?In our culture today there is a monumental clash of opinions concerning the institution of marriage. The church needs to be aware of it; Christians need to be taking it very seriously!
There are those, speaking from a purely secular point of view, who insist that human beings, over the course of many centuries, have devised different ways of organizing society. Moreover, these different ways have quite naturally evolved; and somewhere in the process, something that we now call marriage appeared on the scene. But these people say that marriage, as it now exists, clearly is not working! They cite, of course, the high incidence of divorce; and as we all know, many people who don’t divorce are locked into a marriage that is loveless and joyless. But, they cheerily add, “Don’t worry about it because, as we know, over the centuries, better solutions to human dilemmas have evolved, so we can expect to see alternative lifestyles evolving! We should embrace them because they will be a marked improvement!”
A lot of people probably could not articulate this theory, but they are certainly learning to put it into practice! Divorce has become normative, multiple marriages are not at all unusual, and large numbers of people are not getting married at all-and these “improvements” are being heralded as sociological advances. Many children are being born “out” of what we used to call wedlock, and that which was regarded with disfavor not too long ago is now accepted by a large segment of our society.
What is the alternative view? The traditional (and biblical) view is: Marriage is not an idea devised by human ingenuity that is progressing to superior lifestyles through an evolutionary process, but marriage is a divine principle, part of the created order. Marriage is a creation principle. It is based on this fundamental, ancient statement: “At the beginning of creation God made them male and female. For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother, and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh! So they are no longer two, but one! Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate!” (
The clashing opinions are plain to see. Do we simply say that marriage is a human idea, predicated on human ingenuity, going through an evolutionary process and as it hasn’t worked we’ll move on to alternate lifestyles? Or do we say that marriage is a divine idea predicated on creation principles, as fundamental and vital to human well-being as natural laws are fundamental and vital to the orderly survival of the planet? The church needs to decide where it comes down on the issue, not just in theory but in practice!
Of course, if we insist on the biblical view of marriage in the churches, there is a great need for us not only to defend it but we must practice it in such a way that people will not be able to say, “Marriage doesn’t work.” Because when done God’s way, marriage most emphatically does work!
If we accept the biblical view of marriage, it follows quite naturally that we will recognize principles of family life that are mandated by God, too. Does God have anything to say on the subject of family? Does He have anything to say on the subject of children? Does He have anything to say about the raising of children within the family structure?
We will find straightforward answers to these important questions in one of the less-familiar parts of Scripture, the prophecy of Malachi.
After a long time in slavery and then in the wilderness, the Hebrew people were allowed to enter their promised land. They became a unique nation under God. This nation was called to be a lighthouse, a city set on a hill to the rest of the nations
surrounding them. They were to be an example, under God, to all the nations of the world; and they were to have an impact on all the nations of the world!
However, what happened was desperately sad! Instead of this chosen nation affecting the nations around them for good, the nations around them infected the people of God for evil. In the end, they warranted the judgment of God, and they were carried off into what we call the Babylonian captivity. Their land was devastated, but eventually those who wanted to go back were released. After a long struggle they eventually rebuilt Jerusalem and the temple, and life began to return to normal. Yet it wasn’t long until the people reverted to their old bad habits; they failed lamentably to be the unique people that God had called them to be-instead of affecting the nations around them, they were infected by the nations around them. It was at that point that Malachi came on the scene.
Speaking as God’s prophet, Malachi had two major criticisms of the people of Israel. First, the men of Israel knew perfectly well that there had been a centuries-old taboo on them marrying women from other tribes. This was not a racial thing; it was a spiritual taboo because the uniqueness of the Jewish people was that they were monotheistic. They worshiped the One true God; all the other peoples in the region were polytheistic-they worshiped many gods. God knew that if the Hebrew men married pagan women the husband would have some influence, the wife would have some influence, and they would take some of what he believed and some of what she believed and finish with a mish-mash of a religion; the technical word being Syncretism. Syncretists tend to believe deeply in nothing much. That was the danger, and that was precisely what was happening.
