“‘A son honors his father, and a servant his master. Then if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My respect [fear]?’ says the Lord of hosts to you, ‘O priests who despise My name.’ But you say, ‘How have we despised Your name?’” -Mal. 1.6
We need to be leery of any view of the Fatherhood of God that does not lead us into a holy esteem for the Lord. Likewise, our view of His Lordship ought always to be accompanied with a sense of His kindness, lest it become stoic and lifeless. Our view of His Fatherhood must be attended by the quintessential attribute of His nature; namely, His holiness, lest we find that we are engaged headlong in activities performed “in His name,” but altogether devoid of His honor. The prophet commences with an “oracle of the word of the Lord,” declaring, “I have loved you.”
How did Israel requite the Lord for His gracious love? From the love of God the prophet now turns to the ingratitude of His people. God has treated the people of Israel as a son; have they honored Him as Father? They have retained the relationship of servant to Him as Master; have they rendered Him due reverence? The rightful respect due God has been withheld, due mainly to the ungodliness of the priests against whom the charge is directed.
(Charles Feinberg, The Minor Prophets; Moody Press, 1990 ed. pp. 251-252)
It is a rarity for the “rightful respect due God” to have a place in the consideration of modern saints. With the advent of smart phones, instant internet access, and a thousand other forms of entertainment and distraction, the idea of being “still” and knowing that He is God is taking on an archaic character. The everyday bustling believer is being (or has already been) reduced to a brand of humanity that can only respond to, and receive from, that which is quick, easy, and colorful. The priestly distinctives of waiting and honoring and revering the One on the throne have reached the status of taboo, even if we would refuse to admit it.
We have learned to settle for the offering up of blind, lame, and sickly sacrifices, and the robust faith of the apostles and prophets of old is nearly extinct in the Western Christian experience. We need daily to be reminded that:
The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether. -Ps. 19.8-9
Many Christians are being raised with an understanding of God that is tragically bereft of the kind of reverential honor that the prophets and the old Levites bore before the people. There is something tinpot and cheap about our hurried ministries and perfunctory thoughts of God. They do not ring with the life-giving note of the fear of the Lord, and unless we acquire that, we can be sure that however busy we might be with work, play, or some ostensible expression of ministry, we will not bear the necessary priestly distinctive: “holiness unto to the Lord.” Our witness will be reduced to humanism and our ministry to mere religion.
Our great task is not first to perform externals, but to bear the knowledge of God as He is before the people, and that knowledge cannot be obtained but by a people in earnest pursuit of the Living God. If we give slipshod attention to Him, however feverishly engaged in ministry we might be, He will be as a Father without honor. We need to be arrested by the reality that He will have nothing to do with man-centered ministries, humanistic theologies, or garbled definitions of priestliness and sonship.
Oh that there were one among you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle fire on My altar! I am not not pleased with you,” says the Lord of hosts, “nor will I accept an offering from you.” -Mal. 1.10
We need to be acutely aware of the fact that it is possible to function in a distorted kind of faith that caters to our spiritual preferences, but is in no way pleasing to the Lord. It is even possible for this infraction and offense to be committed “on My altar” or under the auspices of Christian ministry.
Leon Morris wrote that Malachi gives attention to “laxity among the priests,” and this may well be the characteristic condition of believers in modern times, whether Evangelical or Charismatic. The laxity is not in activity, but in earnestness after God. The Levites had deviated from the priestly covenant, and in like manner, the Church has largely deviated from “faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.”
‘My covenant with him [Levi] was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him as an object of reverence; so he revered Me and stood in awe of My name. True instruction was in his mouth and unrighteousness was not found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many back from iniquity. For the lips of priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.
But as for you, you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by the instruction; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi,’ says the Lord of hosts. So I also have made you despised and abased before all the people, just as your are not keeping My ways but are showing partiality in the instruction. -Mal. 2.5-9
We need to peer long and hard into the Levitic call, especially at its heart, for it is not unlike the call of every saint. In the Gospel, we have been “grafted” into a continuum with the Hebraic Levites of ancient times, for like our Lord, the nature of a priest is the “same yesterday, today, and forever.” We ought to be bearing that priestly honor for the Father, and going from “glory to glory” in that wondrous reality. Have we seen Him as worthy of that kind of life; of living, moving, and having our being in Him; ‘broken bread and poured out wine’ for His sake?