Sunday, July 14, 2013

Guarding Good Marriage (Malachi 2:10-16)

Today, we’re continuing our series through the book of Malachi, and today our text is about marriage and divorce.  I want to start this conversation with two stories from my own family.  

My Grandpa Broward was an extremely gifted man, but not a good man.  
As a young man, he directed “Broward’s Little Symphony,” which had a regular slot on the radio.  If any of his musicians didn’t show up, he simply played their instrument for the night.  Clarinet, cello, trombone, whatever - he could play them all.
As an old man, he ran a repair business for appliances and musical instruments.  He could fix anything, but refrigerators and violins were his specialty.  
But Grandpa was also an alcoholic womanizer.  He had at least 9 children, that we know of, but we suspect more.  He was a pretty nice guy when he was sober, but he was a mean drunk.   
[From this point forward several of the facts have been corrected by my Aunt Judy, so they are a bit different from what I shared in the spoken sermon.]
A few of his darkest moments were when my grandma was in the hospital for surgeries, he brought home their cleaning woman for an affair right in front of the children.  
Although Grandma moved out and filed for divorce several times, she always reunited with Grandpa until my dad came home from basic training in the army.  My dad told my grandpa that if he ever hit my grandma again, he would kill him.  I think everyone in the family believed my dad would actually do it, so to protect my dad from killing his own father, my grandma finally went through with the divorce.   That was what you might call a “good” divorce.  It was unquestionably the right decision.
Years later, Grandma’s kids started becoming Christians, with the help of Chic Shaver, a local Nazarene pastor.  Then, they began working on Grandma.  They had almost convinced Grandma to give her life to Jesus, when Grandma asked, “If I become a Christian, can I join your church?”

Unfortunately, they had to answer, “No.”  At that time, the Church of the Nazarene did not allow divorced people to become members of the church, no exceptions.  
[On this point, our family has some disagreeing memories.  My Aunt Judy says that the reason my Grandma could not join the church was that she smoked.  That also makes sense.  However, my memory is that the Church of the Nazarene did have a specific prohibition against divorcees joining the church, so both could be true.  I will do some research and update this later.]
Decades later, after the Church of the Nazarene had developed a more grace-oriented stance toward divorce, the same Nazarene pastor helped my Grandma become a Christian just a few months before she died.  

My parents were married 40 years, but only about 10 of those years were happy years.  Part of the problem was expectation.  
My mom’s parents are still living and still married, wedded bliss for 73 years and counting.  They are lovebirds to this day.  My mom expected something like that.
My dad thought that as long as he wasn’t coming home drunk and beating his wife, he was doing pretty good.  He wasn’t sleeping around, and he was taking care of the family financially.  That was lightyears better than his dad did.  So what that he was an emotionally distant workaholic?  He couldn’t understand what my mom was complaining about.  
Their marriage pretty much deteriorated from there.  They both got more and more frustrated and critical of each other.  They had big fights, big baggage, and big wounds.  Marriage counselors were helpless.  Tear filled prayers didn’t change anything.  
On the outside, they were a faithful church-going family.  My dad was taught the adult Sunday School class, and my mom ran the Vacation Bible Schools.  But I can’t even count how many vicious shouting matches they had on the way to church.  They actually separated a few times, and they talked openly with us kids about the possibility of divorce more than once.  

So today, when we talk about marriage and divorce, I talk from a family history of brokenness.  I have seen the Church’s judgment on the weak and helpless, and I have seen the Church’s cover-ups of poisonous marriages.  I’ve seen a few great marriages, but I’ve seen enough terrible marriages to know that everything is not always as it seems.

Some of us have been divorced.  Some are dealing with the pains divorce right now.  All of us know someone ravaged by divorce.  Our society, and our churches, and our families are hurting.  
Today, Malachi calls us to the carpet to account for our broken ways.  Malachi speaks as a doctor trying to stop the bleeding. 
Before we continue, let’s hear Malachi again in fresh words from The Message:
10 Don’t we all come from one Father? Aren’t we all created by the same God? So why can’t we get along? Why do we desecrate the covenant of our ancestors that binds us together?
11-12 Judah has cheated on God—a sickening violation of trust in Israel and Jerusalem: Judah has desecrated the holiness of God by falling in love and running off with foreign women, women who worship alien gods. God’s curse on those who do this! Drive them out of house and home! They’re no longer fit to be part of the community no matter how many offerings they bring to God-of-the-Angel-Armies.
13-15 And here’s a second offense: You fill the place of worship with your whining and sniveling because you don’t get what you want from God. Do you know why? Simple. Because God was there as a witness when you spoke your marriage vows to your young bride, and now you’ve broken those vows, broken the faith-bond with your vowed companion, your covenant wife. God, not you, made marriage. His Spirit inhabits even the smallest details of marriage. And what does he want from marriage? Children of God, that’s what. So guard the spirit of marriage within you. Don’t cheat on your spouse.
16 “I hate divorce,” says the God of Israel. God-of-the-Angel-Armies says, “I hate the violent dismembering of the ‘one flesh’ of marriage.” So watch yourselves. Don’t let your guard down. Don’t cheat.

