In the book of Revelation, in chapters 2 and 3, Jesus sends a letter to each of seven churches in Asia Minor. And, in those letters, he says a lot of things to commend the Christians in those congregations, but he also has a few things to say by way of rebuke, some things that they needed to repent of and get straight.
To me, there’s one thing Jesus said in those letters that is sadder than anything else he wrote. You might think it would be the letter to the church of Laodicea where Jesus said, “I wish you were either cold or hot. But, because you’re lukewarm, I will spew you out of my mouth.” But, as sad as that may be, there’s something that touches me even more.
It’s in the letter to the church of Ephesus where Jesus said, “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” (Revelation 2:4). There’s something terribly sad about a love that used to be passionate, but it’s lost that passion.
It’s sad whenever that happens in a marriage, when one partner who used to be madly in love with the other reaches the point where he or she says, “I don’t really love you anymore.” Or maybe they don’t say it, but it’s evident from the things they say and do (or the things that they don’t say and do). As the Righteous Brothers sang years ago, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’”.
It’s even sadder when that happens to those of us who are Christians. When we lose our passion for serving and worshipping God that we once had. And if God were to say to us, “Your religion is active, but your affection is absent”, we would understand exactly what he meant by that because we recognize how easy it is to just go through the motions of Christianity — going to church, taking the Lord’s Supper, singing a few hymns, reading our Bible.
As we come now to the very last book of the Old Testament — the book of Malachi — we find God saying to the Jews, “You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin’.” They were going through all the motions of religion, but there was something missing.
And it’s easy to see how that could have happened. Because the time of Malachi was a time of waiting. It was a time when there wasn’t much was happening between God and his people. God’s last appointed leaders, Zerubbabel and Joshua, were now dead. The miracle-working prophets, Elijah and Elisha, were long gone.
The people of Judah was all that was left – and they were facing poverty and domination by other nations. The temple had been completed about 100 years before, but they were still waiting for God to do something special. Year after year, they continued to wait. And that passionate love that they used to have for God was starting to fade.
And you could see evidence of this everywhere you looked. The Jews were still worshipping God, they were still bringing their animals to be sacrificed, but their worship had become merely a routine. They weren’t giving God their best; rather, they were giving him their leftovers. People weren’t generous with their money for the temple. They weren’t taking care of the poor.
A major theme in the book of Malachi is “covenant”. God made a covenant with his people, just as a husband and wife make a covenant with each other. But, as the people of Judah lost the love they had for God, they began to stray from their covenant promises to God.
And now, as the Old Testament comes to a close and the Messiah is about to be born into this world, God is on the verge of doing something new and exciting. He is about to bring in all the other nations to worship him. But before he can do that, he needs to try to get Judah straightened out. So, Malachi calls them back to their first love. Because God wants to have a personal relationship with his people once again. He wants his people to truly love him.
For us, the application of Malachi is about how God doesn’t want a half-hearted Christianity. God wants to have a personal and loving relationship with all of us. He wants more from us than just going through the motions of worship. He wants our hearts. And he wants us to love him as passionately as he loves us.
Let’s take a look at this overview of the book of Malachi, and then I’ll be back to talk about how we can lose that lovin’ feelin’.
Watch VIDEO (Malachi)
In chapter 1, Malachi shows us just how easy it is to become indifferent to God and to lose the passion of our love for him.
1. We can become indifferent because the things of God are so familiar.
We read in the very first verse that, “This is the message that the Lord gave to Israel through the prophet Malachi.” (Malachi 1:1, NLT). You would think that receiving a personal message from God would be exciting. Imagine going to your mailbox and finding a letter personally addressed to you from God himself. If that really happened, we wouldn’t be able to contain our excitement. We’d be sharing the news with all our friends. Taking a picture of the letter and posting it on Facebook.
But I don’t think the Jews got excited when they received a word from the Lord. Because this wasn’t the first time that God’s people had received a message from God. God had come and spoken to them hundreds of times through Moses and the prophets. Hundreds of times.
And maybe that was part of the problem. The Jews were a people who were very familiar with the things of God. They were born into the covenant community. Their whole lives were centered on their religion from the time they were babies.
I don’t know what your background is, but maybe, like me, you were raised in the church. And you can remember going to worship from the time you were a young child. You’ve heard all the Bible stories over and over. You’ve heard hundreds, perhaps thousands of sermons preached. It’s all very familiar. And, as a result, it’s easy to take it all for granted.
There are countries around the world where people are begging for a copy of the Bible, so that they can read God’s Word for themselves. And here we sit with perhaps a dozen or so Bibles up on the shelves in our homes, and there are weeks when we don’t even have enough interest to open one up.
It’s so easy for us to shrug our shoulders at the gospel, because we’ve heard it for so long. We hear, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son,” and we yawn and say, “That’s nice”, and then we move on to something more interesting, “Hey, did you hear about last night’s ball game?”
