Worthy worship - Malachi 1:6-14

This is a sermon by Malcolm Peters from the Riverside Church service on 27th January 2008.

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Let me tell you about a Mission Partner I know about.  Not a St John’s one, so there’s not point in trying to guess who it is.  Now this Mission partner and his family are funded entirely by their supporting churches.  And occasionally they receive packages of second hand clothes.  And gratefully received that are.  But one package contained a shirt;  a frayed shirts with holes in but no buttons.  And attached to the shirt was a note which read:  ‘sorry about the buttons;  we took them off in case we needed them for something else’. 

Shocking isn’t it.  But that’s exactly the kind of attitude to giving that God was exposing in the people of Malachi’s day.  So if you’re not already there, please turn back with me to Mal 1 on p[ 891/         ]  and look at the middle of v6:

Mal 1:6c:  “It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name.   "But you ask, 'How have we shown contempt for your name?' “

When the priests' sin is exposed, they don’t even recognise it:  I’ve done nothing wrong.  And I’m going to fight to clear my name.  Whatever it was they’d been doing, these priests had done it so often that their consciences had gone numb.  And that’s when sin becomes really dangerous.    When a sin becomes so ingrained & habitual, even when God speaks into to situation, people aren’t listening.    It’s almost like they’re deaf when God speaks on certain subjects.   




Recap of Background

And if you were here last week, then you’ll remember that’s exactly what had happened to God’s people at the time of Malachi.   Look back to 1:2

Mal 1:2   I have loved you," says the LORD.   "But you ask, 'How have you loved us?'

Not just a few individuals, but corporately, the people of God were doubting God’s love for them.  Why?    They no longer believed God’s word.  If you remember from last week, it was about 100 years since God had brought them back from exile.  100 years since they’d rebuilt the temple in obedience to God’s word through the prophet Haggai.    100 years since God had promised through Haggai a new world order;  a new world order of power, justice and peace for God’s people. 

But the reality at the end of the 5C BC was very different.  The exile was over.  But Jerusalem and surrounding borough of Israel was still a mess.  And so God’s people doubted His love for them.  So in v1-5, we saw God reminding His people that He did love them, always had and always would.    

1.   The church’s worship had become corrupt (v6-8 & 12-14a)

But having started with the positive, in today’s passage, God moves onto an issue that needs addressing.    Their worship.  Because, the main point of today’s passage in v6-8 & 12-14 is that the church’s worship had become corrupt.   So let’s look at v6:

  6 "A son honours his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honour due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?" says the LORD Almighty. "It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name.

Now the stuff about sons and servants is just an illustration that helps his main point.  In that culture it would have been taken as totally for granted that sons respected and obeyed their fathers;  by definition, servants or slaves obeyed and respected their masters.    So perhaps for us, a better illustration would be the Queen:  unless you’re a rabid republican, which after our FS a couple of weeks ago, I hasten to add I’m not;  what would the vast majority of people in this country do if the Queen came into church this morning.    You’d bow or courtesy and show her the respect and honour she deserves because she’s our queen.  And rightly so.

And if that’s the case with a human Monarch, how much more should that be for the Lord Almighty, as He’s called throughout this passage;  The word translated respect in v3 is sometimes translated fear;  fear in the sense of reverence and awe.  When you know who He is, you don’t mess with the Lord almighty:  no you fear the Lord;  you show Him honour and respect.    It goes without saying for God’s people.

Or at least it should do.  But God’s people in this case seemed to have more respect for Rogue traders than for the Lord Almighty. 

"It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name.

But they were so blind to their own sins, that couldn’t see it. 

 "But you ask, 'How have we shown contempt for your name?'

So The Lord Almighty spells it out for them:

7 "You place defiled food on my altar.

So did they get it now?   Well look on in v7:

 "But you ask, 'How have we defiled you?'

Now we’ll come back to exactly what they were doing in a minute.  But the main point is that they weren’t worshipping in church according to the pattern God had given them.    They were placing dodgy sacrifices on God’s altar.    But before we look at what God has to say about their worship, notice that they’d at least got one thing right.  Did you spot it?      They’d recognised that not worshipping God properly, not giving God acceptable sacrifices, that would be dishonouring or defiling God himself.    You can’t worship God in any old way you choose.  If you’re not worshipping God according to the pattern He’s laid down, then you’re not honouring God;  in fact, you’re dishonouring Him.  And God’s people in Malachi’s day had at least got that bit right.  Because when they’re accused of offering God corrupt worship, they respond by saying:  how have we dishonoured the Lord:  in what way are we not worshipping you properly.  We don’t understand the accusation against us.

