Malachi Series: God's Plan for Marriage (Mal 2:10-16)
Updated: May 19
God’s Plan for Marriage
Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers? Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. May the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob any descendant of the man who does this, who brings an offering to the Lord of hosts! 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. 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. 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. “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, 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 2:10-16 (ESV)
What’s God’s plan for marriage?
In Malachi 2:10-16, Malachi leaves his rebuke of the priests (1:6-2:9) to focus on the people of Israel in general. They were being unfaithful to God their Father in two primary ways (1:6, 2:10). The men were divorcing their Jewish wives and marrying pagan women (v. 11, 14). And by doing this, they were profaning God’s covenant with Israel and their covenant with their wives. The Mosaic law contained laws about how to worship God but also how to treat one another, including one’s wife (Lev 19:11-18, Dt 23:19-20, 24:1). They were called to love their neighbor as themselves, which would keep them from mistreating one another (Lev 19:18). Most likely, the Jews were being “faithless to one another” in various ways (v. 10), but Malachi highlights how the Jewish men were hurting the faith community through their pagan marriages and their mistreatment of their wives.
As we consider the post-exilic Jewish men’s unfaithfulness, the context in the previous verses about the priests failing to do their jobs cannot be ignored (Mal 1:6-2:9). They were offering improper sacrifices which showed their low view of God. They were not teaching God’s Word, and consequently, they were causing the Jewish people to break God’s covenant (Mal 2:8). In Luke 6:40, Christ said, “A disciple [or student] is not greater than his teacher, but everyone when fully trained will be like his teacher.” Consequently, our spiritual leaders set the ceiling for our faith communities, and when they are not faithful to God, it causes negative consequences for the members. For the post-exilic Jews, it led to the destruction of the family unit, which would have had drastic consequences on all parts of society, even as it does today.
As we study this text, we learn principles about God’s original plan for marriage as seen in the post-exilic Jews’ failure to fulfill it.
Big Question: What principles can we discern about God’s original plan for marriage in Malachi 2:10-16?
God’s Plan for Marriage Is that Believers only Marry other Believers
Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers? Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. May the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob any descendant of the man who does this, who brings an offering to the Lord of hosts!
Malachi 2:10-12 (ESV)
As mentioned, the Jewish men were marrying pagan women. The problem was not interracial marriages (cf. Ruth 1:16). The problem was these women’s faith. They were called daughters of a “foreign god” (v. 11). This was explicitly forbidden in the Mosaic covenant because these pagan wives would tempt their husbands to follow other gods. Consider the following verses:
Be careful not to make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to their gods, and someone invites you, you will eat from his sacrifice; and you then take his daughters for your sons, and when his daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will make your sons prostitute themselves to their gods as well. You must not make yourselves molten gods.
You must not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from me to worship other gods. Then the anger of the Lord will erupt against you and he will quickly destroy you.
Unfortunately, this happened throughout Israel’s history, which brought God’s judgment on them. While in the wilderness, the Israelite men began to fornicate with Moabite women and worship their gods. Consequently, God brought a plague on them that killed 24,000 and also had the faithful Jews execute the ring leaders (Num 25). When Solomon married many pagan wives, it led him to start worshiping their gods and influenced the Israelites to do the same (1 Kgs 11:1-10). God judged Israel for this by allowing Israel to be divided into North and South and experience years of civil war. Ahab, the king of the northern kingdom, eventually married Jezebel who led him and Israel into Baal worship (1 Kgs 16:29-33). In fact, the marrying of pagan women and worshiping their gods was a major factor that led God to exile Israel from their land. In the context of Malachi, since the Israelites had just returned from exile, interfaith marriages were a major threat that could lead to severe judgment and another exile. Therefore, by committing this sin, the Jewish men were not only being unfaithful to God but also to their Jewish brothers and sisters. As Malachi mentioned, the Jews were being “faithless to one another” (v. 10) as these pagan marriages could lead to the judgment of the entire community.
God gives the same commands in the New Testament to believers today. In 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, Paul said this to the Corinthians:
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”
As believers, we are called to be salt and light to the world, so certainly we must befriend unbelievers and love them as Christ loves them. But we must not get into any yoking relationships with them where we might be influenced towards sin. When Paul talked about yoking, he was using an agricultural metaphor. Typically, cows would be yoked together to carry a load. However, farmers wouldn’t put a cow and a horse together or a donkey and a horse. The animals would be unequally yoked, which could be dangerous. The animals had different temperaments and strengths. They could hurt each other, and they would be ineffective at getting tasks done.
Likewise, when a Christian and an unbeliever date or get married, they have totally different worldviews. The Christian should be trying to raise his or her children in the Lord by reading Scripture with them, taking them to church, and teaching them to aim to glorify God in everything. This worldview will conflict with an unbeliever’s worldview which is typically secular and human-centered. It will pull the children in different directions and often hurt them. When the Christian and the unbeliever make decisions about money (which is the number one reason for divorce), again they will be pulling in different directions. Scripture calls the believer to not store up their riches on earth but to store them up in heaven (Matt 6:19-21). It also calls believers to seek to excel in the grace of giving, and as we give, God will meet all our needs and give us grace to excel in righteousness (2 Cor 8:7, 9:6-8). This would make no sense to an unbeliever, and consequently, would cause conflict in the home.
Personally, in my counseling of believers who have dated or married unbelievers, many times this happened in part because the Christian was immature and often very worldly. Meaning, in many ways they lived more like an unbeliever than a believer, and therefore, the unbeliever and his or her worldview wasn’t that different to them. God was not their first priority, and therefore somebody who cared nothing for God was attractive to them. Consequently, in marriage, this believer is even more prone to abandon their faith in God because their faith was never that strong in the first place. Now certainly, there may be exceptions. Either way, to date or marry an unbeliever is to do exactly what led Solomon to fall away from God and Israel to be judged. It was a major factor in Israel being removed from the land. The Jewish men were marrying pagan women and adopting their faith, leading to judgment. Now certainly, it seems clear that the post-exilic Jews had no intention of leaving their faith. At least some of them were still bringing offerings to God and even weeping because God rejected their offerings (v. 12-13). However, their rebellion towards God in the area of marriage only made them more vulnerable to sin in general and eventually abandoning their faith altogether, which commonly happens today when Christians marry unbelievers. Again, there are exceptions as when an unbeliever accepts Christ, but that’s what they are, exceptions. For a believer to date or marry an unbeliever is to rebel against God’s Word, bring God’s discipline on the believer’s life, and make the believer vulnerable to various sins, including apostasy. Though many believers enter these unions with the hope of winning the unbeliever to Christ, it should be remembered it’s always easier to pull somebody down than it is to pull somebody up. God does not endorse missionary dating, though he is often both just and merciful with our rebellion.
