Serving to the End
June 8, 2003
A man stopped by a house with a sign out front that said, “Talking Dog For Sale.” The owner directed him to the backyard to see the dog. He was pretty skeptical and called out, “You talk?” “Yep,” the mutt replied. The man then said, “So, what’s your story?”
The dog looked up and said, “Well, I discovered this gift when I was young and I wanted to help the government so I went to work for the CIA. I jetted around from country to country. I’ve spied on world leaders because no one ever figured a dog could eavesdrop. I was one of their most valuable agents. I uncovered some incredible secrets and was awarded a bunch of medals. I had a wife, a mess of puppies, and now I’m just retired.”
The guy couldn’t believe his ears! Who ever heard of a dog that talked? He was already thinking of ways he could use an eavesdropping dog. He turned to the owner and said, “How much do you want for him?” The owner replied, “Ten dollars.” To which the man replied, “Your dog is amazing. Can I ask why you’re selling him so cheap?” The owner just shook his head and said, “Because he’s a big liar!”
That reminds me of the older gentleman who had serious hearing problems for over 10 years. He finally went to the doctor and was fitted for a set of hearing aids that enabled him to hear perfectly. On his follow-up visit a month later, the doctor said, “Your hearing is now at 100%. Your family must be really pleased that you can hear again.” To which the man replied, “Oh, I haven’t told my family yet. I just sit around and listen to conversations. I’ve ended up changing my will three times.”
As we come to our passage today, it’s helpful to think of God as eavesdropping on some conversations. He’s listening in as two groups of people are talking. The first group is speaking against Him; the other speaks in awe of the Almighty. Group #1 looked around and complained. Group #2 looked up and comprehended. And God heard it all.
Group #1: Looked Around and Complained
Please turn in your Bible to Malachi 3:13-15 and follow along as I read from the Message Translation.
God says, “You have spoken hard, rude words to me.” You ask, “When did we ever do that?” “When you said, ‘It doesn’t pay to serve God. What do we ever get out of it? When we did what he said and went around with long faces, serious about God-of-the-Angel-Armies, what difference did it make? Those who take life into their own hands are the lucky ones. They break all the rules and get ahead anyway. They push God to the limit and get by with it.’”
These people were lodging three complaints against God.
1. We’ve said nothing wrong (13). Their first complaint against God is that they’ve done nothing wrong. Look at verse 13: “You have said harsh things against me, says the Lord.” God is saying that His people have been openly obstinate with Him. The King James Version uses the phrase, “You have been stout against me.” Once again, for the seventh and final time in the book, the people deny that they have a problem: “What have we said against you?”
As God eavesdrops, notice that He doesn’t say that the people are saying strong words to Him, but rather against Him. The form of the verb “said” means “to speak to one another in conversation.” They were talking to each other about their complaints against God. And yet, when they’re confronted with this, they’re quick to deny that they’ve done anything wrong.
Have you ever noticed how easy it is to find people who will agree with our complaints? We’re attracted to those who are sympathetic to our feelings. When we grumble against God we want others to grumble with us.
2. Serving is useless (14). In verse 14, God tells them in no uncertain terms what their next complaint is: “You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty?’” When God dealt with their denial it had to very disarming. They must have thought God could not hear what they were saying. They were basically saying that worshipping, tithing, and serving had no purpose. It was all empty, vain and useless. The word “profit” is a technical term used for a weaver cutting a piece of cloth free from the loom. As used here it has the negative connotation of someone expecting his or her “cut” or percentage, as a hit man would demand for his work. This reveals a consumer mentality: What will I get out of this? What’s in it for me?
These murmurers are complaining because even when they mourned before the Lord it was of no benefit. They had kept the outward appearance of the Law and wondered why things were not going better for them. Their thoughts were very similar to what we read in Isaiah 58:3: “Why have we fasted…and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?” When they were involved in ministry it didn’t matter. They were echoing the sentiment we find in Job 21:15: “Who is the Almighty, that we should serve him? What would we gain by praying to him?”
This complaint still rears its ugly head in our hearts today. Some of us have stopped serving because we don’t see any benefit. Perhaps you have been trying to do the right thing and it feels futile to keep it up. Don’t bail on doing your duty. Keep it up. Don’t lose heart. The Lord’s work is definitely worth it! 1 Corinthians 15:58: “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
I wonder if you and I have made serving more difficult than it needs to be. God has designed us on purpose to be involved in His purposes. Let’s listen in on a conversation that may hit uncomfortably close to home.
