“‘You, on the other hand, have turned from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have violated the covenant of Levi,’ says the Lord of Armies. ‘So I in turn have made you despised and humiliated before all the people because you are not keeping my ways but are showing partiality in your instruction.'” (CSB – Read the chapter)
In 1989, Ed Koch lost his bid to be reelected Mayor of New York City in a primary upset to David Dinkins. When later interviewed about it and asked if he would run again, Koch wittily replied that “the people threw me out. And now the people must be punished.” In other words, if the people don’t like the situation they are in, it’s their own fault and they are going to have to own it. And indeed, sometimes when people are in a hard spot, it is their own fault for not receiving and following good leadership. But sometimes it is the fault of bad leadership. Disobedient people may raise the Lord’s ire, but poor leadership just makes Him angry. This is what Malachi reminds us of here.
So far, our first three reflections on Malachi’s collection of prophecy have been focused on the problem of empty and cynical worship on the part of the people. They were doubtful of God’s character and their worship was beginning to reflect this doubt in its growing flippancy and insincerity. But while the people certainly needed to shoulder their own guilt in this issue, they were not wholly to blame for the situation they were in. They were being led by leaders who themselves did not care.
Leadership is a unique burden to bear. On the one hand, you are an individual who is responsible for yourself and the choices you make. On the other hand, your choices, by virtue of position and its inherent authority, impact people beyond just you. Your choices impact people beyond just you and God takes the impact of these choices very seriously.
The truth is that no one has authority by accident. Guys like Peter and Paul would later make clear that God is the only source of authority in the world. Where any kind of authority exists in the world, then, it is always and only a stewardship of authority He has granted from what firstly and rightly belongs to Him. Sometimes this stewardship goes very badly wrong, but ours isn’t to question why and to whom He gifts a portion of His authority.
Because all authority is ultimately a reflection of God’s own authority over His creation, He takes its use and misuse very seriously. The reason for this is that when His granted authority get misused and abused, while negative feelings will certainly develop from the one being abused to the one doing the abusing, negative perceptions will also be formed about His own character which brings with it the possibility of people He loves rejecting Him on the basis of false premises.
The leaders of Israel had grown flippant and insincere. They were cynical and doubtful of God’s character themselves. As a result, these attitudes were growing in the hearts and minds of the people. Now, they certainly didn’t mean to go down this path. But we can perhaps understand why they did. When you spend your days slaughtering animals to make people right with God, the whole thing can start to get to you after a while. An individual worshiper feels relieved from a burdened conscience and right with God, and that’s good for him. He can’t see the fuller picture of the nation that you can. He sees only his own sins and their forgiveness.
You, however, see sinner after sinner after sinner and then repeat sinners. You see people who are clearly sincere in their offerings. But you also see people who are clearly just going through the motions. And after a while you recognize that there doesn’t seem to be much difference between one and the other. And when people sin only to sin again, you start to wonder about the efficacy of the whole system. Why bother putting up your best when you’re just going to have to come back with your best again in a few months’ time?
This and more all developed in their own hearts and minds, and gradually began to be passed on to the people. It was subtle and accidental at first and then more intentional. It started to favor some people at the expense of others. Gradually, the whole nation began treating God like He was just a convenience to be patronized and not a great God worthy of their worship.
And God didn’t like it.
Pastors today are in a similarly unique position. God has set in our hands an incredible gift of authority regardless of the size of our church. We have been entrusted with the spiritual health and wellness and even the eternal destiny of many people beyond just ourselves. There are people who will or won’t be spending eternity in Heaven because of how we carry ourselves. As soon as they know who we are, people will decide whether or not they are ever going to be interested in a relationship with Jesus based on just a few minutes’ worth of interaction with us. We–and our families–get fixed with their burdens whether or not we want to carry them (although most of us wouldn’t be here if we didn’t want to help carry them at all). And if we do it poorly, God holds us chiefly responsible for the results. Pastors must get this right for the eternal destiny of many hangs in the balance.
But, don’t let yourself think you are somehow out from under the weight of Malachi’s words here just because you aren’t a pastor. Our generous God doesn’t give only one kind of authority. You have authority in some measure no matter who you are or where you happen to be in life. Your decisions impact people beyond just you. And where those decisions have an impact on their spiritual health and wellness (and there are many more such impactful decisions you make than you probably realize), God is going to hold you responsible for their impact.
The challenge here, then, is obvious and clear: How can we live in such a way that our lives consistently point the people around us in the direction of Jesus? This cannot be a solely public commitment either. What is hidden will eventually be revealed. Righteousness must penetrate to the depths of our heart if it is going to be a consistent external display that will lead people into a deeper relationship with Jesus.
Today, then, commit to following His lead more fully than you did the day before. And then tomorrow, make that same commitment. Do it again and again with the help of the Holy Spirit and a loving community who are committed with you to the same end, and watch and see how God redeems this faithfulness for incredible kingdom advance.