Again, as we consider that it is God’s desire for a believer to only marry another believer, we must also understand there are always consequences for disobedience. In Malachi 2:11, God promised to “cut off” the man who married a pagan wife. This either meant to be removed from the believing community or to be put to death (cf. Ex 12:19, Gen 9:11). It’s clear that God was no longer accepting the sacrifices of the men who were divorcing their Jewish wives and marrying pagan ones (v. 12-13). Even in the New Testament, 2 Corinthians 6:17-18 promises that God will be a “father” to us and we will be his children if we separate from ungodly relationships. The implication is we forfeit intimacy with God and many of his blessings by compromising in this area. Many ultimately forfeit their faith, as happened throughout Israel and to many former believers today.
James Boice’s comments on this are helpful including the example of Mark Twain’s marriage. He said this:
God is gracious. We must acknowledge that sometimes when a Christian marries one who is not a Christian, God graciously draws the non-Christian to Christ. We praise God when that happens. But it is not the usual outcome. More often the mixed marriage brings great sorrow and pain to the Christian.
The marriage of Olivia L. Langdon to the American writer Mark Twain is a tragic case in point. Olivia Langdon had been raised in a Christian home by devout parents and professed Christianity. But when Twain, an open critic of religion, came calling, she eventually accepted his proposal, no doubt secretly cherishing the hope that he might in time be converted to Christ by her example. At first this seemed to be happening. Albert Biglow Paine in his comprehensive biography of Twain records that “his natural kindness of heart, and especially his love for his wife, inclined him toward the teachings and customs of her Christian faith.… It took very little persuasion on his wife’s part to establish family prayers in their home, grace before meals, and the morning reading of the Bible chapter.” One of Clemens’s friends, who knew him to be a great skeptic, recorded his surprise at visiting the home and discovering Twain praying and otherwise joining in the family worship.
Unfortunately, in time Twain began to express distaste for this worship and told his wife, “Livy, you may keep this up if you want to, but I must ask you to excuse me from it. It is making me a hypocrite. I don’t believe in the Bible; it contradicts my reason. I can’t sit here and listen to it, letting you believe that I regard it, as you do, in the light of the Gospel, the Word of God.”
This alone would have been a great tragedy; it must have marked the end of Olivia’s hopes for her husband. But something even worse followed. Mark Twain’s unbelief had a disastrous influence on his wife, and Olivia gradually progressed from doubt to the death of her religion. One day when she and her sister were walking across the fields she confessed with sorrow that she had drifted away from her orthodox views. She had ceased to believe in a personal God who exercised personal supervision over every human soul, she said. Years later, in a time of bereavement, Twain tried to strengthen his wife with the words, “Livy, if it comforts you to lean on the Christian faith, do so.” She replied, “I can’t, Youth [her favorite designation for her husband]. I haven’t any.”
If you willfully disobey God and marry a non-Christian, do not beguile yourself with the belief that you will be the cause of your husband or wife’s conversion. By the grace of God that may possibly happen. But it usually does not. Mixed marriages usually end in great unhappiness or divorce. And even if that is not the case, you will certainly bring much unnecessary sorrow upon yourself by disobedience.
Certainly, we must soberly heed the warnings of Scripture and the examples of many difficult mixed marriages. One of God’s plans for marriage is for believers to be equally yoked; that believers would marry other believers so they can build God’s kingdom together.
Application Question: Why is it so important for believers to marry other believers? Why is it so common for believers to date or marry unbelievers? What are common pitfalls of unequally yoked unions? In what ways have you seen or experienced mixed marriages work out for the good and also how have you seen or experienced them be extremely difficult?
God’s Plan for Marriage Is that It Provide Companionship
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. 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. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? …
Malachi 2:13-15 (ESV)
Malachi continues to rebuke the Jewish men for their unfaithfulness to the wife of their youth who was their “companion” (v. 14). “Wife of your youth” implies how these young men married these women when they were both young (probably early 20’s for the men and younger for the females), committed to provide for them and love them till death do they part. However, after years of marriage and raising children, the husbands were now turning their older wives in for newer, younger pagan women. They had hurt their wives who were meant to be their companions (v. 14). When he calls them companions, it refers to an intimate relationship.
In Malachi 2:15, he says, “Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union?” Though this is the most difficult verse to translate and interpret in the book, Malachi seems to be referring to creation when God made Adam and Eve with his Spirit and intended for them to be “one flesh” as stated in Genesis 2:24. God did not give Adam two or three wives. God didn’t give him another man. God gave him one wife to be his helpmeet and companion throughout life. Them being “one” (or one flesh) also probably referred to the sexual union in marriage which is the most intimate union on earth. God meant for the husband and wife to have the most intimate companionship on earth—greater than two friends, two siblings, or even a mother-and child-relationship. God created man and woman in marriage to have great intimacy and companionship.
Application Question: How should husbands and wives cultivate companionship in marriage?
1. Husbands and wives should cultivate companionship by making a daily habit of transparently talking with one another. They should share the mundane, the deep, the funny, and the exciting with one another. They should have an intimate relationship that they aim to foster daily. By getting to know one another continually through communicating, they foster deep companionship.
2. Husbands and wives should cultivate companionship by doing activities together. They should live together, eat and sleep together. They should travel together and do fun things together. By doing things together, they cultivate companionship. This should not have to be said, but it’s becoming increasingly common for husbands and wives to live apart so they can both pursue their careers. This hurts their intimacy and opens a door for the devil to attack their union. If this needs to be done, it should only be done short term to protect their union, which the enemy wants to divide.
3. Husbands and wives should cultivate companionship by worshiping and serving the Lord together. One of the greatest intimacies in life is spiritual intimacy. Adam and Eve were put together in the garden to serve the Lord together (Gen 1:28). Likewise, husbands and wives should go to church together, read the Word and pray together, and find ways to serve the church and the world together. By cultivating their faith together, they develop greater intimacy.
