Living in Light of the Future
May 25, 2003 | Brian Bill
As I mentioned last week, because of the depth of practical help for “Making a Marathon Marriage” in Malachi 2, I want to take some extra time this morning to lay out six building blocks of marriage. We’ll conclude by getting back on track with our outline next Sunday.
A man and a woman who had been married for more than 60 years kept no secrets from each other and shared everything. Well, almost everything. The wife kept a hidden shoebox on her closet shelf and had told her husband never to open it or ask her about it. For more than six decades, he had never thought about the box, but one day, his sweet wife got very sick and the doctor said she would not recover. In trying to sort out their affairs, the harried husband took down the shoebox and took it to his bride’s bedside. She agreed that it was time for him to know what was in the box. When he opened it, he found two crocheted doilies and a stack of money totaling $25,000. When he asked for an explanation, his wonderful wife replied, “Before we got married, my grandmother told me that the secret of a happy marriage was to never argue. She mentioned that if I ever got angry with you I should just keep quiet and crochet a doily.” The man was so moved that he had to fight back tears. Only two precious doilies were in the box. She had only been angry with him two times in all their years of living and loving! He almost burst with happiness. “Honey,” he said, “that explains the doilies, but what about all of this money? Where did it come from?”
“Oh,” she said, “that’s the money I made from selling all the other doilies.”
That reminds me of the man who said that he and his wife of 50 years had only been in one fight in their marriage. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the fight started on their wedding day and never ended! Last week we focused on six ways to guard our marriages so that we don’t end up as a statistic. Let me list them quickly by way of review:
- Take responsibility to grow spiritually
- Stay committed no matter what
- Set up some practical hedges
- Commit to communicate
- Think the best of your spouse
- Be a servant
These practical suggestions are helpful but they won’t do us much good if they’re not fastened to the foundations of marriage. Please turn to Malachi 2:14-15.
1. God is the witness to your vows: “…the Lord is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth because you have broken faith with her…” The word, “witness” means to “testify or record” and was used in the Old Testament of inanimate objects like the heap of stones that testified to the covenant between Jacob and Laban in Genesis 31:44-54. In addition, important legal agreements required the attestation of witnesses, and covenantal commitments called on God as the ultimate witness as in Judges 11:10: “The elders of Gilead replied, ‘The Lord is our witness; we will certainly do as you say.’” In the midst of His suffering, Job called on God to testify when he exclaimed in Job 16:19: “Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high.”
When Jonathon and David made a promise to be friends forever, they declared in 1 Samuel 20:42: “…The LORD is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever…” And in Jeremiah 42:5-6, the people pledged to the prophet that they would obey wholeheartedly, even when it wasn’t easy: “May the LORD be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with everything the LORD your God sends you to tell us. Whether it is favorable or unfavorable, we will obey the LORD our God, to whom we are sending you, so that it will go well with us, for we will obey the LORD our God.”
It’s sobering to recognize that God is a witness at every wedding. That should cause us to say, “Whether it is favorable or unfavorable, because God will testify about our vows, we will obey Him by remaining faithful to each other.” When you get married, you are vowing to be forever faithful to your spouse and you are doing so in the presence of God Almighty. It’s as if God is giving expert eyewitness testimony, “I heard what you promised and I confirmed it. I was there and saw it all happen. Your marriage is not just recorded by the County Clerk, I have the record in heaven.”
Married couples, settle this in your mind. God is the witness to your vows.
2. Your spouse is your partner: “…though she is your partner…” Proverbs 2:17 provides a strong parallel to Malachi 2. Because God is our witness, we are not to break the vows we made when we were younger. In describing a wayward wife, Solomon writes: “Who has left the partner of her youth and ignored the covenant she made before God.” The second building block is to recognize that your spouse is your partner.
Reflecting back on the account in Genesis, Malachi is reminding us about God’s original design for marriage. Genesis 1:31 sums up God’s feelings about everything He made: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” Genesis 2:18 provides a stark contrast: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” This word “helper” refers to a partner or companion. Literally, in Hebrew it means, “one who answers to, or corresponds to, one like himself, one who speaks his language.”
Then God takes on the role of an anesthesiologist, or a preacher, and puts Adam into a deep sleep. He removes a rib from his side and forms a woman for him. Then He wakes Adam up and says, “I have something else for you to look at.”
