Faithlife Sermons

Halfhearted Marriages

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[TITLE SLIDE]
People are funny sometimes. They’ll do something. And all things have natural consequences. So, then the consequences of the thing happen. And then they get mad about the consequences.
People are funny sometimes. They’ll do something. And all things have natural consequences. So, then the consequences of the thing happen. And then they get mad about the consequences.
Like, you’re flying down the highway because you’re late for work and you get a speeding ticket. So, you shake your fist at the sky proclaiming, ‘Why me God! Why me!!!’ The simple truth is, because you were the one speeding when the police officer came along. But, let’s be honest, you probably speed through there every day and ought to be grateful you only got the one ticket. But, you do the wrong thing, you get pulled over, you get the ticket, and then you blame God for the natural consequences.
Far more seriously, many parents wonder why their adult children never come around and the cold, hard reality is, you didn’t make the effort to get to know them as kids, so it’s not so much that they avoid you, they’re just hanging out with the people who they know. And you say, ‘Why did this have to happen to me?,’ when the reality is you never made friends with your kids when you had the chance.
Our choices in life have natural consequences.
If you struggle with your weight, but you polish off a couple cartons of ice-cream every week while watching three hours of Netflix at night, you probably shouldn’t blame God or genetics. There are decisions that you have made.
You
Our choices have natural consequences.
PAUSE
And sometimes God is just like us dads. We see our kids about to do something dumb and Mom wants to go and rescue them, but I’m like, ‘No hold up, wait and see what happens.’ Cause kids learn from their mistakes. The consequences of your mistakes are there for a reason, to teach us. They’re there to teach us not punish us.
PAUSE
So, the Israelites in Malachi’s day were king of blaming God for the consequences of their own actions. We’re going to see a pattern in our text. They broke God’s law, blamed God for their suffering, and then rebelled against God entirely instead of learning from their mistakes. They broke God’s law, blamed God, and then rebelled against Him.
We’ll start with…
10-12 Taking a Foreign WifeDeuteronomy 7:3 (IVPBBCOT): The prohibition against intermarriage therefore protects the privileges of the covenant as well as the purity of their religious ideals.Note: Malachi is concerned specifically that they bring their foreign wives into the temple. 13 Crying about the consequences of your own decisions. 14-16 Treachery of divorce
7:3 (IVPBBCOT): The prohibition against intermarriage therefore protects the privileges of the covenant as well as the purity of their religious ideals.Note: Malachi is concerned specifically that they bring their foreign wives into the temple.
13 Crying about the consequences of your own decisions. 14-16 Treachery of divorce
Biblical Rules on Marriage and Sexuality are too strict. Marrying an unbeliever — or outside your tradition, or outside your calling Note, it is not an ethnicity issue (cf Ruth); the issue in the OT was covenant faithfulness to Yahweh just like in the New Testament. This advice is no different than secular marriage counselors who would aim to pair people based on other issues of compatibility. The harsh reality of Gods views on divorce.The caveatFor todaySexual fluidityGender neutralityPromiscuity Polygamy (No longer an issue of gay or strait) ExhortationYou made your bed now sleep in it. Make your beds right. Our complicated society leaves a lot of people single so it’s hard to take Paul’s advice in 1 Cor.

Breaking the Law

God had laws in the Old Testament about who the Israelites ought to marry. I won’t rehash it all here, but they were only allowed to marry people who were fellow Israelites, who were Jewish. Or they could also marry people who had truly converted to Judaism, who had become Jewish. A good biblical example of that would be the story of Ruth the Moabite marrying Boaz. In the story Ruth is a Moabite and Boaz a Jew. Ruth clearly converts to Judaism before Boaz marries her.
What you have to realize is that this command was about maintaining devotion to the Lord God. This was a 10-commandments, ‘Thou shalt have no other gods’ kind of thing. The issue had nothing to do with ethnicity. It wasn’t racism. God’s plan wasn’t to reject the other nations. In fact, God’s plan for Israel was to bring all the nations into the family of God. Look what the Prophet Isaiah recorded.
