1. Loved

Meditations in Malachi : 1. Loved

Mal 1:1,2   An oracle: The word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi. “I have loved you,” says the LORD. “But you ask, `How have you loved us?’

Studying Malachi comes as a challenge. I don’t think I would have written these meditations two years ago, but over the past two years I have come to realise something very clearly: God is a God of love (1 Jn 4:8,16)  The apostle John declared what the rest of the Bible testifies to, that God is love. In Ex 34:6,7 the Lord reveals Himself: “the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” The truths there are reiterated again and again and again throughout the Old Testament and then the New. Many of us just don’t notice them but they are there. Now if “God is love” as John testifies it means that everything about God is love. Everything He thinks is love, everything He says is love and everything He does is an expression of love.

Now this has certain consequences. The first is that we need to read the Bible through this filter, and that would be a major change for many of us. It means that we need to learn to view everything but everything that we read throughout the Bible from this perspective – that God is love. and that what we read about Him and His activities is an expression of love. Now what follows from this is that love can be expressed through a number of ways. Imagine a human father. He works long hours to provide for his family. That is sacrificial love. He comes home and romps around on the floor with his young children. That is intimate love. He sits quietly and listens to the complaints of his teenager and makes helpful comments. This is caring and wise love. He lays down house rules that will be kept. This is orderly love with authority. On rare occasion he will punish one or other of his children because he wants to stop a potentially harmful pattern of behaviour developing in them. This is the love of discipline. Sometimes he stands back and simply watches from a distance as his children struggle and this is the love that gives space to learn. Sometimes he hands over the keys of his car to his teenager. This is the love of respect and acknowledgement of maturity. These are ALL different expressions of love, and we need to realise that even hard actions of God seen in the Bible ARE expressions of love.

Now I think it tends to be more of an American expression rather than a British one, but I am thinking of a father taking the son out to the woodshed where, traditionally, a beating would take place. Does the father love the son any the less because he is administering painful punishment?  No, if anything it proves exactly the opposite. Because the father cares for the son, cares what will happen to him unless this wrong behaviour is corrected, he takes this painful action.  Malachi has the feeling about it of a ‘trip to the woodshed’! The Lord is speaking to Israel because of what he starts out by saying: “I have loved you.”

Now the tense here is an ongoing one so it doesn’t mean, “I loved you once in the distant past.”  It actually means, “I have loved you always, right up to now.”  The problem isn’t with God’s love; it is with Israel’s  perception of Him, which we’ll go on to see in the next meditation. Why is the Lord speaking words that, the more they go on, the more they make us feel defensive? The answer to that is because He wants to restore the relationship that they once had, and that needs action on Israel’s part. The Lord has done everything He can and now it is Israel’s turn to do something – but hold that before you; it is because He wants to restore the relationship between Himself andIsrael.

Does the Lord want to punish them? Of course not! Does any father want to punish their child? Of course not, because on the negative side they don’t want to risk the child moving even further from them, and on the positive side they would much rather the relationship was restored to what it was before there was any disharmony caused by the child’s misbehaviour. What we have in Malachi is a simple list of things that Israel have done or are not doing that means the relationship has been broken, things which need remedial action.  It is as simple as that!

Why, therefore, do so many of us feel so negative and defensive when we come to Malachi?  Because guilt produces shame, fear and defensiveness. We don’t like being confronted with our imperfections but such ‘imperfections’ break down the relationship we have with the Lord. Indeed they may also be an indication of attitudes that have grown within us which go on to show that we have already moved away from the Lord. Remember, therefore, as we work our way through the verses to come, that this comes from a God of love who wants to reinstate a loving relationship between us. There is nothing onerous about being loved. It is not as if God is trying to reinstate an oppressive regime. No, He simply wants Israel to come back close to Him so that He can easily impart His blessing to them.

46. Loving Unity

Ephesians Meditations No.46

Eph  5:29-33 After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church– for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery–but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband

There are three facts of life that we, as Christians, would always do well to bear in mind, especially when we are faced with instructions in God’s word. The first fact is that God has designed this world – including us – and He knows best how we work. The second fact is that we are a sinful human race. Adam and Eve turned away from God and that tendency is inherent in every one of us since. Thus we tend to disregard God and do our own thing, living our own way. The third fact is that God has chosen Israel and then the Church to receive His Law or His instructions that reveal His ways for people to live in relationship with Him and according to His design so that what we call ‘blessing’ can follow. So, to recap and summarise it: God knows best, we don’t, and He’s given to us the ways to live so that blessing follows.

So, back in Ephesians, Paul has moved on in his letter to practical applications of the Christian life and has recently laid down the principle of submission to one another, which he has then applied to marriage. In the previous verses we saw his call to husbands to lay down their lives in sacrificial love for their wives, and in the way they care for their wives practically, will be an expression of how they care (love) for themselves – but that that is to be similar to the way Christ loves the church: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” (5:25-28) [sorry we need to recap that whole part to see it as an entire picture]

It is at this point that Paul elaborates on that but then swings back in to speak about the church again: “After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church– for we are members of his body.” He keeps on swinging back and forth between church and marriage, with the suggestion that there are similarities we need to consider. We are members of Christ’s body, the church and he, as our head, loves us because we are his body. If marriage is a unity with the husband as the head, he should surely love the ‘body’ part of the marriage, the wife, just as much.

As Paul thinks on this he reflects back to the Genesis mandate: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” which quotes Gen 2:24 and then he quickly adds, “This is a profound mystery,” which we might take to mean the mystery of oneness in marriage, but he immediately swings back to refer to the church: “but I am talking about Christ and the church.” What? Hold on!  But we thought you were talking about marriage?  He is but it is so interlinked with the picture of the church that the mystery of the one reflects on the mystery of the other. So what is the mystery of Christ and the church? Surely it is the wonder that the perfect Son of God, Spirit who took on a human body, can be united with a mass of human bodies that we call the church. It is that opposites can be joined to produce something even more wonderful. Thus in marriage the mystery is that two such incredibly different beings (and we are, and if you deny that you just don’t know male and female!) can be united into a oneness which, when it is working according to God’s design, is incredibly wonderful!

So he summarises his basic teaching: “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” The ‘however’ indicates that he is moving away from the big picture to the detail instructions again. The man is to express the same love to his wife as he does for himself. The wife is to respect (note the different word he now uses to clarify the teaching) the husband. Respect means to acknowledge the role and responsibility that God has bestowed on the man. As we’ve said previously, the buck stops with him. The Lord will be watching him to see that he brings death to self when necessary and lays down his life, his desires and wants, for the life and well-being of his wife (but never denying the truth). As a Christian he will pray for his wife and his family, recognising that their protection is his responsibility and it starts in the spiritual realm. He will not be casual as he takes the prayer structure that Jesus gave, that God’s name will be honoured in their family (Mt 6:9), for God’s will to be done in their family (Mt 6:10), that God will provide for their family (Mt 6:11), that right attitudes will be upheld in the family (Mt 6:12), and that sin and the work of the enemy will be kept from the family (Mt 6:13). Respect is earned, not claimed, and when the husband does these things, his headship will be seen for what it is, and he will be respected. Tough stuff! Men, are you doing it?