4. Husbands and wives should cultivate companionship by prioritizing it over other competing relationships. Genesis 2:24 says, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and unites with his wife, and they become one family.” The marriage must be the priority relationship before other relationships, including in-laws, children, and friends. Many marriages struggle because other relationships are a greater priority. In a marriage, the husband and wife leave their immediate family to form a new one—and this new family must be the priority. The husband and wife still must honor their father and mother (Ex 20:12), but they are not called to obey them in everything (Col 3:20). Husbands and wives must wisely navigate their relationship with in-laws. Unfortunately, expectations/pressure from in-laws are one of the highest reasons for divorce. In addition, when couples have children, sometimes children become the focus instead of one another. In fact, one of the highest years of divorce is year twenty, after the children leave home. The children became the priority relationship before the marriage. Furthermore, in some cases, spouses never learn how to prioritize their union over their friends, including friends of the opposite sex, which causes conflict in the union. Husbands and wives must protect their union by prioritizing it over competing relationships.
5. Husbands and wives should cultivate companionship by faithfully indulging in physical intimacy together. As mentioned, this is clearly implied or directly referred to when Malachi said God made them “one” (v. 15). In Genesis 2:24, becoming “one flesh” refers to the physical intimacy of the relationship (cf. 1 Cor 6:16). In 1 Corinthians 7:5, Paul said this about the importance of physical intimacy in marriage:
Do not deprive each other, except by mutual agreement for a specified time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then resume your relationship, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
When couples don’t faithfully fulfill their marital duty to serve their spouses, it opens the door for Satan to attack their marriage. Often one spouse starts to feel unattractive or unwanted. One spouse may be tempted to go outside of the marriage for physical intimacy, including by looking online. Either way, by neglecting physical intimacy, it begins to erode emotional, social, and spiritual intimacy. Satan aims to drive a wedge between the couple as they neglect this important discipline in marriage.
It should be noted that before marriage, Satan tempts couples to engage in physical intimacy to destroy the relationship and hinder God’s purposes for it. But after marriage, Satan tempts the couple to not engage in physical intimacy. On the day of the wedding vows, the temptation switches, and many couples find themselves confused and in disarray when physical intimacy doesn’t work the way they thought it was supposed to. It’s quite simple; the temptation has now switched, and couples must discipline themselves to cultivate physical intimacy in marriage to build their union, honor God through it, and protect it. In Proverbs 5:18-19, the father tells his son to cultivate the physical union in his marriage instead of pursuing a woman outside of his marriage. He says,
May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in your wife you married in your youth—a loving doe, a graceful deer; may her breasts satisfy you at all times, may you be captivated by her love always.
One of God’s plans for marriage is for the couple to cultivate companionship and oneship as a daily discipline. Clearly, these post-exilic Jewish men had ceased to do this and eventually ended their marriages to pursue companionship elsewhere in contrast with God’s plans.
Application Question: What are some helpful disciplines for a couple to practice to develop companionship in marriage, especially as the couple starts having children which, if not wisely handled, can hinder intimacy in marriage? Why is the sexual union such a difficult reality both before marriage and after?
God’s Plan for Marriage Is that It Be a Life-long Covenant
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. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts.
Malachi 2:14-16 (ESV)
In verse 14, Malachi says to the Jewish men that the women they married were their wives “by covenant.” A covenant is a contractual agreement between two or more parties to fulfill certain promises. It should be remembered that ancient marriages often weren’t based on love. They were typically arranged by the parents as a contract between families. In the marriage, two people committed to one another in the presence of witnesses and chose to love each other in fulfillment of their commitment. Romantic marriages based on love are most common today, but historically, marriages were arranged and based more on commitment than one’s feelings. It’s interesting to consider that the Bible never says to marry the person you love (which is the typical rational today) but commands us to love the person we marry. Ephesians 5:25-26 says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.”
A common response from people who decide to divorce is that they just fell out of love or stopped loving each other which implies that the basis of their marriage was feelings. That’s not how God sees marriage or commands us to see it. The basis of marriage before God is a covenant (Mal 2:14)—a commitment in sickness and in health, in poor times and rich times, in bad times and good times. If God can command us to love our enemies (Matt 5:44)—in the sense of pursuing their good—then, certainly he can call us to love our spouses, no matter how we feel about them (cf. Eph 5:25).
With that said, if we are going to fulfill our lifelong marriage covenant, we must understand how God views marriage, divorce, and remarriage. In God’s eyes, it’s possible for two people to get a divorce before a court and yet still be married. In Matthew 19:9, Christ said this to the Pharisees who were asking questions about divorce: “Now I say to you that whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another commits adultery.” This means that falling out of emotional love doesn’t break the marriage union, growing apart doesn’t break the marriage union, and neither does simply getting a judge to grant the divorce. Before God, marriages are meant to last forever. In 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, Paul said it this way in speaking to married couples:
To the married I give this command—not I, but the Lord—a wife should not divorce a husband (but if she does, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband), and a husband should not divorce his wife.
If a person gets a divorce, then they should remain single or be reconciled to their mate. Though before the court and in the state, they may be single, before God they are still married. If they divorce, they should remain single.
It’s clear that before God who is a witness at all marriages (v. 14), that marriages are in-dissolvable except in unique circumstances.
Interpretation Question: What are the circumstances that dissolve a marriage?
1. Before God, death breaks the marriage union. First Corinthians 7:39 says this: “A wife is bound as long as her husband is living. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes (only someone in the Lord).”
2. Before God, adultery by one mate breaks the marriage union, and therefore divorce and remarriage are allowable. But even then, it is God’s desire for there to be reconciliation and the marriage to continue (cf. Matt 5:32, 19:9). In the story of Hosea, his wife cheated on him, and God told him to take her back and restore the union. Even when there is infidelity, it is still ideal for the faithful spouse to pursue reconciliation if possible.
3. Before God, some believe that when a believer is married to an unbeliever and the unbeliever divorces the believer, then the marriage is dissolved before God and the believing spouse is free to remarry. This view comes from 1 Corinthians 7:15 where Paul says, “But if the unbeliever wants a divorce, let it take place. In these circumstances the brother or sister is not bound. God has called you in peace.” Some see the phrase “not bound” as referring to the divorced believer being set free from the marriage and being allowed to remarry. They point to 1 Corinthians 7:39 where Paul says, “A wife is bound as long as her husband is living. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes (only someone in the Lord).” The Greek word for “bound” is different in the two passages (v. 15 and 39); however, they argue that the parallelism means a believer who is divorced by an unbeliever is free to remarry. However, others see the word “bound” in 1 Corinthian 7:15 as referring back to 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 where Paul says if a man or woman gets divorced, they should stay single or seek to be reconciled with their spouse. In that case, the divorced believer is not bound to keep trying to reconcile the marriage. However, they would still need to stay single in accordance with Paul’s direction in that verse.