Malachi’s message here seems to have three basic points, so let’s look at those slowly.  
First, marriage is a community issue.  
Are we not all children of the same Father? Are we not all created by the same God? Then why do we betray each other, violating the covenant of our ancestors? (2:10, NLT)
As God’s people, our marriages are not just our own business.  As God’s people, the health of our marriages is an issue for the whole community.  We are children of the same Father, created by the same God, participants in the same covenant.  
Our marriages reflect on the character of our God.  Our marriages reflect on the character of our church.  As Christians, we are bound to support each other as well as each others’ marriages.  
Second, avoid bad marriages.  Malachi rips the Israelite men for marrying women who worship foreign gods (2:11-12).
History taught Israel the immense spiritual power of women.   Women could either help the nation stay on track following God and justice, or women could lead the nation astray by pulling their families into worship of idols.  Even in the midst of a male-centric text in a male-centric culture, we see the people of God acknowledging the huge importance of women for the health of a nation.  Malachi’s message is that men should be careful to choose a good woman, a God-honoring woman.  
In our 21st century context, we still need to hear this message.  Women are still far more powerful than we usually understand.  Women are still the pillar of the home.  So men, be careful to choose a good woman.
But in the 21st century, the greatest temptation in this area is for women.  In general it seems that a good Christian man can usually find a good Christian woman.  But good Christian women tend to face a problem with supply and demand.  There just don’t seem to be enough good Christian men to go around.  
So many Christian women are tempted to settle, to choose someone who is not a good, high quality man, or someone who is not a practicing Christian.  Don’t do it.
Single ladies, I feel your pain.  You’re tired of being alone.  You want someone to share your life with you.  You want to love and to be loved.  I get it.  But don’t settle.  
Here is what the Bible says about marriage, “Those who marry will face many troubles in this life.”  I’m not kidding, 1 Corinthians 7:28.  Look it up.  Marriage is hard.  It’s good, but it’s hard.  Marriage is the best thing I’ve ever done, but it’s also the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  It takes a lot of grace on all sides to make marriage work.
Don’t get married to someone who isn’t well rooted in God’s grace.  Marriage is putting two people together, stripped bare of all our defenses and catapulted into all of life’s stresses with all of our warts and weaknesses and baggage.  It’s a miracle there aren’t more murders!  
Seriously, ladies.  Staying unmarried is WAY better than getting into a bad marriage.  Be patient.  Be wise.  Be strong.  Have confidence in God’s blessing of you as a powerful woman.  You don’t NEED a man.  If God gives you a worthy man, then praise God.  If you don’t find a man worthy of your immense beauty in God’s eyes, then you’re better off single.

The third part of Malachi’s message is to cultivate good marriages.  OK, so he doesn’t state it so nicely.  Prophets tend to bring heavy guns with the negative language: “God hates divorce!  Don’t cheat.”   But we get a hint at the positive side of this with the phrase, “Guard your heart.”  That is something positive we can do to protect against the negatives, which are adultery and divorce.  
But before we get into that, let’s pause for a minute to understand why the God is so uses such strong language against the negatives here.   
Marriage is not just a human institution.  In marriage, God joins two people together in a union that is physical, emotional, social, and spiritual.  Genesis says, “The two are made one flesh.”  Divorce rips that one flesh apart.
In Malachi’s time, only a man could initiate a divorce, and divorce was devastating for women.  If a man kicked his wife to the curb, he could always remarry, but she was usually considered “used goods.”  She was bankrupt and helpless, vulnerable to massive abuse.  So God is actually standing up for women here.
Divorce is hard on everyone, but even today, divorce is harder on women than men.  For both men and women, getting a divorce is more stressful than going to prison, more stressful than losing your home to foreclosure, more stressful even than the death of a close family member.
  But women seem to internalize this stress more than men.  We might expect divorce to have an economic impact on women, but it also increases their chance of heart disease by 60% (University of Texas study in 2006).
And study after study has shown that divorce negatively impacts children.  It decreases their likelihood for academic success.  It increases the likelihood that they will smoke, use drugs, get involved with crime, or engage in risky sexual practices.  And divorce decreases children’s mental and physical health both as children and even into their adult years.

