The Global Purpose of God in the Book of Malachi
1The oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi.
2 “I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob 3 but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” 4 If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the Lord of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the Lord is angry forever.’ ” 5 Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the Lord beyond the border of Israel!”
6 “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?’ 7 By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we polluted you?’ By saying that the Lord’s table may be despised. 8 When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts. 9 And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? says the Lord of hosts. 10 Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand. 11 For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts. 12 But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and its fruit, that is, its food may be despised. 13 But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the Lord of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the Lord. 14 Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished. For I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.
3:10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. 11 I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. 12 Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.
Today is our first International Missions Emphasis Sunday. We hope to make this an annual day in our life together as Crosstown Church. Every year on the last Sunday of August, Lord willing, we will focus our entire worship gathering on the work of gospel spreading around the world. This is not a time merely for us to see what is going on with the gospel around the world. We also want to taste what is going on with the gospel around the world. In other words, we do not want this Sunday every year to be only informational. We also want it to be practical, because we believe that God has called all of his people to be involved in the work of spreading the good news of God’s gospel to every nation on the planet.
We believe this because we learn this from the Scripture. And we will not have to return to the same passage every year to emphasize international missions. The Bible is saturated with the mission of gospel advancement around the globe.
So for example, we do not need to leave our current study of the book of Malachi to see that God has a global purpose in all that he is doing. Throughout the book of Malachi God has been focused on the waywardness of his covenant people. But this internal focus has an external application. We might say it this way: a healthy church leads to gospel advancement around the world. According to Malachi, God has a global purpose in saving the elect, in the proper worship of the elect, and in the blessing of the elect.
GOD’S GLOBAL PURPOSE IN SAVING THE ELECT
As we have noted throughout the series, the first five verses of the book of Malachi are massively foundational to a proper interpretation and application of the rest of the book. Before God begins his rebuke of his wayward people, he begins with a declaration of God’s love for Israel.
The blessing of Jacob
The people, of course, have doubts about the sincerity of God’s love. They said, “How have you loved us?” And God’s answer to them is a reminder of the different way he responded to two brothers. “I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated” (Mal 1:2-3). The New Testament makes it clear that God’s feelings toward the two brothers were not based upon how they behaved but simply on God’s sovereign purposes.
When Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Rom 9:10-13).
So God’s sovereign choice of Jacob and his descendents over Esau is proof of God’s love for Israel. He chose to love them before they were even born, so his love does not depend upon how they respond to him.
The blessing of Abraham
This sovereign election of Israel goes back further, to Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham. According to Genesis 12:1-2, God chose Abraham from among his own people and purposed to bless him.
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. (Gen 12:1-2)
God’s purpose was to make a great nation from the descendents of Abraham, but notice that the choice of Abraham over his brothers and subsequently Jacob over his, was for a global purpose.
I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Gen 12:3)
God purposed to bless all the families of the earth through his blessing of Abraham. In fact, this seems to be the only way that God will bless other nations. If one does not “bless” Abraham but rather “dishonors” him, then God will curse him instead. We see this played out in Malachi. God promised to tear down anything that the descendents of Edom built so that they would be known as “the people with whom the LORD is angry forever” (Mal 1:4). And one reason for this is because of how they treated Israel when they were taken into captivity by Babylon. “Because of the violence done to your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever” (Obadiah 10).
The blessing of the gospel
But God’s global purpose is not primarily to curse. No, the emphasis in Genesis 12 is on the blessing he intends to bring to the nations through Abraham. Notice how Genesis 12:3 is cited in Paul’s argument in the book of Galatians.
Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Gal 3:7-9)
The most striking observation is the fact that the blessing promised in Genesis 12:3 is called the gospel in Galatians 3:8. How can this be? What is the connection between the blessing of Abraham and the gospel? The answer is that the blessing is supremely found not in material prosperity but in justification. “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham.” Justification is the act of God’s free grace by which he pardons all our sins and accepts us as righteous in his sight. So the good news is that God has purposed to bring the blessing of justification to all the nations through Abraham. The gospel has had a global purpose all along.
How does God bring the blessing of justification to Abraham and therefore to all the nations? By faith. “So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” And according to verse 7, “it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.” This means there is significant continuity between God’s covenant with Abraham and the church. We conclude that God continues to extend the blessing of justification to all the nations through the church, his new covenant community.
The greatness of God “beyond the borders”
We might also ask why God has always had a global purpose in saving the elect. One answer is that God wants us to see that he is not a tribal deity. He is not only the God of Israel, he is God of the universe, in fact, the only God. Therefore he wants everyone to know him in this way so that they do not turn to vain idols or think of God as less than he truly is. The most loving thing God can do for us is show us his unmatched greatness. So, back in Malachi we find that God, having declared his love for his people now leads them to the conclusion that his greatness extends “beyond the border of Israel” (Mal 1:5).