These Scriptural restrictions on the marriage union are challenging and show that it was meant to be a life-long covenant. In fact, when the disciples heard Christ’s view on marriage, that divorce and remarriage are only allowed in the case of adultery, in Matthew 19:10, they replied, “If this is the case of a husband with a wife, it is better not to marry!” For them, the stipulations for marriage were sobering and difficult.
Why are the restrictions on divorce and remarriage so stringent? Again, it’s because God wants couples to see marriage as a permanent union and stay together. The foundation of the church and society is the home, and when the home breaks down, so does the rest of society. Also, marriage is supposed to represent God’s relationship with his people. In the Old Testament, God took Israel as his bride (Ez 16:8), and in the New, Christ takes the church as his bride (Eph 5:22-30). Ephesians 5:22-26 says,
Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord, because the husband is the head of the wife as also Christ is the head of the church (he himself being the savior of the body). But as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her to sanctify her by cleansing her with the washing of the water by the word
A believer’s marriage is supposed to represent the gospel—how Christ died for the church to save her. Christ marries the church, leads her, and serves her. Likewise, husbands are called to love and sacrificially die for their wives. And wives are called to honor and submit to their husbands as the church submits to Christ. Christian marriages are supposed to represent the gospel and draw people to God. Therefore, when Christian marriages are dysfunctional, they mar the gospel witness before their children and the world—often pushing others away from God. God wants the marriage union to last and to represent his union with people. Therefore, God hates divorce (Mal 2:16 NET, NASB).
Unfortunately, in a sinful world where there is physical and sexual abuse, drug and alcohol addiction, and everything else, divorce will happen. Though God is perfect, he gave a certificate of divorce to the Northern Kingdom of Israel when he had her exiled by the Assyrians. Jeremiah 3:8 says,
She also saw that, because of wayward Israel’s adulterous worship of other gods, I sent her away and gave her divorce papers. But still her unfaithful sister Judah was not afraid, and she too went and gave herself like a prostitute to other gods.
God understands the difficulty of divorce. He’s experienced it. He hates it and mourns it. When others have experienced the negative effects of divorce, they should not be hammered. They should be loved, wept with, and rebuilt. God understands it, and unfortunately, most in our societies do as well. This is no excuse for us to give up on marriages. We should fight for them, continue to love those who at times may be unlovable, and seek to preserve our commitment to God and our spouses.
Application Question: Why is divorce so common today both in the church and in society in general? What is your view on the second potential exception for divorce and remarriage when an unbeliever leaves the union? According to 1 Corinthians 7:15, does being “not bound” refer to the divorced believer being allowed to remarry or simply them not having to keep trying to restore the marriage (v. 10 and 39)? Is there a difference between grounds for divorce and grounds for divorce and remarriage?
God’s Plan for Marriage Is that It Provide Godly Children
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.
Malachi 2:15 (ESV)
In continuing his rebuke of the post-exilic Jewish men for divorcing their wives, Malachi says that one of the reasons God created Adam and Eve and made them one was to have and raise godly children. There are several things we can take from this. As seen in the creation story, one of God’s first commands for Adam and Eve was for them to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:28). God wanted them to have children. However, not just children, according to Malachi, God wanted them to raise righteous children. But another thing we must notice, since the context is a warning against divorce, the implication is that to raise godly children, the ideal household is for both the father and the mother to be there. Statistics bear this out. Children from broken homes are more likely to struggle with depression, commit violent crimes, be imprisoned, or even commit suicide. Therefore, we must hear this again: God’s plan for marriage is for couples to stay together, and as a general principle, for couples to have children and raise them to be godly.
As we consider this, we must realize that even the concept of having children is under attack in our societies. Many people today don’t desire to get married, in part because of all the divorce and dysfunctional marriages they’ve seen or experienced. And those who get married, often don’t want kids or don’t want many kids. Consequently, many governments around the world are trying to figure out how to address the low-birth rate and its long-term negative effects on societies. For example, if people aren’t having children who enter the work force, who will work all the jobs left by the retirees? Also, how will the elderly be provided for in retirement? Who will pay for their social security? These are major problems governments are trying to tackle because of the low birth rates.
Therefore, before considering principles about raising godly children, we must first focus on the fact that God desires parents to have children. As Christians, our primary desire in life should be to please God and honor him with our lives. This is part of the reason we devote ourselves to studying and reading Scripture, so we can know what pleases him. Ephesians 5:8-10 says:
for you were at one time darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live like children of the light—for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth—trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.
As people of light, we must learn what pleases God. In line with this, Malachi 2:15 teaches us that God is pleased when we bear children and raise them in his likeness. Consequently, though there is a general tendency in society towards not having children and seeing them as a burden, Christians must develop God’s mindset about children and prayerfully consider having many of them. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God—what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.” Statistics and general experience show that this is happening around the world as Christians tend to have more children than the general population. For example, a study in eight countries in Europe showed that practicing Christians (meaning those who go to church regularly) have more children than nominal Christians and non-religious people. In Austria, Christians have twice as many children as those with no-religious affiliation. Why is this one might ask? There may be many reasons, but the primary one is that Scripture teaches that God desires children and that it’s a blessing to have many of them, in contrast with secular views today. Obviously, many Christians have adopted God’s mindset on children instead of the world’s.
Now, this reality is not meant to place any legalism on parents where they feel that they must have children or many children. It’s just a practical application of the text and Scripture in general. When a believer is making a decision, especially a major decision, they should ask, “What does the Bible say? What does God want?” Again, Malachi 2:15 (ESV) says, “Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring.” And Psalm 127:3-5 (NIV) says:
Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court.
When God wants to defeat the enemy, he finds parents to give birth to a child and raise him or her in the Lord. Then, these children eventually contend with the enemy over a person’s life, a community, a city, or a nation. When there was going to be a worldwide famine that would threaten to destroy the people of God and many nations in the world, God gave Joseph to Rachel. When Israel was enslaved in Egypt, he gave Moses to Jochebed. When Israel’s priests were corrupted and abusing the people, he gave Samuel to Hannah and then to Eli. When God wanted to prepare the Jewish world for the messiah, he gave John the Baptist to Elizabeth. When God was ready to conquer sin, death, and the devil, he gave Jesus to Mary. If we want to be involved in God’s defeat of sin and Satan around the world and the saving of many lives, one way is to be willing to birth and raise godly children. It’s a tremendous gift and privilege to participate in God’s work around the world.