But it was even worse than that, for these men of Israel were not only marrying pagan women, they were divorcing their Hebrew wives in order to do it! This was being interpreted by God as “the breaking of the covenant, and a breaking of their faith.” Malachi’s job was to point this out to the people to show how they had lost their distinctive and were failing to be what they were uniquely called to be. Malachi needed to show them how this unacceptable set of circumstances had to be rectified.
How did Malachi begin to address the issue? He said, “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?” (
But notice that the prophet didn’t start off talking about the people and their problem; he started off talking about God. Here is a simple rule: When we have a human problem, don’t try to solve it by starting with the human problem. Instead, start with God and work from who He is and what He is saying. In other words, when you have a practical problem, start solving it by getting your theology straight!
Notice also how he stressed the word “one.” “One Father.” “One God.” “One another.” Then when he talked specifically about marriage in verse 15, he said, “Has not the Lord made them [that is, a man and a woman] one? In flesh and in spirit they are his. And why one?” So you’ve got “one, one, one, one, one!” Five mentions of the word “one.” You know, if a word is repeated over and over again in Scripture, that’s probably the dominant theme of what you are reading! Malachi’s unmistakable theme was “one-ness”!
Malachi was addressing a major problem in Israel! He reminded them, first of all, that they were a unique people who worshiped one God as opposed to many gods. That was a unique distinctive of the people of Israel. So he said, “Did not one God create us?” He saw God, the One God, as the Creator of all people! If you were to go to a Jewish worship service this day, one of the major themes of that worship service would be a quotation from
That is the foundational statement of Judaism. “The Lord our God is one”! That means He is the one and only-He is utterly unique. It means He is totally different. He is One. He is the Alpha (beginning) and Omega (the end of all things). He is numero uno!
The Old Testament Scriptures start very simply by saying, “In the beginning God.” No preamble, no introduction, no apology, no index, just, “In the beginning God,” because that’s where you start! God is the unique One! He is the unique Creator!
What that means, of course, is that every human being who ever existed was created by the same One who created you! Which means that’s there is a “solidarity” to the human race; which means there really is something called the brotherhood of man. If human beings began to believe that, they would stop treating each other the way they do! If they believe that because they are created by God they are special, why then don’t they believe that the other people, created by the same God, are equally “special”? Believing in one God has all kinds of ramifications.
Malachi added, “Don’t we have one Father?” God had gone a step further! He had revealed Himself not only as God-that could have been impersonal, a power unknown and unknowable, a mysterious and majestic God striking awe and fear in the hearts of His creation-but He had declared Himself eager for an intimate relationship with the creatures of His creation. God targeted a man called Abram, called him, commissioned him and instituted a covenant with him. God said, “Abraham, through you I will produce a people, a unique people, and through
this unique people, your descendants, all the nations of the world will be blessed.” That was what God decided for the Jewish people!
And He said to Abraham, “Your response to that promise will be very simple. I am going to provide for you; I’m going to protect you; I’m going to direct you; and I’ll give you all the resources that you need. You will be blessed beyond your wildest imagination! Your response, of course, will be ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and mind, and soul, and strength!’” That’s the essence of the covenant!
Now we see that the One Creator is eminently personal and committed to a divine/human relationship. God’s people will still be expected to reverence, fear and stand in awe of Him; but they will also realize that they can love Him, serve Him, worship Him, trust Him, and they can obey Him! They are people of the covenant! The One Creator has shown He is also One Father, and they can relate to Him in both capacities.
But notice something interesting! Malachi went on to complain about the people of God saying, “They have profaned this covenant of our Fathers by breaking faith with one another” (2:10). There was apparently an aspect of the covenant that was so significant that failing to keep it was tantamount to breaking the covenant! Jesus explained this aspect of the covenant. He said, “From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother, and be united to his wife, and the two will become flesh! So they are no longer two, but One” (Mark 10:6-8).
Those who are believers are members of the covenant people-not just created by God-but part of a family because God is their Father. Some of them-some men, some women-will now come together in another aspect of the covenant, a covenant of marriage in which they will make commitments amounting t “I commit myself to you, you commit yourself to me, and God will make us one!”
As the people of God began to break the covenant of marriage, their behavior amounted to profaning the covenant with God! But what is the connection between the two? How does breaking the one profane the other? Aren’t they two entirely separate issues? Apparently not, because Malachi said, “God is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth” (
We have One God, who is Creator. We have One God of covenant. He brings covenant people together in marriage, and He makes two people One. One, One, ONE!
