Heartless Leaders Beware!
Scripture: Malachi 2:1–9
Heartless Leaders Beware!Malachi 2:1-9
Sunday, September 26, 2004
Pastor Randy Smith
In Luke 7 we have a precious story preserved in Scripture. Jesus is the focal point as two characters are ushered into His holy presence. One is a Pharisee named Simon. He was respected, educated in the Scriptures and well dressed in his religious garb. The other unnamed individual is identified only as "a woman in the city who was a sinner" (verse 37). She was disrespected, ignorant of spiritual things and most likely dressed as a prostitute. The stage was set. Both poles of religious life were represented. Who would receive the Lord's favor? To most present that evening, the answer seemed rather obvious.
The tension mounted. As the Pharisees sought to impress Jesus with their spirituality, the uninvited woman pulled a stunt beyond their wildest imagination. To the shock of the by-standers she demonstrated her own spirituality. She began to cry over the feet of Jesus, kissing them with her lips, wiping them with her hair and anointing them with her perfume.
The place was speechless! A Pharisee interrupted the initial silence as he was heard whispering to his colleague, "If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner" (verse 39). All the eyes must have turned from the woman to Jesus. The Man claimed to speak from God. How would this new religious teacher respond?
Expecting Him to condemn the woman, Jesus turned to the proud Pharisee and said, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little" (verses 44-47). Jesus then said to the woman, "Your sins have been forgiven…Your faith has saved you; go in peace" (verse 48, 50).
I love that story! It expresses the compassion and mercy of our Savior who is more concerned with a repentant heart than He is with external religion. Jesus exhibited His most vicious attacks toward the religious rulers of His day, but never refused a lowly sinner who came to Him with sincere faith. He was known as a "friend of sinners" because He made it His business to accept those who were the spiritual rejects of first century religious standards, but yet had the keen awareness to see their need for a Savior and approach Jesus with their heart.
This morning as we continue our study in Malachi, we'll see that the heart is the number one requirement that God expects from those who draw near to Him in worship. Our text is a continuation of last week's indictment upon the priests (Mal. 2:1) because they failed to posses this essential quality. And since God always holds His leaders more accountable, we'll see the drastic consequences for their actions followed by the expectations for appropriate ministry. Though this text is addressed to spiritual leaders, I trust all of you will uncover rich points of practical application.
1. COMMANDMENT FOR HEART-SENSITIVE LEADERSHIP
First point, God expected His leaders to serve Him from the heart.
Like the Pharisees during the time of Jesus, the religious leaders 500 years earlier during the time of Malachi also faced the scathing rebuke of God. Last week we learned that they were offering defiled and blemished sacrifices contrary to the law (verse 7). Why? Because they were bored with and flippant about serving God (verse 13). Why? Because they ceased to revere and honor His name (verse 6). Why? Because they no longer esteemed the greatness of God (verse 11). Why? And now we get to our subject for this morning - because they no longer had a heart that was passionately and affectionately beating with their Creator. Listen to the beginning and ending of verse 2 of chapter 2. "'If you do not listen, and if you do not take it to heart to give honor to My name,' says the LORD of hosts, 'then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings; and indeed, I have cursed them already, because you are not taking it to heart.'"
You see, when the heart for God goes, everything else goes with it as well. You can have all the theological knowledge, perfect church attendance, and consistent ministry, but without a heart deeply in love with God for who He is, your worship is meaningless. Better put, according to our study last week, your worship is outright offensive.
The Jewish leaders incorrectly thought God could be approached with man-made traditions and external forms of religiosity. They thought as long as they followed the outward requirements of the law they would remain in favor with God. Little did they know that external religion without internal affections is an abomination to the living God.
Listen to the following verses from the Old Testament. Listen how God rejects the outward elements of worship that are not accompanied by inward obedience from the heart.
Malachi 1, "'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 pleased with you,' says the LORD of hosts, 'nor will I accept an offering from you'" (Mal. 1:10).
Amos 5, "I hate, I reject your festivals, nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; and I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream" (Amos 5:21-24).
Micah 6, "With what shall I come to the LORD and bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves? Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God" (Mic. 6:6-8).
1 Samuel 15, "Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams" (1 Sam. 15:22).
Hosea 6, "For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings" (Hos. 6:6).
Psalm 40, "Sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired; my ears You have opened; burnt offering and sin offering You have not required. Then I said, 'Behold, I come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart'" (Psm. 40:6-8).
Psalm 51, "For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise" (Psm. 51:16-17).
Mothers, I have a question for all of you. Which would bring you greater pleasure? A rebellious teenage daughter who presents you with a stolen diamond necklace or an obedient 7 year old who spends all her time and energy to make you a "worthless" string necklace with an old clamshell attached? Hands down, a loving mother would most definitely find the latter gift more appealing in her sight because it best reflects the loving and obedient heart of the giver. And by her accepting the string necklace over the diamond necklace, it also reveals something about the mother's character. Anybody can use and treasure a diamond necklace, but how many can use and cherish a string necklace? Only a loving mother!
