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“Don’t all of us have one Father? Didn’t one God create us? Why then do we act treacherously against one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers?” (CSB – Read the chapter)
As the prophet Malachi was offering various warnings to the people of Israel to get back on track with God, he took a minute to remind them of who they were. He reminded them of the common heritage they all shared. Although this reminder wasn’t aimed at us, the spirit behind it is still very much relevant today. It is relevant for our nation. It is relevant for the church. Let’s talk about why this morning.
As a nation, the people of Israel were divided. The exact issue or issues that were dividing them aren’t totally clear, but that’s beside the point. The point is that they were divided. This was a big deal because, as Jesus would later observe, a house divided against itself cannot stand. A nation that is rife with internal divisions will eventually crumble.
But, Malachi set his warning against disunity and division on a higher foundation than merely the geopolitical fate of the nation. Why was the division separating the people so problematic for them? It’s because they were all God’s chosen people. That was their identity as individuals and as a whole people. In separating and dividing on any number of different issues, they were forgetting who they were as a people. They were forgetting it, and worse, they were announcing God’s blanket choosing to be a false idea.
If God had said, “I have chosen all of you,” and one of them said to his brother, “No, you’re not like me to a sufficient degree that we can’t be brothers any longer,” then we have a conflict in place between God and this person. Either God is right and chose them all, rendering them all of the same moral value, or else the person is right, and God didn’t actually choose all of them. Both ideas can’t be true.
The problem here was that the people were in danger of forgetting who they were. Here’s the problem with forgetfulness: Forgetfulness leads to faithlessness. If my bride asks me to do something and I agree, but forget about it, I haven’t been faithful to my word and, by that, to her. If we forget who God made us to be, we run the strong risk of not being faithful to the image we’ve all been designed to bear. Indeed, when we treat each other poorly because we are divided along any kind of lines, we have forgotten that we were all created in the image of God.
Now, this is all bad in the most general of terms, but it’s really bad when we bring it into the church. The hard part here is that is exactly where Malachi brings it. He wasn’t hitting the Israelites for being divided from the people around them. He was chiding them for being divided one from another within the nation. In the same way, while division and disunity among the people of the broader United States, for sample, is a problem, division and disunity stemming from unfaithfulness within the church is far more of a problem. Unfaithfulness to one another within the church, no matter the external points of division among members of the body, is existentially devastating to the presence and witness of the church in the world.
Why? Because Jesus said the way we will be known as His followers is by our love for one another. That applies outwardly, to be sure, but it starts inside. If we are known as Jesus people only by our love for one another, if we don’t love one another in the church, how are we going to be known as Jesus people? The marker that proves you are a follower of Jesus is your love for others, particularly in the community of faith and regardless of any of the other things that might otherwise distinguish us from one another.
To put this even more simply: Faithfulness to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ is one of the most important hallmarks of the Christian life. It’s like the great commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves necessitates a healthy love of self. We can’t love our non-Christian neighbors well if we do not love our Christian neighbors first. The outward love flows naturally from the inward love. Without the one in place, the other will not be either. Faithfulness starts at home before it moves outward.