In the previous section of our study of Malachi, the Lord told His children to “bring the full tithe into the storehouse…and thereby put Me to the test.” If they would trust Him, He would “rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear.” In our current section of Malachi, we encounter those who selfishly put God to the test. The problem–as you can probably already discern–was that their hearts did not return to God. They did not really want God, they wanted God’s blessings. They vainly put the Lord to the test and soon grew frustrated saying, “It is vain to serve God.” Let this serve as a lesson to us all: God’s blessings are reserved for those who fear His name. God is not our servant; we are His. In this sermon we must take time to examine our motive for serving the Lord. Is it sincere and pure (2 Cor 11:3) or is it selfish and spoiled?
Selfish & Spoiled Devotion
In Malachi’s day, there were people in Israel who considered it “vain to serve God” and asking, “What is the profit of our keeping His charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts?” The people were harshly criticizing the Lord because they did not see any profit in serving Him. The Lord told them “your words have been hard [insolent] against Me.” Consider this warning: they were hypocrites who were “imagining that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Timothy 6:5). They wanted immediate benefits and had a “What’s in it for me?” attitude. They thought that serving God would result in immediate health and wealth. They were hypocrites who served God for profit.
They saw the prosperity of the wicked and grew bitter and frustrated with God; criticizing Him for making a “bad” deal with them. They thought the arrogant were somehow blessed. They concluded (falsely) that “evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.” In their desire for immediate benefits, they forgot to consider eternal rewards. Rather than the wicked escaping judgment, they forgot that God has said the wicked “are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore, the wicked will not stand in the judgment” (Psalm 1:5).
Sincere & Pure Devotion
In contrast, verses 16-18 reveal people who have a sincere and pure devotion. Malachi wrote that “the Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before Him.” This book recorded “those who feared the Lord and esteemed His name.” It was common at that time for books of remembrance to be recorded of those who had memorable deeds who would be given honor and distinction (see Esther 2:23,6:1-3). The honor and distinction bestowed to those who fear the Lord is to be His “treasured possession” (see also Deut 7).
Sincere and pure devotion begins with the fear of the Lord and the praise of His name. Contrast the group mentioned in verses 16-18 with the group mentioned in 13-15. The first group (13-15) criticized the Lord while the second (16-18) esteemed His name. The first group spoke harsh words against the Lord while the second spoke encouraging words about the Lord. The second group was not frustrated about unmet expectations because their expectation was to serve. They were not focused on what was in it for them, they were focused on the glory of the Lord.
Why do you serve the Lord?
What is your motivation for serving the Lord? Have you become convinced that serving God will allow you to live a life of ease and comfort? Do you see God as a genie in a bottle, waiting to answer all your heart’s desires? Does God approve of everything you do; refusing to question or second guess you? Do you have selfish expectations? Selfish devotion is one reason many people quickly abandon Christianity and the local church.
These people have selfish expectations of God and soon grow disappointed. Many never return to the local church thinking: “It is vain to serve God…what is the profit?” Have you set the terms of your faith or has God? Have you tried to make special arrangements with God? Are there certain things you demand from God that He has never promised? Are there particular areas of your life that you have barred God from trespassing into? If so, you may have a selfish and spoiled devotion that is abhorrent to God.
If your motivation is God’s glory, you will fear Him and “serve the Lord with gladness” (Psalm 100:2). God does not hire mercenaries; He calls servants. When Christians serve the Lord, we do not negotiate our terms of service; we surrender.