A study of Malachi 3
This Spring, we studied the following minor prophets, beginning with Nahum, then Zephaniah, Obadiah, Zechariah, Habakkuk, Haggai, and now Malachi. Many times, these Minor Prophets brought us a repetitive reminder:
- God is perfect.
- God is holy.
- God is awesome.
- We are flawed.
- We are rebellious.
- We deserve wrath.
- God gives us mercy.
God’s perfect justice demands wrath, but God’s perfect love prevails, and He gives us mercy through our savior Jesus Christ if we just accept it.
Repent, and seek the Lord. There. That’s pretty blunt. Any questions?
One of the things that crossed my mind during these minor prophet studies is how rebellious the Israelites were and how often God was patient with them over the centuries. Despite the stiff-necked ways of the Israelites, God remained faithful. God blessed, fortified, rebuked, disciplined, and demonstrated miracles to guide the Israelites in the ways that are holy and pure.
The book of Malachi was probably written about 420 BC, about the same time as Ezra and Nehemiah, but neither of those prophets mentioned Malachi, so it’s difficult to be sure. The Jews at the time attributed the book to Ezra, but within the next century, scholars had dropped Ezra’s name from the book. Some attribute it to Zerubabbel or Nehemiah, or to a relatively unknown Levite named Malachi. The form of the word, though, suggests the book was intended to be written anonymously. The word “Malachi” may not be a name but an adjective, meaning “one charged with a mission”. Malachi may have been simply an anonymous missionary to bring us a prophetic message.
II. God Sends Us a Savior, Malachi 3:1-5
We’re going to pick up where Libby left off last week in Malachi 3, so let’s turn there and read Malachi 3:1-5 –
“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.
Who are we talking about? This is the promise of the coming Messiah, a prophecy fulfilled by the life and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus, Emmanuel, who came to defeat death itself. This message, as we know it today, is cause for celebration, but for the Jews, it was cause for worry. Were they faithful enough? Were they pious enough? Were they Pharisee enough? God’s discipline on the Jewish people had been full of trials, and now God Himself was coming.
But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.
Purifying. Refining. The Lord will be like a refiner’s fire. The story goes that a silversmith first heats his furnace to the melting point of silver, about 1800 degrees F. I think that’s the setting I used on my oven the last time I tried to cook something. The silversmith holds the silver over the heat of the furnace so that all the impurities are burned away, but he has to hold it carefully because if it’s too hot, the silver oxides and is destroyed. So he watches carefully. And when he can see his reflection in the silver, then he knows it is pure.
God is our refiner, and He is watching us carefully. Our lives, if they are truly dedicated to Him, will be refined by the Lord to teach us to be holy and pure like silver. He holds us in many trials in our life to teach us to trust in Him. We learn what has everlasting value, and what is temporal, what is junk. And when God can see His reflection is us, then he knows his purification is complete.
Me, personally, I do not like this purification process. In my life, I’ve been through it more than once. I know once I’ve been refined, I am indeed closer to God, but there’s often pain along the way. CS Lewis described pain this way,
“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
So while I do not care for the refining process, I joyfully endure it again and again as it brings me closer to my Lord. And I say that with the utmost of trepidation and trembling, because this refining is for those of us in Christ. Back to Malachi 3, those that reject Christ are not refined, but judged –
“So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty.
It’s interesting to me how many times the bible says “do not fear” or “do not be afraid”. And how many times we *are* to be afraid. Proverbs 9:10 says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. But for those of us in Christ Jesus, we are to fear the Lord’s incredible might and majesty, but we are not to fear His judgment. God’s discipline is coming and will He will right all wrongs, correct every mistake, and that includes our own mistakes. Christians fear God now so they do not fear God at Judgement Day. For those opposed to God, they do not fear Him now, but one day they will.
