Malachi: treasured possession

Preached on: Sunday 21st November 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-11-21 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Malachi 3:13-4:6
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s word.
Holy Spirit, come among us and reveal the call of Father God.
Holy Spirit, be present and reveal the hope we have through Jesus.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus name. Amen.

The day I became a Christian I felt sick in the pit of my stomach. I know it wasn’t because the idea of becoming a Christian made me feel uneasy and it wasn’t because of the hangover I had that morning. I had been out the night before and I don’t remember much of the evening but the bits I do remember, as I’ve shared on a number of occasions, they made me sick to the pit of my stomach because I made some really bad choices that night and I woke up realizing I had a problem and at that time I would have called my problem selfishness. Now. further along the journey of faith. I can be quite honest and say it’s just sin. And what’s more shocking is that I thought I was a Christian. You know, I worked on a Sunday at W.H Smith and so I couldn’t go to the morning service but there was holy-me going to the evening service. Surely that made me a Christian? And I volunteered with my Scout group and gave up my time to benefit young people, and I had a good reputation and people, hopefully, thought quite well of me but, but here was me that morning, the day I became a Christian, faced with the reality of my life, that, actually, in my heart was a growing selfishness, and my heart was very far from God, because God was just an idea, He wasn’t a person I related to in any real way and there’s been so much that I’ve taken from my experience but what I’d want to relate to you this morning is that it’s easy to assume things are okay, it’s easy to ignore the deeper issues in our lives, it’s easy to get so wrapped up in the moment that we forget to take stock of our lives, and so, the day I became a Christian, I had that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, but that day, the day I became a Christian, changed my life for the better and I’ve never regretted a moment since then, I just wish it hadn’t taken me messing up my life quite so much to come to that realization that I had a problem and I needed God’s help. And you know, this morning, you might have a bit of a queasy feeling in your stomach, and it’s probably got nothing to do with anything else other than the bible passage we heard this morning because, if truth be told, it was a wee bit uncomfortable was it not. I’ve been stewing on it all week how am I going to preach from this? What does it mean? And if you feel uncomfortable, the person that invited you to be here for them becoming a member or them getting their child baptized they probably feel even more uncomfortable. So, when you go out the door and you’re chatting about the service afterwards just bless them and be really kind and merciful to them because they had no idea what was coming today, because we’ve simply been working through the book of Malachi and I didn’t aim for this passage to be today, it just happened to be the last bit before we go into Advent.

But you know, maybe it’s timely, maybe in some ways it’s timely for you and for us because, sometimes, we need something to help us sit up and take notice, something to make us take stock of life rather than getting into a real mess like I did all those years ago. And so, maybe today is helpful and the message of Malachi might be helpful for us because Malachi was also sent to our people who were completely oblivious. There was something deeply wrong but they didn’t actually have a clue and so God sent Malachi one more time and He says to the people ‘You have spoken arrogantly against me. You have said it is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements?’ and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty. There’s something deeply wrong with the people, something deep in the souls of their being. There’s arrogance and there’s distance from God and, sure their meeting His requirements, they say, and that might be like they’re going to the temple and they’re praying and they’re giving their sacrifices, they’re maybe bringing their offering. They’re going around like mourners. They’ve already got dust and ash and sackcloth on them to show signs of repentance but actually, it’s all just external, going through the motions, it’s not from the heart and they’re bothered by this. They say it’s futile! What’s the point? What good is this to me? There’s no return for this, there’s no profit in this for me God! What’s the point? What good is it doing me? You know, they’ve turned faith into something very selfish. They appear to be serving God but actually they’re just serving themselves and there again is echoes of my story, echoes of my selfishness, echoes of my brokenness, my sin, but it’s an issue we all deal with don’t we. Because if truth be told, as human beings, we can turn just about anything into being about us and asking ‘Well, what’s the benefit in this for me?’ or ‘How can I benefit from this in some way?’ We twist it.

So, for example, I was in the playground this week and I was talking to one of the other dads who’s also called Scott, and we got talking and he was telling me about the parents’ night and how it went for his son, and that his son was reading already, primary one, age five, same year as my daughter, and there’s a part of me that’s like ‘Well, Hope’s not reading!’ And there’s almost a part of you that could twist that into ‘I need to get Hope reading’ so that I don’t feel so terrible as a parent. I, you, as a human being, you could twist just about anything family, kids, money, your job, church – How often in church is it ‘Has the service suiting me?’ – as the minister, the elders, the pastoral grouping leaders, the Sunday School. Is it suiting me and meeting my needs? Just about anything in life we can twist because and I think that part of the reason is as our last song suggested, the longing of our soul is something else than where we often look, we often look to these other things and we try and have the longing of our soul met by these other things and it just can’t, and so we end up twisting things. And last week we were thinking about God sorting out the world, sorting out the problems and making this world a better place, that one day He would restore all things and so we that was a really positive message hopefully and hopefully you left encouraged and hopefully you’re like ‘God, come on sort out the world. Come back sort out, sort out the problems out there.’

But maybe, when it comes to today’s message of sorting the problems in here, maybe that just feels too uncomfortable, maybe we’d rather say to God ‘You know God, just back off back off! It’s my life.’ or ‘Treat me a bit differently God, you know, I’m not as bad as the person down the road, I’m not as bad as the person in that country, or doing that thing or that politician, just treat me a bit differently. God, come on geeza break!’ But you know, to God, sin is sin and whether it’s the smallest acts or the tiniest indiscretion, He knows it. And this is a truth He had to reestablish with His people through Malachi because they think serving God is futile, they think God just overlooks sin. Here’s these evildoers, they’re getting away with stuff. God doesn’t matter. He doesn’t care. What’s the point? And so, He sends Malachi to remind them of the truth. He sends them to take heed because as He says – there will be a day when He will act. There will be a day when the Lord will act. There’ll be a day when He will restore the world and He’s going to make it all new and there’ll be no more sin or death or mourning. There’ll be no more brokenness or selfishness.

But that creates a problem, doesn’t it? Because what does God do with you and me, the darkness in us. If not a jot of sin can be in that new creation, what does He do with us?

Another prophet put the problem this way ‘We all like sheep have gone astray. Each of us has turned to our own way.’ And the new hymn actually picked up on that too, I hadn’t noticed until we sung it there, we all got our own way. We’ll tell God to take a hike, and our culture just reinforces that message, doesn’t it? It just says, be free, throw off restraints, just go for it alone, ignore God, don’t let Him tell you, don’t let the church tell you how to live your life, be free, because that’s the way to a good life, a best life. But you know, it’s a lie it’s a lie because at 19 I pursued that, at 19 I pursued life my way, and where did it lead me? It just led me into more brokenness and for more for the heart for other people and so on the day I became a Christian, as I sat there with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, I had to own up to my brokenness, my sin, because nothing was going to change if I didn’t do that first.

And part of being a Christian involves that lonely moment when you acknowledge that, when you acknowledge that reality in your life, and all our members, new members who stood there today at one point or another they’ve all had to own up to that reality, that they have a problem, like I have a problem, like you have a problem. That problem is sin and, as we affirmed in the Apostles’ Creed, that has been the belief for 2000 years and beyond, that God was going to come back one day to deal with sin and none of us will be exempt from that. And so, God has to get these truths back into the lives of His people, people who are oblivious to this reality and they don’t know something’s wrong and so He brings a wake-up call He did in my life the day I became a Christian. That was a wake-up call for me and maybe you’re sitting there feeling really uncomfortable and really wishing you weren’t in church today and you’re really going to give the person a hard time that invited you along, despite what I said earlier, but you know maybe that uncomfortableness, maybe even that anger, because this can raise anger in us, maybe those feelings are actually God shining a wee torchlight in your life and just saying ‘Look there is a problem here. There is something we need to talk about. There’s a deeper issue we need to address.’ but you know, God doesn’t do it to be mean, He doesn’t include passages like this in the Bible to be mean, and He doesn’t do it to leave us feeling condemned or judged or guilty, because, most of the time, I don’t live my life that way because not only did God on the day I became a Christian I’d highlight my problem, He provided a solution because He loves us, He loves you in the depth of His being He loves you.

And so, also in Malachi we read these words ‘Surely the day is coming the Son of Righteousness will rise with healing in its rays.’ The day of the Lord is coming and on that day, though it will be like the rising of the sun, and the rays of that event will bring healing to the world, to all creation and do away with sin forever and that idea, that hope, that reality is spoken in so many places across the scriptures. We read earlier from Isaiah, and in just before the verses immediately before what we read, we read this also from Isaiah ‘Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering. Yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him and afflicted but he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was on him and by his wounds we are healed. We all like sheep have gone astray. each of us has turned to our own way and the lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.’ Time and time again God tells of an event and then of a person who will come to bring this restored world about who will bring this freedom from sin who will bring healing for all.

And that event came 400 years after Malachi. That event happened in the Advent season we’re about to celebrate. It happened with the coming of Jesus, when God stepped into our broken world, when God went to the cross to die the death we should for our sin. So, you might get angry at God for what He’s saying this morning, I’m really uncomfortable with it, but let’s remember He also provides that solution he hung on a cross and bled for you and for me that’s how much he loves you, He died so that sin wouldn’t have the final say, He died so that if you put your faith in Him you can share in that great and glorious day when He’ll make all things new and the Son of Righteousness will bring healing from all sin and you know since that day, since the day Jesus died and then rose again, and across the centuries since then, people across this world have been putting their faith in Jesus, just like our new members did, they’ve been finding that the words of scripture are true that there is forgiveness through Jesus, that you can be reconciled to God through Jesus, and we’ve come to see that it’s all of grace, it’s all a gift, we don’t earn it, we don’t deserve it, we simply receive it through faith in Jesus and every day, even today, there are people coming to faith in this truth, they’re coming to find life and hope through Jesus, this one who will bring healing when the Son of Righteousness rises.

And so, what do we do with today’s message? What do we do with these two sides of the one coin? On the one side we have the really bad news that we all have a sin problem, and on the other side of the coin there’s good news, that there’s hope and forgiveness through Jesus. What do we do with that?

Well our passage gives us two ideas and the first, on the first thing to do is to repent, which means change your thinking, such that your heart and your life changes as well, and there were people who heard what the Lord said they heeded Him and they turned to Him, and in turning to Him, the Lord said over them they were his treasured possession and He would spare them.

Maybe you need to repent today. Maybe you’re not a Christian. Maybe you’ve been coming to church for a long time and you know you’ve not made that choice yourself. Maybe today is the day you need to repent and turn to the Lord and admit ‘I’ve got a problem God, and I need Your forgiveness.’

The second idea of how to respond this morning is to stand and be counted. Those that responded, their names were written down they were counted, and our new members today, their names will be added to our Church Roll, they’re being counted and so maybe one of the things you need to consider doing is becoming a member here in church, to publicly say ‘You know, I believe in Jesus. I’m following Jesus, and this is my spiritual home.’ Maybe that’s the step you need to take to stand and be counted but that membership as the promises were asked today not only includes having your name on a bit of paper it involves being part of this church family through the giving of your time, talents and your money, and so maybe there’s something in that for you. Maybe you’re standing and being counted needs to look like getting involved or caring for the people who call this their spiritual home. It’s if you’re not infirm and housebound or limited in some capacity like that then really do we have an excuse? We need to stand and be counted because if we’ve counted this as our spiritual home and made these promises we made promises to get involved. Maybe you need to get involved.

