Dr. Gerald Hawthorne was my favorite professor in college. He was a good professor because he loved teaching and he loved his students. He so communicated that you were his favorite student, no matter who you were, that you wanted to do your best for him. In fact, when he would call on a student and a student would shrug his shoulders and say he didn't do the homework, everybody would look at that person like, You slug. How could you not do your homework for Dr. Hawthorne?
Have you ever had someone in your life like that, someone for whom you wanted to do your best? I hope that's how you feel about your relationship with God, that you want to give him your best.
Malachi starts by declaring the incredible love of God for his people. The opening two verses of Malachi say: "An oracle: The word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi. 'I have loved you,' says the Lord."
The theme of Malachi is how God deserves your best. But before God says that, before he challenges us, he reminds us that he loves us, that our best is the only reasonable response to his great love for us.
God addresses his people as the descendants of Jacob. If you know your Old Testament history, you know Jacob had a twin brother, Esau. And God says: I didn't decide to bless Esau's descendants; it's you I decided to love in a big way. Why? God says: just because. Theologians refer to this as the doctrine of election. God elects to love us for reasons known only to God.
This is a message Moses had passed on to God's people a thousand years before Malachi. In Deuteronomy 7:68, Moses says to God's people: You know why God chose us? It wasn't because we were the most numerous nation out there. It wasn't because we were the most powerful nation out there. It wasn't because we were the most morally righteous nation out there. God just decided to love us.
That's true of us today. Those of us who have come to know God through faith in Jesus Christ have not done so through our own merit. In fact, the Bible says what we deserve is God's righteous wrath and condemnation. So why should he decide to forgive us? Why should he decide to offer us the gift of eternal life? God's response is: Because I've just decided to love you.
When I begin to understand that God decided to love me so much that he gave his son's life to bear the penalty for my sin, the only reasonable response is for me to come to God and say, "What do you want from me? No matter what it is, you deserve it. You deserve the best."
So Malachi opens by telling these people God loves them a great deal. Let me give you some historical background. About a hundred years before Malachi arrives on the scene, around 539 B.C., there is a Persian king named Cyrus, who decides to let God's people go from exile. They have been slaves in Babylon for 70 years, and he lets them return to their homeland of Israel.
They go back, and they find that the walls of the city have been demolished and their temple is in ruins. But that's okay, because they have lots of enthusiasm and big dreams, and God sends a couple of motivational preachers to get them all revved uptwo guys by the name of Haggai and Zechariahand in 516 B.C. the temple is rebuilt.
Now the people anticipate the golden era of Israel is about to begin. God is going to bless them and they're going to enjoy material prosperity and the good times are going to roll. But none of that happens. In fact, Jerusalem still looks like a bombed-out town people are starving because of crop failures, and people are even getting bored with the new temple.
God lets things drag on for about 50 or 60 years, and then he decides it's time to send a couple of new preachers to get people revved up once again. So, in 458 B.C. he sends a priest by the name of Ezra, and in 445 B.C. he sends a governor named Nehemiah. Nehemiah sets about rebuilding the walls of the city. Again, things are picking up and momentum is building. But Nehemiah decides he needs a hiatus, and the minute he steps back the momentum is killed. Things grind to a halt once again.
It's now 433 B.C., and once again God sends a spokesperson. This time it's Malachi. Malachi comes on the scene preaching: God loves you, and he loves you so much that he deserves your best in response. The people respond with a yawn. The people are rather surly, bad tempered, and ornery. But Malachi tells them how much God loves them and how he wants the best for them.
The Book of Malachi is structured as a seven-cycle argument between God and his people. God tells the people how he expects them to give their best, the people respond with a cynical question, and then God expands on his original concern.
"A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?" says the Lord Almighty. "It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name.
"But you ask, 'How have we shown contempt for your name?'"
This is the first part of the pattern. God raises the issue of honor. God says: A son honors his father. A servant honors his master. Am I not a heavenly father? Am I not a master? Where is the honor due me?
And their response is a contemptuous question.
In the original Hebrew the word honor means literally to be heavy. So when you honor someone it means you treat them as a heavyweight in your lifesomeone of extreme importance, someone of great significance, someone who is huge. When God says in the Ten Commandments, "Honor your father and your mother," he's not saying just obey them and respect them, but treat them as if they're truly significant to you. God says here: I'm a father. I'm a master. I expect honor. Don't treat me with contempt.
They respond: How are we treating you with contempt? And God says: Okay, let me tell you what I want from you. He spells it out in three ways.
Honoring God means bringing him the best sacrifice.
Number one, honor means bringing me the best sacrifice. In verse 7 God says:
"You place defiled food on my altar.
"But you ask, 'How have we defiled you?'
"By saying that the Lord's table is contemptible. When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?" says the Lord Almighty.
"Now implore God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?"says the Lord Almighty.
"Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you," says the Lord Almighty, "and I will accept no offering from your hands.
Go to verse 13:
"When you bring injured, crippled or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?" says the Lord. "Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord."
Old Testament law required people to offer God sacrifices from their flocks and herds. The temptation was to bring God a worthless animal. If they had an animal in their flock or herd that was no good for breeding and wasn't going to fetch much of a price at the butcher shop, they would give it to the Lord. God says: I don't want those tainted sacrifices from your hand.
We no longer offer God animal sacrifices, because Christ has become our sacrifice. He has borne the penalty of our sin, like the animal sacrifices in Old Testament times bore the penalty of those people's sin. However, having said that, God is quick to tell us that, in response to what his son has done for us, the only reasonable response is to give back to God our best. The apostle Paul put it this way in Romans 12:1: Offer God yourselves as spiritual sacrifices; this is the worship God desires. So the sacrifices we bring God today are ourselves, our own lives. God says: Give me the best of yourself. Don't give me the leftovers.
One of my favorite classical composers is John Rutter. Rutter was conducting a choral and symphony group in one of his own compositions, and when he got done the applause in the jam-packed auditorium was thunderous. But when everyone finally stopped applauding, he said, "Excuse me, do you mind if we try that again? I think we can do better than that."
God is saying: I think you can do better than that. You say: Better than what? Better than tainted sacrifices, better than the leftovers, better than what you give on your backhand. This past week I was asking God, What does it mean to give you less than the best? What does it mean to give you a tainted sacrifice from my life today? Let me tell you some ideas that came to my mind:
A tainted sacrifice is when I spend an hour in an evening reading USA Today cover to cover and then in the five minutes before I fall asleep I read God's Word. That's offering God the leftovers.
A tainted sacrifice is when we bring to our careers our best energy, our best talent, our best motivation, but when it comes to serving the body of Christ we either sit on the sidelines or look for something that requires the least amount of energy.
A tainted sacrifice is when we spend a lot of money on ourselves for a summer vacation, but when it comes to giving God an offering we look at the budget and say, What's leftover here?
A tainted sacrifice is when we watch Tiger Woods sink a 20-foot putt and leap off the sofa in jubilation, but in worship we sit passively with our hands on our lap.
A tainted sacrifice is when we love our kids so much there is nothing we wouldn't give them, but if we're honest our heart doesn't beat that fast for God Almighty.
God says: Don't bring me second best; don't bring me your leftovers. We make no apologies around here when we challenge you to bring your best. I stand in front of you and say God deserves minimally the first ten percent of your income. That's what Scripture teaches. Don't bring him less than that; bring him your best. I make no apologies when I say to get involved in what's happening here. Roll up your sleeves. Use the talents and gifts God's given you. Find a ministry here. Worship God enthusiastically.
When I arrived this morning at 6:45, the parking lot was already filled with cars of band members and vocal team members and people arriving for our Greenhouse children's ministry. They were getting ready to give God their best. I walked in with a gal carrying art supplies. I said, "What are you doing here at 6:45?" She said, "I'm teaching kindergarten, and I want to be ready." Praise God for that.
Look at the second half of verse 8. God says through Malachi: Try offering these tainted sacrifices to your governor. See if your governor would accept you with that kind of an offering.
One Bible scholar who has written a commentary on Malachi asks us to imagine writing this letter to the IRS: "Dear Sirs, Please accept this sick cow in lieu of the taxes I owe you. I trust that the old bag recovers and will prove more useful to you than she has been to me. Frankly, I just can't spare anything more at this present time." The writer asks the question: How is that going to sit with the IRS?
As a homeowner, when I get my real-estate tax bill once a year, I take a big gulp and think, It is expensive to live in this community. But if I objected to my local alderman, I would probably be told: "Those taxes pay for the roadways and the library and the police and the fire protection and the good schools and the parks and so on. It's worth it."
This is what God is saying through Malachi: I'm worth it. And if you're paying taxes to a governor but you're stiffing me, something's wrong. Would you dare to honor the IRS and not honor me?
We have a sentimental, grandfatherly view of God. We think he winks at our sins and no matter what we give him he says, Oh, that's great. Thank you so much. Look at what God says in verse 9:
"Now implore God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?"says the Lord Almighty.
"Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you," says the Lord Almighty, "and I will accept no offering from your hands."
God says: Shut the temple doors. It's better not to come to churchit's better not to pretend to be spiritualthan to bring me less than your best. Don't expect me to look at your token offering and say, oh, that's nice, because it's not nice. I want your best. No tainted offerings, no mere token. I deserve your best.
Honoring God means giving him the greatest reverence.
