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"God-honoring Worship."

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First in a brief series on corporate worship

Text: Malachi 1:1-14     ESV

“The oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi.  2"I have loved you," says the Lord. But you say, "How have you loved us?" "Is not Esau Jacob's brother?" declares the Lord. "Yet I have loved Jacob 3but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert."  4If Edom says, "We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins," the Lord of hosts says, "They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called 'the wicked country,' and 'the people with whom the Lord is angry forever.' "  5Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, "Great is the Lord beyond the border of Israel!"

6"A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, 'How have we despised your name?'  7By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, 'How have we polluted you?' By saying that the Lord's table may be despised.  8When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts.  9And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? says the Lord of hosts.  10Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand.  11For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.  12But you profane it when you say that the Lord's table is polluted, and its fruit, that is, its food may be despised.  13But you say, 'What a weariness this is,' and you snort at it, says the Lord of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the Lord.  14Cursed 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 will be feared among the nations.”



This morning we begin a series of messages exploring what the Bible has to say on the subject of corporate worship that I believe we as a church have needed to hear for quite some time.  The intention in this brief series is to speak Biblically to a number of questions that pertain to our corporate worship times together.  These questions will include such matters as what the Bible has to say about the place of corporate worship within its broader teaching on worship.  What is special about corporate worship?  What is the role of the gospel in our worship services and how can we give Biblical expression to the gospel in our worship?  What does the Bible have to say about music within worship—its content, presentation, quality and some Biblical teaching on the question of musical styles.  What does the Bible teach about the relationship between our physical bodies and worship?  What is the role of the sermon in worship and what are some Biblical ways to respond to the Word of God spoken?  What about the role of prayer and the reading of Scripture in corporate worship—are they important and if so, why?  The goal of all those questions is to answer the most important question relating to corporate worship.  That is: what is worship that honors God and which he accepts as a sweet-smelling aroma?

          That question is so foundational; we want to spend our entire time this morning focusing on it.  To do that, we want to look at Malachi chapter one.  Malachi is the last book in the Old Testament.  We don’t know precisely when it was written, but we know it was sometime subsequent to the Lord bringing back the Jews from their exile in Persia and after they had rebuilt the Jerusalem temple.  The prophet Malachi, (who we know virtually nothing about) presents the prophecy as a series of dialogues between God and his people.  Within these dialogues, God presents his complaints against the Jews. The Jews had returned to Jerusalem from exile celebrating God’s miraculous work in liberating them from their captivity.  With much help and direction from key leaders like Ezra and prophets like Zechariah and Haggai, they rebuilt the temple.  But after perhaps 50 years, the main work of re-settlement was done and they remained a subservient nation state of Persia.  Whatever expectations they had for any return to the glory of the days of David and Solomon had not materialized. God just wasn’t showing himself in any dramatic way and as a result of their unfulfilled expectations; they foolishly fell into a state of national indifference or lukewarmness to God.  They even questioned whether he loved them as his people.

          One expression of that indifference was seen in their temple worship.  The priests, who offered worship to God through the many temple sacrifices, had become careless in their ministry before God.  The Malachi text we heard earlier confronts this sin of the Jews.  It was addressed to Old Testament priests, but we know that according to New Testament verses like 1 Peter 2:9, we in the church of Christ are now God’s “royal priesthood.”  Believers are God’s New Covenant priesthood and as priests, Hebrews 13:15 calls us to “…continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips that acknowledge his name.”  There is a direct correlation between the priests who offered up sacrifices in the service of the temple, and God’s royal priesthood as we come together and offer up sacrifices of praise in corporate worship.

          The main truth I want to apply to us this morning is the implicit theme of these verses. That is simply—As God’s priests, we must earnestly seek to honor God through our corporate worship.  We know that is Malachi’s main point because God’s main complaint is in verse six where he says, “A son honors his father, and a servant his master.  If then I am a farther, where is my honor?  And if I am a master, where is my fear?”  The priests weren’t honoring God in their worship.  That is the crux of the sin God confronts here.  The question is—what does God mean to honor him in worship?  The answer is in the context.  He says, “a son honors his father, and a servant his master.” The honoring of fathers is not as well known today because frankly many fathers don’t require honor from their children. Our culture increasingly pictures fathers as friends, banks, givers of endless warm fuzzies, but not as those who require honor from their children.  The Biblical command is in Deuteronomy 20:12 where we read, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”

          As politically incorrect as it may seem today, to honor your father means in part, “You don’t mess with dad.”  You don’t mock him or make fun of him or lampoon him.  You don’t belittle him or disrespect him or disobey him.  That truth is a harsh rebuke to virtually all portrayals of fathers in the media. When dad gives you “that look” or speak a word of correction, honoring him means--you straighten up and you straighten up now.  For a child to honor his father is to literally see his “gravitas”--to recognize the weight of his God-given position over him.  This doesn’t mean earthly fathers are perfect and it certainly doesn’t exclude the love and affection children deeply need from their earthly fathers, but if that is the only need a father is meeting for his son/daughter, that is very incomplete and is not in line with the fifth commandment. 

The same truth about honoring God in Malachi chapter one is illustrated in the slave/ master relationship.  The slaves didn’t mess with their masters.  They honored them—they treated them in a manner consistent with who they were.  In verse eight, God makes much the same point as he ironically says in response to the careless worship of the priests, “Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor?”  God points out the mind-numbing inconsistency of a person who would never offer a lame or sick animal to a mere human governor—(not even a human king!), but who would present that to the Lord of hosts. 

          To honor God is to worship him as he is worthy to be worshipped.  The very word “worship” implies this.  It literally means “worthship.” To worship God is to ascribe worth or weight or glory to him consistent with who he has revealed himself to be in the Word of God and in this world.  The priests weren’t treating God with the honor due even a human father or master or governor, much less with the honor befitting him as the Lord of hosts.

          This chapter highlights two ways in which the Jews were dishonoring God in their worship of him. First, they were offering less than their best to God in their worship.  We see this in three verses.  God says in verse eight, “When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil?”

The same truth is echoed in verses 13-14.  God says, “…You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the Lord.  14Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished…”  The Jews were bringing in for temple sacrifice those animals that were of little or no value to them and the priests response was, “good enough.”  That contradicts the Law in places like Deuteronomy 15:21.  The Law is speaking of a sacrificial animal and says, “…it has any blemish, if it is lame or blind or has any serious blemish whatever, you shall not sacrifice it to the Lord your God.”  Later in 17:1 the Law says, “You shall not sacrifice to the Lord your God an ox or a sheep in which is a blemish, any defect whatever, for that is an abomination to the Lord your God.”

          The Law forbade sacrificing animals that had any blemish because God’s worth demands the highest and best possible  In the case of the Jewish sacrificial worship, that meant offering animals that had no defect in them. These were the animals that would bring the highest price on the market—they would reproduce the best stock.  God says to this agrarian culture—offer THOSE to me—worship me through giving your very best.  We see a bit more about what this means in Malachi 1:10 where God says, “Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain!”  That word translated “in vain” is also used and expanded upon in 2 Samuel 24.  King David had sinned against God by taking a census of his troops and God brings judgment upon this act of great pride and unbelief—(if God is fighting for you, it doesn’t matter how large your army is!) God brings his judgment on Israel in the form of three days of pestilence—some plague that ended up killing 70,000 Jews.  To end the plague David, at God’s leading, builds an altar to God at a certain location.  The owner of the property on which the altar was to be built offers to give the property to King David and he responds to that offer in verse 24 saying, “…No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing." 

