Treating God With Respect

Respect, Malachi, Idolatry

The prophet Malachi is the last of the Old Testament prophets.  He writes at a time when the Israelites have returned from exile to their homeland, the temple is rebuilt, and the walls of the city have been restored under the leadership of Nehemiah.  You would think that everything was grand.  But it wasn’t.  People were going to the temple, they were offering their sacrifices, they were performing their rituals . . . but God was not being honored.  The people were simply going through the motions.

The conditions we find in Malachi are not unique.  They are similar to the conditions Timothy warns Christians about in 2 Timothy 3:1-5,

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.”

The people in the day of Malachi had a form of godliness but denied its power. They were outwardly religious but it was just a superficial show.  Malachi is a warning we need to hear.  This morning I am going to take the negative charges and turn them into positive instructions that will help us honor and respect the Lord.

1.  BE GRATEFUL (1:2)

Malachi’s letter begins with a statement and a question.

“I have loved you,” says the LORD. “But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’

“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” the LORD says. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.”

God declared His love for the Israelites but they question his declaration.  Apparently, the Israelites believed that God wasn’t doing enough for them.

In response, God contrasted the situations of Edom and Israel.  Esau’s descendents, Edom, were no more.  They were gone.  Their cities had become a wasteland.  Jacob’s descendents, Israel, were back secure in their walled city.  The implication is pretty clear . . . as God destroyed Esau’s descendents, He could have just as easily destroyed Israel.  The only thing that kept Him from destroying them was His love.

Have you ever felt cheated by God?  Perhaps you look around you and see that there are others who are

  • Making more money
  • Enjoying better health
  • Having more influence
  • Getting more credit
  • Experiencing more blessing

We may not have what others have. We may feel that others are “blessed” more than we are.  However, we are not seeing clearly.  We must realize that what we deserve is God’s judgment.  The fact that we have been spared that judgment and extended mercy should be sufficient cause for gratitude.  Rather than complain we should feel like we are the most fortunate people alive.

Isn’t this the very reason we are angered by sports figures when they refuse to play or threaten to go out on strike?  They are making exorbitant amounts of money.  They are playing a game for a living.  They are treated like celebrities.  Yet, they feel cheated because they are not making as much as someone else.

It angers us that these people do not see the scope of their blessing.  They don’t see how fortunate and blessed they are.  They are acting like spoiled children.  And that’s just the way God sees us when we complain that we do not receive as much grace or material blessing as someone else.  We have been forgiven.  We have been granted eternal life.  We have been given God’s Spirit. We have been promised God’s blessing and protection.  Every single day we ought to fall to our knees in gratitude.  If you don’t feel grateful then you may have a form of godliness while denying its power.

2. WE SHOULD GIVE GOD OUR BEST (1:6-14)

God told the people of Israel that they were treating Him with contempt.  The people, especially the leaders, couldn’t believe their ears.  They felt they were following the rules.  They did what they were supposed to do.  They were obeying the letter of the law. But God pointed out that people were giving their leftovers.  Instead of giving God the best of their crops, they gave Him the diseased, the deformed and the blind animals.  In essence, they were giving God their garbage.  Yet, because they were making sacrifices they felt that God should be pleased.

The Lord asked a question.  Would you dare to give these animals your a civil leader?  The answer, of course, was “No”.  They would never dream of giving one of the civil leaders anything less than their best. It would be dishonoring and embarrassing.   “Why, then”, says the Lord, “do you think this is acceptable to me.”

Let’s apply this clearly. How would your employer feel if

  • You showed up for work only when you had nothing better to do?
  • If you did your job in a half-hearted manner?
  • If you didn’t take the time to learn the job requirements?
  • If you ignored directions and did your job in a way you felt was adequate?

Do you think you would be selected “employee of the month”?  Do you think you would still have a job?

If we understand the way we should treat our earthly employer, why is it so hard to understand God’s displeasure when we

  • Worship Him only when nothing better comes along
  • Follow Him half-heartedly
  • Neglect listening to Him and talking with Him
  • Substitute our preferences over His standards

If we truly want to show God our love we must give Him our best effort.  He should get priority in our time, our energy, and our attention.  When we don’t give God what we willingly give our employer, teacher, coach, spouse or favorite television program (yes, that even includes Monday night football), we are proclaiming that God is less important to us than these things.  Do you still wonder why God is offended?

