Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds
Part 65: Driven by Love in Malachi
January 29, 2012
Scripture reading: Mal. 1:6-8
Malachi is the last book of the OT in Christian Bible. In a few weeks we will start in Acts and finish the rest of the NT.
A LOVE PROBLEM
I am always impressed by how much the OT applies to our everyday lives ones we see through the context.
Some of the problems in Malachi are familiar: Divorce, spiritual doubts, not tithing. Some of them are not: Marrying foreigners, animal sacrifices, oppressing the poor.
* But all of them are driven by a surprising root issue, one that affects most people in this room.
The background: Judah had been exiled and now returned. They had started off well, rebuilding the temple and excited, but over time their enthusiasm waned.
* More and more they were going through the motions and kind of doing the right things, but not really caring.
God responds through a question and answer session between God and his people dealing with a host of symptoms, but it is the leading question that strikes at the heart of the matter.
Malachi 1:1-2a An oracle: The word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi. 2 “I have loved you,” says the LORD. “But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’...
Q What is the big issue here? Think very carefully about that because it is very important.
As we talk about all of the problems in Malachi, it would be very easy to see that they are all driven Israel’s lack of love for God, which is true, but this opening question drives to an even deeper problem:
* Israel doubts God’s love for them.
Q Does that describe you?
LOVE DRIVES OBEDIENCE, HIS LOVE DRIVES OUR LOVE
Malachi calls God’s people to wholehearted obedience, but there are three layers to that:
1. At the top is wholehearted obedience.
2. Wholehearted obedience is driven by love for God.
Obedience should be driven by two things: Joy and Love. We have talked a lot about joy in the “Radically Normal” series.
But let’s look at love; this is why the greatest command isn’t one of the 10 Commandments:
Matthew 22:37-38 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.
If we don’t reject God altogether, obedience without love will go one of two ways:
a) We will obey out of fear.
Obedience motivated by fear is bitter, joyless, corrupt obedience. It might be perfect in execution but it is lifeless.
* If you know legalistic people, this describes them well; but we don’t have many of them here.
b) Our obedience is half-hearted and apathetic.
This is what was happening in Malachi and what happens in many churches that successfully avoid legalism. I was talking to a pastor at a church that emphasizes grace:
The problem with convincing people that they don’t have to do anything to earn God’s love is that they believe it! Legalistic churches can easily be better funded and have more volunteers than grace-driven churches.
* If you refuse to be motivated by fear but aren’t motivated by love, you won’t be very motivated.
Instead, loveless worship leads to apathetic worship.
It’s like trying to buy a Valentine’s Day card for your spouse when you are in a “bad stretch.”
The sappy ones ring hollow, and you know it and she knows it. It’s like you need a card that say, “I said ‘til death,’ and murder’s a capital offence, so we’re stuck.”
* So instead you just find the most generic card you can and sign your name.
The card, the dinner, and everything else can just be a routine, not driven by passion, not really caring.
And this perfectly describes Israel’s obedience in Malachi. All of the issues it deals with are symptoms of apathetic obedience.
Maybe this describes you: You are secure in God’s love, but your obedience is halfhearted and apathetic, which means is it simply laziness, which is lovelessness.
But this doesn’t mean that we drum up love, we love God because he first loved us:
3. Our love for God is driven by God’s love for us:
1 John 4:19 We love because he first loved us.
It is not our love for God that motivates him to love us, but the other way around.
Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
This is what we mean by grace – our love for God, our obedience to him are all driven by his love for us. We are his because he call us, because he loves us, not because we have earned it.
We get this idea that because we became Christians, God gives us grace, but that is still thinking we have to work for it.
* BTW: Historically speaking, Calvinism was initially a response to treating faith in God as a good work.
Faith is basically not rejecting God’s grace. It’s as if you are floating along in the middle of the Atlantic grasping a piece of wood, and a rescuer comes.
* Faith is to stop telling the rescuer to go away, nothing more.
DOUBTING GOD’S LOVE
Q Where is Israel at in those three layers?
Israel was indeed doubting God’s love for them. God says, “I have loved you” and they say, “How have you loved us?”
* That is a really slap in the face; try that with your spouse or your family.
Yet it sounds too familiar. God says “I love you.” And you respond with “Psht, whatever, how have you loved me?”
Q And why do we respond that why?
It may be a deep seated issue, which we will hit later, but it may just be the same reason they did, they were unhappy with how God was taking care of them:
Malachi 3:13-15 13 “You have said harsh things against me,” says the LORD. “Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’ 14 “You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty?
In other words “We are doing everything we are supposed to, but God isn’t taking care of us.” But the problem is (as we will see) is that they weren’t.
