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Spiritual Infidelity

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“Spiritual Infidelity”

Malachi 2.10-3.5

            A couple of people have remarked about how interesting it is that a prophet who wrote thousands of years ago can write a book that continues to be so relevant to us today. And this is one of the amazing truths of God’s Word. It contains a timeless and supernatural message that continues to change lives today.

There are several of us who are reading “Dug Down Deep” by Josh Harris. And the latest chapter was on the doctrine of Scripture. It was discussed in the chapter the fact that the Bible is unlike any other book. If you are a Christian, the Holy Spirit convinces you of its truthfulness and impresses on your heart the nature of this book. Harris writes, “Scripture speaks to our souls with a depth and intensity that is unmatched.” When we read it, the Bible opens us up. It reads us and searches us in a very profound way. And I have found this to be true even when studying a minor prophet like Malachi.         

We continue our study in the book of Malachi this morning. Please turn there with me. If you haven’t caught on yet, there seems to be an overall message of appropriate worship toward God. We must recognize that the starting point in such a study is not our feelings toward God, but the nature of God himself and what he expects of us. Too often we want to bend God to fit us rather than bend ourselves to him. And this is where Malachi began. He recorded the Lord’s words speaking of his love for his people when he chose them. All God’s activity would reveal that “Great is the LORD beyond the border of Israel.”

As we know from their history, Israel was often faithless to their God – even at the time of Malachi’s pronouncements of God’s indictments. The priests were offering polluted offerings to their God. And they were rebuked by him. And again God reminded them that his name would be great among the nations.

We move on from there this morning and we come to a passage of Scripture that continues the indictments of Israel’s unfaithfulness. This time we will see how improper worship affects families. And these will fall under the umbrella of our sermon title today, Spiritual Infidelity. We are in Malachi 2.10-3.5. Let’s read the text as we get underway.  READ

The first point is Corporate Spirituality. We will spend the majority of time on this point and touch briefly on two concluding points.

We see in our day something that has not been so prevalent in past generations. People today mistakenly believe that one’s spirituality is entirely personal and internal. You probably know what I am talking about. We have come to the point where everyone can have a valid claim on what they believe to be true. So what I believe is truth to me, what my neighbour thinks is true to him or her, etc. And yet we cannot claim that what others believe to be untrue because that would be intolerant. And so we’ve lost a sense of objectivity and spirituality becomes completely a subjective experience.

And some of this has impacted the Christian Church as well. We can have Jesus as a common denominator, but one’s expression of their spirituality and their growth in their faith becomes more self-centred. Suddenly we have become less accountable to one another because my experience with Jesus is more personalized. And we continue to lose our corporate identity as “church.” The church isn’t a building but a gathering of saints – believers in Jesus Christ.

Let’s see how this played out in Malachi’s day with the nation of Israel and how this impacts our thinking as the church body. Malachi begins in verse 10 with three questions. The first two expect an answer in the affirmative and explains existing situations. The third question refers to ongoing activity. So he asks, “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us?” Obviously, the answer is “yes.”

What Malachi is doing here is reminding the people of Israel of their corporate identity. He reminds them that they’re on the same team. “Remember that God has loved us and chosen us to be his people. We don’t do this so much individually, but together. Our Father is God himself.” He is trying to motivate obedience by reminding them of their spiritual and covenantal unity. They had promised to obey God together. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “Isaiah 43:1 (ESV) 1 But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 6 I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, 7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

Malachi asks “Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers?” Why would their identity with God as their Father impact their faithlessness to one another? The people were not only in covenant with God but also with one another, and every act of unfaithfulness to God weakens and erodes the people of God as a whole. Remember Achan in the book of Joshua? Joshua 7:1 1 But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things, for Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things. And the anger of the Lord burned against the people of Israel.”

And the people of Israel were defeated in battle. Joshua cried out to the Lord. And then in verses 10 and following, “10 The Lord said to Joshua, “Get up! Why have you fallen on your face? 11 Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings. 12 Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you.” And in Joshua 22:20, “20 Did not Achan the son of Zerah break faith in the matter of the devoted things, and wrath fell upon all the congregation of Israel? And he did not perish alone for his iniquity.’ ”

We know that the Old Testament is comprised of moral, dietary, and civil laws that God imposed so that he could teach his people about holiness. And there were strict consequences should such things be broken. Their obedience or disobedience would result in either God’s blessing or cursing as a nation.

The same is true in the church today. But we don’t think like this because our spirituality is more private and individualized. However, who we are in private affects who Squamish Baptist Church is corporately. One’s propensity to lying, pornography, lust, covetousness, and idolatry affects the collective whole.  

I am not referring only to our church, but generally the North American church. One thing that has not helped in this regard is the absence of church discipline. And with that, everybody cringes. I know. It is not natural for us to think of discipline as a good thing. But as Scripture reminds us, we are disciplined because of God’s love for us and it confirms us as his children. Very good news! As we often tell our own children, it is for your benefit that we carry out discipline because it keeps you in God’s blessing, and not in danger.

But the church today has become overly concerned with hurting feelings and offending one another that we often reap what we sow. We have conceded to the fear of man over the fear of God. And this fosters improper worship and an unhealthy church. Those who write extensively on the nature of the church inform us that church discipline is one of the least obeyed practices of the New Testament. I think it is often misunderstood and can be carried out in unbiblical fashion. But when applied faithfully, it can be a beautiful thing that restores fellow believers and grows and purifies the church.

All of this is why it is crucial that we are individually diligent in studying and applying God’s Word. This is why we are so persistent to encourage Growth Group participation. It helps us grow together collectively. It helps us lovingly deal with our struggles and sins. We’re not all that different from one another. And I think these sorts of environments can be intimidating. We wrongly think that everyone else has it all together and we are afraid people might really get to know us apart from Sunday Services. Truth is, we all have similar struggles. And we need each other. And we need each other to continue to grow in their faith.

So, in the case of Israel, how were they faithless to one another? (I should point out that the different references to Judah and Israel are synonymous with the same people. They are no longer the divided kingdom but the remnant that has returned to the land.) Judah has been faithless and committed abomination. They have profaned the sanctuary. How? By marrying the daughter of a foreign god. This isn’t a metaphor for idolatry because Malachi further explains that the men are actively doing this.

Ezra helps inform this passage when he records, “Ezra 9:2 2 For they have taken some of their daughters to be wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands. And in this faithlessness the hand of the officials and chief men has been foremost.”

Do you remember why this was so important for them? In the days when God called out a people for himself, the nations were so entrenched in their spirituality. Who they were as nations was intimately woven with their gods. God called out Israel who would covenant to serve no other gods, but Yahweh alone. When they married outside this people, their attention would be diverted to false gods. And the Bible tells us that this is what happened to King Solomon. Marriage is an intimate bond that has the potential to derail and destroy your faith. Hence the strong admonitions! The connotations of being “cut off” here are strong words indeed! If taken literally, this word means to “cut off” as in cutting off a body part. If taken metaphorically, this is excommunication language. I think it is the latter, but is strong metaphor! They are to be excommunicated because they affect proper worship as a community.

Ready for more? This isn’t difficult to transfer to today. Based on this concept, can a believer and an unbeliever be joined in marriage? Let’s let the apostle Paul, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit answer that question for us. 2 Corinthians 6:14–18 14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17 Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, 18 and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” This has a lot of connection with the concept in our passage.

Think that through logically. If you are a Christian, you recognize your responsibility to live life biblically. And as we study God’s word, it is quite easy to figure out that what we are called to is significantly different than our world values. The one who is NOT a Christian will have no desire to live the same life as you – even if it is vaguely moral. The Christian will constantly be torn between serving their spouse and serving their Lord. And you are required to serve God above men. This will be disastrous - for you will either be intentionally alienating your spouse or abandoning your Savior. Please understand that what I am conveying comes from a sincere love to save you from a life of misery. Some of you live with this tension and struggle daily.

Some have come up with a different strategy known as “evangelism dating.” Ok. We can justify just about anything. Again, you are intentionally placing yourself in danger of emotional involvement that you may never recover from. If you are here and in a similar situation, please speak with someone who is in a marriage with an unbeliever and the difficulties that are here. There is nothing wrong with liking and caring about somebody who is not a Christian. We are called to love. Continue to share Jesus Christ with them. Pray fervently. Just don’t get physically involved because it will cloud your vision and chart a difficult and unbiblical course for you.

Malachi continues and says in verse 13 that God no longer regards their offering. To which the people respond with “why not?” The response is that the men were not honoring the covenant made with their wives. What was happening is that they were divorcing their wives and marrying younger, foreign wives. It seems as though men had a commitment problem. They were not honouring their covenant with God and not honouring the covenant with their wives.