(CSB) — He says, “It is not enough for you to be my servant raising up the tribes of Jacob and restoring the protected ones of Israel. I will also make you a light for the nations, to be my salvation to the ends of the earth.”
We see this all over the Old Testament. God wanted the nations to worship Him.
[BREAKING THE LAW]
The issue for marriage was, when you marry, do not divide the loyalty of your family. If the husband follows the Lord God, but the wife follows Asherah, then the families interests are divided. And worse, was the concern that the husband might also begin to worship the foreign god as well.
Paul makes this clear in the New Testament, that even as Christians we would be wise not to marry—or to partner contractually in any way with—people who are not Christians. The Apostle Paul wrote,
(CSB) — Don’t become partners with those who do not believe. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship does light have with darkness? What agreement does Christ have with Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? And what agreement does the temple of God have with idols? For we are the temple of the living God, as God said: I will dwell and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.
Do you see where Paul went with it?
He pointed back to the Old Testament temple system. To marry or partner with an unbeliever is to invite the spirit of Belial, which is a New Testament euphemism for the devil, into your relationship.
[BREAKING THE LAW]
And you can almost hear the exasperation in Paul’s words. He’s so frustrated, because he knows something that honestly any marriage counselor today will tell you. You have to have a certain amount of lifestyle compatibility with your partner or your marriage is going to fail. Most psychologists recognize that personality differences are pretty meaningless in relationships. They don’t matter that much. If you fall in love with someone with a different personality, great, you can make it work.
But, lifestyle compatibility is so important.
I used to work with a Jewish lady who is married to a Catholic man. They chose not to celebrate Hanukkah or Christmas, thinking that was the best way to raise their kids and were basically disowned by both families because they never came to holiday celebrations. So then they started celebrating both, and you can just imagine how that must have confused their children. Their lifestyles just weren’t compatible and there were consequences. It’s bad news.
I used to work with a Jewish lady who is married to a Catholic man. They chose not to celebrate Hanukkah or Christmas, thinking that was the best way to raise their kids and were basically disowned by both families because they never came to holiday celebrations. So then they started celebrating both, and you can just imagine how that must have confused their children. Their lifestyles just weren’t compatible and there were consequences. It’s bad news.
Sociologists will tell you that Cinderella stories rarely have a happy ending. When a wealthy, upper class person marries someone out of the lower classes, they often are unable to adapt to each others lifestyles and it causes distress to the relationship.
Some amount of lifestyle compatibility is necessary when you get married.
So, that’s the context for God’s law that Israelites should not marry people from other nations. It just wasn’t going to work out well for them and it was going to pull their devotion away from God. So Malachi prophesied,
(CSB) — Judah has acted treacherously, and a detestable act has been done in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the Lord’s sanctuary, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. May the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob the man who does this, whoever he may be, even if he presents an offering to the Lord of Armies.
The tribe of Judah began to intermarry with the surrounding nations, oftentimes for political reasons. Malachi calls upon the Lord to cut off the men with foreign wives from the rest of the nation of Israel. He calls upon God to separate them from the rest of Israel to remove the corruption.
But, it wasn’t just that these men were breaking God’s law. It was also that they were…
Blam

Blaming God

… for the natural suffering that came with their disobedience.
I think we imagine many of the natural consequences of intermarrying with different religious beliefs today. We have husbands and wives who attend church alone. It gets complicated when kids come along and you have to figure out who the kids will go to worship with—or if they will at all. I’ve met very confused kids who were required to worship with both parents. That’s just a recipe for disaster. Then there’s dietary laws, piety laws, holidays and festivals, religious ceremonies, and all sorts of things that are going to conflict between two religious systems.
That’s not really any different than what was going on in Malachi’s day, except it was illegal in Israel to worship other gods so the foreign wives could get their husbands in a whole lot of trouble. To this sentiment, Malachi continues,
(CSB) — This is another thing you do. You are covering the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning, because he no longer respects your offerings or receives them gladly from your hands.
