Malachi 1:6-14 CSB
6 “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. But if I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is your fear of me? says the Lord of Armies to you priests, who despise my name.”
Yet you ask: “How have we despised your name?”
7 “By presenting defiled food on my altar.”
“How have we defiled you?” you ask.
When you say: “The Lord’s table is contemptible.”
8 “When you present a blind animal for sacrifice, is it not wrong? And when you present a lame or sick animal, is it not wrong? Bring it to your governor! Would he be pleased with you or show you favor?” asks the Lord of Armies. 9 “And now plead for God’s favor. Will he be gracious to us? Since this has come from your hands, will he show any of you favor?” asks the Lord of Armies. 10 “I wish one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would no longer kindle a useless fire on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord of Armies, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.
11 “My name will be great among the nations, from the rising of the sun to its setting. Incense and pure offerings will be presented in my name in every place because my name will be great among the nations,” says the Lord of Armies.
12 “But you are profaning it when you say: ‘The Lord’s table is defiled, and its product, its food, is contemptible.’ 13 You also say: ‘Look, what a nuisance!’ And you scorn it,” says the Lord of Armies. “You bring stolen,lame, or sick animals. You bring this as an offering! Am I to accept that from your hands?” asks the Lord.
14 “The deceiver is cursed who has an acceptable male in his flock and makes a vow but sacrifices a defective animal to the Lord. For I am a great King,” says the Lord of Armies, “and my name will be feared among the nations.
I’m always concerned about giving good gifts. But, it’s hard to give a good gift. The best gifts are the gifts that come from the heart—the whole heart, not a half heart.
Have you ever got so busy that you forgot to give someone you love a gift?
Maybe it’s a birthday or Christmas or your anniversary and you knew it was coming up, but you waited until the last minute to even think about it. So, you rush out to the store, maybe on the way to the party, or whatever, and you purchase the best gift you can find—the most suitable gift you can find at the last minute.
And it’s fine.
They open the gift. They like it. It’s fine. It’s not spectacular, but they are genuinely appreciative.
But, you feel like a failure. You know it was last-minute and halfhearted. You feel as though you failed your friend, spouse, child, whoever it is.
I often find that the most heartfelt gifts are gifts that are either made or enacted. When you purchase a gift, even if it’s exactly what the person wants and needs, they know that you didn’t put much effort into it other than going to the store. But, when you craft a gift from hand, or you give a gift of service, the person knows how much time you have spent thinking of them and the gift takes on that value. Many hours over many days must have gone into this gift, and so you feel appreciated.
A gift that comes from the self is often a wholehearted gift, but a gift that is merely purchased and offered can feel like a halfhearted gift.
But, giving gifts is hard. Sometimes the best you can do is offer a halfhearted gift. You just don’t know the person well, so you grab a gift card or give cash as a gift. It’s halfhearted but it’s the best that you can do with what you know. So, sometimes that’s what you have to do.
Well, the Israelites, we will see, were called to give gifts to God. They knew how to give a great gift to God because God laid it out for them in the Law. But, they still chose to give halfhearted gifts. It isn’t like when you have to give a gift card, because it’s the best you can do. They weren’t doing the best they could. They were being negligent. They were being selfish. They simply didn’t want to put forth a wholehearted effort.
In the Old Testament, God instructed the Israelites to provide animal sacrifices as gifts. That meant that in the Old Testament times, the Israelites gave…
…as gifts to God. That will become an important principle to remember when we get to the New Testament.
They killed an animal and burned it—at least part of it—on the alter as a gift for God. The Lord had very specific requirements for dead sacrifices or burnt offerings. I’d encourage you to read through Leviticus 3 on your own time to see how specific the requirements were, but the specific part I want you to make note of for today is verses 3 and 10.
The key word there is unblemished. The Israelites were to bring an animal that was completely pure—no blemishes of any kind—to sacrifice on the alter. This is consistent with so many other commands the Lord gave to Israel. When they brought in the produce from their fields, they were to give the first share of the crop—the best portion—to the Lord. God always deserves the best we have to offer.
So, here’s the prophesy of Malachi regarding the Israelites in his day.
The Lord began by illustrating that sons don’t treat their earthly fathers with the same contempt that the Israelites were treating God. He says that they have despised the name of God, Yahweh, Lord.
The question that they posed was, How have we despised your name? And the response was, by presenting lame or sick animals on the alter.
You can sort of understand what’s happening here. You don’t want a lame or sick animal in your flock. You can’t eat a sick animal and it could get other animals sick. And you don’t want to breed a lame animal. And depending on exactly what the issue is with it, cause it could pass onto the baby.
It’s probably week and sickly so it won’t be good for meat either. It’s virtually worthless.
But, you figure, it’s the principle of the matter. The lame or sick animal has blood and it’s alive, which means it can be a dead sacrifice, it can still be killed to be used as a burnt offering. So, what’s the problem?
The thinking is, ‘At least I’m giving a gift!’ You went to the birthday party and you knew you had the lame gift, but you figure, ‘At least I brought a gift.’
I have this memory from my childhood. I don’t remember who the friend was, but we were in the car with his mom, on the way to a birthday party. We stopped at a store on the way and his mom gave him ten or twelve bucks to run in and get a gift with. So, we went in while his mom waited in the car and we found the toy section where there was a row of toys on sale for like $5 each.
This friend of mine picked out two action figures—one to give as a gift and one to keep for himself. Mind you, he was just supposed to be buying one gift for the friend whose party we were going to. But, he got one for himself also—which seemed very inappropriate to me. And if that wasn’t weird enough, he then kept the better figure for himself and gave the lame one as a gift.
It’s a funny memory, because I don’t remember who either friend was and I’m not sure all the details are exactly right. But, I remember the feeling vividly. His mom never didn’t find out and I didn’t tell our friend. But, I felt horribly embarrassed the whole day. I just couldn’t understand the selfishness of the act. He made the gift for our friend so cheap by giving the lame toy as a gift and keeping the good one for himself.
And, that’s what the Israelites did when they offered lame and sick animals on the alter. They cheapened the gift. And not only did they cheapen God’s gift, but they actually honored men above God by the gifts they give. Malachi continued,
That’s just crazy. Malachi throws this in their faces. Hey, you would never give a gift like this to your governor and yet you give these half-hearted gifts to the Lord! This animal would never be acceptable to pay your taxes and yet you bring it to God?
To present half-hearted gifts is to despise the name of the Lord.
To give half-hearted gifts lacks reverence for God. These gifts communicate that you despise God’s name. And Malachi says that they defile God with their defiled gifts.
Don’t miss this principle. Our gifts—our sacrifices—given to God must be wholehearted gifts or else they defile God. Our halfhearted gifts communicate that we despise the name of Jesus.
Here’s the Lord’s response to these gifts.
In other words, no gift is better than a half-hearted gift.
Halfhearted gifts ridicule God. They don’t please God, even a little.
I mean, that’s what we think, right? It’s better than no gift at all.
Like a $5 Walmart gift card is better than no gift when you’re at a birthday party for an eight year old. But, when you are giving gifts to the Almighty ruler and Creator of the Universe, the God of gods, Lord of lords, and King of Kings—you’re going to need a God of gods, Lord of lords, and King of kings kind of gift.
Now, this language about defiling God is odd. It’s not that we can do anything to harm God’s character. Not really. Again, if you go to the 8-year-olds birthday party and no one brings a gift or no one bothers to show up, that communicates something to that 8-year-old about who he is. But, God is not defined by our gifts; He is defined by His intrinsic character. Here’s what He says,
Again, the principle is that the Lord’s name is profaned when half-hearted gifts are presented on the alter.
But, the name of the Lord will be great among the nations of the world whether or not Israel gives wholehearted gifts or not.
In the same way, our gifts don’t change the ultimate plan of God for the nations. They profane the name of the Lord, but that profanity reflects on us. When we profane the name of the Lord, it’s not that God is torn down; it’s that we are torn down. We demonstrate the condition of our own hearts.
And that’s the point here.
If you give your wife a $5 Walmart gift card for your anniversary, and I hear about that, I’m not going to think that your wife is worthless—oh man, she must be a terrible wife—no, I’m going to think that you are heartless.
In the same way, when you present halfhearted gifts to the Lord, it doesn’t communicate to anyone that God is worthless, that Jesus is pointless, or that the Spirit of God is not at work in the world; it communicates that you are heartless towards God. That’s why people accuse Christians of being hypocrites. They don’t reject God’s love for us; they reject us because of our lack of love for God.
You may defile the Lord and profane His name by the gifts that you give, but that speaks volumes about your own heart, not God’s character.
And so it seems that the heart of the giver determines the value of the gift, not the price tag on the gift.
If you look back at Leviticus 3, you’ll see that God commands different gifts depending on the economic status of the giver. That’s because the actual price tag is not the point. It’s the heart.
Continuing in our text, the Lord says this.
The heart of the giver determines the value of the gift.
Do you see how this is a heart issue?
When you look at giving gifts to God as a burden, a nuisance, you think God is putting you out, or the church is just trying to manipulate you in some way, that is a reflection of your heart towards God.
Giving good gifts to my wife is an honor to me. Giving good gifts to my kids is a joy. And giving wholehearted gifts towards God is not my duty; it’s my pleasure, my joy, my purpose, my heart.
Halfhearted gifts have no value because they reflect a heart that desires to appease God, not to please God. The gods of the pagan nations needed appeased so they wouldn’t enact vengeance upon their nation. But, our God is a God of pleasure. He desires that His people be pleased in Him. And that’s a whole different thing.
So, how is it that we today give good gifts to God? Are we supposed to be sacrificing an unblemished animal on an alter as a burnt offering? Or something else?
Well, the author of the letter to the Hebrews wrote this,
The author wrote that, when the temple was standing the gifts that were sacrificed on the alter could not perfect the conscience of the worshiper. In other words, dead sacrifices couldn’t fix the heart issue of the giver. You could try to be obedient to external laws, but they didn’t penetrate to the inward being to fix the heart.
But, the temple no longer stands and gifts are no longer given on the alter to God. Today, we practice what the Apostle Paul calls…
Dead sacrifices were the practice of the Old Testament. In the New Testament, we have living sacrifices. In the Old Testament, an animal was sacrificed, but in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul tells us that your own body is the sacrifice. He wrote,
Notice the worship language. The author of Hebrews identified the sacrifices of animals as the worship of the Old Testament. Here Paul says that the worship of the New Testament age is to present your body as a living sacrifice.
The halfhearted sacrifices of the Israelites in the Old Testament profaned the name of God, but the living sacrifices of today are holy to God. The halfhearted sacrifices of the Old Testament defiled God, but wholehearted sacrifices please God.
So, what does it mean, then, to offer your body as a living sacrifice?
Paul gives one don’t and one do. He says don’t be conformed to this age.
Jami has been pulling melons out of her garden at home. They’re super sweet and delicious. We get to eat one every couple of days.
I’ve always wanted to try this. Maybe we will get to it next year—There’s a practice, where you make a wooden box and you build it around the tiny melon in the garden when it just starts to grow. And then, as the melon grows, it fills the box and you get a melon in the shape of a cube. It’s super rad. The melon conforms to the shape of the box.
This age—the way that people think, the way they live, the things they value—it’s all a mould, it’s a box that is built around you. You can’t help it. This age is on TV and in your neighborhood, and at the grocery store. It’s everywhere and you are conforming to it.
• The natural response is to get out of the box. People have tried this throughout history. It’s where monks come from in certain traditions. They try to get holy by distancing themselves from people, technology, language, even food. The reality is, though, you can never get out of the box. All you can do is hide in the corner, but you can’t get out. You can never get away from the temptations of this world.
• So, others have tried to break the mold. These were the early Christian zealots. They tried to break out of the box. But, inevitably, every radical Christian movement throughout history resulted in the Christian participants breaking God’s commands. You just can’t be stealing, killing, and destroying and say that you are a Christian who loves God and loves their neighbor as themselves. It’s antithetical. You can’t fight your way out of the box.
