Agonizomai: Malachi 2:1-2 - Cursed Worship

Monday, August 03, 2009

Malachi 2:1-2 - Cursed Worship

Malachi 2:1-2 - Cursed Worship

Malachi 2:1-2 "And now, O priests, this command is for you. 2 If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name, says the LORD of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart."

The warning proper for those charged with the administration of the sacrificial system is now given directly. There can be no mistaking the target. And while we must understand that, in the New Covenant, we are all priests under the authority of the Great High Priest, Who is Christ the Redeemer, there is responsibility according to knowledge. So we must take this warning personally, regardless of the fact that it speaks to office holders. But those who are charged with ministering (that is to say, communicating and not mediating) Christ (the sacrifice) unto the flock need to pay special heed.

There were in Malachi’s day men charged with the most sacred duties who were not true believers. Some were deceived; some deceived themselves; some were simply unrepentantly wicked. Just as there are today, in pulpits throughout Christendom, men (and, may God help us, women) who have no real knowledge of God - no fear of Him, no true reverence, and who at best should get a real job and stop misleading God’s people and at worst are outright false prophets. To such people the sacred things are profane. The dedicated things are mundane. They have no appreciation and no idea of the depth of their profanity because they handle holy things without the sanctifying grace of faith in He Who ever lives to make intercession for His people.

Both the mind and the heart come into play here. Listening to what God has said involves the mind. Responding to what God has said involves the mind too, but a true response must also come from the heart. Honoring God formulaically, because it is how it has always been done, because it is the thing we learned by rote or habit or tradition, is not enough. God desires and demands reverence, honor and worship from the heart.

It is important to note here that no natural man is capable of such a thing. The natural man hates God and will not submit to Him. The natural man worships self - in many and various and sometimes subtle ways. His heart is inventive, deceitful, depraved and spiritually dead. God commands what we cannot do. Yet the reason for man’s inability is quite simply his steadfast unwillingness. The Word of God clearly teaches that a man must be born again or he cannot see the kingdom of God. And it further teaches that it is God and God alone who accomplishes this. {John 3:3,Eze 36:22-36}

Worship that is mere human rote and tradition, and worship that does not come through the heart by faith is an abomination to God. He will not regard it. When He says He will send a curse upon the doers of such things and that He will curse their blessings, He does not necessarily mean the blessings already given to them by Him. He may mean their blessing of God’s Name in their worship. The blessings here are the reverencing of the God of all "blessings" in worship. {Ps 103:1-5} Men cannot bless God in the same way the He blesses them. God is the source of all that is good and, if to worship God is good, then even worship comes by the grace of God as a gift to His people. We do not do something for God when we worship. It is God doing something in us. So then, in Psalm Chapter 103 and here in Malachi, blessings toward God from the heart of His true people are praises and worship and reverence and awe, and the ascribing (not the giving) of glory to God.

In fact God Himself clarifies the matter when He says, "Indeed, I have already cursed them (the blessings in worship), because you do not lay it to heart." Their actions are the result of the underlying condition of the heart. If we think of God as waiting around to find out what our heart condition is before He knows how to react then we have a wrong view of Almighty God. He knows the end from the beginning. He knows the condition and intents of the heart. He knew them before they were even formed.

The unfolding of events to our consciousness is not for God to see what will happen, but for us to discover what we are and what God is. That’s it. The revelation of God and the revelation of the darkness in humankind to us is the purpose of events in time. No surprises for God. Nothing unplanned or outside of His sovereign purview. Nothing. The end known from the beginning in absolute detail with stone blind certainty because it was all contained in the decree(s) of creation.

So from eternity God has decreed that His curse is upon all human worship - all "offerings" that do not come from the heart. And we know that only a new heart springing from the gift and indwelling of the perfect Son of God in us can offer to a holy and perfect God what a holy and perfect God commands. In short, God accepts worship in His perfect Son and no other. When we New Testament saints come to God our worship must be in His Name - the Name of the only begotten Son. And "in His Name" is not an incantation or an afterthought tacked onto the end of a prayer. It is not a magic spell that renders whatever we do acceptable.

"In His Name," means truly belonging to Him, having been bought by His blood and reborn of His spirit and brought to the obedience of faith. It means regarding oneself as having died with Him and being resurrected to life in Him and He in us. Christ in us, the hope of glory. Bearing the fruit of His indwelling spirit to the praise of His glorious grace.

Worship must be in spirit and in truth. And neither of these is available to the unregenerate man. He is spiritually dead and he cannot (= will not) hear the truth. Apart from Christ he can do nothing - not even - in fact especially not worship.

In case it is asked how the Israelites could be aware of all this and how Christ’s indwelling and rebirth and empowerment and sanctification could apply to them when they didn’t even have a clear picture of it all, the following should be noted.

The sacrificial system never did have any value of itself to purge sins or to change hearts. That was always the prerogative of God alone. The former sins were dealt with in the sacrifice of the true Lamb of God {Ro 3:22-25} who came to save His people from their sins. {Mt 1:20-21} All His people, including those elect Israelites who had expressed the faith they had been granted in God’s ultimate provision for sin through the heartfelt obedience to the law.

Of course, the more traditionally received view of God saying, "I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart," is to apply it to their prior disobedience and to God’s progressive chastisements. He started during the exodus and He continued throughout their history in the period of the judges and on to the ante-penultimate in chastisements and/or judgements - the captivity and exile in Babylon. Malachi writes in a period following the return of the remnant. And already there is apostasy, even among them. And Malachi is God’s messenger of reminder that God has certainly acted for the honour of His Name - and that ought to be enough to prompt them to remember the penalties for irreverent, disobedient and apostate practices.

It is certainly true that God is not a remote, autocratic, unfeeling, uncompassionate and impatient despot who is chafing at the bit and looking for every opportunity to come down hard upon people. This is not the God of the Bible. He is longsuffering and patient. He is meek and gentle. He is kind and peaceable. Every move, every action, every event that His providence provides to His people is an act of lovingkindness designed to grow, or to keep or to turn them back into the Way. The problem is not God. The problem is sinful man. What sense is there in complaining that the goads are hurting if they do not serve as a means by which we are turned. A gentle kick ceases to be effective and must be replaced with a harder one and so on. But the aim is always a good one - to keep them in, or to turn them into, the Way.

Of course, in Israel proper, the tares grew up with the wheat, just as they do in the church. And apart from faith, those mercies that rained upon the whole nation in terms of chastisements turned out to be unfruitful judgements. And when the nation reached the state it had in Malachi’s time God was ready to take away the prophets altogether from Israel.


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