They broke God’s law and then when the consequences came, they went to God, weeping and groaning before the alter, begging God to take away the pain and suffering. They were dealing with all of the pain of their bad decisions and God was not hearing their prayers; He was ignoring them. And for this reason.
The author of the letter to the Hebrews wrote,
(CSB) — No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
They wanted to blame God for their pain, but God was going to see the discipline through to the end so that they might be trained by the discipline. I want you to think about that, because so many people today get into relationships and they begin to regret it.
[BLAMING GOD]
You have blinders on while dating and then you say your vows at the alter and the blinders come off and you have no idea what you’ve gotten yourself into.
Well, the first place that your mind jumps to as a human being is divorce. It’s your self-preservation mechanism that is coded into your DNA. You want to survive so you want to run. You want to get out.
Now, there may be times where divorce is the necessary course of action. But it is not to be taken lightly, because, the suffering you are enduring in your relationship is intended to yield in you fruits of peace and righteousness.
Think about it.
Enduring the pain of the relationship will eventually change you into a better person. Jami and I have by no means had a perfect marriage. But, we have a great marriage today. And the painful parts of our marriage have made me a better man, so I wouldn’t give that up for anything. And they have made her a better woman, so I don’t think she would give that up either.
PAUSE
I’m a philosopher in some ways, so I think about these things. Like, if I could go back in time and change something that Jami said or did, or change something that I said or did, would I change anything? And what might I change? And the truthful answer is, I would be tempted to change many things, but I could never bring myself to change a thing. Not because I’m romantic, cause I’m not. But, because, [SLOW] if I went back in time and took away some of the pain in our marriage, it would make me less of a man today.
That’s what the author of Hebrews is talking about. The discipline or the difficulty of marriage makes you a better man or a better woman. It yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness which is invaluable in this life and in the life to come.
So, when the trials of life come, even when your marriage seems unbearable, you don’t blame God. Promise me you will never blame God for delivering the discipline and you will not blame God for having a strict standard of righteousness. Discipline is for your good, but blaming God leads to…

Rebelling against God

In the Old Testament, you can see the spiritual warfare aspect of rebellion very clearly. You have to try to think like an ancient Israelite to understand this. The ancient person believed that the gods of the nations were very real beings. In fact, the Bible teaches this all over the place. For instance Paul wrote,
(CSB) — What they [pagans] sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons!
In this context pagan means not Jewish or Christian. This is a reference to . Notice the relationship to marriage.
(CSB) — They did not destroy the peoples as the Lord had commanded them but mingled [intermarried] with the nations and adopted their ways. They served their idols, which became a snare to them. They sacrificed their sons and daughters to demons.
And that’s even a throwback to Moses who wrote,
(CSB) — They [pagans] sacrificed to demons, not God, to gods they had not known, new gods that had just arrived, which your fathers did not fear.
They call the gods of the pagan nations demons, not as an illustration, but because the Greek word for demon just means ‘lesser god.’ Demons are somewhat divine, but not divine in the same way that God is divine.
[REBELLING AGAINST GOD]
The Christian and Jewish traditions used the words for demon to mean evil spirit or evil god because of what Moses and the Psalmist said about the lesser gods. The lesser gods were evil. So, it’s clear that to worship these lesser gods or demons was idolatry and thus demons were to be considered evil. That’s kind of a mind-boggling connection to make, though, because even though they are not gods in the way that God is God, they still considered the gods of the nations to be very real gods—very real spiritual beings who ruled over the nations.
So, then understand this. To rebel against God, then, was not just to turn a cold shoulder to Him, but it was to turn your face towards a lesser being, a being that was created by God. And just like humanity, these gods rebelled against the creator God. Idolatry is to worship the creature, the created thing, above and in place of the all-powerful sovereign of the universe.
