Justified By Their Words
Scripture: Malachi 3:13–18
Justified By Their WordsMalachi 3:13-18
Sunday, November 21, 2004
Pastor Randy Smith
As I was walking to church Thursday morning to begin writing this sermon, I was once again reminded of the handiwork of God.
As I said goodbye to my children, I recalled the time that they were nothing, but a speck in Julie's womb. I've seen them develop physically, but also emotionally as they give further evidence to their likeness of God's image.
Then I walked past a stunning Japanese Maple tree in its fall attire located in our neighbor's yard. I gazed at the bright red hues and the wonderful symmetry of each leaf. The tree seemed to point beyond itself to a creative Designer with an eye for beauty.
Then I looked up to sky. My mind cannot even imagine the immensity of the universe. The sun shining in all it's glory is only a reminder of the countless stars that were made visible the evening before. The heavens do declare the glory of God (Psm. 19:1).
The Scriptures proclaim that "(God) did not leave Himself without witness" (Ac. 14:7). The world around us reveals the awesome fact that God exists. It reveals His power and wisdom and beauty and mercy and love and joy. The Bible says His character has been "understood through what has been made so that (all people) are without excuse" (Rom. 1:20). Creation is a window into the heart of God.
Just as creation is a window into the heart of God, words are a window into the heart of man. If you want to find out what kind of a person an individual is, all you need to do is spend some time with one in conversation. Their choice of words and their manner of speech often quickly reveal the reality of their heart. Our Lord Jesus said, "The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart" (Lk. 6:45). God examines the heart, but since words are the window to our heart, Jesus could say, "For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Mt. 12:37).
Our account in Malachi 3 reveals the words from two categories of people: Those who are displeasing in the Lord's sight (in verses 13-15) and those who are pleasing in the Lord's sight (in verses 16-18). Both of these categories give evidence of their status before God based solely on the words that came from their mouths. I have entitled this sermon, "Justified by Their Words."
1. WORDS OF THE ARROGANT (verses 13-15)
Let's first examine the words of the arrogant beginning in verse 13. "'Your words have been arrogant against Me,' says the LORD. 'Yet you say', 'What have we spoken against You?' 'You have said,' 'It is vain to serve God; and what profit is it that we have kept His charge, and that we have walked in mourning before the LORD of hosts? So now we call the arrogant blessed; not only are the doers of wickedness built up but they also test God and escape.'"
The Israelites were dumbfounded as to why the Lord was displeased with them. They gave evidence of their own self-deception and evidence of their own arrogance by asking Him all through the book of Malachi a series of questions: "How have You loved us" (1:2)? "How have we despised Your name" (1:6)? "How have we defiled You" (1:7)? "How have we wearied (You)" (2:17)? "How shall we return (to You)" (3:7)? "How have we robbed You" (3:8)? Now in verse 13 they ask, "What have we spoken against You?" It seems this question is only a summary of the other six that have already been uttered.
This is why God says, "Your words have been arrogant against Me" (Mal. 3:13). They gossiped against God. They questioned the character of the King. They judged the Judge. They challenged their Creator. They acted in arrogance against the Lord of the universe.
Now we in the church have a tendency to shake our heads in judgment against the Israelites. Though we are aware of their atrocities, rarely do we examine ourselves to see if we are committing the same sins. The majority of Israel was guilty, but not all in Israel was true Israel (we'll come back to that). On somewhat of a parallel, not all who attend church on Sunday morning are the true church. It was Billy Sunday who said, "Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile."
Especially in this day of "easy-believism," maybe we need to look at the church in America and ask ourselves if we are committing the same infractions that invoked God's displeasure against the Israelites. Let's remember, Israel was very religious, but also as we have seen, very deceived. It frightens me to consider the possibility of countless "church-going," religious Americans unwittingly heading down the broad road to destruction who could stand in judgment of the Israelites and fail to realize identical sins in their own lives. Oh we may never hear them defy God orally. Maybe they are not verbalizing their arrogance out loud, but are they uttering it in the quietness of their heart and boldly through their actions? Maybe we need to pause for a moment and examine how the church at large is any different than Israel at large, by calling God's nature into question.
The Israelites asked, "How have You loved us" (1:2)? How many in the church fully accept all God's wonderful gifts, even the most wonderful, the gift of salvation, and then question the reality of God's love at the smallest inconvenience or setback?
The Israelites asked, "How have we despised Your name" (1:6)? How many in the church despise God's name using it in vain or allow themselves to be entertained by others who do. They claim to be identified with God and then live sinful lives and are ashamed of Jesus Christ when in the company of others.
The Israelites asked, "How have we defiled You" (1:7)? How many in the church worship God out of duty and necessity at best giving God nothing but their leftovers? Through their actions they fail to acknowledge Him who is majestic and glorious and worthy of all honor and praise?
The Israelites asked, "How have we wearied (You)" (2:17)? How many in the church weary God by failing to take seriously His commandments and call to righteous living. They live lukewarm lives, honoring God with their mouths and not with their hearts?
