The Absolute Most Important Thing – Malachi 2:1-2

Speaking through Malachi, God has been correcting and criticizing both Israel’s priests and her people. Those priests, as part of the leadership of the nation, should have been setting a godly example. But they were accepting and offering corrupt sacrifices from the nation at large. They might have been justifying themselves by saying they were only offering what had been given to them. But still, it was they who were offering polluted bread upon God’s altar. So the criticism in the first chapter went back and forth between the people and the priests. But now, in this second chapter, the Lord focuses on the sons of Levi and Aaron. “And now, O ye priests, this commandment is (specifically) for you.”

In Israel’s beginning, the Lord had blessed the tribe of Levi, setting them apart from the rest of the nation. At points during the Exodus, they had distinguished themselves in their zeal and service for the Lord. So the Lord had given them special privileges and responsibilities. Their primary duties were in and around the altar of the tabernacle and eventually the temple. They tended to the lamps inside the Holy Place; they offered incense upon the golden altar. They prepared and replaced the shewbread. Along with their brethren, the Levites, they probably maintained the building and all its parts. They were the only people permitted inside the temple. Not only did they offer the morning and evening sacrifices, but they slew and presented all the doves, lambs, goats and bullocks of the people. In addition to these things, they were supposed to be the primary teachers of the law. Ideally, there would not been the need of prophets, if the priests had been doing their duty. But because the priests were not the servants which God intended them to be, there was Malachi

With their various tasks and duties in mind, what might we say was the priest’s first and foremost responsibility? Was it to offer the sacrifices which were brought to them? Was it to trim the lamps inside the temple? Was it to maintain the constant incense; a type of the prayers of the saints? Let’s expand that question: what is the absolute most important thing any servant of God can do? What is your most important job as a Christian? Selfishly, or jokingly, someone might answer: “It’s to go to Heaven.” Some would say that it is to be the best parent you can be so that your children can be good citizens in an evil society. Or it is so those kids can know the Lord and grow up to serve Him. Others might more generally say, “My first responsibility is to win souls to Christ.” The Liberals might say, “The Christian’s job is to make the world a better place through self-sacrifice. We need to teach the heathen how to farm; we need to dig wells; we need to end poverty. Somehow we are to create world peace.” We might hear: the preacher’s primary job is to teach sound doctrine and to disciple new believers. Based on last Sunday’s morning message one might answer: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength” (Mark 12:30).

While that last answer is not incorrect, coming from the lips of Christ, we can still take it up a notch. And we take our cue from our text. “To give glory unto my name, saith the Lord of hosts.” In loving the Lord our God with all that are and possess, we bring glory to His name. In being the best possible parent, we might bring glory to God. Andrew certainly glorified the Saviour when he brought his brother, Simon, to the Lord.

But here is an important consideration: it is possible to do some of these things without actually glorifying God. For example, it is possible to “win souls” without magnifying the Saviour; people can actually demean Him. By that I mean, there a great deal done in the name of evangelism, which is worldly, fleshly and without the Holy Spirit. A lot of modern “soul winning” uses psychology, coercion, emotional pressure and mental trickery. There is a lot of modern “soul winning” which avoids the subjects of repentance and surrender. If you brought a dozen couples together and asked them to define a good parent, you might get ten different answers with only one being Biblical. And if that preacher is trying to strengthen his church in order to further his career or his bank account, then the Lord is not going to consider it glorifying.

Remember, Israel’s priests were still doing their duty, slaughtering the animals which Israel brought to them. They were going about their tasks like religious robots. They were opening and closing the doors to the temple grounds in order to receive their paycheck. It was not out of love. It was not for the glory of the Lord. If they had been asked last week’s question, “Do you love the Lord,” their answer would have been “Yes,” but it wasn’t an honest answer. They appear to be thinking, “If we don’t sacrifice the animals with the broken legs, Israel will not bring any animals at all, and I won’t get my portion of the sacrificial meat.”

Out of the many duties which God might have specifically mentioned, what He said was, “Give glory unto my name, saith the Lord of hosts.” Whereas they were taking care of business, so to speak, they were not bring glory to the Lord. “A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master; if then I be a father, where I mine honour? And if I be a master, where is my fear? Saith the Lord Of hosts unto you, O priests that despise my name. Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar. Ye offer the blind for sacrifice. Ye say the table of the Lord is polluted. Ye said also, Behold what a wearness is it?” In their empty, heartless, sinful service, they brought NO glory to God. That was their ultimate failure and their ultimate sin. And in different ways, that may be our ultimate sin as well. And that is our theme this morning.

