Ben McSpadden: Some of you may be wondering if I was left holding the bag. I am of sorts, but I want you to imagine with me for a moment. I want you to imagine that this is a bag of treasure, and this is not just any bag of treasure. It’s your bag of treasure, and I want you to put in this bag everything that you hold dear and that you value. In fact, you could call this your life’s reward bag, and think about everything that you hope to be and have when you’re on this planet, and that is what we’re going to put in this bag.
So what am I talking about? What kinds of things are we going to put in this bag? Well, first I want you to certainly put all your money in this bag. I’m just going to pass it along here...just kidding. This is your bag of treasure, so put your money in this bag. Think about all the money you have in the bank right now; think about if you liquidated all of your assets and you put that money here in this bag. Think about if...all the money you hope to earn between now and when you breathe your last on this planet. Think about just all the possessions you have and hope to have; put them here in this bag, and it’s okay to round up if you’d like.
There’s your monetary treasure that you put in here, but I also want you to put your reputation in here in this bag. The good name that you have or the good name that you hope to have...go ahead and put that in the bag. Next, I want you to put your relationships in this bag. Take your dear, cherished relationships with your spouse, with your kids, with your family...put those relationships in here. Put the relationships with your neighbors, with your co-workers, with acquaintances you have, people that you know, you put all your relationships here in this bag.
Next, I want you to put your academic diplomas, degrees, and certifications here in this bag... the ones you have and the ones you hope to earn. Then, I want you to put your time in this bag. We’ve all got 24 hours in a day, 168 hours in a week. Go ahead and put all of your time here in this bag. Then finally, I want you to put your hopes, dreams, and aspirations for the future right here in this bag. And because we’re just imagining right now, let’s just go ahead and assume when you breathe your last breath on this planet all of those hopes, dreams, and aspirations have come to pass.
I want you to put all that here in this bag, and then we’re going to go ahead and cinch this bag up tight along the top. And this is your life’s reward bag...all that you are and all that you hope to be on this side of eternity right here in this bag. Now, we’re going to take this bag, and we’re going to set it over here for a little bit, but I promise we will come back to your treasure and to your life reward.
Today, we’re going to be looking at the prophet, Malachi. Last week we looked Hosea, and we’re going to be doing a bit of a time hop because the context for Hosea was this was the Northern Kingdom of Israel before they went into exile. Now we’re going to move about 300 years from that point to after they’ve already come back from the exile. If you missed last week or any of the other messages in the series, you can always check out our podcast or YouTube channel and catch up on those messages. Right now, we’re going to be looking at a time period, roughly 430 to 400 B.C. God’s people have been exiled; they’ve returned from the exile. They’ve rebuilt the temple, and you would think that just life was as it should be, that they were faithfully walking with God doing everything that He asked them to do. But, we find that once again evils have arisen, and people are not following God with their whole hearts.
It’s interesting as we think about the fact that Malachi was the last prophet that God sent His people. He was the last prophet before there were 400 years of silence. So the message that Malachi had for God’s people was something that He wanted them to think on and marinate on for 400 years because it was the last thing that He said before He broke the silence with the arrival of Jesus.
In Malachi’s day, the people had lost sight; they had lost sight of something very important, and that was God’s mission for them. In a big, broad spectrum, you could say that the mission God had for His people was to live in a way that they lived God’s ways and to love the people around them. As they do that, they would make God attractive to those around them. So, basically the mission that they had was to live life God’s way. That the people had lost sight of this...and the people were also very tired. They were tired of not getting what they wanted, not getting what they thought they deserved, not getting the reward that they were just sure was theirs. In their opinions they were righteous; they were doing what God had asked them to do, but it wasn’t working. They were long overdo on getting their reward. So guess what? We’re going to get it now; we’re going to take what’s ours.
They determined to just sort of go through the motions and check some of the religious boxes so that it appeared that they were doing some of the things that were required, but their hearts really weren’t in it. As we think about these final words that God spoke to the people through the prophet Malachi, these final words before there were 400 years of silence, we want to look at three lessons that God had for His people out of this time. And these same three lessons apply for us as we try to follow God in our own day in our own age.
