God’s rebuke of his priests in Malachi offers a sobering picture of the reality of marginal giving for the Church today. To understand this, we must fully understand the context of this heavy passage in light of the entire biblical narrative. In his indictment, God accuses the Priests of “offering polluted food upon my altar” when they “offer blind animals in sacrifice…and those that are lame or sick” (Mal 1:7, 8). Now at first glance we may simply believe that God chastises his priests for the mere fact that they have broken his law, which indeed they had (see Lev 22:17-25; Deut 15:21; 17:1). True, the priests were guilty of offering what was easy instead of what was commanded; however, the context and very purpose of the sacrificial system in which the priests participated forbids us to stop at that interpretive level.
The Deeper Meaning
Ultimately, the priests had evoked the anger of God because of a far deeper truth pertaining to the sacrificial system they had stewarded so poorly. The sacrificial system had never existed simply for itself. It had always been intended to envisage the ultimate sacrifice, Jesus. It was meant to represent, or show a picture, of the perfect, spotless Lamb who would one day come to take away the sins of the world once and for all (Heb 10:11-12). This is why God’s standard demanded such a pristine animal to be slaughtered. This is why God’s anger burned against a group of priests who instead were offering animals that represented no real cost…or sacrifice at all. In doing so, the priests became guilty of far more than just transgressing the law; they were misrepresenting Jesus to those who watched. They had been given the lofty task of proclaiming the excellency of the coming Christ for the people to see. Instead, out of their selfishness and nearsightedness, they instead offered a nod to God by checking off their religious boxes while attempting to rig the system in a way that would ultimately benefit themselves.
Truth for Us Today
How is this passage written to a group of priests relevant to us today? As I read this account I am reminded of Peter’s words in his first epistle. Notice what he chooses to call believers in chapter 2: “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood,” (v 5), and again in verse 9, “But you are a chose race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession…” Did you catch that? He calls us, New Testament believers, priests! And as priests, how can our task be described? We are to “…offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…” (v 5) and “…proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (v. 9).
Instead of a sacrificial system to steward, however, Paul tells us what kind of offerings we are to offer in Romans 12:1, when he writes, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Just as the priests in the day of Malachi were to proclaim the excellencies of the coming Christ to the people through the sacrificial system, we now have been called to proclaim the excellencies of the resurrected Lord Jesus to the world through our lives!
Proclaiming His Worth
We do this, ultimately, not by putting bumper stickers on our cars, having perfect attendance in Sunday School or listening exclusively to Christian radio. We proclaim the excellency of Jesus by declaring the worth of Jesus. I have heard it said this way: Worship is really worth-ship. When Paul speaks of offering our lives as a living sacrifice, he means that the outward expression of our lives will always declare something about the worth of the one we claim to follow as Lord. When the priests offered blind, lame and sick sacrifices, they were making a proclamation of the worth of the One those sacrifices represented, whether they meant to or not. The same can be true for us when the outward expression of our lives places a higher worth on something other than Jesus.
This, then, begs the question: What am I proclaiming about the Lord I claim to follow in the outward expression of my life? Is there anything to which my life ascribes more worth than Jesus?
A Grievous Contrast
Notice the question that God asks the priests through his prophet in Malachi 1:8. “Present that to your governor; will he accept such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you?” What a convicting contrast! Inherent in this question seems to be the fact that these priests would never present such an offering to their government officials. But they dare to offer what is marginal and easy to give to their God? I see so many tragic parallels to this contrast in our own culture today in considering the sacrifices we offer God:
“Present the same amount of commitment to your career or your boss…”
“Present the same amount of commitment to your child’s athletic endeavors…”
“Present the same amount of commitment and sacrifice to your hobbies…”
We can draw this similar contrast in any number of areas within our culture. It really comes down to this: Our lives always proclaim the worth of something. Do they proclaim the worthiness of the greatest treasure there is? The sad reality is that although the priests were only offering what was marginal, or easy to give, they continued to “entreat the favor of God, that he might be gracious to [them]” (Mal 1:9).
God offers a reaction to the priests’ marginal offerings and cost-less sacrifices in Malachi 1:10. “Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand.” You see, God is not interested in our religious obedience, our checking of boxes. He is concerned with our hearts. He already exists as the owner of all things. He does not need our obedience or sacrifice in order to bring his will about. Instead, through sacrificial living, he desires for us to grow in our knowledge of him, relationship with him and dependence on him as he uses us in the completion of his will. His mission will be completed…with or without us. He declares this truth in Malachi 1:11 & 14b, “For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and i every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts…For I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.” He certainly does not need us for this to be the case, but he does desire to use us in bringing it about. And who wouldn’t want to be a part of that!?
Malachi 1 & Lottie Moon
I have preached this passage several times over the past several years, but recently I have been drawn back to its message in light of another Lottie Moon Christmas offering campaign. Perhaps we need only to look at our giving to Lottie Moon over the past several years in order to see the stark reality of our marginal giving. Somewhere around 6,000 people groups exist in our world today that are unreached and have little to no access to the gospel. This means that around 2,000,000,000 people (that’s billion with a ‘b’) have never even heard the name of Jesus. Yet, our (the SBC’s) sending agency, the IMB, continues to face massive budget shortfalls that greatly hinder their attempts to make Jesus’ name know to the ends of the earth. In a denomination that boasts well over 10 million ‘members,’ they can only afford to place around 5,000 missionaries on the field. And that number is down from 5,500 from 4 or 5 years ago when the agency was forced to bring several hundred off the field due to lack of funds.
What does this say about what we are proclaiming with our lives? What are we proclaiming to be worthy? In what may very well be the most convicting statement in the book of Malachi, God declares through his prophet, “Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished” (Malachi 1:14a). When we met Jesus at the cross, following him meant that we vowed everything to him. This is what it means to call him ‘Lord.’ He is worthy of no less than all we have. He exists as the greatest treasure one can have. Yet how often do we only give to him what is marginal or easy to give, falsely believing that our checking off of boxes suffices? Just like the priests in Malachi, we may come to believe that we have somehow rigged the system, offering a nod to God while making this life all about ourselves. Perhaps we need to hear the same rebuke from God that he offered them, then. We may be just as guilty of misrepresenting Jesus to a watching world.
We Need Repentance
Let’s allow the gospel to do its work in our hearts. Let’s allow the Spirit to expose our hearts and lead us to repentance. Let’s commit to intentionally seeking the Lord, asking him what sacrificial would mean for our family. As I shared with our church a couple of weeks ago, it is entirely possible to give a large sum of money and still not give sacrificially. Let’s begin to proclaim the worth and excellency of Jesus to a watching world by giving the largest gift ever given to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering this year! Let’s give in such a way that those who have surrendered to go would be enabled to do so, thus increasing our number of missionaries on the field! Let’s begin to proclaim to a watching world that Jesus exists as our greatest treasure, worthy of all of our lives! Let’s proclaim his worth by, as IMB President David Platt suggests, laying our lives out before God as a blank check, willing to gladly offer whatever he would call us to give or do. No amount of presents could provide that amount of joy this Christmas!
Beyond Christmas, let’s proclaim the worth of our Lord to everyone in our circle of influence in the way we view and live our lives! Let’s offer our lives as living sacrifices, boldly proclaiming the gospel in word and deed. Let’s be people who truly treasure Jesus and put him on display for the world around us to see.