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“The Fatal Importance of True Instruction”

Malachi 2:1-9
Bob DeGray
September 12, 2004

Key Sentence

There is life and peace in faithfully sharing God’s truth.


I. Cursed blessings (Malachi 2:1-3)
II. Life and peace (Malachi 2:4-6)
III. True instruction (Malachi 2:7-9)


        The world is full of teachers and students. Elementary teachers help chidren learn math and English, college professors teach college students, corporate trainers teach new hires, and preachers and teachers often teach in formal church settings. But it goes beyond that: craftsmen teach apprentices, coaches teach athletes, and experienced campers or hikers teach new ones. Proficient auto mechanics teach up-and-coming mechanics, quilters teach quilters, and so on. In the church a lot of teaching takes place informally, in classrooms and elsewhere. In Awana, for example, a great deal of truth is shared in the listener/child relationship. As a volunteer listens to a child’s verses, they have the chance to reinforce the truths of Scripture. But the same thing can and does happen between two men over breakfast, between co-workers over lunch, between two ladies at a children’s play date. And of course, such instruction happens in families, between fathers and children, mothers and children, and even older to younger children. All of which is to say that pretty much everybody here is on the giving end of instruction.

        The good news is that there is great blessing, even life and peace found in sharing God’s truth. There is blessing for you and blessing for those you instruct. One of the most powerful examples of this is found in the comparison of Jonathan Edwards and Max Jukes. Edwards was born in 1703 in East Windsor, Connecticut. He attended Yale University at age 13 and became the pastor of his grandfather’s church at 23. He was one of the greatest theologians and revivalists America has produced.

        Edwards and his wife, Sarah, had eleven children. Despite a rigorous work schedule that included rising at 4.30 a.m. to pray and study, extensive travels and constant ministry, he made time to teach and be with his children. And this investment had a huge impact on the peace and blessing of his family for generations. Benjamin Warfield of Princeton, basing his work on a well known secular study carried on by several researchers, charted the 929 known descendants of Edwards. What he found was incredible. Of his known descendants there were 13 college presidents, 86 college professors, 40 judges, 100 lawyers, 60 physicians, 314 war veterans, 430 pastors, 75 authors of prominence, 7 congressmen, 3 governors, and one Vice-President of the United States.

        But the influence of teaching and modeling truth also works the other way. Consider the case of Max Jukes, a contemporary of Edwards. As an adult, Jukes had a drinking problem that kept him from holding a steady job. He would disappear sometimes for days and return drunk. He spent little time caring for his wife or loving and instructing his children.

        Warfield also charted Jukes’ descendants. Just under a thousand of them had been studies, and there was a stunning contrast to Edwards’ legacy. Of Jukes’ 1026 descendants, 310 died as paupers, at least 300 were criminals (including 27 murderers), more than 500 were alcoholics or drug addicts, and about 190 of his female descendants were prostitutes; only a small fraction ever learned a trade, and most of these learned their trades in jail.

        The point is that it takes a godly influence to stay on the right path, and that an ungodly influence will result in a straying from that path. Since each of us is on the giving end of instruction one way or another, we all have a chance to influence others with God’s word. We’ll find in Malachi 2:1-9 is that there is life and peace in faithfully sharing God’s truth.

I. Cursed blessings (Malachi 2:1-3)

        I’ve intentionally stated that key thought quite positively, but you won’t be surprised to hear that Malachi mixes this positive teaching with a strong dose of warning. In fact he begins by saying that by their negligence in teaching and modeling the truth, the priests of his day have forfeited the blessings associated with their instruction. Listen to Malachi 2:1-3: “And now this admonition is for you, O priests. 2If you do not listen, and if you do not set your heart to honor my name," says the Lord Almighty, "I will send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them, because you have not set your heart to honor me.” 3"Because of you I will rebuke your descendants; I will spread on your faces the offal from your festival sacrifices, and you will be carried off with it.

        Though these words are addressed specifically to the priests, they can readily be applied to all of us because (1) our lives are supposed to honor God, just as theirs were, and (2) each of us is on the giving end of instruction and modeling the Christian life, in at least some areas and relationships. So this admonition isn’t just their problem, it’s also significant to us. The specific call is to listen to God’s word and honor his name. Remember Malachi is sharing God’s word with the priests, so ‘listen’ means ‘listen to my word’ and ‘set your heart to honor my name’ means ‘live in a way that glorifies me.’ As in chapter 1, the Hebrew word usually associated with ‘glory is here translated ‘honor’. The word denotes the weight, or sheer gravity of God’s presence, the presence that revealed His significance and the respect He was owed. A person who recognizes the greatness of who God is and what he has done, and whose life reflects those truths is the one who glorifies or honors God.

