Now if you would please, take your Bibles and turn with me to Malachi chapter 2, Malachi chapter 2; page 801 in the pew Bibles. We’ll be reading verses 1 to 9 together. You will remember, Malachi the prophet has been sent to the people of Judah who have come back from exile in Babylon to the city of Jerusalem whose walls have been restored, the temple has been rebuilt, the priesthood have been restored, and the worship of God renewed. But the spiritual temperature among the people was still at a remarkably low ebb. And so Malachi comes to speak a word both of rebuke and warning, and also, of comfort and hope. And the opening words, the opening five verses of chapter 1, really set the tone for everything that Malachi wants to tell them. This is the animating principle, the driving force that moves and informs the whole message of the prophecy of Malachi. Malachi chapter 1 at verse 2, “I have loved you, says the Lord.” It is the great love of God that stands as the foundation upon which everything else is built as God seeks to summon Israel back to faithfulness to Himself.
And then having made that fundamental and foundational principle of the love of God very clear to us, in verses 6 to 14 of chapter 1, Malachi trains his sights on the spiritual declension that has characterized the life of God’s people, particularly manifesting itself in debased, half-hearted worship. As we saw last time as we were in the book of Malachi, the people of God have grown bored with the worship of God because they’ve grown bored with God Himself. And now in Malachi chapter 2 verses 1 to 9, as we’ll see in just a moment, we are taken behind the boredom and the spiritual decline of the people of God to see its roots, its causes. And we will discover that the cause of spiritual declension is a failure of the ministry of the Word; a failure of the ministry of the Word. Malachi 2, verses 1 to 9, is one of the great Old Testament texts often overlooked that deals with the importance, the priority of a faithful preaching ministry.
That being said, before we read the text together, would you bow your heads with me as we pray? Let us pray!
Our Father, as we bow before You and prepare to hear Your Word read and preached, we pray, we plead for the ministry of the Holy Spirit to illuminate our understanding and to lead us to Christ as He speaks to us in His inerrant Word. This we pray for Jesus’ sake, amen.
Malachi chapter 2 at verse 1. This is the inerrant Word of Almighty God:
“And now, O priests, this command is for you. If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart. Behold, I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings, and you shall be taken away with it. So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may stand, says the Lord of hosts. My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him. It was a covenant of fear, and he feared me. He stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. But you have turned aside from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts, and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you do not keep my ways but show partiality in your instruction.”
Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken to us in His holy, inerrant Word.
The big idea in our text is that the health of the ministry of the Word is directly connected to the health of the people of God. The health of the ministry of the Word is directly connected to the health of the people of God. As goes the pulpit, so goes the church! To the degree that the pulpit is marked by fidelity to the truth of God, both in the life of the preacher and in the content of the preaching, to that same degree will there be a corresponding fidelity to the Word of God in the life of the congregation. As goes preaching, so goes the church! Which means that the diet of Biblical instruction provided for us week in and week out could not be more important. Malachi 2, verses 1 to 9 in other words, while it’s addressed directly to those whose task and vocation and calling is to teach the Bible, nevertheless deals with a subject in which every single Christian has a vital, compelling interest.
Let’s look at the passage together! I want you to examine its teaching with me under four headings. First, there is a picture here of the failure of Word ministry that was then current in Malachi’s day. But there’s also, secondly, a promise of future Word ministry. God will not desert His people but will provide for them the ministry of the Word. Then thirdly, the pattern of faithful Word ministry. What ought faithful ministry of the Word to look like? And then finally, there is a pointer to the final Word minister, the paragon and fullest embodiment of all that Malachi is urging upon us. That’s our outline! A picture of failed Word ministry, a promise of future Word ministry, the pattern of faithful Word ministry, and a pointer to the final Word minister. Now, you’ve got to give me credit for that alliteration, surely!
- A Picture of Failed Word Ministry
Let’s think about the picture Malachi paints, first of all, of a failed Word ministry. It’s a sobering picture. And there’s an event that occurred earlier this year, really a tragedy, that I think serves as a helpful metaphor for the message of this part of chapter 2. Just before seven o’clock in the morning on February 9th this year at a bend in the tracks about thirty-seven miles southeast of the German city of Munich, two passenger trains carrying about a hundred and fifty passengers collided head-on at a speed of about sixty-two miles per hour. Because of the curve in the track, the two drivers did not see the oncoming train and were unable to take action until it was too late. One train report said, “drilled into the other, completely dismantling a carriage.” A week later, Wolfgang Giese, the senior prosecutor for the case, announced the cause of the collision was human error. A dispatcher signaled the two trains coming from opposite directions to travel on the same track. The dispatcher gave the wrong instruction and the result was one of the worst train crashes in German history.
