In chapters 1 & 2 we saw that the people had lost their love for God. In chapter one the people were giving the barrel scrapings as their offering of worship to God. They sniffed contemptuously and said, "What a burden". Despite the fact that God had loved them from their beginnings and looked after them though periods of religious zealousy and apostasy, they had finally grown cold.
In chapter two we found that the priests had also lost their passion and were going through the motions without love; they were blind guides for a people severely in need of strong direction.
The people themselves were demonstrating their lack of faith in Jehovah by allying themselves with other gods through divorcing their Jewish wives, their first loves, and getting into bed with other faiths, metaphorically and otherwise.
But as God says at the beginning of the book of Malachi, He is faithful. He has loved Jacob since the beginning, and will always love Jacob. So Chapter 3 introduces God's plan for this people who have become so utterly lost and chapter 4 tells of the final glorious completion of God's redemptive work.
1. He will bring persecution.
2. He will testify against evil.
3. He will call the people to repentance.
4. He will bless the people.
5. He will soften hardened hearts.
6. He will restore truth
I'd like to look at the first four points tonight (up to Malachi 3:12), and the last two in a couple of weeks time. I think God's plan for the Israelites 2400 years ago has a lot to say to England today - as you hear God's redemptive plan for his people back then, think how much of it applies to his people now, here in the UK.
Mal 2:17-3:4 "You have wearied the LORD with your words. "How have we wearied him?" you ask. By saying, "All who do evil are good in the eyes of the LORD, and he is pleased with them" or "Where is the God of justice?"
See, 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.
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.
You have wearied the Lord? Obviously, the Lord doesn't really get tired, but his spirit is fed up with hearing lies peddled as truth, both by the people and those who would lead them. Human beings seem to think that if you say a thing often enough, it becomes truth. It may become acceptable, it may even become law, but that doesn't make it truth.
Persecution is often the first step in a redemptive process (cf my conversion). 400 years earlier the Lord spoke to Israel through the prophet Hosea. The people had become proud of their achievements and boastful amongst the nations. The Lord says, "I held you as you learned to walk. I have cared for you since your birth. Everything you have was a gift from me, but you have turned away and worshipped other gods."
If we thank God for all we have from an honest heart, we stand righteous before the Lord. If we believe our prosperity is our own doing, there is no truth in us.
So God takes away the material wealth. He strips bare until only the naked heart remains. We stand alone before God and we realise our true relationship with the creator of the Universe..
Mal 3:5 "So I will come near to you for judgment. 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 aliens of justice, but do not fear me," says the LORD Almighty.
During the exile in Babylon, the people had changed. Seventy years the centre of the largest empire in the world had changed them from a nation of farmers and shepherds to a nation of merchants, shopkeepers and accountants. When you think of the Jews of modern history, you think of jewellers, goldsmiths, bankers and lawyers. Big money. These are the Jews of the post-Babylon era.
And where there is money, there is often a lack of justice. Where there is the law in place of love, anger and bitterness flourish.
So God again uses the language of the court-room: I will testify against those who seek their own ends at the expense of others. No longer will the rich or the strong get off on technicalities dreamt up by expensive laywers. God has always been the protector of the weak, but He would rather that love took the place of law and the weak would be protected by the love offerings of their wealthier neighbours.
Mal 3:6-9 "I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.
Ever since the time of your forefathers 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 man rob God? Yet you rob me. "But you ask, 'How do we rob you?' "In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse--the whole nation of you--because you are robbing me.
God reminds the people that they exist only because He has made a covenant, an everlasting promise with this nation. He has not wavered in his faithfulness to them, but they have almost never been faithful to him, since the earliest days.
This call to repentance foreshadows the ministry of John the Baptist, who is the messenger mentioned at the beginning of the chapter, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."
Here God issues a shocking rebuke, "Will a man rob God?" You were a people mightily blessed, but by your own choices you have deprived yourselves. I give you everything you have, but you will not give me back my appointed share."
Why does God need a share? He doesn't - but his priests do. Remember that the tribe of Levi was set aside as the priesthood, and were supposed to spend all their time looking after the temple and the things of God, whilst the ten per cent tithe from the other eleven tribes covered their material needs. God's complaint here is that his priests are struggling; they are having to work to make ends meet.
But if we trust that every good thing comes from God, that he has our best interests at heart and he actively wants to prosper us, we can give til it hurts - and God will give back ten times harder:
Mal 3:10-12 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 you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit," says the LORD Almighty.
"Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land," says the LORD Almighty.
I realise I covered some of this ground in the first talk on chapter one, but if God thinks it's important enough to go over again, who am I to argue? Using the court-room language they love so much, God says, "Test me in this." Do you give ten per cent to God? Of your money, your time, your energy and enthusiasm?
From my own experience I know that Catherine and I recently made a covenant with God to give our financial situation (which has been dire since Lauren was born) over to him, and He has indeed opened the flood-gates. It's been amazing, and has come from nowhere.
But what about your time and energy? Are you wary of devoting too much to the Lord in case there's not enough left for you? For your family? We're all busy at work, there's precious little time left for the kids - who wants to be trailing round doing stuff for God?
God says, "Test me in this, see if I will not open the floodgates of heaven." Our housegroup members have been involved in a number of projects recently, both as individuals and as a group. Contrary to our expectations of burn-out, we have found that we are bouncing with enthusiasm. The more we do the more God equips us to do more. This is not the trudge-drudge of Christian work that I've experienced before, this feel like the "soaring on eagles wing" and "running without growing weak" that Isaiah speaks of.
Mike Ries has a burden on his heart for this area. He's getting together a working party to remove grafitti, clear up litter and generally look after Burley. When he got in touch with the council, they were amazed - they said no-one has ever volunteered to do something like this before. But God opened the floodgates and Mike's been offered grants, advice, help with equipment and anything else he needs. Test me in this, says the Lord.
I usually struggle to cover my one sermon slot a month. God spoke to me that I should do all four chapters of Malachi. You must be mad, I said. "Test me in this," said the Lord. And you know what? Catherine and I have enjoyed and been excited by preparing these chapters more than ever before.
The older and more experienced folks here are probably shaking their heads and saying, "It won't last, you'll hit burn out." Well, maybe we will, but for now I'm willing to let God do what he wants.
Remember when we did those questionnaires about what we our spiritual gifts? Are you using them? Are you 'pulling your weight' in church? The first talk I did on Malachi 1 there was no-one to do the reading, so I did it, happily enough. But there was no-one to lead, no-one on tea & coffee, no-one on OHP, no-one on vergering. In fact, it turns out that the rotas are very poorly populated overall. Presuming that God has put enough people into this church to cover all the work that needs to be done, who isn't pulling their weight? Who isn't giving God his rightful share so that Keith, the elders, the wardens and all the other people involved with running the church are free to get on with the jobs God has given them rather than covering for the jobs He's given others?
A person born without arms can learn to paint beautiful pictures with their mouths. But that's not how it should be - a person with perfectly good arms who's painting with their mouth is going to a lot more trouble than is necessary. Viewing the church as a body, how many of us are struggling at jobs we're not suited to, rather than feeling we're "soaring on eagles' wings"?
The Lord's yoke is easy, his burden is light - if the right tool is being used for the job. So by more people joining in, adding their skills to the pot (bringing the whole tithe into the storehouse - money, time, energy, commitment, not money alone) and thus freeing up Keith, everyone benefits.
If we tithed our time at the same rate that we're supposed to tithe money, ie ten per cent, that's two and a half hours a day. What does God want from you? What does he want to give you?