There’s a saying that “familiarity breeds contempt”, and there’s a lot of truth in that statement. Philip DeCourcy has written, “Familiarity breeding contempt is a clear and present danger….Marriages run aground…A spirit of gratitude is often absent…we become lazy in worship…..taking things, people, and God for granted is a work of the enemy. That is why we must work harder at giving thanks for everything, jealously guarding love, prizing people, seeing the big in the small, and worshipping God as our chief joy. We must fear the dawning of a day in life when everything becomes smaller, and we lose our capacity to wonder.”
So, we can become indifferent to God because the things of God are so familiar to us. But secondly…
2. We can become indifferent because we focus on our circumstances rather than God’s plan.
And that’s what was happening to Malachi’s readers. As they looked around at their circumstances, things weren’t going the way they expected them to go, so they got discouraged. They had been back in the land of Canaan for about 125 years. The temple had been rebuilt for about 100 years. Nehemiah had recently led the people in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. And all of that was good.
But there were only about 100,000 Jews back in the land. They didn’t have an army to protect themselves from hostile neighbors. They were still under the thumb of the Persian king. Their farms weren’t producing well because of drought (3:10-11). Some of them were probably thinking, “If this is the Promised Land, I’d hate to see the unpromised land!”
Meanwhile, as they’re going through these tough times, they looked back at the message of the prophets. All of the prophets had predicted a golden era for Israel when the land would yield abundant produce, the people would dwell securely under the reign of the Messiah, and other nations would flock to Jerusalem as the center of the earth. But none of that was happening. Then along comes Malachi and he says, “God loves you and he has a wonderful plan for your lives!”
“I have always loved you,” says the Lord. But you retort, “Really? How have you loved us?” (Malachi 1:2, NLT)
It sounds nice to say, “God loves us”, but let’s be honest, sometimes it’s hard to tell. If God really loved us, then things would be better than they are. If God really loved us, then we wouldn’t be dealing with all these problems in our lives. If God really loved us, then we should be a lot happier.
It’s easy for us to make the same mistake that Israel made. If we focus on the difficult circumstances in our lives right now, we fail to appreciate or maybe even recognize God’s great love for us. If we focus on our problems and all the things that are going wrong, we may question whether God really cares about us. And if you don’t think God cares about you, it’s hard for you to be passionate in your love for him.
It’s interesting to me how God answers their question. They demand to know, “How have you loved us?” God could have easily listed hundreds of thousands of things that he did for them, from giving them breath to the beauties of a summer day to the joy of family. But he didn’t do that. God said, “This is how I showed my love for you: I loved your ancestor Jacob, but I rejected his brother, Esau.” (Malachi 1:2-3, NLT)
God goes all the way back to the beginning of the Israelite people. Isaac had two sons – Jacob and Esau. And God could have chosen Esau and blessed his family, but he didn’t. He chose Jacob. Even though Jacob was the younger of the two. Even though Jacob was a deceiver and a schemer. Despite all of that, God said that he wanted to have a special relationship with Jacob and his family. And he was going to do something through Jacob’s family that would bless the entire world.
I think God was telling the Jews through Malachi that they needed to look at the bigger picture. Because if we focus only on the difficult circumstances we’re going through right this minute, we will always get discouraged. But if we think about God’s plan to extend his kingdom over all the earth, and the fact that he has saved us to be a part of that great plan, it changes our perspective.
That’s why the apostle Paul could say, despite his many trials, “For the sake of Christ, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.” (2 Corinthians 12:10). Paul was able to look beyond the problems he was experiencing in the moment, to see what God was doing in his life on a much grander scale.
So, we can become indifferent because the things of God are so familiar, and we can become indifferent if we focus on our circumstances rather than God’s plan. Thirdly,
3. We can become indifferent if we drift into a religion that’s based on routine rather than relationship.
This is evident throughout the entire book of Malachi. You need to keep in mind that these were not people who had defiantly turned against God. No! They were still worshiping at the temple. They were still offering their sacrifices. They were going through all of the rituals that Moses had commanded. But they had drifted into a routine religion instead of maintaining a personal relationship with a loving God. They followed God’s commands, but they lost touch with God.
Imagine if God made arrangements to come to your house for dinner. Literally. You’ve had this date on your calendar for weeks and now it’s time. Six o’clock on a Friday evening, and God comes walking up to your front door, rings the doorbell.
You open the door wearing dirty jeans and a torn T-shirt and say, “Come on in. I’ve been working out in the garden.” As God steps into your cluttered living room, you say, “Sorry about the mess, but my wife got engrossed in the soap operas on TV this afternoon and didn’t get around to cleaning. But dinner’s almost ready. She’s heating up the leftovers in the microwave right now. Hope you don’t mind paper plates.”
The whole idea is absurd, isn’t it? Even if you were poor, if you knew that God was coming to your house, you would make every effort to look your best. You would clean your house and maybe even put a fresh coat of paint on the walls. You’d put your best dishes on the table and fix your favorite meal. God deserves more than just leftovers.
