We’re continuing to look at the gap that there is between God’s great love for, us his blessings to us, and our response to that.
It’s a good thing to think about at harvest time, because harvest is when we call to mind the rich blessings that God gives us in so many dimensions and areas of life. To do that, and then to look at what our response both should be and is, is a very fitting exercise to do.
We’re looking at this theme, at this gap, with the help of the writings of the prophet Malachi, from about the year 400 b.c.. The first half of Malachi chapter 2 is specifically addressed to the priests in Israel at that time. If you are with us as we looked at chapter 1, you will know that chapter 1 addressed specifically the poor quality of the sacrifices that were being offered at the temple. But there’s a lot more to being a priest than offering sacrifices, and so the first half of chapter 2 addresses the priests in the other areas of what it would mean for them to be good and faithful priests.
Now you may wonder what the relevance of this is for us today. You probably know that today there are no priests. That’s because Jesus, in his one sacrifice for sin once for all, dealt with the problem of human sin, and there are no more sacrifices that need to be offered. But remember: There’s a lot more to being a priest than offering sacrifices. And so, as we move into chapter 2, and we look at the priests in their wider role, we will see that (yes) Jesus fulfilled what the priests stood for — a lot of it. But in secondary ways, so do all those who are called to Christian leadership of any form and actually so does every single Christian. And so what is said to the priests here about their response to God is something that we all need to hear, as we think about our response to the same God.
Now, there are a lot of details in this passage in Malachi 2, and lots of it is of detailed relevance to us. So what I’m going to do again is take two weeks to look at the same passage, so that we have time to tease out the details, and not miss the relevance.
As always, it starts with God’s blessing. Always in the Bible, God’s blessing comes first, before we do anything. It’s always about our response to what God has already done. And so, verse 5, God says: “My covenant was with him [that is, Levi], a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him.”
So the background here is that Abraham had a son called Isaac. Isaac had a son called Jacob, who was later renamed Israel, and Jacob (Israel) had 12 sons who later became the 12 tribes of Israel. One of those sons was called Levi, and to the descendants of Levi God gave the priesthood. But the blessings here to Levi are much broader than just the blessing of being given the chance to serve as priests.
God gave them life and peace. Life. So much more to life than just being “not dead”. I mean, you know that don’t you? Because there’s a lot more to your life than just the fact that you’re actually still alive. When the Bible talks about life, it means life to the full. It means everything being as it was meant to be, thriving in every direction. That’s what God gave to Levi and his descendants.
And peace. Well, again, so much more to peace than just not being in a state of conflict. Peace in the Bible is when everything is well, everything is good, everything is in harmony, everything is just beautiful and ticking along perfectly. That is what God gave to Levi.
The question is: What is his response, or what was the response, of the priests? We have to distinguish between the response God was looking for, the response historically of the tribe of Levi at their very best, and then the actual response of Malachi’s day
First of all, then, the desired response comes in verses 5 and 6: “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. true instruction was in his mouth, and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin.”
In that response that God was looking for there are three R’s. Not reading writing and arithmetic, but …
Reverence. So, they lived in awe of God’s name. we thought about God’s name last time. It stands for who God is, his reputation, his character. they were in awe of God. Reverence.
Second, relationship. It says “he walked with me,” and that’s language in the Bible for going through life as a journey travelled with God, in his company, walking in step with him, in relationship. Reverence. Relationship.
And righteousness. “He walked with me in peace and uprightness.” Blamelessness. His behaviour.
So, reverence, relationship and righteousness. That was the beautiful response that you see in the tribe of Levi at its best. It’s what God was looking for.
So what actually happened in Malachi’s day?
What happened to reverence? Verse 2: “If you do not listen and you do not resolve to honour my name”. And then further down in verse 2, “You have not resolved to honour me”.
What happened to the relationship with God, travelling through life with the Lord? Verse 8: “But you have turned from the way.” They’ve gone off the path instead of walking on the road through life with God. God’s walking on one road, and they’ve gone off on their own track, away from God on their own.
And what happened to righteousness, to good behaviour? What we saw last time in, for example, the sacrifices they were willing to offer at the temple: that as the reverence and the relationship unravelled, so did their behaviour.
God’s Commitment to Levi
But God is committed. The Lord’s relationship with Levi is a commitment. It’s called in verse 4 and verse 5 “a covenant”. That means God has bound himself, committed himself, to Levi. This one generation may have failed to live up to that relationship, but God still wants priests who will respond to his gift of life and peace with reverence, with a relationship (walking with him), and in righteousness. And God still has a plan to get there.
So where does that plan for good priests like that land? It lands in three places.
Jesus the Perfect Priest
Firstly it lands on the Lord Jesus, who is the perfect priest. Not just because he offered the perfect sacrifice for sin, but all through his human life on earth he revered his Father, he walked through life with his father, and he was flawless in his behaviour.
But it doesn’t only land on the Lord Jesus it lands on church leaders. Not just overall leaders of churches, but those who are involved in leadership in the Christian church in any way: from bishops and clergy, through to people who lead home groups, through to people who help with the children’s work, through to people who help with the elderly, through to people who visit the sick and house bound, through to people who read the Bible and pray during our services, through to people — just everything, any area of leadership, and this lands on you.
Church leaders today aren’t priests in the sense that we don’t offer sacrifices, but remember: There’s more to being a priest than offering sacrifices. So this applies to all of us in leadership roles.
God wants leaders who will revere him (who will care more about what God thinks than anything else)
Who will be in relationship with God, who will walk with him. So if you want to ask me how I’m doing, one of the kindest questions you could ask me from time to time is to ask how my personal bible reading and prayer life is going. It’s a scary question to be asked, because the answer often is “nowhere near like it should be”, but you’re kind to me to ask me that, because that’s one of the most important things. Am I personally relating to the living God?
I was involved recently in constructing a review process for a Christian leader for which I and a couple of others had some responsibility. How do we help them to stay on track in their role? One of the things we concluded this person needs is somebody who can ask them regularly: “Are you still reading the bible for your own benefit, to listen to the Lord for yourself, and are you still praying — not just in public, but because that’s your walk with the Lord?”
God wants leaders who will revere him, who will be in a relationship with him, and who will be righteous. At least in public, in the obvious ways, they will live out the faith that they lead others in.
So, this isn’t just about the Lord Jesus; it’s not just about those with leadership roles either. This is about every Christian.
If you know Jesus, you have the gift of life and peace. “I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.” So how do you respond? With reverence. In relationship. In righteousness.
Obviously one flows to the next. If you revere the Lord, you’ll want to walk with him, and as you walk with him you’ll grow in likeness to him. So maybe a good question to ask: Which of those three areas would you commit to pray this week, to ask God to develop in your life at greater depth?
And if you don’t yet know the Lord Jesus, God wants to give you life and peace as you get to know him. They are gifts (they’re not earned), but if they’re gifts that are genuinely received then those gifts will work themselves out in those three areas.