At our recent church board meeting, I used verses from Malachi chapter 3 … to open up with. I was particularly taken with verse 16.
Then those who revered the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord took note and listened, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who revered the Lord and thought on his name.
That day we wanted to pray, listen to God, and speak with one another about how God was leading us in this season. What came out of this conversation was the word ‘connection’ (or, we might say ‘connectedness’). How can we become better connected with God, each other and our community (so that we better address the mission of God … more people being able to know and follow Jesus)? How can we become a more ‘connected’ church??
This will require ongoing prayer, listening for God, and more conversations.
This passage from Malachi is a “conversation” in itself. This reflects an open communication between God and his people in Israel. Malachi was a prophet late in the Old Testament period, about 400 years before Jesus. This was right before … what has become known as the ‘period of prophetic silence’ – which lasted those 400 years before Jesus. Yet, we see, there was so much to focus on in just chapter 3, that this would keep any community following God busy … reviewing how they were conducting their lives.
The people of Israel had been able to return to their land from exile to the north, and rebuild the temple that had previously been destroyed. But, would they be able to live in God’s ways? For, there was clearly some scepticism about God’s plans for their future. And the people of this nation had failed many times before, with fear, faithlessness, and even outright rebellion … seeking alternative gods (who were of course all found to be false). This … despite God’s repeated faithfulness, and continuing loving attempts toward reconciliation. And this usually occurred when things were going well, and God was pushed out of their direct consciousness.
How misguided people can be! This is again expressed in verse 7(a) here. This usually resulted in wandering around aimlessly in barren places, or being so nationally vulnerable … that they would be militarily defeated and taken into exile by the Assyrians or the Babylonians. Yet, time and time again, God acted on their behalf as they repented and became obedient again – as verse 6 states, God cannot deny His love for all people – he cannot just watch and let them perish; but rather says, “Return to me, and I will return to you says the Lord of hosts” (v7b).
Now, back in their own territory and at peace, how long would their true commitment to God last … this time? There were already some bad signs; as we look at verses 13-15. There had been harsh words spoken against God – and this is by God’s own people. Why … one wonders! Were they NOT getting their own way? Were they NOT becoming rich enough? Were they feeling left out? Were their lives NOT trouble free enough? Were there too many challenges?
And worse, they did NOT seem to realise what they were saying, and how they were acting against God … it was like it had become normal … look at the second part of verse 13. They were in a bit of denial – they had obviously lost some perspective. [Sometimes, rather than seeing properly, we either despise or envy the rich or successful, rather than simply enjoying the blessings we already have.] People sometimes don’t recognise how they have strayed, and how far they have strayed; therefore, sadly, cannot work out how to return! This saddens God, who, fortunately, never gives up!
In this direct and frank ‘conversation’, God identified for his people, some of the implications of their behaviour. They were in effect saying that service of God was pointless (refer v 14), and, there was a lack of “profit” (or reward) from their obedience and repentance (refer v 14b). Pardon! Surely we wouldn’t ever look for “profit” or reward because of our ‘repentance’ or ‘obedience’! ‘Repentance’ is required because we have chosen the wrong path, and ‘obedience’ is required because God is the fountain of love and purpose for our lives – without which we would flounder completely!!
No wonder they were finding NO joy in serving God, when this was their attitude – an attitude of needing to gain something. Last Sunday night, at the evening fellowship, Philippians chapter 2 was quoted – “Let the same mind be in you … that was in Christ Jesus … who … did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself taking on the form of a servant” (Phil 2:5-7 abridged). True service of God comes through humility, selflessness and faith, and NEVER from expecting reward or recognition. We serve God … purely through love.
So, there were big warning signs … concerning where these people were at. We see in verse 15, that these people’s perspective had been twisted – they counted the arrogant to be happy (or maybe even blessed), and they thought that evil was winning and that those doing evil were ultimately prospering (and perhaps … therefore … they were even thinking of changing sides). A good ‘conversation’ was needed – and thankfully many did listen to God! Those of sound or improving mind, those that had a mind to revere God again … “spoke with one another” (v.16)!
What had they to talk about? I reckon, time and again, they needed to talk about God’s faithfulness. They needed to recall those times when God had been present for them, especially at their greatest point of need. God didn’t always bail them out, for there were lessons to be learnt, and we go on living in a broken world with much decay, disease and chaos – needing significant deep renewal. But God always was with them … if they but sought him, and turned away from any participation in evil! If they returned to him, God returned to them!! Now that’s a good ‘conversation’ piece!
And, they could also have great ‘conversations’ about God’s promises – about how God was planning to act in the future. God is totally consistent in moving forward with His Mission! God constantly seeks to find the lost, bring healing to the broken, and new hope to those who have been abandoned. And by NO coincidence, the previous verses in this very chapter outline much of God’s ongoing faithfulness.
They could have a really good ‘conversation’ around this! Words about a “messenger” who would prepare the way for a special visitation of God (v 1). We see this fulfilled by John the Baptist, and then Jesus – “the messenger of the covenant”. This will be a significant incarnation where many will be cleansed, refined and purified, and finally be able to live truly and humbly in the service of God and each other (v 2b-3). What could NOT be achieved from afar, will be achieved at close hand. As Jesus said, the Kingdom of God has come near.
Could they just imagine that this “messenger of the covenant” – the ‘Son of God’ – would turn everything around, so that evil and injustice could be addressed with wisdom, and defeated in the power of the Holy Spirit!? No longer would the hired-workers be oppressed, and no longer would the widows, orphans and aliens be abandoned (v 5)! All people would be treated as ‘neighbours’ should be.
People’s hearts would be broken by the things that break God’s heart (following Bob Pierce – founder of World Vision). Surely that’s a meaningful ‘conversation’! Can we just imagine Jesus turning everything around, injustice being defeated, and people returning to express worship to God and finding a spiritual home where they find a welcome and hospitality?!
And in verses 8 – 12 we discover the blessing that naturally and spontaneously results from bringing our “full tithe into the storehouse” (v 10), most broadly meaning – bringing all the good gifts that God has given us stewardship over … into a collective expression of worship and ministry. This, for us, in our time, means: bringing our lives, gifts, resources, and full capacities … into the combined ministry of the church … as it looks toward the needs of the local community and world. This is the reverse of holding back on God, and thus ‘robbing’ others of the Gospel message. Worth a ‘conversation’!
This is so that there will be nutritious ‘spiritual’ food in God’s house. And we then should expect that God will add His blessing, for we read, “See if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing” (v 10). And this is a blessing that will be protected, will be ongoing, and will be publicly significant (v 11-12).
This must have all been impacting on these people of Malachi’s time, for we read, that indeed they embarked on a ‘conversation’ – they “spoke with one another”. “In the face of the widespread complaining against God, they sought mutual encouragement in fellowship” (NIV Study Bible notes). As we truly revere the Lord, we will also have ‘conversations’ together to discern the best ways of engaging with God’s mission into this community.
These ‘conversations’ are far from trivial … for they centre around some of the most important facets of human experience. And they don’t get stuck where we are, but move to where God wants us to be! And these ‘conversations’ become encouraging, for everyone can find their voice and participate. This is because one of the most important parts of such communication is the willingness to listen to others (just like God does with all of us).
One of those things we have talked about much is our children’s program. For many years, people here prayed for a new influx of children. And here they are! We give credit to all those who have nurtured this vision and encouraged the children who have come – especially Joy and Ernie. We give credit to those families and children who have been patient for more vibrant times ahead – good on you Grace and Riley, Leah and Rhett!
We now move into a new season, with Trav coordinating an enthusiastic team of teachers and assistants. As we have further ‘conversations’ about this, we will know better how to support and pray for this ministry. So we’ll have a bit of a ‘conversation’ now.
[You can go to the youtube version at Bright Church of Christ's youtube channel to check out interview with our new JAM coordinator Travis McGregor, where I ask: tell us about your vision for JAM; and, why is teaching the children about God so important?]
For those who revere God, and therefore connect with others … who also revere God in the Body of Christ (the Church), through having good ‘conversations’ about matters of faith and service – the Lord takes note and listens (v 16b). God is firmly part of this ‘conversation’, and if we open our heart and minds enough, God, through the Holy Spirit, will come to lead these ‘conversations’ – we will come to experience ‘conversations’ … unimaginable previously!
What beautiful promises follow in the Malachi prophecy (v.16c-18) … for those who, in reverence for God, seek guidance, fellowship and encouragement in ‘conversation’ with others: these are ... being written in God’s book of remembrance – the Lord knows us … and we are seen as God’s “special possession” attracting mercy and grace when it counts. That’s awesome!
The last verse doesn’t mean to judge the one who doesn’t serve, as much as to note that the one who reveres and serves God will be clearly seen by their fruit, and for making a difference for good. This, knowing how God loves all His Creation, will always be in the hope that people will return to God, so that God can return to them – and have their lives turned around!
These are the sort of ‘conversations’ we need to have! Then those who revered the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord took note and listened, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who revered the Lord and thought on his name. Amen to that!!