Now certainly, it’s not God’s will for all people to have children. For some, he gives the gift of singleness (1 Cor 7:7, 32-35). Typically, they will have the ability and a desire to be fully devoted to the Lord without the distractions of family. It’s a tremendous gift. Apparently, Daniel had it; Christ had it; Paul and Timothy had it. In more recent years, John Stott stayed single his entire life and had a very effective ministry.
Others may desire children, but in God’s sovereignty, he did not allow them to have children. In these cases, like those with the gift of singleness, God may be calling them to focus entirely on raising up spiritual children as they disciple members in the church and reach out to the lost. Others God may be calling to consider adoption. Scripture gives us a rich heritage of adoption. Samuel was adopted by Eli to help raise him to serve the Lord. Moses was adopted by a princess in Egypt to protect him from slaughter. Christ was adopted by Joseph so Mary would not have to raise him as a single mother. And all Christians have been adopted into the family of God and given many of the rights and privileges of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Romans 8:17 calls believers co-heirs with Christ. Sadly, in many cultures around the world, there are almost no Christian examples of adoption. Culture, bloodlines, and negative family pressure rule in the hearts of many Christians instead of God’s Word, keeping many from partnering in this great work. James 1:27 says, “Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their adversity and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
In rebuking the post-exilic Jews for divorcing their wives, Malachi teaches that God made marriage, in part, to birth and raise godly offspring. The implication is that divorce and broken families are tremendous hurdles for children to get over, keeping many of them from godliness and the fruitful lives God desires.
With all that said, there is a lot that goes into raising godly children other than simply birthing them.
Application Question: What are some necessary principles for raising godly children?
1. To raise godly children, parents must set a godly example.
The routines and practices of our parents are often our default patterns. How they disciplined us and how they cultivated or did not cultivate family intimacy or spiritual intimacy, etc., are our default patterns. Children model their parents, even when they don’t want to. For that reason, parents must aim to be good models in how they cultivate their marriage. Children must see that their parents’ marriage comes before work, children, and even church. If parents sacrifice their marriage for work or ministry, then the children will tend to do the same. Parents must set an example of seeking God first in their homes through daily prayers, time in the Word, and faithful attendance and service in the church, and as they do that, it will help the kids do the same. With that said, when parents preach virtues but do not practice them, it will quickly push the children away from God and into rebellion. In 1 Timothy 4:16, Paul said this to Timothy: “Be conscientious about how you live and what you teach. Persevere in this, because by doing so you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.” If Timothy did not live what he taught, he would destroy himself spiritually and his hearers as well. This is also true of parents.
2. To raise godly children, parents must daily invest in them spiritually.
Often parents are quick to invest in their children’s overall well-being by making sure they eat good food and get a good education but often neglect or minimize their spiritual development. Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers [or parents], do not provoke your children to anger, but raise them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” To live out the Christian faith, children must learn how to practice faithful Christian “disciplines.” Children need to learn how to pray and read their Bible daily both corporately during family times and also individually. They need to learn the discipline of corporate worship by attending church and Bible studies with other believers. They must learn how to confess their sin to God and others when they sinned against them or are simply struggling with sin, and they need help. James 5:16 says, “So confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness.” Children need to learn the discipline of serving God and others. When possible, it’s good to get them involved in a ministry at church, like greeting others at the door, helping with worship, serving the poor, or going on a mission trip. These are invaluable disciplines that they must learn to practice when they are young, so they’ll faithfully do them when they are old. Along with these disciplines, we must always give our children valuable instruction about being a person of integrity, using their money well including the giving of tithes and offerings, how to stay sexually pure in a lust-filled world, how to date/court when that time comes, and much more. The book of Proverbs is primarily about parents teaching their children wise principles. We must constantly teach our children spiritual disciplines and give them biblical instruction as well.
3. To raise godly children, parents must faithfully discipline them.
As parents, we learn how to discipline our children by considering how God disciplines us as his children. Hebrews 12:5-6 (ESV) says, “My son, do not scorn the Lord’s discipline or give up when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son he accepts.” In describing the Lord’s discipline of his children, we see two aspects. God “corrects” his children, or it can be translated “rebukes.” When we do wrong, he tells us, so we can repent and learn from it. But secondly, if we continue in sin, he chastises us. This can be translated “severely disciplines” or even “whips.” God rebukes or corrects us when we are in sin often through his Word, a sermon, or another believer. If that doesn’t work, he severely disciplines us or whips us, often through a trial to turn us away from sin. Likewise, parents must have patterns of discipline that increase in severity with the infraction. The first and primary method for children’s discipline is the parents’ correction. Parents must continually and repeatedly show them what is wrong and how to make it right. But when children persist in wrongdoing, the discipline must increase in severity. That might include things like losing one’s privileges, being on restriction, and also corporal punishment. Though corporal punishment is often considered barbaric in many societies today. This is the consistent pattern of discipline that Scripture endorses and promotes when done correctly. Here are some verses to consider:
Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.
If you strike him with the rod, you will deliver him from death.
The one who spares his rod hates his child, but the one who loves his child is diligent in disciplining him.
Some Christians have tried to say the rod does not refer to corporal punishment (or spankings) by saying it just refers to discipline in general. But it seems to clearly refer to a specific type of discipline. In fact, God also incorporated and regulated corporal punishment into the Old Testament law for criminals. Criminals could be beaten with forty blows but not more (Dt 25:1-3). Corporal punishment was normative for the Jews and most ancient societies in general. Because of the tendency towards abuse with corporal punishment, many societies and parents have rejected it. However, when done correctly, this is God’s ordained method to remove foolishness (sin) from the heart of a child (Prov 22:15); therefore, Christian parents would be wise to not reject what God has ordained.
