Malachi

Seven Stupid Questions
"...Return to me, and I will return to you," says the LORD Almighty..."
from Malachi 3:7

You always hear it said that there's no such thing as a stupid question. Or The only stupid question is the one not asked. I guess that's right, for the most part. Asking a question to get a better understanding is always better than keeping your mouth shut and not learning what you want to know - no matter how elemental the question may be. There's also another variation of the saying: There is no such thing as a stupid question - only stupid people. Be that as it may, I think there is one category of stupid question and that's when we ask a question but really don't want to listen for the answer. Sometimes we ask a question in order to advert an answer. We ask it in a way to justify ourselves and belittle the one were talking to. For instance, have you ever heard a conversation that contained the question: "What in the world are you talking about?" ever go well? That's the kind of question that the Jews were asking God. They weren't looking for answers, they weren't trying to find out what He wanted from them. They were only trying to parry God's accusations and justify themselves. God, through Malachi, tried to get them to repent and return to Him. They wanted no part of it. They would rather continue in their moral darkness and hide from the light. Every one of these questions could be replaced with "What in the world are you talking about, God?"

Q #1: How Have You Loved Us? Dismissing God's Love (1:1-5)
The Lord opens with a very simple but yet profound message: "I have loved you" How would you feel if God, out of the blue, verbally said to you "I Love You"? Wouldn't that make your day? Could anything wipe the smile off your face the rest of the day? i would be ecstatic! That's a great message. Now, I may also start thinking about how I've failed Him and how unworthy I am of His great love. How about you? That's the message that these people heard... but how did they respond? They weren't impressed at all. It didn't make them happy. It didn't even make them regret how they've lived. They had a stupid question "How have You loved us?" In other words, 'We sure don't see any evidence of that."

Jacob vs. Esau
.God's answer is to look back at Jacob and Esau. Two brothers - twins and before they were even born, before either did anything good or bad, before either could respond to God, God said "Jacob I have loved but Esau I have hated." How do we understand that? Well, first thing, let's be careful how we define God's love. We usually think of love as being some warm fuzzy feeling. Emotions aren't completely removed, But, that's not a very complete picture of love, especially God's love. Love starts with a decision - a choice. Maybe it just hits you, maybe it took several years to come to that point but you made a choice. but, it doesn't end there hopefully. After you make your choice, you make a commitment. You make the commitment that this is going to be the One and

you're in it for the long haul. That's the way to understand God's love for jacob over Esau. He made a decision - a choice to love Jacob. Once the choice was made, He was committed to it. No matter what would happen afterwards, nothing was going to change that. That's good news for Israel. There wasn't much to admire in Jacob. He was a bit of a "mamma's boy" He was a cheater, a manipulator. When he saw something that he wanted, like Esau's birthright, he would do anything it took to get it. Yet, God chose him. And his descendents - they run off and worship idols at the drop of a hat. Unfaithful, hypocrites, lovers of self more than lovers of God. and yet, even in this time of apostasy where it seems they've sunk to new lows, God still says "I Love You." God's love for Jacob, God's love for Israel, God's love for ME has nothing to do with character or actions. It's all about His sovereign choice. And when He's made His choice, He's committed to it. even though His people may spit in His face.

#2. How Have We Shown Contempt For Your Name? Corrupting Worship (1:6-2:9)
The Lord lays out His first accusation and it lies squarely at the feet of the priests, the one's who's purpose it is to represent God to His people. If the entire nation held the Lord in contempt, surely these men would be different. In fact, they were the 'ring leaders' It was their view of God, their contempt for Him that filtered down to the nation as a whole.

Defiled Worship
God says that a son shows honor to his father and a servant to his master, but where is the honor due me? All I get from you is contempt. These were supposed to be servants of God. From a distance, they no doubt appeared to be righteous and loving men who lived their lives for God. But, God sees them as anything but. He says "You show nothing but contempt for my name." How so? By offering blemished sacrifices. he should have been getting the first and best of the crop and flock. But, they were offering the worst... animals that probably wouldn't even sell in the marketplace. God was getting the leftovers. If a celebrity came for dinner, would you pull a cold, leftover grilled cheese sandwich out of the fridge for him? Would you give a broken toaster as a wedding gift? But, that's the sort of offering that God gets from these priests. And I dare say, when it comes to time or money, sometimes that's all He gets from us. If we're going to call it a sacrifice, it has to cost us something, not just whatever we can do without. Again, the priest ought to have known better. But, they went through their duties and performed their empty rituals, thinking that they were doing God a favor. Their act was enough to impress themselves - they wipe their brow and say "whew, what a burden!' But God isn't impressed one bit. He says He'd rather that they just shut the temple doors. No worship at all is better than insincere, contemptible worship. Well, at least we're in the clear... we don't offer animal sacrifices anymore. Well, are there other ways that we can show contempt for God in our worship? No doubt. When we come to worship in a haphazard way. When we come into worship with our minds fixed elsewhere. When we value worship as what we get out of it.

Somewhere down the line, worship has gotten turned inside out. We approach it as the preacher or the song leader is an actor on a stage, God is the prompter in the wings, feeding the performer his lines, and the congregation is the audience taking in the show. But that's completely backwards. It's the people who are the "performers", the pastor or worship leader is the prompter, and it's God that is the audience. He's the recipient of our worship. Absolutely, we should walk away from worship uplifted and changed, but the goal of worship isn't about blessing me - it's about blessing God. Offering leftovers...That's no way to treat God. And when it happens, He's not pleased. He is The Lord Almighty and deserves infinitely more.

Warning to the Priests
The charges have been leveled and now it's time for the priests to respond. He calls them to listen to what He has to say and repent, it's time for them to set their hearts on honoring Him. If they don't, there will be a curse coming. Blemished offerings wasn't the priests only offense. They also failed to instruct the people in serving and relating to God. Rather than leading the people into righteousness, they were causing them to stumble. Better if they would have kept their mouths shut than to teach as they did.

The Marks of A Faithful Shepherd
It's interesting that in the middle of this scolding of the priests, we get a good picture of what a faithful minister should be. The Lord looks back to Levi as the prototype shepherd. 1. Reverence. - the first mark of a good shepherd is his relationship to God All those passages that talk about the fear of the Lord aren't referring to terror - it's a reverence for God. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" Ps 111:10 Reverence for God is the beginning of all things spiritual. 2. Commitment to the truth of God's Word. Truth is desperately needed in this world and it's important that our pastors aren't giving us their own thoughts and opinions. It's too easy to be in error even for the most sincere pastor. He needs to be committed to relaying God's Word. That's a heavy responsibility. 3. A Godly character. "He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin." His walk with God is crucial. That's true of everyone, but especially spiritual leaders. He needs to be a Godly person so that he is in tune with God in order to be used effectively. He also needs to be a good example of Godliness for the people to follow. It's not just his soul that's in the balance. The leader's character has a direct effect on that of the people.

#3. Why (Do You Not Accept Our Worship)? Unfaithful Living (2:10-16)
Malachi now turns a corner -from the priesthood to the people, themselves. The situation didn't form in a vacuum. The character of the leadership and that of the people are always interrelated. If there is a corrupt leadership, the congregation as a whole will be effected and the reverse is true. Malachi starts by asking: Aren't we all one family? God is our father and so, we are all brothers and sisters. But, that's not the way we are acting. That's not the way we are relating to one another. It seems that they were taking up a "me & mine" attitude. There's no thought of family, of a connecting bond between God's people. In this section, Malachi rebukes Judah for their attitudes about marriage. At first, I wondered why. A lot has gone wrong with Jewish society at this point. There's plenty for God to address. Why single out marriage? 1. How a person handles marriage indicates how he handles relationships in general. 2. The entire book of Malachi really is about Judah's abandoning her covenants. The Abrahamic Covenant that gave the Jews a special relationship with God and the Mosaic Covenant that showed them how to maintain their "specialness" What better way to highlight their failure to live up to covenants than to examine how they're living up to their marriage covenants. ". . . the Mosaic covenant was by Malachi's time understood as a quaint, archaic document too restrictive to be taken seriously and inapplicable to a 'modern' age— virtually the same way that most people in modern Western societies view the Bible today."

Mixed Marriages (11-12)
It's hard for us where we are, to get a grasp on the prohibition of mixed marriages for the Jews. It was a direct violation of the covenant. God was not pleased. 1. It introduced idolatry into Jewish life. Time and time again God was proven right to prohibit marriage outside Judaism. Invariably, the unintended consequences were to corrupt their faith by assimilating the worship of false gods. It happened even to the wisest man in the world. 2. It severed the lineage from Abraham to Messiah. The main reason this was forbidden was because God had chosen Abraham and his offspring as the means of saving the world. In the Abrahamic covenant God said the nations would be blessed through the seed of Abraham. If everyone intermarried, there would be no distinct ethnic race left though whom God could fulfill his promise. Think about your own heritage. Most of us are a Heinz 57 mixture of many different ethnicities. Most of us don't know much about our heritage and what we know doesn't really affect how we live. The very fact that the Jews have maintained a distinct lineage is a huge testimony to God's preservation. Mixed marriages was a big problem. Not something to be taken lightly. Malachi says the violators should be cut off from the community.

Divorce

(13-16)

Malachi says "you weep and wail looking all sincere wondering why God doesn't bless your offerings. But, He doesn't because you're not sincere at all. You are unfaithful people to the core. You don't even honor your commitment to your spouses." They were offering sacrifices because their lives weren't going well. They wanted to appease God and make their lives better. But, their offerings were hollow. The rituals meant nothing since they weren't willing to address the root problem. They, as in all marriages, made a commitment to their brides. They made solemn vows. They brought her into their lives as a life-long partner, with God Himself as a witness. Yet, that covenant meant nothing to them. Marriage isn't just a societal invention. And society doesn't get to define it and regulate it. God created marriage. He decides what it is. He says it's not just a social contract. It's two people becoming one. It's melding two personalities into one unit. You can't just rip them apart on a whim. It's not often that God says He hates something. When He says "I Hate Divorce" we better pay attention.

#4. How Have We Wearied Him? Doubting God's Justice (2:17-3:5)
Again, life wasn't going well for the Jews, due to their own unfaithfulness. But, that's not they way they saw it. They concluded that they weren't being treated fairly. In their minds, God was punishing the righteous (them) and blessing the wicked (anybody but them) Everything was turned upside-down in their eyes. God says "You want justice, don't worry - it's coming. But, be careful what you ask for, because everyone is subject to justice. Are you sure that you can stand?" Everyone will face God's justice, but judgment doesn't work on a "us vs. them" basis. The N.T. offers us a principle: For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? -1 Peter 4:17 God's people, the ones who have the benefit of His Word and understand His precepts are therefore all the more responsible for what they do. That's where judgment begins. But God's purpose for judging His people is different for them than merely punishing sin. His purpose is purity. He says it will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap. It's to ladle off the impurities and remove the dirt. Then, once again God will receive pure worship and will happily accept it.

#6. How Are We to Return? Repentance = Obedience (3:6-7)
God says "The reason I don't just destroy you all and wash my hands of you is that I never change." I made my commitment to you and so will honor it. In other words the relationship and their continuing existence has nothing to do with what they do but has everything to do with who He is. He says that from the beginning, in every generation, they've been unfaithful. It's time that they return to God and repent for their unfaithfulness.

It's easy to look at the Jews and shake our heads wondering how dumb can they be? Their history is one rebellion after another, one instance of idol worship after another. They turn away from God, are punish, return to Him and start the cycle all over again. But guess what, this isn't just a Jewish history, it's the history of all of God's people throughout time. It's not a Jewish peculiarity, it's a human trait. Not about how dumb the Jews are - I've always had a saying "People are dumber than anybody." I think it holds true, here. But, God is aware of this human trait and is prepared to deal with it. God doesn't change, as he's already said. To fix the repair the rift between us and God, it's us who have to change. Simply, repent and get back to doing right. It's about obedience. It's about taking God's command seriously.

#6. How Have We Robbed You? Where your treasure Is... (3:8-12)
Robbing God - that's a serious charge. This may be the most reasonable question of them all. If God accused me of stealing from Him, I'd want to know more. How did they Rob God? ...by not giving their tithes and offerings. That's revealing - To God, when we aren't giving generously, it's the same as stealing. How we handle our money does say a lot about our priorities and what we value. Even when we do tithe, don't think you're doing God a favor. Remember, He owns it all. He graciously doesn't demand it all. But, we tend to hang on to it and begrudgingly write a check for a portion. When we're like that, it just shows where our heart is. We are valuing things over the things of God. We're promoting self at His expense. God promises a blessing to those who give generously. In fact, He says Test Him on this and see how it works out. He'll open the floodgates of Heaven! I've had my say on this subject already, but I have to repeat that I've seen this be true over and over in my life. It's a principle that works. If our priorities are right and we are seeking happiness in God, then we give to Him faithfully and gratefully, and we find satisfaction in life through relationship with Him. He provides our needs and it is enough. Giving is other-centered. Not giving is self-centered. Here we have yet another prophet condemning the people for a lack of love.

#7. What Have We Said Against You? Serving God for Personal Gain (3:13-18)
Malachi condemns them for their harsh words against God. The word for harsh, here is the same used to describe Pharaoh's heart - hard. They had become stubborn. They were saying that we have this heavy burden of serving God... and what does it get us? Those other folks don't have to worry about all of those commandments and they're getting fat and sassy. It was all about them. They were playing religion for their own gain. They were putting themselves first ahead of serving God. Now we see something that we haven't seen before in the book of Malachi - a positive response. Malachi's message was getting through to a handful. They heard and began talking amongst themselves. They heard God's message and they also heard all the complaining and cynicism. They sought mutual support and fellowship. Kind of like us being out in the world hearing all sorts of talk and opinions. Isn't it good to get together here and

be amongst like-minded believers? These folks evidently saw the need to dissociate themselves from the prevailing sins and to repent and follow the Lord. They signed their names to a scroll, evidently to record their commitment. Even in Malachi's times, God had a remnant. He always does. He never allows there to be a time when He is without a witness. In the time of the Judges, when everyone did what was right in their own eyes, God rose up the various Judges. Even when Elijah lamented that he seemed the only one left, in the land, God still had 7000 who refused to bow their knees to Baal. God says that He will remember the faithful. They are His treasured possession and will be vindicated in the day of judgment. "How can we remain faithful to God in a faithless world? Malachi gave three tips for developing a lifestyle of faithfulness. • Vow to be faithful to God, even if those around you are not. • Surround yourself with a group of likeminded individuals for encouragement. This group 'talked with each other' (Mal. 3:16) as they encouraged each other to remain faithful (see Heb. 10:25). • Remember that God's day of reckoning will come someday. Keep a long-range perspective (1 Cor. 3:1215)."

The Day of the Lord The World Will Be Set Right

(Ch. 4)

"Surely, the day is coming" There's no doubt about it. Malachi emphasizes that God is concerned with both attitudes (the arrogant) and actions (the evildoers) and the judgment on both will be complete because “it will leave neither root nor branch.” Those people will be like dry stubble and will be set on fire. But, those who truly revere His name will be healed and set free... like a calf leaping when released from his stall. That's a good picture for a farm boy. The hearts of the fathers will once again be turned to their children and the children's hearts will turn to their fathers.

So What? How Do We Apply Malachi's Message to Our Lives?
How did Judah's problem begin? They dismissed God's love, thinking that they were God's people because they deserved His blessings - as if they chose Him. We can fall into that way of thinking, whether we'll admit it or not. Like Jacob, God didn't choose us because we deserve it, or even because He foreknew what great candidates we would be. We flat out don't deserve what He's given us. When we don’t recognized that and think we do deserve it, that is arrogance, and it results in a lack of worship.

Our sacrifices become second rate, our giving decreases, human relationships degenerate and we start comparing our material status in life with the ungodly people around us who prosper and we think we have wasted our lives being “devoted” to God. The fact is that we are not truly devoted to God. The reason we are not devoted is we don’t appreciate the grace of God. We need to continually remind ourselves of that amazing grace that saved a wretch like me. Don't try to serve God under our own steam, worrying about if we're doing enough. Concentrate on all the undeserved grace that we receive and all the rest will fall into place.

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