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Malachi 2:1-9: Guarding Knowledge

September 25, 2022 Speaker: Jeremy Caskey Series: Guest Speakers

Topic: Default Passage: Malachi 2:1– 1:9

Guarding Knowledge
Malachi 2:1-9

 For those who do not know me, I am Jeremy, one of the pastors here. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to you this morning, both to give our pastor, Josh, a break, and to preach the word. If I were to ask you who is responsible for the nation’s defense, what would you say? I am guessing that most would say, “The military,” without giving it a second thought. But what if I were to tell you that while the military is primarily responsible for the nation’s defense, in some form or fashion, all of us are ultimately responsible. For whether or not we vote, and whom we vote for determines what kind of defense we will have.

Recently, I finished a book entitled, The Kill Chain: Defending America in the Future of High-Tech Warfare. In the book, the author, Christian Brose, a former Staff Director for the Senate Armed Services Committee and senior policy advisor to Senator John McCain, makes the case that other near-peer competitors like China have closed the gap, investing in more lethal, cheaper, and reproducible technologies than we have. The author makes the case, that should we continue with business as usual, investing in the same platforms, relying on the same dwindling group of defense companies, with congressman making the case to keep the same, dated platforms, so that the factory that produces them stays open in their state, in their voting district, life as we know it will change significantly. The relative peace we have enjoyed since the end of the Cold War will inevitably come to an end. And I say that as someone who lost a brother in Afghanistan, and served there myself. But can you imagine the chaos without a strong defense? But what if I told you there’s an even bigger problem than that. A nation’s defense matters little without an understanding of, and submission to, the truth of God and his Word. We can build an almost impregnable defense, but, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the
city, the watchman stays awake in vain,” Psalm 127:1.

We find in our text this morning a nation led by a group of ministerial guardians failing in their call to guard the knowledge of God. And as a result, spiritual chaos has descended upon God’s people, as surely as chaos would descend upon our country without a strong defense. Unfortunately, this is a problem still common in the world today. After all, guarding knowledge, heralding God’s truth, can be a rather unpopular, even uncomfortable, business. It’s no wonder that Paul warns in 2 Timothy 4:3-4, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” At its heart, failing to endure sound teaching has at its root a desire to put oneself over and above the word of God—as it’s judge—rather than put oneself under and below the Word of God—as it’s judge over us. If the stakes were not all that high, perhaps we could entertain little thought regarding the necessity and centrality of the truth of God in his Word. That is not, however, the case. For our eternal souls, the trajectory of we as a people—and dare I say—even the purpose of our lives will remain unrealized should we neglect so great a salvation. Salvation is at stake. The nation’s endurance is at stake. All of us have work to do.

The priests in our passage had work to do, a work described in the main idea of our text today. And that is: Give honor to God by guarding knowledge and leading others into God’s truth, or be cursed.

Beginning in v1, Malachi keeps with the same audience from ch1, saying “And now, O priests, this command is for you.” He will continue to admonish the priests for failing to offer worthy worship and preserve truth. Do you ever wonder if you’re at the right church, if your pastor is doing the right thing? By God’s grace, this passage will tell us what to look for. But it goes even further than that, for all New Testament Christians are called to the priesthood, the priesthood of all believers. Just as all of us are ultimately responsible for our nation’s defense, so all of us claiming to be in Christ—to be Christian—are responsible to give honor to God by guarding knowledge and leading others into God’s truth. So even if I use words like minister, pastor, or priest, know that all Christians have a responsibility to uphold this high calling. But it goes even further than what Christians should do, and what non-Christians should expect of Christians. For those of you not necessarily claiming to be Christian, you should expect a church to herald and uphold the truth of God in his Word. In other words, you should expect that
Christians put their money where their mouths are, being doers of the word, and not hearers only. While every one of us will exhibit some form of hypocrisy, sin, and error, in our lives, we must strive to honor God by hearing, doing, and sharing God’s Word.

