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“Giving God Second Best”

Malachi 1:6-14
Bob DeGray
September 5, 2004

Key Sentence

There is no way God deserves your second-best.


I. God recognizes our contempt (Malachi 1:6-8)
II. God desires our authentic worship (Malachi 1:9-11)
III. God deserves our reverence (Malachi 1:12-14)


        As I mentioned to the kids, The King at the Door is one of my all time favorite children’s books - because it’s not really a children’s book at all. It has a very adult lesson, or at least a lesson all believers should learn as they mature - that there is no way Jesus deserves your second best. The innkeeper despised the one who claimed to be king, and gave him not just his second best, but his worst. Little Baggit, on the other hand, gave the best he had. We’d all like to be like Little Baggit, but both the history of Israel and of the church show that there is a sad tendency to be more like the innkeeper - skeptical, critical, maybe even disbelieving; unwilling to set ourselves and our desires aside for the sake of serving our real king.

        The words of the prophet Malachi, which are the focus of our current study, speak very strongly to those who are half-hearted about serving God, and who give him second best of their time, energy, possessions or talents. Malachi calls us to integrity in response to God’s sovereign love, and in our text for this week, Malachi 1:6-14, he calls us to honesty and enthusiasm in the relationship with God that we say that we have, and devotion to the service that we say we give. There is no way God deserves our second best - as the Lord Almighty, the Lord of Hosts, our creator, God deserves all our energy, all our enthusiasm. And as the one who has given himself to us in Jesus’s salvation, he deserves all that we are and all that we have.

I. God recognizes our contempt (Malachi 1:6-8)

        The first few verses of this section point out that God knows the thoughts and intentions of our hearts, and recognizes our hypocrises even when others can’t and often when we ourselves won’t. Malachi 1:6-8 "A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honor 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. "But you ask, 'How have we shown contempt for your name?' 7"You place defiled food on my altar. "But you ask, 'How have we defiled you?' "By saying that the Lord's table is contemptible. 8When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?" says the Lord Almighty.

        Malachi begins with what was almost certainly a proverb in his own day, a statement of ‘the way it ought to be’: ‘A son honors his father and a servant his master’. God had chosen Israel as his son and his servant, and he expected her leaders and her people to treat him the way a son and a servant should. Unfortunately, they were not living up to this expectation. God says “If I am the father, where is the honor due me? If I am the master, where is the respect due me?” The word ‘honor’ is a Hebrew word often translated ‘glory’, from a root that means ‘heavy’ or ‘weighty’.

        In this context to honor God, is to give him his due weight in our lives. A sentence like ‘In my decision I’ll weigh Joe’s opinion heavily’ shows the kind of honor we ought to give; God should be a weighty factor in our lives. The other word, respect, has a similar idea, but comes from the root for ‘fear’, so that submission to God grows not just out of recognizing his glory - his weight - but also out of awe and fear.

        These priests, and by implication many of the people of Israel, were far from this attitude. They may have been giving lip-service to worshiping God, but their lives did not support their words. It’s hypocrisy, pure and simple, for those who claim to be believers to affirm that God is their Lord and Father, and then to fail to live as if he mattered. The people of God have been embarrassed time after time by this kind of hypocrisy, and Malachi is very clear that when God’s people do this it is the same as despising God’s name or having contempt for God. Now I know those are strong words - they are strong in Hebrew too - but isn’t that what this is? To say you are his, to say you serve him, and then to live all or even part of your life as if he didn’t exist is contemptuous of the one who made you and who rescued you.

        But Malachi’s audience isn’t buying it, just as we so often deny our hard-heartedness. They say ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’ When I was in seminary Dr. Walter Kaiser told us a funny story related to this verse. It seems that during his first teaching job at a Christian college he and his wife made ends meet by being house parents to 13 freshman guys. Late one night a ruckus broke out upstairs and Kaiser burst in at the end of a huge water balloon fight. But when he asked “who did this?”, instead of confessing the freshman chimed in, saying “Yes, who did this?” “Did you?” To avoid lying they took up the question and pretended to be indignant, as if the mess resulted from an event quite apart from themselves.