The first lesson that we have...and you’ve got a listening guide there in your program if you want to follow along...the first lesson is that God’s mission for His people is to make His name great among the nations...to make His name, that is God’s name, great among the nations. This is one of the things that God has been doing since the beginning of time; as men and women choose to follow God, He uses them to make His name great among the nations. And if you’re here today and you’re sorting out “What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? What does that life look like?”... we’re going to look at some insights today. What does it mean? What’s the mission that we’re on? In some ways you can say, “What’s the whole purpose and point of life?” It’s to make God’s name great among the nations.
As we decide to yield our lives to Jesus, to follow Him, to make Him our Boss, to do life His way, there’s a shift that occurs. Because the way we’re born, what just comes naturally to us is we do what we want. Right? Life is all about ME. It’s interesting how you don’t have to teach a kid to say, “Mine!” Somehow they just figure that out, right? Mine. Life is about me; it’s about my reward. It’s about my glory; it’s about everything that I want. That’s what’s natural to us, but when Jesus comes in our life, when we yield the control of our life to Him, there’s a shift that occurs. We go from being about me to going about God, His glory and His reward. This shift is what leads us to.
If we look at Malachi 1:11, we find this: “For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.” See, living to enhance God’s reputation is one of the things that’s at the root of the meaning of life and why we’re here on this planet. If you understand this, it makes perfect sense, but so many people don’t understand this. This is why there’s so much time and energy and money spent on people trying to discover what’s the meaning of life. What’s the purpose? Why are we here? What’s this all about?
In fact, you can kind of think about it like a car. If you have a car, a brand new sports car, and that sports car is meant to be driven. Sports cars are meant to be driven fast, and you’re humming along the freeway in the left lane. And, you’re just going, but if all of a sudden your car starts kind of sputtering out, you go, “Uh oh, something’s not right here.” You hope you can get over to the shoulder and get off of the road, because cars were intended to drive. They were intended to go just like we are intended to make God’s name great among the nations. When we don’t do that, we sort of sputter like that car trying to safely get off to the shoulder and hope we just don’t have this crash and burn in the middle of the freeway.
God is like no other being ever; He’s the One that created this universe; He created everything in it. He created us, and because of that He is our great King. If we look at Malachi 1:14: “For I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.” The really amazing thing about God as the great King is that He’s not like a dictator that demands subjects bow down to Him and follow Him. But, God, who is the King, gives us the choice; He gives us the choice to freely bow to Him and follow Him. He wants us to do that and follow Him with our whole hearts. That’s what God invites us to do; that’s where we really meaning and purpose.
That word, “feared,” there is not like being afraid of the dark, like “Oh, I’m afraid!” But, it’s like we take Him seriously enough to obey Him, and we do what He says. Here’s the thing; He is the King. He is the great King, and as history unfolds everyone will discover that. Some will choose to bow to Him and serve Him as a great King, and some will not. But, He gives us the choice to serve Him as King, and when we do bow down, though, that’s where we do really find meaning and purpose and joy. He actually mobilizes the people who are His followers; He works through them to reach people who don’t yet know Him, so that they can have the life that He intends. Jesus came so that we can life and have it abundantly. In a sense, we have the answer to what people are looking for in this life, and God gives us the privilege, those of us who are followers of Jesus, to help bring that message to others who are desperately, desperately searching for it.
So, what does it mean to enhance God’s reputation? How do we do that? Well, a couple of things...one...first, we have to take our eyes off of ourself. We have to take our eyes off of getting what we want and getting our own reward, then we have to decide to use all of the resources that He’s given us--our time, our talent, our treasures. We have to decide to use those to advance His mission and to advance His kingdom. We also have to realize that God has placed us wherever you are in your family, in your job, in your school, in your neighborhood, in your circle of friends. He’s placed you wherever you are so that you can have influence in those around you, so that you could make His name great among those people.
We just heard the report from the team that went to Dubai, and God has called a group of men and women to leave everything that’s comfortable to them to go overseas to a place that’s very hard and very difficult. He’s called them specifically to go to those people, but in a sense, God has given us all our own mission field. And, it’s right wherever He has us, so we’re to make His name great among the nations. We do that by living in His ways and by His wisdom, by being a witness to those around us. Because our mission, as those of us who are followers of Jesus, is to make His name great among the nations.
The second lesson that we learn from Malachi is that God’s reputation is more important than our reward. His reputation is more important than our reward, and the people during Malachi’s day, they were focused on the wrong thing. They had their focus and their energy in the wrong direction; they were just focused and locked in on the reward that they wanted...that they thought they deserved. But they weren’t yet getting it; they thought they were righteous. They were actually just self-righteous. They were doing some of the religious things. They were checking off some of the boxes and doing some of the things, but they weren’t getting the reward that they thought they deserved, that they thought that they were earning based on what they were doing.
