Is Serving God Worth It?
Conclusion Is Serving God Worth It? Malachi 3:13-4:6 Pastor Pat Damiani November 26, 2017 Have you ever asked the question – Is serving God really worth it? I know that I’ve certainly done that in my life and my guess is that most of you have done that at some point in your life as well. Maybe at work you’re the model employee. You show up on time for work every day, you are honest and hard- working and try your best to work as if working for the Lord and not just for men. And then when it comes time for the big promotion, it goes to the guy who goes out for a beer with the boss every day after work even though he comes in to work late every day, takes a long lunch and spends most of his day gossiping in the office. So you’re at least tempted to ask, “Is serving God really worth it?” You do the very best you know how to apply Biblical principles with your finances. You give the first portion of your income to God every month. You don’t borrow money to buy things that you don’t really need. You are honest on your tax returns and pay your taxes. You carefully budget your money. And yet, it seems that you barely are able to make ends meet. And then you think of your neighbor next door who always complains that he is up to his eyeballs in debt. But he is driving a fancy new car, his family goes out to eat at expensive restaurants all the time and they take an lavish vacation every year. Aren’t you at least tempted to think, “Is it really worth it to serve God?” Maybe you’ve been involved in just about every ministry in the church and have always served God just as faithfully as you know how. But you still can’t get pregnant or you have a miscarriage, or your child is born with serious health issues or someone in your family gets cancer. And the family next door who wants nothing at all to do with God has a perfectly healthy family. In that situation, it’s only natural to ask if serving God is really worth it. Not surprisingly, that is a question has been asked for a long time and this morning as we conclude our year long journey through the Old Testament, that question is the one that the prophet Malachi deals with at the very end of the Old Testament. Before we read that passage, let’s think about the journey we have taken this year. We began with Adam and Eve where we saw God’s grace and mercy demonstrated as He provided a covering for their sin and made a promise that one day a Savior would come from among their descendants, one who would “bruise the head” of Satan. God expanded upon that promise over the next several thousand years through 5 more covenants: • In Genesis 9, God made a covenant with Noah that He would never again destroy the entire earth with a flood. • In Genesis 12, God made a covenant with Abraham and promised to make his descendants into a great nation, give them their own land and to bless all the nations of the earth through that chosen people. • In Exodus, God made a covenant with Moses, in which He promised to bless His people and make them His treasured possession if they would obey Him. • In 2 Samuel 7, God makes a covenant with David in which He promises that one of his descendants will rule over Israel forever. • Despite the failure of God’s people to live up to these covenants, we see in Jeremiah 31 that God makes a new covenant with Israel and Judah in which He promises to reunite them and to change their hearts and to forgive their sins. But as the Jews returned to Jerusalem after their exile in Babylon, none of these promises has been fulfilled fully due primarily to the fact that God’s chosen people had continued to rebel against Him throughout their history. So one last time, God sends a prophet to speak to His people and plead with them to return to God. And when the people once again fail to heed his warnings, as they have done time after time throughout their history, God no longer speaks to His people directly for over 400 years. Malachi, whose name means “my messenger”, comes to remind the people of God’s covenants and His love for them. But we get a pretty good idea of the mindset of the people right at the beginning of the book of Malachi. In verse 2, God says “I have loved you”, but the people immediately question that love when they respond, “How have you loved us?” In the remainder of the book, Malachi shows the people all the different ways that they have rejected God ins spite of His love for them. And then as the Old Testament comes to a close, we find the answer to the question we posed earlier – Is it really worth it to serve God? [Read Malachi 3:13-4:6] In this passage Malachi takes both a positive and a negative approach to the question of whether it is worth it to serve God. Although we’ll take a look at both approaches, I want to primarily focus on the positive. And when we do that, here is the main message we find in this passage: Serving God is worth it because God delights in saving those who delight in serving Him In verse 18, Malachi makes a clear distinction between two groups – the righteous who serve God and the wicked, who do not. And the clear implication is that everyone falls into one of those two groups – there is no other option. And depending on which of the two groups you are in, this passage will either be one of the most delightful, encouraging, hopeful passages in the