There are four elements in properly bringing glory to God.

One of the problems in Israel’s priests, and in us, is thinking: “ll that’s necessary is to do the things He says.” If we show up at the temple on the days we are scheduled, we bring glory to the Lord. If we sing the songs our leaders tell us to sing, we bring glory to God. If we bring our offerings, as corrupt as they might be, and we drop them into the box, God is pleased. No! If I might modify God’s word just a bit: “Thou shalt love (and serve) the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength”

To properly VALUE the Lord is the first part of bring glory to His name. “A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master; if then I be a father, where I mine honour? And if I be a master, where is my fear? Saith the Lord Of hosts unto you, O priests…” The Psalms are filled with expressions of veneration and appreciation of the Lord. “Thou, Lord, are most high for evermore.” “Thou art exalted far above all gods.” We glorify God when we are Jehovah-admirers; highly esteeming His attributes, His promises; His providence; His blessings. To glorify God is to have Him set up a pedestal in our hearts, expecting to see wonderful things every time we look, or think, about Him.

And of course to glorify God requires our WORSHIP. “Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” God is very jealous of His worship; He wants what is rightfully His. This is not only about idolatry and other gods, it involves intentional worship. So when some special blessing comes into your life, make sure that you praise the Lord for it. Last week there was a nondescript envelope in Judy’s an my mailbox which I almost ignored. Inside was a letter mechanically signed by our state governor, and with it was a check for $100.00. The letter said that Idaho’s economy was so strong that the governor was giving $50.00 to everyone who had paid taxes in the last two years. One person might say, “Thank you Governor Little.” Someone else might say, “Only $100.00?” Someone else might think, we Idahoans are good, hard-working people, making our economy stronger than Washington State’s, patting ourselves on the back. But the man whose heart is truly right, will think first of the God who is King over governors and economies. “I thank you, Lord, for this money; this token of your kindness and love.” The Spiritual man will think of the Lord first, because that is God’s position in his heart.

Taking that a step higher, a third element necessary to glorifying Jehovah is LOVE. An ordinary religious man, a man properly trained, might look at that $100.00 check and say, “Thank you, God, I love you, because you have blessed me.” Even a wicked man may be said to love God, because He has given him a good harvest. But in the Lord’s sight, God is not truly glorified in that kind of responsive love. The love which pleases and magnifies the Lord is that which is extended to a friend, rather than to a benefactor. “Do you love God?” is a great question, but is it the kind of love which flows like the Columbia River, or is it like the tiny rivulet which dries up without God’s periodic shower of blessings?

The fourth element in bringing glory to God’ Name, Jehovah, is SUBJECTION. This is the way God’s angels glorify Him; they wait upon Him ready to carry out His commission. People glorify Him, when they are devoted to His service. This was what was missing from the ministry of Israel’s priests in Malachi’s day. And it is often absent in the lives of 21st century Christians. I read recently that a good Christian is like the sun, which not only sends forth heat, but circles the earth. He who glorifies God, has not only his affections heated with love to the Lord, but he does his duty. He vigorously moves in the sphere of obedience.

This fourth element of glorification leads naturally to another thought. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.” The Lord Jesus refers to heart, soul, mind and strength; and from that we might say, the body. Isn’t this the complete person from the inside out? If the priest’s service was only outward, without heartfelt honor to God, then it was not glorifying. And conversely, if someone professes to love God but there is no physical service, he also has failed.

A survey of the New Testament amplifies this well-rounded life of glorification.

Please turn to I Corinthians 6. Corinthians is an epistle full of the exposure of sin and Christian failure. In this chapter Paul says, “How dare any of you go to law before unsaved judges? I speak this to your shame.” In verse 9 he begins a litany of sins. “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God”? But then he adds, “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” Now look at verse 19 – “What? Know ye not that your body is temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

Why should we “love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and with all our strength.” Because, as Malachi pointed out earlier, “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the Lord, yet I have loved Jacob.” The saint of God has been bought: lock, stock and barrel; inside and out; body, soul and spirit. We have been purchased with the blood of the Son of God, and therefore we are not our own. It is our highest responsibility to bring glory to the Name of our God and Saviour.