        In particular, Malachi says we are to honor God’s name. This is the sixth time in Malachi God’s name is mentioned. To this Hebrew audience honoring God’s name would mean honoring all that He is in his person, attributes, reputation, and teaching. God’s name had been disgraced and made to appear shabby and weak by the way the priest had offered their gifts, carried on their ministry and begrudged God the time it took. Now it was time to reverse this pattern and give glory to God’s name.

         The same concern is expressed about people in the New Testament when, for example, Paul says of false teachers that “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him.” Paul says that they “are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.” God has a similar opinion of the priests in Malachi’s day, so he says to them “I will curse your blessings.” You have to have a little background to understand that. First, who is he talking to? The priests, the descendants of Aaron, the first high priest at the time of Moses. Aaron, in turn, was himself was a descendent of Levi, the son of Jacob. One of the things the priests and the Levites were supposed to do was to pronounce blessings on the people of Israel. We see this in Deuteronomy 10: “At that time the Lord set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the Lord, to stand before the Lord to minister and to pronounce blessings in his name, as they still do today. 9That is why the Levites have no share or inheritance among their brothers; the Lord is their inheritance, as the Lord your God told them.” And it was the Law itself, the Word of the Lord that provided the Levites and priests with both the blessings by which Israel would be blessed and the curses by which she would be punished. Moses writes in Deuteronomy 11: “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse-- 27the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; 28the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today.”

        So one of the jobs that the priests and Levites had was to monitor the lives of the people of Israel and remind them of God’s blessings for their obedience and his warnings and judgments for disobedience. But what happens if they pronounce blessing when they ought to be warning? In that case, it makes sense for God to give the opposite of the blessings they predict, to curse their blessings. “You can’t manipulate me and force me to bless just by quoting these blessing verses. I will do what I will do in response to your hearts and the hearts of the people. I will myself warn and judge and punish if you won’t do it. In fact I’ve already started to do so.”

        What do we learn from this for ourselves when we are on the giving end of instruction? That we can’t afford to neglect truth. We can’t just tell folks about God’s blessings, his love and his goodness without also teaching about his justice, righteousness and holiness. We need to teach that all have sinned, and about God’s judgement of sin, so that we can offer those we instruct the real blessing of forgiveness and new life in Jesus. God will bless our instruction if it’s faithful to his truth - but he will not tolerate teachers who, in the words of Jeremiah “dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious, saying 'Peace, peace,' when there is no peace.”

        That’s what these priests were doing, and that’s what we do when we don’t instruct out of God’s word. Malachi becomes very graphic about God’s response to this in verse 3: “Because of you I will rebuke your descendants; I will spread on your faces the offal from your festival sacrifices, and you will be carried off with it.”

        This is one of those verses that is so blunt it’s almost hard to talk about. God is literally saying that he will take the dung off the barn floor or maybe even the entrails from their sacrifices and rub it on their faces. Then he is going to take the priests, and sweep them out with the refuse, because their ministry is of no more value than the stuff that collects under the altar during sacrifices. In other words it’s repulsive to God when we minister hypocritically: he’s compelled to reject us. He says that again in Revelation to the church in Laodecia, “Because you are lukewarm__neither hot nor cold__I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” God doesn’t like hypocrites who water down the truth because they don’t want to live it themselves.

II. Life and peace (Malachi 2:4-6)

        If we don’t share God’s truth he will vehemently contradict our words by his actions. But verses 4-6 tell us that faithful instruction leads to life and peace: And you will know that I have sent you this admonition so that my covenant with Levi may continue," says the Lord Almighty. 5"My covenant was with him, a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him; this called for reverence and he revered me and stood in awe of my name. 6True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin.

        God sends this warning, through Malachi, so that those who have the privilege of giving instruction may continue to do so. God calls that privilege the covenant with Levi. As we read in Deuteronomy 10, God chose Levi’s tribe to lead Israel’s worship. They were the ones who offered the sacrifices, taught, and served at the tabernacle. Now God is saying to the Levites that if they want to continue with that role they need to be faithful teachers and to honor God with their lives and their instruction.

        God then characterizes the covenant of Levi as one of life and peace. As I read this I wondered ‘does that mean life and peace for Levi and his offspring, or for those they ministered to?’ Malachi isn’t clear, and other Scriptures support both these ideas. On the one hand, God declares to everyone that obedience to him and to his law leads to life and peace. In Deuteronomy 4:40, for example, Moses says “Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children and that you may live long in the land the Lord your God gives you.” Later, in Proverbs 3 Solomon says “My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life and bring you peace.” Life and peace are the result of learning and obeying God’s word. So as we instruct, we open the door to these blessings for others.