          The words there translated “cost me nothing” is from the same Hebrew word in Malachi 1:10 translated “in vain.”  In other words, if our offering—our worship is given to God with a view toward minimizing our personal cost or sacrifice, it is an abomination to him.  David, our example here, teaches us that if our hearts are right, we will WANT to worship God sacrificially—we will be repulsed at the thought of worship that is motivated  by a desire for ease or convenience.  Let’s give some practical application here.  If the only reason we attend one service over another—early or late, is because it is the most convenient for us—we need to do some heart searching.  I like the 8:00 service because then I get the rest of the day to myself.” Oh, really.  Does that attitude ascribe to God his weightiness—his gravitas?  No, that’s all about us, isn’t it?  Likewise, “I go to the 10:45 service because then I get to sleep in.”  It’s perhaps not wrong to get some extra sleep, but it may indicate a heart problem when our choice of worship service is determined solely by our own comfort.  In light of this text, its better to ask the question, “Which service should I/we attend in order to bring maximum honor to God because that is why we are going?”  It seems better to choose the worship service we attend based on criteria rooted in a desire to honor God.  For instance, “We enjoy going to the early church service, because I get to offer as worship my sacrifical efforts to get my family together and be there on time at 8:00.  Or, “We like to go to the 10:45 service, because then we get more time to prepare our hearts for worship by praying and reading the word and singing his praises.”  Likewise, it’s a good idea to get to bed early on Saturday evenings if you want to give the Lord your best on Sunday morning.  If you are tired and groggy on Sunday morning, you’re not going to be giving your best to God in worship.  It’s important for the worship team and musicians and the preacher and the sound booth and imagery folks to give their very best to God, but all of us are priests and if our hearts are right, we will want to honor him by giving him our best in corporate worship.

Another way in which the Jews were dishonoring God in their worship is related to the first and is they were offering worship without passion.  God charges these priests in verse 13, “But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it…”  These priests were bored in their worship of God.  They were half-hearted in their efforts.  They were there in the temple—they showed up.  They were going through the motions, but what they were doing was not motivated by hearts aflame with passion for God—a yearning to give God something consistent with his weight and worth.  They were motivated by something far less God-honoring than that. Perhaps it was their sense of duty to the priesthood.  Maybe it was because there weren’t many others who could serve in the temple.  We don’t know, but one thing we DO know is that they were bored and even felt contempt in their worship.  In verse seven God quotes them saying, “the Lord’s table may be despised.  I don’t know all of what is included in that, but at the very least—when it was their time to go into the temple their hearts were saying, “I wish I didn’t have to do this today.  They weren’t offering their sacrifices because that was the only place they wanted to be at that time—there were doubtless many other things they would rather have been doing and about which they would have been much more impassioned.

Contrast that attitude with just a few verses from the Hebrew hymnal, also known as the book of Psalms.  Psalm 32:11says, “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!  Psalm 33:1 says “Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous!  Praise befits the upright.” Psalm 64:10, “Let the righteous one rejoice in the Lord and take refuge in him! Let all the upright in heart exult!”  Psalm 68:3, “But the righteous shall be glad; they shall exult before God; they shall be jubilant with joy!”  Perhaps you think that you are too much of an analytical, intellectual personality to ever engage in that kind of unapologetic passion.  Listen to Jonathan Edwards, first President of Princeton University and a man who many would say is the greatest intellect ever produced by North America.  He wrote this about singing praise to God, “The duty of singing praises to God seems to be given wholly to excite and express religious affections.  There is no other reason why we should express ourselves to God in verse rather than in prose and with music, except that these things have tendency to move our affections.[1]  Edwards is saying, why else would we worship God through singing—music—unless it is because of what music does so powerfully—that is-it stirs us, moves us emotionally.  We’ll talk more about the Biblical balance between head and heart in worship later in the series. For now, just note that one reason the worship of the priests didn’t honor God was because it was offered without affection—without passion.