Now Malachi has a question: Why One? “Why did You make them One?” And the answer is: Because He desires godly offspring!
Have you got it? There is one God, Creator, and there’s one God of covenant. This covenant God brings a man and woman together and makes them one!
He makes them one in two different ways! First of all, there is a spiritual oneness. In fact, He talks about them being “One in flesh, and spirit” (
So when you actually stand at a wedding, something remarkable is happening! Two people, under the covenant relationship with God the Father through Jesus, having been brought together, now stand in front of their family and friends and God-the witness-to make their vows to each other. And as they do, the Spirit of God works in their lives and makes two people one! Then they go on their honeymoon and-I don’t think I’m giving away any secrets here-it is not unusual on their honeymoon, hopefully, for that marriage to be consummated! And now they are one in flesh!
You did notice the order, didn’t you? I don’t know if you are aware of this, but the people who insist on engaging in sexual oneness without God first uniting them in spiritual oneness are simply re-enacting a lie!.
When God makes two people one in marriage, in spirit and flesh, guess what happens? Little offspring often come along. It’s quite normal! In fact, it’s more than normal; it’s divinely intended! God intends that because these “little ones” were brought into this covenant family, then it is incumbent on the parents who care for the child to bring up the child to become what the Creator God of covenant intended the child to become. The child is intended to become godly offspring! Makes sense, doesn’t it? One, one, one, and one, and now we’ve got a little one! The expression “godly offspring,” is not a very good translation of the Hebrew. “Godly” is an adjective, “offspring” is a noun; in the Hebrew it’s two nouns-literally a “God offspring.” Another way of putting it could be a “God kid,” that is “a child of the covenant”!
Jesus was a Child of the covenant, a “godly offspring.” His parents brought Him to the temple on the eighth day, He was circumcised, He was a Child of the covenant! Now, we have a little clue about how He was brought up! We are told that “Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and men.” So this is what you can realistically expect to see in a “God kid” who has been brought up in favor with God and in favor with man. The parents will be making absolutely certain that that child is developing and maturing normally in a balanced way.
There are four dimensions to this, like a four-legged stool, with each leg strong and of equal length. Growing in wisdom means growing intellectually! Growing in stature means developing physically! Growing in favor with God means maturing spiritually! Growing in favor with man means developing socially in an appropriate manner! That is what we are supposed to be doing, raising well-rounded kids-physically, intellectually, spiritually and socially.
Let me give you one little clue that comes out of all of this: It’s perfectly obvious that Malachi is saying, “There is a direct link between stable marriages and godly offspring!” In other words, if the marriages are unstable-if there is unfaithfulness there; if there is a breaking of covenant there; if there is inconsistency there-then there is less likelihood of that child understanding what it is to be a “God kid” because that child has been surrounded by things that are not at all helpful.
Let me give you a very simple acrostic of the word CHILD that I think helps us to understand the kind of environment in which it is most likely that godly kids will grow.
First look for CHARACTER. What I mean by character is Christian character. The people Malachi was talking about continued to go to church, we know they continued to put something in the plate, they said their prayers. But we also know they were divorcing their Hebrew wives and were marrying pagan women! We also know they were being more infected by nations around them than they were affecting the nations. In other words, they were going through the motions, but at heart there was no spiritual reality! That is fundamental inconsistency; and kids can smell it a mile off! We are looking for character where there is performance that equates to profession. “C” stands for character.
“H” stands for HARMONY. If there is discord, if there is unfaithfulness, if there is a fighting and a feuding between the parents, the child is going to be insecure. If the child is insecure in that situation, the likelihood that he will grow up into a secure, mature kid is much less likely!
Our daughter, Judy, did a Ph.D. at New York University years ago. Her dissertation concentrated on “The Impact of Divorce on Adolescent Development.” She studied intact families, divorced families and broken families in various ethnic groups all over New York City. One of the
conclusions she reached in her research was that children of divorce showed that their development was affected, and there was no getting away from it. But this is significant: Children of intact families that were subjected constantly to arguments and fighting and feuding tended to be as unstable as the children of divorce. In other words, it wasn’t divorce that was the problem; it was the things that led to the divorce that were the problem! So people said, “Oh well, we might as well get a divorce then.” No! It means we need to recognize that “if there is not harmony between the parents, there will be instability in the children.”
