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When have we shown contempt for your name? (II)

Sermon passage: (Malachi 2:1-9) Spoken on: May 31, 2010
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Malachi

Tags: Malachi, 玛拉基书

Listen to sermon recording with the play button or download with the download link. 您可点播或下载讲道录音。
About Rev. Wong Siow Hwee: Rev. Wong is the moderator of Jubilee Church, serving there since 2002. 王晓晖牧师是禧年堂的主理牧师。自2002年,在那牧会将近20年。
Bible passage (ESV) of the sermon can be found at the bottom of the page.

Sermon on Malachi 2:1-9

My dear brothers and sisters, I have good news and bad news. Do you prefer the good news first or bad news first? Alright, I’ll start by telling you the bad news. Remember how last week, Pastor Wilson talked about the kind of offerings that honor the big boss above? Well, the bad news is that the offerings from Jubilee just don’t measure up. Now, I know that some of you have been exemplary as a living sacrifice to God. You gave the best you could give. You offered up the prime of your youth. You were fully committed in your service. We are proud to have you as a member of the community. However, there are also others who gave blemished sacrifices to God thinking that it doesn’t matter. Well, you couldn’t be more wrong. We have now received a clear message last week that offering blemished sacrifices indicate contempt for God. It disregards the honor that he deserves. It is not so much the quality of the sacrifice but the attitude behind the sacrifice. Are you giving your leftover time to the big boss? Are you giving your spare money? Are you giving your depleted attention span every Sunday morning? If that is so, I don’t think you understand who you are dealing with. God is not a junk collector of unwanted stuff.

Because of this, I’ve taken the trouble to speak further to the big boss. Apparently he has a lot to say about this. His message has spilled over to chapter 2. And I’m afraid I have more bad news. The bad news is that God is holding the spiritual leaders accountable for this. For Jubilee Church, he would be referring to the pastoral team and also our elders and deacons. To our newly instated deacons, Peter and Jane, we’re sorry you have been dragged into this. Besides members of our Session, if the big boss were to pursue further, our cell leaders will be the next in line to receive this reprimand. The reason for this accountability is because we have been given a responsibility. The lips of a spiritual leader “ought to preserve knowledge, and from his mouth men should seek instruction – because he is the messenger of the Lord Almighty.” So you see? We have a teaching role. The community looks to us to know the will of God. This is our responsibility.

Some of you leaders might say, “No, no, this cannot be. We are very different from you. We have not been properly trained in a theological college. How can we have this responsibility if we are not equipped for it?” Well, proper theological education is important. But the issue here is not difficult theological doctrines or complicated biblical grammar. The issue here is discipline in our sacrifices to God. And that teaching is plain and straight-forward. Any faithful Christian who has been instated into a position of spiritual leadership can and must fulfill this role. We are not called to be innovative with new perspectives of faith. I admit that would require professional training. Rather, on the matter of discipline, we are called to guard the high standards of behavior that honors God. E.g. Band leaders, you know what is required of your band members. Worship leaders, you know what is required of your worshipping people. Cell leaders, you know what is required of your cell members. You already have all that is needed in knowledge to instruct your people on the right path. But if they are stumbling by sinning against God, then you bear this responsibility with us.

Some of you might say, “No, no, this cannot be. I don’t remember agreeing to any of this. When they invited me to become a deacon, they only asked if I enjoy long afternoon meetings. I was seduced by the bait of spending precious moments with the church leadership.” Others might say, “When pastor Daniel wanted me to be a cell leader, he just said, ‘Thou shall obey and protest nothing.’ And when pastor Siow Hwee needed someone in the worship ministry, well, who can resist his charismatic charm? None of us have ever come across anything to do with this responsibility of discipline.” My dear comrades who are in this ministry of spiritual leadership, hasn’t anyone told you to read the fine print before you sign on the dotted line? This little itsy bitsy detail has been in your job scope all along. Let me now show you the small print.

Deuteronomy 33:8-11 “ 8 About Levi he said: "Your Thummim and Urim belong to the man you favored. You tested him at Massah; you contended with him at the waters of Meribah. 9 He said of his father and mother, 'I have no regard for them.' He did not recognize his brothers or acknowledge his own children, but he watched over your word and guarded your covenant. 10 He teaches your precepts to Jacob and your law to Israel. He offers incense before you and whole burnt offerings on your altar. 11 Bless all his skills, O LORD, and be pleased with the work of his hands. Smite the loins of those who rise up against him; strike his foes till they rise no more."

What I have just shown you is the covenant of Levi, an inconspicuous clause embedded within the terms and conditions of every spiritual leadership. When you chose to take up the role of teaching and instructing others in church, you are bonding yourself with the forefathers of spiritual leaders of God’s people: the Levites. You are inheriting this sacred duty as a guardian of God’s word. Like the Levites, you are the messenger as well as the enforcer of God’s laws. This is why the covenant of Levi is now passed on to you.

Since you have taken your vows upon this covenant of Levi, I think you will do well to know three important points about it. The first point is that there should not be any “partiality in matters of the law”. Even if it is your own family members, you should not have different standards for different people. Sometimes, in enforcing standards, we may unknowingly practice favoritism. Oh, that sister, well as long she is not late, it is already a blessing. There’s no need to ask her to come early. Oh that couple, they have young children, maybe they can skip cell group for a year or two. When we start to think of excuses for the people we know, we have strayed from the original covenant of Levi. The words of the covenant are harsh, for the Levites not to recognize even their parents, siblings and children. But this is why the statue of Justice is always typified by a blind woman with a balanced scale. We should all abide with the one common standard that comes from God.