To that end, Malachi spoke,
(MEV) — You cover the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping and crying out, because He no longer regards the offering, nor receives it with good will from your hand. Yet you say, “Why?” It is because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously. Yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did He not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously. For the Lord, the God of Israel, says that He hates divorce; for it covers one’s garment with violence, says the Lord of Hosts. Therefore take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.
Divorce is not just an act of disobedience. Divorce, we see is an act of rebellion against God, because it is the ungodly destruction of the oneness that God established between the man and woman in the marriage. Divorce is an act of violence on par with idolatry, because it works against God’s purposes for marriage which we will talk about momentarily. Divorce values the comfort of the self over the purpose God has for your marriage. It looks to please the self not God in the same way that the Jews often turned to the gods of the nation and defied the Lord God. Divorce is worship of the creature, namely yourself, not the creator who is God. So of course God hates divorce.
PAUSE
[TITLE SLIDE]
So, let’s recap a little. Two people get married whose lives were conflicting. The conflict causes pain in the marriage, so they go to God to take away the pain that is supposed to form and shape their charachter. But, when God doesn’t take away the pain in the timing and in the way that they hope He will, they take matters into their own hands and decide to get divorced to make the pain go away.
Let’s recap a little. Two people get married whose lives are conflicting. The conflict causes pain in the marriage, so they go to God to take away the pain that is supposed to form and shape their charachter. But, when God doesn’t take away the pain in the timing and in the way that they hope He will, they take matters into their own hands and decide to get divorced to make the pain go away.
That’s the pattern. But, there are no two people who can get married and never have conflict. All marriages are work and all marriages have conflict. And in spite of conflict many marriages are very healthy. Many couples thrive in marriage.
So, where I believe that some amount of lifestyle compatibility is necessary in a marriage, which we talked about earlier—a bare minimum being religious agreement—conflict in some senses causes marriages to fail. But, conflict can be resolved before it causes divorce. Let’s talk about…

Why Marriages Fail

I’m a firm believer that God can heal any marriage, no matter where you are at. If there has been adultery, physical abuse, even abandonment, God can heal that if you and your partner are willing to go down that path. I even believe that you can heal your marriage if it’s in distress because of a lack of lifestyle compatibility. If you have found yourself in conflicting religious beliefs or other conflicts of lifestyle direction, there is hope for that.
I do have a sidebar comment here, however. God hates divorce no matter what the reason. It’s never good. It’s always a breaking of the oneness God has established between you and your spouse. Grace and reconciliation are always better. But, there are accounts made for divorce if one or both partners have become hard of heart—that is, they are unwilling to move forward and have commited to the dissolution of the marriage. Sometimes this line is crossed after adultery, abuse, or abandonment as the cause or the consequence of hardness of heart. God still hates that divorce, but it might be the only path for the individuals to move forward in their lives and in their relationships with God and so sometimes it has to happen.
But, grace and reconciliation are always better.
How do you do that though? How do you make sure your marriage doesn’t turn out in divorce? And what do you do if you think your marriage might be headed for divorce?
Those two questions actually have the same answer.
One psychologist said,
Neil J Lavender (Ph.D.) — After close to 40 years of marriage counseling, I believe that marital failure between two relatively intact people is due to what I call a "failure to wed.”
What he means by that is that two people get married because they love each other very much, but after the marriage, they fail to wed, they fail to unify. He’s talking about something a little different than Malachi here. Malachi said,
(MEV) — Did He not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring.
Malachi notes that there is a theological oneness that happens when two people are married. From God’s perspective, there is a unity, a responsibility to one another, and a responsibility to move forward in life to create godly offspring, to raise godly children and so on and so forth. God’s design is the unity of the married couple in virtually all arenas of life.
[WHY MARRIAGES FAIL]
A failure to wed, is not a failure to become one in the sense that God has made you one in marriage. But, a failure to wed is a failure to carry out God’s design for marriage. Sometimes it’s caused by those lifestyle compatibility things we talked about. Two people don’t ever come together to operate as one because their worldviews going into the marriage are just so different.
We bring far too much individuality into our marriages. You know, God never tells us to compromise to get along with people. That’s a human invention.
