If I Am a Father, Where Is My Honor?
We are examining some of the many questions God asks biblical characters. God doesn’t ask people questions for the same reasons we ask people questions. We often ask questions because we are seeking information (“How do I get to your house?”) – but God doesn’t because He already knows all things. We often ask questions in order to puff ourselves up and put others down (“Haven’t you learned how to do that yet?”) – but God never does this. Rather, He usually asks questions as a wise counselor – to help us realize what our real needs are, the inadequacy of our attempts to meet those needs, and thus to be willing to receive the help He wants to give us.
This morning we will look at two questions God asked a group of priests in Malachi1. The time is around 420 BC, and Malachi (“My messenger”) is the last Old Testament prophet. At first glance, Israel’s spiritual state seems healthy enough – overt paganism and idolatry are repulsive to them, and their religious observances are directed toward the one true God. Nevertheless, they have a subtle-but-serious problem – a problem I often have. Through Malachi, God exposes this problem by asking the priests two questions. Let’s read these questions and God’s ensuing words(read 1:6-14).
Whole-hearted vs. half-hearted devotion
The questions God asks are: “If I am a father, where is My honor (glory)? And if I am a master, where is My respect (reverence)?” The issue here is the true state of our hearts with regard to our devotion to God. God is our Father, our Master, and our King. As such, He calls on us to honor (or glorify) Him as the most important Person in our lives. This echoes a key Old Testament passage with which Malachi’s audience was familiar (Deut.6:5). God is calling them to be whole-hearted in their love for Him, and He is reproving their half-hearted devotion.
QUALIFICATION: “Whole-hearted” devotion doesn’t mean that you have no outward sins – you can have outward sins and be whole-hearted (e.g., DAVID), or you can have very few outward sins and be half-hearted. “Whole-hearted” devotion doesn’t mean that you spend all your time in “religious” activities (e.g., CHURCH SERVICES; “OFFICIAL” MINISTRY) – you can do few of these and be whole-hearted, or you can be consumed with them and be far from God (e.g., PHARISEES). It’s about valuing your love relationship with God above all else.
Strikingly, God says that to be half-hearted toward Him is to “despise My name” (hold Him in contempt, to view Him as vile or worthless). That sounds extreme, doesn’t it? If I took this position with my wife or children, they would rightly call me a jealous megalomaniac. But it is totally appropriate for God to take this position with us because He is God – He is the most important Person in the universe and He created us to give Him our whole-hearted devotion! And since we’ve been created by and for God, we will be fulfilled only when our devotion to Him is whole-hearted (PASCAL QUOTE)!
Recognizing half-hearted devotion
How can you recognize half-hearted devotion? The priests didn’t recognize theirs – they disagree with God’s assessment: “How have we despised Your name?” They pointed to certain religious activities as evidence that they were whole-hearted, but they were self-deceived. So God (out of love) points to two evidences of half-heartedness so that we may recognize it in ourselves and receive His remedy for it.
God pointed to their inner attitude (read 1:13). They felt fatigued at the thought of offering God sacrifices, and revealed this attitude by “sniffing” – a dismissive snort, or a martyr sigh. Relating to and serving God should normally be a privilege we “get to” do – not a burdensome duty that we “have to” perform.
“Do I usually view relating to and serving God as a burdensome duty?” I say “usually” because (as fallen people) there are times when all of us must choose against our present contrary feelings to relate to and serve God. C. S. Lewis says that duty is like a crutch. Sometimes a crutch is necessary, because our leg is injured. But if our leg is healthy, we have no need of the crutch. So we must have a category for choosing against our feelings to relate to and serve God. But if our chronic attitude is “have to,” this is a sure sign that we are half-hearted.
To shock them out of their self-deception (not out of disgust or rejection), God says they should shut down the Temple (1:10). He is saying: “I don’t need your sacrifices; I’m not calling on you to offer them for My benefit. They are for your benefit; I’m giving you the opportunity to do what you were created to do. It is better to drop the ruse and admit to yourself that you are half-hearted than to go on deceiving yourselves into thinking that you are whole-hearted and that this is making you miserable!” Chuck Smith makes the same provocative point.
God also pointed to what they offered (read 1:8). Old Testament law (Lev.22:17-25) required that their sacrifices were valuable to them – that’s what “sacrifice” means. But they were offering their blind, lame, sick or stolen animals. God says this proves that they regard Him as inferior to their human governor.
“Does God usually get my ‘leftovers?’” What does this look like today, when God no longer asks us to worship Him through animal sacrifices? Perhaps the most telling test is how we view and use our time. Time is valuable, certain stages of life are especially busy, and time-management is a challenge for most of us. But consider these possible danger signals:
- “Is the time I spend relating to God and learning about God shrinking?”
- “Is the time I spend fellowshipping with other Christians shrinking?”