But maybe standing be counted as also like in verse chapter 4 verse 4 here where it says ‘Remember the law of my servant Moses’ we think of remembering as just having a bit of information in our head but in Hebrew and in the Old Testament the idea of remembering was that you not only remembered it but you lived in light of it, you walked in accordance with God’s ways, you lived your life God’s way, that’s what it means to truly remember and you know maybe there’s an area of your life that you need to stand up and be counted. The other six days of the week you’re out and about because our final promise that our members made today was to do that to witness to Jesus in all the rest of their life and you know maybe there’s something in your life, an area of your life you need to stand and be counted. It might be sharing your faith, but it could be that you need to choose God’s way rather than your culture’s way or the way of your colleagues. Maybe you need to walk in truth and in uprightness. Maybe there’s a sin in your life that you know God would want you to turn from. Maybe anger. Maybe sexual immorality of some form. Who knows what it might be.

And the question is Will you stand and be counted by walking in God’s ways rather than yours or the culture? Will you live in response to the grace you’ve received? is basically what the passage is calling us to do. So, before we finish up, I want to give us a moment to pray. I want to give a moment first of all to turn to God in repentance. That if you’ve never done that, maybe today is the day to do that because I wouldn’t be doing my job if I simply told you an idea but maybe just didn’t help you along that next bit of the journey. So, if you want to make that step today, let me help you make that step and I’ll lead you in a prayer and then we’ll go on to pray as well about how we respond to the grace we’ve received by being stuck by standing and being counted. So, let’s come to God in prayer. Let us pray:

So, if you want to welcome Jesus into your life and receive forgiveness, why don’t you pray along with me just in the quiet of your heart, pray these words with me.

Lord Jesus, I’m sorry for the things I’ve done wrong in my life for the selfishness that’s there, and I take a moment to name anything that’s on my conscience this morning.
Lord, please forgive me.
I turn from everything that I know is wrong and I choose to walk in step with You. Thank-you, You died on the cross so that I could be forgiven. Thank-you for Your love. Thank-you for Your grace.
I ask for you to fill me with Your Holy Spirit that I might walk with You all the days of my life.
Thank-you Lord Jesus.

Lord God, we hear a tough message from Your word today but You speak it in love, to call us deeper, to call us into Your ways, to respond to Your grace and so I pray for those that have made that choice today, to respond for the first time, protect them, I pray, protect this choice they’ve made today.

And for all of us Lord, as we as we ponder the magnitude of Your love and grace, that took You to the cross, and the reality that one day You will return. Help us live between now and then to Your glory, to live lives worthy of your calling and so stand and be counted in all the areas of life.

Lord where there’s a sin we may be trapped in, give us grace and break us free Lord where we need to stand and be counted by getting involved or coming into membership or making You known at work.

Lord, give us grace that we might have strength and power to witness to You and to give our lives for Your glory.

Oh God, You’re a good God, a great God, and we delight in You this morning. Thank-you that You delight in us, that we are your treasured possession. May we go here from here knowing that, rejoicing in that, and inviting all to know that as well by coming to faith in Jesus, for in His name we ask this. Amen

If you have made that choice for the first time today, please come and talk to me, tell me, tell a trusted Christian you know, because it’s easy to make it, just keep it very personal but you need to take that next step of faith to say ‘I’ve made that choice and that will just help to solidify and strengthen that choice of faith you’ve made today. So, come and chat to me. I won’t ask you a lot of questions, I’ll just rejoice with you, or tell a Christian, a trusted Christian, that you’re here with today.

Malachi: Judgement and restoration

Preached on: Sunday 14th November 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-11-14 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Malachi 2:17-3:5
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s word.
Holy Spirit, come among us and soften our hearts to the word of God.
Holy Spirit, come among us and help us to have hope through Jesus.
Holy Spirit, come among us with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

To everyone, to our adults to our young people, our boys and girls, when you look at the wider world outside the building and not just in the picture, when you look at the wider world, what things do you see? anybody want to throw out an answer? Put up a hand if you want to share what things do you see in the wider world?

Wat do you see in the wider world? what things? Say again – clouds, yeah we see the beauty of creation. We see that for sure.

What other things do we see? Harris – flowers, as well. We do, it’s an incredible world we live in.

What else do we see? Any other thoughts? Yes, conflict as well, definitely.

Anything else that we see? don’t be shy, come on! People, people. People good and bad people, evil people, good people.

What else do we see? Seasons change, exactly. We see hot and cold going into the winter.

Now, we see all these things. We live in an incredible world. Just yesterday I was going up a hill walk as part of our fundraising for Israel and Palestine and we got talking and one of the group remarked “You know, I look at this world”, and it was a beautiful day yesterday, was incredible day up the hill “I was just looking at this beauty and how can, in such a beautiful world, there be conflict, can there be darkness, can there be injustice and oppression and greed and evil? How can there still be conflict and war like we see in our world and in the news? How can this be the case?” Was what we were remarking on and when you look in the news or you look online and you see the darkness in our world, when you see the conflict, when you see the evil and injustice, when you see global warming, and the effect that we’re having and the threat it has to people and nations, what does that make you feel? Anybody want to share an answer? How does that make you feel?

Nervous, definitely, makes us all, of all ages, nervous, we’re just not bold enough to be honest about it, So thank you. Nervous, any other feelings that we feel? Guilty, yeah yeah, thanks John. Harris, happy, yes for the good things in the world for sure. What else? Angry and so is it okay to be angry sometimes yeah? I think it is, I think it is, definitely as we see these things, as we feel these things, maybe we begin to think things as well, maybe we begin to think things about God and I won’t ask you to chip out your answers to this question but, does it make you ever doubt God or question God or complain against God? Do you ever think “Well, God just can’t care. He can’t be there. He can’t exist.” You ever have those thoughts because of what you see, because of what you feel?

You know, I know people in this community who have seen some of the horrors of our world and because of that they can’t believe in a God, even such a loving God. They can’t, they can’t bring themselves to have that faith and maybe you feel that as well, and if you feel that too then you’re in the exact same place, actually, as the people of old, people of Malachi’s day, because they were saying things like ‘All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord and he’s pleased with them.’ They’re also saying ‘Where is the God of justice?’ Where is he? They were getting really messed up in their thinking about God because of the injustice, because of the evil, because of the darkness in the world, and it was wearying. The Lord, I think it was grieving Him, this accusation against Him but they were thinking these things, this was where they were at and their thinking and their faith. They were thinking God should be taking action, here’s these evil people, here’s people sinning, here’s people messing up this world, and God should be acting but He’s not! You ever felt that God should be stepping into this world?

I wonder if they were thinking back to the Old Testament passages where we read of God being compassionate and gracious and slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, and they remember like ‘Well, God’s just too nice and if you’re God’s just a nice God. I don’t really care because we need more than just a nice God. He just doesn’t seem to care. He seems to mix up evil and good, so, how am I supposed to trust Him?

Maybe you felt these things yourself. Maybe you know someone who thinks these things. And so, what’s God’s response? Well he says ‘I will send my messenger who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple. he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.’

God’s going to send two messengers and the first one will prepare the people and the second one will purify the people, clean them up, sort them out of it. And we know from the New Testament that the first messenger is John the Baptist and he did begin to prepare the people’s hearts and many people had faith when that second messenger came, and that second messenger was Jesus, Jesus. He came and, yes, He came full of, but do you remember that He came to the temple just as these words said He would? Do you remember what Jesus was like when he came to the temple? Do you remember that story? He was raging mad. He got angry and He started overturning the tables, kicking stuff, pushing stuff over, probably, He even made a whip and started whipping out the animals to get them out and chased the people out of the outer court of the temple, because they were corrupting this, they were corrupting the worship, there was evil, there was injustice, there was a greed, oppression there was all range of things and Jesus had had enough and it was time to get angry about it, it was time to get angry a bit because His anger was a sign of His love.

I have a daughter Hope, she’s five, and I’m dreading the day that she comes to me and says someone was bullying her at school because I know what I’m going to feel. What am I going to feel? What am I going to feel? Anger! There are times when it’s okay to be angry, rightfully so, and Jesus was the most perfect human being ever because He was God in the flesh, and even He got angry. If He didn’t get angry we’d question His love because only a truly loving and compassionate being would get angry at injustice and oppression and greed and corruption. There is nothing else that’s fitting in that one but to get angry and do something about it and so he did and he started cleaning up the sin and, you know, that balance of love and anger it took Him to the cross, to the cross. That point where perfectly the love and the anger, the love and the wrath of God met and were perfectly balanced, at the cross. He began dealing with sin.

But, you know, the Bible also teaches that Jesus will come back, He’ll come back and when He comes back you completely do this because today we live, we are remembering those who have fallen those who have lost their lives either in the receiving end of conflict or those who have served in our armed forces, and we look at this broken dark world and doesn’t your heart yearn for that to change. I know mines does. I don’t want to live in a world, I don’t want my daughter to live in a world like this but you know what, we can’t change it ourselves. We have tried for thousands of years to change ourselves and in some ways it just feels like it’s getting worse because fundamentally there’s something deep within us that is messed-up, that is broken and dark, and we can’t fix that, we need help, we need a savior and Jesus is that Savior and He will come back one day to fully restore this world and when He comes back there will no more war and conflict, there’ll be no more evil and oppression, there will be no more suffering or sadness or dying or grieving, because the old order of things will be done away with and there will only be this new heaven and new earth that He promises but to bring that about, as Malachi reminds us, He must come first in judgment and we get all really uncomfortable with that idea but as Malachi says the judgment of God leads to restoration, the judgment of God leads to restoration. There’s even a good yearning for Jesus to return in judgment to bring that freedom to bring that restoration.

We don’t have to fear Him. When we have faith in Jesus this idea that Jesus will come back is meant to give us hope, meant to give us hope, and so we might look around and we might think “God, you’re being slow God. Why are you not stopping it? Why is there a mess? Why are You not doing something?” And it may make us angry and it may make us question and it may raise worry in us, but let us remember the words of Peter who said ‘Do not forget this one thing dear friends, with the Lord a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years of like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise as some understands, instead, he is patient with you not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance but the day of the Lord will come…” It will come, He will come and so, yes, let us remember those who have given their lives and lost their lives due to conflict and war but let us also remember the promises of God. He will come and when He , he will restore this world. So, brothers and sisters, let’s have faith, let’s have hope through Jesus. I pray it may be so. Amen.

In a moment we’ll close with our final hymn and I would ask, if you’re able, to remain standing until the colour party have fully left the sanctuary. We close our service with a prayer for Jesus to come, to come and restore our world and so we sing together Great as the darkness (come Lord Jesus).

