Agonizomai: Malachi 1:6 - Handsome is as Handsome Does

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Malachi 1:6 - Handsome is as Handsome Does

Malachi 1:6 - Handsome is as Handsome Does

Malachi 1:6 "A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear?" says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?’

Contrary to all that much of the modern evangelicalism constantly asserts, the honouring of God as both Father and Master necessarily contains an element of fear. Not fright. Fear. Godly fear may sometimes involve a fear of what God will do, depending upon whether we are unsaved, or whether we are in knowing sin - but the true believer’s fear of God is fear that springs from what He has done. When we actually see something of this God, we act like Job or like the Apostle John on Patmos. We despise ourselves, we repent in dust and ashes, we stop our mouths, we fall down as dead.

There is a sense that we don’t fear God instead of rejoicing in His love for us, but alongside it. They are two sides of the same coin. They are inseparable. We have been brought near to the unapproachable by the ineffable doing the unimaginable. That is a cause to fear God. He is so unutterably different from us; He is transcendent; He is holy; and He does as He pleases among all the host of heaven and earth. He can raise to the highest heaven and consign to the lowest hell. And He has chosen to raise us - just we who believe and no others - from the morass of fallen humanity. What love! His choices are beyond being questioned and His decrees are from eternity to eternity.

The realization of our position of being saved and preserved entirely due to the grace and the work of God and not because of anything in us (especially our wills) is at one and the same time a thrill and a cause of the terror of the Lord. We are loved, but because He loved us and not because we were lovely. We are saved, but not because we did anything at all, but because He alone decreed it and brought it to pass. What love it evokes in us - and what fear!

In addressing Israel in such a manner as He does here, through Malachi, God is using a didactic dialectic. He is causing them to examine themselves and their fruit by asking them questions. Many are called, but few are chosen. Amongst National Israel there is a remnant that is true Israel but what is amazing is that they don’t know which they are unless God chastises them, corrects them, rebukes and admonishes them. In the midst of this their fruit is tested. God’s people will repent and turn because the life of the believer is one of constant repentance. God is at work through His Word and His Spirit, His rod and His staff, to guide the true sheep all the way home and into the eternal fold. The true believers, in fact, will not be scandalized, shocked or offended by rightly applied correction or admonishment. The true believer will be humbled and repentant. This is the way to know the difference - by their fruit.

God uses means to achieve His ends. He decrees, but He also works. He acts directly but, more often, He uses secondary agencies. Law and correction are means; they demand obedience and therefore bring the true hearer to the end of himself because he knows he cannot obey, absent the enabling power of God. So where does the believer go? What is he to do? He repents and believes God for mercy and goes to the very God he has offended for the grace to be found giving more honour and fear to God.

What had the leaders of Israel been doing that brought this severe rebuke from God? They had been de-supernaturalizing their religion. They had been using God as a mere adjunct to their lives. They had been valuing worldly things above God. It is universal problem. In the days of the judges there were at least 7 times when God blessed Israel and they became indolent and unwatchful and compromisers with the surrounding cultures. As a result their enemies oppressed them until they again cried out to God. This was no accident. God allows and uses enemies for the good of His people. Tribulation purifies the soul of the faithful by casting them upon God.

Even so, not all those in the wilderness that were bitten by the fiery serpents were healed. It was those that looked at the brass serpent that lived. Sin kills. But those who believe God shall live. It was always so. It was so here. It is so now. For the nation of Israel is a type of the professing church (not the true church) and the weeds and tares are growing up together. God will separate the one from the other at the great harvest, but He will demonstrate the preservation of His saints through the constituted means of preaching the word of God - through the hearing of which comes faith unto those who are God’s children.

It is characteristic of the Old Covenant that God worked primarily through the leadership. Kings, priests and prophets led the people. They were charged with leading them in honouring and revering God. In the New Covenant we have a King, Priest and Prophet - Jesus Christ, who has passed through the heavenlies and Who now dwells in every believer. And so the leader of God’s people leads them from within each one of them.

The leaders in times past were only types and shadows of He Who was to come, but they were nevertheless accountable to God for exercising right leadership. Though they often served as an example of the failure of mere human religion and the weakness of the flesh, yet there was no excuse for their failure to care for God’s people. And it was a particularly terrible thing when leaders were not faithful but mere hypocrites. God hates hypocrisy with a vengeance.

But even so, He often warns before He acts. He rarely rains fire from heaven unless people have first ignored, refused, rejected and rebelled against His just and righteous warnings. God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. He holds out His hands all day long commanding all men everywhere to repent. He asks, "Why will you perish? Turn and live!" But when men fail to heed - especially those charged with caring for the flock - God ultimately judges. The Babylonian captivity is an example. The destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD is another, along with the resulting slaughter and Diaspora. But the ultimate example would be the sobering one of the world wide flood of Noah’s time, from which only 8 souls emerged to repopulate the world.

The great implication here is a warning about hypocrisy - about skin-deep religion - about a fake spirituality. Is God truly God? Is He God to them (and to us)? Then it is hypocrisy to say one thing and to act differently as these leaders are doing. A Son honours His Father. A Servant obeys his Master. One is a position of familial respect and the other a position of obligation due to relative position or power. Both things are characteristic of our relationship with God. And they have not disappeared on account of the coming of Christ. He fulfilled them both perfectly so that we might receive the Spirit by which to strive for the same, yet without condemnation when we fail.

But it is characteristic of sin that it blinds us. God is light but sin is darkness, and those who are given to it are blocked from the light. So it is that the Lord, through Malachi, poses the rhetorical question by putting these words in the mouths of the failing leadership, "How have we despised your name?" Think about that. For us to even ask such a question as if it could not apply to us would be evidence or darkness of soul and hardness of heart. To be found careless and indolent and idolatrous, and not to be aware of it while claiming to be religious, would be astounding were it not true of us all - especially we believers.

The Bible has little to say to rank unbelievers. It says, "Repent and believe the gospel!" But the Bible has a very great deal to speak to professing believers. Most of the Bible is written about Israel and about the church. Yet most of the problems are in Israel and in the professing church. God is concerned with the purity of His people and the Bible clearly screams this from every page. It states that no fruit means no true salvation. It commands every professor to examine himself and to make his calling and election sure.

When God attributes to us a question like this, "How have we despised your name?" then, if our first reaction is bewilderment instead of godly fear, self-examination and shame, then we need to wonder if we are in the Way at all. God has the right to ask. In view of our infirmities it is loving of Him to ask. He is pointing us to our own condition and back to the only Source of a cure. And the first clue is that the cure is not to be sought or found in us.


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