This message is directed at men, and husbands and fathers in particular, but there will be plenty of applications to go around for everyone in the room since the basic message can be summarized as “if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another” (1 Jn. 4:11). We begin with God’s efficacious love, and then we press that into the corners, beginning with the men and then to all.
A Summary of the Text: This final book in our Old Testament begins with a “burden” or a judgment from God against His people, sometime in the late 5th century B.C., most likely during the days of Nehemiah (Mal. 1:1). This burden comes as a stinging rebuke to those who had returned from exile and rebuilt the temple and were seeking to reestablish Israel as a nation. The difficulties of rebuilding have piled up and discouraged the people to the point of significant moral compromise, such that when Malachi opens with the announcement of God’s love, the point was clearly to address the fact that they have come to the point of questioning it (Mal. 1:2). Malachi’s answer is God’s election of Jacob over Esau, and traces that out in history, pointing out that Esau’s rebuilding projects have not succeeded since God’s wrath abides on Esau/Edom forever (Mal. 1:2-4). Malachi concludes this opening salvo with the promise that the eyes of Israel will be opened to see the Lord’s efficacious love and then they will proclaim the glory of the Lord (Mal. 1:5).
All the Excuses
These people were the dedicated ones. They had sacrificed much. They had moved back to Jerusalem, endured hardships, and were painstakingly seeking to rebuild Jerusalem. But the work of Reformation is never easy and is often long and slow. The rest of Malachi addresses three areas of significant problems which all flow out of the initial question posed in Mal. 1:2. Forgetting God’s sovereign love has led to polluted worship, unfaithful marriages, and robbing God of tithes. All of these areas demonstrated a significant breakdown in the Israelite families. The men put up with weak and lying priests because that gave them an easy pass with their own wives and children. And when men fail to love and lead their families faithfully, they frequently try to buy them off, which often results in robbing God of tithes. But the root cause of it all is pride. “How has God loved us?” is perhaps one of the most insolent questions a creature can ask, even if true hardships preceded that appalling point. At its heart, it’s the resentful sentiment of the older brother in the parable: “Lo, these many years I have been serving you… and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends” (Lk. 15:29).
Jacob I Have Loved
God’s answer is intended to humble Israel: “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? Yet I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau” (Mal. 1:2-3). The answer is one of startling, sovereign freedom. Not only were Jacob and Esau twin brothers, but God chose Jacob in the womb before they were even born (Gen. 25:23). And Paul underlines the point: “For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that called – it was said unto her, the elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau I hated” (Rom. 9:11-13). The answer to Israel’s discouragement and frustration and pride was a straight shot reminder of God’s free and sovereign love. God might have chosen Esau. There was nothing intrinsically better about Jacob. The reason for God’s choice to love Jacob was not in anything in Jacob or Esau or anything good or evil they might do. It was merely “that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that called.”
What follows is the evidence that God had stood by His choice: despite all the difficulties, Jacob (Israel) had rebuilt Jerusalem, but all of Esau/Edom’s building projects were doomed (Mal. 1:3-4). The book of Malachi ends with a promise that God will save His people and destroy the wicked. He had already done this, but He will continue. He will remember His people like jewels and spare them like a son (Mal. 3:17). He will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers (Mal. 4:6). This is the sovereign, efficacious love of God, finally accomplished in Jesus.
Husbands Love Like That
The startling thing is that this standard of love is held up for husbands to imitate toward their wives, and by implication, their children. “Husbands love your wives as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27). Malachi had condemned Israel for forgetting God’s love and putting up with polluted worshiped, being unfaithful to their wives, and financial folly, and here Paul calls men of the new Israel to remember God’s love in Christ and so be faithful and diligent in their love of their wives, which is connected to the church honoring Christ (worship) and building households of wisdom (finances).
The center of the faithfulness required is love that imitates Christ, and that love is efficacious. Contrast this efficacious love with the modern notion of sentimental love. Sentimental love merely feels things and acts in order to feel some more. Efficacious love primarily acts in order to accomplish; efficacious love is aimed at a goal, like a General, a Coach, or a Builder. Efficacious love is efficacious because it takes responsibility for the challenge and sacrifices for the assigned outcome. Responsibility means you fully embrace her challenges as your challenges, just as Christ took our sins upon Himself. Sacrifice means laying your life down to sanctify and cleanse your bride from every spot or wrinkle. And since you are not Christ, and you are not perfect, this means you must also factor in all of your challenges, weaknesses, and sin. Again, many moderns, even modern Christians, think that sacrifice is primarily about making a point – I love you THIS much. But that is sentimental love, not efficacious love. Christ’s death was not merely making a point, it accomplished a task. So husbands are to love their wives like that, which means doing what needs to be done to present your wife without spot or wrinkle to the Lord.
Perhaps most importantly, it means laying down your pride and dwelling with your wife in an understanding way (1 Pet. 3:7). But this doesn’t mean doing whatever she says or whatever anyone else says. It means obeying God, and by His grace, doing what needs to be done to bring your wife and whole family to heaven. And that includes a lot of prayer. Efficacious love sees the goal of glory and beauty and holiness, and it drives eagerly toward the goal, doing whatever it takes to get there. This kind of love is to be as efficacious as a man’s love for his own body (Eph. 5:28). This absolutely must include food, clothing, and basic provision, but it is also clearly more than that. Think of this in terms of athletics, particularly in areas of endurance – the head game is intense. You must listen to your body, but you must still lead your body. You must coach your body. And with that image, think of being a husband as being the best coach you ever had: they push you, encourage you, correct you, but you love them for what they are driving you toward. This is a persistent, uncomplaining, humble, joyful leadership in every area of life: entertainment, clothing choices, education, finances, family culture, work schedule.
And wives, your love for your husband is to be primarily communicated through submission and respect in everything, as the church is to Christ (Eph. 5:22-24). You should do this because God says to, but if it helps, think of this also as the primary way you encourage him. This means you must be on his team, fully loyal, into his style and personality, while giving him the kind of feedback that helps him do his job.
Conclusion: Love One Another
“Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another” (1 Jn. 4:10-11). Why did Christ die? To turn away God’s just wrath (propitiation for our sins) to set us free. “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly… But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us… when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son” (Rom. 5:6, 8, 10). For whom did Christ die? For the ungodly, for sinners, for His enemies to reconcile us to God.
“He hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love, having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of his grace” (Eph. 1:4-6). For whom did Christ die? For those He chose before the foundation of the world to be holy.
The cross was not an attempt to save everyone but successful with only some. Everyone God has chosen, He loves, and Christ died for them and will not lose one. They will be made holy by His efficacious love. Why? So we would praise the glory of His grace, or as Malachi puts it: that we would proclaim the glory of the Lord (Mal. 1:5).
How are we to love one another? Like that. Husbands, wives, parents, children, siblings, roommates, co-workers, neighbors. Plotting blessing. Giving freely. Forgiving gladly. Without growing weary. Not expecting anything in return. Keeping vows. Out of sheer joy in Christ for His efficacious love.