Secondly, honoring God means giving God the greatest reverence. Go to verse 11. God says, "'My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place, incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations,' says the Lord Almighty." And the last half of verse 14: "'For I am a great king,' says the Lord Almighty, 'and my name is to be feared among the nations.'" I am great. I am great. God says that four times in chapter one. We have such a superficial view of greatness today we can hardly appreciate what God is saying about himself.
Sports Illustrated devoted an entire issue to heroes who used to be great in our eyes. They asked the question: Where are they today? That question was stamped over the picture of William Perrythe Fridge. He's the guy who led the Bears to a Super Bowl victory back in 1985. He carried the last touchdown of the game over the goal line. Where is he today? He's a bricklayer. Article after article, great after great after great. Where are they, these guys we honored, we revered, we praised?
God says: I'm great. You want a definition for greatness? Look it up and you'll see my picture in the dictionary.
God is great. God is great. One of my pet peeves is the way we overuse word, awesome today. Everything is awesome. My kids come home from Old Navy with a new shirt: "It's awesome." Your mutual funds do well and you say, "This is awesome." Get off a roller coaster at Great America and you say, "Awesome."
Let me tell you what awesome is. Awesome is when Uzzah, a good friend of King David, touches the ark of the covenant, which represented the presence of God, and he's struck dead for his irreverence. Awesome is when the presence of God descends on Mount Sinai to give Moses the Ten Commandments, and the mountain began to tremble and belch smoke and fire. The people were terrified at the bottom. They didn't want to get anywhere close to this mountain. Awesome is when Jesus Christ, God's son, stands up in a little fishing boat that is getting torn apart by the waves in a storm that would have made George Clooney hide underdeck, and Jesus says, "Be still," and the waves are as smooth as glass. So when we come on a Sunday morning to worship this awesome God, we need to do it with the greatest reverence possible.
When we've had a great worship experience, I ask myself, What were we moved by? Were we moved because the band was hot? Were we moved because we were several hundred people clapping together in unison? Were we moved because it was such a great melody? Or were we moved because we were pointed to a God who is awesome?
Reverence for God ought to govern the way we use God's name. The most frequent expression in the Book of Malachi is "the Lord Almighty." God uses it of himself 20 times. Verse 11 begins: "My name will be great among the nations." The verse ends: "My name will be great." The end of verse 14 says: "My name is to be feared among the nations."
God is pointing to a future day when his kingdom will be visibly manifested upon earth, a day when everyone will worship him. Paul talks about this in Philippians 2. He says Jesus has been given the name which is above every name, so that one day at the name of Jesus every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. That's the day Malachi is referring to here.
But until that day comes his name is to be held in high regard. The third commandment is: "You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God." That means:
We don't use God's name profanely. We don't use it as an expletive. We don't damn anything in God's name.
When we go to a movie and God's name is repeatedly used that way, we get up and walk out.
We don't even use substitutes like gosh or geez for his name. Why even come close? The name is to be revered.
When God is being praised in a worship serviceeven if you're a skeptic, even if you're not buying into thisfor his sake, don't screw around. Stand in reverent worship, because his name is a great name. He's a great king. He is to be feared and honored among all the nations.
Honoring God means giving him the warmest worship.
Third and finally, honoring Godtreating God as a heavyweight in our liveshas to do with giving him the warmest worship. Verse 12: "You profane [my name] by saying of the Lord's table, 'It is defiled,' and of its food, 'It is contemptible.' And you say, 'What a burden!' and you sniff at it contemptuously,' says the Lord Almighty."
You come to church and say, "How long is this going to last? When does this get over? Do we have to sing so much? Why don't they let us sit down?" God says: Is it routine? Is it boring? Is there something else you'd rather do? Are you making a mental list of what you're going to accomplish when you get home this afternoon? I deserve better honor than that. I deserve heartfelt worship.
In his commentary on the Book of Malachi, George Malone tells the story about a big gothic cathedral in his hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia. This cathedral has colorful stained-glass windows that were donated after the Second World War in honor of the men and women who gave their lives. The windows illustrate pictures of soldiers. One day he overheard a little boy asking his mother, "Mommy, who are those people?" And she said, "Those are the people who died in the service." And he said, "Mommy, would that be the Sunday morning or the Sunday evening service?"
We don't want you dying in our service. But it's up to you what kind of worship you bring. You could come on a Sunday or a Wednesday night and not be feeling it. You could come beat up by this world, as some of you do. Circumstances may be rough for you. You could come when you're tired and exhausted, and it may seem like you're being asked to give too much in worship. But it's not about you. It's about God. Worship is not about what we get out of it; it's about what he gets out of it, because he deserves the warmest worship.
Let me hasten to add that when we bring him the warmest worship, something amazing happens inside of us and we're blessed. We're grateful we gave it to him. He knows how to turn it back on us and lavish warmth and love upon us.
Honoring God means the best sacrifice. Honoring God means the greatest reverence. Honoring God means the warmest worship. And we do it because he loves us so much he deserves it.