Giving God Your Best
On a rainy Sunday afternoon, a brother and sister were playing “Noah and the Ark.” An old shoe box with holes cut for windows and a door was the ark. The bathtub was their flood. After the flood was over they decided to make an sacrifice to God. Noah (the boy) said to his wife (the girl), “Let's, take one of your toy animals as a sacrifice.” “No,” she replied, “Let’s use one of your animals instead!” When they couldn’t agree, she ran to the attic. After a few minutes she returned with a dirty toy lamb. Its head was smashed in and the tail was missing. “Let’s have this as our sacrifice”, said the girl. Her brother responded, “Okay, we will never want it again.” They made their sacrifice to God with the unwanted lamb. Later they told their parents about their afternoon with the great flood and the ark and how satisfied they were about bringing a sacrifice to God when it was all over. Their father asked, “What did you use for a sacrifice?” They told their parents about the broken lamb and then it hit their father – God’s people were called out by Malachi for bringing lame sacrifices to the altar. The father didn’t want to crush his children for what they sacrificed to God in their play, but knew that when the time was right he was going to talk to them about Giving God Your Best.
Let’s look at the setting of the prophet Malachi’s message. The Jews have returned to their land after living in Persia or modern-day Iraq for 70 years. The Temple had been rebuilt and the worship of God had been re-established. But God’s people were not as respectful and reverent to Him as they were supposed to be. While outwardly everything seemed fine, on the inside a cancer of complacency was eating away at their commitment. Therefore Malachi, the last of the Minor Prophets in the Old Testament, was sent by God to deliver a message on true commitment and also proper stewardship. This was his message – “Listen, children of Israel, everything you have, you have received from me. I have blessed you with the abundance of crops and the best livestock. But now, what you offer at my altar is not your best – you bring lame and sick animals. The best ones in your possession you keep for yourselves.” How would you feel when you’re invited to someone’s house for supper, but as you get to the table dishes that have almost been emptied are placed on the table? And then the hostess tells you that you’re having only leftovers from that week. Most of us would feel really offended in a situation like that. But you see, most likely that’s how God must have felt with what was offered to Him at the altar.
The first part of Malachi’s message to his people was – Show Genuine Reverence To God. What we see in verse 6 of chapter 1 is that God demands the treatment from His children He is supposed to get. Because He is all about love and compassion and great in His faithfulness, He expects the best from those He called as His people. Listen again to this verse, “If I am a father, where is the honour due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?”, says the Lord Almighty.” God claims that He is a Father above any other father…but why then do His children treat Him as if He doesn’t really matter? Malachi saw that as he observed the worship of Israel just after they returned from Persia. How was that even possible after God restored them? He gave them back their homeland after they sinned and broke His heart. But now it was something like, “Let’s just do the basic things to keep God satisfied. Let’s keep our service in the temple courts at a level that we will always get away with it.” And God took notice of it. They had lost their devotion and respect for the One Who chose them as His own people. A genuine reverence for God was what the house of Israel needed to return to – Where they showed that they loved God with heart, mind and soul. He was never going to be satisfied with anything less from them or any other generation until the end of time. I want us to think for a moment that while we worship there is a bang on the door and as someone opens it the prophet Malachi walks in and he comes right to the front with a message from God. It’s the very first time it’s delivered. How do you think it would read? Are we doing better in 2021 AD than Israel in 420 BC? Do you know, the message would be exactly the same? Because the Church of Christ demonstrate the same lack of deepest reverence for God. In many congregations the focus has changed to programs and doctrines to accommodate people instead of being faithful to God. They say, “Don’t preach about the wrath of God or condemnation that can come on people. No, you need to offer a contemporary message that will make people feel welcome. It’s all about inclusiveness.” No, my friends, it echoes throughout all generations and ages what is written in the Word of God – “Come with genuine reverence before God.” What is genuine reverence? John Piper defines it as “a childlike reverence for God’s authority.” You see, children are genuine in what they believe. They don't search for reasons to question every second thing they are told. They just go with trust in what they see and hear. That's why Jesus told people in His time, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18: 3. You know my friends, childlike faith is lacking in our time. I think many adults have lost the innocence of childlike faith. There's a sad reality that crept into the Church of Christ. Many believe we have to sell the Gospel to people in this world – we have to offer them something better than what the world offers and in the process we are compromising many things. Can we just stay with the basics of our faith? – The Truth in Jesus Christ can never be compromised or negotiated. There's only one message we have to take out into the world – “Come before God with the same faith as it was from the beginning of time and show the deepest reverence to Him.” About 15 years ago an Anglican priest prayed a prayer at a convention in the United States that drew a lot of controversy. He prayed, “God, forgive us for being so hypocritical. Here we are gathered pretending that everything is so perfect with our worship and service of You, but we are bankrupt in our devotion.” It's like Malachi words are echoing throughout all ages, “Show genuine reverence to God.”
There is something else from Malachi’s message – Give God Priority Over Possessions. Israel didn’t just have a problem to honour God – they also kept their possessions from Him. When they offered something at the altar it was supposed to be the best of their crops or livestock. But then they brought what wasn’t even their second best. One modern day commentator said they were suffering from SARS – Severe Acute Religious Syndrome – and it was highly contagious. Look at verse 8, “‘When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?’ says the LORD Almighty.” Imagine the parade of animals limping and stumbling blindly toward the Temple. Their sores were covered with flies. Some of them probably collapsed even before they got there! The Severe Acute Religious Syndrome the people of Israel demonstrated was that their gifts were all about keeping to religious laws. It wasn't about bringing their best to God in response to the love and grace He bestowed upon them. You see, the Bible is clear that when you give to God you don’t do it because of any kind of obligation. You give it from a heart filled with gratitude. And you know, when you reach that point in your life, you don’t measure off any more what you should give to God. No, you give with the attitude in your heart – “Lord, all that is mine, I received from You and I’m just returning it to You.” In Matthew 19: 16-22 we read about the encounter Jesus had with the young rich man who asked what he lacked to inherit eternal life. Jesus told Him that he had to go and sell everything he had and follow Him. We all know what happened – he wasn’t willing to do that and went away sorrowful. And now Jesus comes to you and me and ask, “Are you willing to give up everything you have, because you consider me as the greatest priority of your life?” To Give God Your Best means that you will never place anything between yourself and Him.
My friends, as we meditate on this passage we all have to affirm – “My best I will lay down before God, because He always gives me His best.” May we unconditionally do that.