The first thing Adam’s eyes fall on is Eve; and he says in beautiful Hebrew poetry, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken from man” (Genesis 2:23). This loses something in the translation. Adam is saying something like this: “Yes! That’s what I was looking for, someone who corresponds to me.”
I like how Matthew Henry captures this idea: “The wife is to be looked upon, not as a servant, but as a companion to the husband, with whom he should freely converse and take sweet counsel, as with a friend, and in whose company he should take delight more than in any other’s” (Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1991 by Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.). Eve was not made out of Adam’s head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be his equal, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be loved.
Friend, if you’re married, then your spouse is your partner, the one who corresponds to you. You are not better than your wife or better than your husband. You are in partnership. Are you treating each other as fellow teammates? Can you say that you are friends with your marriage mate? If not, then look for ways to fortify your friendship. Spend time together. Have fun.
And when you feel like you’re not having fun anymore, don’t cut things off with your companion. Get ready to go through some struggles as well. Often the tough times are what provide the impetus for intimacy. Andrew and Terri Lyke head up a marriage ministry in Chicago. In an interview in Moody Magazine, they suggest that “when the thrill disappears, a greater litmus test can determine the strength of the marriage. It’s the sense of ‘We’re a team and we can get through this together’” (November/December 2002, Page 19).
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 was written at a time when it was dangerous to travel from one point to another without a companion. Solomon suggests that life is like that. It’s better to go through it with a friend or a marriage partner: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” When you partner with one another, and live in partnership with God, your relationship can withstand any rupture. That leads to the third building block.
3. Marriage is a binding covenant of commitment: “the wife of your marriage covenant.” It’s important for us to understand how Malachi’s listeners would have understood the word “covenant.” In Old Testament times there was a ceremony used between two nomadic tribes to promise a son or daughter in marriage. The fathers would butcher some animals, cut the carcasses in half, and then at sundown walk barefoot through the blood path. The slaughtered animals symbolized what would happen to either party if they violated the terms of the agreement.
This was the ceremony God chose to use when He entered into a covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15. Abraham was asked to take a heifer, a goat, and a ram, and cut them in two, arranging the halves opposite each other. He then fell into a deep sleep and God Himself walked the path of blood, signifying that He would always keep His side of the covenant.
There are nearly 300 references to the word “covenant” in the Bible. A covenant was an exclusive, solemn and binding mutual agreement between two parties. In Ezekiel 16:8, God compares His commitment to His people to the covenant vow that a man makes to a woman in marriage: “…I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign LORD, and you became mine.”
In God’s eyes, marriage is a covenant of committed companionship. Unfortunately, in our culture today, instead of pledging faithfulness to each other “till death do us part,” many plan to remain together “as long as we both shall love.” A Hallmark card captures this lack of commitment: “I can’t promise forever. But I can promise you today.” Hollywood has cheapened marriage by equating love with an emotion or a physical act. Friends, love is more than just a feeling that comes and goes. It’s a covenant commitment. Let me share with you one of the best definitions that I’ve ever heard: “Love is an unconditional commitment to an imperfect person.”
Unconditional means that you love your spouse not for what he or she does for you. It’s even deeper than saying “I love you because…” Unconditional means, “I love you period.” No matter what. Regardless. Always. Commitment means that love ultimately is a decision based on the vows you made, in the presence of God, and before other witnesses to be committed to each other, even if your feelings go flat. That means you stay committed even when your needs are unfulfilled and your relationship seems sterile or sour. That commitment is fleshed out through a lifestyle of servanthood in which you put the needs of each other ahead of your own. Imperfect Person. None of us are perfect. We all make mistakes and let our spouses down. Let’s cut each other some slack.
In Thornton Wilder’s 1942 drama called, “The Skin of Our Teeth,” the wife makes a beautiful statement 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.”
I think it’s important to differentiate between a covenant and contract. Paul Palmer offers a helpful clarification of the difference between the two: “Contracts engage the services of people; covenants engage persons. Contracts are made for a stipulated period of time; covenants are forever. Contracts can be broken, with material loss to the contracting parties; covenants cannot be broken, but if violated, they result in personal loss and broken hearts…Contracts are witnessed by people with the state as guarantor; covenants are witnessed by God with God as guarantor.” (“Christian Marriage: Contract or Covenant?” Theological Studies vol. 33, no. 4, December 1972, Page 639).
