Saturday, March 27, 2010

Malachi 2:17: Good and Evil

We face a lot of ambiguity in our lives. Traditional values often are questioned and ridiculed. New rules seem required for our new circumstances. Yet one thing we must avoid is saying, “All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and he is pleased with them.” When we are unable to identify and name evil in ourselves and in others, we indeed are lost.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Malachi 2:13: Giving and Receiving

We draw subtle connections between our gifts to God and the blessings we expect to receive from God. This is the “give and it shall be given unto you” principle of Luke 6:38. What happens when the blessings cease to flow and our gifts seem to hold no sway with God? Is the fault with God, with us, or with the assumption of an automatic connection between gifts and blessings?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Faith, Grace, And Morality

I find that I must constantly remind myself that Malachi wrote before the new covenant of grace that was established through Jesus Christ. Recently I have found myself longing for some evidence of grace in Malachi. The tenor of the book has led to a tenor in my exposition that seems to focus exclusively on obedience with few hints of grace. For Malachi, the covenant was maintained by keeping the commandments. Faithfulness to the commandments was evidence of a person’s love for God and of right standing with God.

As Christians, we know that we cannot save ourselves no matter how committed we might be to the covenant with God or how faithfully we try to observe all of the commandments. None of us becomes morally perfect once we have accepted God’s grace, but grace does not remove the tension or the struggle for a moral daily walk.

In the spirit of Jesus’ teachings, the “morally concerned” most often seem to miss the mark. They focus on deeds and not on a spirit of compassion and grace. Often we struggle with that because compassion and grace seem to be “soft” on sin. Jesus didn’t want faith and discipleship to be a burden, but establishing and operating under “the rule of God” in our hearts and lives is not an easy goal.

Keeping grace and obedience in balance will not be easy. I have offered an approach to the issue, but not everyone will agree with it. When Broadman and Holman were beginning work on THE HOLMAN BIBLE DICTIONARY, I was invited to contribute a number of entries in the work—mostly short articles that filled in the gaps in the dictionary.

One of the articles I wrote was on “apostasy,” a subject that has been hotly debated among Baptists and other Christian groups. In the almost 20 years since I wrote that article, I have received only one letter about my treatment of that rather controversial subject. The letter came from Dr. Dale Moody, one of my seminary professors who is perhaps best remembered as the professor who tried with all his might to get Baptists to forsake their “once saved, always saved” views. Dr. Moody was rather complimentary of my article; but he wanted to know whether I had written the last paragraph or had it been written by the editors. That was the only part of the treatment that he did not like. I told him that I had written it, and it was my way of trying to reconcile the differences between those holding opposing views. I guess my “compromise” must have worked, because no one else has challenged the conclusion.

Here is that last paragraph: “Persons worried about apostasy should recognize that conviction of sin in itself is evidence that one has not fallen away. Desire for salvation shows one does not have ‘an evil heart of unbelief.’” Applying that principle to the discussion above, I would make a similar conclusion. People who focus on the sins of others and fail to express concern for their own sinfulness likely have missed the essence of Jesus’ teachings. Those who most loudly speak words of condemnation without first examining themselves are likely the hypocrites in our midst. Those who struggle with their own inclinations toward sinfulness are likely to be more compassionate toward “sinners like me.”

Maybe this is why Malachi troubles me. He seems to speak from a position of moral superiority, condemning others for their sin but with scant acknowledgement of his own “falling short.” Some will not be troubled at all about that issue because they think that Malachi was merely writing what God dictated, and God has no need to be concerned about revealing any sin in the Godhead. The problem with that view is that it divides the God we see in the Old Testament from the God revealed through Christ in the New Testament. Jesus showed compassion for sinners, not condemnation of them. He saved his condemnations for the pious who were blind to their own sin while focusing on other’s short-comings with a high powered microscope.

My former pastor, David George, on several occasions has quoted Dr. Ben Curtis of Belmont University. Many years ago Ben was in conversations with a church that wanted him to become its pastor. Dr. George was pointing out to him some things about being a pastor that he thought Ben might not like. In response, Ben said, “All I would expect from them is that they be religiously serious and decently human.” Those two things hold in tension what I am striving for in the study of Malachi. I believe God wants us to be religiously serious, but I also think God wants us to be decently human. In the tension of those two polarities, we will also find commitment and grace.

