Failure and Success of the Ministry of the Word
In the last sermon, we talked about the first half of the answer to the question, “How have we despised your(God’s) name?” The answer in Malachi 1:6-14 is that we despise God’s name when we offer sacrifices of praise that don’t recognize the weight and value of God. Today we will look at the second half of the answer in Malachi 2:1-9, that is, we despised God’s name when we fail to declare God’s message faithfully because we fear people more than we fear the living God. So my prayer is that upon hearing and reading God’s word we would become a people whose desire was to please God more than people.
The Obsoleteness of Old Covenant Priesthood
Before we go to our text let me start by saying that the levitical priesthood no longer exist. In the New Testament a pastor or an elder in the church did not replace or are not equal to the priest. There is no official priesthood in the New Testament church, because Jesus Christ himself has become our permanent highpriest and the Old Testament priesthood is now obsolete. Hebrews 7:23-25 says, “The priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues for ever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. ”
The only priest that mediates between us and God is Christ and him alone. The reason for this is that his sacrifice was final and his life is indestructible (7:16). “When Christ appeared as a high priest…he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:11-12) ”
So the Old Testament priesthood is replaced once and for all by the priestly ministry of Jesus―the offering of himself as the final sacrifice for sin, and the interceding for us today in heaven. So no one can ever honor God by reestablishing the levitical priesthood. In fact that is minimizing Jesus and his once-and for-all sacrifice. And the only sacrifice that God will accept is the sacrifice of our High Priest, the Perfect lamb himself. Therefore to obscure the work of Christ is an affront to God.
How does this passage relevant to us then?
The church is a “holy priesthood” according to 1 Peter 2:5 and a “royal priesthood” in 1 Peter 2:9; and John says that Christ made the whole church a kingdom, priests to his God and Father (Revelation 1:6). In other words we have now a direct access to God and therefore we can now offer acceptable sacrifices to him. But what sacrifice is that? 1 Peter 2:5 says, a sacrifice through Christ. And one of the ways we do this is by proclaiming God’s message of salvation as stated in 1 Peter 2:9, we are to proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkeness into his marvellous light. So Malachi’s message is very relevant for us today, because the sin that he’s warning against is a failure to faithfully proclaim God’s message. And part of the faithful proclamation is living and practicing what we preach.
Contrasting Two Kinds of Priest
What Malachi does in 2:1-9 is contrast the failure of the priests in his day with the successes of the early priests in Israel’s history. In verses 2, 8-9 Malachi mentions five failures. And in verses 5-7 he describes what a successful priesthood looks like.
Now let’s look at how the priests of Malachi’s time failed in their duties.
Failure to Listen to God
First is by failing to listen to God’s word. The assumption of the conditional clause(If you will not listen) in verse 2 is that they failed to listen. One of the reasons why the pastoral ministry is not for eveyone is that their primary role is to be a voice for God, and one great danger in this ministry is that the voice of God in Scripture may be drowned out by our own voices. But this warning is not just for those who are in the pastorate. Preachers, and those who aspire to preach, even those who listen to the preaching must always be ready to hear the voice of God in his word so that they might proclaim and live by the very words of God.
Failure to Have a Burden for God’s Glory
Now the second failure in verse 2 is the failure to have a heart or passion for the glory of God. “If you will not lay it to heart to give glory to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you.” The point here is not just you ought to know the glories of God but that you must have a heart for it. The deeper issue is do you delight in God’s glory? The devil knows the glory of God and he hates it. So knowledge about God’s manifold glories is not the same as enjoying and delighting and having a heart for the glory of God. So let us ask ourselves if God’s glory is of primary importance to us, because if it isn’t, then eventually we will negotiate the word of God for what is important to us. That’s the very sin of the priests in Malachi’s day. Because they value recognition and prestige more than the glory of God that’s why it says in verse 8 that they turned away from the ways of God.
