When anything other than Jesus becomes our hope (or our wealth, security, sufficiency, completeness, joy, safety, etc…), whatever we have replaced him with has become an idol. And when we place anything on that throne, we will defend it. We will justify it. We will protect it. We will cease to allow the gospel to confront it. We will hang a Do Not Disturb sign on it. As Gerald said on Sunday, “Our idols will always make demands of us.”
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.
In Dr. Bruce Ashford’s excellent book, The Theology of Mission, he writes, “We must remember that the gospel stands in judgment of all cultures, calling them to conform themselves to the image of Christ.” He goes on to say that, “The gospel does not condemn all of a culture, but is always and at the same time both affirming and rejoicing.” If this is true of the gospel’s interaction with culture, and I believe it is, then it stands to reason that this should also be the individual believer’s interaction with culture, as well. As I have thought through these words I have thought about how I critique the culture myself. Further, I have considered how I have witnessed believers in my context critique the culture. I am afraid that, by and large, believers critique the culture based on their own preferences much more often than allowing the gospel to offer the critique.