The Wrong Way to Finish a Marriage

October 10, 2004 Preacher: Randy Smith Series: Malachi

Scripture: Malachi 2:13–16


The Wrong Way to Finish a Marriage

Malachi 2:13-16
Sunday, October 10, 2004
Pastor Randy Smith

"(Over) fifty years ago the original speaker on "The Lutheran Hour," Walter A. Maier wrote (what Pastor James Montgomery Boice considered) the best book on marriage (he) ever read. In it he deplored the increasing divorce statistics of his day, complaining that if the trends of the 1930's continued, by 1950 one-fourth of all marriages made in the United States would end in divorce, and by 1990 that figure would be one in two. It was so outrageous a suggestion for the 1930's that Maier had to be defensive. He argued that his prophecy was "no harebrained" hallucination. But today, as we look back in Maier's words we find that he was far too sanguine. In 1920 there was one divorce for every seven marriages. In 1940 there was one divorce for every six marriages. In 1960 there was one divorce for every four marriages. In 1972 there was one divorce for every three marriages. And by 1977 (thirteen years ahead of Maier's timetable) there was one divorce for every two marriages. In that year alone, there were more than a million divorces in the United States of America." 1 As of now, America is among the world leaders in divorce. 2

Are we alarmed by these statistics? Should we be concerned about the growing divorce rate in America? Are there any consequences when a marriage is ended through divorce?

Consider some current statistics:

  • 60% of all remarriages end in divorce. 3

  • Only 19% of unhappily married couples that remarried reported they were happy five years later. 4

  • Divorce in America costs $33.3 billion annually or $312.00 per household. 5

  • The average divorce in America costs the state and federal governments $30,000.00 in direct and indirect costs ($125 million per million population). 6

  • It costs a couple an average of $18,000 to divorce, which includes lost work productivity, relocation costs and legal fees. 7

  • 30% of American divorces involve high conflict. 8

  • 60% of American divorces involve medium to high conflict. 9

  • One million children in America are involved in a new divorce annually, as of 1997. 10

  • Children of divorce or marital conflict are more likely to divorce than children of happily married parents. 11

  • Children in single parent families are twice as likely to develop serious psychiatric illness and addictions later in life. 12

  • Fatherless homes account for:
     • 63% of youth suicides
     • 90% of homeless / runaway children
     • 85% of children with behavior problems
     • 71% of high school dropouts
     • 85% of youth in prison
     • 50+ % of teen mothers 13

  • At least 40% of divorced women and 46% of divorced men admit divorce was the wrong decision. 14

  • The marital status with the highest suicide rate is divorce (rather than married, never married or widowed). 15

The statistics speak for themselves. Personal testimonies speak even louder. Few will doubt the reality that divorce has taken its toll physically, socially and emotionally on its victims. But what about the spiritual consequences? That's one domain we've yet to cover. What does God have to say about divorce?

I'll allow Walter Maier this time to speak for himself. "Because marriage comes from God above and not from man or beast below, it involves moral, not merely physical problems. A sin against the commandment of purity is a sin against God, not simply the outraging of convention, the thoughtlessness of youth, the evidence of bad taste. The Savior tells us that, when God's children are joined in wedlock, they are united by God, and beneath the evident strength and courage and love that this divine direction promises there is a penetrating, ominous warning. Those who tamper with God's institution have lighted the fuse to the explosive of retributive justice. Marriage is so holy that of all social sins its violation invokes the most appalling consequences. Sodom and Gomorrah were burned out of existence because of the vile disregard of the holiness of marriage. David's rule over Israel was blackened by his marital follies and by the royal lust that forgot God and dedicated itself to raging passion. The Hebrew people dropped out of the family of nations largely because of the vicious practices associated with Baalim worship." 16

God created the institution of marriage. And those who choose to enter this good and holy union must approach it with seriousness and respect. Clear expectations have been established. Parameters have been set. Those who follow God's will are blessed beyond all measure. However those who dare to violate God's wonderful design of matrimony undoubtedly will meet their share of consequences.

Last week we examined some of these spiritual consequences. You will recall that the Israelites were choosing to marry "the daughter of a foreign god" (Mal. 2:11). They were unequally yoking themselves to another from outside the covenant. They chose a worshipper of idols for their partner in this most intimate relationship over a worshipper of the living God. God called these spiritually mixed marriages "an abomination (which) profaned the sanctuary of the Lord" (Mal. 2:11).

Now if these Israelites were choosing to enter a spiritually mixed marriage as singles it would be one thing. Unfortunately, these individuals doubled their sins because these were presently married individuals now divorcing their Jewish spouses in favor of the unequally yoked union.

