Sermon Manuscript . . .
The Incredible Importance of Loyalty
Crushing Spiritual Apathy
People ask me why I like dogs over that other creature. Charles de Gaulle, former President of France said, “The better I get to know people, the more I find myself loving dogs.” Andy Rooney said, “The average dog is a nicer person than the average person.” Harry Truman said, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” Why such a commitment to a dog?
Dogs come when you call them–cats take a message and get back to you . . . maybe. Dogs will give you unconditional love forever–cats will make you pay for every mistake you’ve ever made. Dogs will tilt their heads and listen whenever you talk–cats will yawn and close their eyes. Dogs will bark to wake you up if the house is on fire–cats will quietly sneak out the back door. Dogs will sit, lie down, and heel on command–cats will smirk and walk away.
Why might a person prefer a dog over a human? Reliability, non-judgmentalness, no hidden motives, and most importantly–loyalty. People love loyalty–I know you do. A family who is devoted to each other, friends who are not fair-weather, employees and employers who are steadfastly committed to one another. Many of the key moments of my entire life are memorable because another person manifested loyalty to me.
Loyalty is when your mate or partner stands by you in hard times. It’s when an employee takes a pay cut to save the company. Or when a soldier doesn’t reveal secrets under torture. When a shopper repeatedly buys at the same store, even when it is more expensive. Loyalty is an admirable personal quality of devotion and steadfastness, even under trying circumstances. Martin Luther said, spiritually, “Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved.”
We are in the midst of our study of Malachi, the great Italian prophet. Turn in your Old Testament, to the very last book, number 39–Malachi 2:10 to 16. Here, Malachi the prophet has recorded what he has taught to the Jewish people who have now returned from exile and now reside in the Promised Land. God’s prophet is confronting the spiritual apathy growing in the hearts of God’s people. Malachi confronts them about forgetting God’s electing love. He pointedly condemns the spiritual leaders. And now Malachi calls their loyalty into question.
As it is with true character, if you manifest it to others, you’ll also show it to God. If you demonstrate it to God, you’ll display it to others–why? Because when it is character, it is who you are, regardless who you’re interacting with. Loyalty was lacking with the people of God, who’ve returned to the land of Israel.
Loyalty is a character quality which God exalts and all people love. You see it exhibited by Joshua toward Moses, Elisha to Elijah, Jonathan to David–even Daniel to the great pagan king, Nebuchnezzar. But when loyalty is lacking, it undermines relationships. Trust diminishes, devotion erodes, faithfulness crumbles, and steadfastness disappears. And lack of loyalty is what the Israelites were experiencing. They were disloyal to God, His Word, their friends and especially their own spouses. Spiritual apathy had taken over.
Read what Malachi writes in verses 10 to 16. “Do we not all have one father? Has not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously each against his brother so as to profane the covenant of our fathers? 11 Judah has dealt treacherously, and an 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 As for the man who does this, may the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob everyone who awakes and answers, or who presents an offering to the Lord of hosts. 13 This is another thing you do: you cover the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping and with groaning, because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. 14 Yet you say, ‘For what reason?’ Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit. And what did that one do while he was seeking a godly offspring? Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth. 16 ‘For I hate divorce,’ says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘and him who covers his garment with wrong,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.’ ”
The spiritual leaders of the returned nation were not following God’s Word–the priests were disobeying the Word of God. And because of that, the people were doing even worse. Just as water can only rise to the level of its source, the spiritual level of a people will rarely grow higher than their leaders. Sadly, Israel’s spiritual leaders had faltered, and as a result, so had the people of Israel.
I call this the Pea Principle, and I discovered this when I was just 22 years old as a youth leader. I saw someone in a meeting who was distracted, and so to get his attention I picked up a spoon and flicked one pea at him. This staff person picked up his spoon and flicked a spoonful of peas back. The next thing I saw–the kids were about to pick up trays full of food and throw them at one another. I learned very young the Pea Principle.
Leader disloyalty had led to an outbreak of problems–disloyalty to the spiritual unity of the national family (2:10), the people’s disloyalty to their own spiritual families (2:11 to 12), and the people’s unfaithfulness to their own individual marriages (2:13 to 16). Malachi confronts the returned nation about their spiritual harlotry, mixed marriages with unbelieving partners, adultery, and divorce. The priests’ failure to teach the truth could be seen in the devastating collapse of marriage, then the entire family–God designed marriage and family for blessing, not collapse.