Drama: Somebody’s Got to Do It
Friend, ministry doesn’t have to hurt for it to count! In fact, serving is extremely satisfying because that’s what we’ve been designed to do. You and I were put on the earth to make a contribution. We are saved to serve, healed to help, and blessed in order to be a blessing. God has a ministry for you in His church and a mission for you in the world. Having said that, some of us are more interested in “serve us” than service because serving goes against our natural inclination to put ourselves first.
We’ll learn more about this when we participate in the 40 Days of Purpose this fall, but let me give a summary of the significance of serving God. Ephesians 2:10: “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works.” The simple acrostic SHAPE helps us remember five factors of serving:
Spiritual Gifts – special God-empowered abilities for serving that are given to believers.
Heart – that which motivates you; what you care most about.
Abilities – natural talents that you are born with.
Personality – affects how and where you use your spiritual gifts.
Experience – what we’ve gone through in the past prepares us for ministry today.
In his autobiography, Warren Wiersbe writes: “If life is to have meaning, and if God’s will is to be done, all of us have to accept who we are and what we are, give it back to God, and thank Him for the way He made us. What I am is God’s gift to me; what I do with it is my gift to Him.” Ministry is anything but futile; we can be fruitful and fulfilled when we serve according to our shape! If you are not serving, you don’t know what you’re missing! I encourage you to plug into a place that is designed just for you.
3. God is not fair (15). Their third grievance is that, in their minds, God is not fair. Look at verse 15: “But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly the evildoers prosper, and even those who challenge God escape.” As they look around they see the proud prospering, and they don’t like it one bit. They wonder why evil people evade trouble while those who serve God end up getting the short end of the stick. Before we get too tough on them for railing against God’s justice, don’t we often do the same thing?
This complaint is very similar to Asaph’s concerns in Psalm 73. Verse 3 tells us why he almost went spiritually AWOL: “For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” The word “arrogant” comes from a root word that means a loud and clear noise. The idea is that a proud person is one who toots his own horn real loud. It’s also used of the braying of a donkey. Notice that Asaph is not upset with the arrogant or the wicked, he’s jealous of them. He wants what they have.
The word “prosperity” doesn’t do justice to the original term: shalom, which means “completion” or “fulfillment” and was often used to describe peace, wholeness, harmony and physical well-being. Why should the wicked have everything that was only promised to God’s covenant people? God, this isn’t fair! They’re basically saying, “Since God has forgotten us, let’s forget Him.”
In verses 4-5 the psalmist wonders why life seems so good for those who have nothing to do with God: “They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills.” They live in the fast lane but don’t seem to crash and burn. Their life appears painless and easy.
Friends, when we deny that we do or say anything wrong, we will eventually stop serving God. And, when we disengage from our purpose, we will inevitably end up questioning the very justice of God.
I’m thankful that God always has His remnant. Even though there are those who say harsh things against Him, there are others who speak of His holiness. If you see a little bit of yourself in the first group, I encourage you to join the conversation in Group #2.
Group #2: Looked Up and Comprehended
Follow along in your copy of the Scriptures as I read the final section of Malachi 3 from the Message: “Then those whose lives honored God got together and talked it over. God saw what they were doing and listened in. A book was opened in God’s presence and minutes were taken of the meeting, with the names of the God-fearers written down, all the names of those who honored God’s name. God-of-the-Angel-Armies said, ‘They’re mine, all mine. They’ll get special treatment when I go into action. I treat them with the same consideration and kindness that parents give the child who honors them. Once more you’ll see the difference it makes between being a person who does the right thing and one who doesn’t, between serving God and not serving him.’”
We see two key elements that make up this collective of committed believers:
- Their character: they exalted God.
- Their conduct: they edified each other.
Let’s look first at their character as described in the beginning of verse 16: “Then those who feared the Lord…” To “fear” God is to hold Him in awe, to revere Him. To fear the Lord is to tremble at the thought of offending Him in any way. He is not to be trifled with. He is a consuming fire and we should tremble in His presence. Instead of laying some awful charges against the Almighty, they declared Him to be awesome. 1 Samuel 12:24: “But be sure to fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you.” While God invites us to call Him “friend,” sometimes we lose sight of the fact that He is also to be feared.
A.W. Tozer said that to know God is to fear Him and to be “stunned” by the splendor of His presence. God is not there just to meet our needs. We are here to bow before His supremacy in an attitude of holy fear so that we will worship Him with our ways and our words. We hear the longing of God in Deuteronomy 5:29: “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!”
