The book of Malachi tells us that the most important decision we’ll make is deciding who will be our God. The second is deciding whom we’ll marry. Directed at singles and married couples, this sermon offers practical advice on how each can honor God in the life they live and the legacy they leave.
10 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? 11 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. 12 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!
13 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. 14 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. 15 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. 16 “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.”
17 You have wearied the Lord with your words. But you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?”
Forty percent of kids tonight will go to bed without a father. For the first time in our nation’s history, the majority of children born to women thirty and under are born out of wedlock, which means today, the normal, typical scenario is no father.
There’s nothing that impacts your life as much as who your father is and what your father does. Apart from God, our earthly life is impacted and affected positively or negatively by our daddy. That’s why the Bible keeps pressing us to think about our legacy.
Here’s the big idea: God cares both about the life you live and the legacy you leave. So, if you’d open your Bibles in Malachi, as we’re talking about living for a legacy, you’re going to learn about this issue of legacy from God’s perspective.
God has something to say to those of you who are single and those of you who are married. So, just because you’re single doesn’t mean God doesn’t have something to say about legacy.
And he starts by revealing himself as Father, so it all begins in this place, Malachi 2:10, where we are told to obey God because he is our Father. Here’s what it says: “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God—” how many gods? One. “Pastor Mark, what about other religions that teach other gods?” There’s one God. “What about religions that teach multiple gods?” One God, and he’s our Father. You don’t have twenty-seven fathers, you don’t have a hundred thousand fathers, you don’t have a billion fathers. You have one Father. There’s one God, he’s our Father.
“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?” He says two things about God. He’s our Creator; he’s our Father. Physically, he made us. Spiritually, he saves us. That’s our God.
Some people come along and say, “Well, what right does God have to tell me what to do?” Well, here’s a pretty good little list. Creator and Father. Alright, he made the world and you, and he adopts you, if you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, into his family as his son or daughter. Since he made you and since he adopted you, he has a right to give instructions to you, as any loving father would. Any father who does not instruct his children hates them. If any father instructs his children, it should be because he loves them.
God is a perfect Father. God is a generous Father. God is a patient Father. God is a wise Father. God is a devoted Father. And so what he’s saying is, “Hey kids, open your ears. Dad needs to talk to you about some things, and if you believe I’m good, then you need to listen.”
He says here, “We have a problem, and the problem is that you are profaning the covenant.” OK, so this idea of covenant, we don’t use the language of covenant a lot in our day. The Bible uses the language of covenant a great deal, and this is that we have a particular, unique relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and it is our highest allegiance. And when we enter covenants, we tend to make vows.
So, when you become a citizen of a country—let’s say you’ve come to the United States and you’re applying for citizenship. You’re going to covenant to be a good citizen, and you’re going to vow. You’re going to make a vow to be devoted to the country. Let’s say you join the military. You’re covenanting to serve and to give your life, and you’re taking a vow for how you will conduct yourself. Similarly, in marriage, we covenant to be together for the rest of our lives, and we do so by exchanging vows. So, covenants and vows tend to go together.
What God is saying is, “If I’ve adopted you, and I’m your Father, and you’re my child, we’re covenanted together, and I have made some promises to you. I’ve vowed to you. I’ll love you, I’ll serve you, I’ll never leave you, never forsake you. But you’re also making some vows to me that you will obey me, that you will follow me, that you will honor me, that you will want to become increasingly more like me.” And so it is incumbent upon both parties in the covenant to follow through with their obligations, and here, God’s people are not. They’re profaning the covenant.
How many of you have moms who talked to you about profanity? Did your mom talk to you about profanity? I was a boy who ate soap. I’ll just throw it out there, OK? Any other soap-eating boys with us today? My mom—God bless her, I love her—“Mark, you cannot use those words. Eat the soap,” OK?
Some of you say, “That’s child abuse.” Well, you didn’t know me as a child. I had it coming, for sure. I should have eaten a Costco-sized box of soap, OK? This is the redeemed, sanctified, mature version of me. Imagine how it all started. It was horrifying. So, I would say things I shouldn’t say, and my mom would say, “Mark, you can’t. Marky, you can’t use profanity.”
Now, what we tend to think of profanity as is solely our words, but it’s also our deeds. Some of you have never said a naughty word, but you live a naughty life, and that’s what he’s talking about. These people may have never said the bad words that would get bleeped out on television, but their whole life is lived in such a way that they are defiant through their conduct.
So, you religious people, be careful that you don’t say, “Oh, I can’t believe the word they used,” because your whole life is a dirty word. You may not use a dirty word, but you don’t have to because you are a dirty word. OK, do you get that? It’s offensive, isn’t it? Moving right along.
“Profaning the covenant of our fathers.” So, profanity here is, God is holy, but we treat him as if he’s unholy. God is in charge, but we treat him as if he has no authority. God is to be obeyed, and yet we disobey him. And it’s the height of hypocrisy to say, “He’s a good Father, and I don’t listen to him.” That’s filthy. That’s wrong.
So, profanity in covenant relationship with God the Father is having a good Father and acting like an orphan. And it’s a profane thing to have God as your Father, and to live as an orphan. To not follow him, to not seek him, to not listen to him, to not obey him, to not consider him, to not honor him—that’s a profane thing.
That’s what God is saying, Because you’re an adult, most of you, you will not think that you need to be told what to do, but to God, we’re all just children, and you never grow so old that you don’t need the wisdom of your Father.