I. Ministers should give honor to God’s name, 2-6
That much is evident from v2. But should ministers fail in this regard…

A. God warns unfaithful ministers of his discipline, 2-3
“If you will not listen, if you will 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. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart.” Because they merely went through the motions of worship, saying and doing all the right things in a wearisome, unaffected, sort of way—as seen in the previous chapter—because they did not take to heart the significance of what they were doing in leading others in the worship of God, God curses their blessings. In other words, he’s giving back to them what their hearts trulyoffered him: the curse. Notice, not just a curse, but thee curse. —The curse found in Deuteronomy 28:20: the curse of confusion and frustration, futility, in all that they undertook to do, until they are destroyed and perish quickly on
account of the evil of their deeds, because they have forsaken me,” God says. You see, God is after his people’s hearts. In other words, he’s after—as one commentator states—“The command center of a person’s life, where knowledge is collected and considered and where decisions and plans are made that determine the direction of one’s life.” This idea of the heart isn’t merely about your feelings—or a Disneyesque, “follow your heart” princess notion, but God is after your very reason and allegiance. He’s seeking to arrest your attention. But these priests are unimpressed by the glory of God and their high-calling to lead others in worship. And so, they are cursed. Sometimes, I think it’s difficult to see the correlation between our unfaithfulness and the misfortunes we experience as a result. That is not to say that every misfortune is a result of sin. No. Far from it. But we see here that the priest’s failure to listen, to take to heart their duty to honor God, rather than themselves, results in misfortune, punishment, cursed, fruitless ministry. They needed God’s strength to do God’s work. Regrettably, they relied on their own strength. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his book, Preaching and Preachers, says that the most important ingredient in preaching is the unction, or power, of the
Holy Spirit. This power in preaching gives the preacher clarity of thought and speech. This power, however, is not something the preacher can conjure up. It is a gift of God. Unction is something that comes upon, and takes hold of, the preacher. Without this unction, ministry will be wearisome. It will be a burden. It will not bear fruit. And so, Lloyd-Jones encourages us to do all that we can in terms of preparation. But that is not where we stop. We must pray for the unction, the power, of the Holy Spirit to come upon our work whether we are in the pulpit or the pew. Lloyd-Jones then gives the example of Elijah, building the altar, cutting the wood, preparing the sacrifice, then praying for the fire to descend. In other words, the minister—the Christian—does all that he can to prepare, but does not forget the crucial step of asking God to bring
the fire, to bring the power that only comes from the Spirit of God. Otherwise,
he who labors, labors in vain.

Verse 3 says, “Behold, I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings, and you shall be taken away with it.” Notice first of all, that unfaithful ministry not only affects God, not only affects the minister, not only affects those ministered to, but the descendants of the minister. Generational curses come upon unfaithfulness. You might say that unfaithfulness begets unfaithfulness. If the tree is rotten, so shall its fruit be. God will rebuke—or put a stop to—such a ministry. He may let it go on for a time in his longsuffering but it will die a slow death. Look at the graphic language used in the second part of v3: he spreads dung on their faces. He compares their worship to fecal matter. Because they offered him excrement, filth, waste, he will display such offerings on their faces. Unfaithfulness will be evident. Now what should have been upon their faces? Well, according to Deuteronomy 6, God’s word itself should have been on such prominent display. God’s word should have been bound as frontlets between their eyes. In other words, God’s word should have ever been before them. But they turned away from his word, devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, as 1 Timothy 4:1 would later warn. So, as a king would tell the palace guards to take an unfaithful servant away to be bound and
punished, so God tells the priests they will be taken away with it. Because they considered their ministry a burden not worthy to be trifled with, God would relieve them of their burden by removing them and their descendant from his service. As he does…