        This is the same way Malachi’s audience responds when asked to own up to their deeds. Over and over they say “in what way have we done such and so?” And here, as elsewhere, God gives a straightforward answer: “Can you deny you’ve been giving me second best? You’ve placed polluted food on my altar.’ The pollution was literal and figurative. Literally we’ll find they were offering deformed animals as ‘the best from their flocks.’ Figuratively, Scripture teaches that right sacrifices require right motives. You can’t offer a pure sacrifice to God while simultaneously rejecting his word and failing to glorify him. There’s a modern proverb that addresses this, saying: “Put yourself in the offering basket first, and then deposit your money.” It’s a little hard on the baskets, but the priority is correct: God doesn’t want money or any kind of offering given from an impure heart, impure motives or in an attempt to manipulate him. As King David said in Psalm 51, the sacrifice God desires is “a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” By way of contrast, think about the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable. He did all the right things, “I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get”, but his heart was proud. Who did God justify? The tax collector who humbled himself.

        So there are two underlying principles at work here. First, that God deserves our best, and second, that he wants us to give ourselves first, and then our offering, to give our best out of hearts that are submitted to him. But the priests and the people of Israel violated both these principles. This time they ask ‘How have we defiled you?' And God’s response is ‘By saying that the Lord's table is contemptible.’ ‘The Lord’s table’ is mentioned twice in this passage. In the Old Testament context this almost certainly refers to the table in the temple where bread was offered daily to God, or possibly to one of the other tables used in worship, or even to the altar itself.

        For us, though, the image of the Lord’s table also reminds us of the Lord’s supper. Paul calls our celebration and remembrance of Jesus’ death ‘the Lord’s table’ in 1st Corinthians 10, and it is in that same chapter that he warns that participating in communion must be done in a worthy manner, that is by offering him our best from a submissive heart, not coming to the communion table this morning half-heartedly or hypocritically or with malice toward our brothers and sisters, but with confident faith and whole-hearted devotion and a real commitment to live what we believe.

        In the case of these priests, their contempt and really their disbelief were shown by the quality of what they were willing to offer: “8When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?" says the Lord Almighty.” With biting irony, Malachi suggests that the people try giving an offering like this to their governor or ruler. Not many would take the chance of insulting their leaders that way, and yet they are willing to insult God that way, and disobey God that way, though he had said clearly in his word that sacrificial animals were to be without blemish or fault. The difference is that if they had offered this to their governor, Persia’s representative in Israel, they knew there would be repercussions in their own lives. But their basic belief in God was so low that they thought they could get away with offering deformed sacrifices, because they didn’t think there would be any repercussions. The root attitude behind giving God second best and also behind hypocrisy is really a kind of disbelief. If we really believed with heart, soul, mind and strength that God was who he said he was and had done what he said he would do through Jesus, we could never be this indifferent to his will nor put him to the test by blatant sin.

        And yet, like the people of Israel, we do. We give him second best of our time by putting other things first: Good things like family and work; questionable things like our leisure and our luxuries; sinful things like lust and anger. We put these things first and we’re content to give only a token of our time to God, who owns it all. In the same way we put material things first: our investments, our savings, our homes our cars, our budgets, our possessions, our stuff, though Jesus said ‘you cannot serve both God and money.’ We put these first and give to God and to his work second.

        And what of ourselves, our hearts? Often we give these to no one. We do not care for God’s people, or their needs. We do not care for the lost or their eternal salvation. Maybe, once in a while we care for our spouses, our families, but often we ignore them as well, closing in our ourselves in a little spiral of activities and things to do until we make real heart contact with no one, especially God. But when you offer only second best of your time, second best of your resources and less than second best of your heart, is he pleased? God recognizes our hard-heartedness as contempt.

II. God desires our authentic worship (Malachi 1:9-11)

        God knows our hearts and he wants them offered freely to him in devotion and purity and in authentic worship. Verses 9 to 11: “Now implore God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?"--says the Lord Almighty. 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. 11My 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.

        In verse 9 Malachi relates that the same priests who had so violated God's commands and taught others to do so are often asked to “entreat God's favor" or “implore God to be gracious to us” In this context, the Hebrew word rendered "implore" literally means "to make smooth" or, as we say, "to butter up" someone. But would God be disposed to listen to requests and prayers from these priests? Can we give him half-hearted service and butter him up to get what we want? It’s not supposed to be that kind of relationship.