Malachi: Sacrificial generosity

Preached on: Sunday 7th November 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-11-07 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Malachi 3:6-12
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s word. Let us pray.
Holy Spirit, come among us please, and reveal to us the heart of our Heavenly Father.
Holy Spirit, come among us and lead us in the ways of Jesus.
Holy Spirit, come, we pray, with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus name. Amen.

I was just on the news yesterday, I was reading that Greta Thunberg has said already that COP26 is a failure and it makes me wonder ‘I wonder what makes her say that I?’ I wonder maybe, what has been the biggest blocker? So, that maybe hasn’t been the success people might have hoped for. So, why don’t you turn to your neighbor once again and for 30 seconds share what you think has been the biggest blocker towards COP26 maybe the success we hoped for. 30 seconds. Over to you.

Well, I’m gonna jump in there again. Obviously, you could probably talk about this for hours so feel free again get a cuppa after the service or chat outside, at least it’s not raining today, you can have a blether there if you wish or you can let me know on the way out the door what you came up with but a straw poll –  anyone blame the politicians? Yeah, some politicians there, and there are probably many other reasons you might give but politicians is probably going to be one of the top ones. It’s easy to blame them especially when we see all the shenanigans in the news this last week with politicians but I wonder if what holds politicians back is fear, fear of what voters will think, that if we go too far, too fast, voters will show their disapproval by ousting the current government from government and so, you can’t go too far too fast in case it risks the taxpayer and their vote and costs the taxpayer too much. Because, if we’re honest, even on the individual level, we can often be profit before people, we can be self before collective survival, and when it comes to money, when it comes to the money in our pocket and the balance in our bank, and the stuff in our lives, we get very possessive.

And, you know, the same was true in Malachi’s day. Earlier in the book of Malachi God challenged, through the prophet, the quality of the people’s giving but now He comes to challenge the quantity of their giving. He said earlier “Return to me and I will return to you. But you ask “How are we to return?” The people don’t even know, they’ve wandered away from God “Will a mere mortal rob God?” the Lord says “Yet you rob me but you ask ‘How are we robbing you?’ In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse, your whole nation because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse.” And maybe we’re wondering ‘Well, what’s the issue here God? Are you a money-grabbing God? Are you just a killjoy? Are you wanting just to stifle the people and deprive them of good things? What’s going on here?’ And maybe that confirms your perspective of church, as you hear of us asking for you to give money towards the Guild projects are you maybe thinking ‘Well, the church is always after money, and look there God is, all of us after money.’ So, why is God calling His people to give? Why? What’s going on underneath the surface?

Well, first of all, we might be thinking also ‘What is the tithe?’ And so, just in case you don’t know, the tithe was the first 10 percent of the produce, the crops, the income that individuals had and they would give that first 10 percent, to give that first 10 percent away, give it to the workings of the temple, to serve God’s purposes, and give it to care for the poor and needy in the community and, actually, if you add up the tithes and offerings both the regular and the occasional, it’s estimated that potentially the people gave away 25 percent of their income, and that’s quite, quite a startling amount isn’t it! And yet, the people have this attitude that while I’m not going to give the whole time I’m just going to give a bit of it and maybe they’re thinking ‘Well, it’s my stuff, it’s my money, I should get to determine what I do with it.’ and or maybe they’re thinking ‘Well, I don’t have enough God, I don’t have enough and You know once I have enough I’ll give a wee bit more, so just give us a break!’ They are holding back some of their tithes and God thinks that’s a problem. Clearly, He thinks they’re robbing Him somehow. So, what’s that about? How can God be claiming they are robbing Him when it’s their stuff?

Well, the problem is, the scriptures teach that it’s not their stuff. In the Psalms we read ‘The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.’ Their stuff is actually God’s. Everything that we have is the Lord’s, it belongs to Him the scriptures teach and so, we are not in the position of ownership, we are in the position of stewardship, what we have in our lives is given in sacred trust from God to steward, not own. We are called to be stewards but maybe you can resonate with the people, maybe you can resonate with that the feelings that they have because how often would we much rather God talked about anything else or asked anything else of us. Come to church – I’m right there with you God. Come to church two three times a day – no problem. Read your bible and pray for an hour – now that might be a struggle at times – but sure, okay, I’ll take that on board for a little while at least. Ask me to serve, ask me to do anything else, but talk to me about my money, that’s off-limits God, I’d rather You didn’t. And I know this is difficult to hear because, actually, in comparison to a lot of places, you are a very generous congregation, very generous, and you’re giving today in the shoe boxes and The Guild and things, but there are helpful points when we need to hear from God’s word, a message about giving, to take stock, to evaluate what is our practice, How are we living? What’s our relationship to our money? Do we see ourselves as stewards or have we fallen into that false understanding of ownership?

Now, maybe you’re wondering also ‘Well, is Scott saying we should tithe?’ I won’t ask a straw poll on that one, if you think we should or if you think I’m thinking that, because, actually there is no New Testament teaching about tithing. No New Testament teaching, it’s all in the Old Testament, and so maybe you’re thinking ‘Well we’re safe, we don’t need to tithe, we’re good!’ and then I would share the counter argument that well, tithing was there before the law was given so, it wasn’t just part of the Old Testament covenant and that many Christians over the centuries and years and many faithful and some of the most godly Christians have tithed. But let’s, for a second instead, turn to the New Testament and see the example of the early church who (not that one either) who, they are recorded as ‘They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.’ The church, when it was at the peak, we might say, of its health and understanding of the ways of Jesus, they were generous, sacrificially generous and probably gave much more than a simple tithe. They weren’t Christians who said ‘What is the minimum I can give? What’s enough to keep God happy?’ They were Christians who were sacrificially generous, who responded to the marvelous grace they had received through Jesus dying on the cross for them, with such generosity that astounded people and this carried on over the centuries. You can look up in various articles and commentaries about Aristides of Athens says ‘If the brethren have among them a man in need and they  have not abundant resources, they fast for a day or two so as to provide the needy man with the necessary food.’ Or later in 190 AD Lucian, who was not a Christian by the way, commented ‘The earnestness with which people of this religion help one another and their needs is incredible. They spare themselves nothing for this end.’

Do we walk in that way, in that legacy or are we bare minimum Christians?

So, as you think about what you give to The Guild today, as you maybe go home and mull over this message, maybe take some time to look at your giving. Think ‘Am I relating to my stuff as a steward or an owner? Am I a bare minimum Christian or am I a Christian of sacrificial generosity?’ Because God calls His people to be stewards and to give generously.

But He calls them also to give, for another reason. We know from our passage this morning that the Lord says they’re under a curse because they’re robbing Him. Now, if that sounds strange to you, if that sounds like a spell to you, then please go back to an earlier sermon where I talked about the discipline of God, just a week or two ago, because this isn’t a spell, this is God disciplining the nation because they have wandered from Him, the whole nation is wandering from Him and so, the whole nation is being disciplined by God and, most likely, is that they are experiencing drought a drought to wake up the nation to its senses. But God doesn’t want to be that parent that disciplines His child forever. Have you been maybe a volunteer in a group or maybe a parent or an aunt, an uncle, a grandad, whatever it may be, and you have a child that just keeps pushing the buttons and you don’t want to be that parent that just has to keep being firm and hard and disciplining? You don’t want to be in that place, you want to get to that place where they heed what you’re doing so that you can just bless them, enjoy them, and it moves into that different season, in that different way of life. God doesn’t want to stay in that place of discipline. He wants to call them back and to bless them and we know that because of what He says next. He says ‘Test me in this and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. Then all the nations will call you blessed for yours will be a delightful land.’

In the verses, the words here, ‘throw open the floodgates of heaven’ God’s simply meaning rain, not anything miraculous other than rain. That is what they need, that is what’s being held back and God’s discipline to them and He says if they will come back He wants to bless them, He wants to open the floodgates and they will, He will do so with such blessings, such generosity that it will become known in the nations around them of how good God has been to them. And so, so we when we look at these verses we start to think ‘Well, if that was the case for them, if they were if they give and they’re going to get this material blessing, do these verses apply to us as well, Scott.’ because maybe you’ve heard on the radio or maybe you’ve read in a book or maybe you’ve seen online teaching that says if you give your 10 percent hen God will financially bless you, if you give to God then you can expect financial blessing and provision as well. Is that true teaching? Is that true teaching? Well again, as I’ve said through Malachi, the context is key in every passage, really the context is key and I came across this really helpful quote to remind us of the wider context of the scriptures. Peter Adams says ‘Poverty and riches have a variety of meanings in the Old Testament. Poverty might be a sign of the righteous person being persecuted or of a righteous person having their trust in God tested. Similarly, riches were not always a sign of obedience, rich people were often opposed to God and oppressed others.’ Context is important and to basically make a theology simply based on Malachi is to ignore the rest of the scriptures, the rest of the experience of New Testament believers, who are very faithful to God and yet are so poor. Even the early church and we often forget that many of the natural or physical parts of the Old Testament covenant, which the covenant, which the people operated under, it pointed forward to a spiritual reality in the new covenant, So for example, there was the curtain in the temple and it reminded the people of the division between God and humanity, that curtain that would be taken away through Jesus and that wide open invitation to anyone to come close to God through faith in Him, but the curtain wasn’t the thing, the curtain was just a symbol, a reminder. Or we could take the sacrifices, the sacrifices reminding us that we do need forgiveness, that we have a problem with sin and that it had to there, had to be a greater, more perfect sacrifice because the sacrifice of animals cannot clear the conscience. And so, Jesus comes as that perfect sacrifice.

Or take the land, as we’re talking about the land in these verses, the land was that place of God’s kingdom and it was the place of home for the people, a place of security and blessing but, in the new covenant, the kingdom of God is wherever God reigns in a person’s life and so, it is in your life, in my life and the home that the land was is now in the New Testament, the new heaven and the new earth that will come when Jesus returns, the physical and material, the natural, in the Old Testament was pointing towards the spiritual in the New Testament, under Jesus. And the same is true in this passage. I don’t think we should interpret it as ‘if you give 10 percent then you will get material blessing.’

For example, let’s turn to the New Testament where Jesus is engaging with the rich young ruler. Remember that story. A young man comes to Jesus and he knows something’s missing in his life and he doesn’t have assurance of eternal life and so, he says to Jesus ‘What else must I do?’ and Jesus says to him ‘Go and sell everything you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven.’ There’s no promise here of, give it all away and God will give you all back, there’s this promise of treasure in heaven, but when we read these verses there’s also the issue that we often think of heaven sort of as we did it with the children this morning, having been up there and that heaven is only future, that heaven is only we’re storing up riches in the future, but we know that Jesus often talked about the kingdom of heaven, that the kingdom of heaven is breaking in, so that there is this present, immediate aspect to the kingdom of heaven as well. So, this young man is invited to know treasure and heaven treasure in the kingdom of heaven now, not just future, there is that future time but there is also a present time and, for that rich young man it might have looked like greater freedom that he wasn’t tied to his wealth, it might look like greater contentment or peace or joy, but also, as he gave, he would bring aspects of the kingdom into the lives of other people, he would bring hope and joy for them, he would bring compassion and justice for them, he would lift people out of poverty that they might have life.