Most commentators consider this section a new section in Malachi. Uniquely, verses 10 to 16 are speaking to both leaders and to the people of Israel–so these verses are for all believers. And verses 10 to 16 prove what happens when a ministry, a church, a body of believers does not follow God’s Word. And because the leadership of Israel was silent when they should have taught directly, because the leaders were intimidated about being confrontational about truth–these verses show you the damaging effects of when leadership is unwilling to clearly and openly teach what God says about the sexual practices of singles, extra-marital affairs, God’s design for men and women and God’s heart on divorce. So the great prophet Malachi calls for God’s people to repent of their apathy by restoring their loyalty to God, God’s people and to their spouses.
#1 Curing apathy means expressing Loyalty to God Verse 10
Verse 10 picks up the story of chapter 1:6 when it asks, “Have we not all one Father?” The father is not Abraham, like Calvin thought–because this father is also called the Creator. Verse 10, “Do we not all have one father? Has not one God created us?” This is God–Yahweh. God is the father of Israel. He is the one who created her and He is the one who chose her to be His people. And because the people of Israel are sons and daughters of God, in the same family, Malachi asks this pointed question in verse 10b. “Why do we deal treacherously each against his brother so as to profane the covenant of our fathers?”
Israel had violated God’s law, disobeyed God’s Word–and the priests said nothing. So the people had married foreign women–women who did not believe in the Lord. To do so, they had divorced the wives they had married in their youth. And in doing so, they had joined themselves to foreign gods. By wrongly divorcing their believing wives, then marrying false-god believing wives, they had committed an act of treachery against their heavenly Father and every one of their true brothers and sisters. They had betrayed their entire true family–Father and children.
The priests knew this was wrong, but remained silent. They didn’t affirm what was right and they didn’t condemn what was wrong. They didn’t teach the truth. God had chosen to manifest electing love to the people of Israel. He chose Jacob, not Esau. The people of Israel were chosen to be His people, God’s special possession, a holy nation, His Son, His firstborn and His set apart people.
But look at them now–they have spurned God’s love, abandoned their family and completely embraced other God’s. When you become one with a person who actively follows a pagan God, you are one with the pagan God. How could a people profess to be one with the true God–but at the very same time, commit spiritual and physical harlotry? Look at verse 10.
The Hebrew word for “deal treacherously” is related to the word garment. It is like changing a garment. They were wearing the WWII uniform of a US Marine in May–then by June subtly they were wearing the uniform of a Nazi. They were acting like traitors, spies, changing their garments as a cover-up. They were claiming to be loyal to the one true God, but their behavior towards God and towards their wives was a betrayal–they were treacherous. When you know what the Bible says, but choose to pursue a different direction of life, you are treacherous. If God is their Father, it is time for them to start acting like sons. Malachi says, “Be loyal to your father and to the family of your father.” Malachi expands with . . .
#2 Removing apathy means showing Loyalty to God’s People Verses 11 to 12
“Judah has dealt treacherously, and an 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 As for the man who does this, may the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob everyone who awakes and answers, or who presents an offering to the Lord of hosts.” These verses speak of a second violation of the people’s relationship with Yahweh–the people had entered into mixed marriages.
Malachi is not talking about marriages between different races–that is the coolest thing ever and creates massively cute children. Malachi is not talking about cross-cultural marriages, where people from different places around the world and different languages are in view–that too can be cool. Malachi is speaking to those in God’s family who had married one with a different spiritual commitment–they had, verse 11, “married the daughter of a foreign god.”
Malachi is a post-exilic book, meaning it was written after Judah was taking into exile by Nebuchnezzar, and after the Medes and Persians allowed the Jews to return. So now, after the exile, now that the Jews have returned home and the coming of Christ is on the horizon–the Jewish people are betraying their own family. Other post-exilic books, like Ezra and Nehemiah, also tell us the Jews were marrying daughters of foreign gods.
From the very beginning, God’s law forbad these foreign marriages and called them sin in Exodus 34 and Deuteronomy 7. And to appreciate God’s hatred for this type of mixed marriages, understand what Malachi is condemning. The Jews returning to the land were not merely intermarrying with unbelievers–they were intermarrying with those who followed demonic religions, some that sacrificed babies and believed orgies were a part of worship. Not as extreme, but equally devastating would be a Christian who marries a devout, committed, practicing Muslim, Buddhist, Jehovah’s Witness, Catholic, or Mormon.
The New Testament is also pointed friends–Christians are not to marry non-Christians. First Corinthians 7:39, “A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.” And 2 Corinthians 6:14 to 15, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 Or what harmony has Christ with Belial?” There is no concord between God’s people and pagan worshipers.
Israel was to be God’s own possession, a royal priesthood–chosen from all the nations of the earth to be holy, set apart, unique to God alone. Now Israel had profaned herself by allowing intermarriage with pagans and the priests had disqualified themselves by allowing the people to do it. There is no unity between those who belong to God, and those who belong to demons.