III. Do Everything in Love, Malachi 3:6-12
God wants us to be authentic in all we think, say, and do. God is our refiner, and I thought about the qualities of the silver that the refiner is watching. Did you know that silver is a far better conductor than copper? It has lower resistance. If we used silver wire, we would have lower energy bills, we would have more efficient motors. We don’t use silver, though, because it is so must more expensive than copper.
I think we are to remember that God’s purified children are worth a great deal to God. If we want God to be able to work in us and through us, though, we have to stop being copper and learn to be silver. We need to lower our resistance so God can conduct more of the Holy Spirit through us. We do this by being more authentic. Let’s look now at Malachi 3:6-12 –
“I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.
“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’
“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.
“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’
“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe, says the Lord Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.
This is not “prosperity gospel;” tithing will not make you rich by the world’s standards. Tithing is one of our early lessons as God’s children; we are to give 10% of what we make to the Lord. But as we mature in Christ, we come to an understanding that far exceeds the value of our tithe. If we make $1000 and give God $100, does God need $100? Our majestic and all powerful omnipotent God who breathed the universe, time and space into existence, needs $100. God Himself does not need money, don’t be ridiculous.
So there is something else going on. As we tithe and the years go by, we start to see the meaning and the purpose. From a practical standpoint, money is fuel for God’s church. It supports our pastors and our missionaries and pays for the air conditioning. When we tithe, it shows our support for God’s work. But as time goes on, we realize that’s not what the tithe is, either.
During the next step of Christian maturity, we grow to understand that what we own actually doesn’t belong to us. Everything belongs to God, He is asking us to give only a part of what He has already given us. So the attitude changes – we no longer think of it as, “I made $1000, and God wants me to tithe 10%.” Instead, we think of it as, “God gave me $1000 to steward for Him. To whom much is given, much is expected. It is my duty, my honor, my pleasure to give back a portion of what God has given me.” And we come to realize that not only was it God that gave us the $1000, but God gave us… us. Our very hands to work, our very legs to walk, our very brains to think, the very air we breathe… all of it came from the Lord.
So if we say we are Christians but do not tithe, God says, “Why are you robbing me? All of earth, all of creation, belongs to me, yet the portion I have entrusted to you, you withhold from me. You know it belongs to me, but you will not give it to me.”
How much should we give? The Old Testament guidelines say 10% for the tithe plus other offerings. The New Testament is both more simple and more complex.
Matthew 6:19-21 –
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Mark 10:19-22, the Rich Young Ruler –
You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'” And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.
2 Corinthians 9:6-7 –
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
The Gospel, the Good News in the New Testament, is that we are free of the law. Christ died to set us free. So we are no longer compelled to “tithe plus” our 10% under the law. But God is sitting as a refiner to see if He can see His reflection in us. He wants us to have a heart that we can give everything we have cheerfully because we recognize it all belongs to Him.
So give nothing at all. You are free of the law.
Or give away everything you have. Give it cheerfully, knowing that treasures in heaven are worth far more than treasures on earth. In the end, it doesn’t matter. Give, and give cheerfully. God doesn’t need $100. But He died for you, and wants all that you are.
IV. Say Everything in Love, Malachi 3:13-15
“You have spoken arrogantly against me,” says the Lord.
“Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’
“You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty? But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it.'”
Remember that childhood saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?” Our parents give us this rhyme when we are children and we pass it along to our children. We mean well. Children can say hurtful things, and we teach them that just because Bubba Duell down the street calls us stupid or ugly, we’ll survive. Words cannot hurt us.
But then again, maybe it’s only words that can hurt. James 1 says that if we cannot reign in our tongue, our religion is worthless. Listen to what James says in James 3:3-10 –
When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.
I found 17 verses on the power of the tongue and the purpose for it.
God wants us to use our speech for good. With our words we can build people up or we can tear them down. We can encourage or we can criticize. We can praise or we can condemn. Jesus says in Matthew 15:1, 17-18 –
“Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts — murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”
So maybe it’s words that can hurt, not sticks and stones. Our earthly bodies have expiration dates, but Jesus says in Matthew 12:36 “that men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken.” What comes out of the mouth comes out of the heart, and it’s the heart God wants. Our faithful hearts are God’s treasured possessions.