The kingdom is not just future, it is now, which is why what we heard in The Guild projects is so incredible and so just encouraging and inspiring, because they are investing now, and through their actions now we are seeing the kingdom break in and change people’s lives.

And so, there is this call of God, for people to give so as to change the world around them. In Malachi’s day, if they gave, the world would change, their world would change and that God would bring rain but, in New Testament and in our lives, by our giving, we change the world around us. Let me give you another quote from history – there was the Emperor Julian, Roman Emperor Julian and he was actually an opponent to Christianity. He didn’t like Christians, he persecuted them and in light of the generosity of the church he said ‘I would be shameful when the impious Galileans’, that is Christians, ‘feed our own people along with their own, that ours should be seen to lack the help we owe them’ and then he went on to order the creation of hospices. The generosity of God’s people sparked the conscience of their opponent to them bring about good for a wider society. And again, if we look at the example of the New Testament church in the book of Acts just after that same verse that I quoted earlier ‘They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.’ Yes, they taught the scriptures, Yes, they worship God. Yes, they met in fellowship but part of their life was sacrificial generosity and all of it combined to see the Lord adding to their number daily. The world changed in part because of their giving.

But maybe you’re wondering ‘Well, is God just again after our money? Is God just wanting us to obey? Is God just wanting us to be faithful stewards?’ because maybe that, maybe that just doesn’t speak to your heart, maybe it just sounds like here’s more of a list of things to do and obey.

And actually, there’s a third reason that God causes people to give and it’s at the very beginning of our chapter where in verses 6 and 7 the Lord said ‘I the lord do not change. Return to me and I will return to you.’ Return to me return to me return to me, in other words, repent, change your ways, come back to me. The Lord’s heart is for His people. He longs for them. He loves them. As we looked at in the very first verses of Malachi, He has this unending love for them, a love that is faithful and constant and true, this love that is generous and forgiving, this love that, Yes disciplines them for good, but He longs to bless them and lead them into life and all its fullness. This is the love of God and it hasn’t changed. He says this love has not changed, His heart is for them and He longs for them to respond in kind. He longs for them to love Him as He loves them because He’s constantly working to restore, maintain and deepen this relationship with His people.

And the same is true in the life of Jesus. You know, just before Jesus said what He did to the rich young ruler the text says ‘Jesus looked at him and loved him.’ What was in that look? What did it communicate? What did it anticipate?

I suspect that Jesus anticipates this young guy is going to say ‘No, it’s too much.’ because Jesus knows where this young man’s heart is and yet, in love, He still speaks the truth and in love He still gives that invitation knowing it will be rejected, but calling Him, yearning for Him to break free of that love of money, that love of wealth, and return to his Lord to, return to knowing Jesus, following Jesus, walking with Jesus. That is the heart of God here and in Malachi. It’s the heart of God that is for you brothers and sisters and for me, for our hearts to be the Lord’s, to be given to the Lord. That is God’s desire and the yearning that is there within Him. It’s the crux of the issue throughout Malachi really, that are we are people who will give our hearts to the Lord because He has given Himself to us.

Are we truly His people to the depths of our being? Do we love the Lord to the very core of who we are? Because to the very core of God, He loves you, His heart is for you and He longs for your heart to be for Him and that will be seen in every area of your life, where you could be spending your money because as the other verse on the screen before said ’Where your treasure is, there is your heart’ and what you spend your money on will show you where your treasure is as well.

So, let’s take the example of global warming and of the climate crisis that we have in COP 26. It’s actually more costly to live a more ecological life. Have you noticed that? Have you tried to swap away from plastics? It’s not easy and it’s no cheap. But are you willing to pay the price, are you willing to pay the price of that change to be a steward not only of your money but of this creation that God has entrusted to us? Is your heart enough for the Lord that you care for what He cares for?

Or the giving of our church. What we do is in the name of the Lord and for the Lord and it can’t happen without resource. Is your heart enough for the Lord that you invest in His purposes that you give generously to The Guild projects or to the Shoebox Appeal or whatever? It may be are you a Christian who’s a bare minimum Christian. ‘Oh God, this is the spare change I’ve got in my pocket this week? or do you take a more disciplined, ordered, proactive approach because God has you? Give your devotion to God rather than to your finances and to your wealth and so you set up a standing order and you give regularly rather than just what have I got this week.

The crux of the issue is that God calls His people to give because He wants our hearts to be right with Him and in relation to their stuff because when His people give, and give rightly, and have a right relationship to their money, then they’re not possessed by their possessions and they overflow with generosity. When they return to the Lord with all their hearts, we see our role as stewards and our possessions as gifts to share. When we love the Lord to the depths of our being, we will be a people who faithfully give and, through our giving, change the world that little bit. I pray it may be so. Amen.

We close our service as we sing together our final hymn ‘I want to walk with Jesus Christ’ This call, this yearning to be faithful followers of Jesus, to walk in His footsteps, to receive His teaching, to obey His ways. And so we close our service with our final hymn.

Malachi: Love God, love His people and love for family

Preached on: Sunday 31st October 2021
Apologies for the lack of sermon video. The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-10-31 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Malachi 2:10-16
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us come to God in prayer. Let us pray.

Holy Spirit, come among us and soften our hearts to the word of God.
Holy Spirit, be in our midst and give to us wisdom and revelation.
Come Holy Spirit, with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

If you do have a Bible with you or on a phone or some device, I encourage you to have it because it won’t be appearing on screen due to our tech problems, and you might want to follow along with us. This might be a good reminder to bring along a Bible. We can’t actually give you a physical Bible just now because the cleaning process afterwards is so thorough. So, you might want to come prepared with a Bible just now, so that you can make sure I’m not preaching just some nonsense and you can make sure it’s matching up to the word of God!

Before I was a minister my job was as a development officer for the Scouts across the southeast of Scotland and that took me down into the deepest darkest Borders in the deepest darkest of winter and so, one winter evening, I’m down I think near Coldstream and our car at that time had some issues, I don’t know exactly what it was, there were battery problems and it wasn’t keeping its charge and such like – you can tell I know a lot about cars – and I come out the meeting and there’s a bit of an issue with it again and so I decided to just start it up I’d managed to get it started up maybe I should like rev the engine try and charge the battery or something so here’s me revving the engine the revs are really high and I must do this for a couple of minutes or something and eventually I have to stop because the temperature gauge is going off the scale. I get out the car and there’s the radiator red hot and I’m like ‘Oh, I’ve made a really bad decision here’, and I have to phone and get help to get me out of that situation. And looking back on it you can understand I’m just embarrassed to tell that story and how little I know of cars and what I should have done in x, y and z, and it’s easy in retrospect to know maybe what you should have done. And I tell that story for two reasons because firstly, we can look back on and these readings from Malachi and think of the people ‘Why were you so silly? Why did you do this? Why did you make these choices? This is just crazy!’ But then on the other hand there’s that accumulation of problems, like with the car I had, one problem and then I did another thing and another thing and it just led to a real mess of a situation, and I’m sure you’ve experienced in your own life that sinful choices can be very similar. You make one choice, you know it’s not the best choice, and then that leads to something else and to cover that up you make another choice and before you know it sin starts building and accumulating, and it just gets worse and worse and worse. You’ve probably known that in your own life and it’s true of the people. That because the priests hadn’t been doing their job, the people start to doubt the Lord’s love and they start to dishonor the Lord rather than seeking to honor Him, and it just spirals down and down and down. As I said each week and so we get to this point today where there’s not just one issue, there’s multiple issues, and they’re all feeding into one another and so, in our passage today, if you were to look through it you would see that five times the Lord says the people are unfaithful, five times, it’s just a repetition and so this is part of the prophecy where the Lord wants to deal with their unfaithfulness and the word here for unfaithfulness in the original language conveys the idea of treachery, and so in your English translation you might see the word treachery used. That they have been treacherous towards one another or towards the Lord. That has that connotation to the word. The idea of being disloyal, of even infidelity, and so the Lord comes with this challenge and every bit of Malachi is a challenge but as we heard last week, He brings that challenge for good reasons. He brings that discipline for good reasons, and so I almost want to flip what we might take initially. We might just think it’s a challenge but actually there’s an invitation here. There’s an invitation, there’s a call to renew loyalty to the Lord, to renew their loyalty too, for us to renew our loyalty to the Lord and Malachi focuses on three areas of life. Three areas of life where they need to show greater, love to the Lord and how they love and how they love in three particular areas.

And so the first area where they have to show loyalty to the Lord is in love to the Lord. They are doubting the Lord’s love. They are dishonoring the Lord and so I want to start there even though it’s not necessarily where Malachi starts. Because that’s the crux of all their issues, and so we find in verse 11 that Malachi says Judah has been unfaithful, a detestable thing has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. Judah has desecrated the sanctuary the Lord loves by marrying women who worship a foreign God.
And, at first, we might be like ‘What is this about?’ like ‘Is God racist?’ ‘W why is he against marrying people of another nation and another people?’ like ‘What is that about?’ And well, God’s not racist, He’s not. This isn’t an issue of race, it’s an issue of protection, because He knew hundreds of years before that His people started to marry into other nations, that they would be led away in their worship of Him, their love of Him would be diluted. And so you can flick back into Deuteronomy chapter 7 and He said through Moses hundreds of years before ‘Do not intermarry with them.’ these other people, groups, do not intermarry with them, do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods by intermarrying. There would be this conflict of faith, this conflict of religion. Who would they follow, and some would choose to go and follow other gods or there would be a whole mish-mash of religion and so they would try and worship both and still that would be idolatry. There’d be that turning away from the Lord and so He wants to protect their love, protect their worship, and so He gave that command and in what we read here in verse 11 that a detestable thing has been committed in Israel, Judah has desecrated the sanctuary, it seems to have come true. It’s not they might turn away and desecrate the sanctuary or this is going to happen, No, it has happened and so the Israelites have worshipped other gods and then come to the temple and said ‘Oh God here I am, you know, here’s my sacrifice, here’s my prayers. Welcome me, accept me, hear my prayers.’ and God said ‘No, no, no, no! You’ve been idolatrous, You’ve worshipped other Gods’ and he can’t then receive that sacrifice and that prayer, that worship. They have been unfaithful, they have been disloyal, and I think in verse 15, I think there’s this hint that it breaks the heart of God. The verse says ‘Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring.’ He seeks a nation He seeks children who are Godly not just in being a nice person and coming to church, He seeks children who are holy, who are given over to Him, who are holy as He is holy, who respond to His love with love. That’s God who gave Himself for them, to respond and like mindedness to respond, to respond the same way, to give of themselves in love of God and they haven’t done it. They’ve wandered away, they have been disloyal and I think here there’s a lot of just the heart of God breaking, that His children have become disloyal. There’s been infidelity on behalf of His people and it just breaks the heart of God because the first and greatest commandment of all the commandments in the scriptures – Do you remember it? Do you remember what Jesus said? ‘To love the lord your God with all your heart with all your soul and with all your mind this is the first and greatest commandment.’ Jesus said and they have broken it.