God’s response to the people who have disobeyed God’s Word, ignored all God’s promises, and broken all their promises to God by entering into mixed marriages is to allow these choices to wipe them out–they destroy their own faith.
There are dangerous consequences to choosing to marry a non-Christian. James Boice tells the story of Mrs. Mark Twain–Olivia. He says, “God is gracious. 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 example. Olivia 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 he might in time convert to Christ. At first this seemed to be happening. Albert 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 a 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 joining in 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…’
“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 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.
“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 deceive yourself, hoping you will be the cause of your husband or wife’s conversion. By the grace of God, that may 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 your disobedience.
By entering into mixed marriages, Israel will eventually find their families wiped out. Verse 12, “As for the man who does this, may the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob.” The idiom that follows–“everyone who awakes and answers,” is almost impossible to translate. Some suggest teacher and student, or watcher and respondent. The general intent of the phrase is clear–the entire family of the transgressor, or as we would say today, both root and branch would suffer from the cutting off. Be loyal to God, His Word, and His people which are people. Do not bind yourself to those outside the family. And do not betray the vow you made to your spouse.
#3 Deleting apathy means displaying Loyalty to your Spouse Verses 13 to 16
Malachi continues the pointed confrontations in verse 13a, “This is another thing you do: you divorced the wives you married when you were young.” The Lord refuses to accept the sacrificial gifts of these guilty divorced husbands. Read verse 13b, “You cover the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping and with groaning, because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand.”
By dumping their faithful wives for younger pagan girls, these lustful husbands were blocked from their access to the altar. God says here He has done this because of the tears shed by the wives they abandoned. God was literally unable to regard their sacrifices any longer. The husbands had dealt treacherously with their wives and God sees it all. Again, some were believers and some were make-believers. There were consequences for the believers and there was condemnation for the make-believers.
Christian men, there are severe consequences when you do not treat your wife biblically. Remember 1 Peter 3:7, “You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.” God refuses to listen to a husband who does not live graciously with his wife, nor understand her, nor honor her. But Malachi is not done.
The prophet responds as if he is a divorcing husband in verse 14a, “Yet you say, ‘For what reason?’ ” Malachi asks, “Why does God not pay attention to us or accept our offerings any longer?” Malachi’s answer is verse 14b, “Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth. Do I have a witness here?” Broken marriage vows were not the only concern Malachi raises with these marriages. Yes they had made a vow. Verse 14, she is your companion and your wife by covenant. By vow–she is your companion and your wife by vow.
Don’t be confused–marriage is a vow and consummation. Marriage is an unbreakable promise–a vow, along with the sexual union of oneness consummated. The Hebrew word companion, verse 14, “she is your companion,” means united or joined together. Companion implies harmony and working together to achieve life’s goals, while sharing all the hardships, pains and joys! The word points to God’s original plan for marriage–to leave parents, cleave and live as one flesh. In Genesis 2:24, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” A vow and one flesh union.
But now Jewish couples have broken that unbreakable vow. They have broken the second most important promise of their lives. They promised to be loyal in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, as long as they both shall live. The vow was made as a foundation of loyalty to their spouse–one life, one wife. But along with breaking their vow by divorcing their wife, they also disdained their God. They turned their backs on Him. What does Malachi say? Verse 14, “Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth.” God was at your wedding, and that vow was made in front of witnesses and God. God is also a witness in their covenant–their vow.
Scripture describes marriage as a covenant/vow. Proverbs 2:17, “the companion of her youth and forgets the covenant of her God.” Ezekiel 16:8, “I … entered into a covenant with you so that you became Mine.” The marriage vow must not ever be taken lightly. In fact, it is so serious, and the husband’s offence is so great by breaking it, Malachi uses three graphic phrases to describe the harm done to the divorced wives–see it in verse 14? “Wife of your youth . . . your companion . . . [and] your wife by covenant.”
One Puritan commentator described this violation sharply when he wrote these words. “She whom you wronged was the companion of those earlier and brighter days, when in the bloom of her young beauty, she left her father’s house and shared your early struggles, and rejoiced in your later success; she walked arm in arm with you along the pilgrimage of life, cheering you through its trials by her gentle ministry; and now, when the bloom of her youth has faded and the friends of her youth have gone, now as her father and mother are in the grave, now you cruelly cast her off as a worn-out, worthless thing, and insult her holiest affections by putting an idolater and a heathen in her place.” These men were criminal.