* They had the rituals, but there wasn’t genuine obedience.
The irony is so often when we are suffering it is because of our sin, the foolish things we have done, but then we blame God.
Proverbs 19:3 A man’s own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the LORD.
But even if it isn’t because of our sin (and sometimes it genuinely isn’t), the problem is that his idea of caring for us and ours are frequently different.
* It’s like if your spouse were to say, “I love you” and you say, “Then why haven’t you bought me a new car?”
Apathetic obedience is pathetic obedience
The majority of the book confronts this apathetic obedience and it ends up sound all too familiar. As we look at these three different types of apathetic obedience, we learn something else:
* Apathetic obedience is pathetic obedience.
1. Apathetic worship
Malachi 1:8 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.
After our daughters were born, we had people provide meals, which was a huge blessing. We appreciated all of it, but there were some people who went above and beyond. I remember this one flank steak stuffed with blue cheese, pine nuts, and spinach.
* Those meals were a demonstration of love for our family.
But what if someone had just given us a couple of packets of Top Raman? That would say “I am only doing this because I have to.”
Israel’s worship had dropped to that level. They had to offer sacrifices, but there was no heart behind it.
Q Does that ever describe your worship?
Have you ever thought through “what is the minimum requirement for being a ‘good Christian’”? How little Bible reading? How few times attending church? How little prayer?
When we only give God our leftover time, energy, and money, we demonstrate that we really don’t care about God as much as the other things we spend those on.
Q Think about that and ask, am I doing these things out of love for God or obligation?
This one is particularly poignant to pastors and Christian leaders, because they had become apathetic and stopped caring. They were the ones who were allowing the people to get away with giving God the leftovers.
* If the leaders don’t deeply love God and don’t care, neither will the church – you can’t give what you don’t have.
2. Broken community
Malachi 2:10 Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our fathers by breaking faith with one another?
Because they were not filled with the love of God and not in wholehearted obedience, the cracks showed up in their relationships with others.
* Because they didn’t think God loved them, they couldn’t love each other.
* Because they were faithless to God, they were faithless to others.
In their context, that included things like cheating each other, oppressing the poor, and getting divorced. In ours it includes grudges, isolation, and divorce.
I could say a lot about community, but this is the key point here: How has your doubt of God’s love broken your relationship to the community?
I have seen one thing happen far too often: If you are not secure in God’s love, then you will look to others to give you the love only he can give.
And when you do that, two things will happen: You will only look at what you can take from the community, not what you and give. And the community will let you down.
3. Robbing God
Malachi 3:8-9 8 “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ “In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse-- the whole nation of you-- because you are robbing me.”
That’s a strong word – rob, cheat, to take what is not yours. Everything we have is God’s so when we fail to be generous to him and others as he commanded, we are robbing him.
* But behind this is still the heart issue: Failure to give to the church is, at heart, a “love issue,” not a money issue.
Back in college, we were taught that people tend to give to things based more on emotional impact than on actual need. We give to what we care about, and if we don’t feel emotionally connected to God, we are less likely to give.
Q Does your giving demonstrate a heart filled with God’s love for you and your love for him?
ESAU I HAVE HATED...
Q Look at these symptoms of apathetic worship: How has failure to believe God loves you driven them in you?
Q Or is it simply lack of love for God?
Remember what I said about buying a Valentine Day card during the hard times? Like you, I have been there. I joked about finding generic card, but that isn’t really what I did:
* I honestly acknowledge the struggles, but built on the past and looked to the future.
Which is exactly what God does:
Malachi 1:2-3 2 “I have loved you,” says the LORD. “But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’ “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” the LORD says. “Yet I have loved Jacob, 3 but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.”
We feel awkward reading “Esau I have hated,” but the point is this: You are still here – that is evidence that I love you, your past and my special care for you are evidence of my love for you.
* God is reminding them of their past – he called them, set them apart, freed from Egypt, and on and on and on.
Then at the end of the book, reminds them of their future, the coming of the Messiah, the greatest proof of God’s love.
For them it was a distant promise, fulfilled in Jesus. He came and purified Israel, he refined them, he removed the sacrifices and offered himself. He brought the Spirit that changes us from the inside out.
* For them, this was a promise, their future. For us, it is part of our history, as much as the exodus or giving of manna.
The gift of Jesus is the greatest evidence of God’s love
Like in Malachi, just like the Valentine’s Day card, God would remind us of his love by look at our past: Our personal exodus from our sin and the gift of his Spirit, and joy, love, peace.
And God points us to our future – I have given everything for you, and am doing everything to bring you home. Everything I can do to show you my love I have done.
* Come now and rest in God’s love, and from there love him in return and obey him with a full heart.