Genuine Worship

When is the last time you read through Malachi, the short book at the end of the Old Testament? If it has been a while, or if you have not pondered what Malachi’s prophecy is really all about and how it applies to Christians today as well, let me encourage you to read it, meditate on it and examine your heart and life in its light. I trust that this will serve as an introduction to what Malachi is getting at in those four chapters.

Malachi begins with an emphasis on the greatness of God as seen in His love for His people. The people, however, question that love. When God says, in verse 2, “I have loved you,” that indicates that He had loved them in the past and He still loved them now. The people, incredibly, asked, “How have you loved us?” When the Israelites questioned His love for them, God reminded them that He chose their forefather Jacob and his descendants–not Esau and his descendants–to be His servant-people. The Israelites’ faith, however, had given way to doubt and skepticism. They were ignoring God’s commands. They were neglecting worship or they were offering unacceptable sacrifices when they did go to the temple.

Now let me ask you, how often do we question God’s love today when we face hardships? This is the “what have you done for me lately?” attitude.

The priests were the first to be accused of abandoning God. God said, through Malachi, that they despised His name. They did not give Him the respect He deserved. They did not even act in the way that a good child or servant would act toward a father or master. A faithful son honors his father, but the priests were not honoring their heavenly Father. A faithful servant has reverent respect for his master, but the priests despised the name of the Lord.

Beginning in verse 7, God points to the defiled food they were offering on the altar to Him—-food they never would have offered their governor. These actions reveal an attitude of contempt toward God and they dishonor His greatness and holiness. By bringing lame, blind and sick animals to the priests to be offered to God, the people were revealing exactly how much God mattered to them. In Leviticus 22, God declared that the sacrificial animals were to be perfect, not sick or deficient in any way. Yet the people were bringing inferior animals—-the ones that were leftover or rejected and for which they had no other use-—and thinking that would be sufficient. Really this is mocking God! And the priests were just as bad, because they had the nerve to ask for God’s favor on those sacrifices!

What are we expressing about our love for God if we do not give Him our best? Sadly, many who profess Christianity today are the same way. They give God their leftovers-—whatever is easy or convenient or painless or superfluous. After all of their bills are paid and they have done all the things they want to do, if there is some money left over they might give God some. If there is nothing else going on on Sunday morning that they would rather do they might go to church. This is not what God deserves, expects or requires. Instead, we are to honor God and His greatness by offering Him the very best of our time, energy, talent, service and resources. The quality of our offerings will reveal the intent of our heart, and that is what God cares about and wants-—our hearts. God does not need our money, our time, our talents or anything else we could possibly give Him. And God is not really concerned with the quantity of our gifts. This is what Jesus was teaching His followers in the case of the widow’s mite.

In Luke 21:1-4, Jesus said, “these”—-the rich, who were putting in exponentially more money than the widow put in-—were giving out of their abundance. In other words, what they were giving did not cost them anything. There was no sacrifice involved. The widow, on the other hand, gave all that she had, which demonstrates two important things. First, her love for God exceeded everything else in her life; He was the most important thing to her. Second, she trusted that God would provide for her needs. Too often our temptation is to think of the expenses we have, all the things we need to do, and rationalize that if we give God a tithe, or more, then we will not have what we need to meet our obligations. The widow demonstrated that she trusted God. Now does this mean that we should all give everything that we have to the Lord? When I get my next paycheck should I sign the entire thing over to the church? No. There is such a thing as being foolish and prevailing upon God—-testing Him, really—-and that is a sin, too.

In Malachi 1:12, after declaring that His name would be exalted in the sacrifices of sincere believers in the future, God told the Israelites that they were profaning His name through their attitudes toward the required temple sacrifices. To profane something means to treat it as insignificant. God is holy; to treat Him as insignificant demonstrates contempt and extreme arrogance. The people were scorning the sacrifices, treating them as contemptible. They did not see any need to follow God’s instructions or to bring anything special for their offerings. They believed that offering any animal was fine as long as they offered one. They went beyond that, though, and even expressed doubts about the validity or need for the entire sacrificial system. The people either no longer believed in the system or they were so far from God that they did not even care. When God said to them that they were treating the process as a nuisance He uses a word that basically meant “a whole lot of trouble for nothing.” The people were just going through the motions; they had no conviction about what they were doing. Their heart was not in it. They were completing an activity purely out of habit. It was an empty ritual to them.

This will probably remind you of Genesis 4 when Cain and Abel brought their sacrifices to God. Abel brought what God required. Cain, however, did his own thing, thinking that should be good enough. It tells us that for Cain’s offering God had no regard, and that should be a lesson to us, as well.

Now in chapter 2, verses 1-9, God announced that He was turning from the people and bringing His curse on them. Not only were the people mocking God through their sacrifices, they were not honoring Him in their lives. They were marrying pagan wives and husbands who worshiped idols. Verse 1 reveals that the priests’ actions demonstrated contempt for God, for His temple and the entire sacrificial system. So God says, in verse 2, that He is going to curse them. Verse 8 tells us that they had turned away from God and what He had prescribed for them. We addressed much of this already in chapter 1. Now in verses 10-12, Malachi turns from addressing the priests to addressing the people. God called them to live honorable lives, fulfilling obligations to one another-—especially in their marriage relationships. The ESV uses the word “faithlessly” in verses 10 and following but the KJV and HCSB and some others use the word “treacherously.” That word occurs five times on verses 10-16 and its root meaning is “to cover” or “to act covertly.” The idea is acting falsely or deceitfully and trying to get away with it.

Verse 11 tells us that a detestable thing has been done. That is a strong word, meaning disgusting or loathsome. What had the people done? They had profaned the sanctuary of God by marrying daughters of a foreign God who worshiped pagan deities. When they came into the temple their presence defiled the temple. They were unclean. Even some of the priests were marrying unbelievers according to Ezra 9. Early in their history the Israelites had been instructed to marry within their own nation of worshipers because God wanted them to be uniquely His, not worshiping any other gods. God, through Malachi, was condemning marriages of Jews to idolaters or those outside of the Jewish faith, and the reason was purely to maintain religious purity. This had nothing to do with race or nationality. This was all about the relationship with God. This is akin to the New Testament instruction in 2 Corinthians 6 not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers. This is an important reminder of the necessity in choosing carefully ones spouse and of living a faithful and committed marriage. Later in this chapter it talks about husbands who were divorcing their wives so they could marry younger, pagan wives.

In an earlier post I addressed the topic of integrity in worship. That is the same thing here. God is telling the people that they cannot say they love Him and worship or live the way they are living. James 2:14 asks what good it is to say we have faith if we do not have works that demonstrate that faith. That is what Malachi is getting at here. The people of Jerusalem may have said they had faith, but they were not living it out. Their worship was ritualistic and hollow. Their lives were not demonstrating a sincere faith or even that they cared about how God wanted them to live. God is not interested in our professions. Neither is He interested in our hollow “acts of worship.” What He is interested in, what He wants, is our hearts. When our hearts are right with Him, our worship will automatically result. A heart that is right with God cannot help but worship Him.