Ecclesiastes 5:4-6 states in very strong terms how seriously God takes our vows: “When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it. Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the [temple] messenger, ‘My vow was a mistake.’ Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands?”
Married couples, will you reaffirm your unconditional commitment to the imperfect spouse God has given you? Will you pledge to keep the sacred covenant of marriage as long as you both shall live?
The fourth foundation is that God wants you and your spouse to be soul mates, not just roommates.
4. God’s intention is for intimate oneness: “Has not the Lord made them one?” In order to fully understand this phrase, we need to go back to Genesis 2:24: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” In order for oneness to be established two things have to take place.
- Leaving. God says first of all that when we get married, we need to leave our parents. What this means is that we need to sever the emotional umbilical cord. When you get married, your spouse is to become your second priority in life, after your relationship with God. The word “leave” is a very strong word that is translated “forsake” in other places. Husbands and wives, you are to disconnect yourself from loyalty to your parent’s priorities, traditions, rules and influence. This doesn’t mean that you can never talk with them again. What it does mean is that your allegiance needs to change. Your loyalty now belongs to your spouse. Your partner should never have to compete with your parents.
- Cleaving. Second, God says that once you leave, you then need to be committed to permanence. The word “united” literally means to be permanently glued together – “to melt two separate entities together to form a permanent bond.” The word you may hear in some weddings is “cleave.” It has the idea of being bonded or welded together. This word is translated “hold fast” and is used to express the covenant commitment in Deuteronomy 10:20: “Fear the LORD your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name.”
Once leaving and cleaving take place, then the two can become one flesh. This phrase conveys the idea of oneness. When a married couple becomes one flesh, their hearts and lives are knit together. This unity is to be experienced emotionally, spiritually, and physically. God’s objective for marriage is a loving relationship of oneness. Jesus said it this way in Matthew 19:6: “They are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together let man not separate.” I like the King James here: “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” Notice again that this is a divine transaction: God has glued the two together so that they become one. This is why divorce is so devastating. It leaves not two persons, but two fractions of one.
5. Marriage is a platform to extend God’s glory: “In flesh and spirit they are His.” Marriage is the prism through which God reveals His covenant relationship with His people. This is stated strongly in Ephesians 5 where we read that when the husband and wife fulfill their God-given roles and live out His purposes, everyone around them learns more about the loving leadership that Jesus has for the church.
One of the most important things to remember is that God not only designed marriage to meet the need for companionship but ultimately to further His purposes on earth. Your marriage belongs to Him. One thing I share during premarital sessions is that couples should only get married if they believe that they can serve God more fully married than they can as singles.
Marriage is meant for ministry. Remember a yoke was designed for work. That’s why it’s essential that a believer only marry another believer. God told Adam and Eve in Genesis 2:15 to work the garden and take care of it. That means you’ve been brought together not just for your own enjoyment but also for God’s purposes, for His glory, and for the benefit of others. Someone has said that there is no higher level of human sharing than that between a man and a woman, united in love and marriage, working on an assignment that’s been handed them by God.
I’m concerned that too many of us view marriage as the end, when it is actually a means to the end. If all you do is pursue your own pleasure, your own comfort, or your own problems, you will miss what you have been designed to do. During the months of October and November we are going to participate in a campaign called “40 Days of Purpose.” Our entire church will focus on the fact that each us were born by God’s purpose and for His purpose. Whether you are married or not, when you discover why you’ve been designed the way you are, you can fully experience 5 life functions:
- Worship: You Were Planned for God’s Pleasure
- Fellowship: You Were Formed for God’s Family
- Discipleship: You were Created to Become Like Christ
- Serving: You Were Shaped for Serving God
- Evangelism: You Were Made for a Mission
6. Marriage is a greenhouse for growing godly kids: “And why one? Because He was seeking godly offspring.” This hearkens back to God’s original design when He created the institution of the family in Genesis 1:28. One of God’s purposes is to establish an extended spiritual family on earth: “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number.’”
As we look at the final foundation, let me first say that some of you wish you could have children and God hasn’t given them to you yet. Others of you may have decided to not have kids. Whatever your situation, please hear this. You are a family whether you have children or not. Forgive us as a church for putting pressure on you, for being insensitive, or for looking down on you as if something is wrong with you.
So what is Malachi saying here? God has purposed that children grow best in the environment of a committed covenant marriage. Having said that, some of you are parenting solo. I want you to know that I have the highest respect for you. I don’t know how you do all that you do. May God bless you for laying yourself out for your kids! By the way, while we’re confessing, please forgive us for referring to your families as “broken.” While you have experienced incredible pain, you are not broken or ruined. God is using you to shepherd and train your children.
This word “seeking” is very interesting. It means “to search out” or “to strive after.” Have you ever stopped to wonder what God searches for? I was only able to find three things, and guess what? They all have to do with people.
- First of all, He searches for those who are lost. In Ezekiel 34:16, God says, “I will search for the lost and bring back the strays.” Jesus summarized His mission when He said in Luke 19:10: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”
- Second, He seeks worshippers. John 4:23: “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.”
· Third, as we see in Malachi 2:15, He is seeking godly kids. Jesus was committed to embrace and bless children as we read in Mark 10:14: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”
One of the best ways for kids to come to Jesus is through the influence of godly families. In fact, we could say that the family is the school in which God’s ways of life are to be learned. Deuteronomy 6:6-7: “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”
Fellow parents, we are not just raising kids but discipling our daughters to be women who are sold out to God. We are setting spiritual standards for our sons so that they grow up to be fully devoted men of God. Here are some practical suggestions:
- Since God is seeking godly offspring, let’s recommit ourselves to praying with, and for, our kids.
- Let’s read the Bible together as a family.
- Use “teachable moments” to give God’s perspective on the trials and tribulations of life.
- Spend time alone with your kids.
- Dare to discipline them when they need to be corrected, but do it with love and grace so that they can be restored quickly.
- Take advantage of the many tools that can help you raise godly offspring: church, AWANA, Sunday School, Promiseland, Pontiac Christian School, Student Ministry, IMPACT classes, books, tapes, and other resources.
- Watch your words. Work hard at not squashing the spirit of your offspring by calling them “brats” or saying things like, “I wish I never had you…you’re driving me crazy.” Respect your children for the adults they will be some day.
We are stewards and shepherds of the little church that meets in our homes. Our kids don’t belong to us; they’re the property of God. Our job is not to raise independent children, but men and women who become dependent on God Himself. This is no easy task but since God is seeking godly offspring, He will equip us for this mission. As you look at these six building blocks, what do you need to beef up?
- God is the witness to your vows. Recommit yourself to be forever faithful to your husband or wife.
- Your spouse is your partner. What one thing can you do to demonstrate your partnership this week? Is there a project you can tackle together?
- Marriage is a binding covenant of commitment. Perhaps you need to consider renewing your vows.
- God’s intention is for intimate oneness. Think of one thing that might be blocking your unity and resolve to solve it.
- Marriage is a platform to extend God’s glory. How can you serve in a setting that brings honor to God?
- Marriage is a greenhouse for growing godly kids. What one thing is the Lord prompting you to change in your parenting?
As we close, I want to draw your attention to Malachi 3:2. After describing the work of John the Baptist in verse 1, God says that He’s going to send “the messenger of the covenant,” which is a reference to Jesus: “But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.” What this means in a nutshell is that in the days of Malachi, God’s people needed a lot of cleaning up. Like us, they needed to be purified. They needed redirection in their relationships in order to maintain their marriages.
A refiner’s fire was used to melt gold or silver. As the metal melts, the dross rises to the top and is scraped off by the refiner. He keeps looking into the crucible, removing the impurities until he can see his face in the molten metal. Friend, in the same way, Jesus sometimes puts us in the fire in order to purify us until He can see His image in us. Remember that He prunes so that we can grow because He is much more interested in our character than He is in our comfort. He takes His launderer’s soap and cleans us so that we’re forgiven. Isaiah 1:18: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”
Rick Warren puts it this way: “Your problems are not punishment; they are wake-up calls from a loving God. God is not mad at you; He’s mad about you, and He will do whatever it takes to bring you back into fellowship with Him” (“The Purpose Driven Life,” Page 98).