In this series, we are examining some of the questions God asks biblical characters. God doesn’t ask people questions for the same reasons I ask people questions. I often ask questions because I am seeking information (“How do I get to your house?”)—but God doesn’t because he already knows all things. I often ask questions in order to puff myself up and put others down (“Haven’t you learned how to do that yet?”)—but God never does this. Rather, he asks questions as a wise counselor—to help us realize what we really believe, what our real needs are, the inadequacy of our attempts to meet those needs, and thus to be willing to receive his wise help.
This morning we will look at two questions God asked a group of priests in Mal.1. The time is around 420 BC. The spiritual state seems healthy enough—overt paganism and idolatry are repulsive to them, and their religious observances are directed toward the one true God. But they have a subtle but serious problem—a problem that I often recognize in myself. Through Malachi, God exposes this problem by asking the priests two questions. Let’s read these questions and God’s ensuing words(read 1:6-14).
Whole-hearted vs. half-hearted devotion
The questions God asks are: “If I am a ?father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My respect?” The issue here is the true state of our hearts with regard to our devotion to God. God is our Father, our Master, and our King. As such, he calls on us to honor (or glorify) him as the most important Person in our lives, and to respect (or obey) him as the rightful Leader of our lives. This echoes a key Old Testament passage with which Malachi’s audience was familiar (Deut.6:5). God is calling them to be whole-hearted in their love for him, and he is reproving their half-hearted devotion.
QUALIFICATION: “Whole-hearted” devotion doesn’t mean that you have no outward sins—you can have outward sins and be whole-hearted (e.g., DAVID), or you can have very few outward sins and be half-hearted. “Whole-hearted” devotion doesn’t mean that you spend all your time in “religious” activities—you can do few of these and be whole-hearted, or you can be consumed with them and be far from God (PHARISEES). It’s a matter of valuing God and his will above all else.
In his book The Discipline of Grace, Jerry Bridges describes the difference (read). Strikingly, God says that to be on cruise-control is to “despise his name” (hold him in contempt, to view him as vile or worthless). That sounds extreme, doesn’t it? If I took this position with my wife or children, they would rightly call me a jealous megalomaniac. But it is totally appropriate for God to take this position with the people who claim to belong to him because he is God—he is the most important Person in the universe and he created us to give him our whole-hearted devotion! And since we’ve been created by and for God, we will be fulfilled only when our devotion to him is whole-hearted!
Recognizing half-hearted devotion
How can you recognize half-hearted devotion? The priests didn’t recognize theirs—they disagree with God’s assessment: “How have we despised your name?” They pointed to certain religious activities as evidence that they were whole-hearted, but they were self-deceived. It’s one thing to be half-hearted and know it—it’s quite another to be half-hearted and think you’re whole-hearted! So God (out of love) points to two evidences of half-heartedness so that we may recognize it in ourselves. I phrase these as questions to ask myself periodically:
Read 1:13. They felt fatigued at the thought of offering God sacrifices, and revealed this inner attitude by “sniffing”—a dismissive snort or a martyr sigh. Relating to and serving God should be a privilege in which we delight—not a burdensome duty that we have to perform.
“Do I usually view relating to & serving God as a burdensome duty?” I say “usually” because (as fallen people) there are times when all of us must choose against our present feelings to worship and serve God (EXAMPLES). C. S. Lewis says that duty is like a crutch. Sometimes a crutch is necessary, because our leg is injured. But if our leg is healthy, we have no need of the crutch. Likewise, sometimes we must temporarily obey God out of duty. But if our chronic attitude is “have to,” this is a sure sign that we are half-hearted.
This is why God says they should shut down the Temple (1:10). He says this, not out of disgust, but redemptively. He is saying: “I don’t need your sacrifices; I’m not calling on you to offer them for my benefit. They are for your benefit; I’m giving you the opportunity to do what you were created to do. It is better to drop the ruse and admit to yourself that you are half-hearted than to go on deceiving yourselves into thinking that you are whole-hearted and that this is making you miserable!”
The second thing God pointed out was what they offered. Old Testament law (Lev.22) required that their sacrifices were valuable to them—that’s what “sacrifice” means. But they were offering their blind, lame and sick animals or animals they had stolen (read 1:8). God rightly says this proves that they regard him as far lower than their human governor.
“Do I give God my ‘leftovers?’” What does this look like today, when God no longer asks me to worship him through animal sacrifices? Perhaps the most telling test is how I view and use my time. Does God get my best time—or my leftovers? Is the time I spend talking to God, learning from God, interacting with God’s people, commending God to my family, friends, neighbors, community, etc. growing or shrinking? Do I look forward to time spent this way and look for ways to spend more time this way, or do I resist and resent any further intrusion on my time by God and his interests? Have I embraced God’s right to interrupt my schedule, or have I insisted that he stay in the box I have created for him? Do I view extensive time devoted to God as a rival to my family and career roles, or as what enables me to be truly effective in these roles? Is God sovereign over my time and schedule—or is he subject to my sovereignty over this area?
When giving God our leftovers is seen as normal, we are engaged in what is called “consumer Christianity.” Consumer Christianity regards God as one of many commodities that I need for what is really important to me (PERSONAL PEACE & AFFLUENCE)—not as the great Treasure that I would joyfully give everything else away to get or keep (Matt.13:44). Consumer Christianity views God as a means to other ends, not as an end in himself. The God of consumer Christianity is more like a genie whose value is in his ability to fulfill my agenda (“Your wish is my command”)—not the One who sets the agenda that it is my privilege to fulfill. Bob Dylan exposed the rise of genie Christianity in the late 1970’s by asking in one of his songs: “Do you ever wonder just what God requires? You think he’s just an errand boy to satisfy your wandering desires?”
One way this attitude expresses itself is in the reason often given for changing churches: “It didn’t meet my needs.” If you are consuming a product, this is the only reason you need to quit using it. But we don’t get involved in a church primarily to get our needs met; we get involved to serve God and meet others’ needs in his name! We don’t use God; we ask for God to use us!
You can see why this is such an important issue. God wants everyone to find true life in loving and serving him whole-heartedly. And he has staked his reputation on those who claim to belong to him. Nothing commends God to people like joyous, whole-hearted devotion from those who claim to belong to him! And nothing turns people off to our God like their half-heartedness! This is why Jesus says Lk.14:34,35 (quote & explain). When a church is dominated by a culture of half-heartedness, it is unsalty. Its impact on others is neutralized and its purpose is nullified! Have you experienced this? Are you salty or unsalty?
The key to whole-hearted devotion
What if you realize this morning that you are half-hearted? What if you realize you’ve been half-hearted for a long time? Do you want to be whole-hearted? What is the key to getting it? Here we must distinguish between things that nurture and sustain whole-hearted devotion and what actually ignites it.
The Bible speaks of many ways to nurture and sustain whole-hearted devotion. It is important to regularly ask God to continue to give you zeal for him (Lk.11:13). It is important to be around whole-hearted people because this will motivate you to keep going (2Cor.9:2). It is important to take the step of faith that God asks you to take right now (EXAMPLES). All of these are important once you have whole-hearted devotion—but they do not ignite it in your soul, they do not cause this combustion that sets your soul on fire for God. What is it that combusts into whole-hearted devotion?
The key to whole-hearted devotion is seeing the greatness of God’s mercy to us as sinners. When we see get a personal revelation of this, it deeply affects our hearts. Then we want to worship and obey him with our whole beings. This theme courses through the entire Bible:
When Moses asks God to see his glory, God reveals his glory in a verbal description of the essence of his character (Ex.34:6-8). The glory of God is that he forgives sinners! This is what motivates Moses to bow in voluntary, wholehearted worship.
Isaiah’s devotion became whole-hearted the same way (read Isa.6:1-8). It is when he sees his sin and when God forgives him that he asks to be sent for whatever God may want him to do. It is seeing yourself as a great sinner to whom God shows mercy that produces whole-hearted, voluntary commitment to serve God.
This is why Ps.130:3,4 says that wholehearted reverence for God is motivated by seeing that God forgives our sins that utterly condemn us before him (read).
This is why the key to whole-hearted devotion to God is the cross of Jesus Christ. All of these Old Testament passages look forward to and are fulfilled by Jesus’ death on the cross. This is how a holy God can forgive our sin without compromising his character. He sent his own Son to live the perfect life we owe him but cannot render. Jesus voluntarily endured the judgment we deserve for our sins against God. When you see that your sin is so terrible that it cost Jesus his life, this breaks your pride. But when you realize that he loves you so much that he willingly paid this terrible price, his Spirit ignites your heart in love and gratitude for him.
This is why Paul says 2Cor.5:14 (read). When you believe and receive Jesus’ death for your sins, this produces a compulsion to love him and live for him!
This is what converted Paul from the foremost enemy of Christianity into its foremost advocate. When he saw the risen Jesus, he realized that he deserved God’s judgment—but he also realized that Jesus still loved him enough to die for him. He was never the same after he saw this. Seeing this converted me, too—from a blaspheming mocker of Jesus to giving my life to him. And seeing this will convert you, too. Is God calling you to this today?
This is also what drives life-long whole-hearted devotion to God. Look at Jesus and the cross by gazing into the scriptures (especially the New Testament). As you do this, ask God to grant you a deeper understanding and appreciation of both the depth of your sinfulness and of the depth of his mercy through the cross. He will answer this prayer, your heart will keep getting ignited in devotion to him. John Newton, who was converted from slave-trading to a life of whole-hearted ministry, shared this insight with a friend at the end of his life (read Bookends, pp.131,132). Is this what you want? Tell him this as you behold him in the gospel! You will never regret this!
“A perfect man would never act from a sense of duty; he’d always want the right thing more than the wrong one. Duty is only a substitute (for love of God and other people) like a crutch is a substitute for a leg. Most of us need the crutch at times; but of course it is idiotic to use the crutch when our own legs (our own loves, tastes, habits, etc.) can do the journey on their own.” Letters of C. S. Lewis (18 July 1957), p.276. Cited in The Quotable Lewis (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1989), p.171.
“God does not want you to give him anything that you are going to gripe about. God can’t stand ‘Christian griping.’ It’s an insult to him. Even I hate it when people gripe about what they have done for me. Who asked them to do it, anyhow?... Don’t go out and do some magnanimous deed and then gripe and complain about it. You would be better off doing nothing.” Chuck Smith, Why Grace Changes Everything (Costa Mesa: The Word For Today, 2007), p.84.