The Apostle Paul said our marriages are to be a picture of Christ's marriage with His bride, the church (Eph. 5:32). Spiritually mixed marriages fail to demonstrate the oneness Jesus Christ has with His bride. Divorces fail to demonstrate the faithfulness Jesus Christ has with His bride.

Last week we looked at the sin of spiritually mixed marriages. This week we'll look at the sin of divorce.


Let's begin with the first point. After rebuking the nation for marrying the daughter of a foreign god, God speaks again, still within the context of marriage and unfaithfulness. Verse 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."

Two conclusions can be drawn from this verse. First, God did not accept their offerings with favor. Their worship was meaningless. Second, because God rejected their offerings, in sadness they flooded the altar with tears.

Do you remember what we learned about the Jewish priests that were mentioned in chapters one and two? It was their responsibility to bring the offerings to the altar. When the law called for a bull, they brought a bull. When the law called for a lamb, they brought a lamb. But yet God spends nearly 25% of this book rebuking them for the very things He instructed them to do. He called their actions "evil" (Mal. 1:8). He wanted the gates of the temple to be "shut" (Mal. 1:10). He said they were "profaning" His great name (Mal. 1:12). Why such contempt for their religious actions as prescribed in the law? Answer: Because they approached God in a ritualistic manner and their hearts were totally disengaged (Mal. 2:2). The outward shell of religion was evident, but the inward disposition was non-existent. We ask again, so what's wrong with that?

One pastor put it well. "It is important to remember that in the ancient world it was assumed that sacrifices always worked. Their principle of effectiveness was mechanical not personal. And, therefore, those in Israel who had (adopted) a pagan way of thinking would assume that if they just kept offering sacrifices, it wouldn't matter much what they did or didn't do. In ancient paganism the god couldn't turn a worshipper away or he would be starving himself to death. But Israel's God was in no need of offerings as the living God and cared not for any that were not the loving expression of faith and trust. And, because He looked upon the heart, He knew what motivated the offering and because He is holy he cared very much if the offering were intended to be a (cover) against a sinful life." 17

The same truth applies today. We cannot live any way we wish throughout the week and then put on our Sunday's finest, crank it up a bit, go through our pious motions for three hours this morning and expect God to find our worship acceptable. In doing so we treat God as a pagan idol who is blind to what we do and deaf to what we say, basically unconcerned about our daily living. The living God is not indifferent to His greatness and glory. Therefore, He expects those who approach Him in worship to approach Him with the right heart. And the right heart is the heart committed to ongoing obedience (Dt. 30:2, 10, 17; Jer. 7:24; 11:8).

Now, we cannot be certain how the Israelites realized their offerings were unacceptable. Nevertheless the understanding of their meaningless worship led them to "tears with weeping and…groaning" according to the text (Mal. 2:13). God has no problem with emotion. However, it's the source of emotion that concerns Him. Unfortunately Israel's emotion was generated by their unaccepted offerings and not by a broken heart that seeks to be repentant over their sin. They were like the rapist who sobs on the courtroom floor over his life sentence, but remains unmoved over his actions that damaged a young woman's life. Their cries to God mimicked the Baal worshippers on Mt. Caramel as they approached their god with cries and a loud voice (1 Ki. 18:28). Their god never answered because he was dead. Our God never answers when people seek to manipulate His favor because He's alive. Emotion is good. Sacrifice is good. But both of them are an abomination when the heart of obedience is neglected. God turns His face from a worldly sorrow (2 Cor. 7:10b), a sorrow over unfavorable external circumstances due to our sin. In Hosea 7:14 God said, "And they do not cry to Me from their heart." But God looks with delight on a broken spirit over sin which is intent on pleasing Him (2 Cor. 7:10a). According to King David, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise" (Psm. 51:17).


As we move to the second point, the Jews, even though they knew God rejected their offerings, were still confused as to the reason why. So in the beginning of verse 14 God responds, "Yet you say, 'For what reason?'" In other words, "What have we done wrong, God, to bring about Your displeasure?" God provides a specific reason as the verse continues. "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."

As I mentioned before, tears and sorrow that stem from unfavorable consequences due to one's sin do not impress God. He is looking for tears of repentance. Yet ultimately, He's looking for obedience in the first place. Israel brought the Lord's displeasure because they were unfaithful to their wives and sent them away. Divorce was the reason their fellowship with God was broken.