        So outrageous had the situation become that Malachi makes an unexpected suggestion: lock the doors of the temple court and block access to the altar of God! Surely, no worship at all would be preferable to the worthless worship that was taking place. His second suggestion is similar: do not light the fire on the altar, for it is ‘useless’. The Hebrew word for "useless" generally means "for no reason, without a cause." Thus, while the altar fires and sacrifices should symbolize the open fellowship between God and man, in reality they were meaningless. Their gifts and services, based on empty ritual, were futile and destined only to lull them into a state of false security. Real worship takes place when worshipers honor God in spirit and in truth, offering their best from real faith and a pure heart.

        At this point, Malachi has had enough of this negativism. Despite human failure, God would not be without authentic worship. Verse 11 explodes with good news: we may fail in our practice of religion, but God is not going to fail in his purpose: “from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My name shall be great among the Gentiles; in every place incense shall be offered to My name, and a pure offering; for My name shall be great among the nations,' says the LORD of hosts."

        Where have we heard this before? It’s another of the hundreds of places where God promises a universal scope to salvation, and thus to worship. In fact the Psalms use this phrase ‘from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets’ four times to describe how God will be worshiped. In that day sacrifices will no longer be offered just at Jerusalem, but in "every place". Israel should have remembered that she had been called to be "a kingdom of priests" and a "light to the nations" She had been told that in her seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed, that God would “bless all the ends of the earth" through her. By now, in the last book of the Old Testament, Israel should not have been surprised by the announcement, but given Israel's poor record at being a light to the nations, they were probably shocked again. In their hard-heartedness, they couldn’t imagine glorious and pure worship, glorious and pure offerings, coming from the nations. They couldn’t conceive of us here today recognizing and glorifying the greatness of God’s name.

        So we’ve said God doesn’t want our second best, he doesn’t reward hypocrisy, he doesn’t sanction contempt for his name, but he desires authentic worship. This is probably the key positive thought I can offer you this morning. Malachi is clearly warning his readers, and I have an obligation from this text to raise a warning for us that God is not pleased with hypocritical or half-hearted followers who give him second best. But as we tell ourselves not to be like that, we have to have some positive goal to hold up as an alternative, and the goal this passage offers us is to please God by being authentic worshippers. We’ve already mentioned in passing some aspects of authentic worship, but I want to give you a short checklist for self examination.

        (1) Authentic worshipers focus on God’s awesome greatness. It’s sad that God has to say to these worshipers ‘From the rising of the sun even to its setting, My name will be great among the nations’, and ‘I am a great King,” and “My name will be feared.” Those are the kinds of things worshipers ought to say to God, the kinds of things were supposed to recognize and affirm. Psalm 145 is one of many models: “I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever. 2Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever. 3Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. 4One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts, etc.” When we focus on God’s greatness, his perfections and attributes, that’s authentic worship.

        (2) Authentic worshipers humble themselves before God. The tax collector in Jesus’ story, who beat his breast and said ‘have mercy on me, a sinner’ was the authentic worshiper. David, who recognized that the sacrifices God desired were broken and contrite hearts, was the authentic worshiper. In Isaiah 66:2 God says “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.” “God is God and we are not” but those who are half hearted and hypocritical and give God second best set themselves up in God’s place. Those who humble themselves and confess and submit are his authentic worshipers.

        In the New Testament Jesus says it this way (3) authentic worshipers worship in spirit and in truth. You remember he was talking with the woman at the well when he said this, and she was trying to make a distinction between worship in Jerusalem and worship in Samaria. But like Malachi, Jesus says that a time is coming when worship will be universal, a matter of the heart not the place. John 4:23 “Yet a time is coming and has now come when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks." This is the positive alternative to worship that is half hearted or hypocritical. It is worship that engages the heart, and worship that engages the mind. If your worship involves no thinking and no feeling, it is not worship in spirit and in truth.