The Bible does allow for divorce in two specific circumstances: adultery and abandonment.  If the other person rejects the marriage covenant, then the marriage is dead anyway.  But even if divorce is sometimes necessary, God still hates divorce because God hates the wreckage it causes in our lives.
Let’s go back to the positive side.  The best defense is a good offense.  If we don’t want more divorces, then we need more good marriages.  How do we cultivate good marriages?  Malachi says, “Guard your hearts.”  Let me suggest three ways to guard your hearts.
  1. Guard your time.  Good marriages take time.  Set limits on how much you will allow yourself to work.  Establish some weekly rhythms as boundaries to protect your family life.  Our family has established three firm habits: family night, date night, and sabbath.  No matter how busy we get, we work hard to protect at least these three times for the health of our marriage and our family.  
  2. Guard your eyes.  I know this sounds old fashioned, but watching or reading stuff about adultery actually increases your chances of having adultery.  No Strings Attached or 50 Shades of Grey will not help your marriage.  Men, I know porn is almost omnipresent, but porn is not harmless.  At the very least, porn makes us increasingly dissatisfied with our marriages and more likely to have an affair.  If you’re struggling with porn, come talk with me and check out  
  3. Guard your love tank.  Gary Chapman popularized the idea that every human has an internal “love tank.”  When our love tank is full, when our spouse is meeting our emotional needs for love, then we are healthier and happier and feel immensely loving toward our spouse.  When our love tank is low, either from other stress, or lack of input from our spouse, then we get cranky, critical, cold, or just bored.  But not every person receives love in the same way.  We have to learn our spouse’s “love language” and learn to give love in the ways that are most meaningful for our spouse.  If you want a healthy marriage, paying attention to your love tanks is critical.  (Read The Five Love Languages or check out to get started with this.)

If you want to avoid divorce, you need more than a bitter stubbornness to hold on no matter what.  You need a great marriage.  You need to guard your heart by guarding your time, your eyes, and your love tank.  
And let me say this clearly.  There is no shame in getting help.  If your marriage is struggling, get the help that you need.  You can go to counseling even if your spouse doesn’t want to.  If one of you changes, your whole marriage will change.  Talk to Greg or I if you want some help with improving your marriage.
Now, how does Jesus fit in to this Old Testament discussion about marriage?  How does Jesus make a difference in our 21st century marriages?  
First of all, Jesus teaches us to forgive.  My Grandpa Jetton (my mom’s dad) performed our marriage, and he asked us, “What are the three most important words in any marriage?”  
We said, “Uh ... ‘I love you’ ?”
He said, “No, they’re ‘I am sorry.’”  
And he’s right.  Forgiveness is critical in any marriage.  There are few guarantees in life, but one of them is that if you’re married, your spouse is going to hurt you.  Get used to it, and be quick to ask for forgiveness and to give forgiveness.  As Paul says, “be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).  
Second, as much as we love our spouses, God’s love is our foundation not our husbands or wives.  Jesus reminds us to build our houses on the rock of his teaching because all other ground is sinking sand (Matthew 7).  If our spouses are the center point of our sense of worth and stability, that puts far to much pressure on them and on us and on our marriage.  But if God’s unshakeable love is the foundation of our lives, then we can engage each other from a place of peace and strength instead of anxiety and need.  That makes a huge, huge difference in how we interact.  
Lastly, Jesus is proof that there is always hope.  Jesus was dead, and he was raised.  No marriage is beyond hope.  No person is beyond transformation.  No wound is beyond healing.  No matter what your marital situation is and no matter what wounds you have experienced, the crucified and risen Christ is able to address your needs.  

Remember that I told you my parents were married for 40 years and that only 10 of those were happy years.  The last 8 years were as happy as the first 2.  The 30 bad years were in between.
After three decades of bad marriage, my mom filed for divorce.  My dad was wrestling with a few different addictions, and my mom finally gave up and told him to move out.  
My dad hit rock bottom.  He went into a major depression, but he also started reaching out for help like never before.  He joined a few 12-step groups and went all in in the recovery process - doing 30 meetings in 30 days, sometimes going to more than one meeting a day.  He started going to a counselor who specialized in addictions, and he came clean about his addictions in front of the adult Sunday School class he had taught for 15 years.  Through the raw honesty of those twelve step groups and the love and support of the Christian family, God began to heal wounds that reached all the way back to his childhood.  My dad, the stoic, became a softy inclined to tears in his old age.  
My dad’s healing enabled further healing in my mom and in their marriage, and God worked a miracle and brought their marriage back from the brink.  My dad moved back home, and they were honeymooners again until my dad passed away.  I know from personal experience, no marriage is beyond hope.  

Marriage is a community issue for us as Christians.  Let’s work together and pray together for healthy marriages that will show God’s love to our world.  

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