Most people would love to have a great marriage, but they don’t want it bad enough to give up what they believe defines them in order to see their marriages grow. They won’t die to themselves in order to see the birth of a beautiful marriage.
So, what is the biblical advice for marriage?
Look, this doesn’t even have to do with struggling marriages. Every person here, no matter how good you think your marriage is needs to hear this. Anyone trying to have any kind of relationship with anyone can benefit from this advice. Check this out. The Apostle Paul wrote,
(CSB) — Therefore I…urge you to live worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
Have you been called to marriage?
OK, now live out your marriage in this way: humility.
[WHY MARRIAGES FAIL]
That means you have to be willing to come under the direction of your partner. You have to be willing to say, ‘I trust you, even if I disagree.’
We live in terribly confusing times. We’re coming out of a time where men had power in the household and they wielded their power in the household with an iron fist. To be a man meant to be in control. And for some of you who are newer to marriage, maybe that’s all you’ve known because you saw that on TV growing up and maybe that’s how your dad took care of your household. Well, that’s not the humility that Paul is calling for. And it’s certainly not gentleness, patience or enduring together in love. It might seem to keep the peace, but it’s not peace, it’s fear.
And, at any rate, it doesn’t work at all any more, because feminism has taken a strong enough hold on society that most women are no longer willing to submit to a husband who wants to rule his house with an iron fist. And they shouldn’t. So now you have two people in the house who both want to have power, they both want to rule. And that means conflict, often a great deal of conflict.
There has to be more to this thing if it’s going to work. And there is, because, humility in your marriage doesn’t mean compromise. Neither does it mean ruling. Neither does it mean you roll over and let your partner take advantage of you. Humility in your marriage means joyfully serving your partner. And when both people do that, the marriage works. Paul says it this way in Philippians,
(CSB) — Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves.
There’s a verse to commit to memory.
Instead of crying to God about the state of your marriage like the Israelites did or blaming God for putting you in the situation you are in, maybe try this, cause it’s God’s advice. Every marriage is hard. Every marriage takes work. Nothing good comes easy. And this certainly isn’t easy. But, try it.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition.
[WHY MARRIAGES FAIL]
That means you don’t have rules in your home, especially between you and your wife that are self-centered. If you have rules in your home that are centered around your comforts—no talking in the living room, because Dad’s trying to watch the news, or something like that—then it’s a selfish rule.
Jami and I have really tried to take this piece of advice. We did a parenting conference a while back at our house with a great teacher named Paul Tripp. He said that in parenting you should strive to not have rules that aren’t God’s rules.
And I’ve found that same advice to be equally as life giving in marriage. There are relational boundaries that the scriptures give us. There’s biblical wisdom for how to relate to the opposite sex. There’s biblical warrant for guarding personal time for prayer and the reading of scripture. But a lot of the rules we have in our homes, even unwritten rules, are not God’s rules and they are causing conflict in the home.
Well, that’s what Paul is talking about. Your household cannot be structured around serving you. Do nothing from selfish ambition.
And the second part is that we should do nothing from vain conceit. It’s one thing to make a rule like whoever gets up first in the morning has to put the coffee on. That’s just a simple operational procedure that someone has to do if your family drinks coffee. Vain conceit is when mom decides she is above making coffee and so the husband has to do it and if he doesn’t make the coffee before she’s out of bed, then she’s not getting out of bed. And if she’s late for work or the kids are late for school, or whatever, it’s dad’s fault because he didn’t make the coffee. Don’t be a primadonna. You don’t deserve anything. And if your husband blesses you or your wife blesses you, you ought to feel as though you were given a gift. You should never receive blessings in marriage as if you are only getting what you deserve. That’s vain conceit.
And that’s where the final part of this verse comes into play, because you are called to, in humility, consider your spouse as better than yourself. Even as a husband who has been called to lead the household, you are called to lead from the ground, so to speak. You are called to be a servant leader, which means you lead by setting an example of how to live through your own life. You don’t lead by barking orders from on top of your throne. And wives are guilty of that too, by the way. The biblical solution to a great marriage is to treat your partner as better than yourself, and when both parties do that, a beautiful, life-giving marriage emerges. And your marriage becomes a home to raise godly children in, as God designed.