The terminology chosen in verse 14 is precious. God calls these women "the wife of your youth" and "companion" and "your wife by covenant." Despite the fact that the Jews often married very young, these terms breathe forth intimacy. "Your first love." "Your one and only" "Your best friend" "Your high school sweetheart."

You see, men back then are not different from many men today. We could say that these guys were going through somewhat of a mid-life crisis. I'm bored with this woman. She's no longer as attractive as she once was. I need some more excitement in my life. I'm no longer happy. Say, I think I'll trade in this old model for a more interesting pagan one.

One pastor stated this truth in a concise and succinct manner. "The Bible never discusses this psychological fact of human unhappiness in marriage when it discusses the inviolability of marriage and when it forbids divorce. Christians in our day need to face this fact, for fact it is. To put it as bluntly as the Bible does, the Lord is as much as saying, I know you are unhappy but your unhappiness does not change your obligation to your marriage. I know you think your life would be much better if you were out of this marriage or could have another woman for your wife, but that does not in any way diminish your obligation to remain faithful to your wife." 18

And faithful to the wife of our youth and respecting our companion is our obligation, men, in the sight of God. God did not create Eve so Adam could have someone on whom to blame his problems. God did not create Eve so Adam could have someone help him find the TV remote. God did not create Eve so Adam could use her and dump her when he got tired of her and move on to someone new.

God does not tolerate women to be treated like that now and He did allow women to be treated like that back then. He does not permit a chauvinistic, macho, man-centered disposition. He created the woman equal in essence. He values the woman and He always stands up for her rights. Even in a male-dominated society like the first-century when women had very few if any rights. At the end of verse 15 He said, "Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth." At the end of verse 16 He said, "So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously." When the Jewish men failed to heed God's expectations, they broke fellowship with their Creator and He failed to heed their worship.

Maybe we need to see this a little more from God's perspective. Our Lord provides men with one of His daughters as a marriage partner. God takes it very seriously how we men treat and respect and honor and serve and love these women who are deeply cherished in God's sight and entrusted to our safekeeping. We are accountable and violations will breach our fellowship with God. It was true back then and it is true today. God is immutable. He does not change nor does His counsel. Along these same lines we read in the New Testament: "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" (1 Pet. 3:7). The conclusion is simple; dishonor your wife and disfellowship from God.

On the positive side, here's a testimony of how one man rightly treated the wife of his youth. Robertson McQuilkin, the former president of Columbia Bible College made a commitment to resign from his treasured post and dedicate himself to his wife Muriel who was then suffering from the advanced stages of Alzheimer's disease. I wish you could have been blessed like I was two years ago to hear Dr. McQuilkin share this story in person. At least permit me to read his resignation letter:

"My dear wife, Muriel, has been in failing mental health for about eight years. So far I have been able to carry both her ever-growing needs and my leadership responsibilities at CBC. But recently it has become apparent that Muriel is contented most of the time she is with me and almost none of the time I am away from her. It is not just 'discontent.' She is filled with fear-even terror-that she has lost me and always goes in search of me when I leave home. Then she may be full of anger when she cannot get to me. So it is clear to me that she needs me now, full-time.

Perhaps it would help you to understand if I shared with you what I shared at the time of the announcement of my resignation in chapel. The decision was made, in a way, 42 years ago when I promised to care for Muriel 'in sickness and in health…till death do us part.' So, as I told the students and faculty, as a man of my word, integrity has something to do with it. But so does fairness. She has cared for me fully and sacrificially all these years; if I cared for her for the next 40 years I would not be out of debt. Duty, however, can be grim and stoic. But there is more; I love Muriel. She is a delight to me-her childlike dependence and confidence in me, her warm love, occasional flashes of that wit I used to relish so, her happy spirit and tough resilience in the face of her continual distressing frustration. I do not have to care for her, I get to! It is a high honor to care for so wonderful a person." 19

Divorce fails to properly respect the wife of our youth. Divorce also fails to regard our understanding of the marriage covenant.

When I marry a couple they stand up on this platform and recite wedding vows. "I take you to be my spouse, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow." The people who attend our wedding come for the primary purpose of holding us accountable to our wedding vows. This is especially true for those whom we choose to stand by our side on the platform. Why do we need this accountability? Because there may come times in our marriage when we don't feel like honoring those vows. But we need to be reminded by those who love us that we made a vow, a solemn commitment before God to remain faithful in this marriage regardless of the circumstances until we are parted by death.