And that’s exactly what God told the Jews. In verse 14, he said, “For I am a great King…and my name will be feared among the nations.” (Malachi 1:14). God says, “I deserve better.” But surely nobody would dare to serve God leftovers, would they? And Malachi says, “Yes, they would.” In fact, that’s what the priests of his day were doing.
Listen to what God said, beginning in verse 6, “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.” (Malachi 1:6-8)
At the very center of Jewish worship was the offering of animals in sacrifice. The reason people did that was because they were sinners coming to a holy God, and God had ordained sacrifice as the way to approach him.
But instead of offering God the best of their animals, these priests were sacrificing all of the animals that had defects. It’s hard to believe that anybody would actually do that. Instead of giving God their best, they were giving God their hand-me-downs, their broken and useless animals.
And God was offended. Because when we give God what’s broken, useless, and leftover, we are communicating something about what we think he’s worth. We’re saying to God, “You’re really not worth giving up our best for.”
So, God says to the priests, “You’re despising my name! You’re disrespecting me.” And the priests say, in essence, “What are you talking about? What’s the problem?” Now I don’t think the priests were so brazen as to actually say those specific words. And I think they knew exactly what the problem was. After all, they knew that the Law of Moses had something to say about offering blemished sacrifices to the Lord.
But maybe they were just being practical. “Surely it makes better sense to burn the damaged animals and save the good ones, doesn’t it? We’re not rich people. The Lord understands our situation, doesn’t he? It’s certainly better to offer blemished animals than nothing at all, right?” But God said, “You’re not showing me the respect I deserve!”
Comedian Rodney Dangerfield is famous for his line, “I don’t get no respect.” But he stole that line from God! Because God said to His people, “If I am a father, where’s my honor? If I am a master, where’s my respect?”
The problem was that they were offering their sacrifices without even thinking about God. They weren’t offering their sacrifices to please the Lord. They weren’t focused on glorifying his name. In fact, they apparently were bored with the whole process.
In verse 13, God says to the Jews, “You say, ‘what a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it.” (Malachi 1:13). “We’re so tired of coming week after week and doing the same thing over and over.” They were going through all the motions of worship, but they didn’t really have a desire in their hearts to glorify God.
And it’s frightening to think about how all of this sounds so familiar, because we’ve all seen it. And sadly, many of us have lived it. Now, we don’t give God animal sacrifices anymore, but Romans 12 does tell us that we are to present our bodies, ourselves, as living sacrifices to God.
And we know that God deserves our best, but sometimes when it comes to our time, God gets the leftovers. Time is our most valuable resource. Most of us don’t have nearly enough time. But, sadly, the busier life gets, the more we cut back on having enough time for God. We’ll worship God or we’ll serve God as long as we don’t have anything else on the calendar.
And sometimes when it comes to our money, God gets the leftovers, too. If we don’t have anything else that we want to spend our money on, we’ll give God a few bucks. And it’s important to see that it’s not our money that God wants. God wants our heart, but that heart is attached to our wallet.
And we can come to worship and go through the motions and check all the boxes. We prayed, check. Took the Lord’s Supper, check. Sang a few songs, check. Listened to the preacher – “what a weariness this is”, check. That pretty much takes care of it. Except for one thing. Did we honor and glorify God by giving him our heart?
When God has our hearts, what does that look like in how we worship? Does it affect how we prepare for worship before we ever leave the house? It may affect what we do the night before. It might affect what time we leave the house on Sunday morning. It might affect how our heart is engaged as we worship. And it will definitely remind me that I am not the point of worship – God is. Worship is not about my enjoyment. It’s about glorifying God.
What God said to the Jews through Malachi in verse 10 ought to send a chill down our spines. “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.” (Malachi 1:10). God looked at their worship and he said, “I would rather you not worship at all than worship the way you are worshiping right now.”
And I wonder how many times God has looked down on a church and said, “I wish someone would just close and lock the door so that nobody could go inside to worship, because I’m not interested in what you’re offering me.” It’s sobering to think that it would be better to close the doors of the church than to dishonor God with our worship.
Please understand, God isn’t asking us to give us his best because he needs our best. God doesn’t need anything from us. He’s not short of money, and he doesn’t need us to give him anything that he doesn’t already have. The issue is our hearts. The issue is making sure God is the priority of our lives.
I want you to know that the purpose of this lesson is not to produce guilt. It’s easy to take a passage like this and make everyone feel bad. Guilt doesn’t get us any closer to dealing with the heart issues. If you walk out of here motivated by guilt today, you’ll make some changes and they’ll last about a week, but no more. God didn’t give us this passage to make us feel guilty. He gave it to us so we would recognize the issue and deal with the heart issues that keep us from worshiping God the way we should.
What God wants more than anything else is for us to love him like he loves us. God has demonstrated his love for us. Jesus suffered and died for our sake, bearing our sins on Calvary’s cross, not because he was forced to, but because of his love for us and his desire to bring us into relationship with the Father.
And ever since that day, God has never lost his passion for us. His desire to be in relationship with us is as strong today as it was the day that he made us. He loves us like a husband loves the wife of his youth. But how sad it must make him when we don’t love him in return.