The four chapters of Malachi basically are structured like this--is that God is speaking to the people through the prophet, Malachi, and He brings this indictment or this charge against them. Then the people...there’s this question answered that’s sort of the attitude of the people. The question comes up, and then God answers the question. We see this seven times during the book of Malachi, and sometimes when you hear the question that’s asked, that’s sort of the attitude of the people, in my mind I’m kind of hearing this whiny, rebellious teenager asking these questions of God.
To give you a taste of this dialogue and the way that it unfolds, Malachi 3:13 and 14, it says, “‘Your words have been hard against me,’ says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’” So, they’re like, “What do you mean, God? How have we spoken against you?” Then the answer is, “...You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God…’” This is sort of the general attitude among the people...not vain as in thinking really highly of one’s self. But the word used here, the meaning of it is that it’s futile, and it’s worthless to serve God. Serving God gets them nothing; it doesn’t bring them the reward.
So, “...You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts?’” This attitude that was generally among the people at this time was that, “It’s a waste of time to serve God. It doesn’t get me what I want. It doesn’t get me anything. It’s just not working.”
It was their attitude then. Unfortunately, this is the attitude among many today in our culture. Following God doesn’t get me what I want, so… That’s what we see. In fact, the people were impatient. The people were demanding of God that they get it now, and guys, let me tell you that it’s a very dangerous place, if we get to a place mentally, emotionally that we deserve from God and we demand from God; that’s a dangerous, dangerous place to be because… What has He given us? We don’t stop and think about this often, but He’s given us life. The very breath in our lungs at this very moment is a gift from God. He’s given us so, so much, and when we focus on the thing we don’t have, we overlook everything else that we have. It’s a dangerous place to be; it’s a dangerous mindset.
Malachi is trying to tell them, “Guys, this is a dangerous place to be,” because it’s so easy if you’re just focused in on the one thing that you don’t have, you miss everything else that’s there. Frankly, you just don’t even have joy, because you don’t have that thing that you don’t have. I think that it’s actually probably harder for us with this today than it may have been for God’s people at that time. Why? Because of all the technology and the internet and social media...I’m sure this has never happened to any of you, but on occasion I have been just really tired. I just need a break; I’m tired, and I’m scrolling through Instagram, and I find five or six people that I haven’t even thought of in months, and I forgot that I even knew them. What do I find? I find them on vacation in this amazing place having the most restful time of their life. Because you know what? Somebody is always on vacation, and it’s not me. Right?
It’s hard to overlook and experience joy in the moment when we’re focused on the one thing we don’t have, we miss everything else. I want to show you a fake news report that I think proves this point pretty good. It gives us an idea of this. This is from The Babylon Bee; take a look at this. So, if you’re not familiar with The Babylon Bee, you get a feel for their use of satire to make their point. In fact, that last part of the report was sort of a dig at the fact that most of the humanitarian relief, compassionate work that goes on in this world is actually done by Christians. It’s not done by celebrities, and Christians are the ones that God has called us. We love people; we help supply some of their basic needs. And as we do that, we are making God’s name great among the nations.
During Malachi’s day the people had lost sight, they lost sight of all of this. They had lost sight of the mission; they were ungrateful. They were focusing on what they didn’t have, and they were missing everything else. So as we read through Malachi, we find some warnings, some indicators where if this is happening we might be starting to put our reward ahead of God’s reputation. I want to look at four indicators with you. These are sort of like the check engine light that comes on in your car and says, “You might want to get this looked at if this light comes on. Something’s either not right or it’s starting to not be right.” We’re going to look at four of these; two of them I’m going to look at in a little more detail. Then, I’m just going to mention the final two. Perhaps you can find more than just these four on your own if you read through Malachi.
To find this first indicator, we’re going to look at Malachi 1:6-8. It says, “A son honors his father and a servant his master, if then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?’ By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we polluted you?’ By saying that the Lord’s table may be despised. When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts.