As James Boice once said, "Instead of trying to find loopholes in God's commandment or trying to convince ourselves that our spouse is not a Christian or is at least not behaving as one and therefore divorceable, we ought to be shouting the holiness of marriage from the housetops. It is better to endure much personal unhappiness than to treat as expendable the solemn vows of the wedding service." 20

According to John Piper, "When God stands as witness to the covenant promises of a marriage it becomes more than a merely human agreement. God is not a passive bystander at a wedding ceremony. In effect he says, I have seen this, I confirm it and I record it in heaven. And I bestow upon this covenant by My presence and My purpose the dignity of being an image of My own covenant with My wife, the church." 21

God takes covenants that we make with Him very seriously (Dt. 23:22; Ecc. 5:5; cf. Ac. 5:4) because He takes the covenants He makes with us very seriously. Consider the New Covenant. Jesus Christ has washed away all our sins and wed Himself to the church. Our marriages are intended to picture that union. Would we ever think about divorcing Jesus (our "first love" - Rev. 2:4)? Could we ever imagine Jesus divorcing us, His bride? This is why God comes out point blank in verse 16 and says, "I hate divorce."

The message in God's word is clear, emphatic, repeated and never contradicted - Christian marriages are to last, period. In a marriage, God mysteriously makes two into one flesh (Gen. 2:24). We must not revert the divine process by dividing this union through divorce. In Christ's own words, "So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together let no man separate" (Mt. 19:6).

A message like this often raises more questions than answers. Yet it has been my intent this morning to simply stay within the text of Malachi. It is beyond the boundaries of this sermon to explain why God did and (I believe) still does permit divorce in certain situations (Mt. 19:9; 1 Cor. 7:15). It is beyond the boundaries of this sermon to discuss all the complexities involved in divorce as it pertains to remarriage and church leadership. It is beyond the boundaries of this sermon to provide proactive guidelines for a successful marriage. And it is unfortunately beyond the boundaries of this sermon to comfort those who have agonized through a painful divorce in the past. To those of you allow me to say this, you are no second-class citizen in this church or the kingdom of God and divorce is not the unpardonable sin. God is willing to forgive where necessary, and comfort and restore where needed.

However, the point of this sermon is to simply drive home our text from Malachi that God hates divorce. If you are currently married or plan to be married someday bind this forever on your conscience by asking God to give you a heart after His own. Ask Him to help you love what He loves ands hate what He hates. And if the time ever comes when you begin to contemplate the greener pastures of another lover like the Israelites did, may you recall the physical consequences, the social consequences, the emotional consequences and most of all the spiritual consequences before you make such a foolish decision. May we at the Grace Tabernacle enter the marriage union with all caution and preserve the union at all expense.


  1. Boice, James Montgomery. The Minor Prophets, vol. 2, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986), p. 586
  2. Paul Nakonezy, Robert Schuel, and Joseph Rodgers, " The Effect Of No Fault Divorce Law On The Divorce Rate Across The 50 States, " Journal of Marriage And The Family, 1995, 57:477-488
  3. Center for Disease Control - National Vital Statistics Report 2002
  4. Institute Of American Values, Study: "Does Divorce Make People Happy" July 11, 2002
  5. Utah State University Study "Costly Consequences Of Divorce", 2003
  6. Utah State University Study "Costly Consequences Of Divorce", 2003
  7. Utah State University Study "Costly Consequences Of Divorce", 2003
  8. Utah State University Study "Costly Consequences Of Divorce", 2003
  9. Highland Education Foundation, Highland, Utah
  10. Divorce Statistics, 2003
  11. BYU Family Studies Center, Provo, Utah, 2003
  12. The Lancet Medical Journal, London January 2003
  13. Divorce Statistics, 2003
  14. Divorce Statistics, 2003
  15. Why Marriage Matters: Reasons To Believe In Marriage In Post Modern Society, Glenda T. Stanton, September 1997 Pinon Press, citing - Jack C. Smith, James Mercy and Judith Conn "Marital Status And The Risk Of Suicide", American Journal Of Public Health, 1988, 78:78-80
  16. Walter A. Maier. For Better, Not for Worse (Saint Louis: Concordia, 1935), p. 83
  17. Rayburn, Robert. Studies in Malachi #6, Feb. 23, 2003
  18. Rayburn, Robert. Studies in Malachi #6, Feb. 23, 2003
  19. Cited in: Hughes, Kent. Disciplines of a Godly Man (Wheaton: Crossway, 1991), p. 33-34
  20. Boice, James Montgomery. The Minor Prophets, vol. 2, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986), p. 588
  21. Piper, John. Let None be Faithless to the Wife of his Youth, Sermon, Nov. 22, 1987

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