• You can’t get out of the box and you can’t break the mold. And Paul knew that, which is why he put the burden on you to not grow into the shape of the mold. A melon has a nature and it’s going to grow as God designed it. If you put it in a box it’s going to grow and it’s going to grow into a cube.
You also have a nature and if you are put into this age, then by nature you are going to grow into conformity with this world. What you need to no longer conform to this world is not a different mold, a different shaped box, but a different nature so that even within the box—this age—you will not conform to this age. Again, Paul didn’t say to run from this age; he said not to conform to it. He didn’t say to fight against it; he said not to conform to it.
And, in fact, we have all conformed to this world to some degree, and that’s why when Paul gave the solution, we don’t just need to conform to Christ, but because we are already conformed to the world, we now need to be transformed. We are by birth conformed to this world and so nonconformity requires transformation.
That’s the do, be transformed. That transformation, Paul says, happens in your mind. Your mind needs, not just to be filled, but to be renewed. That means that you aren’t just to learn the scriptures, to ponder the things of God, and to pray in order to perfect your mind. But, you have to challenge your mind. Your thinking is wrong because it has been conforming to this age since birth, so it needs corrected. Your thinking is patterned after the things of this age by nature and it needs to be transformed.
So, here’s where we go with this. Paul calls the renewal of your mind that results in the transformation of your thinking from the thinking of this age to the good, perfect, and pleasing will of God, your living sacrifice. Your living sacrifice that you are called to give to God as a Christian is to no longer conform to this age, and to be transformed in your thinking to the thinking of Christ. That’s the gift God requires of you today in this age, not an animal, but an inward transformation.
So, let’s put that in the context of Malachi. A halfhearted gift gives enough to check the box. I sacrificed the sheep. Done. Check.
A halfhearted gift today follows a certain form, but does so to check the box. I went to church, I sung the song, I sort of listened to the message.
A wholehearted gift in Malachi’s day took the best produce of the land and the pure, unblemished animal, and offered it to God exactly as He ordained it to be. It flows from the heart outwards.
A wholehearted gift today seeks, not to check the box, but to correct your thinking. It’s a humility that confesses, I know not Christ as I ought to, and seeks to grow in wisdom and knowledge even as it challenges what you already believe.
Let’s be honest here. It’s easy to check the box. Coming to church is easy. Transformation takes effort, daily effort. It takes a lot of time. It takes humility and sacrifice. And that’s the gift God requires of us, because the best gifts come from inside you.
The Apostle Peter picks this up and makes it a bit more practical than Paul. He wrote,
Peter says that you are being built up as living stones. You are the stones that are placed upon the foundation that is Jesus Christ. If Jesus is the solid ground, then we make up the walls of the temple. And our purpose is to be a priesthood that offers spiritual sacrifices—not the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament, but the living sacrifices of the New Testament.
Well, how does Peter say we offer these living sacrifices?
He begins by saying that we should be free from a particular set of sins. These are sins that flow directly from the heart. I suppose in a sense all sins flow from the heart, but these ones are direct manifestations of the way that you see the people around you.
• Malice is the desire or intent to do evil to someone. It is the plotting and execution of harm of some kind on someone else. Malice is premeditated. It’s an issue of the heart and mind.
• Deceit is a premeditated and carefully executed lie designed to benefit you at someone else’s demise. It is also a clear issue of heart and mind.
• Hypocricy is when you say you believe one thing and you act in an opposing way. Clearly a heart and mind conflict. It benefits you to say you believe one thing, but what you obviously believe is another.
• Envy is discontentment with what God has given you and an evil desire for the blessings of another. That’s a heart issue if I ever saw one.
• Slander is when you tear someone else down with your words to elevate yourself or your position.
Peter’s list of sins are sins that are prevalent in the world. They are characteristics of this age. So, Peter is giving a practical list of ways that you are probably conforming to this age so that you can stop conforming.
But, again, just like Paul, it’s not enough to stop conforming to this age, you also have to be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so he says that you should desire the pure milk of God’s Word. Read the Bible, listen to Christian podcasts, study theology, and by all means listen intently to the messages at church on Sunday. The Word of God transforms you.