Malachi continues in verse 15–one of the most difficult verses in the Bible to interpret. “But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit. And what did that one do while he was seeking a godly offspring? Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth.” Walt Kaiser says, “The key to understanding verse 15 is the word ‘One’. ‘One’ does not refer to Abraham, making it ‘Did not one [Abraham] do so [take a pagan Egyptian named Hagar as his wife]?”
Abraham is never referred to in the Bible as the one. Moreover, his conduct with Hagar is not being discussed here. Also, Abraham did not divorce Sarah when he took Hagar. The best interpretation of verse 15 is this. The he means God and the one means one flesh of Genesis 2:24. So an explanation of verse 15 would be this. Why did God make Adam and Eve only one flesh, when He might have given Adam many wives, for God certainly had more than enough of the Spirit, or creative power, to furnish many partners? However, because God was seeking a godly offspring, He restricted man and woman to a single bonding, for He knew that a plurality of mates for either partner was not conducive to raising children to the glory of God.
This all leads Malachi to his conclusion in verse 16. Verse 16 contains one of the strongest protests anywhere in Scripture against divorce. The ESV and a couple of other versions interpret the Hebrew here to say, Malachi 2:16, “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord.” But I believe the NASB better renders the context, meaning and syntax, when the prophet says in verse 16, “ ‘For I hate divorce,’ says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘and him who covers his garment with wrong,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.’ ”
In no uncertain terms, God says He loathes the practice and results of divorce. This is in harmony with both the Old Testament and New Testament teaching on divorce. God hates divorce, but also has made provision for an innocent party in a divorce. If a spouse commits adultery, breaking the physical oneness of marriage, the other partner may divorce. If a spouse abandons their mate, especially over the faith, breaking the vow of marriage, the other spouse may divorce. Marriage is a vow and consummation. God allows divorce for breaking the vow and consummation for only two options. But God hates divorce in general.
The phrase in verse 16, “to him who covers his garment with wrong,” recalls the story of Ruth, where Boaz spread a garment over Ruth, thereby indicating his intentions to claim her as his wife. The act of spreading a garment over another person had the same idiomatic meaning back then, as our word bed has for sexual relations today. When the garment was covered with violence or wrong, the picture is describing a spouse who is acting unfaithfully and unjustly towards one’s conjugal promises.
Malachi concludes this verse with, “So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.” This is the same warning given in verse 15. Few issues in today’s world are more revealing about moral integrity and loyalty than that of maintaining your vow to your spouse, with whom you exchanged vows in the presence of God, who is the main witness invited to a believer’s wedding.
Take this home
#1 God’s hates DIVORCE, do you?
You may have a divorce in your past. For many it occurred prior to you knowing Christ. Some divorced as make-believers. Others as untaught believers. A few actually divorced because there was adultery or abandonment, which God allows for. Others of you are single after a divorce, some single not yet married. And the rest of you are faithfully married.
Regardless, if you love God, His Word and His family, you will hate divorce. God allows it when the marriage is broken by physical adultery and physical abandonment–but it is still an act God hates. God’s holiness is more important than your happiness. Don’t recommend divorce. Don’t make excuses for divorce. Don’t counsel divorce. Make certain you express God’s heart in your heart, and hate divorce. God hates divorce, do you?
#2 God delights in a marriage you DELIGHT in
Proverbs 5:18, “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth.” Ephesians 5:28 to 29, “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church.”
Like the Father delights in the Son and the Son delights in the Father, so God delights in a husband who delights in his wife and a wife who delights in her husband. Pursuing oneness, cherishing your spouse, loving your mate, rejoicing in your life partner is the way you express the loyalty of God and show your hatred for divorce.
#3 True believers are loyal to God and show it in their LOYALTY to others
If you’re loyal to your heavenly Father, you’ll be loyal to your spouse, and to your spiritual family of brothers and sisters–and you’ll even find loyalty for others. When a believer realizes God chose you before time, called you in time, bore your punishment, took God’s wrath for sin upon Himself and will never leave you nor forsake you–when you are overwhelmed by His love and His loyalty (He is crazy loyal to you), then you will learn to be loyal to others.
Have you prayed to develop loyalty in your heart toward your spouse, toward spiritual friends–do they know it? Is it obvious? Loyalty is rare today among the family of God. Ask yourself if you are unshakable in your commitment to Christ and to His true family.
#4 The source of genuine loyalty is God’s loyalty to you found in CHRIST
Your sin, manifested in fear, pride, selfish desire is what destroys loyalty. And the only cure for sin, the only way to not be the slave of sin, is to surrender your entire life to Christ–exchange all that you are for all that He is. Turn from sin in repentance and depend on Christ by faith. Be born again internally. You have to enter into the loyalty of Christ in order for Him to live through you to become loyal to others. Turn to Christ today. Let’s pray.