Mark Brown writes:
Until recently, it was usual to identify Christians by common labels like Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, etc. Today, it’s more typical to ask, “What style of worship do you prefer?” This shift from a focus on doctrine to a focus on preference is fraught with danger. God addresses this problem in Malachi 1.
The problem involved both the priests and the people of God. God asks, “where is my honour? …where is my fear? says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name” (v. 6). They are surprised! “How have we despised your name?” God answers, “By offering polluted food upon my altar… When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil?” (v. 8). Why did God want only unblemished animals (Dt. 15:21)? It was because the sacrifices prefigured the spotless Lamb of God, the sinless One who alone is qualified to pay for our sins. Without that perfect atonement, we can never stand in the presence of the Holy One who is a consuming fire.
But these priests had no sense of the awesome holiness of God … or of the greatness of his salvation. And so they had no heart love for him … or for his people. They were not true shepherds. They were hirelings, professionals who contented themselves to keep the people happy. It was a conspiracy of the flesh. They let the people bring “sacrifices” that involved no sacrifice. They brought what we might call garage sale cast-offs … things they didn’t want themselves … things they, in fact, were happy to get rid of. They brought their leftovers, not their firstfruits (Prov. 3:9). Their worship was polluted, not pure.
To sacrifice is to give up something you value because you value God even more. It is to relinquish something out of devotion to God. Because David loved God more than anything else, he refused to offer sacrifices which cost him nothing (2 Sam. 24:24). But today, as in Malachi’s day, the popular attitude seems to be that, when it comes to God, anything will do. Do you give God your firstfruits? Or do you figure that your leftovers are good enough for God?
God asks for one day in seven for worship and one dollar in ten of our income. As our Creator and Sustainer, God has a claim on all our time and all our money. Statistics today show that only about 20% of the U.S.A. goes to worship on the Lord’s Day. Church giving averages a paltry 1-2%. How many today profess loudly to be Christians and yet ignore God’s Day and God’s tithe and give him rather an occasional hour and a few leftover dollars?
A generation ago teens never worked at part-time jobs or played sports on Sundays. Now both work and sports are common on the Lord’s Day and many children of Christian parents are working and playing rather than worshipping God in the assembly of his people. Will Christian parents sacrifice and say with Joshua, “As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD”? Will confessing Christians value the living and true God more than the gods of money and sports? Have you been giving God first place with your family’s time and money? Or are you giving him polluted worship, sacrifices that involve no sacrifice?
The priests should have rejected the polluted sacrifices. But they were more worried about upsetting the unfaithful worshippers than they were about offending the holy, sovereign God. God says, “Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favour?” (v. 8). Would the government be happy with such service? Would they give you an “A” for effort? Where then is your respect for the King of kings? Today, are you one who would never be late for work, but you can’t seem to make it to church on time? Do you conscientiously pay the 40% tax burden on the average American but you can’t bring yourself to tithe to the living God? Is God really pleased when you drop in at church once a week and go through the motions? Do you genuinely offer yourself as a living sacrifice to the living God? Or do you mumble the hymns half-heartedly and daydream during the prayers and the sermons?
The priests found worship to be a “weariness” (v. 13). They were not just weary in the work. They were weary of the work. They were bored! Confessing Christians, are you, like these priests, weary of God’s true worship? Would you rather give your Sunday to the Lord or keep your weekend for sports and leisure? Let’s call this what it is: irreverence! Why is there so much irreverence? Why all this barren, fruitless religion of our day? It is because we have forgotten the greatness and glory of our God. “For my name will be great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts” (v. 11). The real answer to our weary and polluted worship is a new vision of the glory of God. Martin Lloyd-Jones reminded us that the purpose of preaching is to give us a sense of the presence of God. True worship involves a strange mixture of fear and joy! We rejoice with trembling in the presence of a holy and gracious God. Through the pure offering of God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, we can come into God’s holy presence because the Lamb of God is the perfect sacrifice that has paid for our sins. Surely such a great God and such a great salvation is worth more than leftovers!