Friends, the people of old broke it and it breaks the heart of God that His people were disloyal in that way and so He sends Malachi to bring them back to loyalty by renewing their love for Him and as followers of Jesus we too are called to love God in such a way, we too are called to love God with all that we are, that the idea of our mind and our soul and our heart, it’s all of we, all that we are, but it’s not just a love that’s internal, it’s then seen in every facet of life that we order our lives around loving the Lord.

So, what does that look like for you? Do you need to order your life a bit differently going forward this week, to show your love to the Lord, to renew your loyalty to the Lord? It might be seen in your time. Do you prioritize time in the secret place with the Lord to be in His word, to be in prayer, even if it means you have to get up before the kids, get up or whatever it might be or before you go to work or you make sure that you switch the tv off at nine o’clock so that you get a better time before you get to bed at 10 o’clock? What is it that you, how you show your love to the Lord? How do you need to structure your life to safeguard that love and to show that loyalty to God? Or maybe it’s giving of your time and getting involved in His purposes because if you’re just sitting on the fringes and you’re like ‘Well, I’ll just let someone else do that job’ or ‘I don’t have the time or I can’t be bothered’ Is that really showing your love for the Lord when you just discard His purposes? So, maybe you have to get involved in Pre-Fives, maybe you have to step up, maybe that’s how you have to show your love of the Lord in response to His word today.

There’s a second area of life though that Malachi comes to challenge and it’s the love of God’s people. He says in verse 10 ‘Do we not all have one father? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our ancestors by being unfaithful to one another?’ And so, let’s remember that the people of God, this great nation, they started from one family, the Abraham family, and God grew them and nurtured them and they became this great nation and He brought them into the promised land and Yes, they were unfaithful and so that God worked up the scale of discipline as we were talking about last week and, eventually, that resulted in their exile, so they get taken off to exile but then God is still with them there and He brings them home and He enables them to rebuild the temple and rebuild their land and yet again, we see them being disloyal, of idols giving worship to others idols. This God who created them, this God who is their father, and so they are a people who are bound together, they are bound together by covenant by promise and yet they are threatening that. They are profaning that. They are profaning, has much the same meaning as desecrating, of treating it as ordinary, as spoiling it.

They were carried into exile because of idolatry and here are people engaged in idolatry again and risking that. They go through all that again and go into exile they are not loving one another; they are threatening the welfare of one another by their choices. How can they do such a thing? How can they do this to one another? They are not valuing one another as they should.

And you know, we are also bound together, brothers and sisters, by a covenant. Not the old covenant. We are bound together by the new covenant through Jesus. We spoke about this in our last series on our Purpose and Values. We are a family, brothers and sisters together, one family together, and out of that we are to show love to one another. We’re to show love to one another such that Jesus says by our love for one another we will be recognized as his disciples. Do we live in such a way? Do we treat each other in such a way that the outside world knows that, that we are disciples of Jesus, that we overflow with the love of Jesus? Is that seen in our lives? And that ‘one another’ phrase, I’ve been wanting to bring this in for weeks, if not months, because there’s been this thought in my head, just jogged by various bits of preparation, that He says ‘If you love one another’ and if you go into your Bible or go online and you look for the ‘one another’ phrases in the New Testament, there’s about 60 ‘one another’ phrases. That’s how important loving ‘one another’ is to God that he has included so many ‘one another’ phrases. Now, some of them duplicate but there are still about 40 individual phrases or so.

Let me give you a flavor of some of them:
‘Be devoted to one another in love’ Romans 12
‘Don’t grumble against each other’ James 5
‘Forgive one another. If any of you has a grievance against someone, forgive as the Lord forgave you’ Colossians 3

So, what would it look like for you to grow or renew your loyalty to God by loving one another better?

That first one ‘be devoted to one another in love’? Is that seen in your life? Do you just come to church and tick the box or do you involve yourself in some shape or form in the life of this congregation? Do you serve? Do you know people in this congregation that you’re supporting? You can’t know everybody, I’m not expecting you to serve and help everybody but who is it here, who is it that’s a housebound and can’t be here that you are loving and supporting? Because, if you’re not, if you literally just come to church and tick the box, is that really devoting yourself to the other in love really? And, you know, being part of a community is tough work, sometimes we grate and rub up against each other. What you say isn’t quite what they’d like it to be said, or something’s proposed that we do, something or we change something, or who knows, there are so many different ways in the life of a community that we just rub each other up a little bit.

Are you prone more to grumbling and moaning than cheering on? Could we learn to be the greatest cheerleaders of one another rather than the greatest grumblers and moaners? I’m not saying you are, I’m just saying it’s a possibility that it happens in churches. I’ve been around a couple. Could we try and learn to love one another such that we don’t grumble? It’s not don’t grumble a little it’s just don’t grumble at all. Could we try and eradicate grumbling and moaning as a church? And you know there will be times when something is done that you feel grieved in your spirit, a choice is made, something changes, something’s not done that you think should be done, someone says something and you take it one way and they’d completely meant it another way, and there’s this grievance, can we learn to forgive as the Lord forgave us and keep the bond of unity between us? Or do we hold on to that grudge and nurse the bitterness?

Because if we are just living for ourselves and we just come to church for ourselves, if we are ignoring the command of God not to grumble, if we are ignoring his call to forgive as we have been forgiven, you know, friends that’s not being loyal to God, that is saying we know best we want our way, and God you can take a hike, I’m not listening to you, it is being disloyal to Him and so He calls us to hear Him and to love His people and so as to renew our loyalty to Him.

But there’s a third area that Malachi picks up on. It’s covered in a number of verses and it’s the love of family. We read earlier already, just in point one, we read these words ‘Judah has been unfaithful the detestable practice has been committed. Judah has desecrated the sanctuary, the Lord loves, by marrying women who worship a foreign god’. So, we covered that bit already but He goes on in verse 14 to say ‘You have been unfaithful to the wife of your youth, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. And so, what is going on here is that first of all we need to remember the context that at the time of writing, only men could initiate divorce and so the men are divorcing their rightful Israelite wives and going off and marrying foreign wives who are leading them into idolatry. There’s this double sin that as I was saying at the introduction that accumulation and that building up, they are casting off they are dismissing their wives simply because they want to marry another woman. They are abandoning their current rightful marriages and Malachi comes to challenge that, to challenge such despicable behavior, to challenge their practice of divorce, because God, the Scriptures have a really high view of marriage, and I hope that we do as well as a church, that verse 14 the wife is described as your partner that your companion your help. And please don’t see that as a poor term or me being derogatory to a woman in any shape or form, because who else is called the helper the Lord – the Lord is called ‘the helper’, it is the most respectful term you could think of. So, please don’t think I’m being derogatory there.

And what is more, she is the wife of your marriage covenant, this marriage promise made before God in the presence of God made to be lasting unto death. And then that use of covenant to show that it’s meant to portray something of the relationship between God and His people, that is how high a view God has of marriage and I’m not really going to say an awful lot more about, divorce today because I just don’t think it would be very pastoral. There’s so much that could be said, there’s so much of individual situations that would be said that I think it would probably just I’d end up saying something unhelpful or the wrong thing or you’d misconstrue it the wrong way too and so all I want to add on that little bit of this is to say that if you are feeling unsettled
because of something in your past or previous relationships then I’d ask you to come and just talk with me, let me hear something of your story and we’ll just take it from there, not to challenge you or correct anything, but if you just maybe to bring you peace about what it was about a choice made maybe, because I just don’t, as I say, you feel it’s right to go into lots of detail in our time together this morning, and what is more I’m conscious that there are folks amongst us who are not married, there are folks amongst us who are widowed, there are folks amongst us, thankfully, who are happily married so if I was just to go on about divorce with, are they just to switch off ,are they just to get some information that they file away, is this there’s nothing of greater relevance for them in this portion of scripture. So, what I’ve been thinking about this week is, what is the broader principle here? What is the broader principle here? Talking about home and family life and how we treat one another, and I think it is that love of family that’s the third area God would want to speak into today. Do we love our family well? Because the New Testament has so many instances where it talks about family. Paul writes to Timothy ‘If a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God’ or you could go into Colossians or Ephesians to see verses there about how parents should relate to children, children to parents, husbands to wives, wives to husbands. The New Testament is interested in all the facets of life including home life no matter your circumstance.

We still love one another well and there, that way in that part of life too but in thinking about home and family life. There’s one area I want to touch on, because of the final verse in Malachi today where Malachi says on behalf of the Lord ‘The man who hates and divorces his wife’ which we can understand with all that we’ve covered, he’s divorcing his wife and it’s a form of hatred because it’s certainly not love. The man who hates and divorces his wife does violence to the one he should protect. Does violence to the one he should protect.

Why is it a doing of violence? Why is it a doing of violence? Well, we need to go back to Genesis chapter 2 and there we read that when a man and women come together they form one flesh, not just physically, but in their whole life together, they are seen by God as one flesh, are coming together. Such unity weaving together, or cleaving as the scriptures talk about, cleaving together, that they are seen as one flesh and so in the act of divorce that flesh is ripped apart there is a doing of violence, a tearing of that one flesh bond. But I’m conscious that violence and relationships doesn’t necessarily just come at the end with divorce, there can be violence and relationships well before that point, and you in your own relationship sadly maybe experience some violence. It could be a physical violence, a sexual violence, it could be violence of words, and we’ll speak more of that in a second, it could be manipulation, control and someone at home, someone in your family could be doing violence to you in your relationship and I’d want to take the opportunity to say, please don’t suffer alone or in silence, please come and talk to us, talk to me. We recently set up a gender-based violence team within the church. We’ve not really promoted it much yet because we’re still learning, still learning how best to support, how best to educate our congregation, how best to educate ourselves, but there are people around who can listen who can signpost you to other sources of support. So, if you are suffering violence of some form in your relationships in your home life, please take that really brave but scary step and come and talk with us please.

But I am conscious too that that violence can take many forms and I’m reminded of Matthew 5 where Jesus says ‘Anyone who murders will be subject to judgment, but I tell you also that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment ‘and he goes on to give the example of things that we might say that would bring judgment upon us and that idea that our words carry the power of both life and death, that expressing anger through our words can be akin, it can be on a par in some shape or form, with the violence of murder.

And I wonder if that is something that you experience in home life, might not just be in a relationship, it might be towards your children, it might be from a parent, it might be from a partner or spouse, the doing of violence can take many forms and too often we in the church have not talked about it, we have ignored the fact that it exists, that it happens and that we too can commit it. We excuse it, we overlook it we ‘Well, it was circumstances or whatever’ but we fly off the handle and we hurt our children, we hurt our partners and spouses with our angry words and rather than bring life and encouragement, we bring death, we bring violence of a form, and I wonder if part of the call today from God is to repent of that, to acknowledge that, to just be honest that that is going on, that in your relationships there is anger and it is hurting others.

And if you will give God the space and the opportunity, I believe He would want to work in you to bring the fruit of the spirit of kindness and of gentleness and of peace and of patience and of self-control, so that, what has been, does not have to be the future.

