In December 1989, our fifth born came into the world. I had some of the richest Bible studies at home with our adorable newborn son while everyone else attended the church services of that Christmas season. It was that year that I realized the importance of the book of Malachi for pondering the birth of the Christ child.
The arrival of Messiah empowers familial love.The arrival of Messiah empowers familial love. When we turn toward Christ, we are turned toward our children. Click To Tweet
We live in a world not unlike the world into which the prophet Malachi proclaimed his message. Though Israel was back in the Promised Land after their captivity, and some Jews lived zealous religious lives, many, if not most, were increasingly secular. The laundry list of reproofs in this short book shows sins similar to our own.
Husbands divorced the wives of their youth, abandoning their responsibilities in order to marry unbelieving women. Homes were broken. Families were left unsupported.
Involvement in the mission God had given Israel to reach the wider world with the Good News of a coming Savior and a forgiving God had largely failed as the nation became insular and the leaders secular or pagan.
Financial giving was down as the people looked more to their own comfort.
Malachi addressed each of these issues with rebukes and calls for them to return to the Lord, summarizing the main points at the end:
“Remember the law of my servant Moses,” Malachi 4:4a (ESV).
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction” (Malachi 4:5-6 ESV).
Then there was prophetic silence from the Lord for four hundred years.
At last Jesus Messiah – Emmanuel, “God with us” – appeared, heralded by John the Baptist, who urged repentance in the spirit and power of Elijah. And the fathers’ hearts turned, as predicted – “the disobedient to the wisdom of the just.”
As I snuggled my newborn, love for him filling my heart, I was pinned to the text by these final words. I still am. Being a legalistic rule-keeper at that time, I thought we were responsible for turning our hearts toward our children, and in some degree that is true. But it is done by cooperating with the Lord as he changes us from the inside out. It’s the Lord who does the turning.
How does the Lord turn our hearts toward our children?
First, the Spirit of Christ in us softens our hearts and moves our emotions. When we turn toward Christ, we are turned toward our children.
They come to us adorable, needy, and demanding. The “heart” is the seat of the emotions in the language of the Old Testament and the New. The heart is where our deepest innermost feelings occur. The passage states “fathers,” probably because the fathers here were the hard-hearted instigators of divorce and abandonment, but of course the Holy Spirit moves both parents’ hearts, turning us to love our children.
Our part: Don’t resist the Holy Spirit. Allow yourself to love your children deeply and selflessly in a Christlike way. Let go of yourself. Love them like Jesus loves you. Let the love of the Father flow through you, overcoming the selfish tendencies we all have inside us.
Second, the Lord also instructs, giving us the how-to:
All through the Old Testament, Israel had been instructed to bring their children up in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord. They were to talk of the Lord and his ways as they sat in the house, walked by the way, rose up, and lay down, involving the kids in a lifelong loving focus on the Lord. Loving and raising children is a 24/7/365 project.
Our part: Follow God’s instructions. Turning our hearts toward our children involves concern for their immortal souls, in obedience to Christ, not merely occupying ourselves with feeding and educating them. Their physical care is essential. Their education is crucial. Their spiritual instruction is primary. All go hand in hand. Our love and care is then used by the Lord to mature them, to turn them toward him, and to turn their hearts to love us in return.
But, what else? In Malachi’s book, the Lord urged commitment to their marriages, providing an environment conducive to feelings of love and security for the children. There are many reasons people divorce, sometimes for safety because of violence, harm, and abuse. Sometimes because of marital unfaithfulness. Malachi isn’t addressing these legitimate reasons.
Here Malachi writes of causeless abandonment. The spouse being divorced, husband or wife, did nothing wrong. It only takes one to walk away, leaving a spouse who did not want to be divorced. The divorce discussed here is frivolous divorce with no attempts at reconciliation, because the one initiating the divorce has hardened their heart and turned toward a pagan lifestyle. The selfish one leaves behind hurting victims.
If you’re the one left by an abandoning or unfaithful spouse, the Lord is on your side. Read Malachi. He is with you. He loves you. He will be a father or a mother to the children bereft of one parent or the other.
In 1 Corinthians 10:11-13 we’re told that we’re responsible to learn from the failures of those who went before us – the people of the Old Testament – and to rely on the Lord to provide us a way to escape those same sins.
Malachi discusses having a soft heart toward the Lord and toward our families. It was written down for our instruction. This applies to us as it applied to them.
What can we learn from this?
It will be difficult, otherwise God would not have used such strong words of admonition. We will have to rely on the Lord for the love and self control necessary to truly love our children, to instruct them in God’s ways, and to love our spouses.We will have to rely on the Lord for the love and self control necessary to truly love our children, to instruct them in God's ways, and to love our spouses. Click To Tweet
“Watch over your heart for from it flow rivers of life. My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh. Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:4, 20-23 ESV).
We can’t coast through the challenge of lifelong selflessness. It will require the empowerment of the Holy Spirit as he convicts and motivates us. Our obedience is essential. We can only do this by the power of God.We can't coast through the challenge of lifelong selflessness. It will require the empowerment of the Holy Spirit as he convicts and motivates us. Our obedience is essential. We can only do this by the power of God. Click To Tweet
How does the arrival of Emmanuel, God with Us, and his future coming impact the turning of your heart toward your children and toward your parents?