God’s going to talk to us as grown adult sons and daughters so that we don’t profane the covenant, and he’s going to start first by talking to those who are single, and then talking to those who are married.
How many of you are single? OK, singles, raise your hand. Singles, keep them up. Are you single? OK, we have coffee, you guys can meet afterward. This might be a big day for you, I’m just throwing it out there, OK? And I’ll tell you single guys, you single guys who can’t meet a gal at Mars Hill—really, really? That’s like, “Yeah, I went to the trout pond, and I caught no fish.” Well, then there’s a problem with the bait, OK? Ha-ha. “He’s very offensive”—and true.
OK, singles, here we go. He’s going to talk to those who are single. Singles, do not wrongly marry—and nine out of ten of you will marry. Malachi 2:11–12, “Judah.” When he uses “Judah,” “Jerusalem,” “Israel,” he’s talking about God’s people, believers, OK? “Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem.” Big word, “abomination.” What’s the abomination? “For Judah has ‘profaned,’”—another big word—“the sanctuary of the Lord”—their equivalent of the church—“which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god.” Well, there’s the profane abomination, “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!”
What’s the problem? Why has God the Father called the family meeting? Why are all the kids sitting on the couch? Why is he so concerned? Why does he use words like “profaning” and “abomination”? What’s the big deal? Here it is: believers marrying unbelievers.
So, let’s do a little marriage map. Can a believer marry a believer, yes or no? Yes, I gave you an easy one to start. OK, can an unbeliever marry an unbeliever? Say yes. Good job, you got it right. OK, can a believer marry an unbeliever? No, shake your head like this [shaking head]. No. You dads, shake it sternly. No, no, no.
Some of you would ask, “What right does anyone have to tell me who I can and cannot marry?” And God says, “I do. I created marriage, I created you, and if you belong to me, you need to listen to me.”
It’s not unlike the situation with my sons and daughters. I promise you this: if my sons run off and marry women or my daughters run off and marry men without consulting Grace and me or going against our counsel, it’s not going to end well for them, because we know them, we love them, we’re there to help them make the second most important decision of your whole life.
Your most important decision is, who’s your God; your second most important decision is, who’s your spouse. Those are the two most important decisions you ever make. God here is saying, “I have told you who you should not marry, and you married them. And it’s not just a few of you; it’s an epidemic and a problem.”
Now, some would look at the Bible and say, “This book is 2,500 years old. It’s so old it no longer applies to us. Things have changed.” Well, let’s field-test that. Are believers to this day marrying unbelievers? Yes. At what percent? According to a recent article in The Economist, 45 percent of marriages are what they call “interfaith.” God would use words like “profane” and “abomination,” but they would use the word “interfaith.” What that means is the Christian marries the Mormon, or the Mormon marries the Muslim, or the Muslim marries the Hindu. Different religions. And this is wrong.
Let’s say you’re at Mars Hill and you’re a believer—OK, some of you are single, and just, you’re like, “Oh.” Like, the fire alarm just went off in your mind. “I’m dating someone who’s an unbeliever.” Don’t start creating an account to defend yourself.
Hit the brakes. Don’t continue. It’s not going to where there will be life and joy, and they lived happily ever after. This is a very current problem, and what’s at stake is legacy.
If a believer marries an unbeliever, good luck having children who know and love the Lord and are wholeheartedly, singularly devoted to him when mom and dad aren’t even in agreement in their devotion, or even who God is. You singles, hear me in this: Missionary dating leads to miserable divorce. Missionary dating leads to miserable divorce.
Statistically, it’s true. Bradford Wilcox, along with other sociologists who are noted, have shown that the highest divorce rates are for people who have different religious beliefs. They get divorced more than any other group.
The group that has the lowest divorce rates? Bible-believing, Jesus-loving, church-attending evangelical Christians. Some of you have been lied to. “Christians get divorced as much as non-Christians.” No, they don’t. They just don’t. They just don’t. I can tell you; I’ve been doing this for seventeen years. I think this year we had 105 weddings. I know the marriages, I know the divorces, and I can tell you those for those who are members of the church, their divorce rates are significantly lower than anyone else’s, especially those who marry someone from a different religious tradition.
For those of you who are single, let me speak very clearly to you. Here, God the Father’s talking to you. Let me, with a father’s heart, talk to you. And it’s interesting for me because I started this seventeen years ago, and Ashley, my daughter, was one of the first kids born in the church. Now she’s sixteen, so we’re a year away from her senior year next year, and then college.
So, all of a sudden, I’m looking down the not-too-far-distant future, and my daughter could be dating, engaged, or married. True or false, men, everything looks different when you become a dad? Everything looks different. All boys look like terrorists, right? I mean, everything looks different.
Now, let me speak to all who are single, especially those who may be a little older, those who aspire to be married, but for whatever reason, it doesn’t seem like it’ll be on the horizon anytime soon.
Let me, in particular, speak to the single women. Recently, I’ve had a number of side conversations with godly, older, single women who aspire to be married, and I think are wonderful. I can’t figure out why they’re not married. I don’t understand. They’re great, and single, and I don’t understand.
I was talking to one of these gals. She came up and said, “Pastor Mark, what do I do?” And I felt like her dad in that moment, like, “What would I tell my daughter?” And so, it kind of came to me, and I’ll share it with you. I said, “Well, there’s really only six options, OK?” [Congregation laughs] I don’t know why that’s funny. I’m a dad who always has something to say.