Bible or it will scare you silly. Before we go any further this morning, it is important for us to make sure that we don’t draw the wrong conclusions from that verse. God, is not saying that serving Him makes a person righteous or that it earns God’s salvation. That would be contrary to everything else that we’ve seen in the Old Testament as well as what we find in the New Testament. From cover to cover the Bible makes it clear that there is nothing that man can do on his own to become righteous before God – not even serving God makes a man righteous. In Romans 4, Paul described the process by which both Abraham and David were declared righteous by God. And when we looked at that passage a while back, we summarized that chapter like this: My standing with God is dependent on what I receive not what I achieve The only way that I can possibly be made righteous before God is to put my complete confidence in what He did for me through His Son, Jesus. And when I do that God chooses to credit the righteousness of Jesus to my account. All I can do to receive that righteousness that God offers to me through His Son. I can’t do anything to earn or achieve it. So if serving God is not the means by which I become righteous, then exactly is the connection between serving God and being righteous? If I am serving God, that is the evidence that God has already made me righteous. In other words, I am not righteous because I serve God, I serve God because He has already made me righteous. Conversely, no one is declared wicked because he or she does not serve God; those people don’t serve God because they are already wicked because they have failed to put their faith in Jesus. Does everyone understand the difference? This is an extremely important point so if you still have questions I don’t want to go on until we’ve answered them. With that in mind, we’re now ready to see what we can learn by looking at those two groups of people. We’ll start with the wicked – those who have decided that it is not worth it to serve God. In verses 14-15, They claim that it is vain to serve God and that there is no profit in keeping His Word. They support their answer to the question by noting that they see the arrogant being blessed and evildoers prosper. Maybe their pagan neighbors have bigger houses or bigger flocks or better crops. So, because they are only focused on the here and now and on their own personal situation, they conclude that it’s not worth it to serve God. Now let’s skip ahead to verse 1 of chapter 4, God where reveals the fate of the wicked who choose not to serve Him. There is a day coming when the arrogant and the evildoers are going to face God’s wrath and judgment. And that is not going to be a pleasant experience. We find many more details about what this judgment is going to look like elsewhere in both the Old and New Testaments and we obviously don’t have time to go into that in detail this morning since it is not our main focus. But I do want to point out one important aspect of that judgment. Some have used passages like this to teach a doctrine of annihilation, which holds that the wicked will cease to exist once they are judged by God. Frankly that would be much more bearable than what we see in the teachings of Jesus and elsewhere in the Bible that describe how the wicked will suffer eternal punishment in a place called the lake of fire where they will be “tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10). Unfortunately, this group is comprised of the majority of the people in Jerusalem. But the good news is that, just as we have seen all throughout the Old Testament, there is a faithful remnant who has decided that… Serving God is worth it because God delights in saving those who delight in serving Him In this passage we find both a description of the character of the people who delight in serving God as well as a description of what it looks like when God saves them. We’ll look first at the character of... Those who delight in serving God: 1. Fear Him This is so important that Malachi mentions it three times in this passage – twice in verse 16 and then again in chapter 4, verse 2. We have talked before about what it means to fear God before and we have said that it describes “reverence” or “awe”. My favorite way to describe what it means to fear God is to think of it in terms of God taking our breath away. And I think that those ideas are all helpful. But at the same time, we can’t ignore the fact that the Hebrew word that is translated “fear” when it pertains to God is used elsewhere in the Old Testament to just mean plain old “fear”. And there is certainly a sense in which fearing God like that is actually beneficial because it keeps us from caving in to our own sinful nature. I think that is why in Romans 3, where Paul is writing about the sinfulness of man he quotes from Psalm 36: “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:18 ESV) Because of the sin nature that we all possess, we don’t naturally fear God and that causes us to easily fall into sin. Certainly, our culture lacks that kind of fear of God. How else can you explain that a candidate for governor in Ohio assumed that the best way to deal with any accusations of sexual harassment in today’s feeding frenzy in the media was to publicly brag on Facebook about the 50 women he has been with over the past 50 years. No one with a healthy fear of God could ever do something like that. This passage also makes it clear that in the end everyone will fear God. We either fear Him now and let that be a constraint on sin in our lives or we will fear Him later when we face His judgment. 