Introduction: The UPI recently carried a story from Philadelphia with this headline: “Couple Marries at Uncle’s Funeral.” The article said: A Philadelphia couple, honoring a deceased loved one, got married at his funeral, in a surprise ceremony that astonished 850 onlookers in the church. The marriage of Reggie Wade, 39, and his bride, Monique McMillan-Wade, 29, took place this month at the funeral of Wade’s uncle, Gregory “Chops” Scott, who was shot to death Feb. 27, the Philadelphia Daily News reported Thursday. Before his death, Scott promised to walk the bride down the aisle, because her father had died years ago. Wade said he and McMillan-Wade chose to honor Scott’s promise by combining their wedding with his funeral. “We keep our promises, and he promised to give her away,” said Scott’s widow, Alfreda Johnson-Scott. “And he was dressed for the occasion.”
Well, a lot of marriages feel like funerals later so, but not usually so quickly. As the Old Testament came to a close, the Lord devoted some space in the book of Malachi to talking about the subject of marriage. He opened the Old Testament with teaching about marriage—in fact, with the story of the first wedding in history between Adam and Eve. But many marriages hadn’t gone very well in the Old Testament, and even in this next-to-the-last chapter of the Bible, the Lord was concerned about the health of the homes and marriages of His people and giving instructions about them.
Background: The book of Malachi was written about 400 years before Christ, and the chronology is important. The nation of Judah had been destroyed by Babylon nearly 200 years before, in 587 BC. A remnant had returned in 538 BC, and had rebuilt the temple. Nehemiah had come and rebuilt the walls in 444 BC. So now, what? The Israelites were no longer an independent nation. They were a province of Persia, surrounded by Palestinians who hated them, and there seemed to be no prospects for much of a future. Their temple was small and inferior when compared to the memory of the one that used to stand on Temple Mount. Their enthusiasm died away, and they were simple going through the motions.
How easily that happens! This is what Christians in an earlier generation called accidie, when we just start going through the motions. We open our Bibles and have our devotions, not because we’re excited about meeting with the living God, but just because we know it’s something we’re supposed to do. We get up and go to church on Sunday, not because we’re eager to worship the Lord, but just because we know it’s something we’re supposed to do.
God sent Malachi to deal with the people of Israel about this problem of externalism and spiritual fatigue. It’s a serious problem, and it’s one we all face. Malachi dealt with this issue in an unusual way. He wrote his book as though it were a counseling session between God and His people. This is written in the form of dialogue in which the Lord makes a statement and the listeners respond to it questioningly. This book is divided into six sections. The first section talks about what happens when we’re no longer moved by God’s love (1:1-5). The second section talks about what happens when we’re no longer enthused in His service (1:6 – 2:9). Now tonight the third section talks about what happens when we’re no longer faithful to His family (3:10-16).
1. We Are Unfaithful to God’s Family When We Marry Someone Who Isn’t In It (Malachi 2:10-12). Notice the three questions in verse 10. They are rhetorical questions. If God is our Father and if He created each one of us, then why aren’t we acting like members of the same family? Why aren’t we bound together by blood and kinship? Why are we being unfaithful to each other? Now, Malachi is going to give us two ways in which we are unfaithful to each other. First, we are unfaithful to God’s family when we marry someone who isn’t in it (Verse 11 and 12). The marital relationship is the closest possible relationship in the world. It’s the only till-death-do-us-part relationship. We love our children and we love our parents, but we might move away from them. We love our friends and our buddies, but we might move away from them. Marriage is till-death-do-us-part, and it’s also a relationship that involves physical oneness. Physical and spiritual oneness. So we need to marry someone who is a fellow citizen of the kingdom. This was a very difficult problem in post-exilic Israel (see Ezra 9). The Jews were a tattered remnant who had moved back to the Promised Land and settled among the Palestinians living there. So Jewish boys were starting to marry non-Jewish girls, and this was alarming to Ezra and to Malachi. Paul makes a similar point in 2 Corinthians 6:14 – 7:1. The simplest way to obey these commands is to make our minds that we are only going to date people who share our spiritual values and who are members of God’s family.
2. We Are Unfaithful to God’s Family When We Divorce Our Partner (2:13-16). The people of Malachi’s day had developed a culture even among the people of God in which they were marrying unbelievers and they were divorcing their spouses with frequency. The Lord here gives us a very important hint about why He values a good home—because He desires godly offspring. A loving family, where a man and wife love each other, is the best environment in the world for raising children who love the Lord.
Conclusion: Let me give you three application points.
- First, if you’re single, don’t date someone who isn’t a believer.
- Second, if you’re married learn to have fun with your spouse. Do things together that friends would do. This afternoon in the newspaper there was an article about great road trips in American, and the top one on the list was the Pacific Coast Highway. I love the PCH, and one of the best trips Katrina and I have ever made—this might be our best vacation ever, just she and me—was when we flew into Los Angeles, rented a car, and took our time driving up the PCH to San Francisco. Then we circled back down through Yosemite National Park and Sequoia National Park. When we see articles like the one in today’s paper, it brings back the memories of those things. Of course, you can’t go across the country every week. Most weeks, it’s just a matter of doing something simple together. But always be working on a way to have fun together.
- Third, if you are a parent work on Scripture memory and help your children learn God’s Word. Recently while I was speaking in Sebring, Florida, I had a talk with a retired missionary physician, Dr. Bert Long, who is 94 years old (and still riding his motorcycle). I asked him how he had come to devote his life to medical missions and to evangelism. He told me about a man named Abraham Lathem, who lived in Pennsylvania many years ago and who loved the Bible and believed in memorizing it. He could quote most of the New Testament. He taught his children to memorize. He got his son, Lance Lathem, up every morning at 4 a.m. to memorize Scripture. Well, Lance later went into the ministry himself and eventually became the music leader for Paul Rader in Radar’s Tabernacle in Chicago; and when Radar’s Tabernacle split up into three different churches, Lance became the pastor of one of them in a rented furniture store. Dr. Long told me: “Well, I grew up in Chicago and went to a Methodist church for many years, but finally I bumped into Lance Lathem. Lance loved the book of Romans and he taught it to us incessantly and he challenged us to memorize it. He would get all the teenagers together and he taught Romans and tried to get us to learn it. After I graduated from Wheaton College I didn’t yet have enough money to go to medical school and so I got a job in the Loop in Chicago and that was a one-hour street car ride every morning to work and a one-hour ride home every night, and in that time I decided to learn the book of Romans. I memorized Romans 1 – 11 before I left that job, having earned the ability to get into medical school.” He told me that his life had been changed by a man who had gotten his son up every morning at 4 am to memorize Scripture.
Now, maybe you’re already married a non-Christian, or you’ve already divorced, or your children are already grown. Well, what has happened in our past is under the blood of Christ, but we can begin where we are right now, today, and rejoice again in being part of the family God has given us.