One of the basic principles of athletic competition is to always give your best. Oh, the outcome may not always be what one desires, but to put forth one's very best effort is most important. That is the test or challenge before everyone who participates in a sporting event, do your very best and do not worry about the results. Well, the same is true in our daily walk with God. He wants us to do our very best every day. Yes, we may stumble, we might make mistakes, we may even drift away from the Lord, and He knows that; but He still desires for us to seek His face and to pursue His ways. Some people in the Old Testament chose not to do that. They decided to take care of their own needs and desires before pursuing the ways of the Lord. Well, needless to say, God did not like that so He challenged them to think about what they were doing and to make some changes. He asked them some hard questions to help them evaluate their life and their worship. Well, they could not understand what was happening until God challenged them to give Him their very best. The story before us today challenges us to do the same thing. God wants us to do our very best, especially when it comes to our relationship with Him. He longs for us to honor Him with every aspect of our life. He even wants us to put Him to the test, so we can experience for ourselves His amazing love and goodness. The lesson is called "Testing God." I hope you will keep watching for the next few minutes as we study together on "Key to the Kingdom."
The last book in the Old Testament part of the Bible introduces us to a prophet named Malachi. He has several challenges for the second and third generations of Israelites who have come back from years of captivity in the land of Babylon. Their forefathers had been sent to Babylon because of their sin and rebellion toward God. And now, the children and grandchildren of those people have come back to their homeland of Judah. They are in the city of Jerusalem, they have rebuilt the Temple, they have rebuilt the wall surrounding that great city, and they are enjoying life. However, there are some concerns that Malachi has in regards to their lifestyle. They are slowly drifting away from God. They are not giving God the very best in their life. They are not honoring Him with their worship and with their day-to-day living. And so, Malachi addresses at least five major concerns. Let's notice these things that Malachi points out. First of all, some people questioned God's love for them. Now that's hard to imagine, isn't it? How could anyone question God's love for them? Yet, that is exactly what was happening. And as a result, the people had become apathetic toward God and were even disobedient. And yet Malachi reminds them, that is not true. And that's the way he begins his letter, in chapter 1, verses 2 and 3. <"I have loved you," says the Lord. "But you ask, 'How have you loved us?' Was not Esau Jacob's brother?" declares the Lord. "Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals."> Jacob and Esau were brothers. Esau displeased God and God turned his back on him. He later became the father of the Edomites, the nation of Edom. And yet they, too, followed their leader, Esau, to the point God simply did away with that nation of Edom and they were never heard from again. On the other hand, these people to whom Malachi was writing were descendants of Jacob. And God had made a promise to their forefathers, to Abraham and to Isaac and to Jacob, that He would always love them. And God was faithful to that covenant. He was faithful to the promise, even though He had sent these people's forefathers into captivity for a period of time. His love for them would never end. And so Malachi reminds the people of God's great love, even though it appeared he did not love them at a period of time. Secondly, some priests were dishonoring God. Oh, the priests had a very important responsibility. They represented the people before the Lord. They received the people's offerings and then they made them on behalf of the people. And yet they were receiving and making offerings that did not honor God. And Malachi addresses that in verses 7 and 8 of the first chapter. <"You ask, 'How have we defiled you?'" God says, "When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame 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.> Oh, these people were drifting away from God because they did not honor God with their sacrifices, and the priests allowed them to get away with that. These animals the people were trying to offer as a sacrifice were not any good. They had no use for these animals, they were blind, they were lame, some were even diseased, and certainly the people did not want them for themselves; so; they tried to get by with offering them as a sacrifice. And Malachi says, "Why are you doing that? You are dishonoring God. You are not giving your very best to God and He is displeased." Malachi even goes so far as to say, "If you do not change your ways, then you will be replaced. Someone else will come in and do the job that you are supposed to be doing." The third thing, some people were not taking their marriage seriously. Malachi addresses that in the second chapter, verses 13 and 14. <Another thing you do: You flood the Lord's altar with tears. You weep and wail because He no longer looks with favor on your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. You ask, "Why?" It is because the Lord is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.