You know, where secular psychology really got it wrong with this failure to wed thing is in the solution. Psychologists often make this all about compatibility, which is to some degree important. That’s why Paul said not to be partnered with an unbeliever. Psychologists say to find middle ground where you and your spouse are doing things together that you both love and then you’ll have a happy marriage. It’s a surface level approach that’s based on preserving the infatuation of the dating years. Which is fine. But, psychologists just treat the surface.
But, the vain of sin and selfishness in us runs too deep for that to repair a damaged marriage.
Trying to fix a failing marriage by finding doing fun things together is like putting a bandaid on a gun shot wound. It’s sort of the right idea, but it’s just not gonna do the trick. The selfishness of you and your spouse runs far too deep to put a bandaid on it. You’ve gotta get the bullet out and stitch the wound up and then bandage it with an appropriate bandage.
You’ve gotta pull the bullet out. That means you’ve got to confess that the problems in your marriage are not all because of the other person, but they are because you are a selfish sinner. And then you have to do the hard work to stitch that wound up no matter how much it hurts your pride. You’ve gotta apologize and then work through the pain of reconciliation. And then it’s going to take time to see that wound heal. And sometimes there will be infections that rise up out of old wounds and you’ve got to get back on that, put in the hard work to make your marriage happen. Weed out the selfish ambition and vain conceit and humble yourself before God and your partner.
And that’s how marriages thrive. Day-by-day you choose to honor your spouse above yourself. You choose to consider your husband or wife’s needs above your own. You serve your spouse. And again, when both people put in the work, a beautiful marriage emerges.
I have no doubt that some of you are like the Israelites. You got into a marriage you knew you shouldn’t have gotten into. And it hurts. And now God is telling you to reconcile, serve, and love you spouse and you just want out. Again there may be reasons you need to take the path of divorce. But, I want to challenge you to see the beauty of reconciliation. I want to challenge you to put in the hard work.
Others of you aren't thinking about actual divorce, but you got divorced emotionally a long time ago. The same thing goes for you. Start to put in the work. Pray. And watch the amazing things that God will do.
PAUSE
[LORD’S SUPPER]
The whole reason I think this is so significant is because this is how God has treated you and I. The sovereign creator of the universe humbled himself to love you and I. When we sinned against God, when we turned our backs on God, when we mocked God and abandoned God, God still loved us and humbled Himself before us that we might return to Him and have a beautiful fruitful relationship with Him.
You might want to give up on your marriage, but remember God wanted you when you wanted to give up on Him. And because God has made it possible for any person to be reconciled to Him through Jesus Christ, I believe any marriage can be saved—not by our power and strength, because the work is too much for us, but by God’s power your marriage can be vibrant and beautiful, no matter how bad it has gotten.
As we go to celebrate the Lord’s Supper today, I want to turn your attention, for a moment, away from your marriage. And I want to turn your attention towards Jesus, because he set the perfect example of humility. He was willing to die a death on a cross and descend into the abyss on our behalf so that we might be restored to Him. Jesus humbled Himself in a way that we will never be capable of so that by His blood and by His power we can know God. We can be the godly offspring, children of God.
And that’s what we celebrate at the Lord’s table. His death that takes away our sin. The bread representing His body broken for you and the cup representing his blood poured out for you. His resurrection reminds us that we too will rise to new life when the Lord returns for his church. And his ascension where he was seated in heaven at the right hand of the Father reminds us that we too await glory when we enter bodily into the presence of God. All of Christendom is founded on this promise, that though we die, we one day will see our God, He will be eternally pleased with us, and we will be forever pleased in Him.
I’ll pray and the band will play a song. Please hold the elements and we will take them together as the church at the end as a celebration of all that Christ has done for us.
PRAY
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