- “Am I more creative in finding time for other interests?”
- “Am I outraged and resistant when God interrupts my entertainment plans?”
- “Do I view time devoted to God as a rival to my (or my spouse’s) marriage, family or career?
Who can ask these questions without realizing that half-heartedness is a recurring problem? And you can see why this is such an important issue. God wants each of us to find true life in loving and serving Him whole-heartedly. And He has staked His reputation on those who claim to belong to Him. Nothing commends God to people like joyous, whole-hearted devotion from His people (Acts2:46,47)! And nothing turns people off to God like their half-heartedness (Rev.2:4,5)! Have you experienced this?
Two keys to whole-hearted devotion
What if you realize this morning that you are half-hearted? What if you realize you’ve been half-hearted for a long time? What if you realize you’ve never been whole-hearted? What is the key to getting it? We have to be very careful here; it’s easy to go wrong at this point.
The key is not beating yourself up with guilt that you are half-hearted. This is a total waste of time and energy that God is against. Nor is the key vowing to “do better” (a spiritual New Year’s resolution). This is simply a fleshly attempt at self-improvement which will prove futile.
There are two keys – in this order:
First, a heart transplant by receiving Christ (read Ezek.36:26,27; 11:20). I remember hearing Christians talk about this subject years ago. I thought they were crazy because I had no category for what they were talking about. This is because I had a heart of stone – a heart that was dead to God. One of them told me: “If you receive Christ, God’s Spirit will take up residence in your heart and give you a heart to know His love for you. Then you will be able to know and love God.” Quote 2Cor.3:16. All I can say is that this is what happened when I received Christ. He will do the same thing for you if you receive Him.
Once you have a new heart, whole-hearted devotion tends to wane unless we allow God to keep re-igniting it. The Bible speaks of many ways to cooperate with God in this – such as being around whole-hearted people (2Cor.9:2), getting regular intake of prayer and Bible study, and taking a step of faith when God asks you to (e.g., witness; confess). But the real key is fresh revelation of God’s undeserved love through His Word. It is as we “see” from God’s Word how gracious He really is that our new hearts are attracted to Him. His Spirit “combusts” this truth into personal motivation to relate to Him with our hearts and serve Him with our lives. This is a theme throughout Scripture:
When Moses realized his inadequacy to serve God, he asked God: “Show me Your glory!” (Ex.33:18). God responded with a verbal description of the essence of His character (Ex.34:6,7). God is a great King who will ultimately punish all unrepentant enemies. But He is especially a God who is full of lovingkindness toward sinners who draw near to Him. This is what motivated Moses to bow in voluntary, wholehearted worship (Ex.34:8).
Read Lk.24:26,27,32. What caused these disciples’ hearts to “burn within” them? It was the risen Jesus showing them how the Old Testament predicted His death for their sins. This revelation of God’s greatness and unmerited love combusted their hearts into hope and passion for God even before they recognized Jesus.
This is why Paul says 2Cor.5:13-15. Look at this description of whole-hearted devotion: great excitement about God, and an impelling passion (sunecho) to turn away from self-centeredness and live for Christ. What is it that ignites this controlling passion? “The love of Christ” – not our love for Christ, but Christ’s great love for us that was expressed by dying for our sins while we were still helpless, sinners, and enemies (Rom.5:6-11). As Paul “concluded” (krino – considered and believed) this expression of God’s love, the Holy Spirit ignited this devotion in his heart.
I find that, for many reasons, my devotion to God naturally wanes over time – so it takes fresh revelations of His love to re-ignite my new heart. God doesn’t get fed up with our “spiritual entropy;” He is delighted to re-ignite us as we ask and “conclude!” Ask God to grant you a deeper understanding and appreciation of His love for you (Eph.3:17-19). As you do this, ponder what the scriptures (especially the New Testament) say about Jesus’ great love for you. He will re-ignite your heart in devotion to Him!
SUMMARIZE: 2 keys to whole-hearted devotion
“A perfect man would never act from a sense of duty; he’d always want the right thing more than the wrong one. Duty is only a substitute (for love of God and other people) like a crutch is a substitute for a leg. Most of us need the crutch at times; but of course it is idiotic to use the crutch when our own legs (our own loves, tastes, habits, etc.) can do the journey on their own.” Letters of C. S. Lewis (18 July 1957), p.276. Cited in The Quotable Lewis (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1989), p.171.
“God does not want you to give him anything that you are going to gripe about... It’s an insult to Him. Even I hate it when people gripe about what they have done for me. Who asked them to do it, anyhow?... Don’t go out and do some magnanimous deed and then gripe and complain about it. You would be better off doing nothing.” Chuck Smith, Why Grace Changes Everything (Costa Mesa: The Word For Today, 2007), p.84.