So this first indicator, or that check engine light that could come on is, we give our worst and not our best. Giving our worst and not our best...if we get focused on just getting our reward, just getting it right now, and we don’t really believe that God is who He is and that He’s going to fulfill His promises and that He’s going to take care of us. Then, we just give our worst if anything at all, and we hold back for ourselves. And, we get what we get now. That’s what the people were doing; the people had decided it’s a waste of time to serve God. It’s not getting me what I want, so I’m going to get it now. I’m going to give my worst if anything, but I’m not going to give my best. This was in direct opposition to what God had told them. When they were given the law, when they were told how to relate to Him, they were...said...when it’s time to bring your sacrifices, you bring the best. You bring the first fruits; you bring those without blemish. You bring those that are not sick and not lame. This is where they’re just...they’re kind of going through the motions checking the boxes. “Well, I gave a sacrifice, God.” Yeah, that was a lame one; that was a blind one. It wasn’t the best.
This is one of the problems of the law and why the law was never a permanent solution; it was just a temporary one. Because it’s easy with the law...you can do yes, offer a sacrifice that’s lame or blind, but being saying “no” in your heart. Everybody sees you doing the “yes.” Here’s the thing is that God wants our best. In fact, the great King deserves our best. He deserves the best of our time, of our talent, and of our treasure. Think about...we all know that some of us are morning people; some of us are afternoon people. Some of us are evening people; whatever kind of people you are, when are you your best? That’s the best time to give God. He has given us all different talents and abilities and skills, and some of you are...make a lot of money with those abilities and skills that He has given you. Part of that...He’s given you those so that you can provide for your family, so that you can do good in society. But He’s also given us skills and abilities, so that we can invest them in the expansion of His kingdom.
Then, our treasure...a lot of times with treasure we think about money...is that He calls us to give our best, to give it off the top of our paycheck before we spend all or most of it and then just give a little tip at the end. But if we don’t believe God is who He is and He will do what He says He will do, then why wouldn’t we do that? Because we just got to get it now, take it now. I want you to think for just a moment, all politics aside, if the mayor or the governor or even the president was to call you up and say, “I’m coming for dinner tonight.” Would any of us really, honestly, seriously serve peanut butter and jelly on paper plates? No. Even if you didn’t vote for him, if you don’t agree with their politics, you wouldn’t do that to an honored guest.
That’s also why we don’t...why would we save up money for a long time in some cases to buy a gift that we really want to give to our spouse or to our children or to someone. We put them in that place of honor. When it comes to having company over, we clean; we decorate. In fact I learned a couple of weeks ago that there’s two kinds of clean. There’s clean, and then there’s grandma clean. Grandma clean is when grandma’s coming in from out of town to spend some time with you. You do a little extra cleaning. What do we do? We give our best to those that we love, to those that we respect. Why don’t we give our best to God? And uncomfortable question that we all have to consider is, “Where am I not giving God my best?” I’m just going to go ahead and say that we’re better, for talking purposes, than those in ancient Israel. Say we’re not giving our worst, but we’re just not giving our best. So, where am I not giving God my best?
Next indicator is that we have a weak commitment to family life, God’s way. That second gauge there, the check engine light, is that we have a weak commitment to family life, God’s way. Let’s look at Malachi 2:13-16: “And this is the second thing you do. You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. But you say, ‘Why does he not?’ Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. ‘For the man who hates and divorces,’ says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘covers his garment with violence,’ says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.” The goal for family life is a Godly marriage, and the marriage...it enhances God’s reputation among the world around us and among those that witness and observe this marriage.
In fact, we learn a lot about the marriage relationship in Ephesians chapter five in the New Testament. Marriage was designed by God to be a reflection of the relationship between Jesus and the church, and there’s so much beauty and power when a husband and wife fulfill those roles in the way that God intends us to. In fact, it actually shows the world around us...it shows the world the greatness of God and that life His way works. Now if you’re wondering, there is no perfect marriage, but you want to know why? Why there’s no perfect marriage? It’s because you have two selfish, arrogant people who get married, and they want life their way. So what is that? That’s a recipe for conflict. Maybe you have conflict in your marriage right now. Maybe you had conflict in the car on your way here; conflict is normal because there’s no perfect people, and there’s no perfect marriages. What’s not normal and what God intends is for us to work through that conflict.