Here they are, six options for singles. You ready? OK, take notes, single people. And I’m talking about those of you particularly who are single and aspiring to marriage. You want to be married, but you’re not there yet. Either you’re not ready, you’re trying to get ready, or maybe you’re a godly woman, and a man has not come along yet who’s fit to be a husband, and you’re looking at your future saying, “I don’t know if it’s going to happen for me. I would like to be married. I appreciate Mark’s sermons. I like guys getting yelled at. I wish one would call me.” But it’s not happening for you. And I’ve had a lot of conversations with godly, older women who aspire to be married, but it’s not happening for them recently. So, if this is you, you’ve really got six options.
Number one is just sin. “I’m going to date an unbeliever.” “I’m going to move in with somebody.” “I’m going to sleep with somebody.” “I’m going to play the singles’ scene.” “I’ll find somebody who worships a different God, or an atheist, or you know, I’m just going to sin. I’m going to rebel; I’m going to do my thing.” “God, you’ve not come through for me, so I’m going to take matters into my own hands.” What’s that going to do, particularly for you ladies, is it’s going to harm your relationship with Jesus, and he’s the most important man in your life. And any other man that hinders the relationship with the God-man is the wrong man.
Number two, some of you are going to surrender. You’ll say, “You know what? I give up. I’m never going to get married. I need to give up hope. I need to take my heart, lock it up in a vault, nobody ever gets to it. No more trying, no more dating, no more caring. I’m not even going to pray about it anymore. If somebody comes up to me and says, ‘I want to introduce you to somebody,’ ‘No thank you,’ OK? I’m not interested. I give up. I give up.”
Number three, you can settle. You can start with a list of “I want somebody who loves Jesus” to “They’re breathing.” “Check. Alright, that was my list.” Now, some of you are single, and your expectations are way too high. Your list is way too long. No one will ever meet it, and if they could meet it, they would have options other than you. I’m just telling you the way it is, alright? Like, if that person exists that’s that amazing, they could find someone else, OK? I’m just telling you how it’s going to go.
For some of you, your list of expectations are way too low. Way too low. You need to have a reasonable expectation. And here’s the key, singles: Don’t just have a list for what you want in a spouse; have a list of what you want to be for your spouse. If you’re going to have a list, have two lists. “Here’s who I want to be, and here’s who I’m hoping to meet.”
But what happens is after a while, you start to settle and cross things off your list, right? You’re in your twenties, all of a sudden you’re like—let’s say you’re a woman—“I want him to love Jesus, and I want to be able to follow him as our family leader, and I want to have kids.” And then you hit thirty, and all of a sudden you’re like, “Oh my goodness, well, now I’ve got to check off that he can lead well and that I totally respect him, and I’ll just find somebody who believes in God.” And pretty soon, even that is, “Well, used to believe in God—good enough.”
All of a sudden, you start settling. You start lowering your expectations. Don’t do that. Don’t be unreasonable, but have some expectations, and don’t settle. It’s better to be single than miserably married, and I’m not going to ask the married people to amen that point. But if they were in their honest moment, they would look at you and say, “It’s better to be single than in the situation that I’m in.”
Number four, you can use this as an opportunity to just suffer. You could look at your singleness like a club to beat yourself with. “There’s something wrong with me. I’m damaged goods. Nobody picked me, nobody loved me, nobody wants me. Everybody’s rejected me.” You can hand that club to Satan and just let him beat you over and over and over and over. Don’t do that. There are some women—Grace and I are friends with a lot of single women. Some of them are single moms, some of them have never married, some of them are widowed. And we’ll just look at each other befuddled. “I can’t figure out why she’s single. She’s amazing.” Grace will be like, “I can’t either. I don’t understand. I can’t comprehend. I don’t understand.” Sometimes, if you’re single, there’s nothing wrong with you. Sometimes there is, alright, but sometimes there’s nothing wrong with you, so don’t beat yourself up, and don’t allow others to beat you up, and don’t allow Satan to beat you up.
Number five, you can strive. This is the person who says, “I am going to be married,” and it becomes like a full-time job. You’re like, “I’m going to go to every Christian dating site. I’m going to fill out a profile. I’m going to lie about who I am. I’m going to Photoshop myself so I look younger and happier. I’m going to go to every Christian singles’ ministry I can find. I’m going to go to every Community Group at my Mars Hill Church, and then I’m going to go to other Mars Hill Churches and all of their Community Groups, too. And every time I leave the house”—sometimes ladies will do this—“I’m going to dress up like it’s a pageant. I’m not even going to go to the mailbox unless I have mascara on and heels, OK?” You’re trying to put a lot of bait on the hook, is what you’re trying to do.
Some of you guys are like this as well. Too-much-cologne guy would be an example, OK? Like, “I am going to get a shirt with buttons, I’m going to have two eyebrows, and I’m going to smell nice. And I’m going to go to Mars Hill, and I’m going to be a greeter, and I’m going to meet every woman who comes in the church.” “Welcome”—_look for a ring, look for a ring, look for a ring_—OK?
You’re overdoing it. You’re overplaying your hand. You’re trying too hard, OK? Have you met these people? It’s a little too much. They’re obsessed. It’s too much. Calm down, right? If God had a mate for you, he wouldn’t even need to be involved at this point. You’ve got it all nailed down, OK? And some people become obsessed, and here’s the deal: These people run the risk of loving marriage and not their spouse. They’ve got a script, and they’re just wanting to hand someone the lines. It doesn’t matter who it is. God doesn’t call us to just love marriage but to love our spouse.
Number six, here’s your option, what I would encourage you for, particularly those of you who are single with no marriage prospects on the horizon, though nine out of ten of you will statistically marry. But particularly for the godly women who love the Lord and are unsure if this day of their wedding will ever come, seek solace in this: you worship Jesus—who was married or single? Single. Lived a—what kind of life? Perfect life.
True or false, Jesus left a legacy. No one in the history of the world has left a legacy equal to Jesus Christ, yet he never married and he never had children. His life was meaningful, his life was valuable, his life was purposeful, and his life was single.
So, for those of you who are single, you worship Jesus Christ who didn’t sin sexually, had relationships with the opposite sex that were appropriate and friendly but not over any kind of line. He was single, but he was not alone. He invested his life; he didn’t waste his life. And we’re part of his legacy.
So, if you’re single and struggling with your singleness, know that the Jesus that you’re talking to is a Jesus who understands. He’s a high priest who sympathizes. He’s a single God and Savior who has been where you are and is there to comfort you, to console you, to encourage you, to instruct you, to lead you, and to guide you.
The truth is that the Bible talks a lot about marriage and family, but ultimately it’s all about Jesus. And isn’t it wonderful that we have a God who is single for those who are single or, at least, single for a season? The most important decision you ever make is who your God is—Jesus Christ. The second most important decision is who you marry, and sometimes the best decision is not to marry.
If you felt any pressure at Mars Hill, let me alleviate that pressure. If you’re a single woman who’s felt like she’s a second-class citizen because she’s not married, let me apologize and remove that pressure. And for you ladies who are single, Jesus the God-man is the relationship that’s the most important relationship you’ll ever have with any man. And any man who would hinder the relationship with the God-man is the wrong man, OK?
Now, this is the heart of what’s going on in Malachi. God’s saying, “You’re marrying unbelievers.” How do we get there? Well, here’s how we get there: we sin, we surrender, we settle, we suffer, we strive. The result is those decisions we make in the single years get us into marriages that we should never be in because it began with the relationships we should have never started. Does that make sense? OK, that’s God’s word to those of you who are single.
How about those of you who are married? How many of you are married? Raise your hand. OK, married people, God’s going to have a word for us. “Do not wrongly divorce.” Malachi 2:13–15, “And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord’s altar with tears”—big crocodile tears—“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?’”
He continues, “Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless”—he’s talking to the men in particular—“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?”
Here’s what God says: “I was there on your wedding day.” How many of you didn’t know that God was there? God was there. He was a witness. You know what happens? I’ve officiated a lot of weddings. What we do is we pull out the contract—the legal, binding agreement in the eyes of the government—and it has to be signed by two witnesses. Usually it’s the best man, and it’s also the maid of honor. God says, “I was there too, and I was the most important witness. I heard you exchange your vows.”
See, here’s the deal: Christian marriage includes God. It’s not just a husband and the wife; it’s the Lord. That’s why, at Mars Hill, we don’t let you just get married. You’ve got to go through premarital. We don’t allow you just to make the decision. Other people help speak into that. We don’t just let everybody get married in the church so it looks good in the photos, because we’re not going to pretend that it’s in the sight of the Lord unless it’s really in the sight of the Lord. People come along, “Well, who has the right to tell me who I can and cannot marry?” God says, “I do. “I created marriage, and if you’re one of my kids, I get to speak into that.”
God says, “I was witness to the covenant.” This language is going to come up a lot, and it really connects to that issue of legacy. He’s going to talk about the covenant with our fathers, godly offspring, the covenant of marriage. All of that is right here in Malachi 2:10–17. This language all goes together regarding this issue of covenantal legacy.
See, we tend to think in terms of personal relationship with Jesus. The language of Scripture does not use that. Of course we want you to have a personal relationship with Jesus, but it’s not an isolated relationship with Jesus. My relationship with Jesus includes my wife Grace, our five kids, someday, by God’s grace, our grandkids. It includes you. It’s not an isolated relationship with Jesus; it’s a covenantal relationship with Jesus. And those are very distinct, and that’s very important.
Now, God says that this covenant is marked by three things here. He says sexually, they’re one. “The husband and wife became one flesh.” That’s what Genesis says. So, marriage is a sexual component. The two become one. That’s what Malachi here says.
Number two, relationally, they’re companions. This is the biblical language for friendship, that husband and wife are friends, they’re life partners, they do life together. My best friend, twenty-five years in a row, has been Grace. My best friend. That’s why the wife in Song of Solomon 5:17 says, “He’s my lover. He’s my friend.” Companionship here is, they’re there for the good times and the bad times, and they hang in there with you, and you persevere with one another, because that’s what good friends do. So, it’s sexual, it’s relational, and it’s also spiritual.
He said, “Didn’t he give them a portion of the Spirit, the Holy Spirit?” The Holy Spirit lives in the daughter of God, lives in the son of God. When they enter into the covenant of God, the Holy Spirit empowers and enables them to love one another with God’s love, to forgive one another with God’s forgiveness, to take the work of Jesus and apply it to one another and their relationship with one another.
Marriage is not what the culture thinks that it is. It’s sexual, but just sleeping with somebody doesn’t make you married. It’s relational; Just being friends with somebody is important, but that doesn’t make you married. It’s also spiritual: God knits your souls together, and the Holy Spirit is in and through both of you. And it’s all of that. Covenantal marriage is sexual, it’s relational, and it’s spiritual.
Like every covenant, it requires both parties to be faithful. The husband and the wife are to be faithful to one another, and God is faithful to both of them. And when God is faithful to them and they are unfaithful to one another, then God gets involved as the overseer of the covenant and he addresses how the covenant has been breached and broken. And here, the situation, the scenario is divorce. It’s divorce.
I can’t get into it deeply, but let me hit it briefly, this issue of divorce. And immediately, I know what happens. It moves from theological to emotional. It goes from, you know, “What’s the difference between moicheia and porneia in the Greek text?”—which are adultery and sexual immorality—to, “Is my divorce biblical? Should I get out of this marriage? Should my dad have left my mom? Christmas is going to be really awkward, and did somebody sin in the sight of God?” There are reasons, biblically, we teach and believe that it is permissible, though not ideal, for people to get divorced. Let me address those briefly.
Number one, death ends the marriage covenant. And married people, you can’t kill each other, OK? That’s murder. Billy Graham’s wife—it was funny. They asked Ruth one time, “Have you ever thought about divorcing Billy?” Honest woman. She said, “I’ve never really thought about divorcing Billy, but I have thought about killing him.” Death ends a marriage covenant. This last year, I preached the funeral of Grace’s dad. Alright, he was married to his wife for fifty years. Their covenant ended the day that his life ended.
Number two, adultery is grounds for divorce. It’s the breach of the sexual aspect of the covenant. Sexual, relational, spiritual. Adultery is putting a torpedo in the hull of the covenant of marriage.
Number three, sexual immorality, and it’s a different word than adultery, but it’s a broader category. And I used to be more legalistic and religious. I used to treat people more like math equations. “This plus this equals this, and this plus this equals this.” And I was that way about divorce and remarriage until I became a pastor. And then people walk in, and they back the truck of their life up, and they unload it all, and you realize it’s very complicated and sometimes very devastating.
As I get older, I feel more like a father. Like, what would I tell my daughter? And this issue of sexual immorality, in our day, people do evil and vile things that I’m not going to get into the details of, but sometimes, if habitual and unrepentant, make it very difficult to tolerate. And for some people, they just get tired of taking the disease test because of their spouse. All kinds of things happen in our day that are vile. Those can be grounds for the breaching of the covenant and the termination of the marriage.
Number four, abandonment. In 1 Corinthians 7, the story is that the unbeliever leaves. So, let’s say two unbelievers get married, and one converts, becomes a Christian, and the other says, “I want nothing to do with Jesus. I’m out of here,” and leaves. It says you’re not bound in such circumstances. Sadly, it’s over. It’s over.
Treachery in Malachi 2 or treasonous betrayal. This could include a husband who beats his wife—violence, threat of safety. Treacherous, treasonous, dangerous, violent behavior. And as a father with a daughter, I think, “Wow, what a horrible situation. God forbid that my daughter would be in a situation like that.”
Number six, hardness of heart. Moses speaks of this, and Jesus echoes this. Moses permitted divorce, the Bible says, because of the hardness of heart. And what this is is someone who refuses to talk about it, refuses to deal with it, refuses to work on it. And we’re not talking for a short time—for a long time.
I don’t mean to get graphic, and I don’t mean to make this painful, but I’ll give you one example early on in Mars Hill. There was a guy with little kids. Would come home from work, pour himself a beer, pull back in his chair, and put a porno on the big TV in the living room every day. And his wife would be like, “Please don’t do that. The kids see this, and this is wrong, and it’s—please don’t do this,” for a long time. His answer was, “I work hard all day. I deserve a break. It’s my house. It’s my TV. I get to do what I want to do, and if you don’t like it, you can leave.” But your daughters are watching, and your sons are watching. Just hardness of heart, unwilling to even deal with what is obviously a problem.
Now, a couple of things when it comes to divorce. You do not have to divorce even if you have grounds to. You don’t have to get a divorce, even if you have a reason that’s biblical. You cannot make this decision in isolation. You can’t say, “I’m going to go home, study the Bible, come to my own conclusion, and make my own decision.”
No, no, no. I would encourage you, invite others in. Invite godly, wise counsel. I’ve seen some people get really bitter and frustrated. They get all their divorced friends, “What do you guys think?” Well, I can tell you what their counsel’s going to be. Alright, this is, you’re an alcoholic, and for the intervention you bring in the bartenders. Not the best counsel. Don’t do surgery on yourself either, alright?
There are certain things you invite other people into because it’s not best for you to take care of those things by yourself. So, get pastors in the church involved, get good, godly counsel, get biblical counselors involved. Don’t make this decision in isolation. Don’t make this decision in haste. You’re frustrated—“That’s it, I’m sick of it, I’m done, that’s over.”
Don’t run into marriage, and don’t run out of marriage. Don’t be hasty, don’t be impatient, don’t be impetuous. Don’t just have a bad day, set the thing on fire, and walk away. You cannot make this decision in lust. “I’m married to them, oh, but I really have a thing for them.” Then, even if you have biblical grounds for divorce, you don’t have a biblical heart.
Let me say this: you should never get divorced because you want to. You should only get divorced because you have to. You’ve prayed, you’ve waited, you’ve tried. Sadly, tragically, grievously, you’re there, but you’re always leaving room for the grace of God and hoping for something miraculous.
We had a situation in one of our Mars Hill churches recently. A couple had been married twenty years, filed for divorce, attorneys involved, everything’s going toward the end. And they realized Jesus died for their sins, so they didn’t need to kill their marriage. Jesus rose to give them a new marriage, a new life, a new start. Through the grace of God and Jesus Christ, they forgave each other, reconciled, stood before the church, and tore up their divorce papers. It doesn’t happen all the time, but we want to have it happen as often as possible.
Why? I was talking to a guy with tears in his eyes before this service. He said, “Pastor Mark, my dad just walked out on the family.” I said, “Why did he do that?” He said, “He told my mom he just wanted to be happy.” That guy’s not going to be happy. He’s been lied to. Lose your wife, lose your kids, awkward Christmas, strained relationship with the grandkids. Happy? Not the word I would pick.
God wants us to be holy. Sometimes, sometimes happiness is on the other side of holiness, but happiness is never at the price of holiness.
What is God seeking through your marriage, through my marriage? Nine out of ten of you statistically will be married at some point in your lifetime. Don’t be yet another foolish American who says, “I just want to be happy.” I’ve seen people go through five spouses, still miserable. Here’s what God is seeking through your marriage and mind.
And the big idea is that a good legacy beats a good time. We live in a day—it’s all about a good time. The Bible’s all about a good legacy. We tend to think about the weekend, and God wants us to think unto a thousand generations. Malachi 2:15–17, “And what was the one God seeking?”
Here’s the big idea: It’s not about what you want from your marriage. It’s not. “I want to be happy.” “I want to be satisfied.” “I want to have better sex.” “I want somebody who appreciates me.” “I want somebody who doesn’t put on weight.” “I want somebody who’s nice to me.” “I want, I want, I want, I want, I want.”
God says, “Listen kids, you don’t know what you need. You know what you want, but you don’t know what you need. I’m your Dad. I see everybody. I’m at every wedding. I’ve heard every vow. I’ve been here before time began. I officiated the first wedding between your first parents. Trust me, I know what you need. Don’t tell me what you want. I know what you need. I’m your Dad; listen to me.” The grandkids are at stake, the great-grandkids are at stake. You’ve got to look beyond your pants and your weekend.
“What was the one God seeking?” Well, the one God is seeking one thing. What is it, Mars Hill? Hey dads, say it. “Godly offspring.” Dads, say it. “Godly offspring.” Most guys are far more motivated for the work that creates the offspring than the godly part. A lot of people today are like, “I would like to have a little fun, and well, you know, if you get an offspring, you get an offspring.” You can make a child in a night, but it takes a lifetime to raise that child to be godly. It’s a lot of work.
“So guard yourselves in your spirit.” Check your heart. Don’t be a fool, right? Make sure you only heed wise counsel. Don’t jump in the river of death and swim along with everybody else. “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. You have wearied the Lord with your words. But you say, ‘How have we wearied him?’ By saying, ‘Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them.’ Or by asking, ‘Where is the God of justice?’”
Here, he’s talking about divorce among those who would profess to be believers. And the situation is older men divorcing their wives to run off with younger women. Wow, does this not sound current? He talks about the wife of your youth. He lays a lot of responsibility on us men.
Here’s what happens to a guy: He gets married young, has kids. He and his wife get older, and he has a midlife crisis. The kids are grown, the wife is not as involved in the raising of the children as she once was. He has a midlife crisis, thinks, “I want to be with a younger woman,” divorces his believing wife, shipwrecks his legacy, and runs off with another woman in the name of being “happy.” This is 2,500 years ago, and here’s what happens: it’s so effective that Satan just keeps handing the same script, one generation after the next, to the fool’s parade.
And God wants godly offspring. He wants you to love the Lord, your kids to love the Lord, your grandkids to love the Lord, your great-grandkids to love the Lord. This is the last thing God’s going to say for four hundred years, and so it’s a really big deal. They’re waiting for Jesus to come; we’re waiting for Jesus to come back. They’re supposed to be about godly offspring until he shows up; we’re to be about godly offspring until he shows up again.
Now, your Bible here in Malachi 2:16 says it this way: “I hate divorce, says the Lord.” How many of you have heard this: “God hates divorce”? Have you heard that? For a lot of people who don’t know the Bible, that’s the only thing in the Bible that they do know about divorce. What does God say about divorce? God hates divorce. And then what this becomes is an unreasonable expectation, sometimes particularly for women, to live under abusive circumstances with men who disregard all the rest of what the Bible says about loving and cherishing your wife and not being harsh with her.
A couple of things I want to say about this. The Bible does say that God hates divorce, but it does not say that God hates the divorcée. If you’re at Mars Hill and you’re wondering, “OK, I’m divorced. Does that mean God hates me?” No.
I’ve got three sons and two daughters, and I hope that they get married, and if someday—God forbid, I pray it never happens, I’m going to do all I can. But if, God forbid, they get divorced, I will hate the divorce, but I’m not going to hate my kids. God’s a Father who loves his kids. He may hate some of the circumstances, either through their sin, or the sin of their spouse, or both of them, but he doesn’t hate his kids. God doesn’t hate you. God hates divorce in the same way that divorced people hate divorce.
I was talking to a divorcée recently. She’s now a single mother. Fell apart with her husband, he ran off with another woman—train wreck story, not dissimilar to this. She says, “I hate where we’re at. I hate being divorced. I hate that Christmas is going to be so hard. I hate that my kids are crying themselves to sleep. I hate what the future looks like.” She said, “I hate this.” Divorcées hate divorce, too.
God hates the pain, the hurt, and the complexity that divorce brings, particularly when children are involved. And some of you grew up in those homes and you know exactly what that feels like. But God does not hate the divorcée. God hates the fact that our marriages are not reflecting the big marriage, where Jesus is like a groom and the church is like his bride. He loves her, he never leaves her, he never forsakes her, he never abuses her, he never betrays her. And our little marriages are to be reflections, pictures, or portraits of the big marriage. And when God’s people get divorced, it grieves God because it sends a confusing message about Jesus’ affection and devotion to his people in the covenant of salvation.
God does hate divorce, but we need to make sure that we don’t lift a principle from a context. The context here is that God hates divorces like those that are happening in Malachi. I think of it like a father. I’ve got a 16-year-old daughter. I’ve got an 11-year-old daughter—Man, I’ve got a 9-year-old daughter, I’ve got an 11-year-old son, and apparently a fading memory. My daughters are priceless.
You know, I’ll tell you two things that come to mind: My sixteen-year-old daughter, a couple weeks ago, somebody that she knows, the dad ran off with another woman. They’re supposed to be a Christian family—total disaster. And I looked at her, I said, “Honey, what if Daddy did that?” I said, “I haven’t, and I won’t, but what if I did?” She said, “If I can’t trust you, I can’t trust any man.”
Alexi sat on my lap yesterday for two hours, and then we had dinner, and then she sat on my lap for another two hours. She’s super affectionate. I looked at her at one point and I said, “Honey, do you like snuggling with me?” She said, “Yeah, you keep me warm, you keep me safe, and I love you, Papa Daddy,” and she’s rubbing my beard. I said, “Honey, if you’re ever dating a man or married to a man “and you don’t feel safe with him, you need to tell me, because you need to feel safe. And if you don’t feel safe, I will take care of it.” No, I mean, OK, jJust make these little deposits for future withdrawals. She looks at me, she says, “I will, Daddy.”
The reason God is angry is God’s a Father. The reason God is worn out is that all his kids keep making the same mistake, committing the same sin. God’s looking at his daughters saying, “She’s a believer, married a believer, they got married in my presence under the Lord. You know, the pastor read the verses. Everything was official. She gave him kids. She wasn’t perfect, but she loved him. She raised the kids, he got older, made enough money to divorce her and run off with a younger woman.” And the Father’s looking at it going, “I hate that. I hate that my daughters are treated that way.” And God says, “I’m so weary by this. I’m so exhausted by this.”
What exhausts you? What are you sick of? What are you just tired of dealing with? God says, “Marriages like this, but especially men like this. I’m just so tired, so exhausted by it.” And God says, “Here’s what even frustrates me more. Religious leaders and teachers get up and call evil good and good evil.” Which means, oh, at this church, they want you to work on your marriage. You don’t feel like it, you met somebody else, go to this church, and pastor going to hell tells you, “Oh, that’s OK. God’s alright with you. In the Greek, evil’s good, and good’s evil, and adultery’s love, and look at that, look at that. We took the Bible, we did origami, we made it into something else.” You can find a book, you can find a preacher, you can find a conference, you can find a counselor to tell you whatever it is you want to hear. You write the check; they’ll give you the answer because that’s what false prophets do.
God says, “I’m sick of it.” God’s like a dad looking at his grandkids who are shipwrecked saying, “Does anybody else care about the kids here? Does anybody else care about the grandkids? Anybody else thinking about the legacy?” Godly offspring. Men and women, we’re both accountable in the sight of the Lord, but you husbands and fathers, I’ve got to get your heart today, and God needs to keep it. You need to have the father’s heart if you’re a father. Godly offspring.
There are three things you can do to help make that statistically more probable. It’s not guaranteed, but it’s more probable. A-B-C. It begins with the adults. Statistically, if mom and dad worship the Lord, read the Bible, pray, go to church, the kids do, too. Pray with your kids. Pray for your kids.
It starts with the adults, OK? If you’re a single mom or you’re a single dad, it’s all on you. You’re a mom and a dad; it’s on both of you. And dads, you’ve got to lead the way. You are the spiritual head of household. You are the most influential person in your family, period. It starts with the adults, right? You can’t hand off a legacy of faith that you don’t have. You can’t connect the next link in the chain if you’re not connected. Do you know Jesus? Have you turned from sin and trusted in him? And men, dads, fathers, are you saved?
Number two, the Bible. Got to have copies of the Bible in your home, appropriate for each age of the kids. You’ve got little kids, kids’ Bible; teens, find something that works; and study Bible for the bigger kids. The kids should know that Dad’s got a Bible, Mom’s got a Bible. They read the Bible, they study the Bible, they appreciate the Bible, they listen to the Bible, they answer their questions with the Bible, because the Bible that is falling apart is often in the home that is not.
And thirdly, A-B-C, church. You’re part of God’s family. You don’t just have your family; you’re part of God’s family. You’re under the authority of a local leadership. You’re under the preaching of God’s Word. You’re in community. You have relationships. The wives are giving wisdom to one another. The husbands are giving wisdom to one another. You’re inviting singles in to help give an example for what godly singleness looks like for your children’s future, because they’ll all be single at least for a season, some for their lifetime.
And it’s welcoming others into your life and you pouring into their life, because to have a good family takes participation in the church family. And some of the people that have made the biggest deposits in my children are people who are unmarried, widowed, and some of them are divorced, and love Jesus. And they’ve made deposits into my kids that are priceless, and we’re part of their spiritual legacy. There is no silver bullet that guarantees godly offspring, but these three things, statistically and biblically, increase your probability.
