Exceptionalism is a rare thing. In a day and age when the prevailing winds of society are socialism and equality, those who would put forth that extra effort to do it better than everyone else are increasingly frowned upon.
Christians are not immune to this awful plague. Doing our best for God shows everyone else up, looks pious and holier-than-thou and is just a lot of extra work that no one is going to thank you for – or so we are told.
There is nothing new under the sun and this exact problem occupies much of the first chapter of Malachi. The Jews just returned from seventy years of captivity in Babylon were a disheartened bunch. The deprivations and humility of captivity followed by the disillusionment involved in trying to rebuild their nation caused many to doubt God’s love. (vs. 2) Most just didn’t have their heart “into” serving God and it showed as they took shortcuts in their worship and service: polluted bread and blemished sacrifices “got the job done” and were “enough” under the circumstances – surely God would understand. He did not. In fact, he had no interest in accepting the leftovers his people gave him. Where is my honour? Where is your fear of me? Why have you despised me? These were the questions he asked of those who dared to offer less than their best! (vs. 6) Sadly, the Lord’s people were slow to even accept that there was a problem.
Today churches are full of self-proclaimed believers who think they are doing enough by offering God a few scraps: whatever money they can afford; whatever time they have left; enough thanks, praise and prayer to get the job done. Their “spiritual sacrifices” (I Pet. 2:5) are in fact not sacrifices at all – because the cost is minimal to non-existent! A true sacrifice always costs the worshipper something substantial. Read II Sam. 24:22-24.
Malachi takes the remainder of his message in chapter one to remind both Israel and us today, how we can tell when we are not giving to God our best:
#1 – Am I treating God better than I would some famous person? (vs.8)
If some head of state or great celebrity came to your home for dinner with a large media contingent, surely you would go all out! With the eyes of the world watching and the pressure of entertaining someone important, you would lay out your best. Is this more than you give God?
#2 – Am I willing to serve God for nothing? (vs.10-11)
Many churches are void of volunteers. They can’t get an instrument played, a baby watched or the rubbish emptied without cutting a paycheck! This was Satan’s accusation against Job (Job 1:9-11) and sadly a true accusation against many believers today. Do you only serve God when there is something in it for you?
#3 – Am I willing to be content with what God gives me? (vs.12)
The OT priests lived off the offerings of the people and yet they despised those blessings that God gave them. God always rewards his servants – but not necessarily today and not necessarily in the way we might want or expect. Are you willing to be content no matter what God does or doesn’t do for you? Like the Apostle Paul, are you willing to be content no matter what state you find yourself in? (Phil. 4:11)
#4 – Am I weary in serving God? (vs.13)
The OT priests faced a never-ending line of animals to sacrifice – boring drudgery that today this day is even hard to read about in Leviticus! The Bible warns about weariness in well doing (Gal. 6:9) and this is a tool Satan is quick to exploit. (Dan. 7:25) If we allow our hearts to grow cold, soon we will be weary of God himself! (Isa. 43:22) Focus on the wrong things and love and faithfulness will soon begin to fade – focus on Jesus Christ and your walk with him and amazing desire to do your best will reappear! (Heb. 12:3)
#5 – Am I deceiving God? (vs.14)
When we offer God less than our best, who do we think we are trying to kid? The absurdity of trying to deceive God boggles the mind! All we are doing is deceiving ourselves. Like Annanias and Sapphira in Acts 5, we go through the motions of service thinking we are accomplishing something when in fact all we are doing is destroying ourselves!
God is not looking for quantity (how much, how long, how fast, etc..), but rather is looking for quality – is this from a heart of love for his honour and glory? Is your service for God truly excellent?
“And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ.” (Phil. 1:9-10)