It’s a tough word again through Malachi to hear.

But as I was listening to a podcast the other week. Repentance can’t happen without us naming the truth and too often we don’t name the truth in our own lives and in the life of the church. Repentance leads to life and repentance can’t happen if we don’t name the truth. So, can we name the truth, friends, in our own lives and hearts. Where is the anger in your life? Where is the lack of love for brother and sister in your life? Where is the lack of God in your life? Can you bring it to the Lord that He might then open a door into newness of life for you and for the others around you.

God’s call today is a call to greater loyalty to Him or to renew that loyalty and to live that out as three spheres of life: love of Him, love of his people and love of family. I pray it may be so. Amen.

We’re going to close our time together with our final hymn which is Love divine, all loves excelling. It’s a hymn that reminds us of the love of God, this love that we are to emulate, this love that we respond to, this love that we are to show to one another so we sing together Love divine, all loves excelling.

Malachi: honour God

Preached on: Sunday 24th October 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-10-24 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Malachi 2:1-9
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s word. Let us pray.Holy Spirit, please come among us and soften our hearts to the word of God.
Holy Spirit, please give to us wisdom and revelation.
Holy Spirit, be present here amongst us with power and deep conviction, for we ask it
in Jesus’ name. Amen.Across the centuries, the church has had to make decisions that have been uncomfortable and sometimes which stood against theology or practice that had become popular. So, for example, in the fourth century when those people were deciding about what material to include in the Bible, they decided not to include the Gospel of Thomas. You can check the index if you like, it’s not there, you didn’t miss it, it wasn’t included. We must assume that because there are copies available still even to see nowadays, we must assume that it had a measure of popularity, that it made the rounds, it was available, maybe people even knew what his content was, never mind that it existed. But those who compiled the Bible decided not to include the Gospel of Thomas because it taught things about Jesus which were contrary to the teaching passed on by the Apostles the church, made a choice, made a choice to follow what God had revealed to follow God’s way rather than these other writings and it did that so as to safeguard its life and its purpose because those other writings would have taken the church down a unhealthy route, ii wrote contrary to God’s teaching, and I would think that by rejecting those other sources they made some people uncomfortable and those decisions might well have been unpopular in their day.

I say this by way of introduction because this coming Tuesday the Presbytery of Falkirk will be meeting as scheduled and the ministers and elders who make up the Presbytery will talk about two important issues. Firstly, a document that would allow ministers to conduct same-sex marriages and secondly, how to go about forming a new mission plan, and a mission plan basically says which buildings are we keeping, which congregations are we keeping, and which congregations are we closing. And, to my mind, we partly have to deal with the second, the issue of decline, because of matters like the first, and to help extend my thinking on that let’s turn to today’s passage.

We’ve just begun the series in Malachi and we know from the previous two weeks that the Lord is sending Malachi to speak to a people He loves, a people He loves so deeply and thoroughly and yet this people they question His love and in questioning His love they have spiraled down into a way of life where they are engaged in practices that are far removed from the ideal set out by God. And so, today’s passage takes us to another one of those areas of life that has gone wrong, and it’s specifically addressed to the Priests. The Lord focuses upon them. So, what’s the issue with them?

Well, the Lord says this to them ‘Now you priests, this warning is for you. If you do not listen and if you do not resolve to honor My Name, you have turned from the way and by your teaching have caused many to stumble. You have not followed My ways but have shown partiality in matters of the law.’ The heart of this portion of Malachi’s prophecy is a charge against the priests, that they have given way to popularity rather than seeking to honor the Lord above all. We’re told at the end there that they’ve shown ‘partiality in matters of the law.’ They’ve shown favoritism, they’ve tried to carry some favor with the people by letting God’s ways, letting God’s law slide. We see here that they’ve courted popularity rather than resolving to honor the Lord above all and, in doing that, they’ve not only turned from the Lord’s ways, they’ve caused others to turn from the Lord’s ways as well, they’ve caused others to stumble, which is a way of saying, they’ve caused others to sin.

Now, maybe you’re thinking ‘Well Scott, it’s addressed to the priests so surely this is aimed at the elders and ministers of today’s church?’ and the elders amongst us might be feeling a bit uncomfortable right now, and I can see why you might think that. You know the Church of Scotland, The General Assembly and the Presbyteries are made up of ministers and elders and their leadership does have an impact on local congregations, but let’s also remember what we read in the New Testament where Peter says ‘but you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, the holy, God’s special possession.’ and the you hear that Peter is addressed to a vast group of people across a vast area of the known world in his day, and so Peter’s saying that every Christian is now a priest in the Kingdom of God. There’s no distinction between individuals like there was in the Old Testament, we are all a royal priesthood and so, when we hear these words of Malachi, they’re relevant for all of us. We’re all to honor God above everything else. We’re all to honor God above popularity and when we make decisions it is God we are to honor rather than doing maybe what’s popular or comfortable.

But maybe you might be wondering ‘Well Scott, why should I bother to honor God? Why should we honor God?’ Well, we could go back to the previous chapter where in those two weeks we thought about the love of God and we thought about the greatness of God. Those are reasons to honor God, but our passage gives us some other reasons to honor God, and to lead us into those other reasons it begins by talking of the discipline of God.

We read earlier ‘I will send a curse on you and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them because you have not resolved to honor me. Because of you I will rebuke your, I will smear on your faces the dung from your festival sacrifices and you will be carried off with it.’ Hard words! Hard words to hear hard words to explain. There’s part of me thinking ‘Why did I pick this book at times?’ and that’s very honest. They’re meant to be startling words. They are meant to make the original people very uncomfortable because, let’s remember, this is a people who have grown cold and hard towards God and the priests in particular have grown in pride and self-sufficiency such that it’s led them into wickedness, and so, God uses a range of language and warnings to break through to His people and to break through to His priests in this passage because sometimes only such language, only such a denunciation, will pierce our hard hearts, our sinful hearts.

And so, God begins by saying He is sending a curse but in the original Hebrew the wording here is actually the curse and if you look at most other English translations it more accurately shows that, the curse. Because when you and I think about a curse we often think about witches and such like – don’t we, think about Harry Potter and bits and pieces but God when He’s speaking here is not speaking of a curse in that sense, He’s not speaking of a bad spell, it’s not something evil done to another, it’s not done for impure motives because when God entered into a covenant relationship with His people, a covenant that was akin to a marriage relationship. He wrote out both the good that they would receive when they obeyed Him, as well as the discipline they would receive when they disobeyed Him and the people said ‘Yes, we accept these terms.’

Now God on the discipline side of things has several layers and so he worked up the layers depending on what they did. He didn’t start right at the top because He’s not capricious. He’s not vengeful, and this is the people He loves but He calls His people to a certain way of life. He calls them to be holy as He is holy and so when they wander from His ways, He promises to discipline them, to bring them back into His way and He does it for good reasons which we will come to. So this curse that He’s talking about here it’s not a spell, it’s not something done in vengeance, it’s not done with bad intent, it’s about Godly discipline and so when He says ‘I will curse your blessings’ this probably means and it’s probably in reference to the food the priests received. Because let’s remember the priests did not have a land of their own, they did not have a means of farming or having produce, and so, because the Lord was their portion, and so what happened is, part of the sacrifice was given to the priests so that they would have food provided for them, and the rest would be used as a sacrifice to the Lord. And as last week’s passage reminded us, the priests were saying to the people ‘It’s okay to give substandard offerings’ and that would then have an impact on the priests because if they’re receiving substandard offerings then in their cupboard is going to be substandard, there’s going to be less and it’s not going to be as good food. There’s not going to be as bountiful provision in their cupboards and that’s simply how God is going to curse their blessings. He doesn’t have to do anything else/ It doesn’t cast a spell or whatever else. He just allows their poor choices to impact their life and their lives will be all the poorer for their choices and that’s how God is going to discipline them. Likewise when He says here that He’s going to ‘rebuke your descendants’ it’s about discipline because God is wanting to clean up the worship of His people and so rebuking has descent, their descendants is a way of God saying He’s not going to allow these priests and the generations after them to continue serving Him as priests. He’s going to sweep away these evil priests and those that might follow in their footsteps and I’m partly led to that conclusion by what comes next. This bit about ‘dung’ and the sacrifices.

So, what’s that all about? Because it feels pretty hard. And again, context is key here. As we know, the sacrifices were animals. Animals have internal organs. One of those internal organs and part of the thing is going to be a digestive system and so, when an animal is sacrificed, in that digestive system is going to be undigested food and God had said that that part of the sacrifice was not worthy of being given to the Lord and it had to be removed before the sacrifice was given. We might say the offal for shorthand, and so the offal was removed and it was taken outside the camp or the city and it kind of formed a dung heap, and God had said in the Old Testament that anyone who came into contact with that, anyone who would be involved in taking it away, became unclean, at least for a while, and by being unclean they could not come near to the Lord in the tent of meeting or at the temple. They were barred from that place. Now we might find the language here quite difficult to swallow and so did the people of the day and following descendants. We know this because there’s an Aramaic translation of the Old Testament called the Targum and the people who wrote that actually rewrote the wording here to get away with the offensive metaphor. They didn’t like it, even centuries after God had said it but let’s remember, God’s not capricious, He’s not vengeful, and so He’s using a metaphor here, a very striking metaphor, we must admit, but He’s using a metaphor to spell out what is coming their way, to spell out a picture to them and what He’s saying is very akin to our modern-day phrase of someone having ‘egg on their face’. We know that phrase, someone having egg on their face, they don’t literally have egg on their face but it’s a way of capturing a meaning. Well what Malachi says, here is a fifth century BC equivalent of our modern day saying. What God is trying to get across is this idea that He views these priests as unholy, as unclean, and so they are going to be barred from the place of worship, they’re going to be barred from God’s presence and because of that they can’t continue as priests at least for a while and by all intents I think God is saying, as long as they don’t repent. He’s basically going to remove them from office and that too is part of God’s discipline, He is going to discipline them. He’s going to do that for good reasons to safeguard something.

So, what is God trying to safeguard? Well three things: His person or name; His people: and His purposes. God says in verses two and five that He’s going to discipline the people, the priests, because they have not honored His name, and then in verse 5 He says that the good priest, the priest who He admires, is the one who reveres God and stands in awe of God’s name.

Now maybe we were wondering ‘What’s all this about a name? Why is that so important?’ Well let’s remember that in the scriptures a name is tied to a person’s character and reputation, so a priest who doesn’t honor God’s name is a priest who holds God in contempt, as a priest who belittles God and that’s a problem for so many reasons. We’ve seen some of the reasons in the earlier chapter of Malachi but I think there’s another reason that we have to consider.

