The Honor of God and the Motivation of Obedience (Sermon)
Many of you know that I worked at the headquarters of Lifeway Christian Resources before I became your pastor in June of 2015. My office was in the high-rise overlooking downtown Nashville. In January of last year, I watched them demolish the building I worked out of for almost 4 years.It was a strange and sentimental moment to watch that building implode and crumble via live stream from my office here at church.
Now, if you have ever watched a building being demolished you understand
that there are two primary ways to destroy it:
You can demolish a building from the outside with wrecking balls, which is visible to everyone and catches no one by surprise.
The building can also be demolished from the inside by strategically placed explosives that weaken the integrity of the structure.
This second type of demolition is not immediately obvious to onlookers, but as the structure weakens the building will eventually collapse.
In some ways, the implosion of a building can serve as a metaphor for the moral destruction that we have all witnessed in the lives of Christians. It is also instructive: The visible collapse always begins with sin on the inside – a pattern of disobedience that weakens the integrity of the structure of our lives.
In Malachi, we read the ancient words of a prophet warning the morally deteriorating priests in Israel. Their obedience had been deteriorating, and now they are warned of their destruction. With the deterioration of the priests, the nation followed suit. It reminds us that the people begin to fall apart internally before the ruin and rubble are ever seen externally. It is a warning to us that we must be diligent in destroying our sin, before it violently destroys us.
One of the temptations we may have when reading a text like this is say, well, clearly this decree is aimed at the Old Testament priests (v. 1). In the theocracy of Israel, the priests did have a specific function – to prepare and offer sacrifices to God on behalf of the people, the instruct the people in the word, and guide their worship in order for Israel to be a light to other nations. And, now that we are no longer under the Old Covenant with the priestly system, this does not apply to us in the exact same way.
However, in 1 Peter 2:5 and 9, Christians are called as set apart for the work of God, as a royal priesthood.
1 Peter 2:5 - “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
1 Peter 2:9 – “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
We are called to offer spiritual sacrifices, and in doing so we honor and revere God as most excellent, that is, above all else.
The call to honor and revere God is still mandated. The honor of God is our motivation for obedience.
We Are Called To Honor God’s Name (2:1-2)
(Malachi 2:1-2)“Therefore, this decree is for you priests: If you don’t listen, and if you don’t take it to heart to honor my name,” says the Lord of Armies, “I will send a curse among you, and I will curse your blessings. In fact, I have already begun to curse them because you are not taking it to heart.
Malachi is, has been, landing a charge against the priests by saying : You are not honoring my name. You are offering blemished sacrifices and failing to uphold the teaching of God’s word.
God says to them, “you do not listen” in other words - you have not taken my word to heart, you have not made up your mind to be obedient to my laws regardless of the circumstances. Honor comes from the heart, and the actions reveal the heart. The priests Disobedience to the law of God reveals that they do not honor God (v.2) If they truly honored God, you would set your minds to obedience.
Here is how I understand the honor of God. I would argue that honor is where “fear” and “loyalty” meet. Show me a man’s life – what he fears and what he is loyal to - and I will show you what he honors.
How does honor relate to obedience to God’s requirements? The honor of God is not another requirement; it is the foundation – or - motivation for obedience behind all of his requirements. If the Old Testament Priests honored God, they would have not dared to offer blemished sacrifices. The actions reveal what a man honors in his heart.
What does honoring God mean for our obedience? In your heart and mind, God is so powerful – so holy – and so righteous that you would think twice, would not dare, be disobedient or continue in disobedience to his Word.
In other words, if you are a true Christian –
It is the fear of God and loyalty to his commands that holds your finger back from clicking on that inappropriate image to preserve your sexual purity.
It’s the fear of God and loyalty to his commands that holds your tongue in moments where you are tempted to slander or gossip about one of his children.
It’s the fear of God and loyalty to his commands that compels you to prioritize sacrificing your resources to advance his kingdom over and above padding your comfort.
