The Worship and Worth of God
The second message or burden of God entrusted to Malachi is a disputation that contains two speeches (1:6-14;2:1-9), and the theme of worship joins them. Like the first message from verses 1-5, God is responding to the denials of the people of God concealed in their questions. Today we will look at verses 6-14 and try to answer these three questions:
What is the root of Unacceptable worship?
What is the essence Unacceptable worship?
What does acceptable worship looks like or what it is not?
What is the root of unacceptable worship?
The root of unacceptable worship is the failure to see and feel the greatness of God. Malachi shows this in at least three ways:
First by starting in verses 1-5 about the greatness of God’s love and the people’s failure to recognize and feel it. The people asked, “How have you loved us?” And the LORD responded by saying, “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother? Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated.” Meaning God loves His people with an electing love. A great, free and sovereign love.
Second by drawing attention to the name of God in the beginning, middle and ending of verse 6-14,”.. priests who despise my name,… my name will be great among the nation,….my name will be feared/awesome among the nations.” The name of God embodies the essence of God’s being, character, and reputation (cf. Ezek 36:19-23). Then notice the logic of vv. 11 and vv. 14. These verses were given as the grounds why God rejects the priests’ offering. Take note of how verse 11 is connected logically to verse 10: “I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand. FOR from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations!” So the reason a worship or a sacrifice is considered unacceptable before God is because it fails to recognize the greatness of God. You’ll see the same logic in the connection between verses 13 and verse 14: “Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished; FOR I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name is feared among the nations.”
Third by a constant echo of these words, “says the LORD of Host.” Behind the all caps LORD in our English translations is the dreaded proper name of God. Then followed by the word “host”, which in Hebrew can mean an army of angels, uncountable number of stars, or great multitude. The idea is that the LORD is not small. God is great and big and powerful, and this God is someone that you can’t easily miss. So to miss and take Him for granted is the greatest tragedy of all.
But how does this cause unacceptable worship?
John Piper suggests, “It makes a person bored with God and excited about the world. If you don’t see the greatness of God, then all the things that money can buy become very exciting. If you can’t see the sun, you will be impressed with a street light. If you’ve never felt thunder and lightning, you’ll be impressed with fire works. And if you turn your back on the greatness and majesty of God, you’ll fall in love with a world of shadows and short-lived pleasures.”
I think that’s right because look at verse 13: “‘What a weariness this is,’ you say, and you sniff at me, says the Lord of Hosts.” They were doing it out of duty. They don’t delight in God. Again Piper said, “They are bored with God. Their basic attitude toward worship: “What a weariness this is!” And when you become so blind that the maker of galaxies and ruler of nations and knower of all mysteries and lover of our souls becomes boring, then only one thing is left―the love of the world. For the heart is always restless. It must have its treasure: if not in heaven, then on the earth. And so when it is time to bring sheep from the flock to sacrifice, what do you bring? You bring the sheep with disease and broken legs. Or you steal a sheep to bring. Why? It’s obvious. The good sheep sell better and you love money more than God.”
Therefore it is not a stretch to say that in the mind of God and so also in the mind of Malachi, the root of unacceptable worship is the failure to see and feel the greatness of God.
Essence of Unacceptable Worship
Now if that’s the root of unacceptable worship, that is a failure to see, savor and feel the greatness of God, then its essence is any acts of worship that shows how little a person values God. Verse 10 says, “Oh, that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire upon my altar in vain!” The Hebrew word behind the phrase “in vain” is the word hinam חִנָּם. It is used in 2 Samuel 24:24 in the same way. David was trying to ward off a plague and to do so he needed a place to build an altar to offer sacrifices to the Lord, and Araunah offers the threshing floor and animals to David for free in 2 Samuel 24:22-23. But David responded, “No, but I will buy it of you for a price; I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God hinam חִנָּם” This word is translated in English as “which cost me nothing”. In other words, David is virtually saying that he value God so much that he cannot worship in a way that looks as if he love his wealth more than he love God. It must cost him something. It must show that God and not the world is his treasure. The same thing is being said in Malachi 1:10. God is displeased with worship that doesn’t cost us anything. The point here is not that we can bribe or buy God with our wealth or our excellence, but that it shows proportionately how we value God more than the world has to offer. The world may offer wealth, comfort, and acceptance. Wealth in itself is not evil, nor does comfort, not even acceptance, but if we value these things more than God, then we can never truly worship God. So everything that doesn’t express the worth of God is unacceptable to Him.
Acceptable Worship is not Form First
Now many people makes acceptable worship as a matter of form than a matter of the heart. I’m not saying that all forms of “worship” are acceptable, nor am I saying that there’s only one right form. But the point is whether the form is in service of having a great view of the greatness of God or does it cause us distraction from seeing clearly, and savoring joyfully this great and awesome God. So in other words unacceptable worship is anything that would try to steal from God all the attention. That is anything which promotes giving more value to everything but God.
True worship is when it does these two things:
It expresses the feeling of God’s value and greatness; and it seeks to sustain in the congregation that same spiritual sense of God’s immense worth and beauty. Or to put it another way, true worship comes from a heart where God is treasured above all human property and praise, and it aims to inspire the same God-centered passion in the hearts of the congregation.
Therefore anything that support or are in service of this true worship is the acceptable and excellent form of worship. But everything that hinders true worship from happening is unacceptable form of worship.
Now this is a bit tricky. Many people view excellence in worship merely in terms of technicalities. If the music and singing is good then that’s good enough. So the instrumentalists and worship leaders become more concerned with doing it right than actually worshipping God. Did we hit the pitch right or are we playing the right chords or techniques. But there’s another error. It is saying, “Well as long as the doctrines of the songs are sound, then excellence in music is unnecessary.” In fact some would even say that complementary accompaniment is unnecessary. We’re better off without it. This is the same as saying, “This is good enough.” So in both cases we’re not valuing God enough that we’re unwilling to pay the cost of hours and days of carefully selecting songs that would show the greatness of God, not how well we sung and played, and unwilling to pay the cost of hours and days of practice in order to avoid being a distraction to others because of mistakes. So form is not the issue here. The point is if it were for your company, or your boss, you will want to give the best in everything in so far as it will achieve the goals of the company. Look at verse 8, will you offer such second rate performance and gifts to your secular governor? Then in verse 9, the discussion moves up a notch (“now”), from the lesser (the governor) to the greater (God). Will you offer the same sacrifice to our LORD? Or look at verse 14. NET used the word “hypocrite”. Then God explains that hypocrisy is when you have a good male flock, but you vowed and gave the blemished ones, as if God is unworthy of what is excellent. That happens whenever we give more to others than what we can give to God. It happens when we are willing to be inconvenienced by our bosses just to give our best performance, but we’re tired and bored with God.
To sum everything up, acceptable worship is not just excellence in the execution of techniques, nor emotionalism, not even laid back spirituality that brush off distractions from mistakes in a particular form. Acceptable worship is that what really comes from a feeling of the greatness of God, and that seeks humbly to express and inspire that same intensity for God without the distractions of errors or artificiality and banality or inattention or inappropriateness. May the Lord grant us a sight of God that will cause us to give sacrifice of praise worthy of God’s greatness.