“C” stands for character, “H” stands for harmony, “I” stands for INSTRUCTION. What kind of instruction? I’ll give you a little bunch of words here that you can think about! Protection, direction, inspection.
Protection: A lot of kids have no idea of the danger that lurks! Who points it out to them? Godly parents!
Direction: A lot of kids have not a clue what to do with their lives. I can’t believe how many kids are just going off to college now, and they haven’t a clue why they are going! They lack any sense of direction! Who gives them direction? Well, here’s a biblical statement: “Bring up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it”! The big issue is this: Who decides the way he should go? Parents? No, a lot of parents try to do that! God knows why He made that child! God knows why He’s drawn that child to Himself. God knows the end from the beginning! God knows the way he should go! What’s the parent’s job? Direct the child to discover how God can show him or her what God wants them to do! That’s how we instruct them. So what do we instruct them in? Protection and direction and then…
Inspection: When we send them off on the way we think they should go, so they can find out what God wants them to do, we keep an eye on them and see what they are getting into. Parents, have you any idea what movies your kids are watching? Do you supervise what they are doing on the Internet? Do you know what they are reading? Do you discuss with them their required reading that they have at school? Do you read their books? Or are you just letting them go?
Character, harmony, instruction; “L” stands for LOVE. There are two things that human beings need to learn: how to receive love and how to express love. The two are both very tricky things because there is so much confusion as to what love is. What does it look like? How does it behave? Who do we follow? Hollywood stars? Rock stars? Athletes? Rather, kids should be following loving parents who are showing them how to give love and how to express love.
Character, harmony, instruction, love, and “D”-DISCIPLINE. Jill and I have tried very, very hard to produce a garden that resembles an English garden. We’ve been trying for 38 years, and we haven’t even really come close! We have two problems: Wisconsin weather and Wisconsin deer. We’re trying to grow roses. The problem is, if you leave them alone-and we travel extensively-they grow all kinds of weird stuff. If you leave the right stuff and prune away the weird stuff, then the rose bush produces blooms, and the blooms produce perfume. But leave the rose bush alone, and you’ll get a great crop of thorns!
Kids need pruning! Just leave them to it and they’ll grow all right; but if they’re not disciplined and not loved and not carefully instructed, and if they are not protected and directed and inspected, there’s a possibility they will produce thorns.
God is looking for godly offspring-God kids! Listen, this is not intended to be “a guilt-inducing talk.” Remember, “Ideals are like stars, we seldom reach them, but we steer by them.” These are the ideals that God is looking for, and that’s what we need to steer by. You are not going to produce perfection even if you work on protection, direction and inspection. That doesn’t mean to say, “We don’t know what we’re aiming for!”
No doubt, I’m talking to some people today and you are saying, “You know, Stuart, in all honesty, I think we made
a reasonable attempt to give our kids direction, and I think we tried to live consistently before them; but they are miles away now! They are nowhere near being ‘God kids’!” Well, let me remind you of something: you are not responsible for the decisions that your kids make. You are responsible to give them the tools to make responsible decisions. You are responsible to give them a clear understanding of the options that are open to them. You are responsible to make absolutely certain that they have a clear-cut understanding of what the Christian faith is all about. Then it is up to them, and the decisions are theirs!
Also, remember this: If some of you are thinking to yourself, Well, I failed in my marriage, I’m responsible for a divorce, I have gone through situations where I’ve been unfaithful, and I’ve broken the covenant, let me remind you that failure is not final.
God is able and willing to forgive us, if we’ll admit our sin and turn from our sin and say, “Lord, I come from You, I live through You, I want to live for You!” And He will say, “Good, you are my man,” or “You are my woman, and I’m your God.” Today is the first day of the rest of your life! Go to your family and work on your kids; produce something that blooms and produces perfume, and not thorns!
?In our culture today there is a monumental clash of opinions concerning the institution of marriage. The church needs to be aware of it; Christians need to be taking it very seriously!