Edwards made the same observation that so many other people have about many of us who come to Sunday worship service.  That is, some people who would never express passion in worship toward God, are nonetheless very easily impassioned by a host of other things. Some of the same people who look bored to tears on Sunday morning are a veritable ball of fire at the hockey game, or as they watch the Twins or Vikings or as they enjoy their favorite hobby.  Edwards saw that and asked, “Can we suppose that the wise Creator implanted [in us] such a faculty of affections to be occupied in this way…Can we Christians find anything worthier to respond to with all our affections than what is set forth to us in the gospel of Jesus Christ?”  Translation--do we really believe that God gave us our passion to be manifest primarily over a kid’s game played on ice or the hard court or a baseball diamond or on a golf course or in front of a television set or a movie screen?  Is that why he gave us affections?  Doesn’t it make sense to think that God gave us our affections, first and foremost, to delight in him--especially in what he has done for us in the gospel?  That’s what Edwards is saying.  Instead, we are often impassioned about the fallen, temporary things of this world and unimpassioned about the exalted, eternal things of God.

God’s response to the priests’ boredom and unworthy worship is powerful.  He says in verse 10, “Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain.”  The priests evidently thought, “Something is better than nothing—we’re at least here—we’re putting in our time—God must appreciate that much at least.”  No! Worship attendance alone is not honoring to God.  Jesus, quoting Isaiah tells the Pharisees they were hypocrites because "This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me...” [Mark 7:6]  Jesus calls it hypocrisy to sit or stand in a worship service and sing white-hot, impassioned words of worship with lukewarm hearts.  Its very humbling to think about the possibility of being so deceived as to think that God is pleased with my Sunday morning worship, when it fact—(if my heart is not impassioned) his real response is, “will you please just shut up, you hypocrite.”

So, what’s the remedy?  Is this text just helpful in pointing out the problem--where’s the answer!?  That’s here too.  God is absolutely transparent here about how we are to worship him rightly.  The answer is NOT in adopting any particular outward form of worship—this is not about technique or worship style—the Scriptures, as we will see, manifest several different corporate worship styles.  The answer is about having a right heart that comes from a right view of God, that produces the fruit of impassioned worship.  The broad answer is what we said before—worship that honors God is that which is consistent with who he has revealed himself to be and in this text, God reveals himself in a way that demands impassioned worship.

First, our worship should reflect the truth that God is a God of sovereign majesty.  He reveals this truth about himself in two ways.  First, between verses eight and 14, God refers to himself seven times as “The LORD of Hosts.  Verse 14 is typical where he says, “For I am a great King, says the LORD of hosts…”  That divine name is loaded with power.  It speaks first to God as the mightiest of all warriors.  This designation primarily pictures God as the Commanding General over his heavenly angelic hosts.  Though this title is not explicitly employed, we see this name for God embodied in Revelation 19 when Christ is seated astride his white horse with his mighty angelic army as they gather for battle against the beast, the false prophet and the kings of this earth.  The enemies of God are destroyed “by the sword that came from the mouth of him sitting on the horse…”  This is the Mighty Warrior whose robe is spattered with the blood of his enemies that he has trampled in “the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.”  The Malachi texts begs us to see how inconsistent it was for those priests to be presenting blind, lame, diseased sacrifices to the LORD of hosts and calling it “good enough.”  It cries out to us how inconsistent it is to be bored or UNimpassioned in our worship of this God who, with his mighty angelic army will author the ultimate, final doomsday.  God also draws attention to his glory—his weightiness—his worth by asserting that one day all the nations will ascribe worth to him.  In verse, 11, “For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations…” Later on in the same verse he says, “For my name will be great among the nations...” In verse 14 he says, “my name will be feared among the nations.” 

As the Scriptures promise so many times, one day—every nation will bow before God either willingly in exultation or unwillingly in humiliation and recognize his Lordship over the universe.  Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.  How is it possible that we, who allegedly have the Holy Spirit, could be bored in our worship of him?  We find sports or recreation more impassioning than him?!  A celluloid movie with fallen actors playing parts can bring joy or tears, but the Lord of hosts, whose name will be great among the nations, doesn’t ignite our hearts?  Beloved, if our worship is lukewarm toward God it’s because we don’t know him very well, if at all.