It’s the fear of God and loyalty to his commands that compels you to speak the truth in love when someone is living immorally, even at the risk of being socially ostracized, because your fear of God is more real than your fear of others.
In other words, its fear of God and loyalty to his commands that motivates you to (As Paul says in Philippians 2) “work out your salvation with fear and trembling”, Honor is where the fear of God and loyalty to his commands meet. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
We Are Called To Revere God’s Decree (2:3-5)
In the Old Testament God’s stipulations to His covenant with his people brings blessings for obedience, and curses for disobedience. Note how this plays out in 2:3-5.
(Malachi 2:3-5) “Look, I am going to rebuke your descendants, and I will spread animal waste over your faces, the waste from your festival sacrifices, and you will be taken away with it. Then you will know that I sent you this decree, so that my covenant with Levi may continue,” says the Lord of Armies. “My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave these to him; it called for reverence, and he revered me and stood in awe of my name.
I will rebuke your descendants, in other words, the sins of your generation will have implications on your sons and daughters. Your ancestors will still have to deal with the rubble of your destructive disobedience. But the warning is not only future consequences, but also immediate shame. Because you treat me and my word with disdain, I will publically treat you in discipline (v. 3).
This is where our passage gets really graphic, and even gross. When the priests skinned, cut up, and prepared dead animals as sacrifices to be presented before God on behalf of the people, they would remove the filth from their carcasses (internal organs and bodily waste).
When God says, I will smear the waste on your faces (v. 3), He is saying, you have privately shown disdain for my name, I will publicly discipline you. I will show you to be unclean; I will remove you from your post – like you remove the waste from a sacrifice. You will be taken away, just like you take away the animal waste outside the gates to the city landfill.
Look at verse 5, This is where the strong warning is coupled with a gracious covenant reminder: “my covenant with him (Levi, the priests) was that of “life and peace”. This life and peace would only be experienced when one revered, honored, and feared God’s name. This life and peace is only experienced when one is obedient to God’s word. Note the motivation for such obedience: Levi revered God and stood in awe of His name (v. 5). There is life and peace in the one who reveres God and honors his name through obedience to his word.
Now, if I were to stop here – we would all be condemned. If Malachi would have been the closing of the canon of Scripture, there would be no hope. While Levi provided a good example, the priests as a whole had failed. But after the imperfect priests are warned by Malachi, we turn the page to the good news of Jesus Christ. In which dawns the advent of the arrival of Jesus Christ, where all the hopes of a perfect priesthood are fulfilled. He is the perfect high priest, being the divine son of God he is without sin. And, as fully human, he is also able to mediate between God and man and offer himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the saints.
Jesus not only represents God to the people as a priest, He is God among the people. Jesus not only represented the people to God as a representative, through his sacrifice he is able to present his people Holy before God.
As Hebrews 7 says, unlike the Old Testament priests, Jesus was holy and innocent.
Where the Old Testament priests made sacrifices for the people and for themselves, Jesus sacrificed himself only for others sin.
Where the Old Testament priests made temporary sacrifices each year, Jesus’ sacrifice was once for all – permanent and eternal.
While the Old Testament priests entered into a man-made tent to make sacrifices, Jesus entered into the presence of the living God and now sits on the throne.
It is finished. The work is done. While Levi provided an example as a pattern for our obedience, Jesus perfectly fulfilled the law in our place and credits us his obedience.
The only way to experience the life and peace that Malachi promises is through Jesus Christ, Jesus is the life (John 11). Jesus is himself our peace (Eph. 2).
Remember what I said earlier: While the Old Testament priests offered annual sacrifices to pay for the sins of the people, we, as the New Testament people of God, offer sacrifices as worship in response to the grace of our High Priest Jesus Christ, we paid for our sin once and for all. Our honor and reverence for God is the foundation and motivation for our obedience.
