Agonizomai: Malachi 3:13-15 - Clueless Self-Deceit

Friday, September 04, 2009

Malachi 3:13-15 - Clueless Self-Deceit

Malachi 3:13-15 - Clueless Self-Deceit

Malachi 3:13-15 "Your words have been hard against me, says the LORD. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’ 14 You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the LORD of hosts? 15 And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’"

Here is another use of the rhetorical device of question and answer posed by the one person. The idea is to illustrate the state of mind and heart of the people. It is not so much that they actually said what Malachi attributes to them as it is that the Holy Spirit, though Malachi, is uncovering their innermost attitude.

Sin hardens the heart. And since we are all inveterate sinners we all have naturally hard hearts. But it is by means of the Word of God that God Himself moves in the heart through His Spirit to bring about the obedience of faith in those whom He is saving. Yet, for reasons not immediately apparent to we mere mortals, even believers undergo times of relative hardening and relative zeal. This is a wonderful mixture of outward evidences by which unregenerate people particularly cannot make a distinction between themselves and the saints. There is something (actually Someone) at work in the saints but the truth of that working is spiritually discerned. Hard hearts cannot perceive it because they cannot admit to it. They are prejudiced against it. But if it pleases God, He can use the light in His saints as a tool in His own hands, and to be the means by which others are opened up to the truth. Or, He can simply get glory for Himself through the continued ignorance, denial, repression or even persecution of that Truth in others.

The Israelites have hardened their hearts against God. Some of them are true Israel even though they are not without fault. Most of Israel was, however, lost. Most did not believe. There was a remnant - as there always had been - that God saved for Himself. Note God saved them and He saved them for Himself. {1Ki 19:18 Isa 43:25 Ro 11:4} But here our faithful God faithfully keeps to His part of the covenant with Israel despite Israel’s constant failure to hold to their part. So He speaks to both the dead, so to speak, and to the living in Israel, pointing out the depravity of their hearts.

He shows them that they are so far gone that they haven’t even a clue as to why God is offended in them. They think that they are compliant, obedient, good, holy ... safe! But they are worldly, carnal, largely unregenerate, certainly apostate and in peril of their souls. Because they think that they stand they are already fallen - for they have departed from He Who is able to make them stand {Ro 14:4} and to keep them until the end. They claim to have entered the narrow gate but they are actually traveling on the broad way that leads to destruction.

These people have given up in their hearts. Malachi uses the rhetoric to show them what they cannot see about themselves. They have lost faith in God. They no longer feel that He is just. While they go about abstaining from all the pleasures in the world as a self-sacrificing gift to God out of their own piety, others are living the good life, cheating and getting wealthy by unrighteous means, without the slightest hint that God is unhappy about it all. So why not join them?

Recognize the thinking? Read Romans Chapter 2 and 3 to get a sound grasp of "I’m not as bad as them" theology and a touch of the "I’m OK because I’m religious" ideology. There is a unity in the Bible that yields to study and this attitude revealed in Malachi is precisely the attitude execrated by Paul in the beginnings of his great treatise on the gospel.

What this, and all unbelief, amounts to here is an accusation against God. It is the old lie, "Indeed did God say..." dressed up in new circumstances. All unbelief is sin and all sin springs from unbelief. {Ro 14:23} Let’s unpack some of the attitude displayed here to actually see the root of sin in the "response" of Israel.

What is the profit of keeping His charge? Whoever said there was to be profit in obedience? Obedience is the duty of all God’s creatures. God is owed obedience simply on the basis of the fact that He is God - Maker of heaven and earth and Sustainer of all things. The Alpha and Omega. The final arbiter. This is before we even consider the beauty and glories of His Person; His holiness, justice, lovingkindness and forbearance. These characteristics, inasmuch as they are known to our hearts, make it not only a duty but a sheer joy to know Him and to obey Him for His Own Name’s sake.

(What is the profit) … of walking in mourning before the Lord? This displays a double-minded thinking - and we know what God says of such thinking. {Jas 1:6-8} How is it double-minded? It sees obedience as a sacrifice of something that their hearts are fixed to. They give up something they want and thereby get credit in their own minds for doing what they ought to have done anyway. They are still attached to the world. Their hearts belong to the world so that they see obedience as "giving something up." But if their hearts were changed they would see that the only One Who ever gives up anything is God alone. He gave up His Son. The Son (temporarily) gave up the glory He had with the Father before the world was made. And what does God require that we give up? The sin that kills us? Yet we can’t (because we won’t) even do that unless we have a new heart from God.

God is endless giving. Blessings and mercies and wonders issue forth from Him as virtue eternally. Every moment of life for the saint is blessing, and every moment for the unbeliever is forbearance and common grace towards them - all because of the Lord Jesus Christ’s cross-work.

But when men’s focus is upon things below and not on things above then they will naturally fall into the mindset that sees God’s forbearance towards evildoers as unjust. They have missed the "long view" of existence. They have shut up God to the vapor of time that comprises their own earthly existence - or even the blink that is all human existence from Adam until now. Compared to eternity these things are mere hiccups. What God does is for ever. What appears to be injustice is a momentary forbearance for the eternal good of His purposes in Christ Jesus.

Evildoers will not escape God’s eternal justice. When the last of God’s elect is brought into the body of Christ and the Lord returns to rule with a rod of iron and to requite the wicked, then all will be made clear. Are we looking forward to that day? The saints do. Even the Old Testament saints did with a far greater degree of understanding than many professing faith today. Job understood. {Job 19:26} David understood. {Ps 23:5-6}

The sheep are not entirely to be blamed in this day and age because the eternal view is fruit of the preaching and teaching of the whole counsel of God. If the men claiming to be raised up by God as leaders for the body had themselves this heavenly view, and actually believed and practiced it, then the people would be edified. Jesus Christ would be laid before them in all His glory and truth and they would be able to choose whom they would follow. To the degree that this is not done, there will be a reckoning and, if I were a such a minister of the gospel, I would tremble at the prospect.

But those who profess to know Christ and live for this world are at best impoverished saints and at worst are still lost.


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