V. God is Looking for His Faithful Remnant, Malachi 3:16-18
Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name.
“On the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty, “they will be my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.”
We are saved through our Lord Jesus Christ. God says that those who accept this sacrifice and call him Lord will be spared from the Day of Wrath that is coming. God is looking for His faithful remnant that will serve Him. So what does it mean to serve the Lord?
I think the answer for that is uniquely tailored for each of us. Certainly the calling that Dr. Young heard is different than you and I. But I don’t think the actual service is what it important. Remember, God doesn’t need $100. He desired our hearts, they are His treasured possessions.
You know that phrase, “fake it till you make it?” There’s a lot to that, at least initially. God uses us best when we are in motion and trying to do something for Him. If you don’t know what God wants from you, are you just sitting and waiting? Or are you in motion? Volunteer for something. Anything. Don’t feel the Holy Spirit moving in you? Say something encouraging to somebody. Can’t stand the sight of somebody and the hate an unforgiveness inside you is eating you up? Do something unexpectedly nice for them.
But “fake it till you make it” is still fake. It’s surface, it’s shallow. God wants the depths. While you are working from the outside it, God will be working from the inside out. Eventually they will meet. You will “make it.” You will be authentic, a whole person.
So right now, you and I may not always feel like a solid Christian. Ever grumbled that you had to go to church? Even inside? You sit in the pew, and somebody that you don’t care for is sitting where you can see them. And you’re thinking, “that no good so-and-so, they are so fake. Coming to church for Christmas and Easter, but not in a bible study. They’re just taking up space.” All while you’re singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty.”
We’re not whole. If we “fake it till we make it,” we’re putting up a nice exterior for people to see. And if we’re in prayer and repentance, the Holy Spirit is working on the inside. We still have our old sinful self with pride and arrogance getting in the way daily.
For our math teachers, what is an integer? It’s a whole number that can be positive or negative. It’s not a fraction like three quarters ¾ or a decimal like 0.5829. It’s a whole number.
The word comes from the Latin “integer.” “In-“ meaning “not,” and “tangere” (like “tangent”) meaning “to touch”. Literally, it means “untouched,” but figuratively it means “Untainted, upright.”
God wants us to be an integer. Whole, upright, untouched, untainted. The same all the way through. The same on the inside as we are on the outside. He wants us to be people of integrity. To say what we believe, and to believe what we say.
We can’t do this on our own. It’s a supernatural conversion from our old self to our new lives in Christ. Christ living in us, through us, and the world sees Christ in our words and actions. A complete, whole person of integrity that believes and demonstrates His love of the Lord through words and actions. It’s not the words and actions themselves that God desires, but they are outward expressions of the heart we have toward him.
So if I can control my tongue to only offer encouragement and praise, that’s a start. If I am not whole, if this attitude does not penetrate my heart, if I am not an integer, then God’s most treasured possession, my heart, does not belong to Him, then my words are meaningless. If I tithe 10%, or 15%, or 25% or 100%, but my actions are not driven from the heart and my love for God, then my tithing is meaningless. It’s my heart for Him that the Lord wants. 1 Corinthians 13:1-8 –
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
Faking it is not the goal, but it gets the body moving. Our goal is making it, having a heart that belongs to Him and Him alone. We do that by loving our God who first loved us and sent His son to die for us, to pay the price for our sins that deserve the wrath of God. But because of His mercy, we are Children of God and our hearts and words and actions, our tongues and our tithes, our whole selves, belong to Him.
Ask God daily to give you a heart of love for Him. Be wholly devoted to our Lord and Savior. Give everything you are to Him who sits on the throne. Abide in Christ, and be one in Christ Jesus.
To God be the glory.