Summary: January 1988. Marriage is more than a contract between two people. It must involve God and working toward the purposes of God; otherwise it is a divorce, whether the law is involved or not.
There are all sorts of reasons not to preach this sermon! There area all kinds of problems kicked up because I have felt led to conclude our series of studies in the prophet Malachi with one of his most pointed and deliberate passages: his passage on marriage and divorce. Getting into this topic and dealing with this portion of the Bible presents some sticky spots for the preacher.
For one thing, there is the simple fact that many of you are not married … some never have been and never will be, and when I referred to that there were even some cheers going up last Sunday. Wow! And others have been married but are not now, and it may seem that what l am about to do is irrelevant to you. Actually, I do not think so, because the day may come when you will be looking at marriage; people in their 90's in nursing homes get married sometimes, it's never impossible. And it may also be that you can learn something about covenant relationships that will be of value to you anyway, so I am asking those who are not married to keep an open mind and heart and see whether God's word can address you this morning.
And then there are other problems the preacher faces on this business of marriage and divorce. I know that because many of you have been through failed marriages, to talk about this may cause some embarrassment, it may open up old wounds, it may stir up some unhealthy guilt in you. And all I can say to that is that I hope you know my heart and my spirit, and that I am going to try to speak with compassion rather than with condemnation. I am going to attempt to speak positively, optimistically. That's my personality, as I hope you know. And I know that brother Malachi is a bit on the negative side. Well, I hear him and you will hear him, but we will hope to be more positive than he and still deal with the same truths. Just hear the compassion our God, our Christ represents.
Please understand, then, that anything I may say or any story I may tell as an illustration is not drawn from my counseling and working with marriages in this congregation. I have no intention of holding up for ridicule or for cross-examination anyone in this church, and I am not interested in cruel accusations. Now the word of God when properly declared will always make all of us uncomfortable to one degree or another, but it will also be good news, news of forgiveness and hope, and so that is my aim today.
Finally, the preacher's worry about preaching on marriage and divorce is that he may stir up the dust that has settled over some marriage conflict, that somebody may go home and say to that wife or husband who didn’t come today, "Boy, have I got the goods on you! I heard the sermon you should have heard, you old pagan." Or some couple here today may get out to the car and find that you heard entirely different things even though you were sitting in the same pew, and what you thought was a calm and peaceful co-existence suddenly erupts into World War Three. I know that all of that is a risk. But as your pastor I have to be pledged to declare all of the counsel of God, I have to be committed to exploring all of the Scriptures and all of the issues with you, and so we'll have to take the risk together, won't we? We'll have to dip into these troubled waters together and trust that a loving God will not let us drown.
Just remember, too, that I speak not only as a preacher and an interpreter of the Bible, but I speak as a married man of almost 27 years, whose marriage is far from perfect, but in whose marriage there is that sense of rightness and permanence and commitment and Godwardness that seems to lie at the center of this passage of Scripture in Malachi 2.
By the way, it is a difficult passage at some points, and you will see in your Scripture booklet that the readings vary widely. The study book we used on Wednesday nights has another quite different reading. The New International Version seems to me as clear and as full of meaning as any, so I will read that one. Even with the wide variety in readings, the main thrust comes through them all: MALACHI 2: 13-16
So difficult to translate but not so difficult to understand, especially if you struggle a little to get to the meanings behind the words. Let me dare to paraphrase – not exactly translate but paraphrase. You follow again while I restate the Scripture: