DOES IT MATTER HOW I WORSHIP? MALACHI 1:6-14
Worship is one of those hot topics in the church today. Some people call them worship wars. There is the contemporary worship, the blended worship, and the traditional worship. There are those who worship causally, while others are more formal in their worship. Some denominations worship with no instruments, while others worship with a full band. So as you can see worship is defined and done in many different ways.
However, you define or do worship, I believe that the most important thing is that worship is a matter of the heart engaged in the praise of the greatness of God. John Piper defined true worship as something that “comes from the heart where God is treasured above all human property and praise and it aims to inspire the same God-centered passion in the hearts of the congregation.” In other words, worship is a matter of the worshiper expressing his feelings for God’s greatness. Worship is ascribing worth toward God because He is worthy to be praised.
So this morning, we are going to look at a passage that deals with the subject of worship or service toward God. Malachi beginning in verse 6 of chapter 1 to chapter 2 verse 9 addresses a specific group of people. These people were the priests of Israel, but I believe we are going to be able to draw application for ourselves because it gets to what is in the heart of a worshiper.
For those of you who were here last week and those of you who weren’t, I want to remind you that Malachi opens this prophecy to the people of Israel by proving to them that God loved them even though they questioned God’s love because of their circumstances economically, politically, and spiritually. So God speaks to the people of Israel and says to them, “I have loved you.” But in our passage, this morning and next week, God challenges the priest about their love for him. I have proved my love for you in my choice of Jacob and his descendants. But I can prove that you have not shown love to me through your worship and instruction.
So I ask you to turn in your Bibles to Malachi 1:6-14. Listen carefully as I read these verses out loud. In these verses, God brings a serious allegation and two affirmations for the allegation. First, let us look at the allegation.
THE ALLEGATION – 6
In the opening paragraph of this book, the greatness of God’s love toward His people was stated and proved even though they did not want to believe it. But if Israel was blind to God’s love toward them, then they should have at least recognized God as their father and master. The statement “A son honors his father, and a servant his master,” would have gotten the hearty approval of the people of Israel and especially the priest. I am sure that many of the priests had sons whom they desired to honor them as their father. And possibly some of them might have had servants that they desired to honor (respect or fear) them.
We know from Scripture that God is called a Father to the people of Israel. Listen to a few verses that convey this thought. In Ex. 4:22 Israel is referred to as God’s firstborn son. Isaiah recognized this fact in a prayer by saying “you, O LORD, are our father.” And Hosea wrote, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” (Hosea 11:1). Also, Scripture indicates that God was Israel’s master according to Isaiah 44:1 where Israel is referred to “Jacob my servant.” So both the father and master image have been applied to God toward Israel.
So God asks Israel, if these things are true, then where is my honor and where is my fear. God furthered his allegation of the priest by stating, “O priests, who despise my name.” In other words, there was no honor or fear or awe about the greatness of God. The priests were basically showing contempt to God. They had an attitude of revulsion toward God by treating him as insignificant and worthless. They were not taking God seriously, with the result that they considered their service to him as unimportant, not worth much time or trouble.
In fact, this judgment of God on the priest had spilled over to the attitude of the people. There was a disregard for the things of God. And people were defiantly breaking God’s commands and the priests were doing it by offering bad sacrifices. This contempt by the priest was not so much the place or the sacrifice, but the name of God. Folks, I remind you that one’s name played important role in the ancient cultures. One’s name was equivalent to who one was and what one did. In other words, God’s name referred to God’s nature and character as revealed in his word and actions.
So the priests were despising God’s name by saying we are not impressed with who you are or what you do. Now, they probably would not have said they were unimpressed by God’s person and actions, but their deeds and attitudes reflected that idea. God to them was like a customer who enters a place of business but who does not appear to have any money for a purchase. He was neglected, given as little attention as possible, with the hope that he would soon be on his way. Or else he was like a silent partner, assigned a place in a corner where he could lend the establishment an air of respectability, as long as he kept quiet and did not get in the way.
Yet, Israel continued to offer sacrifices to his name and called upon his name to bless Israel, but all they were doing was honoring him with their lips while their hearts were far from him. Yet, they were shocked by these allegations. After all they were still offering sacrifices and coming to the temple and praying for God’s blessing.
I wonder how many folks do the same today. They are good at honoring God with their lips but their hearts are far from God. They ignore the Lord all week except for the hour of worship on Sunday morning. They acknowledge God only in times of trials and struggles and difficulties and forget to thank him for those good times that he provides. They come to worship out habit and go through the motions of worship, but they never come with the expectations of really ever meeting with God. They want God to bless them while they overlook the sin in their life that will help them draw closer to the Lord. We cannot come to the Lord with dirty hands and a bad attitude and expect God to answer our praise pour down blessings from heaven
So God brings the allegation of despising his name before the priest. Next,
THE AFFIRMATIONS – 7-14
In these verses, God verifies his allegation against the priests through two affirmations. He proved his allegation by showing them their action and their attitude toward worship. In verses 7-9, he affirms that they have despised his name through their actions. They were bringing polluted food to his altar. The polluted food was sacrifices that were blind, lame, sick or stolen.
This was a clear violation of God’s command in Leviticus 22:17-30. The animals offered by the worshipper could not be blind or disabled or mutilated or having a part too long or too short. In other words, the sacrifice had to be the best. It had to be an animal that was perfect or without blemish. If an animal was sacrificed that had a flaw, then they were guilty of profaning the name of God.
And this is exactly what the priests were doing in the temple. By presenting these defiled offerings, the priests were showing contempt for the Lord and his worship. Yet, many didn’t believe they were defiling the Lord’s table by offering these bad sacrifices. They didn’t understand how an improper offering could affect the Lord. In other words, they were giving the Lord the leftovers.
So let me get a little personal with you, this morning. When you come to worship is God getting your best or is He getting your leftovers. When it comes to things of the world do we exert more time, energy and effort than we do in worshipping the Lord on Sunday morning or in our quiet time. Ask yourself seriously am I giving God my best or am I just giving him the leftovers thinking that He will accept it.
This was the action of the priests. The people would bring an unblemished lamb to offer as a sacrifice at the temple. The priests would reason, “It doesn’t make sense to slaughter this perfectly good lamb. After all, it’s just going to be burned on the altar. Let’s sell it for a decent price and substitute a slightly blemished lamb that’s cheaper. Good stewardship demands it.”
Or when the people would bring a less than perfect animal to the temple, the priests would say, “Don’t worry about it. It was sick, so you couldn’t risk eating it. It’s just going up in smoke anyway. Sacrificing it helps you get rid of an animal that you didn’t need and it helps us keep the fires burning on the altar. Everyone wins!” Everyone except God, that is!
So the priests were acting in way that some would call pragmatic. What this means is that if it works, then do it. They would take the blemished offering and give it to the Lord knowing that they had to have a sacrifice. To them it made sense to offer something to the Lord than nothing at all. And if it attracted more worshippers this way, then surely the Lord will accept it. They were trying to make worship convenient and possibly affordable for the worshippers.
We live in a day of convenience Christianity. The church is being marketed like a restaurant or store in an attempt to attract more customers. Pastors flock to seminars that share methods on how to attract unchurched people. “Don’t preach against sin, because that threatens people. They want to feel good about themselves. They don’t bring Bibles to church, so don’t get into in-depth Bible study. Give them something positive and uplifting. And, they’re used to watching TV. So use a lot of drama and visuals. Keep the sermon short 15 to 20 minutes maximum. Make it entertaining.” Pastors who use these techniques testify how their church rapidly grew into thousands of attenders. Folks, we are not to be practical in our worship, but biblical in our worship. It does matter to God how we worship with him. He wants our best not our leftovers.
In fact, to illustrate this point, God says try offering to your governor what you offer me. Would he accept your gift? They knew in their hearts that they would not offer such pitiful gifts to their governor and the same goes for us. Suppose we had an important dignitary coming to our house to stay. How many of us would answer the door in our dirty grungy clothes? How many of us would leave our house as a total wreck? And how many of us would tell them that the leftovers are in the microwave and would be ready in a few minutes? I don’t believe any of us would do that. Well, why should we do it to the Lord? So he affirms their actions despise the name of the Lord.
In verses 12-13, God affirms that their attitudes despised his name. Again, he reminds them that they profane his name when they say the Lord’s table is polluted and its sacrifice may be despised. According to Leviticus 21:17-23, a priest who had a “defect” was not to come near to offer the food of his God or he would desecrate the sanctuary and profane the name of God. The priest was to treat with respect the holy offering.
So what was happening is that the priests had lost the God-ward focus of worship. They were not offering the sacrifices to please the Lord. They were, in fact, bored with worship. That is what it says in verse 13. They had become wearied with this everyday event.
In other words, they no longer saw the greatness of God in their worship. It had become ho hum for them and they were just going through the motions of worship. May this serve as a great reminder to us that if we are not careful and we lose our focus of who God is, then we too can get bored with worship? John Piper said, “when you become so blind that the maker of galaxies and ruler of nations and knower of all mysteries and lover of our souls becomes boring, then only one thing is left—the love of the world. For the heart is always restless. It must have its treasure: if not in heaven, then on earth.”
So when it was time for these people to worship they would bring sheep that were damaged or stolen. And when it was time for the sacrifice to be made the priest would offer the rejects rather than the best. Folks, we need to be careful of losing sight of God’s greatness. Yet, I believe that is where we are today in many evangelical circles. People in the church love the world more than they love the Lord. So when God becomes boring because of our failure to see and feel his greatness, then the world gets exciting.
Before we close this morning, I want to go back to the last half of verse 9, 10, 11 and 14. What God is saying in these verses is very important. He reminds them that despising his name is very dangerous. Therefore, he gives a stern warning. At the end of verse 9, God says don’t think that you can ask of me a favor when you bring such a gift in your hand. In other words, if we are only going to come to God with our leftovers or think that it doesn’t matter how we worship the Lord, then God says don’t expect me to send you blessings. If we are going to give God less than our best, then don’t expect any favors from the Lord.
In fact, verse 10, God is saying that I would rather have no ritual than the empty ritual they were orchestrating.