Only when we honor God rightly do we order our lives rightly. Only when we honor God rightly do we order our lives rightly. And so, we make right choices and I could give you any number of examples but let me pick something that is very much on our radar probably from press and such like. We know that COP26 is coming up, we’re having to have such a thing because we have global warming and for decades and centuries human beings have pretty much done what they wanted and abused the planet as they wanted. We’ve taken it very much for granted but if you go back to Genesis 1 and 2 What does God say to do? Steward the earth, look after it but humanity in general with pretty much, including the church at times, ignored God. We’ve pretty much said ‘We’ll do what we want and God you can take a hike.’ We have not honor God rightly and so we have not ordered our lives rightly, and we’ve made some poor choices and we’re facing the consequences of that. When we honor God rightly we there are in a better place to order our lives rightly, and from that comes better choices and better living and God is disciplining His people here so as to safeguard His name so that He’s honored properly and part of the reason for that is for our benefit.

The Lord also seeks to discipline His people, to safeguard, to safeguard His people because the priests as we saw have been showing partiality. There’s been injustice and so He does it to safeguard His people but He also does it to safeguard His purposes and at first that’s not very obvious in the passage but in verse 5 He says that He is entered into a covenant so as to bring life and peace or in the Hebrew life and shalom which we know from week one means life and wholeness and so, partly, God is about protecting His purposes of bringing life and wholeness and that is not only for the people themselves, it’s not only for Israel, because we know from chapter 1 verse 2 that Israel, Jacob, has been chosen by God to accomplish something, to bring blessing for the world and we could go back to other chapters like in Genesis chapter 12 where God said to Abraham ‘I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’ What they received from the Lord was not just for them, it was meant to flow out to others, to the wider world and so God is seeking to protect the purpose He has for His people, Because, how can His people be a light to the nations when they are rejecting the light He has given through the law? How can they be that light? And so, as to safeguard His purposes, He disciplines His people.

But maybe you’re wondering ‘Well Scott, this is a nice history lesson. This is nice detail. I’m sure it would be a great lecture at Bible college or something, but really, what does this have to do with today?’ Well, we might then ask the question – Does God still discipline today? Does God still discipline today? Does he still seek to safeguard His person, His people and His purposes today? Will he allow our poor choices to impact us today? Might he even seek to remove that which is not honoring of Him in our time?

So, let’s turn to the New Testament and in the book of Hebrews we read this ‘have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son?’ It says my son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline and do not lose heart when He rebukes you because the Lord disciplines the one He loves and He chastens everyone He accepts as His son. There’s more verses you can go on to read, just after that little portion, but it gives you a flavor of the passage. God does discipline His people, even today.

So, going back to my introduction and talking about the issues that are coming up at Presbytery this week, on the one hand we have a discussion about a practice that has no biblical support whatsoever, and on the other, we have a discussion about decline. Is it really a coincidence that we’re talking about both issues at the same time? Because, let’s remember, the Lord has called us to a purpose that is beyond our human capacity to do alone, and those who labor without the Lord labor in vain. We need God’s help. But why would ever God bless our labors if we are pursuing ways contrary to His word?
and for many years there have been voices saying that the Church of Scotland is declining because of our waywardness from God’s word. And so, it does raise the question – Is the decline we are facing partly linked to God’s discipline? Is He exercising a form of disciplining us, so as to safeguard His person, His people and His purposes? Maybe he is allowing our poor choices to impact our communal life as a denomination maybe he is even seeking to remove that which is not honoring of him by allowing things to decline and even to close and that’s not easy to hear certainly not easy to say and I’m sure you’re just jumping with enthusiasm right now in your seats as well! It’s a heavy word, it’s a challenging thing to consider and be reminded of, but let’s remember, God does it for good reasons. For good reasons. To safeguard us. To lead us into life and peace. And so, maybe as we take a moment just to pause and take a breath, I wonder – Is there in you a desire also to know? ‘Well, Scott if that’s the case if that’s the case, how then do we honor God? How then do we safeguard God’s person, God’s purposes and God’s people? How do we honor? God above popularity?

And Malachi leads us on because he goes on to speak about Levi who honored God in this way. Malachi says ‘True instruction was in his mouth Levi’s mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness and turned many from sin for the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge because he is the messenger of the LORD Almighty’ and people seek instruction from his mouth, the true priest, the true person who honors God is one whose mouth has within it true instruction or in the Hebrew, true Torah, the words of God, the ways of God. What is more, the true priest, Levi, walks with God, walks with God in peace and uprightness, or we might say, he walks in sync with God, his lifestyle is in sync with God.

So, if we want to be a people who honor God, even above popularity, then it must be seen in both our words and in our deeds. This week as I prepared for today a quote that I’d heard a number of years ago in a song came to mind and it’s from an author called Brennan Manning who said ‘The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.’

Now you might disagree with the greatest single cause of atheism but let’s take stock of these words because we’re a church that’s declining, let’s face up to that, and as such it can be tempting to choose ways that are contrary to God’s ways and this isn’t just about same-sex marriage, so please don’t get fixated on that, we could be talking about care for creation and the issue of global warming, as I’ve mentioned today, we could talk about care for neighbor and the issues of gender-based violence which too many of us men write off, we could talk about whether we are willing to share our faith like James did or whether we shrink back and we allow fear, we allow the desire to be liked and to be popular to curb what we do and so maybe, we have never shared our faith or not for a number of years. Every one of these examples has a scriptural basis and if it has a scriptural basis it means it’s important to God, just as much as the more controversial issues, and if we don’t take heed, if we don’t learn to engage with them, then we’re living contrary to God’s ways and so as Manning puts it we would be Christians who acknowledge Jesus with our lips here on a Sunday and we sing some lovely songs ‘Oh look at us, we’re very religious.’ and then we go out there the rest of the week and because we just forget what God says, we deny Him with our lifestyle and the wider world thinks Jesus is not important ‘Why should I bother with Jesus? He’s just about these Christians are just lip service, and they’re just being very religious and they just write Jesus off.’ But the ways of God are for the good of the world, all the ways of God are for the good of the world, and if we, His church, would learn to honor God more rightly and so order our lives more rightly, then the wider world might be taking a bit more notice of the church, they might think ‘Well, there’s actually something in this Christian faith. There’s actually something about Jesus which I need to find out about.’ And so, we don’t need to resort to being popular or give ground to popular opinion to see the direction of the church change, we just need to honor God.

So, you’re probably grateful you’re not involved in Presbytery conversations this Tuesday night, and that you don’t have to be there for that or say anything, but how is God calling you to honor Him in your life this week? Where are you to honor Him? What have you to stop doing? What have you to start doing? Is there an apology you need to give to someone? Is there a cause you need to find out more about or support or volunteer? In the week ahead, how are you going to honor God such that those around you see that the ways of God are for the good of the world and that following Jesus is more than mere lip service to you? How are you called to honor God this week?

Because I pray that we would take these words to heart, that we would resolve to honor the Lord, walking in His ways and be a people who safeguard His person, His people and His purposes. May it be so. Amen.

Malachi: His love endures forever

Preached on: Sunday 10th October 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here21-10-10 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Malachi 1:1-5
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s word

Holy Spirit, come among us and soften our hearts to the word of God.
Holy Spirit, draw near and reveal to us the heart and ways of almighty God,
Come Holy Spirit, with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen

so in our reading today we find God’s people waiting, waiting in the time of Malachi and even cynical there were those great leaders Zerubbabel and Joshua whom both Haggai and Zechariah said were the men God’s chosen men for the new age and yet they’ve died and sure the temple has been completed but nothing momentous has occurred like Ezekiel said would happen that the temple would be filled again with the glory of the lord and what is more the day of miracles has passed with Elijah and Elisha and yes religious duties continue but it’s done without much enthusiasm whether by priest or by people and so the people are asking where is the God of our fathers does it really matter whether we worship him or not and they’re asking these questions because they see generations dying without receiving the promises God made there’s injustice there’s poverty there’s corruption and so the people are in this downward spiral feeling forgotten by God losing their faith such that some are apathetic and others are just downright antagonistic and belligerent towards God on the whole the people feel distant from God and are choosing to distance themselves even further from him because they think their attitude is more justified than that of faith and obedience so when God starts by saying I have loved you the people are quick to respond they take exception and say but how have you loved us how have you loved us the people doubt God’s love for them their whole situation undermines their confidence in God’s love and from that starting point all the rest of their issues all the rest of their sins and waywardness which God will challenge in due course all of these stem from this central problem of doubting God’s love you probably know you’ve probably experienced that living in difficult times or in times of waiting can be so very hard it can raise all sorts of issues all sorts of questions those times can places under strain it can raise temptations that we normally just shrug off and most often it those times of difficulty and waiting just undermine faith and can lead us to a place of cynicism because it feels like God just doesn’t care that maybe God’s not even there and so God’s people were doubting God’s love in their present and I wonder friends is that you is that you have you experienced something and hardship that has maybe broken your faith maybe broken you

or maybe in your faith you’ve just got to that point where it’s routine you maybe had glory days in your youth where faith was alive and vibrant but as time has gone on it has waned I know it’s just a tick box exercise most days maybe we’re waiting maybe we’re doubting in our lives we might feel neglected we might feel just a bit more apathetic than we once were is that you friends is that maybe someone you know I’m sure we’ve all been there at one time or another but it’s not where God wants to leave you it is not where God wants to leave you and it wasn’t where he wanted to leave his people in Malachi’s time either it’s striking that the first words of the lord are to affirm his love for Israel it’s not a long list of what they’ve done wrong or what they have done it’s not a long list of things that they have done to God he starts with his love for them he has loved them and the Hebrew terms here convey an ongoing action the ongoing love of God towards his people and this is going to be a central theme for this book as proof of his love as a counter towards their cynical question the lord draws upon both his name and historical evidence to remind them that he has covenanted himself to them he is in this committed relationship to them and so in verse 2 here you’ll see that the name of the lord is in capitals it’s not an accident we do this in our English bibles so as to make it stand out for us a little bit and say hey hang on a second this is a special name of God this is not like lord like a boss or a king this is the lord Yahweh in the Hebrew and that’s a name laden with meaning and history no other people no other religion used the term Yahweh it was the special name of God revealed to his people by God alone and so he uses it here to get their attention rather than just a general term like God or such like he wants to get their attention he wants to draw their minds back to the past to what he has committed himself to doing and has done and so he goes on to say was not Esau Jacob’s brother yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated and here he begins to go into historical evidence to back up his claim that he has loved Israel now on first read I suspect if I did a quick poll most of us would struggle with this language we struggle with the idea of God hating Esau but there’s a lot we need to understand in these words here because God is still trying to communicate his love that he is a God of love so first of all we need to understand that God mentions Jacob and Esau as a way of speaking about the two nations that would come from those family lines so we have Jacob from whom came Israel and we have Esau from whom came Edom and the back story is that God did make a choice God did choose Jacob and the nation that would come from him and he did that so as to achieve his purposes so as to achieve his plan of redeeming and saving the world his plan through which a messiah would come God made a choice by which to achieve all this so when God is speaking of love and hate here it’s not about emotions it’s not about emotions it’s about choices and you know Jesus uses very similar language he says if anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother wife and children brothers and sisters yes even their own life such a person cannot be my disciple and yet Jesus also says love your neighbor as yourself which is it Jesus love our hate come on and in this we’re meant to see that God is not talking about the hatred that we call to mind hatred here is not about absolute hatred in either Luke or in Malachi it’s about ranking priorities it’s about preferring one towards a goal God’s love for Jacob was about choosing him to achieve God’s purposes so God’s hatred is not a desire for revenge and it’s not about God’s disdain or disgust with Esau and Edom and in fact if you look through the old testament books in the book of Obadiah God tries to reach out to the Edomites and through the prophet Amos we’re told that the Edomites will share in God’s deliverance in the end times so he’s not writing them off completely what is more there are many passages where God says he hates Israel because of their wrong choices because of their wicked ways at those times and so God’s hatred is not permanent or absolute it’s not about unbridled rage and all the emotion we attach to it because let’s remember God is the God whose anger passes quickly but whose love endures forever so let’s not misunderstand God and these verses he’s simply drawing his people’s attention back to what he has done and what he has promised he has promised to protect them to bless them to care for them now you may see in these next verses well what about them Scott they seem pretty harsh and yes they are uncomfortable reading but again let’s remember the context here God has promised to protect Israel so as to achieve his purposes because he has loved them and yet Edom has chosen to become one of Israel’s chief enemies they have attacked Israel because Esau and his descendants nurtured resentment and it led to outright hostility towards the line of Jacob and so as a result God must act he must act because of what he’s promised and God is always faithful to his promises he is duty bound to act what is more as we’ve sung this morning God is lord of all he knows the wickedness that is present in Edom they’re both they’re called in the old and new testaments both immoral and Godless and so God judges them as any truly holy and loving God must God’s love and goodness means he cannot tolerate evil he is opposed to it completely and so he must judge and in verse three there uh he’s talking about a historical event that something has happened to impact the land to impact where the Edomites live and history tells us that that area was conquered by Nabataean invaders they were used of God to remove this threat to Israel and so again God points to a historical event that shows he has been faithful to Israel he has loved them it’s an ongoing love a love which has not given up on them though they have given up on him and in both these examples his name and historical events God is showing has committed love his faithful love to his people so what about us what about our day maybe you’re asking has God love does and what has this got to do with me