2. Encourage one another While we don’t know specifically what those who feared the Lord were speaking to each other about in verse 16, I think we can at least get a feel for the nature of their conversations from the context. This remnant who remained faithful to God in the midst of the evil around them was undoubtedly encouraging each other to remain faithful in the midst of that culture. I can’t help but think of the words of the author of Hebrews here: And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24–25 ESV) While we have a few people here at TFC like Susan Hawthorne and Carol Chisen who constantly encourage others, in general this is an area where I think we could improve a lot. In our humanity, we have a natural tendency to complain more than we encourage. As a result we tend to take for granted many of the selfless ways that other people serve our body, so we never take time to thank them or encourage them. But as soon as something isn’t quite to our liking or someone makes a mistake, we’re sure quick to point that out. Let me make this really practical. When is the last time you thanked the people who minister to your children in Children’s Church, in the nursery or in their Bible study? When is the last time you thanked our greeters or thanked Carol and Jon who clean up after the refreshments every week? When is the last time you thanked Dave for running our worship software or Jon and Maribel for running the sound and our streaming? When is the last time you thanked the Worship Team for the time they put in each week to prepare for Sunday mornings? 3. Esteem His name As we’ve often talked about before, names in the Hebrew culture were more than just a title that is used to identify someone – they were used to describe the essence of who a person was. That is why God often told people what name they were to give to their child. Other times He gave people a new name like he did when he changed Abram’s name – which means “exalted father” – to Abraham – which means “father of a multitude” as a reminder of the covenant He had made with him. The word “esteem” comes from an accounting term that can mean to count or account or to determine value. The idea here is that this faithful remnant really valued God and who He is. And that they attempted to testify to His worth by the way they lived their lives. When we gather together to worship, one of the ways we esteem God’s name is by singing about the name of God and we have several songs we sing regularly that focus on that. But an even more important way to esteem God’s name is by living in a way that brings attention to Him – who He is and what He does. 4. Obey Him The last command in the Old Testament is found in verse 4 of chapter 4. It is a command to remember the law of Moses. In English, the word “remember” merely means to call something to mind, but the Hebrew word used here conveys much more than just mental recognition: “remember” (Hebrew “zakar”) = “to bring to mind and act accordingly” So when God commands his people to remember the law, He is calling them to be a covenant keeping people who not only know the law, but also put it into practice. The examples I gave earlier about circumstances that might cause us to question whether it is worth it to serve God all had one thing in common – they all involved a focus on self and on my desires and needs. But each of these four character traits of those who delight in serving God do just the opposite – they put our focus on God and on the needs of others. And when we’re able to do that, God has some unbelievable blessings in store for us. Let’s briefly look at what this passage reveals about… How God delights in saving those who serve Him: 1. He pays attention to them As the faithful remnant encouraged each other, God was eavesdropping on their conversation. In verse 16, we learn that God paid attention to what they were saying and he heard them. This is such an encouraging verse. So many times when we’re going through difficulties or when we see the wicked prospering right before our eyes and evil going unpunished, it’s easy to think that God just isn’t paying any attention. But this verse assures us that He sees and hears and that He is paying very close attention to our lives. 2. He remembers them If you ever come up to me on Sunday morning to ask something of me or to share some information that I need, you should know that I’ll ask you to either give me a written note with the information or email me because otherwise I’m likely to forget it. Ask the worship team how long it took me to get a new instrument cable for my guitar because I didn’t write it down and I kept forgetting to do that. Obviously God has a much better memory than I do. He never forgets anything. So why would He need to write anything down like He does with the book of remembrance? I think there are two things going on here. First, Malachi is using this language just to reinforce the idea that God remembers those who are faithful to Him. I’ll share the second reason with you in just a moment. 