        But there are also promises to the tribe of Levi as God’s instructors. We already heard from Deuteronomy that in choosing Levi as his servants, God was giving them the blessing of himself as their inheritance. This is reinforced in Numbers 25. After the people of Israel came out of Egypt, and during the time of their wandering in the wilderness, they faced many temptations. One of those was to join in the idolatrous worship of false gods practiced by the nations they passed through.

        In one case, in Moab, they succumbed to temptation and some began to practice idolatry, including temple prostitution. One man from the tribe of Simeon even tried to bring this sinful worship into the tabernacle of the Lord. But a priest named Phinehas, following God’s instructions to Moses, put the man and the prostitute to death. Then, verse 10: “the Lord said to Moses, "Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites; for he was as zealous as I am for my honor among them . . . . Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him. He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God.”

        Phinehas expressed his zeal for God by judgment, but Malachi doesn’t focus on judgment as the key quality blessed by God with life and peace. Instead he emphasizes faithful instruction, saying, “he revered me and stood in awe of my name. 6True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin.” Let’s apply these qualities to ourselves in our many roles as givers of instruction:

        (1) Attitude: “He revered me - or feared me - and stood in awe of my name.” The fear of the Lord is the beginning of the wisdom that allows us to teach others. As we’ve often said this fear includes wonder at who God is and what he has done, true fear of his judgment, and respect for his authority. These things grow out of our real knowledge of God. The more we know God the more we are in awe of his greatness, power, and love and his sacrifice for us. The more we know God the more we fear his judgement, first, on those who have never been rescued from sin through Jesus, and second, judgment of us, potentially, as unfit to serve him because we have not done so, a judgment that allows us to escape into eternity only as one passing through fire. Finally, as we grow in knowledge of God we more and more respect his authority in our lives. We recognize that he is God and we are not, that he has the right to order our lives in ways we can’t understand, and we trust that those ways are for our good and for his glory. Faithful instruction is given by those who have learned to fear the Lord.

        (2) Words: “True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips”. Anyone who has the opportunity to influence others, including you, in any of your relationships, is obligated to give true or faithful instruction. The word translated ‘true’ is one of Scripture’s neon words. It combines our concepts of truthfulness and faithfulness, and is translated both ways. This certainty of character and speech is a characteristic of God we are supposed to imitate. And the only place to find truth worth sharing is in God’s word. When the Levites or the priests were doing their jobs right, they were saying again what God had already said, Not too many years before Malachi a great revival broke out when the Levites, Neh. 8:8, stood and “read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.” This is true instruction.
        By contrast false instruction is that which conveys the wisdom of men or the lies of Satan, or, as in the case of these priests, a false comfort that ignores God’s righteousness. If we are to give true instruction, whether at Awana, or in a young men’s Bible study, or in Adult Sunday School, that instruction must consist of saying again what God has said so that a particular person or group can understand and apply it.

        (3) Life: “He walked with me in peace and uprightness.” Faithful instruction comes not just from what we say, but from how we live. In an earlier verse God promised peace as a result of his covenant with Levi. This promise of peace is a wonderful truth of Scripture, but the New Testament shows that we have peace with God only through faith in Jesus Christ as our rescuer and redeemer. In the same way life - abundant life and eternal life - is found in Jesus. Furthermore, righteousness - the ability to walk in uprightness - is found only in Jesus. So for us to faithfully instruct others, we must first receive the peace and righteousness that are gifts of Jesus to all who trust in him. Then, having received those things we need to walk in them. It’s possible to spurn the way of peace and walk into anxiety, depression, anger or bitterness, which will not only devastate us personally, but destroy our ability to impart true instruction to others. In the same way, having been declared righteous, we can choose to walk into sin, sinful habits, attitudes, and actions toward others. And persistence in sin puts the lie to any instruction we’re trying to give. If we’re going to have an impact we need to be walking with God in peace and uprightness.

        Finally, Malachi says that the purpose of true instruction is (4) ‘to turn many from sin’. Walter Kaiser says “the goal of all faithful proclamation of the Word is to lead sinners to repentance.” It’s easy to get caught up details or issues that aren’t really central to the Christian life, but if we focus on the one hand on reaching those who have never trusted Jesus, showing them the hopelessness of sin, and praying and rejoicing as God calls them to himself, that’s true teaching. Add to that a focus on discipleship, helping people be what they’ve become in Christ, helping them put off the old sinful nature and put on Jesus, and you’ve got yourself a worthy purpose.

III. True instruction (Malachi 2:7-9)

        So God will judge those who instruct others falsely, he will bless with life and peace those whose character and words are faithful. The last few verses give us more insight into the positive and negative effects of a person’s instruction. Malachi 2:7-9 For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, and from his mouth men should seek instruction--because he is the messenger of the Lord Almighty. 8But you have turned from the way and by your teaching have caused many to stumble; you have violated the covenant with Levi," says the Lord Almighty. 9"So I have caused you to be despised and humiliated before all the people, because you have not followed my ways but have shown partiality in matters of the law."

