The Restoration of the Family of God
Although it is my normal practice to preach through books of the Bible, every so often the Lord brings a particular topic or need to mind for the sake of the flock and our upbuilding. Although I intend to return to the book of Philippians next week, I want us to consider this morning the theology and application of teaching God’s word within our homes. Firstly, we have a number of new parents. This is a wonderful and glorious thing. Children are a heritage from the Lord and the fruit of the womb a reward, but there is training needed in knowing how to bring up these children in the fear and instruction of the Lord. Secondly, our inability currently to meet together has kept not only our families from gathering, but our children from children-specific ministry such as Sunday School, AWANA, and more. And so, it is all the more important that we be doing the work of teaching our children in the home day after day as God instructs us.
The verse we are going to be considering this morning is, perhaps ironically, a passage my family and were reading during family worship time recently–the very last verse in the entire Old Testament, found in Malachi 4:6, which states, “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.” And what we will see this morning is that this verse encapsulates the entire message of repentance and faith, and calls for practical gospel-disciplines in our homes and lives.
The Book of Malachi
Malachi ministered during the time of the return of Israel to Jerusalem after the exile. As the books of Haggai, Zechariah, and Nehemiah relate, there was much good accomplished in this time, yet it was not without many challenges, both from enemies without, and from corruption within. Similar themes of restoration and corruption are seen in Malachi, whose name ironically means “my messenger”, and which parallels the role of the prophesied forerunner who will come just before the day of the Lord, John the Baptist (Malachi 3:1, 4:5-6) .
Malachi is structured in a unique way among the prophetic books with a series of rhetorical dialogues, such as we see already in chapter 1, verse 2. “‘I have loved you,’ says the LORD. But you say, ‘How have you loved us?’ ‘Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?’ declares the LORD. ‘Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated.’” (Mal 1:2–3) And so you get in the book something of the form of a judicial hearing, with God supplying both parts—His statements, what He knows Judah will say, and then His ultimate response.
There are a number of sins singled out by God in the book, including dishonour to Him and injustice among the people. But some of the language, and even the specific sins being addressed, connect with the themes of fatherhood and family whichis our subject matter this morning.
We are going to consider some of these themes, as they will be important in order to really grasp the full meaning and application of our text in Malachi 4:6.
Themes of Fathering and Family
I. God’s Faithful Fatherly Love (Mal 1:2-6, Mal 3:6-7, Mal 3:16-18)
Firstly, we see the theme of God’s faithful, fatherly love. We see this already in Malachi 1:2-6.
This passage is famously quoted in Romans 9 where Paul discusses God’s choice when it comes to those destined either for destruction or the display of his mercy (“Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”) Here in context God is pointing out His different approach to His people in spite of their sins. Both Esau and Jacob deserved God’s wrath and anger for their sins, but God is like a Father whose love endures for His children even when they do wrong and do not honour Him the way that they ought.
We see this expressed very clearly if you turn over to Malachi 3:6-7.
There is going to be further mention made in Malachi between different fathers and kinds of fathers. But here God is pointing out that His settled calling and unchanging covenant with Abraham and all His offspring means that God will not consume his people.
Let’s consider one other passage under this theme. We read that there was a positive response to Malachi’s preaching from some quarters.
Here again we see the theme of the Fatherhood of God in how he spares his people when they turn to him, not counting prior sins against them, but simply delighting in them living out their sonship in a right way, serving their Father.
II. Israel’s Faithless Family Relations (Mal 2:10-16)
There is a second theme concerning fatherhood and family in Malachi, however, that is not so positive. Turn with me to Malachi 2:10. I am not going to read the entire section here, but verse 10 states, “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers?” (Mal 2:10)
The grammar here is a little strange, but the first two question are the defense of the people, and not dissimilar to what the Jews said to Jesus in John 8 just before He informed them that because they don’t receive Him it shows that the Devil is actually their father. The third question here is actually the indictment even though it uses “we”—the second person plural. The indictment relates to unfaithfulness in marriage and family life. The children of God had been unfaithful to their fathers, the Patriarchs, and their ultimate father, God, by being faithless husbands and fathers to their own families.
In what follows we see that Jewish men had been divorcing their Jewish wives and intermarrying with foreign women, breaking their marriage covenant with their wives, but also breaking their covenant with God, because as it says in verse 15, he gave them a portion of His spirit in their union seeking godly offspring, an outcome that was far less likely by marrying a daughter of a foreign god, as it says in verse 11.
III. The Restoration of the Family of God (Mal 4:5-6)
This bring us to the passage we are looking at this morning and one last theme, which is a fulfillment of the first theme, and a resolution and repentance concerning the second theme. This third theme could be seen as the synthesis of the previous thesis and antithesis. Or you could see the themes of creation, fall, and redemption in them.