God is no different. He doesn't need any of our gifts. In comparison to what He could give to Himself our gifts are worse than a string necklace. Because He is confident in His own self-worth, God doesn't need our gifts to make Himself more attractive. He wants our heart, and our gifts are a reflection of our heart. Our gifts reveal to God, but primarily us (since God already knows all things), how much we truly love God and esteem His greatness. And then God demonstrates His greatness as a loving Father by accepting our string necklaces and using them to build His eternal kingdom!
Everything has to begin with the heart. Presenting to Him all that we have, all that we are, all that we ever hope to be. And if this heart worship is so important, you can now imagine how God would expect it so highly from those who lead His people. God's leaders lead through their example to the flock (1 Pet. 5:3). Heartless leaders will always produce a heartless congregation.
Since the priests had lost their heart to worship God and it was clearly reflective in the gifts they offered Him, sacrifices that were (1:13) "taken by robbery and…lame or sick," God brings forth some of the harshest rebuke to be found in all of Scripture.
2. CONSEQUENCES FOR HEART-LESS LEADERSHIP
Before we look at the specific comments God makes to His heartless leaders, let's look briefly at the ones Christ made to His heartless leaders 500 years later. Turn one book forward in your Bibles to Matthew 23. Let's remember that these comments, commonly referred to as the "eight woes," were made to the leaders of His day, while Jesus took great joy in calling tax collectors and zealots as His Apostles and drunkards and harlots as His dinner companions.
I want you to see the consistency in the heart of God. He is a God who takes pleasure in a contrite heart, in child-like love with Him over external religion regardless of the majesty of its outward display. He praises the surrendered heart, but He saves His greatest condemnation for heartless leaders who have such an influence on the hearts of His people.
Matthew 23, beginning in verse 13. "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows' houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. Woe to you, blind guides, who say, 'Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.' You fools and blind men! Which is more important, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold? And, 'Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering on it, he is obligated.' You blind men, which is more important, the offering, or the altar that sanctifies the offering? Therefore, whoever swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it. 21 "And whoever swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it. And whoever swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, 'If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.' So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell? Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation" (Mt. 23:13-36).
The heartless leaders of Malachi's time received God's similar rebuke with the same, if not greater degree of severity. Look at verse 2. "If you do not listen, and if you do not take it to heart to give honor to My name," says the LORD of hosts, "then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings; and indeed, I have cursed them already, because you are not taking it to heart."
The Old Covenant priests were assigned the tremendous privilege to bless the people (Num. 6:22-27). But more than this, there was an inherent blessing with the priesthood. The priesthood was considered a blessed institution.
The Bible says the same of the New Covenant pastor/elder. Paul said, "If any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do" (1 Tim. 3:1). Peter said these men "will receive the unfading crown of glory" (1 Pet. 5:4). In the New Testament we read that the congregation is to "esteem them very highly in love because of their work" (1 Thes. 5:13) and those who labor in preaching and teaching "are to be considered worthy of double honor" (1 Tim. 5:17).
Yet in Malachi 2:2 we read that God will curse these inherent blessings for the heartless service of His leaders. How specifically will this happen? I believe the answer is found in the beginning verse 9. "So I also have made you despised and abased before all the people."
Have we seen this fulfilled among the office of church clergy today? I believe we have. Most in today's church seem to have little respect for their leaders. These men are often the topic of endless gossip and slander. It's even worse amongst those not identified with the church. It wasn't long ago, when the church pastors were the most honored person in the town. People even went too far and began to call them "Reverends." Today the tides have completely changed. No longer are these men sought for counsel or public speaking. No longer are these men the role models for our children.
Case in point, how often is a pastor invited to speak to young people at a school? Who is our society looking to today for inspiration and example? Recently I heard of Madonna reading her new children's novel to a group of elementary children. Consider the following headline that caught my attention two weeks ago from the Chicago Tribune sport's section: "The man who flipped off the Soldier Field crowd Sunday and afterward used profanity during a TV interview came two days later to a middle school on Chicago's North Side to stress to young, impressionable minds the value of self-control." What does it say when a man who can hit a baseball 400 feet over the centerfield wall in Yankee Stadium receives more respect than an upright man trained in the Holy Bible who has dedicated himself in service to the living God? Has God cursed His leaders today for the heartless and hypocritical leading of His church? Has He also made them "despised and abased before all the people" (Mal. 2:9)?
Back to our text. The consequences continue, as do their intensity. Follow along with me as I read verse 3. "Behold, I am going to rebuke your offspring, and I will spread refuse on your faces, the refuse of your feasts; and you will be taken away with it."