Now please go to Philippians 1. After sending his greetings, Paul refers to himself and his ministry. Verse 12: “But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel.” Yes, God is glorified in the preaching of the gospel, and when the Holy Spirit uses our testimony to draw others to Himself. Then in verse 20 he says, it is “my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Paul was willing to glorify God’s name with all his heart, soul, mind, strength and body. And he loved the Lord so much that he was willing to glorify him even with his death. Israel’s priests were not willing to make that same kind of statement. Are you?

Many preachers, zealous in their purpose, don’t stress the context of I Corinthians 10:31. “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” The context of that statement about eating and drinking is actually, the Lord’s Supper. But I think it’s clear that Paul wanted to take it beyond Communion to every meal and all we do. “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do ALL to the glory of God.” Whether you are eating the priest’s portion of the sacrifice, or simply opening the doors to Temple, or dining at home with your kids, do it all for the glory of God’s Name.

I really like what Peter added to our study his first Epistle. Let’s read from I Peter 4:7: “The end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer. And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves; for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. Use hospitality one to another with grudging. As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” As every man hath received the gift: his own special gifts, talents and blessings from God, so minister. “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracle of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability with God giveth; that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” What I walk away with here is that everyone has different hearts, souls, minds and strength, according to the gifts of God. With whatever the Lord has given, use that for the glory of His name. Don’t fret that you don’t have what the other priest might have. You are an regular priest not the High priest. In fact you may be only a simple Levite, but you have your own gifts, opportunities and blessings. Use what you have for the glory of the Saviour.

As I was thinking about something the Lord Jesus said in Matthew 5, I saw something I had not considered. Turn to Matthew 5:13-16. “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Obviously, we are to serve the Lord in order that those who see may glorify our heavenly Father. But here is what struck me the other day: is there a difference between our light and our good works? “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Is the Lord telling us to shine a light on our service for the purpose of glorifying the Lord?

To properly prepare and present the offering to God was a good and necessary thing for the Old Testament priest. But there was something lacking in Malachi’s day? That priest wasn’t shining a light upon that offering. There was no joy in his service which made the man presenting the offering look toward the Lord. There was no smile on the old priest’s face. There was no spring in his step. He wasn’t humming any of David’s psalms as he served the Lord. We need to shine a light upon our good works. The right kind of light. I don’t know if my interpretation of this light is correct, but I hope that its application is appropriate.

Before I close there is one more important New Testament verse which relates to this glorification. Go now to I Peter 2:9. “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.” Let’s put the pieces of this puzzle together. “Ye are a chosen generation.” The word “chosen” is “eklektos” often translated “elect” or “elected.” In time past we were not God’s people; we were children of disobedience and children of wrath. We had not obtained mercy, but now we have obtained mercy. The saint of God has been chosen, or elected, unto salvation, but not simply for our benefit. We have been called and saved to glorify God’s name. Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”

The ultimate purpose of our salvation is to glorify our Saviour. We are to use all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength to accomplish this purpose, according to our several abilities. We are to use our bodies while we are living; and we are to continue even as we leave these bodies.

Conclusion:

Now let’s close again with Malachi. God has verbally chewed up Israel’s priests. He has condemned their service. He called it “evil.” God has pointed out that they despised the sacrifices they were offering, and they even despised the altar upon which they laid those sacrifices.

But notice the Lord’s grace and patience. “And NOW, O ye priests, this commandment is for you. IF ye will not hear, and IF ye will not lay it to heart, to give glory unto my name, saith the Lord of hosts, I will even send a curse upon you…” Can we not properly turn this statement inside out? “And now, O ye priests, this commandment is for you. If ye will hear, and if ye will lay it to heart, to give glory unto my name, saith the Lord of hosts, it will not be necessary to send a curse upon you…”

My understanding is that at whatever point we are in our lives, there is still the opportunity to repent and correct our sins and misbehavior. If we have not been consistent in our worship and service up to this point, we can still make things right. We can surrender to the Lord, and submit ourselves to His leadership and direction. He can still make something of our lives for his honor and glory. People often look at the God of the Old Testament and see only a stern Judge. But the Lord our God is a gracious and merciful God. As a divine Parent, He longs for our love and devotion, and He’s willing to draw it from us.

Do you need to repent and surrender to the God from whom all blessings flow? Perhaps you are not one of His priests at all; you are a rebel in God’s realm. You too, need to repent, trusting Christ as Lord and Saviour. The invitation is the same to both the priests and the people: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord, though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson they shall be as wool.” Listen to the words of the patient and gracious God and come to Him.