DOES IT MATTER HOW I SERVE? MALACHI 2:1-9
I want you to take your Bible and turn to the last book of the Old Testament: Malachi. I would like you to open to Malachi 2 and follow along as I read the first 9 verses of this chapter. These verses are a continuation from last week message. God is directly addressing the priests of Israel for their misconduct of not honoring His name and in these verses He is about to bring judgment upon them because of their ways. Now as I stated, last week, there is application for us believers today. God’s Word is always relevant, even though some people will claim it to be an ancient document and out of date.
If you recall, God had brought a serious allegation against the priests for not honoring His name in worship. And he affirmed this allegation by giving proof from their actions and attitudes at the altar of God. As priest, they had the responsibility to atone for the sins of the people by offering their sacrifices on the altar of God. God had given them this responsibility and the instructions for caring out this instruction. But the priests lost their God-ward focus in worship by not honoring and fearing the Lord. Now when we lose our God-ward focus, then worship and service and life becomes about us. And life is not meant to be about us, but about God and bringing glory to God’s name.
So in these verses, we see the climax or conclusion to what God is going to do with this indictment. Here he says He is going to bring judgment because of their ways. Notice in verse 1 that God says to the priests that this command is for you. What this verse is saying is that the punishment about to be pronounced is very serious. This curse is severe and should not be taken lightly.
After all, the priests’ job was to lead the people aright and reprove sin, but these men were doing just the opposite. They were actually leading people into sin as we will see next week. Matthew Henry wrote, “Nothing profanes the name of God more than the misconduct of those whose business it is to do honor to it.” This has certainly been the case in recent days.
There is a crisis among many so-called leaders in the church today. There is at least one denomination that I am aware of that allows openly practicing homosexuals to be their ministers. There is a Dutch pastor who admits that he is an atheist. The Roman Catholics have had their problems with the priests and molestation of kids. And then you have pastors from every denomination that have been unfaithful to their spouse or addicted to some kind of pornography.
In 1988, Leadership [Winter, p. 12] conducted a survey among pastors. They asked, “Since you’ve been in local church ministry, have you ever done anything with someone (not your spouse) that you feel was sexually inappropriate?” Almost one in four (23%) answered yes! They asked, “Have you ever had sexual intercourse with someone other than your spouse since you’ve been in local-church ministry? Almost one in eight (12%) answered yes!” They asked the same questions among those who are not pastors and found that the incidences of immorality were almost double (45% & 23%)! They also found (p. 24) that 20 percent of pastors viewed sexually oriented media at least once a month (this was before the internet)!
So you can see that there is a crisis in leadership in the churches of America today. Yet, one of the greatest failures among so-called leaders is a defection from the truth of God’s Word. There are too many pastors compromising the truth of God’s Word in order to draw a crowd. There are too many pastors who do not believe in the authority and sufficiency of Scriptures. Pop-psychology or topical sermons or commenting on current events has become the trend in many pulpits instead of verse by verse teaching of God’s Word. In fact, the result is that when people do hear the Bible actually preached then they are offended and would rather hear something else than the truth.
When God predicted the ruin of his people Israel in the book of Amos, he said that the famine that would destroy was a famine of the Word of God: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it” (Amos 8:11-12). Well, this was the problem in Malachi’s day. The priests were serving God indifferently and the result is that the people of Israel became indifferent to the things of God. So in this passage, God provides us a contrast between priestly success and priestly failure. I want to give a list of priestly success and priestly failure. First, let us look at the failures of the priests of Malachi’s day.
THEY FAILED IN LISTENING TO GOD – 2 God says, “If you will not listen . . . I will send a curse upon you.” So you can see from this verse that they were not listening to God. A great danger for all of us is that the voice of God is being drowned by all the other voices in the world. There are so many things in the world that is competing for our attention that we must be careful to listen to the Lord through His Word. Allow God’s Word to dictate the decisions that you make in life rather than allowing the world to influence your decisions. Listening to God is synonymous with obeying. God does not want us just to hear Him. He wants us to hear Him and obey Him. That is why Jesus often made statements like “He who has ears let him ear or pay attention to what you hear.” The only way to listen to God is to spend time in His word. As a believer, etch out time in your schedules to hear from the Lord and then apply the truths you hear. The late W. A. Criswell, former pastor of First Baptist Dallas, quotes the laymen of his church one time. They said, "Pastor, we know what the editorialists say, and we know what the commentators say, and we know what the economists and politicians say. What we want to know from you is, DOES GOD HAVE ANYTHING TO SAY?!" As believers we must listen to God and that comes from spending time in His word daily. Next,
THEY LOST THEIR PASSION FOR GOD – 2 “If you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name . . . then I will send a curse upon you.” The word “heart” denotes in Hebrew what may be called the command center of a person’s life, where knowledge is collected and considered and where decisions and plans are made that determine the direction of one’s life. There is a difference between the Hebrew meaning from the English. In English we associate the heart with emotions rather than reason. Many people make decisions based on feelings rather than reason. But the expression “take it to heart” means to determine a course of action in response to one’s knowledge or awareness of something. So God was calling the priests back to a passion for His name. They had lost their burden for the glory of God. We saw last week where they despised God’s name by offering sacrifices that were blemished. The word “honor” comes from a word meaning heavy or weighty. And when it applies to a person, then it carries the idea that someone is weighty or impressive, worthy of respect. Folks, we need to learn to become passionate for the glory of God. So ask yourself does the glory of God come before the approval and praise of people? Does it come before professional advancement? Does it come before financial reward and material comfort? As your pastor, I need you to pray that God’s glory comes out in my private life as well as my public life, in my praying as well as my preaching, and in my playing as well as in my studying. Pray that I will never lose sight that everything I do is for the glory of God. And the next pastor you call, which will hopefully not be soon, will have a passion for the glory of God. They failed to listen to God; they lost their passion for God, next,
THEY TURNED ASIDE FROM THE WAY – 8, 9 In verse 8, God said you have turned aside from the way and in verse 9 you do not keep my ways. In other words, the priests had fallen short of the standard that they were suppose to teach and model. They were being careless in their walk with God and Paul warned Timothy not only to pay attention to his teaching, but to himself as well. This is what happened to the religious leaders in Jesus’ days on earth. To them it came to be about their way rather than God’s way. They held on to the traditions of men rather than the commandments of God. I believe as believers we ought to be as Paul when he said be imitators of me. May we walk in the ways of the Lord that we have nothing to be ashamed of in our lives. By turning aside from the way, the priests might have thought “Do as I say not as I do.” Yet, the people of Israel were thinking that if these things don’t matter to the men of God then why should they matter to us. Parents and grandparents, be a model to your children and grandchildren. In other words, practice what you preach and behave what you believe. Don’t turn aside from the way that you know is right because you have little eyes watching you. This turning aside from the way leads to the next failure.
THEY SHOWED PARTIALITY IN THEIR TEACHING – 9 They began to play to their audience and give them what they wanted to hear. The priests were treating the Word of God the same way they were treating the sacrifices of God. You give God the sacrifices that will leave you with the most money. And you give the people the teaching that will bring in the most money. Micah (3:11) confronted the same problem: “Her leaders pronounce judgment for a bribe, her priests instruct for a price, and her prophets divine for money.” In other words, for a price they would tell people whatever they wanted to hear, not what they needed to hear. Paul warned Timothy, “For a time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but have itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passion” (2 Timothy 4:3). This is why there has been an increase in the Word of Faith teachers such as Benny Hinn, Earnest Ainsley, Joyce Meyers, Kenneth Copeland, and yes everyone’s beloved pastor Joel Olsteen. Now I am not calling them out because they are bad people or because they have huge followings. I am mentioning them by name because the gospel they preach is false. It is contrary to the Word of God. As a pastor, I cannot show partiality to you by giving you what you want to hear. I am an ambassador of Christ whose call is to preach God’s Word rather than man’s word. So I must give you what you need to hear. As Paul instructed Timothy a pastor’s job is to “always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of the evangelist, fulfill his ministry” (2 Timothy 3:5). These priests failed to listen to God, lost their passion for God, turned aside from the way, showed partiality in their teaching, and finally
THEY CAUSED MANY TO STUMBLE – 8
In their teaching and their example, they led many to stumble and become disobedient to the Lord. This was the result of their failures. Many people had fallen away from the Lord because of their actions and teachings. Failure to honor the Lord in the priests led to many not to honor the Lord with their lives.
What I think this passage is implying by their failure is that sound teaching comes out of godly living. As the Puritan pastor Richard Baxter put it, “Is that man likely to do much good, or fit to be a minister of Christ, that will speak for Him an hour, and by his life will preach against Him all the week beside?” So God was calling these priests to examine their ways and their instructions so that they can keep many from stumbling. To drive this home to us, parents are our actions and instructions causing our children to stumble. The result for their failure was a curse. God was going judge them for their deeds and their teachings. He was going to curse their blessing, their offspring, and their ministry. Now God’s punishment may be severe, but it is always done out of love.
