Presented at Trinity Fellowship on 05/18/1997
Malachi 1:6 “A son honors his father and a servant his master. Then if I am a father, where is my respect?” says the Lord of Hosts to you, “oh priests who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised thy name?’ 7 You are presenting defiled food on my altar. But you say, ‘How have we despised thee?’ In that you say, ‘The table of the Lord is to be despised.’ 8 But when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil? Why not offer it to your governor? Would he be pleased with you? Or would he receive you kindly?” says the Lord of Hosts. 9 “But now will you not entreat God’s favor that he may be gracious to us? With such an offering on your part, will he receive any of you kindly?” says the Lord of Hosts. 10 “Oh that there were one among you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle fire upon my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord of Hosts, “nor will I accept an offering from you. 11 For from the rising of the sun even to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense is going to be offered to my name, and a grain offering that is pure; for my name will be great among the nations,” says the Lord of Hosts. 12 “But you are profaning it, in that you say, ‘The table of the Lord is defiled, and as for its fruit, its food is to be despised.’ 13 You also say, ‘My, how tiresome it is!’ And you disdainfully sniff at it,” says the Lord of Hosts, “and you bring what was taken by robbery and what is lame or sick. So you bring the offering! Should I receive that from your hand?” says the Lord. 14 “But cursed by the swindler who has a male in his flock and vows it, but sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord, for I am a great king,” says the Lord of Hosts, “and my name is feared among the nations.”
We saw last week that Malachi prophesied in a time of spiritual apathy and cynicism. The Temple had been rebuilt, but contrary to expectations, this had not caused the Messiah and the Kingdom to come. So the people had become disillusioned with God’s promises and forgot the evidence of his love. They had fallen into blasé patterns of worship and devotion that they were not even aware of, as Malachi reflects back to them what they were actually thinking, what they were showing by their actions, not what they were saying out loud. Surely we have here an eerily accurate picture of lukewarm Christianity in our own time! So today I want to begin an analysis of the specific abuses that flowed from their lukewarm condition and see if we can spot the counterparts in our own lives.
The Lord exposes two symptoms of spiritual hypocrisy in the worship of the people, despite the fact that they thought they were good practicing Jews. The first is cheap sacrifices (vss. 8-9). “Hey, how are we despising your altar?” they ask in offended innocence. Well, just compare the offerings they were bringing with the ones required, both by the very nature of the One they were worshipping and by specific legislation in the Old Testament Law:
Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons and to all the sons of Israel, and say to them, ‘Any man of the house of Israel or the aliens in Israel who presents his offering, . . . for you to be accepted, it must be a male without defect from the cattle, the sheep, or the goats. Whatever has a defect, you shall not offer it, for it will not be accepted for you. And when a man offers a sacrifice of peace offerings to the Lord to fulfill a vow or for a freewill offering, of the herd or the flock, it must be perfect to be accepted; there shall be no defect in it. Those that are blind or fractured or maimed of have a running sore or eczema or scabs, you shall not offer to the Lord, nor shall you make of them an offering by fire on the altar to the Lord” (Lev. 22:17-22).
Why was it so important that the sacrifice be an unblemished male of the flock? For at least two reasons. First, the Old Testament sacrifices were a type of Christ, pointing forward to the greater Sacrifice he would make on the Cross. If Christ were to be represented by anything less than perfection, the ultimate message of the whole sacrificial system would be undercut. And second, we are making these offerings to God. As such, they not only represent Jesus, they also represent the heart attitude of the giver. What does it say if we offer to God anything less than the best that we have? David, that man after God’s own heart, shows us the proper attitude. When Aranuah the Jebusite offered to give him his threshing floor free of charge as a site for an altar for sacrifice, David insisted on paying him for it, explaining, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing” (2 Sam. 14:24). That was far from the mentality of the people of Malachi’s day. “Hey, what about that lame, blind, half-dead sheep over there? Let’s sacrifice him. He’s probably going to die anyway.” Efficient, eh? And yet they could ask, “How are we despising your altar?” It reminds me of the little girl who wanted a can of food to take to Sunday School for the food drive. “Why don’t we give them this can of those butter beans you dislike so much?” suggested her mother. “Oh no,” the girl protested, “then the poor people would be helping us.” Out of the mouth of babes. So what did you bring today? “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing?” Or a lame, blind, half dead sheep?
Are we guilty of cheap offerings today? Hmmm. Have you ever given money, not because you love the Lord and his work, but to get a tax break? (I’m not opposed to taking advantage of those tax breaks; but what is our motivation?) Would that be a lame, blind, half dead sheep? Have you ever come to church sleepy and unprepared for worship rather than at your best? Lame, blind, half dead sheep. Have you as a student ever prepared a sloppy, half-done assignment for school just to get by? Lame, blind, half dead sheep. Do you ever hurry through your devotions just to say you have done it? Lame, blind, half dead sheep. Do you give the Lord your left over time, money, etc., after you have satisfied all your own desires? Lame, blind, half dead sheep. Am I wrong?
