Summary: Malachi takes God’s people for a spiritual checkup, an inventory that is essential if we want to kick-start our faith (Part 3 "How To Kick-start Your Faith").
How to kick-start your faith - Part 3
Return to God (3:6-12).
You may recall that we are talking about how to kick-start our faith. Someone once said, “It’s not enough for us to have been confirmed or to have made a decision for Christ at an altar. We cannot walk successfully in the glow of that experience for the rest of our lives. Being human we need to return and renew those vows and covenants with the Lord. We need to take inventory and have spiritual checkups.”
Today, Malachi takes God’s people for a spiritual checkup, an inventory that is essential if we want to kick-start our faith. I want to invite you today to take this spiritual checkup yourselves; and to stretch out towards a more healthy relationship with the Lord.
I. THE CHARGE (vv6-9)
a. The nature of the crime.
The picture we have is that of a court in session. First of all God lays down the charge against the people. A crime had been committed and that crime was separating the people from their God. And the nature of that crime was that Israel had “turned away from the Lord’s decrees and had not kept them” (v7). Their hearts were divided.
Half the problem was that the Israelites were a wishy washy bunch who drifted in and out of their commitment to the Lord. V6 contrasts God’s immutability; i.e. his unchangeableness, with the shady heritage of the people. Malachi writes,
I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob
[that lying, deceiving cheat], are not destroyed.
However, even though this paints the Israelites in a bad light, it is a message of hope. The hope is this. Though God’s people are changeable, ie they go off the rails sometimes, God is not changeable. God has expressed his love for his people and this will never change. His love is unchanging and so he will never destroy his people.
Martin Luther once wrote, “If I were God I would knock the world to pieces!” Well it’s because God is God that we are not destroyed. By rights God should destroy us, but with his own unchangeable love he patiently waits for us to return to him.
b. The evidence for the crime.
With that reassurance in mind however, Malachi now sets out the evidence for the charge. The Israelite’s crime of “turning from the decrees of the Lord,” was outwardly shown in their reluctance to bring the whole tithe to God (v8). Admittedly they were poor and so the temptation to hold back the tithe was far greater than perhaps you and I would ever experience in our lifetime. Nevertheless they had a prior obligation to the Lord which they were not keeping. Israelite Law, as set out in Leviticus 27:30-33, suggested that;
LEV 27:30 " `A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD. 31 If a man redeems any of his tithe, he must add a fifth of the value to it. 32 The entire tithe of the herd and flock--every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd’s rod--will be holy to the LORD. 33 He must not pick out the good from the bad or make any substitution. If he does make a substitution, both the animal and its substitute become holy and cannot be redeemed.’ "
Evidently the Israelites were being very selective in what they gave to the Lord - and it certainly was not the cream of the crop. They held back the best for themselves and this amounted to robbery. But they couldn’t see how foolish this was.
Malachi writes, “Shall a man rob God?” How foolish to think that we can rob God. The God who created everything we possess and possesses everything he created. The problem was not that the Israelites were not giving to God, but that they were ripping him off. They were holding back what was rightfully his. God’s reply to that was to say that only complete and undivided devotion was acceptable when making an offering to him. But the hearts of the people were divided between their own selves and God. And a divided heart is despicable to God. Jesus made this clear when he said,
MT 23:27 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
Let’s try and picture what Jesus is saying here. In the fields of France there are many rolling green hills and open fields, some of you may have seen them. Yet beneath many of these picturesque landscapes lies the horror of hundreds of mass graves - remnants of the many battles fought there. Imagine just one of these graves being opened soon after one of these battles when the process of putrefaction was in full effect. We couldn’t endure either the sight or the smell could we? Not even for a minute. Perhaps you’ve seen footage of soldiers burying these bodies, many covered their faces with cloths as they worked. This is what a divided heart is like to God. The outside may look like a rolling green hill, a brilliant landscape beautiful in the eyes of men. But God, who sees our true selves, turns away from this heart in disgust unable to endure the sight or smell of such a nauseous object.