And so in the rest of v7& 8 and in v12-14, God shows them how their worship had become corrupt.  And to understand the background to this we need to remind ourselves of the correct pattern of OT worship.    OT worship was centred around the Temple in Jerusalem and the daily, weekly and annual patterns of animal and other sacrifices on the Temple Altar.    Now there were lots of different kinds of sacrifices, but they boiled down to 3 types: first then, sacrifices that dealt with sins;  animals would be scarified on the altar in the place of God’s people with the sins of God’s people being symbolically transferred onto the animal:  the lamb of God who takes away the sins of God’s people.  Sacrifices for sin;  but secondly sacrifices of thanksgiving – if you want to give an expression of thanks to God, you could bring a special type of sacrifice laid down in the OT  And finally, sacrifices of entreaty:   sacrifices that accompanied prayer for God’s special favour.   So for example, if you were unable to have children, as well as praying about it, you might offer God a special sacrifice, again in the way laid down in the OT.  Different sacrifices for difference purposes, but there was a common threat to all these sacrifices:

Any sacrifice to the Lord was meant to be from the first fruits;  from the best you had, pure animals with no defeats, not the scraps left over at the end of the week or month.    And God has specifically said that they were not to bring anything with a defect, because it would not be accepted.  “Do not offer to the LORD the blind, the injured or the maimed, or anything with warts or festering or running sores.” They were told in the book of Lev. 

If you’ve got the queen coming dinner, you wouldn’t offer her a Lamb stew made with maggot ridden Tesco Value meat that went out of date 2 months ago.  But that’s exactly what God’s people were doing in Malachi’s day.  And the Priests were going along with it.  They knew what the OT said in theory about what kind of sacrifices were acceptable to the Lord.  But they’d become accustomed to ignoring it.  And so by their inaction they encouraged the people in unacceptable worship.   Look at v8:

8 When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong?   [literally is that not evil’  When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong [or again literally evil]?

Because anything openly contrary to God’s revealed Word is not just a bit off, like the dodgy meat.  Not it’s evil.    Of the devil that is.

 And it’s the same picture in v12-14.  Let’s pick it up half way through v13:

"When you bring injured, crippled or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?" says the LORD.

And the implication is of course no.  They should have known that, but God was spelling it out for them. 

But actually it’s worse that just dodgy unacceptable sacrifices.  Look back to v12 where the Lord says:

12 "But you profane [my name] by saying of the Lord's table, 'It is defiled,' and of its food, 'It is contemptible.' 13 And you say, 'What a burden!' and you sniff at it contemptuously," says the LORD Almighty.

As always, the way they were behaving reveals their inner heart.    What they were bringing as offering to the Lord spoke volumes about what they really thought about God.  They were going through the motions of worship as laid down in the OT.  They were going to church;  coming to the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem that is.  They were bringing their offerings – their various sacrifices that is.    They were singing the hymns, reciting the creed and saying Amen to all the prayers.    And yet behind the façade, in the back of the minds they were thinking:  what a fag:  how long is he going to preaching for;  what’s for lunch;  O I wish I hadn't come this morning, I’ve just go so many other things on at the moment;    O I hate this hymn, we only had it 3 weeks ago. 

And God sees through the façade.  Look at v13:

13 And you say, 'What a burden!' and you sniff at it contemptuously," says the LORD Almighty.

The word sniff here is literally a short puffing out from the nose:  like a horse snorting when it’s got sniffed something unpleasant.  It’s what my mother used to call the nasty smell under the nose look when she came across someone being snobby about something.   Hughhh;  all this God stuff in church, it’s such a bore;  why do I bother.   Even if you don’t say these actual words, what you do reveals how you really think.  And God sees everything about us.  Just like he did with the people in Malachi’s day.