Malachi 2:11 -- Broken Faith and Covenant

Intermarriage with “the daughter of a foreign god” is not our issue. Instead we had unquestioningly wed ourselves to the contemporary heart, the worldly mindset, and the secular practices of our day. Our compromise, accommodation, tolerance, and amiability with the world are our detestable things. We have broken faith and covenant with God.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Malachi 2:11 -- Commitment Lite

For Malachi, marriage symbolized the most intimate and exclusive of human relationships. Unfortunately that symbol doesn’t carry much weight in our society where marriage covenants often are treated capriciously. If the truth be faced, our relationships with God often suffer the same kind of capriciousness. “Commitment Lite” is too much with us.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Malachi 2:11 -- Broken Faith

Malachi selected Judah for special censure, but the post-exilic Judah was more a territory than one of the twelve tribes. Centered in Jerusalem and noted as the location of “the sanctuary the Lord loves,” Judah symbolized all the Nehemiah and Ezra had tried to restore. The broken faith that had precipitated the exile had returned, however; and God was not pleased.

Friday, March 12, 2010


THINKING ALOUD 3/12/10 Malachi 2:10: The way we treat one another reflects our allegiance to our covenant with God. Malachi says that our broken relationships “profane” the covenant. We do this by dealing treacherously (NASB), being faithless (NRSV), or breaking faith with one another (NIV). These may sound harsh until you observe the behaviors in almost any church dealing with change.

The NASB most closely translates the meaning of the Hebrew בָּגַד, which means to act or deal treacherously, faithlessly, or deceitfully. The term is used of marriage relations, in matters of property, in covenants, and in general conduct. The last part of Isaiah 24:16 shows a classic use of the term.

Treacherous is not a word that we use regularly today, but we see it in so many aspects of our lives. The loss of faith and trust in relationships, deceitful acts of disloyalty, giving the false appearance of safety or reliability, and the lack of security and trustworthiness in relationships all give evidence of our treachery.

The root of our troubles is found in the fact that we do not take our covenants very seriously. Covenants, which are meant to hold us together in mutual commitments, are cast aside through our self-centeredness and an overwhelming concern for the big “I.”

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

MALACHI 2:10: The Bonds of Covenant

Malachi 2:10 (NASB)

10 "Do we not all have one father? Has not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously each against his brother so as to profane the covenant of our fathers?
The common bond that binds all humanity together in creation and the special bond that binds the covenant community together in faith call us to examine the way we treat one another.

God provides the relational model for us, and we can see that model clearly and uniquely in Acts 10:34 (προσωπολήμπτης) and James 2:9 (προσωπολήμπτέω). God does not show favoritism, and neither should God’s people. Luke and James used two New Testament Greek hapax legomena that were employed first by Christian writers. These unique words seem to derive from Malachi 1:8 in the Septuagint (πρόσωπον λαμβάνειν, literally “to lift the face,” NRSV “to show favor”). Luke employed the term in Acts to open the doors of the community of faith to all who share in the creation covenant. James employed the term to the internal relationships in the community of faith.

In reality, our relationships are clear examples of showing favoritism toward some and virtually ignoring all the rest. In doing so we break the universal bond of the creation covenant and we turn the covenant community into an exclusive club rather than a reaching, accepting, loving community that tries to draw all into God’s embrace.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

MALACHI 2:10: God--Creator and Father--and Us

Malachi 2:10 (NASB): Do we not all have one father? Has not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously each against his brother so as to profane the covenant of our fathers?
I find it interesting that the NASB and NRSV do not capitalize "father," indicating they they interpret "father" as a reference to Adam. The NIV does capitalize it as a reference to God. Because the concept of God as Father is rather rare in the Old Testament, I can see why the NASB and NRSV failed to capitalize it.
I prefer "Father" as a reference to God here. Later in the verse Malachi refers to "the covenant of our fathers," a concept that does not apply to all humanity. To me, this makes the “we” associated with “one Father” appear to stand in subtle contrast with the “us” associated with the “one God” who created us.
We share a bond with all humanity through creation, but knowing God as Father is not a universal experience. Only the people who have joined God in covenant will know and understand the more intimate relationship with God as Father.
Part of our task as children of the Heavenly Father is to introduce those created in the image of God to the Father God. To me that is the heart of the mission of the church.

Monday, March 8, 2010


Malachi 2:10: I know that some consider calling God “Father” to be sexism. In reality, “Father” is an inaccurate description because both father and mother are required to “make” children and God is a one-of-a-kind being who didn’t need a partner to create humanity. Yet I still sense a need both of a reverence and awe for “the One and Only” and of the personal intimacy of an “Abba.”

Getting Started

Today I am following suggestions from my Facebook friends and starting a blog. My hope is that you will feel free to interact with both the Facebook "Thinking Aloud" posts and my "Mike's Thinking Aloud" reflections. Join me in the journey.