Like I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of Dennis Prager, a practicing Jewish talk-show host who discusses a range of topics. One of his pet peeves is people who refuse to dress up for church: They wear shorts, tank tops, flip-flops, etc. Here’s his argument against it: If you were meeting the President of the U.S., would you dress like that? So why do you feel comfortable meeting the Lord of the universe so dressed?
Now, I see his point, even if I disagree in the particulars. If our Lord wanted us to dress a certain way to come into his presence, that’d be interesting, since I believe we’re always in his presence. What we’re doing on Sunday is meeting together as an expression of the Body in corporate worship. But I find nothing in Scripture that talks about a certain style of dress when we meet together.
But I think his overall point is well-taken on a deeper level. I don’t think the Lord's interested as much in our outward dress (as long as it’s modest and not distracting) as much as he is in our heart, our personal relationship with him. In that area, how are we doing? How well are we expressing our love for him in obeying him and serving him, in imitating Job in fearing God and shunning evil?
I promise this isn’t a rabbit trail; it actually has something to do with today’s passage and topic. Malachi was about to spend four short chapters verbally ripping into the people of Israel. And surprise surprise—the spiritual leaders are the first in his crosshairs! The priests were supposed to be the first in devotion and in providing a godly example. They represented the people before God, so if they weren’t doing their job properly, the people were hopeless.
He (the Lord speaking through his mouthpiece) started out with a question of respect: In that society, fathers and masters of slaves got respect. The Lord was their Father and their Master (supposedly), so where was the respect due him? And first and foremost of those not giving him respect were those in the priesthood.
The problem (ostensibly) was that they were offering imperfect animals: “lame or diseased.” This was specifically forbidden by the Law. Why did the Lord forbid this? Does the Lord need animals? Is this his literal food, like it was for the gods of the pagans? To ask that question is to answer it. So no, he doesn’t need the sacrifices. My friend, those sacrifices they were offering were for the sake of the offerer, not him.
But to offer an imperfect animal shows the condition of your heart. The quality of your sacrifice demonstrates where your priorities are. That’s the issue here.
And that brings us to the illustration I discussed at the beginning. He asks a great question: Would your governor take an offering like that? Of course not. So why do you feel comfortable offering a sub-par sacrifice to the Lord God of Israel? Again, I don’t think the issue is the offering itself. By doing so, they were showing contempt for the Lord’s table, a visible symbol of their relationship with him, how much they valued him. They were playing games with a nuclear bomb.
This was really important to him. And what goes around comes around. They showed contempt for the Lord, and 2:9 (“despised,” same word in Hebrew) says that the Lord would cause them to be shown contempt in public. If you’re in a position of spiritual leadership, know this: He takes his representation very seriously. If leaders among his people show contempt for the Lord and don’t repent, their comeuppance will likely be public. It won’t be pretty.
Look, our God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness. But the same Bible that tells us this also tells us that he won’t be mocked: If a believer—especially a leader in his church—is playing games with the Lord, he’ll end up regretting it. Count on it.
Father God, I can never offer anything of myself that’s not contemptible. It’s only your Son that makes me acceptable. But I want to be a living sacrifice—holy and pleasing to you. By your grace.
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