The Israelites asked, "How shall we return" (3:7)? How many in the church even ask this question regarding repentance? When they do, it often comes by way of religious necessity with no intent to follow through with a changed lifestyle?
The Israelites asked, "How have we robbed You" (3:8)? How many in the church pamper themselves and then rob God in their offerings? They give under compulsion and without a grateful heart?
Has the professing church, either verbally or internally mimicked the self-deceived Israelites? Have they in any way expressed themselves arrogantly against God? The comparison is frightening. How many in the church will hear the Lord say, "I never knew you" (Mt. 7:23). Remember Jesus said, "For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Mt. 12:37).
Now that I have your attention, listen to the precise words of arrogance from the Israelites. Let's move from the generalities to the specifics. In verse 14 they said, "It is vain to serve God; and what profit is it that we have kept His charge, and that we have walked in mourning before the LORD of hosts?"
We've seen this throughout the book of Malachi. "Why should we bother serving the Lord? After all, the righteous are not rewarded and the wicked are not punished. Where is the justice? Where is the prosperity? What advantage is there to serving God? What difference has it ever made? We have done all the He has expected without any benefits. We have kept His charge in vain."
Based on this, the Israelites concluded in verse 15, "So now we call the arrogant blessed; not only are the doers of wickedness built up but they also test God and escape."
How did God respond to these blasphemous allegations? Based on the context, I believe God's response would have sounded something like this: "You think you have kept my charge, but you really haven't. You are guilty of willful disobedience. Do you think I am impressed when you walk in mourning before Me? Your acts are nothing but lifeless formalism and empty ritualism. You are lacking the one key aspect of salvation - faith. For without faith it is impossible to please Me. If you had faith, you would have pursued righteous living, trusting that My commands are for your greatest good. If you had faith, you would gladly serve Me, believing that such an action will never be in vain. If you had faith, you would understand that I am more impressed with your heart, than your outward appearance and religious acts. If you had faith, you would realize that I am faithful to reward the righteous and punish the wicked in My own way and in My own time. If you had faith, you would believe that those who test Me in the right way will be blessed and those who test Me in the wrong way will never escape. You have accused yourself. Your words are a reflection of your heart. And by your own words I have pronounced you guilty."
Remember Jesus said, "For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Mt. 12: 37).
2. WORDS OF THE REMNANT (verses 16-18)
We've heard the words of the arrogant. Now the second point: "The Words of the Remnant." Just as not all who attend the church really belong to God's true church, not all who lived in Israel, really belonged to the true Israel of God. In every generation and every spiritual setting, God always has His true remnant.
Turn if you would to Romans 11. Even during the most apostate times in the life of Israel, and now in the life of the church, God has preserved a remnant. Beginning in verse 1 Paul says, "I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? (a quote from 1 Kings 19) 'Lord, THEY HAVE KILLED YOUR PROPHETS, THEY HAVE TORN DOWN YOUR ALTARS, AND I ALONE AM LEFT, AND THEY ARE SEEKING MY LIFE.' But what is the divine response to him? 'I HAVE KEPT for Myself SEVEN THOUSAND MEN WHO HAVE NOT BOWED THE KNEE TO BAAL.' In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God's gracious choice" (Rom. 11:1-5).
Whether it be during the dark days of Sodom and Gomorrah, God has a remnant. Whether it be during the dark days of King Ahab and Jezebel, God has a remnant. Whether it be during the dark days of the Babylonian Captivity, God has a remnant. Whether it be during the dark days of the twenty-first century, God has a remnant. Whether it be during the dark days of Malachi's Second-Temple Judaism, God has a remnant.
They've been silent thus far, but in verses 16-18 the remnant speaks. They may be few. They may be mocked. They may be persecuted. But when they speak, God takes notice, because their words are a reflection of their heart.
First observe how the remnant is identified. At the end of verse 16 it is said they "esteem(ed) His name" (NIV-"honored His name"). Twice in verse 16 they are called, "Those who feared the Lord." Obviously that characteristic is an important identifying mark of the remnant! David Hubbard once said, "(The fear of the Lord) radiates out from our adoration and devotion to everyday conduct that sees each moment as the Lord's time, each relationship as the Lord's opportunity, each duty as the Lord's command, and each blessing as the Lord's gift. It is a new way of looking at life and seeing what it is meant to be when viewed from God's perspective."
The remnant that feared the Lord in verse 16 believed that God is always faithful to His promises. They believed that God deserves praise and adoration, not critique and chastisement. They believed that God honors the contrite heart and judges the arrogant. They believed that they needed to band together and contend for truth in the land in opposition to the accusations of the evildoers.
We've witnessed the Lord's judgment throughout this book on the arrogant. There's no doubt that He heard and took heed of their words, but what about the remnant? Did He hear their words and how was He prepared to respond to them? Verses 16 in its entirety, "Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the LORD and who esteem His name."
