Beginning last Lord’s Day Morning, we started to sit together as a church under the ministry of the prophet, Malachi. Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament scriptures and its purpose is to call the wayward and the spiritually apathetic people of God to renewal and revival and faithfulness and reformation. And last time we looked together at the opening five verses of the first chapter of Malachi where we heard the primary note that sounds in Malachi’s prophecy. “I have loved you,” says the Lord. The electing, sovereign, faithful, unbreakable love of God for His people is the backdrop for everything else that Malachi will say, even when he is delivering the divine indictment on our sin as he will do in our passage this morning. And so as we return now to consider the second half of chapter 1 beginning in verse 6, we will hear God challenge us particularly about our worship. But if we are to hear those challenges carefully and correctly we need to hear them as the flipside of the declaration of love with which the book begins. True worship, as we will see, is the answer of a child of God to the love of God lavished upon us, freely by His grace.
So if you would please, take a copy of the Scriptures in your hands and turn with me to Malachi chapter 1 at verse 6, which you will find on page 801 in our church Bibles. Once you have the Scriptures open before you, let me invite you please to join me as we pray together. Let us pray!
O Lord, grant the fresh outpouring and diffusion of the Holy Spirit that by Him we may be given ears to hear what the Spirit says to His Church from this portion of Your holy Word, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Malachi chapter 1 at verse 6. This is the Word of Almighty God:
“’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. And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? says the LORD of hosts. Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the LORD of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand. 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. But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and its fruit, that is, its food may be despised. But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the LORD of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the LORD. Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished. For I am a great King, says the LORD of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.’”
Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken to us in His holy and inerrant Word.
As I was preparing for this message last week, I came across an article in the journal, The Scientific American, discussing the psychological study of boredom. In order to study boredom, you might suggest they attend a worship service perhaps! But the researchers used a variety of techniques to induce the condition. One of them, one researcher, developed a video. Let me quote from the article. “In the video, two men stand in a white, windowless room. Silently they take clothes from a pile between them and hang them on a white rack – a camisole, a shirt, a sweater, a sock. The seconds tick by; fifteen, twenty, forty-five, sixty. The men keep hanging laundry. Eighty seconds; one of the men asks the other for a clothes peg. One hundred seconds; they keep hanging laundry. Two hundred seconds; they keep hanging laundry. Three hundred seconds; they keep hanging laundry.” And shown on a loop, this thing goes on for about five and a half minutes and unsurprisingly, the article declares, the people to whom the researcher showed the video found it to be “stupefyingly dull.” But when she tried to use the video to study how boredom affected our ability to focus and pay attention, her protocol called for participants to carry out a classic cognitive attention task, watching for star-like light clusters to appear on a monitor. And then to sit through the video, to get good and bored, and finally to do the task over again so she could see how boredom affected their performance. But she found that she had to completely redesign the experiment because it turns out the task was even more boring than the video.
Apparently, we get bored very, very easily! And I suspect it’s probably gotten worse than ever before in this frenetic, 24/7 digital age where information that cannot be displayed and consumed at a single glance, no matter how significant, is dispatched into the ether with an indifferent click of the mouse as we move impatiently onto the next thing in our relentless quest to be entertained. As Neil Postman famously put it, “We are amusing ourselves to death.” And of course the great problem with boredom is the inescapable commentary that it provides. Our boredom is a kind of commentary, a statement about how we value something. When we get bored, we are saying that something has become passé, unimportant, unimpressive, unsurprising. Perhaps once upon a time it captured our interest, but no longer. We discount it, devalue it. It becomes, at best, a thing to be suffered and endured. When we get bored with a thing we stop caring. It no longer really matters to us in the same way that perhaps it once did. And let’s be honest, we’ve all been there and done that. Boredom is a part of life. Not everything is equally riveting and that’s fair enough, I suppose. But the indictment the prophet, Malachi, brings in our passage this morning speaks about a shocking possibility. Here is the Word of the Lord to us when we have become bored with God. Bored with God! And the commentary our boredom provides on our relationship to Him ought to be deeply troubling indeed.
Would you look at the passage with me please? I want you to notice that verses 6 to 9 and again in verses 12 to 14 are parallel sections in our passage. They repeat the same themes, actually, largely with the same language. They both quote, notice, the objections or the questions of the people to whom Malachi was preaching. And the same two themes appear in both sections. First, Malachi tells us what spiritual boredom does - what it results in, what it produces, it’s effect. And then secondly, he will tell us what spiritual boredom is – what it’s nature is, where it comes from, what its roots are. And those are the two themes that Malachi is pressing upon his audience with some force in our passage at the beginning section and the end section. What spiritual boredom does and what spiritual boredom is, and we’re going to think about each of them in turn.
- What Spiritual Boredom Does
First of all, what spiritual boredom does! The people of Israel, you may remember, have returned from their period of exile in Babylon and now they’re home again in the land of promise. The city of Jerusalem has been rebuilt and the temple has been restored. The priesthood, once again, serves the people at the altar of God and the sacrifices that are the heart of the Old Testament system of worship have been reinstituted. But very quickly, say within twenty or thirty years of the people’s return to the land, a spiritual winter has descended upon them. The temperature has dropped sharply. Everything in their spiritual lives was cold and gray and lifeless. And the place that that could be seen most obviously is the place actually where it can always be seen most obviously in every age, and in the life of every believer in the throes of backsliding. It is seen in the worship of God!
The Priests Despise God’s Name
Malachi, notice in verse 6, addresses the priesthood, the priests. They were charged with leading the people in the service and worship of the sanctuary. They were to be the agents of sacrifice by whom blood atonement was made, through whom offerings of thanks and praise were brought to God, and they were also required to invoke the divine name, the name of God, and by it to bless the people. “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” They were to bless the people by the name of God, the Lord. That was their task! But here, God says to them, “O priests, you despise My name. You despise My name.” It must have been a stunning verbal blow! Can you imagine how that must have hit them? Back in verses 1 to 5 you will remember God had been proclaiming His electing, covenant love for His people. “I have loved you,” says the Lord. A marvelous word of comfort and security and assurance. And then, still bathed in the warm glow of that divine declaration, this sudden bucket of ice water is dumped on their heads. “You priests, you despise My name.” And you can hear in verse 6 their spluttering astonishment as Malachi quotes them, can’t you? “How have we despised Your name? We don’t recognize ourselves in that indictment at all! How have we despised Your name?”
God’s answer is unequivocal. You see it in verse 7. “You have been offering polluted food on My alter.” But they 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?” They’ve been bringing to God the weakest animals from their flocks and herds with broken legs, mangy, diseased animals for their offerings of praise. And they’ve been telling the people that that was perfectly acceptable as worship to God. Verse 12, “You profane My name when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted and its fruit, that is, it’s food, may be despised.”
Do you see what’s happening? The worship of God has been adjusted. Certain latitude has been allowed. The people, after all, couldn’t possibly tolerate the burden of worship on God’s terms and so they thought to offer an approximation of it, something in the ballpark, close enough you know, good enough. “God will just have to accept what we offer Him and be satisfied with that.” They have grown dissatisfied with worship that demanded more from them than they had patience for. And do notice verse 13! For all their protestations of innocence, here is their spiritual boredom exposed for all to see. Verse 13, “What a weariness this is.” And they snort at it! “’You bring the lame and the sick and this you bring as your offering. Shall I accept that from your hand?’ says the Lord. ‘Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock and vows it and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished.’”
God Will Not Accept False Worship
I recently heard someone point out that most of us carry anything from 160 to 260 pounds, or perhaps more, around with us every day without even noticing. We climb stairs carrying all that weight, don’t we, and we don’t think about it. Up and down all day long, never feeling the weight of our own bodies until, that is, we get sick. Then, after half a flight of stairs, we are tired of carrying our bodies around and we feel every pound. Our disease makes us feel our weight. The healthy don’t feel it, only the sick. And the same is true for the worship of God. The healthy do not find it a weariness, a burden, a weight, only the spiritually sick. When the regular pattern of Biblical worship commanded by God in Scripture becomes a drudgery where once it had been a delight, when you find ourselves saying about the hymns and the songs and the prayers and the preached Word, “What a weariness!” then my dear friends, it is a sure sign of spiritual boredom and profound soul sickness. And here’s the great problem with the half-hearted worship of the spiritually bored. God will not accept it! God will not accept it! That may be a possibility, I dare say, has never occurred to some of us, that God might not accept our worship, that He might refuse our worship.
Spiritual Boredom Expresses Itself in Compromised Worship
But look at verses 8 and 9. “’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. ‘And now entreat the favor of God that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you?’” Isn’t it easy to imagine that the most important person worship ought to please is oneself and that God ought to be satisfied with whatever worship we decide to offer Him? But Malachi exposes the debased worship of Israel and, as he does, so he reminds them, “You would never dream of bringing gifts like that to your high officials! The very idea is an embarrassment. What an insult to them it would be! But isn’t that precisely how you come to God, the great King, with a grudging, meager indifference giving Him the dregs of your time and your attention and the leftovers of your resources? He’s an afterthought, an inconvenience, a weariness to you. With such a gift from your hand, will He show favor to any of you?” There’s a solemn word here we need to attend to carefully. Grudging praise and reluctant worship is not acceptable to God! Verse 10, “’I have no pleasure in you,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘and I will not accept an offering from your hand.’” That’s what spiritual boredom does. It expresses itself in compromised worship.
- What Spiritual Boredom Is
But then secondly, Malachi shows us what spiritual boredom is. It isn’t really simply boredom with the worship that God requires. No, behind that there’s boredom with God Himself. Look at verses 6 and 7 again. “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?” You remember how, back in verse 2, God had said, “I have loved you.” He is the Father of His people. He has adopted us by His grace. It’s love that defines and describes His relationship to us. But even a loving earthly father receives honor from his children and even an earthly master receives appropriate deference and fear from his subjects. But the love of God surpasses the love of any earthly father and the glory of God exceeds that of any earthly ruler. Verse 14, “I am a great King, says the Lord, and my name will be feared among the nations.” And our failure to give God the honor He is due really reflects our failure to value Him. It exposes our boredom with God! What we do in worship, you see, is a response to God Himself. It reveals what we think about God, so that the root of the issue is not that you’ve grown tired of worship, the Lord would say to us. The root of the issue is, “You have grown tired with Me. You have despised My name,” He says. The presenting symptom of spiritual boredom is cold indifferent worship, but the disease at its root is a cold indifference that has somehow crept into your relationship with God. Those who live in the grip of the love of God the Father understand worship’s true audience – that it is not for us; it is for Him. Our tastes and our preferences could not matter less! The great question that preoccupies us ought to be not, “Was this to my taste?” not, “Did this scratch where I am itching?” but rather, “Was God honored? Was God honored?”
I read a story this past week of a young convert, a young believer in Africa who began attending worship regularly in her local church. During the worship service, the time came for the offering, much as it did a few moments ago in our worship service. The plate was being passed through the congregation. Now, she hasn’t come from any kind of church background at all, and so she was quite unfamiliar with the practice. But she noticed as she watched the plate being passed down the row that people would take money from their pockets and place it in the plate. But she was poor and she had no money to bring. And so when the plate was at last handed to her, she didn’t really know what to do. And so she set the plate on the ground and then she stood inside it and she said in a loud voice, “God, I don’t have any money, but You can have all of me.” In that moment, I think, she grasped more of the nature and character of true worship than many who claim to be mature Christians. “God, You can have all of me!” She knows that to be loved by God demands all of us, all the time in response. Not partial praise carelessly given, but the surrender of our whole selves and all that we have and all that we are.
And so verses 6 to 9, and 12 to 14, these two sections on either side of our passage have God exposing our spiritual boredom and its effects and its root cause. Debased, apathetic worship growing like shriveled and rotting fruit on the poisoned branches of our boredom with God.
But before we close, I want you to look at the two verses that are right there in the center of the passage between those two large sections on either side of the chapter, verses 10 and 11. And pay special attention to the apparent tension between them. They read at first glance like a tautology, like they are stated in apposition to one another. “Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain. I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand. 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.” Did you catch the tension, the apparent tension between verse 10 and verse 11? “I’m so appalled at the apathetic, careless, debased worship of My people I would rather the temple doors be shut altogether than endure it a moment longer,” God is saying. “Shut the temple! I can’t bear it!”
The Cessation of Temple Worship
But then He adds, “One day soon, there will be no need for a temple at all. All people in every land will bring pure offerings to me in every place from the rising of the sun to its setting. That is from one horizon all the way to the other, my name will be great among the nations.” A great transition is coming, do you see, a time when temple worship will become redundant altogether. The day was coming when someone would in fact shut the temple doors and bring the vain worship of the altar to an end. In John 4:21-22, you will remember that Jesus told the Samaritan woman how, with His coming, the time had at last arrived when worship in an earthly temple would be obsolete. “The hour is coming and is now here,” He said, “when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him. God is Spirit and those who worship must worship in spirit and in truth.” He is a perfect priest, a perfect priest who will enter, Hebrews 9 at verse 11, who “entered once for all into the holy places not by means of the blood of goats and calves, but by means of his own blood, thus securing eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our consciences from dead works to serve the living and true God?”
He is both the perfect priest and the final sacrifice so that now, through Jesus Christ, true worship ascends to God from people of every tribe and language and nation because true worship centers not in a place nor in a priesthood, but in the person of Jesus Christ in whom the love of God is most fully demonstrated. The true worship that the Father seeks, worship in spirit and in truth, is the reason Jesus came in the first place. The reason He obeyed and bled and died was to ignite in your heart a flame of true worship to the glory and praise of God forever. The motive for the cross was to make the nations adore God and bring a pure offering that His name might be great among the nations. Which is to say simply this – here is the antidote to spiritual boredom. Here is the antidote to spiritual boredom. The flame that will ignite true worship in your heart is the cross of Jesus Christ. The nations will worship and bring pure offerings in every place from the rising of the sun to its setting because Jesus died and rose and reigns. Atonement has been made, acceptance with God secured forever – not on the basis of an offering you might make, but on the basis of Jesus’ offering of Himself once and for all. So perhaps this morning you need to come back to Calvary, to come back and survey the wondrous cross and see from His head, His hands, and feet sorrow and love flow mingled down. Come back to Calvary! Go back to Golgotha! Look at Jesus crucified and see if your spiritual boredom doesn’t begin to fall away and your boredom with God is not shattered as you behold the display, the demonstration of the love of God for you in His Son crucified to make of you a true worshiper. Come back to Calvary and you’ll begin to say, “Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small! Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul and my life and my all.” You’ll step into the offering plate yourself and say, “Whatever I have is Yours, Lord, and with it You can have all of me. You can have all of me.” Come back to Calvary, shatter your spiritual boredom and reignite a flame of adoration as you see what God has done for you in the gift of His Son.
Let us pray together!
O our Father, we come confessing our boredom, how easily bored we have become with sacred things, with the praising of Your name, because in truth, we have easily become bored with You. Our hearts are prone to wander, Lord, we feel it, prone to leave the God we love. And we’ve turned from You to other things that have captured our interests. And here now, under the indictment of Your Word, we bow down. But we would bow down at the foot of the cross. We would abase ourselves before You there that as we turn from our sin and behold the wonder of Your love at Calvary, You might ignite within us the fire of ardent devotion and praise to the glory of Your name. Would You capture and captivate our hearts afresh with the Gospel of the cross of Christ? For we ask this in His name, amen.
©2016 First Presbyterian Church.
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