2. A Priesthood which Ignores God's Laws

A Priesthood Which Ignores God’s Laws

Malachi 1:6 – 3:15

Last week we looked at the first 5 verses of the Book of Malachi, under the heading of “The Nation Which Has Forgotten God’s Love”.

This morning, we move to a much larger chunk of this very up-to-date Book, and our title this morning is “A Priesthood Which Ignores God’s Laws”.

I guess we could say that this doesn’t apply to us because we’re not priests; well maybe not in the Catholic or Anglican sense, but a very strongly held Baptist principle is: The priesthood of all believers. So let’s see what Malachi – or rather, God through His messenger, Malachi – has to say, and you’ll be glad to know we aren’t going to do a verse-by-verse study!

You can imagine the priests smiling when Malachi had a go at the people (1:1–5). “Quite right!” you can hear them say. “We work hard in the temple, but where are all the people? Why don’t they come anymore? God loves them, but they don’t want to know. They’re so busy with other things, but WE’RE still here!”

Imagine then how they must have felt when Malachi turned on them! Of course, the people could quite rightly say, “Serves the priests right!” So although originally this was a word to the priests within the tradition of the Old Testament, we can easily understand it is a word for all Christian Believers today.

However, it is also a word to Church Leaders today, and it’s one that we should be uncomfortable with – not necessarily individually, although that may well be the case, but certainly corporately.

You don’t have to go very far to find that different church leaders hold different views on the same passages of scripture. While in one sense we have the freedom of interpretation, and the Holy Spirit can reveal different things to different people, even at the same time, we cannot get away from the fact that we speak mixed messages within the life of the Church, and definitely beyond it.

Consider the example of the ordination of women; or homosexual priests and bishops; or same sex marriages. These issue shave polarised people to be totally for and totally against, but they justify their stance from the same Scriptures!

Now I’m not about to go into a debate about these issues at this point, but Malachi, in his day, was challenging the leaders about the way they were understanding or interpreting God’s Laws.

Our title goes further than that: the priests were IGNORING God’s Laws. They were perverting them, and in the process were leading people astray.

Consequently there was moral and spiritual laxity; there was pride and indifference; and permissiveness, scepticism were rife.

We must never lose sight of the positive, amongst all the negatives – God still loved them – but neither can we ignore where they had got to spiritually. The priests were turning God’s ways, and God’s Laws on their heads, and saying that the opposite of the truth was OK.

Sadly, they didn’t even know it! Look, for example, at chapter 1v 6: “How have we shown contempt?” or chapter 2 v 17: “How have we wearied the Lord?”

But these were the leaders – the people whom God had called to be an example to the people, and who were supposed to bring God’s Word to the people, and offer the sins and confessions of the people back to God. How far from this had they wandered!

We could sum it all up with words like pretence, and charade, and broken promises, and second best. Yet surely the Lord God deserves only the very best from the leaders, and for those leaders to then challenge the people to give THEIR very best to God, too.

So what were the leaders doing? Chapter 1, v 6 – 8: they were promising God the best animal in the flock or herd, but then they realised that it was worth more money at the market, so they substituted it for an animal that wouldn’t get a good price – one that would be difficult to sell, and that no-one else would want to buy. “We’ll give the scraggy, old, worthless one to God” seems to be what they were saying and demonstrating.

Malachi ironically said to them (v 8): “Try giving that to your boss. Would he or she be pleased with that?” The answer is so obvious, but isn’t it possible that they had done it for so long, and so often, that they didn’t even notice anymore? No matter what they said or did, their actions shouted very loudly that second-best was good enough for God. Malachi emphasises this attitude in v 12 – 14, and says, “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.”

What about you and me? We may not be priests in the way that some traditions of the Church have priests, but we do believe in the ‘Priesthood of all Believers’, so is there any hint that we are doing the same as those priests of old?

Do our words and actions match up? Does what we say that we’ll offer to God match up to the reality? Is it what we ACTUALLY give Him? Of course this isn’t just financially, but in every way, in every part of our lives? Have we promised our lives to Him, but have held some part back for ourselves?

Now look at chapter 1v 10. They were going through the motions and ritual of temple worship, but it was empty, meaningless. It was play-acting, a charade, and Malachi, or rather God, through Malachi, shouts at them: “Oh! That someone would shut the temple doors!” In other words, either get serious with God in worship, or go home and stop the pretence. You might as well close the doors and sell the building!

Malachi reminded them that God’s name was great among the nations (1:11), but the implication is that God’s own special possession – His people, the Children of Israel – were a nonsense in His eyes.

And what was the priests response? v12: They turned their noses up at God, or as Malachi puts it: “They sniff contemptuously.”

But there’s more! Chapter 2, v 1 & 2: Their hearts had stopped honouring the Lord, if you hadn’t already guessed it! Therefore, God threatened to turn their blessings into curses. This wasn’t what God wanted, but the priests, and by implication, the people as well, had gone so far from God that they were bringing it on themselves.

No doubt God would be the first person to be blamed, just as happens today, but so often what God gets blamed for we have brought on ourselves: whether that’s personal issues, or more widely, things like famine, disasters, drought, and even global warming.

In v7 God says through Malachi that the lips of the priest should preserve knowledge, and give sound instruction, but he says, they had turned away from God’s way, and caused many to stumble (v 8).

They had also shown partiality with the Law and aren’t there parallels with our world today? There’s corruption and bribery, and if you have money you can simply buy your way out of a predicament, or get what you want.

There are Missionaries who live with bribery and corruption all the time in the country that they are serving in. My youngest daughter, and our son-in-law, serving in Mozambique, are faced with this in the police, and even sadly, in the Church. It’s not new – it happened in Malachi’s day, and sadly, it seems that the priests might even have encouraged it. Or at least accepted it by turning a blind eye. God put it this way (2:9): “You have shown partiality in matters of the Law.”

So let’s look briefly at one other thing in this section, and it’s the thorny and emotive issue of tithing!

Chapter 3 v 8 – 10. I was told in one Church not to preach on tithing, because it offends people. Guess what? People were offended!! But the point that Malachi was making was that they were robbing God (3:8). They were giving Him what was left, after they had taken everything that they needed first. You can imagine them searching around for some change to put in the Treasury, and worse still, they didn’t seem to have a conscience about it!

But not only were they robbing God, but they were also missing out on God’s blessing (3:10). Now of course we must never give to God in order to get more blessings – what is sometimes referred to as prosperity teaching, which is un-Biblical and wrong – and we must always guard against it, but the fact is that if we are faithful to the Lord in our giving to Him, He blesses us in abundance. He does still bless even though our giving may be stingy, but He longs to bless us abundantly. The word in the original is ‘overflowing’ – an ‘overflowing blessing’.

Malachi says to the people their attitudes won’t do, and in spite of their wrong or unhelpful attitudes and teaching, God still loves them, and wants to bless them even more.

We in the Church today, not just leaders, are being called, challenged by Malachi, or rather God speaking through Malachi, to take God’s Word seriously.

Let’s quietly reflect on God’s Word for ourselves, today, and respond to Him appropriately.

Malcolm Brown