Second, God presents himself as a God worthy of our worship, not only for who he is, but for what he has done for his people.  The Jews had questioned God’s love for them, especially in light of the fact that while their nation had been destroyed by the Babylonians, Edom, their wicked neighbor had been left unharmed.  What doubtless made this more troubling to them was the fact that Edom—their ancient enemy, actively assisted the Babylonians when they conquered them.  “They acted as informants and cut off their escape routes.”[2] 

In response to that mistaken sentiment, God assures them in verses 2-4, “I have loved you," says the Lord. But you say, "How have you loved us?" "Is not Esau Jacob's brother?" declares the Lord. "Yet I have loved Jacob  3but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert."  4If Edom says, "We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins," the Lord of hosts says, "They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called 'the wicked country,' and 'the people with whom the Lord is angry forever.'   God communicates the absolute certainty of his future destruction of Edom by using the past tense to speak of it, “I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.  That’s a quote from Jeremiah about what God was going to do in judgment on Judah when they had rebelled against God. God says, the same thing will happen to Edom, but there is one huge difference.  God says, “I brought you back, but Edom will be completely destroyed.”  This in fact happened about 100 years later.  Edom was transplanted to another place and never returned—they were obliterated as a distinct people group.

And the reason for God’s comparative mercy on Israel is because of his electing love for his people. We should be compelled to worship God in a manner worthy of him because God is a God of electing love.  Instead of being indifferent toward God, questioning his love for them and the lukewarm temple worship that came from that attitude, God reminds these bored, unimpassioned priests that he had chosen the Jews alone out of all the nations of the earth.  We know that this should motivate us to worship God as well because in Romans chapter nine, Paul takes this very text referring to Israel’s national election over Edom and he applies it to individuals whom God has chosen in Christ.  If we are in Christ, then before we lived one moment on this planet, God chose us in Christ to be adopted as his children.  We did NOTHING—God did it all for his sovereign purposes.  We should worship God, not only because of his sovereign majesty, but because in his great mercy he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.  How ironic it is that this doctrine, which often excites such conflict today, is presented here as the fuel which should fire our worship.  How ironic that this teaching, which is so often placed within the context of controversy, should be, according to God, the source, not of debate--but doxology.  God chose me--Praise God! 

How could we possibly be unimpassioned about a God who, knowing every sin we would ever commit in thought, word and deed, still chose us for eternal life with him?  How could we be bored worshipping a God who did that for us in His Son?  If we find worship boring, it’s because we don’t understand sovereign grace.  If we are unimpassioned in our praise to God, it’s because we haven’t meditated on the glories of a God who, in his great love for us, chose us to be part of his Son’s bride.  As we move through this series on worship, we must understand that if our hearts are not right with God, it won’t matter one whit how theologically balanced or Biblical our outward expression is. If our lips honor him while our hearts are lukewarm, it doesn’t matter how Biblically consistent the outward form is. Just as important, if our hearts aren’t right—then nothing we do for God will be pleasing to him.  In Romans, Paul gives the gospel for 11 chapters in all its glory. Then, he calls us to respond to the gospel in a worship that embraces not just Sunday morning, but all of life. 

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. God couches all our lives in the context of priestly, sacrificial worship—our bodies are a living sacrifice.  Who God is in his sovereign majesty and his great mercy to us in Jesus Christ should compel us to give it up for him at all times.  Corporate worship is simply that time when we come together and respond overtly to who God is and what he has done for us in Christ.  May God grant to each one of us the grace to better know God and all he has done for us in Christ, so that we might worship him in a manner consistent with his matchless worth.

[1] Edwards, “The Religious Affections,”

[2] Carson, D.A. “New Bible Commentary”

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