The secret to discipline overall is a healthy balance between corrective communication and punishment. When children are young, there should be less reasoning and more punishment so that they learn immediate obedience. Counting to three or five before they do something the parent commands (though a popular method) teaches them that delayed obedience is acceptable. When they are young, we teach immediate obedience. As they grow older, there should be more communication and less punishment. If parents don’t teach them obedience through punishment (including corporal punishment) when they are young, they won’t respond to communication and reasoning when they are old. A toddler throwing a tantrum at a parent is equivalent to a teenager cursing out the parent or possibly being violent when older. There is a small window for parents to ingrain obedience in children while they are young because when they are older, it will be much harder. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” It’s when children are young that most of our training takes place so that it lasts when they are older. It’s when they learn to always tell the truth and not lie, that they need to be respectful to their elders and not talk back, and to obey immediately and that delayed obedience is disobedience. Unfortunately, for many parents they give lots of freedom and grace to little children because they are young and try to tighten up when they get older. However, that’s backwards. We should give them tighter boundaries and more discipline when they are young and wider boundaries and freedom when older. If we train them well when they are young, they will be good stewards of the freedom when they are older, and they will be a joy to parent in their older years instead of a constant pain.
With all that said, there are some wise principles that should be applied to discipline/punishment so that it creates positive change in children and never results in abuse.
• Discipline should never be done in anger. James 1:20 says, “For human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.” When we are angry, we say things we shouldn’t have said and hurt people we shouldn’t have hurt. That also happens when discipline happens in anger. It’s very easy for it to go from a beneficial discipline to abuse. As a general principle, when angry, we should take time to evaluate the situation and discern the best possible action. Couples who have discussions while angry often do more harm than good. This is often true with parental discipline as well. There is a place for telling a child to go to his room while the parent cools down and thinks soberly about the proper consequences.
• Discipline should be equal to the infraction. In the Mosaic law, civil discipline had to be equal to the crime; it was to be “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” (Ex 21:24). This is also true in disciplining children. Parents must wisely consider the consequences for each infraction. If discipline is unfair, it may result in rebellion. In addition, when deciding the punishment, parents must discern the difference between childishness and rebelliousness. Small children are going to spill milk; that is childishness. But when they spill the milk, were they doing it to be rebellious? Rebelliousness should be punished, and childishness should be corrected.
• Discipline should be consistent. When a parent continually tells their children, “If you do this, then I will discipline you when we get home,” and the parent does nothing, then children learn that the parent doesn’t always mean what he or she says, and therefore, they don’t always have to obey. Also, if the parent doesn’t discipline the child for turning on the TV when they should be sleeping, but then does the next time, it confuses the child. Discipline must be consistent. In addition, the giving of discipline should also be consistent between the parents. Parents must present a unified front; otherwise, it will promote manipulation from the child and cause discord within the marriage.
• Discipline should create intimacy instead of distance. When a child is being disobedient to his parent, distance is created in the relationship. However, when the parent disciplines the child, it shouldn’t create a greater distance—it should restore intimacy. This is how God’s discipline functions with us. Sin separates us from God, but his discipline is meant to draw us back into intimacy. This is another reason why parents shouldn’t discipline when angry or give unfair discipline; it further alienates the child instead of drawing him or her closer.
In developing a system of discipline for our children, like our heavenly Father, parents must develop a system of increasing severity based on their sins. The first and primary mode of discipline is consistently correcting children through communication. They must teach children what sin is and why it is wrong, especially from a biblical perspective. They must warn children so they can turn away from temptation. When children continue in sin, parents must use various higher levels of discipline including corporal punishment, as Scripture teaches. Again, Proverbs 13:24 says, “The one who spares his rod hates his child, but the one who loves his child is diligent in disciplining him.” A great resource for Christian parents to read on raising children is Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp. For many years, it’s been the go-to resource on parenting for evangelical Christians.
4. To raise godly children, parents must get to know their children in a deep way to properly guide them.
As with the other principles for raising godly children, this is a reflection of how God develops godliness in us as his children. He knows us. Consider what God said to Jeremiah when he called him to be a prophet to the nations: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jer 1:5 NIV). God knew Jeremiah intimately. Similarly, David spoke of how God knew him in Psalm 139:1 (NIV): “O LORD, you have searched me and you know me.” To search means to “examine thoroughly.” God had examined David thoroughly; he knew him.
Similarly, parents must know their children if they are going to raise them in godliness and lead them into God’s plan for their lives. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” “In the way he should go” can also be translated as “his way” or “his bend.” The Amplified Bible translates it this way: “Train up a child in the way he should go [and in keeping with his individual gift or bent], and when he is old he will not depart from it.” The word “way” comes from a Hebrew verb used of a bow launching an arrow. When a person shoots an arrow, the tension must align with the natural bend in the bow or it will break. This is also true in raising children.
Some parents damage their children by trying to train them in a way God didn’t wire them. They may do this by pushing their kids into the medical field, law, athletics, music, etc., even though the children show no aptitude or passion in those areas. God gives us children who are already uploaded with a unique and specific program like a computer. We can’t use software uniquely made for an Apple with a PC. It’s the same with children. Some will be wired toward the arts, technology, or serving ministries. It is the job of parents to get to know the way God wired them, so they can encourage them in those areas.
This can be difficult for parents, especially if their child’s wiring doesn’t fit their expectations or what might be considered successful in society. However, we are called to train a child according to his own way—according to his own bend (Prov 22:6)—not ours’ or others’. Their “way” may not appeal to us, but ultimately, we are raising children for God and to fulfill his calling on their lives. Like with Jeremiah, God knew them before they were in the womb (Jer 1:5). Like David, they are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14) and called for a specific work (Eph 2:10). It is the parent’s job to help discern this work and to help the children fulfill it.
To know their children and the way they are wired, parents must spend quality time with them. Just like the husband and wife must spend time together to cultivate their marriage, parents should spend quality time with each child. This can become complicated as the number of children grows. Many parents maneuver this by planning weekly or monthly dates with each child. For instance, every Wednesday night will be daddy-daughter date, or once a month, mom and son will go to their favorite restaurant, etc. Parents must take time to be with their children, to listen to them, to study them, and to have fun with them, ultimately to lead them to godliness.
God’s plan for marriage, in general, is for couples to have children and raise them to be godly. For others who cannot have children for whatever reason, no doubt, he is calling them to focus on raising up spiritual children to build God’s kingdom.
Application Question: How many children did your parents have and how did you enjoy growing up in a family that size? How should Christians go about family planning—discerning the amount of children God wants them to have? Would you ever consider adoption why or why not? What principle about raising godly children stood out most and why? In some societies corporal punishment (or spankings) is shamed or even illegal; how should Christian parents wisely navigate this landscape in antagonistic cultures and yet remain true to Scripture’s teachings about parenting?