        Finally, (4) authentic worship means to depend on God with faith and trust. We saw in Malachi that by bringing deformed animals in disobedience to the law, the priests were essentially declaring their unbelief - thumbing their noses at God. In contrast, true worship must come from trust, dependance, belief, faith. The book of Hebrews teaches us that “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” In the Psalms the word ‘trust’ is used over and over to describe our dependence on God, and often as in Psalm 84, this dependence is expressed in the context of worship. The Psalmist begins by saying “better is one day in your courts than thousands elsewhere” and ends with “O Lord Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you.” Isaiah affirms this combination of worship and trust in Isaiah 12:2 “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; he also has become my salvation." Authentic worship grows out of dependence on God as God and trust in God as Savior.

III. God deserves our reverence (Malachi 1:12-14)

        So God recognizes our contempt or half-heartedness, he desires our authentic worship, and finally, Malachi teaches that God desires our reverence. Verses 12 to 14: "But you profane it by saying of the Lord's table, 'It is defiled,' and of its food, 'It is contemptible.' 13And you say, 'What a burden!' and you sniff at it contemptuously," says the Lord Almighty. "When you bring injured, crippled or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?" says the Lord. 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. For I am a great king," says the Lord Almighty, "and my name is to be feared among the nations.

        Malachi contrasts his marvelous vision of God's triumph over the nations and their pure worship of His name by reminding his readers that they have profaned God’s name. The reality of worship, was that it was impure, given reluctantly following many excuses. “People don't go for sacrifices and that type of thing anymore,” Malachi hears the people whine. "We find in these changing times that the altar, its fruit and its meat are unacceptable” they complain. Finally they admit what could not be true of real believers: “this is a weariness; this is boring.”

        Boredom is a key sign of the people's hypocritical ministry and worship of God. They came to view these things as tedious and empty and began to begrudge the very time they spent in the service and worship of God. Their words were blunt: "Oh, what a weariness!" The worship and service of the Living God had become a drudgery and a burden, a bore and a nuisance. So they sneer at the sacrifices and sniff contemptuously at the Lord’s table. That word ‘sniff’ caught my attention. It appears that for the Hebrews as well as in our own culture pride and haughtiness is expressed through the vocabulary of the breath. These people literally snorted at God, or perhaps sighed deeply in their weariness over having to serve God. These sighs, these snorts indicted them of indifference and contempt for God’s ways.

        In the King at the Door, it’s the innkeeper who is full of these same sighs - full of haughty melodrama. Like the priests in Malachi he offered his worst rather than his best, because he didn’t believe that the king was really at the door. He could afford to be contemptuous toward an old beggar. In the same way these priests did not believe at a heart level in the One True God, the great King over heaven and earth, because no one who believed would show their contempt to one so great and powerful. No one who believed would offer the King sacrifices that were stolen, lame or sick. Little Baggit ought to be our model. He gave his best - all that he had, meager though it was at times. And he believed - he did not sneer at the King, but served.

        The people of Israel and their leaders were guilty of not honoring the Lord or his table. The question is, are we honoring God as we come to his table: do we take it seriously enough to show that we believe what it displays? Communion ought to be a solemn celebration. The death of Jesus on the cross, his body broken, his blood shed, is not something to be taken lightly. It is not something to be remembered half heartedly, or hypocritically. Yet I know there are some who groan when we have a communion week - who find it a weariness, a lengthening the service - when it ought to be a shot of adrenalin to our spiritual lives, a time of renewal and re-commitment and solid rejoicing.

        Of course, the mere fact that somebody died on a cross for somebody else’s sins won’t communicate these things to me unless I recognize that I was the one who was the sinner, I was the one doomed to die, I was the one who needed rescue, so that I was the one Jesus came for, I was one he suffered for, I was the one his body was broken for, I was the one his blood was spilled for, I was the one he died to rescue, I was the one he rose to bless. If I don’t believe these things I can’t possibly come to communion with a pure heart or participate with a whole heart. But if I believe, this ceremony is no longer wearisome, but is the vital celebration of the miracle gift at the core of my life. If it’s that I will not be half-hearted: I will be sold out. If it’s that I will not be hypocritical - I will live with integrity. If it’s that I will not give God second best of my time, my resources or my heart: instead I will worship his greatness in humility, and utterly depend on him because he has given it all for me.