One of the pitfalls of daily life as a follower of Jesus Christ is that we can grow cold to the wonders of God, half-hearted in our devotion to Him, and begin living life at arm’s length from the presence of our Creator and Savior. Malachi writes his book to a nation of nominal and lukewarm worshipers. Other prophets write to an Israel or Judah who are worshiping foreign gods and even sacrificing their children on the idols of pagan deities. Clearly there is something to be corrected there. But Malachi’s audience spends their time in the pews, singing the songs of worship, bringing their sacrifices, and repeating all the right words in service. But the words of Christ are true of them, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matt 15:8).
Into a culture where Temple worship is being reinstated, but the hearts of the people are still very far from God, Malachi writes to correct and provoke. Written in a series of conversations, Malachi is a tremendous insight into what God finds important about worship, how his people were blowing it, and what can be done to set it right. And from the very beginning, God puts our focus in the right place.
“I have loved you.” (vs. 2)
What Malachi actually says is more like, “I have loved you in the past, I continue to love you, and I will always love you.” God’s everlasting and faithful love is the very starting point in our understanding of what it means to engage in worship that is acceptable to God. In fact, God’s love for his people is the very cornerstone of his covenant with them. When Jeremiah speaks of the same reality he says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you” (Jer. 31:3). Notice who does all the work that makes this unconditional love of the Father possible – the Father!
God is his own reason for, his own grounding for, and his own source of power for his love for you. Only then can it be true that his love is everlasting, and that it continues in faithfulness through the years. If God’s love for you were based on you and your faithfulness, how long would that last?
But we don’t always feel loved, just as Malachi’s people respond with, “How have you loved us?” (vs. 2) God’s people were ripped out of their land a generation ago, made to serve as slaves in an evil empire, and now have the backbreaking responsibility of rebuilding their city, Temple, and culture. They don’t feel loved by God. We all feel this way at some point in our lives, and sometimes we express it in our frustration and even desperation. Here, God answers.
The conversation about Jacob and Esau is about God’s love for his people – it is about God establishing a unique relationship with those who belong to him, and that he will forever honor that covenant and love. God’s answer to the question, how has he loved us? I made your relationship with me possible, and I will honor it no matter what you do.
As a result of this life-giving reality dawning on us (“your own eyes shall see this”), we respond in worship of God’s glory. “Great is the Lord beyond the borders of Israel!” (vs. 5) In his righteousness and holiness, God punishes evil – Great is the Lord! In his grace and forgiveness, God creates relationship – Great is the Lord!
God-honoring and life-transforming worship begins with the recognition of the glory of God, and here we see his glory as a result of his love toward us. He loves even us – those who are not perfect, those who rebel against him, and those who in this life will never love him with a perfect and steadfast love. But to us God says, “I have loved you!”