These were the notes I used to speak for the final session of our 3 part series on Malachi. This series was aimed at men and was spoken to a group of men meeting around a campfire on a piece of property that our church owns. However, this message especially should apply to all who claim the name of Jesus Christ as Lord.
“Do we serve the Lord in vain?”
As we have gone through Malachi we have seen rebukes brought to the priests, and the people. We have looked at how Jesus raised the standard of being faithless to your wife to include all forms of lust, and we talked about how that applies today. Then we dealt with finances and tithing, and what Jesus has to say, that how we handle money reveals our hearts. Tonight we will be closing out this brief look through Malachi a little differently. Previously we were exploring rebukes and charges God brought through the prophet against the people. Now we will look at some charges from the people against God. These questions are posed as rhetorical questions in the didactic-admonitory style. That is to say a style of writing where a rhetorical question is posed as an admonition or a rebuke and is used to teach a moral or religious principle.
These rhetorical questions started in Chapter1 vs 2 “How have you loved us?” and continue throughout the book. The one that is our focus tonight is found in Chapter 3:13-15.
Malachi 3:13-15 “Your words have been hard against me,” says the Lord. But you say “How have we spoken against you?” You have said, “It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping His charge, or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.”
However, this question is too important to treat as simply rhetorical. It is far to easy to read the question and say “Oh no it’s not vain to serve God, it is our purpose, or it is our reasonable service.”, or some other trite form of a canned answer. Before we start to look at the impact this question truly has, I think it would be most appropriate to examine it in the context of our day.
We have seen in recent years, huge financial upsets. The housing market collapsed, the banking industry and the auto industry were bailed out by taxpayer money, while executives were raking in salaries most of us will not make in our lifetime, much less in a year. Ponzi schemes, dishonest dealings, crooked politicians, the list goes on and on. Very rarely do you even hear of someone getting caught, much less justice and restoration being done. If we are honest with ourselves, doesn’t it sometimes make you ask “Why are the evildoers prospering?” When you get up every morning and go to work to make enough money for your family to survive until next week, or maybe physical conditions or lack of a job prevent you from even being able to earn any money and you have that creeping fear in your mind “How will we make it?” Do you not sometimes want to ask if only in a whisper “Where are you God?”
In one of these moments in time, when our perspective is limited to the immediate future, when we cannot see beyond the next bill, the next news story of someone making or stealing a fortune while living in debauchery or maybe even promoting disgusting sin and wickedness through music or film and getting rich from it, while we attempt to live for God and struggle to make ends meet. Maybe then you get hit again with the realization that in ourselves we cannot live up to His standard and even if we could we would still not have the resources that others have. I tell you that it is in these moments that you must know the answer to the question “Is it vain to serve GOD?” because it is in moments like this that the great serpent is going to come and go back to the lies he has told since the beginning of time. When he questioned God’s goodness to Eve and so deceived her. He is just waiting for the chance to deceive you with the same lie, that ancient lie, that God is not a good God, that following His ways is worthless, that it would be better to pursue what you desire here, since those that do so escape with no punishment. When we are feeling overwhelmed and life is pressing in on every side it is then that we must fall back on what we believe, and choose our course of action.
When temptation to believe the devil’s lies about God’s character, about His faithfulness, to forget God’s promises, or to slowly lose our grip on them is rising up to an overwhelming level; it is then that we would do well to turn to the example that Jesus left us.
Matthew 4:1-4 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry. And the tempter came and said to Him, “ If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But He answered, “It is written….”
The very Son of God, turned to the Word of God to deal with the devil’s lies. Every temptation that the Devil threw at Him was met with “IT IS WRITTEN.” If you look back just a couple of verses we see that Jesus was baptized, the Spirit of God descended like a dove, and the Voice of God from Heaven declared for all to hear, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” So Jesus goes from this place of His Father declaring His love and pleasure over Him, to solitude in the wilderness for forty days, fasting forty days and forty nights. Then comes the devil and the first thing that ancient liar does is challenge the very identity of Jesus which God the Father spoke over Him for all to hear. “If you are the Son of God… If you are”. There was no doubt about this fact, the devil himself knew it to be true, but the devil also knew that Jesus fully human in His body was weakened, tired, hungry, and alone. It was then that the devil came to issue lies and challenges.
Friends, that is how he comes against us as well. It is not when we are on a spiritual mountain that the choice is hardest, no it is the valley. The valley where the voice of God feels distant, where it is easy to look at the wickedness surrounding us and feel a tug toward it, where it can feel almost pointless to keep following God, this is where the lies come, and this is where we must choose not just once but daily or hourly or sometimes moment by moment.
There are two ways to choose here, and we see this choice presented all through the Scripture. We can choose to stand on the Word of God, even if we stand alone, or we can choose to compromise and believe to some degree the lies of the devil.
In the book of Kings we read about a man of God, who knew what it was like to stand alone. Elijah stood against the wicked King Ahab and the prophets of Baal. You probably know this story how Elijah met the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah on Mount Carmel, and there he challenged both the people of Israel and those wicked evil prophets.