Fear of God is the way you come to God, it’s the way you come to Jesus. You come to God in reverence; you come to God in humility. You come trembling, with a heart that is broken over your sin: “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” On the one hand - We tremble in his presence that he would actually receive us in grace. On the other hand – We tremble if there is ever any inclination to be cavalier and abandon his word and be disobedient to his commands.
We Are Called To Obey God’s Instruction (2:6-9)
(Malachi 2:6-9) True instruction was in his mouth, and nothing wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and integrity and turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should desire instruction from his mouth, because he is the messenger of the Lord of Armies. “You, on the other hand, have turned from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have violated the covenant of Levi,” says the Lord of Armies. “So I in turn have made you despised and humiliated before all the people because you are not keeping my ways but are showing partiality in your instruction.”
1 Peter 2:5 and 9, Christians are called as set apart for the work of God, as a royal priesthood. Let’s look at Malachi’s usage of Levi as a positive example in order to motivate our obedience. Note, Levi is held up as an example in contrast to the priests of Malachi’s day who were (v. 9) - not keeping God’s ways but are showing partiality in their instruction. By showing partiality, the priests were sacrificing their integrity for popularity, twisting the Law to gain friends. Levi, on the other hand spoke the word with accuracy and integrity (v.6-7).
How often are we prone to we sacrifice obedience to God’s good and clear commands because we are more concerned about our reputation than we are revering God? How often do we shrink back from telling someone the truth, according to God’s word – because we fear how it will impact us socially?
When it came to Levi, nothing false was found on his lips means that, there was factual correctness and moral uprightness in his words. I understand, this is really difficult in a hypersensitive world where almost everyone around us raises their personal preferences beyond anyone’s corrections. We live in a world where people justify their ungodliness to the point where anyone wouldn’t dare confront them in sin.
Paul even warns Timothy to watch out for this in the church.
(2 Timothy 3:1-5) But know this: Hard times will come in the last days. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, demeaning, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid these people.
This is why the example of Levi is so challenging, (v. 6b) He walked in integrity and turned many from iniquity. Testing all things by God’s word at the risk of your own reputation and with disregard for its social implications. "But Matt, they wont like me! They’ll circle the wagons." That’s ok. Sacrifice your fear of man so that you can turn others from iniquity.
If you don’t speak the truth in love, all that’s left for them is destruction. The most loving thing you can do speak according to the word. The most destructive thing you can do is to show partiality and allow them to remain in their disobedience. The most destructive thing you can do to yourself is to cave to the fear of others when peoples souls are dangling on the cliff of hell.
The honor of God is our motivation for obedience. The greatest need for the witness of the church is the personal holiness of individual Christians as the royal priesthood of God. We must learn to take ownership of one another’s walk. We must understand that the greatest gift we can give others is our holiness. Integrity and character does not mean that we will be sinless. However, the pursuit of character and integrity will mean that by God’s grace we will “sin less” and apply God’s word more.
A text like this calls for repentance, and repentance is the precursor to biblical revival.
Think back to the demolition of a building once more: When a building implodes from the inside, it is often done by strategically placed explosives that damage the integrity of the structure, so that it eventually collapses. In the life of a believer, it is the unrepentant sin that if continued, will eventually explode and to the surprise of everyone around, will leave nothing but rubble in its wake. How often is the honor of God scandalized because of the collapse of his people?How swiftly could be remove the explosives of disobedience if we revered God’s name and in the power of his spirit set our hearts to be obedient to his word?
We have often failed. The Old Testament priests often failed. But thanks be to God we have a high priest who is faithful. Thanks be to God he has given us his word, and his Spirit to repent, and set our hearts on honoring and revering God’s name.
(1 Peter 2:5) You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
Let us take this seriously, in a world where moral decay erodes the very foundations of civilization, we are called to be a holy priesthood (a light to the nations), building up a spiritual house in which we offer our lives as spiritual sacrifices to God.