And the importance of what we see here is heightened by the fact that these are the last verses in the entire Old Testament, as we have it in English. You may or may not know that the Hebrew ordering of the Old Testament is different, ending with the historical books, specifically Chronicles. But these verses in the church’s ordering of the books, are the last words of God for 400 years until John the Baptist broke the silence proclaiming “make straight the way of the Lord.” So what is so very important about these verses that they should finish the Old Covenant testimony and pave the way for our Lord Jesus?
Here we read that the Elijah, that is John the Baptist, will pave the way for the coming of the Lord by turning “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.” (Mal 4:6)
Firstly, the hearts of the fathers will be turned to their children. We should understand this in the sense of turning away from the sins we read about in chapter 2. Fathers will care about the spiritual heritage of their families which comes through loyalty to God and to their wives. But as important as that repentance is, it is probably even more important that the hearts of the children be turned to their fathers. And this is a very rich idea, invoking probably all the connections we’ve seen in Malachi, firstly that the people of Israel in their unfaithfulness weren’t obeying their fathers, the Patriarchs, but ultimately were disobeying their heavenly Father, God Himself, who had chosen the nation of Israel to be His Son.
And we see that this breadth of interpretation is likely if we turn to the first chapter of the gospel of Luke. Speaking to Zechariah of the child to be born to him and Elizabeth in their old age, Gabriel announces, “And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children” and notice here that he does not say “the hearts of the children to their fathers”, but “the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” (Lk 1:13–17)
So the divinely-given angelic interpretation here is that firstly, the children will be turned “to the Lord their God,” their Father in the ultimate sense, but also “to the wisdom of the just” which almost certainly refers to the Patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
In this statement is the idea of repentance and renewal using familial language. And this is fitting because from Genesis 1 onward, God’s plan was to use family as the normative way to extend His kingdom. It’s not the only way. And praise God that through the gospel, singles, and children, those who are barren, those who child-bearing years are behind them, and even eunuchs according to the book of Isaiah, can all be fruitful in bearing children for God through evangelism and discipleship. But this doesn’t lessen the Bible’s emphasis upon the family as God’s normative way of expanding his kingdom.
I. Repentance is Turning Towards God’s Promises to our Fathers
At the heart of repentance and conversion is a turning of the heart to the faith and righteousness of the Patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We see in Malachi that Israel was warned because they were not walking before God the way the Patriarchs did. In Malachi chapter 2, God rebukes the priests because they were not honouring Him the way that their forefather Levi did. In Malachi 3:4, God foretells “then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.”
And so not only Gabriel in Luke but the apostles throughout the New Testament speak of faith in Christ in terms of the faith of the Patriarchs, Abraham especially. And this is crucial to the redemptive history and story of the Bible, because before God had given Israel His law through Moses, He had given His promise through Abraham. Abraham believed God and He was declared righteous on account of His faith. The law did not justify, faith in God did.
Repentance is not merely a turning from doing what is wrong to doing what is right. It is a turning from what is wrong out of a heart of rebellion to a turning to God and His promises in faith. If there are any listening who have never turned away from their sins and their self-serving lives to God, do so now. Flee from God’s anger which will surely come to this earth for all the evil done in it. God gives His Son, Jesus Christ, as His promise that you will not only be forgiven, but you will be given glory in heaven one day along with Jesus Christ.
II. The Gospel is God’s Power for Fulfilling His Generational Promises
Secondly, the gospel gives power to God’s generational promises. The promise we see in Malachi 4 is fulfilled in the ministries of John the Baptist and our Lord Jesus Christ. We ought then to expect and live out the promise that God will save our children. Isaiah chapter 59 is one of several passages that describes the New Covenant in terms of generational faithfulness.
There are some preachers who emphasize the discontinuity between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant when it comes to our children. There is some discontinuity between the two, but the discontinuity is in terms of power, not of purpose. God’s purpose in every age is for parents to pass down their faith to their children and their children’s children. This is inherent in the promises to Abraham which precede the law.
The New Covenant offers the same promise.
The discontinuity, the thing that is different between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant is not God’s purpose, but the power in us through Jesus Christ. With circumcised hearts we are enabled to hold fast to God’s promises to us and our children. With renewed minds we are enabled to grasp and teach the truths by which someone may be saved. With changed affections we are enabled to prioritize long-term, eternal fruitfulness over short-term, earthly benefits.