But, don’t do as so many Christians do, and listen to God’s word to check a box. If you are here listening, but you’re really counting down the minutes until I must be done, then you might be trying to check a box. Peter tells you to desire the pure milk of God’s word.
You might be kind of cynical about this statement, ‘desire God’s word.’ How can I change how I feel? How can I change what I want? It’s just art of who I am, you might say. You’re used to the Western notion that you have no control over your desires, but that’s not at all the case!
If you don’t have a desire for the things of God, then go get it! Like, do you at least desire to desire the things of God? Think about that for a moment. Do you want to desire the things of God?
If so, start depriving yourself of the things of this age, focus so that you can learn the word of God, and pray that God would increase your desire for Him. Those are three practical things you can do so that you can desire the pure milk of the Word of God—deprive yourself of worldly pleasures, focus to learn the Bible, and pray for godly desire. That process will transform your mind and it is the gift God requires.
And when you do so, Peter says you will grow up in salvation. When you were born into this world, you immediately started conforming to the patterns of this age. That’s the reality of life on this earth. But, when you came to Christ you were born again. You are no longer a helpless baby who has no defense against the patterns of this age. So, grow up in your salvation.
So many Christians don’t want to put in the effort though. You want God to transform you without putting in any hard work. It’s as if you think your lifelong habits will just fade away on their own, that the desires of the flesh that you’ve been feeding for years, or even decades are just going to go away and be replaced by godly desires. They won’t if all you are doing is waiting. In fact, if you do nothing, you will continue to conform to this age by default.
Living sacrifices are called sacrifices for a reason; they take effort. So, Peter said, stop being spiritual babies, do the hard work, and grow up in your salvation. You’re a Christian, you believe in Jesus, you claim salvation in the name of Jesus Christ; great! Now grow up in that salvation. Do the work, and Peter says, your sacrifices will be acceptable and pleasing to God.
God is not pleased with halfhearted obedience to rules and regulations any more today than He was in the Old Testament times. He is not pleased with people who profess Christ, but don’t grow up in their salvation. He isn’t pleased with box checkers who don’t seek to know Him more every day. He is pleased with wholehearted faith.
Remember the Words of the Lord through the prophet Malachi,
In other words, no gift is better than a half-hearted gift. No effort is better than a halfhearted effort.
God is not somewhat pleased with your halfhearted effort to follow Him. On the contrary, he despises it. Grow up in your salvation. Give your body, your self, wholeheartedly, to God and He will be pleased.
It might seem like Malachi, and Paul, and Peter are asking an awful lot of you, but I would just remind you of the greatest gift ever given, which is Jesus Christ. Now, we don’t give gifts to get gifts. Jesus came to earth to die on the cross to pay the penalty for your sins so that you could enter into the Kingdom of God and leave behind the Kingdom of this Age. That is a gift offered freely to you and there is nothing you have to do to earn that gift.
Your gifts towards God don’t earn you that gift.
But, if you believe God and have truly given your life to God then you ought to truly love God because of the gift He has offered freely through Christ. And if you love, then don’t you want to give good gifts? As a child tries to give good gifts to their parents even when they sometimes completely fail, shouldn’t we want to give good gifts to God, even if they sometimes fail?
Malachi said that the gifts of the Old Testament were offered on the Lord’s table. By that, he meant the alter where the animal was sacrificed. Today, we celebrate at the Lord’s table, but we mean something different. For us, the Lord’s table is a place that we lay down our own bodies—not in death, but in life. We die to ourselves so that we might live for Christ, now and forever.
The Lord’s table is the place that happens.
Coming to the Lord’s Table means that you recognize your faults. You recognize that you have been conforming to this cursed and dying world. And you recognize the great gift offered to us through Christ. And we come now to lay down at this table our gifts to God. We make commitments here to live our lives daily for Him, to no longer conform to the pattern of the world, this age, but instead to be transformed in mind with humility and with great effort so that we might live like Christ.
The greatest gift giver is Jesus and although we could never offer a gift as great as Jesus, we are called to mimic that gift giving to the best of our ability.