That, I think, is a useful metaphor for what has taken place in the life of the people of God in Malachi 2:1-9. The priests, whose task it was to give instruction to the people, have failed in the ministry of the Word and the result was a spiritual train wreck in the life of God’s people of devastating proportions. We saw something of the scale of the spiritual disaster back in chapter 1 verses 6 to 14, didn’t we? The people of Judah have descended into half-hearted indifference towards God. And Malachi was clear that the primary fault lay with the priests. Look at verse 6 of chapter 1 for a moment. “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.” It is the priests who bear the great responsibility for the condition of things among God’s people. In other words, behind the spiritual train wreck, the catastrophe of spiritual decline happening in the church of the Old Testament scriptures at this point in salvation history, stands the failure of the priests to teach the Word of God in faithful obedience to the call of God.
The Consequences of Their Failure
And if you’ll look at chapter 2, verses 1 to 9, you will notice how the whole passage is bracketed, the first two verses and the last two verses, with a commentary on the failure of the priests. In verses 2 and 3, you see the consequences of their failure unpacked for a few moments. God is going to shame them. The dung of their debased sacrifices will be spread on their faces and they will be taken away like garbage along with it. The consequences of their failure.
The Contours of Their Failure
And then in verses 8 and 9 on the other side of our passage we see the contours of their failure. Look at verses 8 and 9 with me! The priests, we are told, did four things. First, they themselves strayed from the path of obedience to God. Verse 8, “You have turned aside from the way.” Their own lives were marked by a failure to follow the path of godliness. And that’s so often the root of failure in the pulpit, you know – a failure to preach truth truly. Again and again, error and defection from the Word in proclamation is preceded by error and a failure to obey the Word in the details of the life of the minister. Godliness matters for the effectiveness of a preaching ministry. They strayed from the path, Malachi says. And secondly and almost inevitably, as a consequence of their own wandering, they cause others to stumble right along with them. Do you see that in verse 8? “You have caused many to stumble by your instruction.” The dispatcher was giving wrong instructions to the train and a collision was the inevitable result. That’s what Malachi was saying. The wandering priests led others to wander from the way right along with them.
They Perverted the Plan of God
And then thirdly, notice they perverted the plan of God. They “corrupted,” Malachi says, “the covenant of Levi.” That is to say, the pattern of faithful ministry given to the Levitical priests in the Law of Moses has been distorted and debased and disregarded. They have twisted their divine marching orders in order to accommodate their own wayward lifestyle and to justify their rebellion and disobedience. And then finally, Malachi says they were showing partiality. Verse 9, “You do not keep my ways but show partiality in your instruction.” They were inconsistent, playing favorites. They applied the principles of the Torah in a way that gave preferential treatment to some while ruthlessly condemning others. They distorted the pattern of faith and life that God had given in His Word for their own selfish gain. And the result of all of that, of these four marks and features of the priests’ failure, was that the ministry of the Word came to be held in widespread disrepute. Do you see that in verse 9? “So I will make you despised and abased before all the people.”
That surely is a warning for our time, wouldn’t you agree? The widespread rejection of preaching and the widespread suspicion of preachers, so normal in our culture, isn’t simply a symptom of general, spiritual decline out there in the world. It is a fruit of the failure of faithful ministry in here in the church. There are charlatans on our television screens promising health and prosperity while they get rich on the misguided generosity of the most desperate and the needy. There are mitered bishops and high church officials meeting in synods and councils to declare in their vaunted wisdom that the Bible is no longer trustworthy and that homosexuality is perfectly morally acceptable, not noticing all the while that the people are leaving their churches in the tens of thousands every year. Others have exchanged their lofty calling to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ for a political soapbox or a social agenda, while still others who formally preached the truth faithfully, use it nevertheless as a means for godless gain seeking to climb the ecclesiastical ladder or pursue celebrity. And so the people are made to stumble, and the world holds the pulpit and the preaching of the Word in contempt.
Don’t we need to remember the word of James, the brother of our Lord, who warned us that “not many of you, my brothers, should become teachers for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” To preach the Word is not a profession; it’s not a job among other jobs. It is a divine calling upon the faithful discharge of which rests the health of the flock of God. And so Malachi paints a sobering picture of what happens when there is a failure in the ministry of the Word in the life of the church. The church itself is sent on a tailspin, a downward spiritual into moral and spiritual decline. It’s a sobering picture of the failure of the ministry of the Word.