But there is a second symptom of spiritual hypocrisy that we see in Malachi’s people: hurried worship. “You also say, ‘My, how tiresome it is!’” (vs. 13a). Is the temple service over yet? They are checking their sundials. People can spend all day at the lake; they can spend hours at a game, and if it goes into overtime it doesn’t bother them a bit. Why, that’s a bonus! And there is nothing wrong with that. But let the sermon last five or ten minutes longer than they expected! If the Lord Jesus Christ was talking to you, would you be looking at your watch? Do you think he does not see your hypocrisy? Do you think he is pleased with it?
The cure for this spiritual hypocrisy is so radical that I am afraid there are very few of us with the guts required to carry it out. I’m not sure if I have enough myself. It is found in verse 10. “Oh that there were one among you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle fire upon my altar!” Do you hear what he is saying? God looks at a church that is just going through the motions and he says, “I wish someone would have the honesty to call this what it is and the courage to just put a padlock on the door and shut the whole thing down!” Having said this, are we surprised when we turn to Revelation and discover that he has strong feelings about lukewarmness? Would that you were hot or cold! Because you are lukewarm, I feel like spewing you out of my mouth! God has more respect for honest unbelief than spiritual pretense. So the cure for this kind of spiritual hypocrisy starts with having the courage to be honest about it, to stop pretending. If all you can do is just go through the motions and tell yourself that you are spiritually OK, God wants you to stop. Quit. Cut it out. Cease and desist. If that’s all you can do, he would rather have nothing from you!
We must make a careful distinction here. Spiritual hypocrisy is not the same thing as spiritual dryness. God is not necessarily telling you to leave if you don’t seem to be getting anything out of the service, if you are unmoved. The question is, why are you unmoved? Everyone goes through times of emotional dryness when God feels distant or does not seem to be responding to us. But we are still seeking him, even if it is only with a mustard seed faith. That is a very different thing from being satisfied to go through the motions. In the case of spiritual dryness, we hold on, we remain faithful, and we wait for God’s blessing, even as Jacob did when he wrestled with the angel if necessary. But if your problem is not spiritual dryness but spiritual hypocrisy, the first step to a cure is to stop the charade.
Why is this so? Because once you face yourself honestly, you just might be able to see God afresh too. Look what comes right after verse 10. “For from the rising of the sun even to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense is going to be offered to my name, and a grain offering that is pure; for my name will be great among the nations,” says the Lord of Hosts (vs. 11). The true worship of God is a glorious thing into which you are invited. But you will never be a part of that as long as you are satisfied with offering lame, blind, half dead sheep. So if you don’t want to do the real thing, then leave! Go on. God doesn’t need you. He can raise up worshippers from stones, indeed from sinners as stony and hard of heart as you are. And those hearts will be crushed to be reformed around joy inexpressible and full of glory. But you will miss out on it if you do not repent. You will miss out on the most stupendous thing in all of human history, the fulfillment of God’s eternal purpose to bring salvation and shalom to the nations.
So what is important to you? Power? Fame? Wealth? Experience? The day is coming when all of that will be worth nothing, and the name of the Lord will be recognized as the only truly great thing, the one thing worth knowing and having and sharing. Worship means that you are being offered the opportunity to be the first kid on your block to have that! You can start right now. If you aren’t interested, don’t pretend you are. Pretending that you are is the best way to insure that you never will be, that you will be left out forever. Go ahead and try the other stuff; see if it satisfies. We’ll be here when you get back—maybe. But if you just keep pretending, neither of us will be getting anywhere. Can you believe a preacher is saying this? I almost can’t believe it either. But what else is the Lord telling us in verse 10? I have to be faithful to that.
What then should we do in response to such a radical exhortation? Surely the first thing is to seriously examine ourselves. It is clear that the people to whom Malachi was sent were completely unaware of their own hypocrisy—though when he compared their words to their actions it was as plain as the noses on their faces. Stop then and think about your own motives for your own actions. Would you even treat men—like, say, the governor—the way you treat God? Then stop going through the motions—unless you really want the Lord. If you do, break out of your old routine. Shut the doors on it and don’t kindle useless fire any more! Be purposeful and intentional about your approach to worship, to Bible study, to prayer. Set goals for yourself in worship, study, prayer, giving, witnessing. Share them with a mature Christian friend who can pray for you, support you, encourage you, and hold you accountable. Socrates had the right idea when he said that the unexamined life was not worth living. Surely we are reading a classic portrait of the unexamined spiritual life in these verses! So keep asking yourself, “Why am I doing this?” Be scrupulously honest with God and yourself. The worst thing you can do is pretend to be more spiritual than you really are. But if you truly seek the Lord, he has promised that you will find him. “For from the rising of the sun even to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense is going to be offered to my name, and a grain offering that is pure; for my name will be great among the nations,” says the Lord of Hosts. To be a part of that is the greatest gift that can be imagined. And it comes only as a gift. Have you begun to see an inkling of it, a foretaste of the glory that Christ will share with all his disciples on that Day? Do not pretend to have received it if you have not! Before you can ever be filled you must be honestly empty. Do you dare to go there? It means admitting you are in verses 8 and 9 so that you can go through verse 10 to verse 11.
I’m afraid this is a spiritual journey that is just too frightening for most American Christians. Will we be different? If not, we might as well padlock the doors. For me and my house, we will be back next week hoping by God’s grace to receive a better fate than that. Will you join us? Then from the rising of the sun even to its setting, his name will be great among the nations. I can’t wait.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams