Malachi – the final words of God in the Old Testament period, the final words of God to the Jewish people for about 400 years until the time of the coming of Jesus. In Malachi’s day much of Jerusalem had been rebuilt from its destruction by the Babylonians and it was home once again for many Jews. God had kept His promise to restore them to their land from Babylonian exile. They’d been back now for several decades. They had a temple again and priests and the sacrificial system had been reestablished. Temple worship as commanded in the Law of Moses was underway again. It was a relatively peaceful time. There were no enemy nations threatening to attack them. So life was not too bad. But life also could have been better. They were past all the excitement of returning to their land and rebuilding the temple and the walls of Jerusalem and their new homes. The excitement of all of that had faded. For the last few years they’d had to deal with drought, their fields and vineyards not producing much. They’d also been having a locust problem that was taking a toll on their crops (Mal 3:9-11). And they were still under the control of the Persians. So they were not rich or powerful. They were not really prospering. Life was just okay.
In those circumstances the Jewish people fell prey to a spiritual problem that is still today a very very common spiritual problem among God’s people. Jesus addressed this same problem in a church in the book of Revelation, the church in Laodicea in Revelation 3. And He described it as being…
“Neither cold nor hot, but lukewarm.”
Cold meaning being a heathen who makes no attempt at a relationship with God. Never comes to church, never prays, never picks up a Bible, has no concern about the will of God. Hot is the other end of the spectrum, somebody zealous for God, passionate for God, on fire for the Lord. In fact the words “hot” and the word “zealous” in the New Testament come from the same root word in Greek. It’s when the most important things in the world to you are being who God wants you to be and the spread of the gospel, the salvation of souls, His will being done on earth as it is in heaven, when that’s what you think about constantly and it’s priority to you. And everything else, the size of your bank account, the look of your yard, how your fantasy football team is doing, what the fellas at work think about you, having time for your hobbies, all these other concerns are so insignificant in comparison to honoring and serving God and leading others to do the same. You’re passionate about your life and the lives of others being pleasing to God. That’s hot. Lukewarm is in between, in between the one who totally rejects the Lord and the one who has that zeal and passion for the Lord. It is caring a bit about your relationship with God, so you may attend church some and send up a prayer here and there and maybe give a bit and keep yourself from really bad blatant sins. You care some, but you don’t care that much. So worship is superficial, just going through the motions. Giving is sparing and out of a sense of “have to.” You’re apathetic, lethargic and looking for excuses when it comes to good deeds of service. It’s perhaps more important to you that your colleagues like you than that the Lord is proud of you. It’s perhaps more important to you that your kids know math and science and social studies and excel at their sports than that they know the Scriptures and excel in the character God wants them to have. Having nicer things is more important to you perhaps than a missionary having the support he needs or a brother’s basic needs being met. You don’t care that much about bringing honor and souls to God. That’s lukewarm.
And that was the Jewish people in the time of Malachi. It’s apparent when you read through the book. They weren’t cold. They weren’t totally rejecting God. They’d learned their lesson from the Babylonian exile about worshiping idols. They were not worshiping pagan gods anymore. They were attending services at the temple. They were bringing offerings to God at the temple. They cared a little about serving God. But they didn’t care that much. So they were trying to get by as cheaply and conveniently as they could in their offerings. Instead of bringing good healthy animals from their flocks and herds for sacrifice, they’d pick out the blind, sick and crippled ones, the ones they didn’t want anyway and they’d bring those as their offering to God (1:8). And they were trying to get by with the bare minimum in their giving. So they weren’t even giving a full tithe, a full 10% as they were commanded in the Law of Moses (3:8-10). And the priests at the temple were just like the people, lukewarm, apathetic about worship and obedience to God. Malachi talks in chapter 1 about how were grumbling about their work at the temple, “Ugh, I’m so tired of offering these sacrifices. This is nasty stinking job…” (1:7,12,13). They didn’t really care what people were bringing as offerings to the Lord or whether people were really pleasing God or not, just so long as they got through the services and made a living for themselves. Their teaching was just stuff the people wanted to hear, not what God wanted them to hear. They weren’t teaching people God’s law (2:6-8). Their mindset was, “Let’s just kept the services going and keep everybody happy. Let’s not disturb anybody with the hard truths of God’s word so they keep coming back, and let’s just make a living.” And the people were fine with just fluffy lessons, not learning what God actually has to say, what God’s will is concerning them. And they weren’t too concerned about conforming every bit of their lives to the will of God. So they were violating the law of God in many ways. Some of the young men were marrying pretty Gentile girls that worshiped other gods, which the law forbid (2:11). Some of the older men were trading in their wives for newer models (2:14,16). Some were messing with sorcery stuff, which the Law forbid them to mess with. Some were paying their workers unfair wages. Some were ignoring the needs of the widows and orphans. Some were being very ugly to people in their land who were from other countries (3:5). So they kind of worshiped and served God, but very pathetically. They didn’t care that much about it.
How’s your spiritual temperature? Probably none of us here are cold, because you’re here this morning. You apparently care about spiritual matters at least a little. Though I guess it’s possible that someone here could have been drug in here against their will by a concerned family member or friend. But probably that’s not you. I think a number of us here would fall into the category of hot, zealous, passionate for the Lord. You really honestly more than anything in the world care about pleasing God and other people doing the same. You wake up every morning to live that day as God would have you to, in your circumstances with your abilities to do what you can to bless others and be an influence for good. You don’t care much about being wealthy or popular or momentary pleasures. You care about God’s glory and people being right with God. Some of us are there. But could it be that you, whoever you are, would fall in between, lukewarm, on the fence, not totally rejecting Christ, but not totally committed either, you care a bit but you don’t care that much? And if so, is it a big deal? Does it really matter that much if you’re lukewarm just so long as you’re not cold?
It’s interesting to me that these lukewarm folks in Malachi’s day and those in Laodicea that Jesus confronted and how I think it commonly is with lukewarm people…
They don’t think they have a problem.
They think God should be pleased with them. And so all through the book of Malachi, there are these statements of protest by the people to the charges that Malachi brings against them in the name of Lord. Every time Malachi brings a complaint of God against them they object. They may not have been actually voicing these objections. But they were thinking them. And Malachi voices what they were thinking. Let’s look at these.
1:6 begins with a complaint that God has against them, “‘A son honors his father, and a servant his master. Then if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My respect?’ says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests who despise My name. But you say, ‘How have we despised Your name?’” “What are you talking about? How could you say we have despised Your name? How have we done that? Spell it out!”
1:7, “You are presenting defiled food upon My altar. But you say, ‘How have we defiled You?’” “We don’t know what you’re talking about. How have we defiled You?”
In 2:13 Malachi tells them that God is not accepting their worship and He’s not hearing their prayers, and in v14 they say, “For what reason?” They don’t see why God wouldn’t be pleased with them.
In 2:17 they’re charged with wearing the Lord with things they’ve been about Him, and they say, “How have we wearied Him?”
In 3:7 they’re told to return to the Lord and they say, “How shall we return?” They’re saying, “What do you expect us to do? Aren’t we coming to church? Aren’t we giving? Aren’t we doing this and that? How can you say return to God? How do you propose that we do that?”
In 3:8 they’re charged with robbing God and they say “How have we robbed You? How could you say that? What are you talking about?”
In 3:13 they’re charged with speaking arrogantly against God, and they say, “What have we spoken against You?’” They didn’t see any problem in themselves.
In Revelation 3 you can see that the church in Laodicea had this same self-satisfied “I’m perfectly fine, God accepts me” attitude (Rev 3:17). And a lot of lukewarm people today sing in church, “It is well with my soul,” and “I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop in that bright land where we’ll never grow old.”
How does God feel about lukewarmness?
There are several statements in Malachi that express God’s feelings about it. But we’ll just look at a few. 1:8, “But when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil? Why not offer it to your governor? Would he be pleased with you? Or would he receive you kindly?” says the Lord of hosts.” .” Or say you’ve got a boss who’s really a special boss, he’s been working for the company for 25 years and gone out of his way to take care of his employees and you’re going throw a get together for him and give him a gift. Are you going go cheap him, get him a used jacket with a stain on it from goodwill or some old rusty beat up power tool? It’d be insulting, wouldn’t it? He would have felt better if you hadn’t gotten him anything at all. God would rather that you not bother than that you try to get by as cheaply and conveniently as you can with Him. 1:10, “Oh that there were one among you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle fire on My altar! I am not pleased with you,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘nor will I accept an offering from you.’” Let’s also notice 3:7, “From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from My statutes and have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord of hosts.” In other words, “We’re not together. Things are not okay between you and Me,” God says. “You’ve left me. We’re distant. You need to return to Me.”
Now, let’s see what Jesus told the Laodiceans about lukewarmness. Revelation 3:15-17, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth [or literally “I will vomit you out of My mouth.” It’s like He’s saying, “You’re making Me sick.”] Because you say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked“. In other words their spiritual condition could not be any worse. They don’t have any treasures in heaven. They don’t have those white robes the book of Revelation talks about; they are naked, unfit for the presence of God.
God does not accept lukewarm! My brothers and sisters, God does not accept lukewarm! That’s not the relationship with you that He’s after. He doesn’t want just a casual acquaintance with you. He doesn’t want to just date you. He doesn’t want just a Sunday thing with you. He wants like an everyday all day like marriage kind of thing with you, where you are His and He is yours, and He’s the most important thing in the world to you and you are the most important thing in the world to Him, and He won’t accept anything less.
Notice that statement at the end of v15. Jesus says,
“I wish you were cold or hot.”
We certainly have no problem understanding why Jesus would rather that they be hot, that they be zealous and passionate and on fire for Him. Of course He would rather they be hot. But cold? Cold is the opposite end of the spectrum from hot. Cold I think is one who openly rejects Christ. So Jesus would rather that they be not even profess to be Christians than be lukewarm? That’s what it sounds like.
Why? Maybe for a few reasons.
- Being cold, for one, is more honest. Cold people make no claim of being a Christian. So there’s less hypocrisy in being cold.
- Also, lukewarmness hurts the church more than coldness does. Lukewarm people give others the wrong impression about Christianity. And nobody ever points to a godless pagan person and says, “That’s why I’m not a Christian!” But there are those who point at lukewarm church-goers who profess to be Christians but who are still totally selfish and worldly and say, “That’s why I want nothing to do with Christianity, if that’s what a Christian is.”
- And then another reason why I suspect the Lord prefers cold to lukewarm is that there is more hope of changing a cold individual who knows he’s not right with the Lord, than there is of changing a self-satisfied lukewarm Christian who has just enough religion in his life to make him feel comfortable. Think of the people Jesus mostly reached in His earthly ministry. He was able to change the hearts of a lot more tax-collectors and sinners than He was Scribes and Pharisees. Because the dishonest tax-collectors and the prostitutes and drunkards and criminals knew they were spiritually sick and needed a physician. The Scribes and Pharisees were sick and needed of a physician too, but they had just enough religion that they thought they were just fine. There’s more hope for the salvation of a godless person than a half-hearted comfortable lukewarm religious person.
It reminds me of Luke 14. Large crowds were following Jesus, because He was a miracle worker, fun to watch, and He met their physical needs and they were thinking that maybe He’s the promised king. But Jesus knew most of them were not fully committed to Him. He knew they were half-hearted disciples. They kind of wanted a relationship with Him but many other things were of first importance in their lives. And so He turned to the crowds and made some blunt startling statements that said basically “Unless you are willing to give Me first place in your life, unless you are willing to leave your family for Me, unless you’re willing to surrender your life and everything you have to Me, you might as well leave. You might as well not bother to follow Me around if you’re unwilling to actually give Me your life.” Listen to this. It’s Luke 14:25ff, “Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate [I think in the sense of “love less”] his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. [Then He gives a couple illustrations about how important it is to count the cost before you begin an endeavor and how useless and foolish it is to begin an endeavor when you’re not going to be willing or able to complete it. He says,] “For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up [I think in the sense of “surrender to Me”] all his own possessions.” He saying how useless and wasteful of your time and resources it is to begin a construction project or a battle with an enemy that you don’t have the means to finish, is how useless and wasteful it is to do some “disciplely” kind of stuff, attend church, pray a bit, stop a bad habit, if you’re not going to fully commit to Him, surrender to Him your money, your time, your relationships. He’s saying if you’re not all in, then don’t even bother. I imagine Jesus thinned out the crowds a bit after He made those statements. Jesus is not really interested in filling church buildings with people. If they’re only going to be lukewarm Christians, He’d rather they not even bother.
Now, that’s not to saying if you’re still not sure about Jesus and whether you should give your life to Him that you shouldn’t continue to seek, come to church, pray and study and ask questions. The Lord of course encouraged people to seek the truth. But this is to say that the Lord would rather we be cold, non-religious, than that we settle down in complacent apathetic halfhearted lukewarmness.
Now, as I read the book of Malachi a few times I noticed what I think is…
Much of the source of lukewarmness
There are several statements in the book that tell you what these people were thinking about God. And they weren’t thinking very great thoughts about God. Their perspective of God wasn’t anything really to get zealous about. When you’re not seeing the glory and greatness and awesomeness of God, you’re going to be lukewarm.
These people were doubtful that God actually loved them. 1:2, “‘I have loved you,’ says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have You loved us?‘” You know, life wasn’t as great as they wanted it to be. They weren’t rich and powerful. Many of them were struggling to make ends meet in these years of drought they’d been having. They didn’t have all they wanted. They took that to mean that God didn’t love them. Like your kids might think you don’t love them because you don’t let them just watch cartoons and eat candy all day and you won’t get them that particular toy they saw on the commercials. If you don’t realize how He cares about you, then you’re probably not going to care much about Him. So God tells them to look across the Jordan River at the land of their distant relatives the Edomites. The Edomites had also like them been conquered and taken into captivity by the Babylonians many years ago. But they’d not been allowed to come back to their land; their land still lied desolate and uninhabited. These people needed to think about what God had done for them and what they had, their land, a temple, a walled city, homes, fields, vineyards, peace and safety. They didn’t deserve to have any of that. If we’re apathetic lukewarm about God we need to look around at all the food and beauty and freedoms and technology and the abundance and peace that we have, and we need to realize that we have received all of this is from Him and we have paid for none of it! It’s all been given to us for free. Church service doesn’t repay God. It doesn’t feed Him or help Him out in anyway. It just says “Thank you.” He has given us all of this out of love for us. And we need to look back 2000 years. As John said, “in this the love of God was manifested, though we didn’t love Him, still He has sent His one of kind Son into the world to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins that we might live through Him” (I John 4:9-10). God is zealous and passionate about us. We have to see it.
Here in Malachi 1:6,14; 2:10 it appears also it wasn’t really registering with them that God is the Father and Creator and Master and King. Do you realize this is His world, this is His stuff, we are His creation, these bodies are His, we are His? Do you realize that it is up to God whether you wake up tomorrow or not, and He has every right to not let you do so?
They were also doubtful of God’s justice and fairness and righteousness. 2:17, they were saying, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and He delights in them,” or, “Where is the God of justice?” Evil pagan nations were prospering more than them. It looked at the moment like God favored those who those who do evil. In 3:14-15 they’ve even saying “It is vain to serve God; and what profit is it that we have kept His charge, and that we have walked in mourning before the Lord of hosts? 15 So now we call the arrogant blessed; not only are the doers of wickedness built up but they also test God and escape.’” They were looking at the prosperity of the wicked and they’re were starting to think God doesn’t really care that much about how you live. He’s not really going to do anything about whether you serve Him or not. It’s not really going make any difference. Certainly that would lead to a lot of apathy in your service to God. What do you think really, honestly? Does God pay attention to how you live your life? Does He really care? Is it going to make any difference ultimately? If you decide that you are honestly going to try to live the rest of your life on earth the way God would have you to, you’re going seek His will in Scriptures, really try to know what God has to say to you, and you’re going to be devoted to prayer, and you’re going to adjust whatever areas of your life that you see you need to adjust, you’re going to adjust how you use your money and your language and how you treat your spouse, you’re going to be all in, wholeheartedly, and you keep that commitment day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year to the day you die, is it really going to matter? Does God care that much? Is it going to make any difference? Listen to the promise of God. 3:16, “Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who esteem His name.” It’s a picture of God having a book in heaven in which He writes down the names of all those who revere Him and serve Him on earth. It’s a picture saying that God will not forget them. And there is a day coming when that book will be opened. 3:17, “‘They will be Mine,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘on the day that I prepare My own possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.’ 18 So you will again distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him. 4:1 ‘For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. 2 But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall. 3 You will tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing,’ says the Lord of hosts.” One day He will right all the wrongs. He will settle all the accounts. He will render to each according to their lives on earth. He will remember and reward beyond imagination those who served Him. They will be so happy they will skip about like calves finally let out of the stall. “Youtube” it if you didn’t grow up on a farm or you’ve never seen that. He will not disappoint you. He will not let you down. He will not forget if you give your life to Him.
May God open the eyes of our heart to see His glory, His greatness, His love for us, His power, His ownership, His justice, His righteousness, His great plans for the future, His worthiness of our total wholehearted commitment.
– James Williams