3. He makes them His treasured possession There is an echo here of God’s covenant with Moses in the book of Exodus that I refereed to earlier. There God had promised that if the people would obey His voice and keep His covenant that they would be His treasured possession. We see here that those who serve God have tremendous value in His eyes. In fact, they are so valuable to Him that He was willing to send His own Son to earth to die on a cross to make it possible for them to become righteous so that they could have a relationship with Him. 4. He spares them Not only does God promise that He will spare those who serve Him from His future wrath, but there is a hint here of exactly how God is going to do that through His son who serves Him. There is little doubt that this a reference to Jesus. I’ll came back to that in a moment. 5. He vindicates them There will come a day in which God will make known the distinction between the righteous and the wicked. Remember a few minutes ago I said I’d tell you the second reason for the book of remembrance. While I can’t be dogmatic here, it seems that God is going to use that book not to remind Himself of who has remained faithful to him, but rather He will use that book as a written record to prove the faithfulness of the remnant. When the wicked question why they are facing God’s wrath while others are not, God will show them this book as evidence of their faithfulness. 6. He sends His Son for them There are some commentators who hold that the reference to the sun of righteousness in verse 2 is not a reference to Jesus, but rather is just a description of the conditions that will exist during the millennial reign of Jesus at His second coming. But Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist certainly seems to connect that idea to Jesus: And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:76–79 ESV) The connection between this section of Malachi and Jesus is further supported by God’s promise here in Malachi to send Elijah before the Day of the Lord comes. Those of you who were with us during our sermon series on the Day of the Lord may remember that the “Day of the Lord” is one of those prophetic events that has a dual fulfillment. It was fulfilled in part with Jesus’ first coming and it will be completely fulfilled with His second coming, when He returns as judge to pour out God’s wrath as describe in Malachi 4:1. When the angel came to Zechariah to reveal the birth of John the Baptist, he said that John would come “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17) and Jesus also confirmed that John had come to carry out the role of Elijah in preparing the way for His first coming (Matthew 11:7-14). But even without those clear connections, as the Old Testament closes we would expect some kind of a bridge to the New Testament, some assurance that God was not done with His people, some ray of hope for a future reconciliation with God. And only Jesus provides for all of that. Today we live in a time that is not altogether different than the one the Jews lived in a little over 400 years before Jesus came to earth for the first time. Like them, we live in a world where the fear of God is rare and where the wicked and the unfaithful often prosper while the faithful and the righteous suffer. So from the world’s perspective it does seem like it is vain to serve God and that there is no profit in doing so. But if you’ll take the time to consider these six things that characterize God’s delight in serving us, how could you not think that it is worthwhile to serve God? Serving God is worth it because God delights in saving those who delight in serving Him I’ve never been big on trying to “scare” people into the kingdom of God. But as we’ve seen this morning, the proper kind of fear of God is actually very beneficial. Perhaps there is someone here this morning who would honestly have to say that you don’t delight in serving God. If that’s the case, then based on the Scripture passage that we looked at this morning, I’d say there is a pretty good chance that is because you’ve never genuinely put your faith in Jesus alone. And as we’ve seen this morning, the consequences for those who do not delight in serving God are horrible. And I don’t want anyone here this morning to ever have to experience that. So if you’ve never committed your life to Jesus and made Him both Savior and Lord, will you do that right now? For the rest of us who have already made that decision, I want to encourage you to spend some time meditating on how God delights in saving you this week. Maybe just take one of those six aspect of His salvation each day and meditate on it and thank God for that. Questions for the Bible Roundtable 1. In your own words, describe what it means to “fear” God. What are some healthy and unhealthy ways to fear Him? 2. What are some appropriate ways to include the concept of God’s wrath when we share the gospel with others? What are some inappropriate ways to do that? 3. What are some practical ways we can “esteem God’s name”? 4. Why do you think it is often easier for us to criticize than to encourage each other? What practical steps can we take to do a better job of encouraging each other. 5. What do you think God meant when He spoke about “turning the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers”?