- A Promise of Future Word Ministry
But against that dark and rather bleak backdrop, if you’ll look at verse 4 you should see secondly a word of comfort and hope. There is a promise of future Word ministry. Do you see that in verse 4? Because of the priests’ failure to be faithful God is going to curse their blessings, verse 2. He is going to shame them, even remove them, verse 3. But He will do it all, verse 4, “so that you shall know that I have sent this command to you that my covenant with Levi may stand, that it may continue.” That is to say, God is going to act to maintain and restore a priesthood that upholds the Biblical mandates given to the Levites. And here we get a glimpse of the radical commitment of God to the preservation and perpetuation of faithful Word ministry in His church. He will not leave His church without the Word. He will not leave His flock without faithful shepherds to lead them. He is radically committed to the preaching of the Word. Jesus said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” And this is part of what He meant. He will supply Gospel ministers who will rightly divide the Word of truth.
Ephesians 4:11-12 tells us something of just how committed God is to maintaining and providing Word ministry for His church. It tells us that pastor-teachers are the gift of the ascended Lord Jesus Christ to the church, won, purchased by Him, as a gift to us at the cross. While Malachi’s indictment of the failure of the ministry of the Word is sobering, there’s real comfort here for us as we see God’s commitment to preserving and advancing faithful ministry even in the worst of times. He will not leave His church without pastor-teachers who will equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. He sent Jesus to the cross, He raised Him in triumph over the grave and seated Him at His right hand in glory in order to ensure that there would be pastor-teachers to feed the flock of God with a diet of health-giving spiritual food from His Word. If Jesus gives you pastor-teachers who open the Word of God to you with faithfulness, it is a token and a reminder to you of the radical commitment of God to your spiritual welfare. It is an evidence that He loves you. He loves His church!
- A Pattern for the Faithful Ministry of the Word
So Malachi paints a picture of the failure of Word ministry and yet he gives us a promise about the future of the ministry of the Word for our great comfort. And then thirdly notice he supplies for us a pattern for the faithful ministry of the Word – what it looks like. I want you to see three things about what faithful Word ministry should look like. First of all, in verses 1 and 2, faithful ministers, Malachi says, must hear the Word. “And now, O priests, this command is for you. If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send a curse upon you.” God calls Bible teachers first to be Bible hearers. They are to listen, Malachi says, not simply in order to retain the details and the facts. No, they are he says, “to take it to heart to give honor to the name of God.”
Faithful Ministers Must Hear the Word
Bible teachers must be Bible students, and Bible believers and Bible doers. The Word that must sound from our lips must ring in our ears and burn in our hearts, Malachi says. If the Word is not living water to you, if you teach the Word to others, if the Word is not living water to you, it will not likely quench the thirst of anyone else when you do teach the Word to others. Elders, Sunday school teachers, small group leaders, pastors of the flock of God at First Presbyterian Church, are you daily students of the Word? And does the truth that you learn, that you hear, does it penetrate your heart? Do you take it to heart to give honor to the name of God? Is the Word of God having its way in you that it might have its way in the lives of others through you? Faithful ministers must hear the Word.
Faithful Ministers Must Live the Word
Secondly, Malachi says faithful ministers must live the Word. Verse 5, “My covenant was with him and was one of life and peace and I gave them to him. It was a covenant of fear, and he feared me. He stood in awe of my name.” The spiritual realities held out in the Word of God must be spiritual realities experienced and enjoyed in the life of a servant of God. The great failure of the priesthood, remember, began when they themselves strayed from the way. It was the discrepancy between the message and the life of the messenger that was the great cause of stumbling for those who attended their ministries. Life and peace, holy fear of God, standing in awe of His name – no spiritual boredom here, but a heart captivated with the grandeur and the glory of the triune God. That’s the birthright of every single Christian, and it comes to us through the means of grace, that is, through the Word of God. And it is therefore vital that those whose calling it is to proclaim that Word for the good of the people of God should themselves taste those same spiritual blessings, that they should be what they call others to become, that they should know and taste and enjoy the grace they hold out to the world. This is a call to spiritual authenticity, to holiness in the life of a ministry. As McCheyne famously put it, “A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hands of God.”
Word Ministers are to Preach the Word
Word ministers are to hear the Word and live the Word and thirdly, and only thirdly, Word ministers are then to preach the Word. Verses 6 and 7, “True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.” There’s accuracy, “true instruction,” Malachi calls it; “no wrong on his lips.” That’s the great mark of his Bible teaching. What he says is clearly, manifestly, unambiguously what God says in the black and white of His Word. A faithful minister can say to his congregation with Paul in Acts 20:27, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” He does not pull his punches when the Word of God says hard things. He does not lean into his own idiosyncrasies so that his pet subjects and hobby horses characterize the ministry of his preaching. No, he preaches the Word in season and out of season, reproving, rebuking, and exhorting with complete patience and teaching.
Faithful Ministers Must Guard Knowledge
Furthermore, Malachi says he is to “guard knowledge.” Do you see that? He is to guard knowledge. How is he to do that? He guards it, notice, by giving it away. Faithful Bible teachers guard knowledge by giving it away, by multiplying it, by sharing it with others. The people “seek instruction from his mouth.” Malachi calls the priests, faithful priests, “the messenger of the Lord of hosts.” As the messenger of the Lord of hosts, that means he’s under orders. He’s not free to preach himself or his own ideas. He must say what God says. You may remember that Malachi’s own name, if you will remember when we looked at the first verse of the whole book of Malachi, when Malachi introduces himself, his name means, “My messenger.” And by calling the priests here the “messengers of the Lord of hosts,” Malachi is saying, “You are to do and to have the same sense of divine obligation as the messenger of God that I also carry as I come preaching to you.” Malachi, you will remember, calls his word, his sermon here in the book of Malachi, “an oracle,” or more literally, “a burden.” The Word of God comes to faithful Word ministers as a burden, as a compelling weight pressing with urgency so that you would say with the apostle as you are charged to teach the Bible, “necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.”
So a faithful minister is to hear the Word and live the Word and preach the Word. Notice that order. It must not be altered. Hear it, take it to heart, and as you do it will begin to change you. You will begin to live it out. It is only in the context of such a life that we ought to expect fruitfulness in the proclamation of what same Word. A faithful minister must be a student of the Word, must be steeped in the Word, and his life must be increasingly conformed to the contours of the Word if he is to be useful in the proclamation of that Word. May God raise up many more laborers like that because the fields are white unto harvest. So there’s a picture of failed Word ministry here. There’s a promise of future Word ministry here. And Malachi gives us the pattern of faithful Word ministry – what it ought to look like.
- The Final Word Minister
But I want us to conclude by also seeing the pointer that is here to the final Word minister. The great failure of the priesthood that Malachi is exposing is really a reminder to us that the greatest need of the people of God has always been not simply for better priests, but for a perfect priest, one who is not prone to these failures. To be sure, Christ gives pastor-teachers to His church. The priestly ministry of preaching and teaching continues today in the work of the pastor. But the perfect embodiment of the priestly character that Malachi pictures, particularly in verses 5 to 7, the one who is the final climactic messenger of the Lord, is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. And we end there because there is a real danger for congregations to look more to the man in the pulpit to be the solution to their spiritual needs than to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, to look to our pastors to dry our tears and heal our wounds, and grow our numbers, and strengthen us in weakness, and sustain us in our trials. And to be sure, it is the calling of a pastor to walk with us through the best and the worst of times, but it is not the task of the pastor to supply those things to you. No pastor in the world can. No, it is the task of the pastor to lift your eyes and to say, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! He can wipe away every tear from your eyes. He will strengthen weak knees and feeble hands. He will give you sustaining grace in the darkest valley. He will satisfy your heart with an abundance of good things. The better than Levi, our great High Priest, and the final and perfect minister of the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the one that you need.” And it is the great task of people and pastor alike to look to Him and lean on Him and cling to Him and to point to Him and to proclaim Him with every ounce of their strength and every fiber of our being.
And so as we hear Malachi’s summons, even rebuke to those of us charged with teaching the Bible, let’s make sure that our eyes are fixed not on those whom God has given us to fulfill that calling in their weakness, but on Christ, who is all sufficient for us in our weaknesses as well as our pastors’ and leaders’ weaknesses, that all the glory may be His and not glory to any man. Let us pray together!
Our Father, we bless You for Your holy, inerrant Word. We praise You that You are committed, radically committed to the maintenance of Gospel ministry that Your flock should be fed by Your Word, that Christ exalted gives pastor-teachers as a gift to equip the saints and to mature them and to nourish them and to strengthen and encourage them. We give You glory and praise for that and we pray that You would raise up many more to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ to a dark world. But we pray more than anything that You would rivet our gaze, our attention, on the greater than Levi, the perfect Priest and the final Word, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, that we may find our all and all in Him. For we ask it in His name, amen.
©2016 First Presbyterian Church.
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