Worship Appropriately

Explore the Bible Series

August 26, 2007

 

Background Passage: Malachi 2:17-4:6

Lesson Passage: Malachi 3:1-5, 8-10, 16-18

 

Introduction: Malachi 2:17 expresses one of the central themes of the book, “You have wearied me with your words.”  God had grown weary of the complaining, excuse-making dialog among the Jews, and; yet again, Jehovah challenged Judah by throwing her words back in her face.  As before, Judah seemed startled at the Lord’s offense, “How have we wearied him?”  The people had lost their spiritual discernment, and their callousness rendered them oblivious to the things of the Lord.  Their plea of ignorance, however, was met with a clear, decisive answer.  In effect, the people of Judah accused God of injustice.  God, they claimed, delighted in evil, and, according to their logic, there was no justice in the land.

 

Much of the Book of Malachi centers on this acidic dialog between God and his people.  They considered, in their hearts, an aberrant theology, and, as always, their errant theology finally made its way to their mouths.  Earlier in this treatise the people had questioned the love of God (1:2); now, however, they accuse God of injustice. At some level, these seem contradictory indictments against God.  On the one hand they accuse Jehovah of an unloving hardness toward them; then, they charge him with overindulgence of the wicked.  Amazingly, Jehovah evidenced great patience with his recalcitrant people by answering their indictments (we will encounter two other examples of this patience in Chapter Three). 

 

As Malachi observed, the final challenge Judah aimed at God related, again, to God’s justice (See 3:13f).  Jehovah observed their hard words against him, but, as before, they feigned ignorance of their transgression.  The adamant hearts issued in hard words. Furthermore, they had a “profit”  model for the service of God; that is, they worshipped God to attain some desired end.  If that end did not materialize, they surmised that it just didn’t pay to serve the Lord.  Our lesson passage for this week challenges that model.  Men and women should worship God because of their apprehension of his worthiness of the creature’s adoration.  That understanding must serve as the bedrock motive for all Christian worship and service.

 

Above all, Malachi called the Jews back to the true worship of God, a worship that proved impossible in the bitter disillusionment that characterized Judah at this point.  Worship, as depicted in Malachi, is not a matter of adopting a certain style of music or following some liturgical tradition.  Instead, worship issues from the heart,  the heart moved by some apprehension of the truth about the character of God.  One may be an informed theologian and miss the heart of worship, but one cannot properly worship God if the heart is disengaged from sound understanding of the character of Jehovah. 

 

 

Outline of the Lesson Passage:

 

I.                   Judah’s Indictment Concerning God’s Justice (2:17-3:5): As stated earlier, Judah made a horrible accusation against the Lord.  In their minds, God had treated them unjustly, and they were, therefore, justified in their disregard for integrity of worship (offering infirmed animals, failing to tithe, etc.). God offered the following defense to their accusation (Again, I find God’s patience remarkable, at this point).

A.    The promise of the two messengers (v. 1): In answer to Judah’s accusation, God promised that he would send two messengers.  The first messenger, the prophet predicted, would prepare the way for the second. Malachi referred to the second herald as “the messenger of the covenant.”  It appears that this text predicted the preparatory ministry of John the Baptist and the coming of the Messiah.

B.     The ministry of the messenger of the covenant (vv. 2-5):  Remember that this passage refutes the accusation of the Jews concerning God’s justice.

1.      He will purify Judah and refine the tribe of Levi like the fire of the metallurgist and the soap of the fuller. This purification will produce acceptable worship to the Lord.

2.      He will draw near to bring judgment on the sorcerers, adulterers, false witnesses, oppressors of the poor, and those who do not fear the Lord. 

 

II.                God’s Accusation Concerning Judah’s Theft of Tithes and Offerings (3:6-15)

A.    The Lord’s gracious patience with Judah (vv. 6-7): Judah had confused God’s patience with his indifference to sin.  The Lord assured Judah that he had always exercised patience with their fathers, and he invited her to return to him. The Jews, however, asked, “How shall we return?”

B.     Judah’s theft of the tithe (vv. 8-15): At least one thing stood between Judah and the Lord. The Jews refused to honor the tithe, the giving of ten percent to God.  The tithe predated the Mosaic Law and was codified after the Exodus (See Leviticus 27:30; Numbers 18:26; Deuteronomy 14:22-29).  The first and best belong to the Lord; yet, the people did not bring their tithes into the storehouse.  They consumed what did not belong to them.  The prophet called the Jews to bring the tithes to the Lord, and see if the Lord would not provide for their needs.  Jehovah promised to open the windows of heaven and make Judah the envy of the nations.

C.     A final observation on the justice of God (vv. 16-18): Righteous men needn’t worry about the justice of God.  Those who fear the Lord will be gathered to the Lord as a treasured possession.  Eventually, all men will see the distinction God makes between the wicked and the righteous.

 

III.             The Great Day of the Lord (4:1-6); Malachi concluded his prophecy with a reminder of the great and terrible Day of the Lord. 

A.    The fate of the wicked (v. 1): The wicked will be consumed like fire devours dry stubble, leaving neither root nor branch. 

B.     The blessedness of those who fear the Lord (vv. 2-3): The sun of righteousness, a Messianic reference, will rise with healing in his wings. The righteous will experience great joy and will tread upon their enemies like a man walks over ashes. 

C.     A final promise of the forerunner (vv. 4-6): Malachi called the people to careful obedience to the Law of Moses as they awaited the coming of the forerunner to the Messiah. Before the day of the Lord, God promised to usher in the kingdom by sending a man in the spirit of Elijah.

 

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.      Does the New Testament teach proportionate giving?  If so, what application does the Old Testament teaching on the tithe have for Christians?

2.      How does God vindicate his justice in these two chapters?

3.      Why does this passage emphasize the coming Day of the Lord and the ministry of the John the Baptist? What did John’s ministry foreshadow?