Saturday, September 09, 2006

God and Family

Text: Malachi 2:13-16 -- “13 And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord's altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. 14 But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. 16 “For the man who hates and divorces, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”

Malachi was written at about the same time as Ezra and Nehemiah (between 458 and 433 BC). It was written for Israelites who thought that, in terms of their relationship with God, they were OK. After all, they were performing religious duties, they were offering sacrifices, their priests were teaching-- yet inwardly they were corrupt. They adopted a form of religiosity, but their hearts were far from Him. They were offering blind animals for sacrifices, as if to say, “We don’t need this one; we’ll give it to God”.

Further, Israel’s men had left their wives and intermarried with foreign women (2:11). So, besides violating personal trusts, they were guilty of divorce and marriage to women who could lead them into idolatry.

Now, there are two points to draw from the passage we read earlier; the first ist this:
Point 1: The state of your marriage impacts the acceptability of your worship (vs. 13-15a, 15c-16a).

Now, you may be tempted to think, “That doesn’t apply to me; I’ve never been unfaithful to my spouse, and I’ve never divorced. I’m off the hook!” But remember Christ’s words in Matthew 5:27-28-- It’s not just actual unfaithfulness to your wives, but letting your mind be carried away with desire for another. This reveals a discontent heart, which begins when you are failing to cherish and treasure her.

Proverbs 5:18 tells husbands to "rejoice in the wife of your youth". Matthew Henry said, “She is the wife of thy youth, who had thy affections when they were at the strongest, was thy first choice, and with whom thou hast lived long. Let not the darling of thy youth be the scorn and loathing of thy age.”

To divorce is to commit an act of violence, of hate (v. 16, ESV). Divorce reveals a heart of hate, and of discontentment, which is sin. Therefore, it’s not just the divorce, but the heart conditions of hate and discontentment that precede the act that are sin: anger/rage/fury, which are fleeting forms of hate, or resentment/bitterness/failure to forgive, which are more long-term forms of hate. Perhaps you see your spouse as a “dream-squasher”. Early on in your relationship, you had all kinds of ideas regarding what your life would be like. They did not come about, and so you blame your spouse. You need to forgive, and to realize that you are where you are now by God’s sovereign design. Perhaps it was for your protection that those dreams didn’t pan out, or perhaps it was more needful for you to learn patience, humility, or forgiveness.
So, these attitudes of hate are where the sins of which Malachi spoke begin.
Do not think you can offer acceptable worship to God if any of these attitudes are present in your marriage.

Matthew 5:23-24 informs us that we are to lay our gift at the altar, make it right with our brother or sister in Christ first, and then and only then will God accept our worship.

I know of a church that was celebrating the Lord’s Supper. One elder had just served the elements, and the congregation was quietly reflecting on the Lord’s death on our behalf. Just then, a church member hastened up front, put his hand on the shoulder of the elder serving the elements. The elder smiled, and nodded his head. You see, that church member felt that he had offended the elder, and, in obedience to this command, hastened to make it right before he felt he could offer worship to the Lord. What a great example of how we must make our relationships with one another right before thinking we can be in fellowship with God. And certainly we should make things right with our spouse before worshipping (even private worship).

1 Peter 3:7 says that if you, the husband, fail to honor and understand your wife (horizontal relationship), your prayers will be hindered (vertical relationship).

Two other thoughts are present in this first point: First, The husband must be faithful to his wife because she is his companion. (v. 14b). As Matthew Henry says, “She is thy companion; she has long been an equal sharer with thee in thy cares, and griefs, and joys." 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; for is she not appointed to be thy companion?”

Second, God hates divorce because it is a breaking of a covenant (v. 14a,c). It is not just a covenant between you and your spouse, but before the Lord; with Him as witness. When I wed my wife, I said these words: “I, Phil, take you Sara, to be my lawfully wedded wife… before God and these witnesses.”

Point 2: God has given us children, not primarily for our enjoyment, but for His glory.

God says, “The reason I gave marriage was because I wanted more godly ones. I wanted more ones just like Me, to be a light to this dark world. That was Israel’s task in producing offspring, and it’s ours, too. The command, “be fruitful and multiply”, was not given because God wanted the world filled with sinners; rather this command was given to His children, to fill the earth with godly ones, His children.

We give much thought to evangelism, but often fail to realize that the gospel should also be spread through the rearing of godly children. God wants to glorify Himself through godly children, who become godly parents and produce more goldy children.

