbeliever is an act of high-handed rebellion.
And the Lord gives sober warnings to believers who deliberately,
against the pleadings of Christian friends and family, marry outside the faith.
As a church body, there is such an important role to play in this.
We have to remind our children of this often—marry in the Lord.
When someone in church heading down path, must get involved, speak truth.
Don’t leave up to me. I will warn people, I have. Effective from you as a friend.
Remember, few areas in life more prone to self-deception than romance.
2. Stay married to your spouse, do not divorce without biblical grounds.
What are the biblical grounds? God permits divorce for adultery and desertion.
Divorce was rampant in Israel in Malachi’s day.
Many men were divorcing their wives so they could marry other women.
In that context is this famous verse, vs. 16
“I hate divorce,” says the LORD God of Israel, “and I hate a man's covering himself with
violence as well as with his garment,” says the LORD Almighty.
That phrase—I hate divorce—has entered our consciousness, but the consensus
of most Bible scholars is that that is not actually what the verse says.
For a number of reasons, this verse should actually be translated like this:
“For the man who hates and divorces,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “covers his garment
with violence, says the LORD of hosts.” That’s the ESV
What’s being condemned? Not all divorce. God’s not saying: I hate all divorce.
Not divorce for biblical reasons for the relief of the innocent party.
God allows that and Christians with sensitive consciences shouldn’t be troubled.
What is being condemned is aversion divorce. A man who hates and divorces.
Divorce because of dislike. Divorce because husband has lost interest in his wife.
Divorce because you don’t want to be married to that person any more,
or because you have found someone else who is more interesting and fulfilling.
Malachi says that the man who does this “covers his garment with violence.”
What does that mean? It’s similar to saying: There is blood on your hands.
You’ve murdered someone. You’ve murdered a marriage.
It was true in the church in Malachi’s day, and in Jesus’ day with Pharisees,
and Paul’s day with Corinthians, and in our day—there are those who want out of
marriage, but don’t have a biblical reason for leaving it.
It’s impossible for them to believe that God would have them remain married
to someone they don’t want to be married to any more. But he does. Says often.
I don’t deny the heartbreak or the difficulty of staying in a marriage in which
you are unhappy. I don’t know why the Lord doesn’t give all Christians happy
marriages. But there are many things in the Christian life that can be very
difficult and very painful, but at the same time absolutely required.
There are so, so many applications of this in our church body.
How we view the work of the elders as they deal with members wanting divorce.
How we help those in hard marriages to press on by grace.
How we encourage those who have suffered divorce.
How we counsel those who have broken this command,
and are trying to find their way back to their walk with God.
We need wisdom, grace and sensitivity.
For that we need to go back to the source. Brings to third point.
MP#3 The source of Christian marriage
Most of you know the name Paul Billy Arnold.
He’s an Indian pastor who our church has supported financially for many years.
Paul Billy and wife Shirley have three children and a happy home.
Their favorite hobby, that they both share, is going on excursions into the
countryside where they watch the wild animals India is famous for.
You can tell that they enjoy each other’s company and love deeply.
It might surprise you to know that they have an arranged marriage.
In fact, before their wedding, they only talked to each other twice—
once on the phone, and once when they were sitting next to each other
at an engagement party. That’s how it’s done in India.
It also might surprise you to know that arranged marriages have just as good
a track record of life-long compatibility as marriages that come from
our way of doing things through dating.
Who arranges the marriage? The fathers do.
And as Paul Billy has explained to me, good fathers who take this seriously
go to great lengths to assure that the bride and groom will be compatible.
They want to make a good marriage for their children.
Arranged marriages seem very strange to us.
But there is a sense in which all Christian marriage are arranged marriages.
As he begins to address this difficult subject, Malachi asks the question:
“Have we not all one Father?”
In Hebrew culture at that time, fathers arranged marriages for their children.
Malachi is saying: Who’s your Father, who’s the one who you must honor
and submit to in this matter of your marriage—the Lord is.
Marriage is his creation. It comes from him.
Therefore, the pathway to greatest blessing will be when you honor him in it.
Earlier we read from Mark 10, where the Pharisees asked Jesus about divorce.
Jesus, what are the biblical grounds for divorce?
Trying to pin him down and get him in trouble.
Divorce was rampant among the Pharisees. Most of them believed you could
divorce your wife if you found anything unpleasing in her.
But Jesus refused to talk about the biblical grounds for divorce.
Not because he was afraid of the topic. He addressed with disciples, Matthew 19.
He didn’t answer their question, because knew hearts hard.
Instead, he talked about something bigger.
Jesus says: In the beginning. Once in a time, when God made marriage.
Goes back to the very beginning, Genesis, Garden of Eden.
Tells the story of the first marriage. How God made it for good of mankind.
“Therefore a man will leave his father and mother, cleave, two one flesh.”
Jesus point: I’ve come to reprogram the world.
I’ve come to restore my Father’s good work, even in marriage.
Ephesians 5, Paul says something fascinating. Quotes same verse in Genesis.
“Therefore a man will leave father and mother, be untied with his wife, two one.”
But instead of saying what Jesus says next:
Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.
Paul writes this:
“This is a profound mystery, but I am talking about Christ and the church.”
What that shows us is that Jesus is not just talking about marriage—
he is giving us a window into the Gospel.
See, the Bible not only starts with a wedding—Garden of Eden.
It also ends with a wedding—wedding supper of the Lamb.
That final wedding is the consummation of our salvation.
It’s life with Christ in the new heavens and new earth.
At that wedding, the bride, which is us, the church, given bright clean linen to wear.
Why do we get to wear white, when our hearts are so heard?
Why do we get this great happiness when we are so full of selfishness,
self-justification, so often look for loopholes so that we can do things our way?
Because we don’t provide the clean linen, Jesus does—it’s his righteousness.
He got it for us by his perfect life, and his death on the cross.
The cross is the ultimate promise, power source for marriage.
Jesus says, Never will I leave you, I’ve died for you.
Nothing can separate you from the love of Christ.
Ultimate intimacy: I’ve seen the depth of your soul, every dark corner,
and I love you and want to know you in this life and the next.
I want to be involved in every part of your life.
When the good news of the cross sinks in—that this is Christ’s marriage to you.
That empowers you to be the spouse God has called you to be.
And to help those whose marriages are troubled.
And to speak the truth in love about God’s standards for sex and marriage,
and divorce and remarriage.
And to find hope and comfort if you’ve been divorced.
And patience if you aren’t married and want to be.
And patience if you are married and don’t want to be.
And contentment with whatever estate of life you find yourself in.
So the important thing is this—trust and honor your heavenly Father—
he knows what he’s doing in your life.
Keep your eye on Jesus, on the cross—
and your hard heart will be softened, and you will experience,
even in the is fallen, broken world—
a little foretaste of the happiness of the world to come,
and that great wedding feast, at which you will be the bride.