Now, let me just close with this: I’m not pretending it’s easy. Grace and I met at seventeen. We’ve been together twenty-five years, married for twenty. Some days are good, other days are tough. A lot of the criticisms against Grace and me, even in our marriage book, is, “You talked about the hard parts.” Yeah, yeah, I want to give the impression that Jesus is perfect and the rest of us need him.
I love Grace with all my heart, and sometimes she drives me crazy. Grace loves me with all her heart, and I drive her crazy way more often than she drives me crazy. Can you imagine? I couldn’t imagine being married to me. It just dawned on me. If there were two of me, one would have to die. I just couldn’t imagine that.
On Friday, Grace and I had a date, and we had a disagreement. We had a little thing, right? So, Friday was a rough day. I was actually frustrated and depressed, like, “I’m going to preach Malachi 2 and godly offspring, and me and my wife are sort of doing a little—” You know, it’s not like one of us has got to call the police, but we’re both looking at each other like, “Really, really, really, really, really, really?” And God’s looking at us both like, “Really, really, really, really, really?”
We worked through it by God’s grace, so Saturday was one of the best days I’ve had all year. My seven-year-old son Gideon and I go out and chop wood, we start a big fire. My sons get their knives out, they’re whittling, making marshmallows, roasting S’mores. My wife comes in, sits next to me on the couch, the wife of my youth. The next thing you know, all my kids are on the couch. We have other places to sit. They’re all on the couch, alright? It’s very uncomfortable and very wonderful, because there’s the wife of my youth, and here’s our legacy, and we’re all Christians, and we’re a family, and we’re sitting by the fire, and praise God for his grace.
Some days are going to be Friday, and you really need to focus all your energies on remembering Saturday. And I love you, and God loves you, and God’s a Father, and I have a father’s heart, and if you’re going to get married, that’s what I want for you, and that’s what God wants for you. Godly legacy, godly offspring, a covenant with a wife of your youth.
At one point, Grace leaned over, put her head on my shoulder and said, “Oh, it’s going to be so fun to have grandkids.” I was like, “Ashley’s sixteen; it’s going to be a long time. You know, I’m sort of freaking out right now just thinking about this.” But I love that, in her heart, she’s looking to the next generation. She’s looking to the horizon. I want to grow old with her, I want to be friends with her, I want to make memories with her, I want to raise grandkids with her. And the lie is that anything other than that is better than that.
Mars Hill, we’re at a point now in God’s grace, a lot of you have been married, a lot of you will be married, we’ve had a lot of kids born, a few thousand. The question is, will we leave a legacy? Will we be a one-generation church or will we leave a legacy? This is why we’re opening new locations. This is why we’re buying new buildings. This is why we’re bringing in the Bible college and seminary.
Last week, first week, three hundred students already signed up and inquired, so the next generation is very motivated, and we want to be very generous to prepare for that future. So, we’re asking you to pray, and please do, and you’ve got the 40 Days of Prayer. In addition, we’re asking you to give generously, and we’ll collect our tithes and offerings now. And what we’re looking for is a big year-end bump of a few million dollars, at least to help us set up our churches, our schools, and our church-planting efforts for the future.
As they are collecting our tithes and offerings, I want you to know that the decisions you make today will affect people that have not even been born yet, just as decisions that were made before you were born have affected you. And I want you to be thinking about a good legacy and not just a good time.
For those of you who are single, for those of you who are married, it involves and it includes all of us. For those of you who are single, let me say there is something worse than being single, and that’s being a person in a godless marriage that is very painful, complicated, and gets only more complicated when children are added. Those who are in those circumstances around you would not raise their hand and say that right now, but off to the side, in a quiet moment, they would tell you that they rushed into something that they should not have been in, and it’s been painful and difficult ever since.
For those of you who are married, by God’s grace, get through your Fridays and to your Saturdays. And I’m going to ask you all to join me, and for those who are willing and those who are heartfelt in their covenant and in their vows, to covenant with God under vow with me on some things. This will include those of you who are single and those of you who are married. So, I’m going to ask you all to stand at this point, and this will be our closing prayer, our covenant vow together.
Let’s start with—if you guys would throw it up on the screen, it would be helpful so that they could follow me. For those who are single, I want you to say this with me if you will covenant. Say it after me: “I will only date and marry those of you who are single. I will only date and marry someone who loves Jesus and agrees with my core biblical convictions.” [Congregation echoes]
For those of you who are married, take the hand of your spouse. This is a vow in the presence of God together. “We will make decisions for our legacy and God’s glory, not for selfishness and short-sightedness.”
Father God, you are a witness, and you are Father, and I thank you right now that because of a covenant with you through Jesus Christ, as we prepare to partake of Communion, we realize that, Lord Jesus, you died in our place for our sins so that we could put our sin to death and rise in newness of life to leave a new legacy. Thank you, Father, for sending your Son as such a great gift.
Lord God, I pray for those who are single, I pray for those who are married, and I pray, Lord God, for the legacy of their family, and I pray for the legacy of our church family. And Father, I pray you would fill us with hope today. For those that it feels like Friday, I pray that the Holy Spirit would remind them of the Saturdays they have had to continue forward until the Saturdays that they have before them. In Jesus’ good name. Amen.
Note: This sermon transcript has been edited for readability.