Making a Marathon Marriage
May 18, 2003 | Brian Bill
After breaking up with his fiancée, a young man realized the error of his ways when he 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. And congratulations on winning the lottery.”
I’m not sure how sincere this guy was about getting back together, but he was probably ready to restore their broken relationship at any cost. That reminds me of a young man who was proposing to his girlfriend. He had the ring in his hand and said: “Sweetheart, I love you so much, I want you to marry me. I don’t have a car like Johnny Green. I don’t have a yacht like him or a house as big as his. I don’t have the money of Johnny Green but I love you with all my heart.” She looked into his eyes and said, “I love you too, sweetheart…but could you tell me more about Johnny Green?”
It’s amazing how easily we can lose focus in our relationships, isn’t it? This morning, as we come to Malachi 2:10-16, we’re going to see that our relationships with others, with God, and with our spouse, all have the potential to disintegrate if we’re not careful.
It struck me last week when I was preaching through a very descriptive, and even revolting passage, that if you did not have a Bible in front of you, you could have wondered why I was talking about some pretty gross stuff that contributes to our fatal flaws. However, if you had your Bible, you could have followed along and seen for yourself what happens when people dishonor God’s holy name.
Could I encourage you to bring your Bible to church each week and read along in the passage as I go through it? I want to invite you to take notes, underline key words, or whatever else helps you become an active part of this process. Let’s be learners together in this mysterious process of how God takes His living Word and speaks directly into our lives. A couple weeks ago when I was coming into the auditorium to get ready to begin the service I noticed that one of our new members had his Bible open to the Book of Malachi and was reading the text for that day. I will never forget that image! If you don’t have a Bible, we’d be happy to help you get one. We do have some available on our new Welcome Center table in the hallway heading into the Family Life Center.
Related to this, sometimes I wonder if using PowerPoint to put words and images up on the screen is a tool for learning, or more of a temptation for lazy thinking. I haven’t come to a conclusion yet but I do know if you can follow along in your copy of the Scriptures, listen to what I’m saying, and see the outline here, the chances for learning, and life change go way up. And that’s what we all want, isn’t it? It goes back to what we learned last week about the importance of not just hearing, but of really listening.
I want to begin by pointing out a phrase that is repeated five times in our passage. I’m going to read verses 10-16 and give special emphasis to the expression, “breaking faith” or “broken faith.”
In order to get a better idea of what this term means, let’s look at some different translations. In the King James and New American Standard, we read, “deal treacherously.” The New Living Translation puts it this way: “faithless.” And the Amplified Bible combines the two: “deal faithlessly and treacherously.” It has the idea of pillaging something that was supposed to be protected and is tied very closely to another word that is used in this section. It’s the word “covenant” in verse 10 and verse 14.
A covenant was a solemn and binding mutual agreement between two parties. An oath was made and it was formally ratified by an external act. 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.
To tie into last week, because the priests had dealt treacherously with God, they were causing many others to falter in their faith: “But you have turned from the way and by your teaching have caused many to stumble; you have violated the covenant with Levi, says the LORD Almighty” (2:8). There are three ways that God’s people had broken faith in their relationships. Let me state it both positively and negatively. I want to acknowledge my thanks to John Piper for some keen insight into this passage and for unlocking the outline for me:
- Keep faith with others: Don’t allow your relationships to rupture (10).
- Keep faith with God: Don’t unite with an unbeliever (11-12).
- Keep faith with your spouse: Don’t get divorced (13-16).
1. Keep faith with others: Don’t allow your relationships to rupture (10). We’ll go through this first one quickly because we addressed this topic extensively during our “Body Building” series earlier this year. Look at verse 10: “Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our fathers by breaking faith with one another?” While Abraham was their earthly “father,” Malachi is really focusing their attention on God as their heavenly Father. Isaiah 64:8: “Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”
As believers we are in the same family because we have the same Father. As such, we must keep faith with one another. The word “profane” means “to wound” or “dissolve.” I wonder if another believer has wounded you? My guess is that you’ve been hurt at least once. Have you wounded someone else? You probably have at least twice. Perhaps you’d rather just dissolve some relationships. It’s easier to just 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 one God who created us, and we are in covenant with Him through Jesus Christ, let’s redouble our efforts to live out the community challenge of Ephesians 4:3: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” and Romans 12:18: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
2. Keep faith with God: Don’t unite with an unbeliever (11-12). God’s people had not only pillaged their promise to one another, they had disengaged from God Himself. Verse 11 begins with some strong words: “Judah has broken faith. A detestable thing has been committed…” The word “detestable” is translated “an abomination” in some versions and means to be “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 behavior was a direct affront to the weightiness of Yahweh.
What is it that is so revolting to God? The answer is found at the end of verse 11: “…by marrying the daughter of a foreign god.” The Bible is filled with examples of what happens to godly people when they unite with an unbeliever. Let me remind you of the context. When Judah returned from captivity, the men saw some beautiful foreign foxes that lived in the land and they wanted to hook up with these heathen “hotties.” In many cases, they divorced their wives and married women who worshipped false gods.
Interestingly, the word for “marry” as used here is the word “Baal,” whose sensual religion had been an ongoing temptation to the Israelites. We read in Numbers 25:1-3: “…the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate and bowed down before these gods. So Israel joined in worshiping 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. 2 Corinthians 6:14: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers…” The concept of being “unequally yoked” is taken from Deuteronomy 22:10, where the Israelites were told not to plow with an ox (a clean animal) and a donkey (an unclean animal) yoked together. An ox and donkey are incompatible and uncooperative because their natures and temperaments are vastly different
Last summer when we were in Williamsburg, I was able to see two oxen up close that were yoked together. They were about the same size and seemed very comfortable with each other. They were both able to pull the load because they were in step with each other. The application to marriage is obvious. A believer is to be yoked with another believer so that together, they can serve the Savior by pulling His light load in tandem.
Paul reinforced this principle by asking five rhetorical questions in 2 Corinthians 6. Let me read these in the New Living Translation: “How can goodness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? What harmony can there be between Christ and the devil? How can a believer partner with an unbeliever? And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols?” The answer to all these questions is, “No way! They’re incompatible! There is no harmony! He can’t! None!”
Friend, if you claim to love God, and then willfully 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 feel piled, I want you to notice the word “loves.” As we pointed out at the beginning of the book, the first message that God wants His people to hear in 1:2 is, “I have loved you.” Here in verse 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 adamant is because He loves 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 may regret for a long time.
Verse 12 teaches that those who go forward and marry someone who is not a spiritual soul mate may be asking God to turn His back on them. I know that sounds strong but look with me at the verse: “As for the man who does this, whoever he may be, may the LORD cut him off from the tents of Jacob-even though he brings offerings to the LORD Almighty.”
Let me be quick to add two points:
- It is possible for unbelieving spouses to come to Christ. I have seen this happen and so have you. If you’re married right now to someone who does not confess faith in Christ, pray fervently and practice the principles taught in 1 Peter 3:1-6. Listen to a portion of this from the Message: “Cultivate inner beauty, the gentle, gracious kind that God delights in.”
- 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. Keep praying and providing the environment for God to go to work.
John Piper sums it up well when he says: “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.” Teenagers, you are not too young to make that decision right now. My counsel is that you don’t even go out with someone who does not share your faith. “Missionary dating” very seldom works because when emotions get involved and romance is in the air, the non-Christian is usually the one with more influence.
It’s tragic that one of Israel’s greatest kings, the one who was chosen to dedicate the Temple, got into huge trouble because he never really made this decision in his heart. Actually, when we look at his life, we learn that because he was not fully sold out to God he ended up selling out to pagan women who led him to worship false gods. It started in 1 Kings 3:3 where we read, “ Solomon showed his love for the LORD by walking according to the statutes of his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places.” In 1 Kings 10, Solomon deliberately disobeyed God by accumulating chariots and horses, the modern day equivalent to weapons of mass destruction. Pride then entered his heart and he thought he was impervious to temptation. Little did he know that his spiritual slide was picking up speed.
1 Kings 11 reports on the spiritual carnage that resulted from Solomon following his feelings instead of his faith. Listen to verses 2-4: “They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, ‘You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.’ Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. [This literally means that “he ran after” unbelieving women]. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been.” A case could be made that because he heart was divided, the kingdom was divided when he died.
Here’s how it often happens. If you’re not fully committed to Christ, you’ll be tempted to compromise and give your heart to someone who isn’t sold out to Jesus. This will cause you to go down a slippery slope that can lead to a spiritual free fall. On the other hand, and this is the key, if you determine to be fully devoted to God, then you can also make a decision right now to avoid allowing your emotions to become entangled with a non-Christian.
We’re to keep faith with others by not allowing our relationships to rupture and we’re to keep faith with God by not uniting with an unbeliever. That leads to the third instance of acting faithlessly.
3. Keep faith with your spouse: Don’t get divorced (13-16). Let me make some preliminary points in reference to verse 16: “I hate divorce, says the Lord God…”
- God does hate divorce. We can’t water this down or try to act like He doesn’t.
- God does not hate divorced people. Many of you are victims of divorce and are suffering through some incredible pain right now. Whatever the circumstances of your divorce were, God does not hate you. He loves you.
- Divorce is not the only thing God hates. Sometimes we single out divorce and forget what God said in Proverbs 6:16-19: “There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.”
- God does not forbid all divorce. Under certain very 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 let him or her 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.
- The church has not always been a healing community. I recognize that the church in general has not always been an oasis of understanding. In some instances, the church has been overly harsh on individuals who have been stung by divorce. I know we’ve not done a good job in providing you with the support that you need. And for that I’m genuinely sorry. It’s our plan to launch some ministries that will be of help to those of you in this situation.
- I am not a marriage expert and I’ve not walked in your shoes. Please don’t assume that I’m a perfect husband because I’m not. Some of you have experienced pain the likes of which I will never know. I’m not Dr. Phil, but simply a fellow follower of Christ striving to put Him first in my marriage.