God’s Plan for Marriage Is that Men Be Servant-Leaders of Their Families
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. “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, 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 2:15-16 (ESV)
We can also see God’s plan for marriage as implied by the fact that the whole passage (Mal 2:10-16) is addressed to men. If marriages were going to be fixed in Jewish society, the men needed to take the lead in this. Certainly, it’s probably true that men were the main culprits of these sins in that society, marrying pagan women and divorcing their Jewish wives. However, as with any divorce, there are typically failures on both sides. God’s speaking to the men seems to reflect how after the fall God went directly to Adam, even though in that situation Eve was the first to sin (Gen 3). God viewed Adam as responsible as the leader of the home and creation in general. We can also see Adam’s leadership in that it was Adam’s sin (not Eve’s) that led to all becoming sinners and experiencing death. Romans 5:19 says this: “For just as through the disobedience of the one man many were constituted sinners, so also through the obedience of one man many will be constituted righteous.”
With that said, if God’s desire for male leadership in the home is not clear from him addressing only males in this passage, we certainly see it in the cultural wedding practice of that day. Malachi 2:16 says this, “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts.” When it refers to “his garment” being covered with violence, that referred to the marriage ceremony of that day. Today, when two people get married, there is an exchange of rings, but in biblical times, the husband would place his garment over the woman—symbolizing him leading, providing, and protecting her as his wife. We even see this image with God as he marries Israel. Ezekiel 16:8 says,
Then I passed by you and watched you, noticing that you had reached the age for love. I spread my cloak over you and covered your nakedness. I swore a solemn oath to you and entered into a marriage covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine.
However, God says when husbands divorce their wives, the woman the man promised to lead, provide for, and protect was damaged and hurt. This was especially true in the ancient world where women often didn’t work and couldn’t provide for themselves. Divorced women were forced to move back into their father’s house, become beggars, or even prostitutes. Divorce greatly damaged them and often their children as well.
God’s desire for men to be the leader of the home is also taught explicitly in the New Testament. Ephesians 5:22-30 says,
Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord, because the husband is the head of the wife as also Christ is the head of the church (he himself being the savior of the body). But as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her to sanctify her by cleansing her with the washing of the water by the word, so that he may present the church to himself as glorious—not having a stain or wrinkle, or any such blemish, but holy and blameless. In the same way husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one has ever hated his own body, but he feeds it and takes care of it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of his body.
In the same way that Christ leads, provides for, and sacrifices for the church, the husband should do the same for his wife and his family in general. This means that men should not be passive in the spiritual, moral, and academic training of children. They should be involved. This means the husbands should not be passive but active in helping with the spiritual development of their wives. The husband should take the lead in making sure they attend a Bible-preaching church, get involved in the life of the church, and try to use their spiritual gifts to build up the community and reach the world. This also means the husband should actively pursue employment to provide for his family’s needs.
Unfortunately, since Adam’s failure in the garden, men have a tendency towards his passivity. It seems clear from the context of Genesis 3 that Adam just watched and listened as Satan tempted his wife, even though he knew it was wrong. First Timothy 2:14 says Adam was not deceived but the woman was. Instead of leading and protecting his wife, he just passively followed her, leading to chaos in the home and the entire world. Likewise, husbands must be careful to not fall into the ungodly pattern of our earthly father, Adam, in being passive and not active in cultivating a godly marriage and home.
Application Question: How should husbands aim to be the leaders of their wives specifically?
In considering the example of Christ in Ephesians 5:25-30 whom the husband is to model, there are several principles we can take from this:
1. The husband must learn to love his wife sacrificially.
The husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church, and thus be willing to die for her (Eph 5:25-26). To love sacrificially means the husband must at times forgo his free time, entertainment, friendships, and sometimes even career to love his wife. It means the husband must at times humble himself in the midst of disagreements by not defending himself (even as Christ often didn’t when accused). Instead, he should let God defend him and be willing to die to love his wife instead of stocking the fires of a disagreement. The husband must sacrificially love his wife.
2. The husband must learn to love his wife in a sanctifying manner.
Paul describes Christ as making the church holy by cleansing her with the Word; his purpose is to make her perfect and holy. Similarly, the husband must help and encourage his wife to learn Scripture and to get involved in church, small groups, and ministries where she can grow and serve. He must help her cultivate not only her character but also her calling so she can fulfill God’s plans for her life.
He must discern her gifts and talents and encourage her to use them for the glory of God. This love may also mean admonishing his wife through the Word at times so that she might know and serve Christ better. It is a sanctifying love.
3. The husband must learn to love his wife in a humble serving manner.
When Ephesians 5:26 talks about Christ washing his wife with water, it’s a picture of a servant. It may specifically reflect Christ washing the feet of his disciples—the job of a slave, or the lowest-ranking person in a house (John 13). Christ humbles himself and cleans his disciples. This is also the job of the husband. Though he is the head, he does not use his position to dominate or command his wife, but to humbly serve her. He must continually be concerned about her emotional, physical, social, and spiritual needs, and work to meet them. The husband’s love must be humble and serving.
4. The husband must love his wife in a personal, intimate manner.
In, Ephesians 5:28-30, Paul says:
In the same way husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one has ever hated his own body, but he feeds it and takes care of it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of his body.
Loving the wife as one’s own body reflects the personal and intimate care a husband must give to his wife. Nobody knows our own body more than us, not even our doctors. Doctors have to ask us questions about how we are feeling emotionally, mentally, and physically. Therefore, to love our wife like our own body, we must be driven to intimately know her as though she were our body. Like a doctor, we must ask her questions, get to know her emotions, fears, and desires and serve her in accordance. If our natural bodies are not kept healthy, it negatively affects everything we do. Therefore, we aim as much as possible to keep them in shape. Likewise, we must do the same with our wives, or we will severely limit our potential to serve God and build a godly home. Husbands must love their wives personally.
Instead of the husband allowing his garment to be covered with violence as fighting and discord erupt in his home, as much as depends upon himself, he must be the leader and provider of the home. He must love his wife sacrificially, spiritually, humbly, and personally. And as he does so, this often leads to blessing the children as it sets a godly example for them.
Application Question: In what ways has male passivity, as originally demonstrated by Adam in the fall, become common in many societies? How should this be better addressed and corrected in churches and homes in general?