B. God reminds ministers of what faithful ministry looks like, 4-6
He does not completely forsake the priesthood, remembering his covenant in v4, even though they—the priests—had forgotten it. In a manner of speaking, he says, “Though I will remove specific unfaithful ministers, I will not stop the ministry. I am a covenant keeping God.” And so he gives us the example of Levi’s faithfulness in v5. Levi represents the priesthood itself and its high calling. “My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him.” In other words, God gave Levi—the Old Testament priestly representative—life and peace. We cannot understate this. The giving of life does not necessarily refer to length of days, or quantity of life, so much as it has to do with quality of life: blessings abounding. Peace. —A contentment regardless of how much, or how little, God gives materially. Now God keeps his covenant with Levi which ultimately finds fulfillment in the New Testament priestly representative, Jesus Christ. In Jesus we have life and peace. Jesus reminds us in John 10:10, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Elsewhere in John 14:27, he says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not
your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” God keeps his covenant, offering life and peace to his people through the sacrifice of his son, Jesus Christ, who serves as both the priest and the sacrifice. He wants you to have a life of spiritual abundance. He imparts peace. Do you know that peace, friend? Are you casting all your cares upon him because he cares for you, or are you keeping those cares for yourself, because you cannot trust him to take care of them? God gives his people peaceful, abundant living. He goes on in v5 to say, “It was a covenant of fear, and he”—that is Levi—“feared me. He stood in awe of my name.” The glory of God was so evident that the priestly line of Levi was in awe of it. Which in turn affected the lives and behavior of the true priesthood. He knew his place of subordination under God, rather than as the supervisor of his own life. He trusted the perfect one to lead him through an imperfect world. That’s reverence, friends.

He continues in v6, “True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity.” Here we see 3 characteristics of a faithful minister; of any Christian, really: (1) A faithful minister studies and speaks truth, (2) A faithful minister exemplifies peaceful, holy living, and (3) A faithful minister through studying and speaking truth and exemplifying peaceful, holy living leads others into the same. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God uses him as an instrument to turn them away from the emptiness of their sin and shows them the delight of living a life for God. Do you study that truth? Do you speak that truth first to yourself, and then to others? As a result, does it
affect your life, bringing peace and righteousness? And are you so captivated by the change that God has wrought in you that you cannot but help share this saving joy with others? God’s ministers—God’s people—love God so much that they want to know him, be like him, and lead others to know and be like him. Is your pastor, your elders, characterized by these 3 things? Are you? Because if not, where might we—where might you—lead you?

In his book, The Reformed Pastor, the Puritan Richard Baxter warns ministers, “Can any reasonable man imagine that God should save men for offering salvation to others, while they refuse it themselves …Many a tailor goes in rags, that maketh costly clothes for others; and many a cook scarcely licks his fingers, when he hath dressed for others the most costly dishes.” In other words, don’t trust a tailor in ragged clothes, or a skinny cook who has not regularly consumed his or her own cooking, or a minister who is notsaved. Put another way, do you and your elders practice what you preach? Do you
know Jesus? (1) Do you and your elders study and speak truth? Many a times I have heard a minister say as an excuse for not studying God’s word, “I’m just going to let the Lord lead,” as if inspiration always comes without perspiration. How does one run a race, or fight a fight, or keep the faith without practice and preparation? Can it be done? —Sometimes, by God’s grace. More often it comes through blood, sweat, and tears; giving yourself wholly and completely to the task. Yet, even that is not enough without the power of the Holy Spirit coming upon the work. (2) Do you and your elders exemplify peaceful, holy living? Or are you contentious, with questionable behavior? While talent and charisma may be optional for the minister, holiness is not. If your elders are not speaking studied truth or living peaceful, holy lives—then your elders have no right to (3) lead you in the same. They cannot give you what they do not have. If they’re not exhibiting these 3 characteristics of faithful ministry, they’re not elders. In fact, they may be wolves in sheep’s clothing. In vv2-6, ministers should give honor to God’s name.

II. Ministers should guard knowledge and lead others into God’s truth, 7-9

A. A minister serves as a preserving agent of truth, 7
“For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge”—some translations say, preserve knowledge—“and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.” What an incredibly high calling. A calling one dare not take lightly. God’s minister serves as a guardian, a sentry, a watchman on the wall, warning of impending doom and preserving the knowledge of God in an often crooked and twisted generation. The idea of a priest’s lips guarding knowledge goes back to the previous verse where ministers speak studied truth. They should be compelled to say what God has said, or say nothing at all. They should not speak, “Peace, peace, when there is no peace,” as the false prophets speak in Jeremiah 6:14 or Ezekiel 13:16 just
because that is the message people want to hear. No. They should speak truth
whether that truth is popular or not. Ministers preserve knowledge. Sometimes that requires courage. But it always requires meditative study, and consistent impartation, meaning ministers teach knowledge to others. They are not meant to preserve knowledge in a vacuum, keeping it to themselves, cloistered away from the world, like the Essene community who preserved the Dead Sea Scrolls. Rather, they are meant to preserve knowledge for the sake of communicating that knowledge to people, that, “people should seek instruction from his mouth,” as v7 continues. If your minister guards the knowledge of God, you would do well to seek his instruction, for—it says—he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. As messengers, priests interpreted, heralded, and applied what had already been revealed through God’s revelation. Meaning, they didn’t bring a new word, but an old word. They may apply it differently as times and circumstances change, but it’s the same word, with the same meaning. But in failing to
interpret, herald, and apply God’s Word, we find that…