Failure to Remain in God’s ways
So the third failure is they failed to remain in the ways of God. It says so in verse 8. They failed to model the instructions of God because they themselves does not delight in God’s ways. Remember in Malachi 1:13 they say, “what a weariness this is”? So those whom the people should be looking up to are the persons promoting through their lives their disgust of God. Therefore what would you expect from the people? They too will not honor and fear God, because the priests made them stumble.
Failure to become impartial
Lastly the priests, wanting to please men instead of God, they become partial in their instructions or teaching. What does this mean? It means that the priests were treating the Word of God the same way they were treating their sacrifices for God. They gave God the sacrifices that will leave them with the most money. And they teach the people with what will bring in the most money. They become ticklers of ears. And the so called Evangelical church today is filled with preachers and people who are just in it for the stuff! There’s no real burden for the glory of God.
As mentioned earlier, the “if” clause in verse 2 assumes that the condition is true. The curse in the then clause will necessarily follow. Namely that God will send a curse upon them and will turn their blessings into a curse.
That’s why the last part of the verse says, “Indeed I have already curse them(the blessings) because you do not lay it(God’s glory) to your heart.” And in verse 3 it says that rebuke would extend even to their offsprings. God would even metaphorically spread the offal from their sacrifices on their face. The Hebrew term פֶרֶשׁ (feresh, “offal”) refers to the entrails as ripped out in preparing a sacrificial victim (BDB 831 s.v. פֶּרֶשׁ). This graphic term has been variously translated: “dung” (KJV, RSV, NRSV, NLT); “refuse” (NKJV, NASB); “offal” (NEB, NIV). This imagery was meant to reflect cultic disqualification. And lastly they will be depised according to verse 9.
Success of Earlier Priests
Now let’s look at the success of earlier priests in verses 5-7.
They Fear God
This is in contrast to the wicked priests who did not lay the glory of God in their heart. The righteous priests fear God as evident in verse 5. They recognize that the aim of their ministry is so that they might fear and stand in awe of God. We can call this the root of a successful ministry of the word.
They Defend and are Faithful to the Word of God
The wicked priests will compromise God’s truth for convenience, not so with the righteous priests. They will defend God’s word. I see that from verses 6-7. It says, true instruction was in their lips and they guard knowledge and as a result people seek instruction from their mouth because they are God’s messenger. Unlike the failure of verse 2 the true minister of the Word listens to God. And unlike the failure of verse 9 the true minister of the Word refuses to adjust the message to show partiality to the rich and powerful; true instruction is found in his mouth and he guards the knowledge from all distortion and misuse.
So we call this the trunk of a successful ministry of the word.
They Walk with God
Now what are the branches of the ministry of the Word? The answer is in the middle of verse 6 and 7. They walk with God in peace and uprightness. They live out the truth that they proclaim. It say there that no wrong was found on his lips.
They Become a Gospel Witness
Lastly we have the fruit of a faithful ministry of the word. The fruit is that many will be saved from their sins. Verse 6 says that they turned many from their iniquity. This is in stark contrast with the second phrase in verse 8: “You have caused many to stumble by your instruction.”
What we can learn from this in terms of ministry is that it can either destroy or save you and others. When your ministry is rooted in the glory of God and your trunk is strong with the Word of God and your branches display the righteousness of God, then the fruit of your life is going to be a means of salvation by God for others.
Now let me end with a quote from the Gospel Transformation Study Bible:
“We are part of a new priesthood (1 Pet. 2:9), with a duty to declare God’s word to our neighbors and the nations. If we fail to declare that message faithfully because we fear people more than we fear the living God, we are guilty of the same offense as the priests of Malachi’s day. Yet God is determined to maintain the covenant with Levi. God’s desire to grant his people life and peace will not be frustrated by the failures of their earthly representatives. His people need a perfect priest who will offer right sacrifices on their behalf and teach them the law accurately and fairly. That is why Jesus had to come as our Great High Priest and just Lawgiver (Matthew 5). The work of the Levitical priesthood has come to an end because it has fulfilled its purpose of pointing us to, and preparing the way for, Christ (Heb. 7:11–28).”