As I look out into the congregation this morning, I see at least five groups of people that can benefit from this section of Scripture.
- 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. I want you to know that God celebrates singleness. Shame on us as a church for putting pressure on you to get married, or for treating you like you’re a second-class citizen. Others of you are divorced. And some of you are widows or widowers.
- The “nearly married.” Maybe you’re engaged or thinking seriously about getting married.
- The “newly married.” Perhaps you’re just starting out and things are going great or maybe you’re experiencing some turbulent waters right now. By the way, PBS did a special recently on marriage in which they pointed to a new phenomenon of “starter marriages,” in which couples treat a first-time union like a starter home – something to be outgrown and moved out of in time (Moody Magazine, 12/02, Page 18). I hope none of you are thinking this way.
- The “numbly married.” Maybe you’re just going through the motions. If you’re not careful, some of 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.
In light of the importance of this topic, and the depth of material in this chapter on marriage, I’m going to do something I’ve never done before. I’m going to break this message into two parts and conclude next Sunday by looking at the foundation and building blocks of marriage. You might want to reread verses 14-15 and the first five verses of chapter 3.
Give Heed to Hedges
What I’d like to do in closing today is to camp on a phrase that is repeated twice for emphasis. Look with me at verse 15: “So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.” And then again in verse 16: “So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.” The word, “guard” means “to hedge with thorns” or “to protect by attending to.” Since God hates divorce, are there some things we can do to promote and protect marriage today?
Getting married today is like flying an airline where you know that 50% of the planes that take-off will crash. The odds are stacked against marathon marriages today but God never intended couples to experience marital meltdown. If you’re married, or planning to get married, God wants you to have a marriage that lasts forever.
If we look at the statistics, we can get discouraged, but when we consult the Scriptures, there’s reason for hope. I’ve been very encouraged to read that there is a “counter-revolution” going on today against the divorce culture. People today are getting married later in life and taking advantage of premarital counseling because they want their marriages to last.
Here are six practical ways to keep your marriage covenant.
1. Take responsibility to grow spiritually. As we discussed last week, the greatest leadership challenge is not those around me, but what’s going on inside of me. You will not be the husband or wife your spouse needs you to be unless you take responsibility to cultivate your spiritual life. Only an open, teachable person can develop the characteristics needed in a good marriage partner.
2. Stay committed no matter what. An older couple was discussing their upcoming 50th anniversary in the grocery checkout line, when the young cashier interjected, “I can’t imagine being married to the same man for 50 years!” To which the wife wisely replied, “Well, honey, don’t get married until you can!” Listen. Divorce is not an option. Don’t joke about it or even think about it. God’s intention for marriage is that one man and one woman commit themselves to each other for the rest of their lives to building a godly home and to living in a marriage that fulfills and helps them become what God intended them to be.
3. Set up some practical hedges. Let me ask you a question. Do you love your marriage enough to protect it? One of the most helpful books I’ve read in this regard is called, “Hedges” by Jerry Jenkins (1990: Wolgemuth and Hyatt Publishers). He argues that the greatest gift you can give to your spouse is to set up some boundaries with members of the opposite sex that include, but are not limited to:
- Avoid flirting.
- Don’t be alone with the doors closed when you’re with a member of the opposite sex.
- Watch what you watch. We learn something about Job’s character when we read that he concentrated on his purity in Job 31:1: “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl.” Guys, if you don’t have an Internet filter, you need to get one. We have a link on our web site if you’re interested.
- Be careful about how you touch a member of the opposite sex. One man said, “If I knew how low it would bring me, how deeply it would hurt me, how long it would hold me, I never would have touched another woman.”
4. Commit to communicate. It has been said that communication is one of the keys to marriage. Make time to talk. And, when you have a fight, don’t go to bed angry. Ephesians 4:26-27: “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.” That doesn’t mean you have to solve the problem, but it does mean that you should at least be able to hug before you doze off. If you’re serious about this, it means you’ll have some pretty late nights!
5. Think the best of your spouse. I’ve mentioned this before but one of the best things to say when your husband or wife does something that makes you mad, is this: “Not wrong, just different.” Don’t make things moral matters if they’re just preferences. Cut each other some slack.
6. Be a servant. One of the best ways to have a marriage that lasts is to discover the secret of serving your spouse. 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.” I have some work to do because Beth’s lucky is she received 17 roses in 17 years!
Friend, no matter what you’ve done, or not done, or how hurt you are right now, allow these words from Psalm 103:11-12 to soak into your spirit: “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 105:8: “He remembers his covenant forever, the word he commanded, for a thousand generations.” Because He is the covenant-keeping God, you and I can keep our covenants with one another, with Him and with our spouses.
Pastor Jeff is going to sing a closing song called, “Go There With You.” If you’re married, and your spouse is with you, please hold hands as you listen. If you’re single, turn you right hand up on your lap in recognition that you are married to the Messiah.