How often do we get bored with grace? It’s by God’s incredible grace—his unearned, undeserved favor and love—that we have been created from the dust, and redeemed from our sin. But have we forgotten this? Have we simply grown indifferent at such a thought?
How are often are we nonchalant and indifferent when it comes to the worship of God, both on Sunday mornings as well as the ‘daily worship’ we are to offer with our lives (Rom 12:1)? Do we feel like maybe we should do more, but then asking ourselves questions like: How is God caring for me now? Does he really love me? Do I really need to give money to God through the church? How is God showing himself just while sinners get rich and I barely make ends meet? Do I really need to give my best; isn’t just me making an effort good enough for him?
If that’s where we’re at, then we’ve become very much like Israel after their return from exile. God has been merciful and gracious, bringing back his people from an exile caused by their sin. But as the years dragged on, they began to get complacent. They began to become indifferent to the Law and worship of God. Though they would never again commit the sin of formal idolatry—bowing down to the false gods of pagan nations—they did, nevertheless, fail to worship God as he deserved.
And it’s into this lukewarmness that the prophet Malachi came to remind the people of their covenant with God. Though they have become routine in their worship of God, going through the motions, but lacking heart, Malachi reminds them that God is still keeping his promises. He is still showing mercy and love, keeping covenant with this people. Therefore, the prophet calls the people back to the serious worship of God.
Malachi begins the book by pointing out a very obvious flaw with the people’s worship: unsatisfactory sacrifices to God. In 1:10, God utters words that I think all of us would hate to hear: “I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand.”
‘What was the problem with the sacrifices?’ That’s the question Israel was asking (1:7). And God tells them: “When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts” (1:8).
The people aren’t giving what was commanded in the law. Instead of animals without spot or blemish that would point forward to Christ, they’re bringing sacrifices that are sick, maimed, stolen, and not even the right gender. The offering were to be male animals, and they were bringing females. Why? Why are they doing this? God says, “you profane . . . the Lord’s table . . . . But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the Lord of hosts” (1:11-12).
In other words, Israel just can’t be bothered with all these regulations. We’ve given our sacrifice; isn’t that enough? Do we really have to keep up with all these specifics? What we did was good enough, wasn’t it?
Yet, the problem was more than just inferior offerings, they also weren’t giving their tithe. All the world rightly belongs to God because he made it. And Israel was called to not only display that truth, but display their faithfulness to God by giving a tenth of what they had to support the priests and their work in teaching and maintaining worship. Yet, God says to Israel, “you are robbing me” (3:8). They weren’t giving God their full tithe.
As we think about Israel’s failure, we’re forced to ask the question: what are we giving to God? One of the things my wife, Melinda, had to help me understand when we got married was the concept of leftovers. Every once in a while growing up, our family had leftovers but they were standard fare for Melinda’s family. In time, they’ve become the standard at our house as well. But as a great a cook that Melinda is, leftover are never as good as the real thing, the first time around.
But how many of us give our leftovers to God? How often do we take the best for ourselves and only then offer up something to God? For example, I hear people say all the time, ‘I’m not a morning person, so I don’t get up and pray and read the Bible.’ Okay, but when do you pray and read? Are you not really a morning person, or would you rather watch the news or read the paper or take a longer shower than you need, and think God is happy with you yawning through a couple of minutes of pray with him as you’re turning off the light at night? How many times do we plan for ministry only after we have set the rest of our schedules? How many times do we only give our money to God after we’ve spent plenty buying things we often don’t even need?
Malachi gives many other examples of Israel’s sin, but it really comes down to this: they were content to give God their leftovers. They were fine worshipping God only after they did what they wanted. We are so prone to fall into this same attitude today. So, how do we break out of it?