What about in our circumstances?

well just like God gave them a couple of examples I want to give us a couple of examples that apply to every one of us I’m sure you can guess the first it sounds like a bit of a Sunday school answer but let’s not belittle it or take it for granted because God sought our protection and salvation just like he’d sought it for Israel and so the apostle Paul can say but God demonstrates his own love for us in this while we were still sinners Christ died for us for the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our lord the cross the cross that we have here to remind us every Sunday why we gather that is where Jesus died that is which that is the event that reminds us of God’s love for every one of us for this whole world for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life now friends none of us are due eternal life none of us you’re all lovely people but none of us are due eternal life neither am I we’ve all gone astray we’ve all sinned the wages of sin are death eternal separation from God at one time or another all of us have told God to take a hike and yet God still loved us enough to die for us Israel could point to a historical event but we can point to an even greater historical event this is the pinnacle the prime display of God’s love for you and for this world and the invitation into a new covenant in a better covenant but Israel could also point to God’s ways that he had brought them out of situations how he had nurtured them how he had intervened in their life to ensure that they existed at all and the same is true with your faith in my faith back in June we had a teaching series on grace and in the fourth week you can still get a copy on our website or YouTube channel or we’ll get your cd and DVD if you want to go back to that in the fourth week we explored the reality that without God’s help we’re all spiritually dead and part of spiritual death means we can’t we don’t seek God without his help again the apostle Paul in roman says there’s no one righteous not even one there is no one who understands there is no one who seeks God so if you have faith the only reason you have faith no matter how small the only reason you can count yourself a Christian is because God’s grace has been at work in your life God’s grace opened your heart to respond to the good news about Jesus your faith exists because God’s loving action was at work in your life you wouldn’t be here you wouldn’t have any faith no matter how small if it wasn’t for God’s grace being given to you and at work in your life and so just as Israel could point to two events and more that would show that they were loved by God we too can point to that we can point to the death of Jesus in the fact that we have any faith at all it’s all of God it’s all a gift of God’s grace and like Israel we need to remember that when times are tough when things undermine our confidence in God’s love because friends if we simply assess God’s love if we weigh God’s love on how much he meets our need

then our greedy hearts will always find God wanting our greedy hearts will always find God wanting yet God has loved you his love is not changing towards you he does not change he is not fickle this love is steadfast and true and he has lavished upon each of us a love none of us none of us deserve

let that sink in friends let it sink in you don’t deserve this love and yet he died for you he chose to lay down his life for you

for you such as his love

so God has addressed Israel’s doubt of his love in the present by pointing them to history and his action in the past but he also calls them to look forward to look to him for the future and so he says in verse 5 you will see it with your own eyes and say great is the lord even beyond the borders of Israel God is wanting to restore their confidence and his love such that they reach that point where they are overwhelming with praise towards the lord he wants them to look to the future and to look to him for the future and rightly so because God’s covenant relationship is not just some words on a an old document or an old stone or parchment it’s not just a contract that he’s appended his name to and kind of gets on with things God’s covenant we’re told in scripture is very akin to a marriage indeed often God uses the marriage analogy to speak of his love for Israel and C S Lewis takes this up as he thinks about God’s love and C S Lewis says God’s love is akin to the love between a husband and a wife wherein each is willing to forgive the most because that love is willing to love beyond any faults while condoning the least in the other partner because that love while continuing to forgive nevertheless never ceases to coax urge wish and hope for the best in the other partner

so if God’s love towards us is akin to the love within a marriage why would God ever settle for a tepid relationship after all how many of us like having a friendship or a more committed relationship that is perfunctory dutiful or cynical wouldn’t we much prefer to have something that’s full of adventure and life and passion and commitment well so too does God. God wants that kind of relationship with his people both then and now and so this final verse is a God’s call to a better relationship a better place in that relationship with himself he said it here and he’ll say it again throughout Malachi he wants to do things and say things that will stir up the love of his people for him he wants to move them from that place of apathy and of doubt and cynicism and move them to a place of commitment that is passionate and renewed he wants to bring them on that journey and in the coming weeks Malachi is going to show us the way back to an enduring and faithful faith in the lord the God who is does not change who invites all to return to him and never forgets friends he never forgets those who turn to him

as that is going to take us a number of weeks to get through what could we do in the meantime what could we do this week to nurture our own trust in God’s love well sticking with the marriage analogy just like in marriage we sometimes need outside input and also marriages don’t improve without time being invested in them I want to give you two ideas two outside sources to aid you maybe in the coming week or weeks that you could use to invest in your relationship with God and the first is a book I’ve been reading I know a number of people have both here and elsewhere called gentle and lowly and it seeks to communicate the heart of Jesus for his people and friends it is powerful weighty reading you need to take your time in reading it this isn’t about your rush but it is one to be savored it is so rich and I encourage you to pick up a coffee and dig into that it will really reveal the heart of Jesus for you and the second is a music resource it’s a new music album just released a week ago by emu music and it’s titled joy and sorrow and I’ve basically had it on repeat the whole of the last week and it is really quite powerful in capturing some of the tensions and difficulties around faith by helping us to maybe express that or think about that and even find faith and keep finding faith in the hard times and so before we finish today I want to play as one of those songs it’s called unchanging and during that I invite you to reflect upon the words you’ll see them on screen but you might just want to close your eyes and in the playing of the song you might want to just take a moment to express quietly your own struggles of faith to God you might want to just call out to him you might want to weep it’s up to you but I encourage you to use this to exert what faith you have as we listen to this song


Where are you Lord, in the depths of my anguish?

Where are you Lord, when I war with my mind?

Loud are the devil’s taunts, as he surrounds me.

Where in the dark will I find you?

But you have not changed and you are not changing.

And your promises, they will remain.

Your sacrifice is never undone.

For you are my faith when I have none.

Where are you Lord, when I lie awake weeping?

Where are you Lord, when I endure pain?

Weak is my anxious heart, fear all around me.

Where in the night will I find you?

But you have not changed

and you are not changing.

And your promises, they will remain

Your sacrifice is never undone.

For you are my faith when I have none.

You are my faith, Jesus, you are my faith.

You are the Lord, who endured suffering.

You are the Lord, who went to the cross.

Dying a sinner’s death for my redemption.

You are my hope and you are my song.

Let us pray:

Lord, some of us are in those broken places

and it feels dark and lonely and you do seem distant

but you are unchanging

and so may you

be close and reveal yourself to folks

may they know your presence and comfort and peace even amidst the ongoing darkness and brokenness

lord be that bam to the heart and soul that only you can be

and if we can be a conduit of that lord help us to do so to be your arms and hands

to be an expression of your love and action

to be a support of faith when faith is crushed and broken and so small

lord help us to know the truth that when often faith is at its weakest it’s actually at its strongest

that that holding on in faith at the toughest of times is actually the exercise of the greatest of faith and I’d ask that you’d hold those people fast

and sustain them that you’d be the one that upholds them they don’t have to struggle and strain themselves because it’s all a gift Lord a gift of your grace and you never let go

so to you the unchanging God

we come in you we trust and then you we ask to be with us in the days to come

in your name Jesus amen

If you want a copy of the album you’ll need to go online um the link is in the YouTube video description and we’ll maybe get it put up on our Facebook page this afternoon too and I do encourage you to listen to the rest of the album is very powerful and helpful in my experience this past week.

Introduction to Malachi teaching series

Preached on: Sunday 10th October 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this message.
Bible references: Malachi
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Today we begin a new teaching series and it’s going to see us through to the beginning of Advent. Yes, we are that close to Christmas but please don’t let that distract you from the rest of today’s service.

Over the last couple of years I’ve used this autumn time to take us into the Old Testament prophetic books because they’re a portion of scripture we often ignore and a portion we often find very difficult to get into or get something from, because we do need to know the context and much about the scriptures and so, probably, it helps to do it as part of a kind of sermon series.

So, today we’re beginning to work through the book of Malachi and before we hear our reading today, I want to give you a little context to set the scene for today’s reading.

First of all you’re going to notice that Malachi uses a particular style and in this style the Lord engages with these people in a dialogue and so he asks them a question and then he hears back their questions and their issues as well. He engages us in this dialogue with them whereas in many prophets it’s just God speaking to the people but He’s allowing them to respond through what Malachi knows they are questioning themselves, and the context for Malachi’s ministry is also important because he is sent to the whole of Israel who have returned from captivity, and they’ve originally been taken into exile by the Babylonians but they were allowed to then return when the Babylonians were defeated and when they did return they rebuilt the temple and they rebuilt much of what they had lost.

However it’s about 60 to 100 years that Malachi comes to minister in the Lord’s name and he’s meeting a people who, the temple is complete, and yet they are experiencing poverty and foreign domination and corrupt government and a breakdown of worship, and it’s into that context that Malachi comes to minister, He comes to minister to the people, the regular person, the leaders, the priests, who comes to minister to the whole nation who are just in a downward spiral, because of what they are experiencing, because of all that is happening in their national and personal lives, and so Malachi speaks into that context. So we’re going to hear now God’s word read for us by our brother Drew from Blackbraes and Shieldhill.