B. An unfaithful minister causes many to stumble, 8
“But you have turned aside from the way.” You might say these ministers got off the road. They are wandering in the wilderness, and leading others astray in the process. As a result, it says, “You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts.” When something has been corrupted, it has been rendered somewhat useless, like a cardboard box left out in the rain, or a tomato plant eaten by deer. Or in this case a minister who has corrupted God’s covenant, breaking the word. The prophet Amos had previously warned of this coming judgment, saying, “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God, “when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of
hearing the words of the Lord.” A famine of hearing the Word of God. By Malachi’s day that judgment has come upon them. Steve Lawson, in a book by that same name, believes that time is upon us again, where we find a shortage of faithful preaching, leaving those in the pews dangerously undernourished.

In many ways an unfaithful minister’s ministry had been characterized by the very opposite characteristics of Levi’s ministry in v6: (1) An unfaithful minister studies something other than the truth—if he studies at all—and, as a result speaks half-truths or lies, (2) An unfaithful minister pretends at peaceful, holy living characterized by some form of self-righteousness, and (3) An unfaithful minister through studying and speaking something other than the truth and pretending at peaceful, holy living characterized by some form of self-righteousness leads others into the same. He leads them astray.

C. An unfaithful minister shall be despised, 9
“And so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you do not keep my ways but show partiality in your instruction.” Because they served for gain—showing more concern for what they got out of it by showing partiality, and as a result despising God and his word—God despised them, by allowing their witness and their effectiveness to be destroyed. Oh sure, they continued to go through the motions, but they were ineffective because they failed to keep God’s ways. They did the very thing condemned in James 2, by making distinctions among themselves, favoring some over
others, perhaps paying attention to the wealthy and dismissing the poor. And this verse tells us that people see through that. Just as important, they see through a minister who does not keep God’s ways. This goes right back to v6, regarding 3 characteristics of a faithful minister: studying and speaking truth, exemplifying peaceful, holy living, and leading others into the same. We cannot tolerate anything less from our elders, or even ourselves.

For those of you who watched the Star Wars show, The Mandalorian, you may recall the oft repeated phrase, “This is the way.” Mandalorian warriors hold to a certain rigid, almost religious code of beliefs, where they protect one another, take care of orphan foundlings, and never take off their helmets. If they violate this code, they are stripped of their armor and put outside the community. But even in this fictional ideology, there is a way back, a road to redemption. In like fashion, God—through his word—affirms certain beliefs and behaviors that constitute the way. These priests lost their way. And there is only one way back, only one road to redemption. It is through the high priestly ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the way. Where these priests fail, Jesus succeeds. He both honors God and preserves knowledge, and even serves as the perfect sacrifice by his death on the cross, which pays for our sins. Out of the success of Jesus’ high
priestly ministry, he extends the priesthood to all believers, to all followers of him.This is the way. Earthly ministers will fail you. You will fail you. You and they are only successful insofar as you and they point to Jesus, leading and being led into God’s truth.

Is it any wonder that our churches are in the condition they are in nowadays? Is it any
wonder that church attendance is on the wane? Is it any wonder that many refuse to
come to Christ, stating the hypocrisy of the church, as their biggest road block? In many cases, the guards have left their posts, or at the very least, not guarded God’s truth. As surely as our nation would descend into chaos if word got out that we were wide open to whatever, in an anything-goes-fashion, so too have our churches descended into chaos for their anything-goes-mentality. Would we give honor to God by guarding knowledge andleading others into God’s truth? Only through the mercy and grace and help of Jesus can we do this. This is the way.