Now of course, under the New Covenant, we no longer have a Temple or animal sacrifices;  Jesus was the once for all sacrifice who given up on the cross for the sins of all God’s people for all time, so we no longer need any more sacrifices for sin.    And the pattern of worship in the NT is no longer centred on a single place;  under the new covenant, God’s people can worship God anyway at any time.    But we still have a pattern laid down for us in the NT about how are to structure our times of corporate worship;    And that pattern includes being devoted to the Apostles’ teaching, to teaching the Bible that is, to genuine fellowship with each other, before, during and after the service that is, to prayer, to celebrating communion as a means of remembering  what the Lord did for us on the cross, and to singing Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs as expression of praise, thanksgiving or prayers to God.  For the NT church there is a pattern of corporate worship that must follow in our church services.  Difference Christians may choose to implement that pattern in different way:  we don’t all sing the same hymns as each other;  Bible teaching can be packaged in difference ways depending on the type of congregation or service.  But there is a basic pattern.    But however we implement that pattern, we must do it in an honourable way.   

And so the question is, are we dishonouring God by defiling our times of corporate worship here in church.  If you read the lessons, do you go through it in advance so you can read it well in church in a God-honouring way. 

If you lead the intercessions, do you think carefully about what you should be praying for and how you need to express it?  I’m not saying we all need to write out our prayers in full scrip, but a couple of thoughts on the back of a fag pack on the way into church is not honouring.  If  you’re in the music group] do you rehearse and come prepare to help lead God’s people as we worship in song:  or are you just playing the old turn again while your mind is elsewhere. ]

If you’re on one of the many rotas, like [set-up, welcome or the flower rota, refreshments], are you serving the Lord in those ways with a right attitudes, or are you secretly saying:  O it’s not my turn again is it.  I did it last week?   I’ll just get by a do a bodge job this week.   

8 When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong?   [literally is that not evil’  When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong [or again literally evil]?

But that God’s pattern of worship isn’t just for our corporate church services.  No, as NT believers, just as it was in the OT, there’s a pattern of worship for the whole of our lives.  And that pattern involves putting God first.  You shall have no other Gods before God said at the beginning of the 10 commandments.  Which means putting God first in every area of our lives.  Giving God the first fruits of your live and not the fag ends as the OT puts it. 

The Bible says that God’s people need to make a priority of reading their Bibles, praying to God and coming together regular for corporate worship.  But for many people who profess to be Christians, there are not top priorities.  Life’s too busy.  There’s work, the kids, the wider family, holidays, hobbies and so on.    And for those people, The Lord’s table is contemptible.    By the priorities they’ve chosen, they’re basically saying:  what a burden.  I’ve got too much on for church.    I haven’t possible got time to help out with any of the jobs that need doing. 

Now at this point, there’ll be 2 main types of  reaction going on in people’s minds.  Some people who are already doing too much and are OK with God at the moment, might be thinking:  right, I’d better sign up for another job in church  and double my giving.  And for some people, that might be completely the wrong thing.  Each and everyone one of us needs to examine ourselves honestly before God with a clear conscience.  For some people in the church, doing less in the church might be the godly response.  Because we can dishonour God by trying to do too much and end up doing none of it properly.  We can dishonour God by neglecting our other priorities such as our families if we do too much.

But others here this morning might be thinking of a hundred reasons why they’re justified in not serving the Lord whole-heartedly.   Because just like God’s people in Malachi’s day, when you’ve been making excuses for long enough, you can end up convincing yourself and become immune to the Word of the Lord. 

Practical service then.  But there’s another part of God’s right and proper pattern for worship.  And that the giving of our money.    Under the Old C, as well as brining animal sacrifices to the temple, God’s people were expected to give 10% of their income to the Lord.    And these tithes as they were known went to support the priests, to run the church and to help with social action, like looking after widows and orphans in the wider community. 

Now as we’ve seen, in the NT, the animal sacrifice have been replaced by J's death on the cross.  And the concept of tithing has also been abolished in the NT.  Not because 10% is now considered excessive.  No, because the Grace shown to us in Jesus is on a different league to the grace given to God’s people under the Old Covenant.  If we’re Christians, then we have complete assurance that our sins have been forgiven.  Our place in the heavenly New Creation is guaranteed;  no doubt about it;  and all because the Lord Jesus died in our place taking the punishment we deserved so that we could be forgiven.  Amazing graces, as John Newton puts it in his classic hymn.