I Kings 18:20 “So Ahab sent to all the people of Israel and gathered the prophets together ar Mount Carmel. And Elijah came near to the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word. Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men…”
Elijah goes on to challenge them to sacrifice duel, which God answered in dramatic fashion by totally consuming a drenched bull and altar with fire from heaven. But look back at the challenge Elijah issued the people, it is at a different phrasing of the same question we are looking at. Some translations have it as “If the Lord is God, serve Him.” You see there is a choice to be made.
Then we can look even farther back, into the book of Joshua. The covenant was being renewed at Shechem, and Joshua is addressing the people.
Joshua 24:14-15 “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
The struggle of choosing whether to serve God or go the way of the world is the oldest struggle we face, and one that all of us here have had to wrestle with. But what about when we choose to serve the Lord, what is written for us?
Malachi 3:16-4:3 Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before Him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed His name. “They shall be mine,” says the Lord of hosts, “In the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him. For behold the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all the evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.
Jesus talks with a rich young ruler who ends up leaving sorrowful because he loves his possessions. After this conversation Peter asked the question that was probably on all of the disciples minds.
Matthew 19:27-30 Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
If you search the Bible, you will find promise after promise after promise in both the Old and New Testament of the reward to those that serve God. Jesus promised a reward of one hundredfold to everyone who has left something to serve Him. We get excited with a return of 10 percent on an investment, I can’t even begin to fathom that type of return. It is impossible to out-give God.
Now let me draw your attention for a few moments back to Malachi.
Malachi 3:14 “It is vain to serve God.”
3:17 ..I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him.
3:18…Once more you will see the distinction…between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him.
The title for tonight was really a two part title “Do we serve the Lord in vain?” Part two would be “Are you serving the Lord?”
Notice how in these verses, and in Matthew the scene is set with one who is serving God. So if we consider the first question and decide that it is not vain to serve God, then I ask you my brothers, “Are you serving Him?” That was the question that God hammered me with during the time I was reading this book every day like I referenced in Session 1. You see there was something God was calling me to do, that I did not want to do, and this section of His word stayed with me relentlessly, until I decided that I would choose to answer His call.
Men, we are called to lead, and the example that Jesus gave us was to lead by serving others. He literally led the disciples by putting on the garments of a servant and washing their feet, a job for the lowliest of the house servants. Before we start discussing what serving God could look like, allow me to give a couple of examples of what it is not.
Showing up at church on Sunday and holding down a pew, is not serving God.
Mumbling a few words of “Thanks” before wolfing down your food, is not serving God.
Writing a check every week but only out of a feeling of duty, or grudgingly, is not serving God.
Remember that all of these things are heart issues and God sees through the action to the heart.
Matthew 15:8 Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees and scribes here saying, “You hypocrites! Well did the prophet Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
If we look at the promises of God and say to ourselves and to each other that it is not vain to serve God, that it is much better to serve Him and follow His ways, but then we do not serve Him with our lives we are guilty of exactly this rebuke from Jesus. By saying we believe it is worth it to serve God, but then living for ourselves our actions put the lie to our lips. Turn back to Joshua and let us look at a cation he issued to the people. After he stated that he and his household would serve God, he volleyed back and forth with the people challenging them to serve God, and they kept saying that they would choose God and serve Him.
Joshua 24:26-27 And Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And he took a large stone and set it up there under the terebinth that was by the sanctuary of the Lord. And Joshua said to all the people, “Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the Lord that He spoke to us. Therefore it shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with your God.”
If we treat the heart issues addressed in God’s word as merely a behavioral set of works instead of as things to draw us closer to God we have missed the point.
The point of the Gospel, of Jesus coming to suffer and die for our sins, is not that we should become better moral examples, not that we should be men who are good at following religious rules. Rather the whole point of the Gospel, is that we should be transformed into the image of Christ for the glory of God! That is why we have been studying Malachi, to point to Christ, to show our need to more closely follow Him and be changed into His image.
So as close let me ask you these three questions again, in light of what we have looked at tonight.
Do you know Jesus as Savior and Lord? Not did you at one time in the past pray a prayer and based on that one time event think you are all set. No! Do you know Jesus, have you placed your trust solely in His grace and the redeeming power of His shed blood, and Is He Lord of your life?
Do you believe that we serve the Lord in vain?
Are you serving Him?
I believe that most if not all of us here tonight are here because we desire more of Jesus. As I look around this campfire, let me bring your mind back to the campfire where Jesus cooked and served the disciples, and restored the denying deserting Peter and called him the rock of the church. It was a small group around that fire, much like it is here. But God used those men to turn the world upside down, common men who knew Jesus, who decided that they would give everything to pursue Him. He used them to change the world. As I look around this fire tonight, I see a group of men that God wants to use. I see a huge variety of talents and abilities that God can use. God used unemployed, uneducated fishermen to bring the gospel to the world. What could He do with a group of men in this community who were sold out for Him, who served others in order to point to Jesus? In the words of Elijah, “If the Lord is God, then serve Him.”