SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON/Breaking Faith
Wednesday, January 23, 2013 12:00 AM
"Here is another thing you do. You cover the Lord's altar with tears, weeping and groaning because he pays no attention to your offerings, and he doesn't accept them with pleasure. You cry out, "Why has the Lord abandoned us?" I'll tell you why! Because the Lord witnessed the vows you and your wife made to each other on your wedding day when you were young. But you have been disloyal to her, though she remained your faithful companion, the wife of your marriage vows. Didn't the Lord make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard yourself; remain loyal to the wife of your youth. For I hate divorce! Says the Lord Almighty." (Malachi 2:13-16a)
Surely this is a devotional which will rest uneasily upon the hearts of many individuals. I assure you that this is not my intention. Rather, I would hope that this devotional should rest uneasily upon the hearts and minds of us all! Yes, the passage seems to target those individuals and couples who have experienced the breakup of their marriages, and for sure there is a message here for these. But I'm convinced these verses easily lend themselves to a much broader application, for which one of us is guiltless of breaking faith with another? Who among us has not broken a solemn vow at one time or another? Are we not all covenant breakers before God and haven't we all broken faith with Him?
Perhaps you can see something of yourself in the Jewish people Malachi addressed. Can't you see them in your mind's eye - weeping and groaning before the Lord - covering the altar with their tears - wondering all along why God wouldn't answer them and why He refused to receive their gifts and sacrifices with joy? I've said it before but it bears repeating -- you and I are into substitutes. We routinely try to offer God something other than what He demands. We seek to appease Him with one gift while withholding from Him the very thing He desires from us. But it isn't that easy. God is not so easily manipulated. He cannot be bought so cheaply.
Divorce certainly was not the only offense of this people - so why is it singled out here? -- because it represents an evil which is symptomatic of their entire spiritual failure before God. They were willing to show disloyalty to their spouses - the wives and husbands of their youth - because, in their hearts, they had already broken faith with God. Their vows made before God to one another had come to mean nothing - promises of convenience and no more - because they had lost their respect for their greater vows and responsibilities to God.
Specifically, it is the priesthood which still is being addressed here - the spiritual leaders of the nation. These men should have been setting a conscientious example of covenant faithfulness before the people. Their own marriages were to shine before the people as models of absolute devotion, mutual respect and forgiveness, and zealous acceptance of their spousal and parental duties. But these priests were among the greatest offenders - setting aside the wives of their youth to secure for themselves younger and newer wives - at times, even bringing them into the home and forcing their spouses simply to endure the daily disgrace of their betrayal. This was intolerable to God!
But again, I say, what is the broader application for us here? What about when you break faith with your spouse emotionally? Oh, the union may remain intact for all practical purposes, but the love and respect has been allowed to die. And how is the modern day acceptance of multiple marriages and divorces any different from the outright polygamy of other cultures or of another day? Do these practices not amount to a breaking of faith?
Twice in the following verses we find the exhortation "to take heed" or "to be on guard". One translation puts it this way: "Take heed to your spirit". Clearly God wishes us to see what a terrible offense this breaking of faith is to Him. The reformer, John Calvin spoke of it in this way: "Watch over your spirit . . . Take heed; for this is an intolerable wickedness before God, however you may endeavor to extenuate its heinousness." Yes, for sure, it is our natural propensity to extenuate our offenses and to make excuses for our actions and failings. In divorce, it is quite common for each individual involved to point to the actions, or failures, of the spouse as the cause for the breakup. It has even become common today for many divorces to be granted on the basis of a mutual agreement that there are differences without any real desire for compromise or reconciliation. The vow to "Love, honor and cherish, in sickness and in health, in want or in plenty, until death does separate us" has come to mean virtually nothing to so many. But what about our church vows? Membership vows? What about the promises we make one to each other in the church to live in harmony and to seek the peace and purity of the church? Yes, husbands and wives are to love one another, but have we not promised also to love our brother and sister in Christ with that same love - even as Christ has loved us?
You see, it has become all too easy for us to divorce certain aspects of our behavior - and even whole areas of our lives - from the rest. We separate the way we are willing to treat certain individuals from the way we treat others - and we see no problem in doing so! And then we wonder why God is not pleased with us - or accepting of what we seek to give Him. Is this not also a divorce of sorts? - a breaking of faith? - and can that ever be pleasing to God? Think about it!