This is why we were created: In Isaiah 43:7, God speaks of those “Whom I created for My glory”. A Christmas Tree in a Red Skelton skit was fond of asking, “What’s my purpose for being here?” Our purpose for being here is to bring glory to God--to increase and enhance His reputation in the world (see Malachi 1:11, 1:14, 2:1, and 2:5). Puritan Jonathan Edwards said that God’s glory is “the end (or ‘purpose‘) for which God created the world”, and both parents and children have the privilege of living out that purpose. Let this one purpose be the purpose that drives you!

So, this is God’s design for families; this is why He created the parent-child relationship. He could’ve just had each generation created like Adam from the ground. But He didn’t!
How do children bring God glory? To answer that question, just think about what God communicates to us about Himself by creating the parent-child relationship: Fatherly care/protection/provision (as well as motherly nurture) on His part, and total dependency on another on our part. It teaches us His Fatherly wisdom and our childlike naïveté. It further teaches us that Grander purposes exist (which we can’t always comprehend) for the difficult times we encounter--just as an earthly Father may rap a toddler on the hand to prevent him from sticking his finger in an electrical outlet, so God may allow difficult things in our lives, but always does so out of love, for our good, and for His glory.

We could continue to make these comparisons, but the point is: parent-child relationships are a means used of God to instruct us regarding Himself. It’s similar to the analogy Paul makes in Ephesians 5 between the husband-wife relationship, and the relationship Christ has with His church. Did Paul simply look around for a human comparison to describe Christ’s relationship with His church? Or could it be that God designed marriage for this very purpose: to instruct His people regarding His ways with them. So it is with the parent-child relationship. Remember God’s sovereignty, and that there is no happenstance with Him; He is purposeful in all He does.
The Exhortation--vs. 15c, 16b: “guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”
(repeated). Be on guard; be vigilant, against:

1) The enemy, who prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter5:8)
2) The world, which seeks to conform us to its pattern (Romans 12:2), and
3) Our flesh, since we sin when we are carried away and entice by our own lusts (James 1:14).

If you think you have built walls sufficient to keep out the enticements of the devil and the world, you may have neglected this one vitally important fact: there is, as Puritan John Owen has said, “an enemy within”. That’s why it’s so important to ask God: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there by any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24). Yes, examine yourself-- but also be aware of your capacity for self-deception.

For the children: If God has given you godly parents (sinners, yes, as you well know; yet they do tell you about Jesus, they pray with you, and they take you to church). He has done this that you may glorify Him by becoming a God-lover yourself, who is grateful for what Jesus did for you, and who never gets over this.

Think about it: God could have had you born in an alcoholic family where Christ’s name is used as a swear word, rather than being adored.

If you do not come from a godly family, here is your opportunity for thankfulness: that, though you did not have the advantage that others had, and though it seemed very unlikely that you should ever hear the good news of the gospel of Christ, yet God had had mercy on you. Marvel at His sovereign design, that God easily overcame such earthly obstacles so He could adopt you as one of His own.

Whatever your situation, do not waste this opportunity God has given you. By bringing you to a place where you can hear the gospel of Christ, He’s given you a great advantage others do not have. You get one life: it’s like a dollar bill: spend it as you will, but you only get one. “Your life is a vapor” (James 4:14).

Can you imagine if, during the Olympics, an athlete was running in a relay race, with his team in the lead, and the moment the baton was handed to him he stops running, looks at the baton, hurls it into the stands, and walks over to centerfield to play in the grass? We would think it ridiculous to even imagine that someone would squander such an opportunity to be a part of history and to bring great honor to his country. Yet people do this in the spiritual realm all the time. Their parents have given them a baton of a godly heritage, and they chuck it away to play with the world’s trifles.

What do I do when I blow it?

-Confess it to God (1 John 1:9)

-Ask the Savior for strength to not repeat the folly (Hebrews 2:18, 4:16).

-Run to the cross. This is perhaps the most neglected step. We will blow it; we’re sinners. Let that serve as a reminder to you about why the Sinless Savior died. 1Jn 1:8-2:1 tells us: Don't sin; but if you do, we have an Advocate with the Father! We have a defense attorney Whom the Judge always listens to, always believes, and always rules in His favor! And His case is this: “They’re not guilty of the crime, because I’ve already done the time! What they’ve done is a capital offense, and deserves capital punishment, the death penalty; but I, their attorney, have already been executed in their place! Let’s use our failures to thrust us into thankfulness for the Savior’s payment of the penalty of our sin!

So, glorify God in these relationships He has put you in. Guard yourselves, and do not be faithless!


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