God’s Plan for Marriage Is that It Be Protected by Cultivating a Right Heart
… So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, 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 2:15-16 (ESV)
As Malachi ends his rebuke of the post-exilic Jewish men who were divorcing their Jewish wives and marrying younger pagan women, he tells them twice to guard their spirit. The repetition of this was meant to show its importance in protecting their marriages. Marital conflict, like most sins, are rooted in the heart. In Matthew 19:8, when Christ was asked by the Pharisees why Moses permitted divorce, Christ said: “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of your hard hearts, but from the beginning it was not this way.” Marital problems and divorce happen because of hardened hearts by one or both partners.
Application Question: How can couples protect their hearts from becoming hardened in marriage?
1. Couples protect their hearts by choosing to think hopeful, positive thoughts about their spouse and marriage and reject unhealthy ones.
The devil is an accuser. In fact, that’s what his name means. He continually accuses God to us—that he doesn’t love us, care for us, or that he’s left us. He accuses our spouse to our ears. He aims to tempt us to give up emotionally, quit the marriage altogether, or harbor anger and unforgiveness towards our spouse. Because Satan hates marriages (cf. 1 Cor 7:5), he is always seeking to destroy what God put together. Couples must be aware of this and therefore saturate their mind with Scripture and reject negative thoughts. Second Corinthians 10:5 says, “we take every thought captive to make it obey Christ.” Also, Philippians 4:8 says,
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things.
Since we have an enemy of our souls and our marriages, we must diligently guard our minds. The media and TV aim to make affairs glamorous or teach us that we should always love ourselves and put ourselves and our happiness first instead of God and others (cf. Phil 2:3-4). If we don’t recognize unbiblical thinking, it will lead us into wrong thoughts and a hardened heart toward our spouse and therefore hinder God’s plans for our marriages.
2. Couples protect their hearts by discussing wrongs when they happen instead of letting them build up and explode.
Matthew 18:15 says, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have regained your brother.” When couples discuss failures promptly with humility and gentleness, it doesn’t allow them to fester in their hearts and explode. This festering for days, weeks, months, or even years often tends to exaggerate the wrong. When discussed at a later date, it’s often hard for the accused spouse to respond because they have either forgotten or simply remember the events differently. With that said, not all failures need to be addressed. First Peter 4:8 says, “love covers a multitude of sins.” Most small failures can and should be covered in love. We should prayerfully discern what failures should be addressed, as well as when and how.
3. Couples protect their hearts by continually forgiving their spouses when they sin and repent.
In 1 Corinthians 13:5 (NIV), Paul says that love “keeps no record of wrongs.” If we keep bringing up past failures after our spouse repents, it will not only harden his or her heart, but it will harden ours as well and keep us from moving forward. Certainly, there may be a place for looking backward so we can learn from mistakes; however, we must be very careful of continually accusing our spouse or holding a grudge every time they fail. If they repent, as Christ said, we must continually forgive them (Lk 17:3), even as Christ forgave us (Col 3:13).
4. Couples protect their hearts by cultivating their relationship with God.
In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul describes the fruits of the Spirit as love, joy, peace, patience, endurance, self-control, etc. These fruits are only born as we walk in the Spirit (Gal 5:16) by abiding in worship, prayer, confession, fellowship, service, obedience to God, and other spiritual disciplines. If we are not walking in the Spirit, we will not bear the fruits of patience, peace, love, perseverance, and self-control which are necessary for us to love and reconcile with our spouses and children. Instead, we’ll continually bear fruits of the flesh which are hostility, strife, jealousy, and anger (Gal 5:19-21).
5. Couples protect their hearts by continually loving and serving one another even when they don’t feel like it.
Romans 12:19-21 says:
Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Instead of seeking vengeance for wrongs done to us or withholding love, we overcome the evil in our hearts and others’ by doing good to those who hurt us (in this case our spouses). As we serve them and act lovingly towards them (despite our feelings), it often overcomes the evil in their hearts and ours.
6. Couples protect their hearts by getting godly counsel.
Though there is a general tendency for couples and families to keep their problems a secret, there is much wisdom in developing intimate relationships with other members of Christ’s body for counsel, prayer, and encouragement. God has made the church a body, and he often distributes grace through its members. Though many couples pray and seek the Lord for help when going through difficulty in marriage, there are many things God will never do apart from his body. It is often through a member of the body that God wants to give us grace to persevere, wisdom to change ourselves, and love for a difficult spouse. In 1 Corinthians 12:21, Paul said the eye can’t say to the hand, I don’t need you. By never sharing or opening up to others in Christ’s body, couples often miss the grace they need to keep their hearts soft and gentle towards their spouse. People in the body may not have all the answers, but one of the main graces we get through the body is faithful prayer as we persevere through difficulties and seek God’s grace together. Again, James 5:16 says, “So confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness.”
Application Question: Why is protecting one’s heart in marriage (or in relationships in general) so important? What principle about protecting one’s heart in marriage stood out most and why? How has God given you grace to soften your heart when in conflict with a spouse or others?
In Malachi 2:10-16, Malachi rebukes the post-exilic Jewish men for divorcing their Jewish wives and marrying pagan women. While doing this, they continued their worship of God by offering sacrifices at the temple. However, they were defaming the temple and God with their hypocrisy and were therefore under God’s judgment.
God cares about our marriages today, just as he cared for them back then. He made marriage and has special plans it. We learn principles about God’s plan for marriage from Malachi’s rebuke of the post-exilic Jewish men who were supposed to be the leaders, providers, and protectors of their homes.
1. God’s Plan for Marriage Is that Believers only Marry other Believers
2. God’s Plan for Marriage Is that It Provide Companionship
3. God’s Plan for Marriage Is that It Be a Life-long Covenant
4. God’s Plan for Marriage Is that It Provide Godly Children
5. God’s Plan for Marriage Is that Men Be Servant-Leaders of Their Families
6. God’s Plan for Marriage Is that It Be Protected by Cultivating a Right Heart
Application Question: What principle about God’s plan for marriage stood out most and why?
• Pray for singles to be patient, faithful, and pure in the waiting season for a spouse and that God would bring them godly spouses to serve with.
• Pray for God to bless and protect marriages, that broken ones would be restored, and that he would use these unions to build his kingdom.
• Pray for God to abundantly populate his church with children and that they would be raised to be godly servants who contend with the enemy at the gates (Ps 127).
• Pray for God to anoint husbands to be godly, sacrificial servant-leaders of their wives and children, that they would be delivered from apathy and harsh leadership and that they would represent God the Father by raising up families that honor and serve him.