In all my years as a Christian, I have never heard this verse used even once to promote the benefits of true Christian fellowship. And that's a shame! If we really believed what this verse is teaching, we'd be a little quicker to pursue fellowship opportunities and a little slower to bolt when the church services conclude. We'd be a little quicker to talk about God, and a little slower to talk about the second-rate treasures of this world. We'd be a little quicker to build one another up in the faith through encouragement, and a little slower to tear one another down through backbiting and gossip.
The promises are staggering! When those who fear the Lord and esteem His name gather to discuss the things of God and their walk with Him (which is true biblical fellowship), God promises to take special notice of it. It's almost as if He inclines His ear more intently to the conversation. He takes delight in it and promises to record the conversation in what He calls "the book of remembrance." All that is ever spoken in the name of Christ is recorded as a perpetual reminder before God. And those who are blessed to have these entries will be rewarded when the books are opened, when we stand before God. God is just to prevent one tiny word of true biblical fellowship to fall to the ground! Jesus said, "For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Mt. 12: 37).
Now that I've whet your appetite, I want to back up a bit and examine the words of the remnant. This issue is much too important to simply gloss over (Jas. 1:26). Our words are the topic of this sermon. Our words are either judged or rewarded by the Almighty. Our words will justify or condemn our eternal fate. Since so much is hinging on our words, what can we say about these words when they are spoken in biblical fellowship? I believe two things.
First of all they must be words concerned with the truth. The Father is called the "God of truth" (Psm. 31:4). The Son identified Himself as "the truth" (Jn. 14:6). The Spirit is known repeatedly as the "Spirit of truth" (Jn. 14:17). Those engaged in biblical fellowship must guide their conversations in line with truth. How do we discern the truth? Jesus said, "Thy Word is truth" (Jn. 17:17). The Bible is our guide. The remnant in Malachi 3 rightly represented the truth about God's character and the truth about His expectations for His creatures. As a matter of fact, the word "God" and the word "truth" are found together in 40 verses in the Bible.
But the second aspect of godly conversation is equally as important, because the word "truth" and the word "love" are found together quite often in the Bible as well. Over and over we read about the connection between truth and love. If we really love someone, we will speak to him or her the truth. And if we speak the truth, we must speak it in love (Eph. 4:15). Love and truth, the two hallmarks of biblical fellowship, must never be divorced from one another. So the content of our speech is important, but so is the manner in which we speak it.
For instance, we're all aware of the sweet, kind and gentle individuals who may appear so loving, but then utter blasphemies and inaccurate doctrines from their lips. They betray the reality of their love in their absence of truth and do not engage in biblical fellowship.
On the other hand, we're all aware of the serious students of Scripture who speak the truth in a contentious, malicious, sarcastic or prideful manner. Without love, these words of truth will mean nothing to God and have little effect on their listeners (1 Cor. 13:1-3). Quite often they achieve just the opposite of what they intended. They turn people off. These folks betray the reality of their truth with a loveless spirit and likewise do not engage in biblical fellowship either.
So one group is indifferent to truth. In doing so they are indifferent to the God who is identified with truth. And the other group is indifferent to the fruit of the Spirit which is love manifested in kindness, goodness, gentleness, patience and self-control. In doing so they are indifferent to the Holy Spirit who indwells the life of the believer. God says neither of them are His mouthpiece.
But those who fear the Lord and esteem His name are the ones who speak the truth in love. They reveal the reality of a regenerated heart. They receive the benevolent ear of the Lord. He takes great pleasure in their conversation. He records it in the "book of remembrance."
We've examined two categories of people this morning: The arrogant and the remnant. Both of these groups existed within visible Israel and both of these groups exist within the visible church. Are we able to distinguish between these two groups? Not yet. But the Day will come (the Day of the Lord) when Jesus will execute justice. He will make a division and His true children will then be obvious. He will make a separation between the wheat and the tares.
"Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, ''The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, 'Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?' And he said to them, 'An enemy has done this!' The slaves said to him, 'Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?' But he said, 'No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, 'First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn''" (Mt. 13:24-30).
Our section in Malachi ends in similar fashion. In speaking of the remnant God says in verses 17-18, "'They will be Mine,' says the LORD of hosts, 'on the day that I prepare My own possession (Literally- "treasured possession"), and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.' So you will again distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him.'"
Many of us have spent years in the church. We've met some people who seem to have the truth without love and some who seem to have love without the truth. Possibly we've met some who have neither. But I trust we know many (hopefully in this church!) who really speak the truth in love. We incline our ear to them…and so does God! We enjoy fellowship with them. God will enjoy fellowship with them for an eternity (when He gathers them into His barn).
Our words and how we speak them are a reflection of our heart. Jesus said, "For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Mt. 12:37). Are we of the arrogant or the remnant? The wheat or the tares? The justified or condemned? The Day is coming when the God of justice will make a distinction.