By cursing their blessings, God possibly meant the food, provisions and coverings that they received from being a priest. Or he might have meant the blessing that they pronounced over the people will be turned into a curse instead of a blessing. We cannot be exactly sure, but God was going to curse their blessing. By cursing their offspring, God possibly meant their crops, which I believe unlikely in this context. Or it could mean their children. In other words, we do not sin unto ourselves. It has an impact on those around us. Sadly, many pastor’s children go astray because their fathers have not honored God by living and teaching His truth in the home.
By cursing their ministry, God said he would spread dung on their faces that is the dung of their offerings. What this means is that the priests will be despised and abased in front of all the people. These proud priests were trying to keep up their image as important and influential men. But God will expose them for what they are, defiled and unclean. Whenever a pastor’s sin gets exposed publicly, you know that he didn’t just suddenly fall. God is exposing in public what has been going on behind the scenes for a long time. “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter Judgment” (James 3:1)!
Now let us turn our attention in the remaining minutes we have left to the successes of the godly priests. Folks, this is the kind of pastor or minister every church should look for. What are some of the requirements of a godly minister? First,
THEY HAVE A PASSION FOR GOD’S GLORY – 5
In verse 4, God established a covenant with Levi. This covenant was established with the descendants of Levi. Now there is no specific passage that we can read about this covenant, it is implied in several places. It was the Levites who sided with Moses at the rebellion of the people with the golden calf. Moses pronounced a blessing on them and said they would teach God’s ordinances to Israel. Israel was led into idolatry by joining themselves to Moabite women. Just as the nation was bowing in repentance, an Israelite man brazenly took a Midianite woman into his tent in the sight of all the people. Out of zeal for God’s honor, Phinehas, a grandson of Aaron, took a spear, went into the tent, and executed this immoral couple. God was pleased and said, “Behold, I give him My covenant of peace; and it shall be for him and his descendants after him, a covenant of perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the sons of Israel” (Num. 25:12-13).
In verse 5, we read it was a covenant of fear and they feared God. They stood in awe of God’s name. In other words, they gave reverence to God rather than despising His name like the priests in Malachi’s day.
THEY PROCLAIMED THE TRUTH OF GOD’S WORD – 6
In those days, before modern communication, kings would send out messengers to relay the king’s message to the people. The messenger was not free to make up his own version of the king’s word. If he didn’t like the king’s message, he couldn’t tone it down or tweak it to make it more popular with the people. The job of the messenger was to relay accurately and clearly what the king wanted to be said.
Karl Barth was a pastor in Germany just prior to World War II, when Hitler was fanning the flames of anti-Semitism. Sadly, many professing Christians in Germany agreed with Hitler against the Jews.
One Sunday, Barth was preaching on John 3:16. He made the point that Jesus was a Jew, that He had died for the entire world, and that the Jews were of the world. Thus anyone who loves Christ would not participate in the widespread ill treatment of the Jews. Many in Barth’s congregation walked out in disgust before he finished his sermon. One wrote a scathing letter denouncing his sermon. Barth’s reply was a single sentence: “It was in the text.”
As a pastor, I cannot modify or change it to adapt to the culture. God’s Word is what it is and it must be preached as it is written. It is not my message, but God’s message. Next,
THEY WALKED IN RIGHTEOUSNESS – 6
In other words, the priests walk backed up his talk. He practiced what he preached. He was one who walked in peace and uprightness and did not turn aside from the way. There are too many shipwrecks in the ministry today because character is no longer a major issue for many who desire to be leaders. There are some who separate the secular from the spiritual. They try to live in too different worlds.
Yet, the Bible is clear. Those who name the name of Christ are strangers (aliens, pilgrims) in this world. As the song says this world is not my home, I am just passing through. But we have a dual citizenship and therefore are called by God to be good citizens of earth. So our goal is to please the one who called and saved us. And that means to walk in peace and uprightness. In other words, we are to live a holy life.
They have passion for God’s name, they proclaim the truth of God’s Word, they walk in righteousness, and finally
THEY BEAR FRUIT FOR THE KINGDOM – 6
In verse 6, God said that they turned many from iniquity (sin). God’s Word is clear that our major problem is not low self-esteem or a poor environment. Our major problem is our sinful rebellion against the Lord of hosts. Any pastor who does not help people deal biblically with their sin is not honoring God by teaching His truth.
Martin Luther said, “Always preach in such a way that if the people listening do not come to hate their sin, they will instead hate you” (in David Larsen, The Company of the Preachers [Kregel], p. 157). Would you commit yourself to pray everyday with me that the glory of God and the Word of God and the righteousness of God would so fill this church that people would turn away from sin, and receive the SALVATION OF GOD right here in this room and all over this city?