> Evidently men were divorcing their wives for most any and every reason. And once they had put their wives away, they went over into the foreign surrounding nations and began marrying some of those women. And yet, intermarriage among foreign nations was strongly prohibited by God. In fact, that was one of the things that led these people's forefathers into that Babylonian captivity in the first place. And evidently these descendants had not learned from that lesson. They were taking in these wives and thus the nation was being defiled. The nation was not being set apart as holy and separate for the Lord, as God had commanded. Malachi even repeats the words of God in chapter 3, verse 16. "I hate divorce." Yes, that was going on throughout the land. And Malachi said, "These types of things are allowing you to drift further and further away from God. God is not pleased, and you need to get your life back on track, give God your very best, even in your marriage relationships." We notice also a fourth thing. There were some people who felt as if God no longer cared about their nation. The people saw evil going on all around them. There were injustices, practices going on. There were all kinds of immorality. There were things being done that displeased God. And for some of the people, it seemed that God did not even care. They wondered if God would even show up. Would God interject His power and make things right? How much longer would all of these things go on? And the people thought to themselves, "Well, God has just left us to get by on our own. Why doesn't God care? Does He not see the problems that we have?" Well, Malachi reminds them that, yes indeed, God cares, and he points that out in the 3rd chapter, beginning with verse 2. <Who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver. He will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.> Malachi reminds the people that, yes, God sees. He knows. He is well aware of what is happening in the nation. And there is coming a time when He will come back and make things right. He will purify the nation. He will get rid of everything that is bad and evil. He will be like the soap that washes and makes things clean. He is like the refiner's fire that will purify His nation and His people once again. And then he continues on with these words in verse 5, <"So I will come and put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear Me," says the Lord Almighty.> At least eight different things are identified in this passage of Scripture, and perhaps there are others that could be listed. But God will come back and make things right. He will judge and He will punish the sorcerers and those who mistreat those who work for them. He will judge those who oppress and make life difficult for the widows and for the orphans, and who do not fear nor honor Him. Yes, Malachi reminds the people that it may appear God does not know what is going on, but He really does; and there is coming a time when He will come back and He will make things right. But then, finally, a fifth thing that Malachi highlights is that some people were accused of stealing from God. Well, that doesn't make much sense, does it? How does one steal from God? How does one rob God? And the people did not know that. They did not know what they were doing, and so Malachi points it out. Listen if you will to chapter 3, beginning with verse 8. <"Will a mere mortal rob God? And yet you rob Me. But you ask, 'How are we robbing You?' In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse -- your whole nation -- because you are robbing Me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house. Test Me in this," says the Lord Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of Heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is time," says the Lord Almighty. "Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land," says the Lord Almighty.> The people were accused of robbing God because they were not giving to God. They were not honoring God with their tithes and with their offerings. They were not giving their very best sacrifices. And Malachi states, "Because you are not doing that, God is displeased. He is not accepting nor honoring your worship, or even your daily lives. There are problems going on that you cannot relate to or understand, but it all goes back to the fact you are not giving to God." Now it's interesting what God has to say to them: "Test Me in this. If you feel as if your are not being blessed, then just put Me to the test. Give like I have commanded you to give, and when you do, watch what will happen. Watch and see that I will open up the storehouse of blessings from Heaven and they will pour out into your life, so much so that you cannot even count those blessings. Yes, if you doubt Me, then why don't you just test Me, and see how I will come through and provide exactly what you need." In at least these five ways, Malachi challenges the people to get their lives back on track spiritually. Yes, things are going well in so many other areas of their life, but they were slipping away in their relationship with God. He tells them, "Give your very best to God in every aspect of your life and in your worship." When I think about these five challenges, I realize that they might apply even to us still today. Sometimes we might think God does not love us. Sometimes we might wonder where His love is and if He really sees about us and cares about our needs, and we feel unloved at times by God. And yet we have to remind ourselves, God always loves us. Yes, we might make some mistakes and we might slip away, but His love for us never ceases. The promises that He makes to us never come to an end. God is faithful to keep His covenant. We might even consider, "Well, look at all of the wealth and all of the possessions and all of the things that I have, and look how I have done these things by myself." Yes, oftentimes we begin to think that everything we have and everything we are and everything we own is a result of our own efforts, and so we keep that for our self instead of giving to God and recognize that He is the one who blesses us and He is the one who provides for all of those things in the first place. We may even be tempted, as these people were, to enter into a divorce and to split up our marriage, and to not remain faithful to the covenant that we have made to our wife or to our husband. We might be tempted to think there is someone out there who might meet our needs just a little bit better and we want to just dissolve what we have and go on to someone else. And that's a great temptation in our world today. And yet again, Malachi, in his message, would encourage us to not do those things, but rather to give our very best to God; to honor God with every aspect of our life and our worship; to honor God in our marriage; to honor God in our giving; to honor God by recognizing that He does love us, and that He will make things right even that are amiss in our world today. Oh, when I think about the message of Malachi, I realize that this is a message even for us. If we find ourselves slowly drifting away spiritually from God, perhaps it's time to take an inventory of our own life and to see some things that we might do a little bit better or a little bit different, so that we can honor God in every aspect of our life. Well, Malachi closes his letter, in fact he closes the Old Testament, with some good news. He closes with both a command and a promise. He begins with a command in chapter 4 and verse 4. This is what he tells the people. <"Remember the Law of my servant Moses, the decrees and Laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel."> The command Malachi gives to the people is to remember the commands of God. Remember those commands. Remember those Laws that God gave to Moses there on Mount Sinai. And then Moses gave all of those laws and commands to the people. One of the problems with their forefathers is that they had forgotten the commands and the Laws, and Malachi tries to bring them back to the very beginning. Remember those Laws and commands, and not only remember but put them into practice. Do what God has asked you to do. And once they obey that command, they will receive a promise from the Lord. That promise is found in verses 5 and 6. <"See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction."> Malachi refers to Elijah. Elijah was a prophet that spoke to these people's fore-fathers way back in the early parts of the Old Testament of the Bible. And Elijah's role was to prepare the people for something better and to draw them closer to God. And now there was coming a time when a man named John the Baptist would do that very same thing with Jesus. In fact, John the Baptist came in the spirit of Elijah according to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 11. And John did just that. He baptized people for repentance as they changed their ways of the past and began to anticipate the coming of Jesus Christ. John the Baptist made things smooth. He prepared the people for the coming of God's one and only Son. We know that indeed Jesus did come, and the people responded to Him as their hearts were touched, their lives were changed, and they began to experience life the way God intended for it to be lived, through His son, Jesus Christ. And if that would not happen, then the promise is God would destroy their land, just as He had done with the Edomites, as we mentioned a moment ago. When I consider the message of Malachi, when I think about the command and the promise, I realize, that is still for us, and it is still good news. God has given to us certain commands and laws and guidelines which we are to follow, and those are for our good and for our benefit. God wants us to live the very best life we can possibly live, and when we follow His guidelines and His laws and commands, we will experience that life. Oh, those commands and laws are not given to make our life more difficult or to oppress us or to make life hard, but they are for our good. And when we experience that good life, we are rewarded, we are blessed by God. And we are turned to Jesus Christ, God's one and only Son. We begin to walk in His footsteps and enjoy the wonderful blessings and promises that we have as God's children. You know, as we think about that, perhaps we question whether or not that is true. We question whether or not we should do all of the things that Malachi has suggested. And God would say to us as He said to the people, "Test Me in this. Just try Me, and see if I won't throw open the storehouse of Heaven and flood blessings into your life." My prayer, my encouragement for you today is that you test God and see how much He wants to bless you.
If I had to make a guess, I would say that there is at least one teacher in this school who is giving a test to his or her students today. And that's part of going to school, isn't it? Now, most children do not like to take a test or an examination. And for that matter, most adults don't either. And yet, that is part of the process of learning, to test and evaluate where we stand. Well, did you realize God wants us to put Him to the test? Oh, that is not some kind of written or oral examination. There's no way to do something like that. And yet, God asks us to test Him. We test Him in the way of asking Him to demonstrate His power and His greatness and His love in our life. The Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 3 and verse 20, "God is able to do far more than we could ever ask for or imagine according to His power that is at work in us." Sometimes you might feel overwhelmed by the things of this world. There are all kinds of problems and difficulties and challenges that you face on a regular basis. God would say, "Put Me to the test. Call upon Me and see if I am not able to do something powerful and mighty in your life." Isn't it good to know that God sees what is happening in our life and He is able to provide a solution? The next time you are overwhelmed by the stress and the strain and the problems of life, put God to the test, and be able to receive His goodness and His power and love in your life.
The prophet Malachi taught these people a very important lesson. He awakened them to the fact that God really does love them and wants to bless them. They, however, needed to show greater faith in Him and to make Him their first priority. Perhaps we, too, can relate. Hopefully, the story of Malachi encouraged us to always give God our very best. If you have not done so recently, please take a few minutes to visit our website. It is keytothekingdom.com. It offers many Bible study resources. This lesson, along with many others, can be downloaded in a variety of formats. Short inspirational videos, daily devotional thoughts, and one-minute summaries of each book of the Bible are all available. I am sure you will find something that will bless you spiritually. Other ways to connect with us are through Facebook, Roku® television, and a free app for your iPhone. You can even call the number on the screen to seek additional help or information. Please leave your name and address, and we will be happy to follow up. Several Bible studies are on the website as well. They are free, and require no commitment. Hopefully they will assist you in your efforts to draw closer to God, and to understand better His love for you. Through these various resources, we hope you will find something that will assist you in your study of God's Word and in your daily walk with Him. Thank you for taking time to be our guest today. I invite you to join us each week at this same time, as we study the Bible on "Key to the Kingdom."