God will "rebuke their offspring." Some commentators think the word "offspring" should be translated "seed." In other words, God will forbid seeds in the land to sprout causing the priests to suffer because they were dependent on a plentiful harvest to receive their tithes from the people. Others say the word should be "descendents" as in their future generations (this is in line Ex. 20:5). Since the priest had to come from the tribe of Levi and the offspring specifically of Aaron, unqualified descendents would imply an annulment of the priesthood.
Next God says He will spread refuse from their feasts on their faces. When an animal was slaughtered for sacrifice certain parts of the animal were considered "unclean." Most commentators believe the refuse spoken of here is the internal fecal material found in the intestines. In other words it was the animal's dung that needed to be removed, as it was unacceptable for the sacrifice.
This material, along with the other unclean remains was to be taken outside the city to be burned (Lev. 4:11-12). In the same way, in verse 3, God says He will take His priests "away with it."
Such an action of dung being spread on the priest's faces was not only to repay them for the insult they have shown God, but also to make them unclean and no longer fit for their official duties of ministry service. They too would be taken out with the unclean portions of the sacrifice. God would rather see these men cast onto the dunghill than minister with such heartless attitudes in His holy sanctuary.
These strong words carry weighty application to the leaders of our church, but they also speak volumes to the congregation on the seriousness of God when people approach Him in worship. This is especially significant for the New Covenant as we consider the "priesthood of all believers."
3. CHARACTERISTICS OF HEART-DRIVEN LEADERSHIP
We've learned that God commanded leaders to be engaged with their heart. We've learned the consequences for heartless leadership. But we still have not answered an important question. What does this heart-driven leadership specifically look like? In other words, if a leader loves God with all his heart, what should be the noticeable results of His leadership? Now, as we move to the third point, let's examine the characteristics of heart-driven leadership. And as we consider these characteristics, ask yourself, do I want the same type of leaders God wants? And if so, am I holding my leaders at the Grace Tabernacle accountable to this standard?
Beginning in verse 4, "'Then you will know that I have sent this commandment to you, that My covenant may continue with Levi,' says the LORD of hosts. 'My covenant with him 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 a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts" (Mal 2:5-7).
First of all, heart-driven leadership results in honoring God's name. In verse 2 God said, "If you do not take it to heart to give honor to My name." Then in verse 5 we read that God's leader should "revere Him" and "stand in awe of His name." God wants His leaders to proclaim His greatness and not the greatness of man. He wants His leaders to proclaim His name as (1:11) "great among the nations." He wants His leaders to lead with a "holy seriousness" and "reverential fear." He wants His leaders more concerned about displeasing Him then they are at seeking to win the favor of the people.
In verse 6 God provides more characteristics for His ideal leadership. "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." God wants His leaders to be men consumed with living a godly life. He wants men committed to holiness and integrity. That's why when the qualifications for leaders are described in the New Testament epistles, all the attributes, save one, deal with the man's character. Just like verse 6, the man is expected to "walk with (God) (denoting intimacy) in peace and uprightness."
And the only attribute that doesn't deal with character per say deals with the man's ability to handle with Word of God. Interestingly, this qualification also parallels Malachi 2:6. In 1 Timothy 3:2 we read he must "be able to teach." According to Malachi 2:6, "true instruction was in his mouth and unrighteousness was not found on his lips." In Titus 1:9 we read he must be able "to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict." According to Malachi 2:6, "and he turned many back from inequity." These thoughts are followed up in verse 7. "For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts."
God calls His leaders in Malachi to teach "true instruction" (verse 6). That's why He has commanded leaders in the Bible to "preach the Word" (2 Tim. 4:2). Why? Because as Jesus said, "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth" (Jn. 17:17). The Word of God is "true instruction" (verse 6). When God's leaders speak God's Word, then and only then, they "preserve knowledge" and function as "the messenger of the LORD of hosts" (verse 7; cf. Hag. 1:13)
Yet by way of contrast, God says to these unqualified leaders of Israel in verses 8 and 9, "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 you are not keeping My ways but are showing partiality in the instruction."
I hope you see how serious God is toward His leadership. I hope you have learned how to better select your leaders and pray for your leaders. I hope your expectations for your leaders are in line with God's expectations. And if so, that you hold them accountable to that standard.
But most of all I hope you see how much God wants your heart. In speaking to the people of His generation, Jesus said, "This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me. But in vain do they worship me'" (Mt. 15:8-9a). Are you following the greatest commandment to "love the Lord your God with all your heart" (Mk. 12:30; cf. Deut. 6:5)? Do you need to pray with King David, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me" (Psm. 51:10)? Do you believe the words of Jesus Christ? "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Mt. 5:8).
"The LORD bless you, and keep you; The LORD make His face shine on you, and be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace" (Num. 6:24-26).