I feel as though I just preached this message from Mark 10. I argued from Scripture a “permanence view” of marriage which indicates that we are in a covenant relationship with our spouse until one of the partners dies. I don’t have the time to rearticulate this to you but can provide you with some of my research and the sermon if you’re interested.

Our world today has such a self-centred view of relationships, especially in marriage. We get married because feelings and disregard any sense of covenant. We even say the words “till death do us part.” Then we show ourselves to be liars. We remain married as long as we’re happy and the relationship is convenient for us. God has a radically different view of marriage.

In fact it is alluded to in verse 15. In a marriage God makes them one. And with this the prophet recalls their understanding of the book of Genesis. Genesis 2:24 “24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Somewhat of a mystery is that the Spirit is involved in the union of man and woman. Your ESV Study Bible notes includes this statement, “Marriage is not just a contract, a two-way relationship between husband and wife, but a covenant, a three-way relationship in which the couple is accountable to God, for the Lord was witness to that covenant.” We make a promise to God and to our spouses that we will be faithful to the end.

            Now look at verse 16. There is a bit of translation difficulty here. If you have a New International Version or New American Standard Version, the verse indicates that God hates divorce. If you have an English Standard Version it is translated as though the man hates and divorces his wife. However you understand this verse, it is quite clear that divorce is not viewed favorably and the consequences are disastrous. The ESV indicates that the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence. The word for violence is “hamas” which is a strong word used of brutal, deplorable acts that violate God’s order. One flesh cannot be separated without extensive damage. Matthew 19:5–6 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

            Notice a very significant statement in verse 15. Malachi asks this question, “And what was the one God seeking?” This is like the purpose of the argument of the faithfulness in marriage. The goal seems to be godly offspring. Talk about our primary outlet of discipleship! Have you stopped to consider this concept? If you have spent any time reading or thinking through ministry books, how much do we focus on our own homes? Admittedly, I sometimes find myself pouring more time and energy into “church ministry” rather than “family ministry.” And yet, where do we have the greatest opportunities to share the gospel, teach biblical truth, and model what genuine Christianity looks like? This is our primary ministry. Anything else is secondary. In fact, biblical qualifications for elders require shepherding families before church families.  

Now notice who God calls to account in the section as well as the previous section. It is the men who are given the responsibility to lead their families. It is safe to say that the women of Israel were also sinners and not completely innocent in these relationships. But it is the men who are addressed. We recently concluded a study on biblical manhood and womanhood and noted that when we stand before God, men are going to be the ones addressed for the spiritual state of their families. This doesn’t minimize individual responsibilities of wives and children, but men are given the responsibility to lead in this regard.

            Let’s try to piece some of this together before we move on. The book of Malachi is on proper worship. Our text is dialed in on corporate spirituality that originates in the home. The community of faith is not to intermarry because of their covenant to God. Men are called to be faithful to their wives, by covenant, until death. Joyce Baldwin writes: Only when both parents remain faithful to their marriage vows can the children be given the security which provides the basis for godly living. The family was intended to be the school in which God’s way of life was practiced and learned.” Finally, the community is comprised of these spiritually thriving units who seek to glorify God in the corporate setting. That’s a lot. Does it make sense?

            The beautiful thing about the community of faith is that it doesn’t require you to be married and have children. If you are single, you are part of the family. If you are married and can’t or don’t yet have children, you are part of a family and can still invest in the lives of children.

            As a church, it should be our desire to honor and glorify the God that called us out of darkness to light. And so we have an obligation to maintain a biblically healthy lifestyle for the sake of the greater whole. The temptation would be for the church to condemn unbiblical behavior and fail to minister to one another in love. The church exists to help, encourage and restore – not condemn. It is a joy to see people reconciled to God and to one another. God is glorified in this.          

I was reading a recent copy of The Province this week regarding a Burnaby man that was facing charges of sexual misconduct with underage girls in a different country. Some of his comments epitomize a common view of sin in our culture. He was quoted as saying such things as the following:  “we are all human and we all have weaknesses.” True, but doesn’t excuse sin. Regarding child pornography, He told police the material he kept in his locker “does not bother anyone and he wasn’t bothering anyone,” McCabe said. “He stated that he could keep everything away from his family and that he doesn’t hurt anyone and that what he does, he does alone and in his own private world.” This is not surprising coming from someone who does not know the Lord Jesus. But can we see subtleties of this mindset affecting the Christian church?

The second point is Empty Religiosity. Look back at verses 12 and 13. In verse 12 the Lord has threatened to cut off the men who are marrying foreign wives who continue to incorporate religious practices despite their grievous sins. This is ritual and no repentance. And in verse 13, they integrate their emotions as well. They come in demonstration of remorse, with weeping and groaning because God does not accept their worship.

Worship is not based primarily on emotion, but a heart that is right with God. Perhaps this is why Malachi reminds them of the object of their worship. In verse 12 he wrote that they bring an offering to the Lord of hosts! Exclamation point. God is not to be mocked by ritual. Does God needs bulls and goats and money? Why does he require them? Because it reveals our hearts. It shows that we depend on nothing but him. We will serve nothing above our God.

Do you remember when Saul was rejected by God? It was over sacrifice. Samuel’s words (1 Sam. 15.22), Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” The people failed to obey and continued to bring sacrifices. And they forgot that he is the Lord of hosts. This is an identification of God as a God of great might and power. He is mighty over all.

How do we mock God by our worship today? Do we live our lives differently throughout the week and think that we can merely come Sunday mornings with offering and God will overlook the hypocrisy of our lives? Maybe we come and raise our hands in the songs, shed a tear, look spiritual, put a big check in the offering and leave here with no repentance or change. 

Consider who it is that we worship this morning. He is the Creator. He is our Father. He is the Lord of Hosts who will not be mocked by hypocritical ritual.

Lastly, let’s consider Divine Discipline. In verse 17, the dialogue continues. Malachi says that they have wearied God by their words. They respond by saying ‘everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the lord, and he delights in them. And asking, “where is the God of justice?”

I think that there are a couple of things in play here. Perhaps the people were saying the right things and yet not living consistently with what they were saying. And it seems as though they had lost their moral compass. There was confusion over what was right and wrong. It is possible that they had forgotten their accountability before God.

It could be similar to our day of religious relativism. We have been inundated with assaults on objective truth so that the people can cry out in similar fashion, “Where is a God of justice?” There are no absolutes. Everybody’s claims are valid. Who are you to say otherwise? And the people become complacent. And they minimize the Word of God and its authority. Suddenly, we find that there are no expectations on the believer, only freedom. Freedom to accept Jesus and live my life the way I want. The Bible is too demanding and cumbersome.

We were reminded in Josh Harris’ book about King Jehoiakim who regarded God very little. A scroll of Jeremiah’s words was read to him. As he listened, he did not heed the voice of the Lord of hosts. As the words were read, he would cut them out and throw them in the fire. Josh follows that account up with these words: “Every generation and every person can burn God’s Word in their own way. Sometimes this is crass. But at other times this burning is sophisticated, nuanced, scholarly.”

We need a fresh vision of God in these times. We need to be reminded that he does not stand far off unaffected by our approach to him and his word. In chapter 3, Malachi tells the people that there is judgment coming. The Lord will come with his messenger. This will not be an anticipated reunion, but a time where no one can stand when he appears – verse 2 says. But note that in verse 5, it is the wicked who will be punished – the sorcerers, adulterers, those who oppress the disenfranchised. These will be punished by the God of justice.

For the rest, it is a means of divine discipline. Remember that we talked of this in the first sermon in chapter 1. There are those who are eternally punished and those who are disciplined unto repentance. They will not be forever lost. The coming of the messenger will have a purifying effect, like a fire to metal and like a soap to cloth. In God’s mercy and love, he will bring this upon his people so that they can bring offerings in righteousness rather than superficial ritual. And they will be pleasing unto the Lord verse 4 says.

This is good news for us also. We are not left to continue in our rebellion to God. But because we are still alive, we can still repent of our infidelity, our faithlessness, our hypocrisy. God’s mercy continues to be poured out to sinners who call out to Jesus in repentance. After the harsh words in verse 16, Malachi offers some hope – a solution. He mentions it in verse 15 as well. He says to guard yourselves in your spirit.

It is not the external worship that is significant to God. It is what occurs internally, in our spirit, that demonstrate a heart of worship to him. To be sure, things will change outwardly. But they will do so genuinely and not hypocritically. We can fool others by our outward shows of worship, but God knows our hearts. Proverbs 4:23 says, “23           Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.

Jesus Christ changes everything for us. Before knowing him, all we can do is perform ritual. But if we repent and trust in him, we too can brings offerings in righteousness to the Lord. For he is our righteousness. Because of him, we can worship boldly and in purity. Let’s pray.

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