We don’t deal out to our husband or our wife the thing that we think that they deserve in our opinion, but rather, we show mercy. We give grace; we cut some slack. Even if you’re frustrated with your spouse and you’re at the end of your rope, you still stay faithful and you work things together. You refuse to let your heart wander, because staying faithful...it pleases God, and it shows the world around us the goodness of God. It makes His name great among those who can see. Marriage between a man and a woman was designed by God and intended to be held in honor by everyone. There is great power and beauty when we stay married and we do life His way, regardless of what a society or a government condones or celebrates. So if you’re here today and you’re married, part of God’s will for your life is that you stay married. Here’s the thing is that marriage takes work. There’s no perfect marriage; it takes work. It takes time; it takes working together.
If you’re here this morning and you’re blessed with kids, part of God’s purposes for us as we raise our kids are to raise kids who also make God’s name great among the nations.That as we bring our kids along with us and they see us interact and they hear us pray and they see us serve, that they have a desire to have a heart to follow God and make His name great among the nations in their own generation. A question for us to consider is “How strong is my commitment to family life God’s way?” Now perhaps you’re here this morning, and you are like, “I don’t know what family life God’s way is all about.” That’s okay. We would love to help you as you discover what family life God’s way is and how you can integrate that into your life and your way of doing life.
Those are the first two indicators. I just want to mention the next two indicators, and you can do some more study on your own. But, the third indicator is that we put “me first” above serving God. If we start putting me first and we don’t serve God, then that may be an indicator that some things aren’t right...that the check engine light has come on. The fourth indicator is that we keep what is God’s for ourselves. There’s things that we know we need to be giving up to God, but we don’t. We keep those for ourselves. That may be another check engine light indicator that’s going off.
The third big lesson that we take away from Malachi’s message to God’s people and the message that applies to us today is to (re)turn to God and invest your whole heart in His mission. Now, I say “(re)turn” because some of us have never turned to God, and for the first time we need to turn. We need to stop doing life our own way; we need to turn towards Him, and we need to invest our whole heart in doing His mission. For some of us, it’s a first-time decision, but for others of us maybe we decided to follow Jesus some time in the past. But, we’ve wandered, or we haven’t really been investing our whole heart into His mission. So, we need to return and invest, or for some of us, maybe we’ve never wandered, but what we need to do is continue taking a next step as He provides it.
We need to continue investing our whole heart as we continue walking with Jesus, and the way He asked us to invest yesterday might be different than from tomorrow. It might be different from five years from now, but we keep walking with Jesus. We keep investing our whole heart into His mission. In fact, one of the other prophets, Jeremiah, says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” One of the consistent themes that we find throughout the prophets...we actually find this throughout the Bible...is that God wants our whole heart. He doesn’t want part of it; He doesn’t want the leftovers, but He wants our whole heart. That’s what Moses told God’s people before they went into the Promised Land; that’s what the prophets were reminding them of all as they were giving them the message. They were calling them back to serve God with their whole hearts. Jesus affirms this later when He’s asked, “What’s the greatest commandment?” and He says to love God. And then, He follows it up with you’ve also got to love people. God wants our whole heart invested in His mission. But what does it mean? What does it mean to invest our whole heart in God’s mission?
Well, you remember? Remember this bag? Remember your life’s reward here? All the treasures? Everything that you put in here...your money, your reputation, your relationships, your academic degrees, your time, your hopes, dreams, aspirations...everything that you are and hope to be on this side of eternity? This is pretty much the best example of what our whole heart is; the entire contents of this bag represent our whole heart. This is what it means is to take everything that is in this bag, everything that is all of us, and we offer this up to God. If God says to invest it over here, then we take it over here, and we invest it. If God says to take it back here and invest it here, then we invest it here.
If God says, “You know, I don’t want you to invest the whole, whole heart and put the whole bag over here, but I want you to reach into your bag and I want you to take something out. I want you to pour it out over here. Or, you know what? There’s somebody in your life that doesn’t know Me, and you know that they don’t know Me. I want you to talk to them about Me.” I’ve got to put my reputation on the line. Whatever it may be, there’s things that God may ask us to take those and to pour them out to be used for Him. That’s what it means to invest our whole heart in God’s mission. This is the reminder that we have from Malachi. This is the last prophet to speak to God’s people before God Himself came to this planet in the Person of Jesus Christ to do what we could not do for ourselves. You see, through the law and through the way God gave His people to have a relationship with Him. But that didn’t work, they couldn’t ever keep the law, so Jesus had to come...perfect… God and man. He came and died in our place, so that we could have a right relationship with God, so that we could take our whole heart and that we could invest it in God’s work.