And so under the New Covenant, our response of gratitude to the Lord is no longer meant to be constrained by the 10% target in the OT.   So let me tell you about a Christian friend of mine who works back in London.  I don’t know the exact figures, but he earns a lot of money.  But along with a group of other Christians high-earners, they decided how much they needed to live on, how much they should be giving to support their local churches, and they the rest of their income goes into a Charitable Trust to fund Gospel work around the country.  Astonishing generosity, and well in excess of 10%. 

It’s in a different league isn’t it to the person who gave that Mission Partner a worn-out shirt with no buttons.  Worthy worship.  Or the fag end of worship.  Proper funding of the church and its work, or a jumble-sale approach to church finances. 

As John was explaining to us earlier in our budget presentation, this year we need about £21K to run  Riverside church this year; and that’s just to stand still.  Yes overall as a church we did well last year and more than met our budget. Yes the Lord is blessing us with growth.  But the problem with growth is that it needs to be funded.  And often the church’s income and giving lag way behind its needs at the front end.  In Riverside’s case, it’s currently lagging behind by about £10K.

Now for some people, giving 10% of their income would be unaffordable and irresponsible.  And some people might already be giving very generously.  I don’t know and don’t want to know who's giving what.  But there might be some who could give more, and maybe a lot more.

If we give only what we can afford with no impact on our lifestyle, then we’re giving God the fag end.   We’re brining blind animals and shirts without buttons.  As the godly Kings David put it in our second reading:

2 Sam 24: 24 “I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing."

A sacrifice by definition is sacrificial.  And if our offerings to God aren’t sacrificial, then they’re not sacrifices.  They’re insults.  Offensive to God in fact.  So offensive, that God would rather do without.    As he puts it in v10:  God would rather the church closed its doors than struggle on being funded by begrudging half hearted fag-end offerings.  And that’s exactly what’s happening up and down the country.  Churches are closing because they can’t or won’t pay their way.   

2.       The Lord will be Worshipped properly by His true People (v9-11)

And that bring us on the second and much briefer point in v9-11.  The Lord will be worshipped by His true people.    Look with me at v10:

10 "Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you," says the LORD Almighty, "and I will accept no offering from your hands. 11 My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations," says the LORD Almighty.

The Old covenant people of God were disobeying their Lord.  And God wasn’t pleased with them.  And so God was looking forward to a time when His people would come from the east and the west, from the north and the south.  From all nations that is.    God was looking forward to a time when His people wouldn’t just be Jews in Israel;  no, since the coming of Jesus, God’s people are no longer defined by race, but by faith in God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. 

“my name will be great among the nations," says the LORD Almighty.

And so the point is that the Lord’s people are not necessarily those who were born into the church or who even profess to be Christians.    No the Lord’s true people are those who have faith in JC and who demonstrate the reality of that faith by their worthy worship.    And if professing Christians carry on dishonouring the Lord they profess, he will expose their hypocrisy and take away their blessings and give it to others, perhaps to new believers who are honouring their Lord with their lives as well as their lips.  And if whole local churches dishonour their Lord with unworthy worship, then the Lord will close them down and raise up new churches that will cause His name to be great among their communities. 

And so the question for us to reflect on as we close is this:  as individuals and corporately as a church, how’s our worship?  Is it worthy of the Lord we profess?  Or is it contemptible, defiled and offensive to God.  Are we giving God the first fruits of our lives, or the fag ends;  shirts without buttons with attitude that stinks of diseased animals. 

Well before we close in prayer let’s reflect on one final warning from v14: 

14 "Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord.

The Lord’s not looking for an immediate emotional response.   If you feel the Lord’s been speaking to you this morning, then be careful about making promised to the Lord in the heat of the moment – vows that you can’t live up to in the cold light of day.  Better to take home a giving pack, reflect on what God’s been saying and calmly and prayerfully consider what your response should be;  your financial response but more broadly the response of the whole of your life.  Whether you be signing up for more a job in the church or indeed cutting back.    But whatever you do, make sure you do it in a way that’s honouring to the Lord.  Let’s pray.

Closing Prayer

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for showing us the correct pattern of worship in your Word, the Bible.  And forgive us when we worship you in an unworthy way.   Help us to honour you with the whole of our lives and throughout our times of corporate worship.  And finally, Lord of Hosts, help our giving to glorify your names and meet the needs of your church here in Riverside.  Amen.

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