Think of the many “great ones” in our country who are completely insignificant outside our national borders because their talents mean nothing in another land. The ones we are tempted to idolize here are nobodies in other places because their “greatness” is limited to where their abilities are valued. God is not like that! We must be convinced that God is great “beyond the borders” or international missions will die. The only way we will take the good news of our God to foreign lands is if we are convinced that his greatness knows no boundaries.
GOD’S GLOBAL PURPOSE IN PROPER WORSHIP
Now we can see that God also has a global purpose in being worshiped properly by his people. The rest of the first chapter of Malachi (indeed the rest of the book of Malachi!) deals with the failures of the people to offer to God worship that is pleasing to him. He accuses the priests of not giving him the honor that he is due and thereby being guilty of despising his name. But it is not as if they have not attempted to worship him. They were still offering sacrifices and they were still offering up their tithes. Sure, the sacrifices they offered were less than their best and the tithes they gave were less than the full amount, but wouldn’t God understand given the difficult economic situation they were in? Don’t they have a valid excuse for cutting corners in their worship?
The regulation of worship
God said no. He obviously takes quite seriously the quality of our worship of him. He demands that he be worshiped in the way he has prescribed. The second of the Ten Commandments forbids us from making a carved image with which to worship God. Why? Because he will not let us diminish his greatness by comparing him to any created thing. This explains all the detailed legislation regarding worship that we find in Exodus and Leviticus. God must be worshiped in the way he has designed. We cannot make our own way. And the spread of the gospel around the world depends upon it!
Worship affects the progress of the gospel
This is why I said that God wants all of his people to be involved in international missions. Get this: your worship of God affects the spread of the gospel for good or for ill.
We learn this from the book of Malachi. God refused to accept the worship of his people when they did not follow his regulations, and he tells us why in verse 11.
For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts. (Mal 1:11)
Twice God declares that his name will be great among the nations. This is what he desires to come from the proper worship offered by his people. Israel was guilty of profaning his name because they refused to give their best to God in sacrifice. Consequently God pronounced a curse upon them because their improper worship was a hindrance to his name being feared among the nations (Mal 1:14).
How to worship the Great King
What then is the proper worship of God that he demands from his church today? The death of Jesus brought an end to the need for the cultic requirements of Old Testament law (Heb 9:1-14). Those things were only a “shadow” of what was to be accomplished by Christ. But the essence of what God desired in the Old Testament continues in the New.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Rom 12:1)
God calls us to worship him not merely with our sacrifices but with the entirety of our lives. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31). Literally everything you do is now to be offered to God as an act of worship for his glory. It is a demanding obligation to be sure, but it is totally worth it because God is a “great King” (Mal 1:14). He does not ask us to give our lives up for anything other than that which is supremely valuable and of ultimate worth.
When the Christmas season rolls around every year I do not look forward to hanging the Christmas lights. It is not exactly my favorite household chore. But my wife reminds me that all of the effort we put in as a family to decorate the home and celebrate the holiday is worth it if we see it as an act of worship. Because God is a great King, it is worth every effort we make to proclaim his greatness to the world. The worship of God by God’s people is important to the global advancement of the gospel.
GOD’S GLOBAL PURPOSE IN BLESSING HIS PEOPLE
But here we find a problem. We are often as guilty as Malachi’s audience of offering to God unacceptable worship. So how will international missions get done if we continue to fail to be the kind of worshipers God requires us to be?
Worship is not decisive
The answer is that God does not need our worship to accomplish the task.
Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand. (Mal 1:10)
Notice that God would rather his people stop offering him sacrifices at all if they will not offer him acceptable sacrifices. Whether we worship him properly or not, his name will be great among the nations. He will get his job done and he will not be hindered by our frequent failures. We can only conclude, then, that though God uses our worship to affect international missions, our worship is not decisive to the success of that mission.
The work is already done
It is not decisive to that mission because Jesus has already struck the decisive blow on our behalf.
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Pet 2:4-5)
Peter tells us that we are made into worshipers because of what Jesus Christ has done for us. He was rejected by men so that we could be made into a “holy priesthood.” Then, empowered by faith in Jesus to offer to God acceptable worship, God blesses us and enriches our lives with the joy of this worship. And in this blessing we see again God’s global purpose. Malachi says it this way: “Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts” (Mal 3:12).
It is God’s will for every one of his people to be involved with his purpose of spreading the gospel around the world. The work of international missions is accomplished as God saves his people, leads them to a proper worship of himself, and then blesses them with the joy that comes from that worship. Every one of God’s people is called to be his missionary, sent out around the world to spread the greatness of his name to all the nations.