The Lord speaks quite plainly, “I’d rather you stop calling yourself a Christian and go and live a pagan life” than continue in a faith that is a sham.  I’d rather you tear down the church than pretend to love me. Strong words.

3. EXALT THE LORD RATHER THAN OURSELF (2:1-9)

The third charge against the Israelites seems to be directed toward the priests.  They refused to honor the Lord.  They were going through the motions but they were not seeking God’s glory.  They were teaching, but they were distorting the truth.  They claimed to be God’s leaders, but they were actually leading people away from the Lord.

The Lord contrasts their attitude with that of their forefather Levi, the father of the priests.

“My covenant was with him, a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him; this called for reverence and he revered me and stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin. [2:5-6]

Levi and the first priests stood in awe of God.  They saw their role as one of the most sacred in life.  It was not a business . . . it was a calling.  It was not about getting a crowd; it was about honoring God.

I am concerned today when I look at the church,

  • Pop psychology often replaces sound theology
  • Motivational hype replaces substantive discussion
  • Pleasing the people takes precedence over honoring the Lord
  • Worship appears more like entertainment than a reverent approach to God

In short, I feel the trends of society seem to influence the church more than Scripture does.  Many churches resemble a civic club more than a house of prayer. The Word of God is debated rather than received and obeyed.  I am concerned that we are seeing a form of godliness that denies it’s power.  God calls us to take Him seriously.

4. START AT HOME (2:10-16)

The next charge against Israel seems to take a sudden turn.  Malachi asks, “Why do we profane the covenant of our fathers by breaking faith with one another?” (Mal 2:10).  He explains the charge.  Israelites were marrying pagan spouses. This was not only expressly forbidden, it also leads inevitably to compromise.

Second, they cried out to God because God’s blessing seemed to be absent in their lives. God’s answer is that His blessing is gone because they were getting divorced and ignoring the vows they declared to each other and before the Lord.  When you don’t take your marriage vows seriously it reveals that you don’t take God seriously.

In addition to a disregard for the marriage vows, God also hates divorce because of it’s effect on the family. Malachi tells us that God’s design for marriage was for the purpose of bringing about Godly offspring.  The home is the foundation of society. Divorce creates all kinds of problems to the family.

  • There is the intense loneliness and fear that accompany divorce.
  • Children are faced with conflicts of loyalty.  They can’t help but pick sides.  Instead of drawing support from their mother and father, they must choose between them.
  • While a divorce is going on parents are so preoccupied in the divorce proceedings that they have a diminished capacity to parent.
  • Often a child is ripped out of familiar surroundings and placed in a new school, and often merged with a new family.  The safety and security that should be in the home is traded for the stress of new situations.

I know that divorce happens.  God knows that too.  In the days of Moses, God recognized this and established provisions that would protect the discarded or abandoned spouse.  Sometimes there is abusive behavior in the home and the victim of the abuse needs to get out of the relationship and get help for their safety and the safety of their family. Sometimes there is infidelity and the offender refuses to give up their sinful relationship. Sometimes one person in the relationship “gives up” and the other has no choice. In those times it is important that the church open their arms and help these people through the difficult time.  Every person that has gone through a difficult divorce will tell you that they agree with God.  They hate divorce too!  The rejection, the sense of failure, and the feeling that you have wasted your years is difficult to cope with.  The church should be there to help.

However, the majority of divorces are the result of willful disregard of the promises made before God. This is not always by both people seeking the divorce. Usually at least one person has disregarded their promise to be committed, “for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do we part.”  Today, we hear people toss aside their vows to the Lord saying,

  • I was never really in love (love is a decision as much as a feeling)
  • We grew apart (is that because you stopped working?  If you grew apart, it would seem you could, with work, grow back together.)
  • I found my soulmate in someone else (I don’t care if it is Amy Grant who is saying this)
  • My spouse was holding me back  (Malachi suggests what was holding you back was your lack of commitment to your home)

Translated, all these excuses mean, “I have neglected or am tired of working at my marriage.  I have chosen to toy with sin rather than pour myself into my marriage.  I would rather give in to temptation than keep my promises.”  Is this overly harsh? It may seem that way . . . but only because of our permissive society.  It’s the truth and we should proclaim it.

Obviously, these words remind us that we must work hard at our marriages. We must do whatever is necessary to flee the temptations that act like a cancer in a relationship.  We must understand that flirting, innuendo, pornography, and abuse of all kinds erode a relationship.  If we do not take our promises before God seriously, it shows that we really don’t take God seriously.  If Christians will not take God seriously . . . why would anyone else?