        The lips of these priests, like all of us who give instruction, were to ‘preserve knowledge’ - and this knowledge is specifically knowledge of God’s word.
        How do I know that? Well you can’t see it in the translation, but the underlying Hebrew word is torah, a Hebrew word often used as a technical name for God’s law. Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible and it’s all about the torah. Verse 18: Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your ‘torah’. Psalm 19 tells us that the ‘torah’ of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul, and that it is more to be desired than gold. So the ‘torah’ that a teacher keeps and the ‘torah’ that a teacher shares, the ‘torah’ that is on his heart and on his lips is nothing more and nothing less than the Word of God. Therefore, Malachi tells us that what people are really looking for from their teachers, or ought to be, is torah, true instruction from God’s word, not the latest fads or instances of pop psychology.

        The person who shares ‘torah’, Malachi says, is the messenger of the Lord. This is the only time in the book he calls a priest a ‘messenger of the Lord.’ Normally this phrase refers to the “angel of the Lord”, often an appearance of Christ in the Old Testament. In Haggai 1:13 it refers to a prophet, and in Malachi 1:1 it is the name of the prophet. Later Malachi will use this phrase, ‘messenger’ to refer to the forerunner of Christ, John the Baptist. Here the point is that because of their formal teaching ministry, which we saw in Deuteronomy and again in Nehemiah, the Levites acted as God’s messengers. In fact, though, anyone who has ‘torah’ on their lips and in their hearts will be acting as the Lord’s messenger.

        But of course, the priests of Malachi’s day did not fulfill this ideal, and therefore did not see the promised blessings. Malachi says “But you have turned from the way and by your teaching have caused many to stumble; you have violated the covenant with Levi.” Do you see the contrast? Your faithful instruction and faithful example, whether it’s in your home to your children, or in your Sunday school class, or with your peers, causes people to turn from sin and walk in the way of righteousness. But if you turn from that way, you cause others to stumble. These priests had turned. We saw last week how they despised the laws about sacrificial animals and dishonored God’s name. So God says to them through Malachi “Therefore I have caused you to be despised and humiliated before all the people, because you have not followed my ways but have shown partiality in matters of the law."

        The people, seeing their behavior, had lost all respect for these priests. They had tried to court popularity by giving the people what they wanted and by modifying God’s requirements so that regard for persons and partiality in justice, not God’s Word, were the norms. But now the priests would reap the dishonor they had sown. In the same way, those who today pursue popularity or water down God’s word, or simply leave it out of their teaching and their relationships with other often end up having no influence at all in the lives of those they should be instructing. Even worse are those who should be instructing but who give in to the temptations of sin, thus living as gross hypocrites. They bring shame not only on themselves but on the name of the one they profess to believe.

        Remember the two families we opened with. Jonathan Edwards focused on true instruction and personal faithfulness, and his descendants reaped a benefit of life and peace for generations following his death. Max Jukes was a role model of worldliness and weakness, and his descendants followed in his footsteps. The point is that there is life and peace in faithfully sharing God’s truth. And it is that positive thought that I want to leave with you, the ideal laid out in those four phrases of verses 5 and 6: (1) to revere God and fear his name; (2) To say again what God has said, so that true instruction comes from your mouth; (3) to walk with God in peace and uprightness, so that your life and your words agree, and (4), to turn others away from sin, to keep them on the right path. Those are the ideals of faithful instruction.

        I decided early in the week to use that opening illustration about the two families, but as I continued to study and research I ran across an interesting fact that makes me want to end with Jonathan Edwards as well. He was, as I said, one of America’s greatest theologians, a philosopher, an academic, president of Princeton University in New Jersey, a scientist, and a leader in revival, in the Great Awakening. His church, First Congregational Church of Northampton, Massachusetts, was one of the first points of ignition for that revival under his stirring ministry. In pursuing this I stumbled across a web site that told of a very interesting inscription on his grave in Princeton Cemetery, but when I found some pictures of the grave, I couldn’t see the inscription, though it may be there. Later another web site gave me the impression that the inscription might be in the church at Northampton, but I couldn’t verify that either, though the inscription sounds like it could be on the wall of a church. Here’s what it says:

        “In memory of Jonathan Edwards, Minister of Northampton from Feb 15, 1727 to June 22, 1750: ‘The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips: he walked with me in peace and equity, and did turn many away from iniquity’ ” Do you recognize that? It’s Malachi 2:6 - the positive ideal for all of us who have the opportunity to influence others for Jesus. That’s the testimony to Jonathan Edwards’ life. May it be ours as well.