The second point is about the teaching responsibility that I’ve talked about. There are two levels to this responsibility. The first is that these laws are to be guarded. This means that you have to preserve what is true and you must not waver in your conviction. This level signifies the law comes from God. The second level is that this law is not to be kept a mystery, but rather taught extensively to all of God’s people so that everybody may know them. Understanding these two levels is how a true Levite can be said to have “true instruction in his mouth and nothing false in his lips”. The teachings must remain pure, and it must be spoken. This is a good reminder for the spiritual leaders. Many times we are afraid to speak the truth. We fear two things. We are afraid to appear stubborn and bureaucratic when we demand things to be done in a proper way. We are afraid to appear naggy when we remind others of the standard that honors God. I fear that too. I know of people who complain that I’m inflexible or preachy. But what does the covenant demand? Let’s not fear others but fear God. May we hear the words from God that “he walked with me in peace and uprightness and turned many from sin.”

The third point is about authority. This authority to lead comes together with the covenant. You cannot lead without the blessing of God. It is with this authority that you may guide those who are willing to listen. It is with this authority that you may judge those who rise up against you. But this authority is both a blessing and a curse. It is with this authority that people will listen to you. But if it is not used wisely, and your teachings cause others to stumble, then you have violated the covenant. And the curse of God will be upon you. These are the three points you need to note about this covenant of Levi: Impartiality, Truth-telling and Authority.

I’ve spoken to the big boss and I’m afraid for Jubilee leaders at every level, this covenant is at an unhealthy level. We’re not exactly meeting the “KPIs”. Just on Sunday services alone - lateness: check; sleepiness: check; friendliness: average; willingness to apply sermon message: maybe. To give our health check a positive spin, I’ll say that we have a generous level of room for improvement. For all that, I’ve bad news. I’ve received word from the big boss that he will do something drastic about this. Unfortunately, there is no way to put a positive spin to this. The big boss has painted a disgusting imagery. NIV translates it as “I will spread the offal on your faces”. Offal means uneatable parts. To understand what the uneatable parts are, we have to read the other translations. New Living Translation says “I will splatter your faces with manure.” English Standard Version and King James says “Behold, I will spread dung on your faces.” NASB uses “refuse” and God’s word uses “excrement” and Bible in basic English uses “waste”. Basically, God is warning us, the spiritual leaders, that he’s going to put the S-word on our faces. Why? Why is God using dirty words?

The context is the ancient sacrificial system. The offering to God must be pure and cleaned. This means that all the undesirable body parts related to the bowel movement must be removed. They are considered unclean for obvious reasons. Anybody in contact with them would be considered unclean as well. Therefore, spreading offal on the faces simply means making the leaders unclean. And when they are unclean, they are unfit to serve. They will be removed and discarded just like how the offal of the sacrifices are discarded. So brothers and sisters serving with me in the church leadership, if the offerings to God continue to be dishonoring to him, then we will be made unfit to serve in leadership. This is the message from God.

Fortunately, after all the bad news, I have good news. We have moved on from the Jewish context into the Christian context. And in the Christian context, it is no longer the selected leadership who belong to the priesthood, but rather it is the priesthood of all believers.

1 Peter 2:9 9But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

The priesthood of all believers means that we no longer need a selected group of people to mediate between us and God. We are all part of the priesthood that is bound by the covenant of Levi. We are all responsible for teaching one another the laws of God, and leading one another in the right path. We are all accountable for the high standards of offering to God. And when the community fails, we all bear the offal on our faces together. The wrath of God is not just upon the leaders of the church. Now that it is the priesthood of all believers, it is for everybody to share. We’re all in this together. Isn’t this good news?

Let me conclude by saying that I’m just trying to apply the Malachi passage to the Jubilee context in a light-hearted way. The reality is that the situation in Malachi is in no way comparable to Jubilee. We have made good progress over the years in teaching God’s word and applying it to bless our community. I believe every little offering given with a genuine heart is holy and acceptable to God. But I hope that my sermon today spoken in jest can also be a reminder to us. We are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.” All of us are part of the priesthood. Let us look out for one another and encourage one another in offering our best to God. We can all participate in this ministry. Your area of influence may be big or small. But for every person that you turn away from sin, such that their sacrifice is not a mockery to God, I think you are an honorable priest. To such a person, God says, “My covenant was with him, a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him; this called for reverence and he revered me and stood in awe of my name.” This is how God praise the Levites of old. May this be God's praise for you.

After this sermon, you might be wondering to yourself, “I can't even discipline myself. How can I possibly be a spiritual leader to another person?” Don't you see? That is the beauty of God's plan for the priesthood of all believers. United we stand, divided we fall. By watching out for one another, we bring out the best of one another for God. Turn to a brother or sister next to you and say, “I'll be a priest to you, and you'll be a priest for me. Together we'll offer our best sacrifice to God.”

Malachi 2:1–9 (Listen)

2:1 “And now, O priests, this command is for you. If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name, says the LORD of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart. Behold, I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings, and you shall be taken away with it. So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may stand, says the LORD of hosts. My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him. It was a covenant of fear, and he feared me. He stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts. But you have turned aside from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the LORD of hosts, and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you do not keep my ways but show partiality in your instruction.”

(ESV)