5. INVEST IN GOD FULLY (3:6-12)

God next charges the people with robbery. The listeners are horrified . . . how can you say that we rob God?  What have we ever done to rob Him? God’s answer is simple, “When you fail to give your tithe to the temple, you rob me of what is rightfully mine.”

Whenever the subject of tithing (or giving ten percent) comes up the question is raised, “Are Christians required to tithe?”  That is a tough question to answer. Nowhere in the New Testament are we told to tithe.  We are, however, told to give proportionately and regularly. As a general rule, the New Testament doesn’t diminish the laws of the Old Testament . . . the New Testament encourages us to go beyond the Old Testament laws out of love and gratitude towards the Lord.  So, I believe the Bible would have us view the tithe as the “starting point” for our giving.

People have all kinds of creative ways of robbing God.

  • They give an amount that looks good in the plate but is far less than a tithe
  • They divert their tithe to other things that benefit them or those they love, and call it giving to God
  • They say they will give when there is a real need (there is a real need for you to put God first in your checkbook)
  • They use their money as a way to “make a point” in their church
  • They debate about whether we are to tithe on the net and gross (you want to know how little you can give and “get away with it”)

No matter how we justify (and most of us do at one time or another) Malachi tells us that we are robbing God.  The Lord makes a simple promise: if you give to the Lord, He will provide and bless you. Generally speaking, if you honor Him with your money, He will increase your blessing because you will have shown that you are a good steward.

R. G. LeTourneau, the Christian earth-moving machinery manufacturer who died in 1969, failed often in the earlier years of his career.

Ironically, though, he made $35,000 profit one year in the middle of the depression. Puffed up with pride, he withheld the payment of his $5,000 annual pledge to the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church in order to reinvest it in the business and give the Lord an even greater share the following year when he anticipated a net profit of $100,000.

God was not mocked by LeTourneau’s withholding of his tithe from the storehouse. Within a year, his anticipated $100,000 profit was turned into a $100,000 loss, and brought the erring servant to his knees. It was a thoroughly chastened and repentant LeTourneau who by much courage and faith pledged not only $5,000 to his church for the year he skipped, but also the same amount for the following year—in the face of a $100,000 debt and no money for payroll. On top of that, his bookkeeper was ready to quit.

From that point on, LeTourneau’s fortune changed and within four years, he and his wife founded the LeTourneau Foundation comprised of 90 percent of the stocks of LeTourneau Corp., the earnings of which financed evangelical Christian work world-wide. At one time, this foundation was worth $40 million.

LeTourneau often said: “It is not how much money I give to God, but how much of God’s money I keep for myself.”

Can you imagine what would happen if Christians stopped robbing God?  Sure, it would make it easy for us to add needed classroom space.  But, can you imagine the dent that could be made in hunger and homelessness?  Can you imagine the tangible help that would be available to those going through a medical or financial crisis? If Christians stopped robbing God in America, imagine how greatly America would be blessed.

CONCLUSIONS

The book of Malachi raises many issues.  All of them focus on the issue of whether or not we respect God.  Perhaps you have seen an area of your life that needs to be addressed.  Maybe you have seen, to your embarrassment that even though you think of yourself as a solid believer, you have been denying God by your behavior.  If so, I urge you to make the necessary changes in your life.

Malachi (and the Old Testament) ends with a contrast,

All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the LORD Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall. Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things,” says the LORD Almighty. (4:1-3)

Those who continue to treat God with disregard will eventually face God’s judgment and wrath.  If we continue to trifle with God, there will be a steep price to pay.

On the other hand, those who are willing to take God seriously, those who will dare to,

  • Live with gratitude
  • Give God their best
  • Exalt the Lord Rather than Themselves
  • Work at honoring God in their homes and marriages
  • And invest in God’s work with their tithes and offerings

They will know blessing.  They will live with the joyful exuberance of a calf that has been released from its stall. They will find the life they have been looking for.

The order is important.  We must honor God and then He will bless us.  It does not work the other way around.  God will not be held hostage.  So, you and I have a choice.  We must choose whether we will be a mirror of His grace, or a mirror of the times in which we live. The repercussions from this choice are great.  So choose very carefully.

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Scripture:

Malachi 1:1-4:6