II. The Spiritually-Renewed Foster Their Children’s Spiritual Blessing Above All Else
Thirdly, this leads to the doctrine of fathers and their hearts towards their children. Parents, and especially fathers, your hearts are to be turned towards your children for their eternal good. While there is much in Malachi chapter 2 that remains hidden as to why the Jewish men were leaving their Jewish wives and being faithless to them and their own children, it is clear that they were being selfish and disloyal. Fathers, your greatest desire, endeavour, and adventure, should be to raise, govern, judge, teach, and train your children, and through them, their children after them. Your children and your family are given to you. They are your responsibility—your heritage—your reward. And your hearts are to be turned towards them spiritually. Your desire for them to be faithful and fruitful in God’s kingdom should far outweigh your desire to see them go to college, have a good job, get married and have children, or get on in the world. Our goal is to be able to say to the Father one day, along with Christ, “here I am, and the children you have given me.”
I. Pray the Promises of God for Your Children
Firstly, pray the promises of God for your children. Every so often we distribute a collection of passages in the Scriptures about God’s promises to our children. We give this to every parent who does a child dedication. Whether you have a new baby, a younger child, a teenager, or grown children, you have God’s delegated authority in the spiritual realm to pray effectively for them and for their salvation and eternal blessing. If your children have walked away from the Lord, cling to the promises all the more. Take these promises before God, and with tears, say “you said!” And God will hear and He will answer.
I think in Baptist circles we have done, by and large, a lousy job of applying the promises of the Covenant to our families. Reformed, covenant churches baptize babies in connection with God’s covenant with their families. However, as those who baptize only upon a profession of faith, we have, quite literally, thrown the baby out with the water. If God has given you a child, he desires that child to be saved. As it says in Malachi 2:15, “what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring.” So pray and hold fast to God’s promises for your children, no matter where they are at. Singles, please join in praying for our next generation.
II. Practice Daily Family Worship: Scripture Reading, Prayer, Hymn, Memorization.
Secondly, if our hearts are to be towards our children, that means we will spend time teaching and training them. One of the most important ways we can do this is through daily family worship. The Christian home is to be a small church, where the Father as elder and minister, gathers the family for worship, and the family reads scripture, prays, memorizes scripture, and even sings. For most families, the best time will be either at breakfast or supper, after the meal. Set aside 15 minutes. Read a chapter of the Bible together and have a short discussion or application of the passage. Pray together and involve your children so that you can teach them how to pray. Pray for the requests of the church, your small group, or the missionaries you support, as well as for the needs of the family. And I encourage you also to sing a hymn together as a suitable expression of praise. And have a time each day where you are working on memorizing scripture together as well. If you do not have a regular worship time together with your family in addition to your own personal time with God, resolve right now to correct this. Daily family worship is within our church covenant and for the good of the coming generation we must be disciplined. Consider the words of the Psalmist,
III. Build a Christian Culture Within Your Home, and Consider Your Children’s Education.
Thirdly, we need a culture of the Word of God in our homes. Our children need to grow up understanding that we are not like the world with the exception that we add Christ to our lives, but that having Christ at the centre of our lives changes everything. Our homes should have an entirely different language, culture, and ethos. This was God’s mandate to the people of Israel before he gave them a land. It was to be a place where God’s ruled, and that started with families.
When our children think about literature, they need to do so in a Christian way. When they think about and engage with media, they need to do so in a Christian way. When they think about science and the environment and justice and law, they need to do so in a Christian way. And this is getting harder and harder to do if you are not very intentional. Father, be strategic and be strong as you fulfil this mandate.
One of the ways to be intentional is to homeschool your children. And there are people in our church that have experience in that if you would like to explore that option for your family, an option that is worth some sacrifices to pursue. However, I have been involved over the last year with a group that is in the process of setting up a new Christian school within a church in order to lower costs for families. It is based on a classical approach to education, which means grammar, logic, and above all, teaching children not just what to think, but how to think, and doing this all within the framework of a robust Christian worldview. If you have children younger than 11 and are interested in a church-based, classical, Christian school, please send me an email this week and I will get you some further information.
But even in the home, no matter what schooling option you pursue, make it a Christian environment. Write Scripture on your walls. If you are artistic, paint or draw or create Christian things that remind you of God and His word. Speak regularly about the Lord, even when you are not doing family worship. When things go wrong, pause and pray, and use a passage you’ve memorized with your family. When things go right, pause and rejoice, and give thanks together in prayer. One of the greatest needs in the Christian home are for parents, especially fathers, whose speech is constantly about God and His works and His words.
May God enable us by the power of the gospel of Christ to be fruitful in our families, leaving all disloyalty and selfishness behind, in order to pursue the faith of our fathers, and faithfulness to our Father in Heaven. In the name of His one and only Son, amen.