The “fear of the Lord” can involve two things. One is that God might hurt us. The other is the fear that we might hurt Him by our behavior; that we should run away from Him by seeking refuge, joy and hope elsewhere. The word “fear” can refer to reverence or respect, but I wonder if this definition goes far enough. Philippians 2:12 challenges us to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” Most of us could stand to tremble more in the presence of God. He’s not just the big guy in the sky, or the man upstairs. He’s the Lord of Hosts, the Most High God, the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and the Almighty who is holy, holy, holy.
The remnant in Malachi 3 was in tune with the character of God and their conduct was such that instead of leveling charges against Him, they got together in order to edify each other: “Then those who feared the Lord talked together…” They met to mention what God had done for them. Psalm 66:16: “Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me.” They shared. They opened up. They encouraged. They confessed. They cried. And they prayed. In short, they experienced a biblically functioning community, which employed both the vertical and horizontal elements. Those who are spiritually alive will seek out others of like commitment with whom to fellowship. Let me give you an action step. In the course of every conversation you have, work at interjecting the name of God and look for ways to build your friend’s faith.
Do you have friends who will do that for you? When you get together with them, do you come away with a deeper reverence for God and are you built up spiritually? Proverbs 13:20: “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.” If you don’t have a platoon of godly influencers, can I encourage you to plug into a small group or join one of the Bible Studies available at PBC? If you are always around people who have no use for God, and spend most of your time complaining about Him and others, then it’s very easy to eventually become indifferent to spiritual matters yourself. It’s imperative that we have people who will build us up, not tear us down.
As we’ve been learning from the Book of Malachi, each of us, if we’re not careful, are prone to wander. We tend to slide south spiritually if we don’t consciously look for ways to step it up. We must take responsibility to help each other stay focused on the fear of God and enable others to turn from temptation. Hebrews 3:13 reminds us that we are our brother’s keeper: “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” If we try to do the Christian life solo, sin will harden and deceive us. We need each other.
That’s why God is so sold on Christians making a commitment to the community of faith in Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Once we exalt God and edify one another, we’ll comprehend 5 aspects of God’s character in Malachi 3:16-17.
1. The Lord listens to us: “…and the Lord listened and heard.” Isn’t it tough to keep talking when you sense that no one is listening? The Lord locks in and listens when His people honor Him. The word “listen” means to prick up the ears. It has the idea of God leaning forward so that He can take in everything that is being said about Him. Psalm 33:18 says that the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear Him and Psalm 34:15 reminds us that his ears are attentive to the cry of the righteous. When we turn to God, He tunes in to our frequency.
One commentator put it this way: “The ears of God strained to hear what the remnant were saying. Kings were making edicts, but God was listening to His people. Generals were giving orders, but God was listening to a handful of folks who feared His name; His ears were tuned to His faithful followers.” God sees, knows, and hears everything. He saw the cork fly out of Sammy’s bat and yet, He eavesdrops on those who exalt Him.
Some of us don’t want God hearing what we say because we’d be embarrassed by what comes out of our mouths. Let’s focus on fearing Him so that He leans forward to hear and hearken. Psalm 34:9 promises that those who fear the Lord will lack no good thing. Let’s invite God into our conversations and pepper our words with praise and worship.
2. The Lord remembers us: “A scroll of remembrance was written in His presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored His name.” The idea of God keeping a written record appears as early as the book of Exodus (32:32). Perhaps the most beautiful expression of this is in Isaiah 49:16: “See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.”
A scroll of remembrance is a wonderful figure taken from the culture of that day. Kings kept a register of everyone who was loyal to the throne. In the Book of Esther, we read that when King Xerxes had a sleepless night, he called for the book of records and discovered that Mordecai had delivered him from a coup and had never been rewarded. When he saw Mordecai’s name, he made sure that he was compensated for his commitment to the king (see Esther 6:1-11).
I find it very comforting to know that God captures every one of our tears and puts them in a bottle. Listen to Psalm 56:8 in the New King James Version: “You number my wanderings; Put my tears into Your bottle; Are they not in Your book?” God does not forget your fears. He cares about your crying. He locks into your lament.
Actually, God doesn’t need to look in a book to remember you. The only thing He forgets about you is your sin. But, he does keep a book of the names of those who have put their faith in Jesus. They are forever etched into the Lamb’s Book of Life as viewed by John in Revelation 20:12: “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.”
3. The Lord claims us: “They will be mine, says the Lord Almighty.” The word “mine” is emphatic. Those who fear Him belong to Him. I love the tenderness that exudes from Jeremiah 32:38-41: “They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul.”
Have you ever stopped to savor the fact that if you have put your faith in Jesus, you no longer belong to yourself? You have a different owner. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” Peter captures this perfectly when he writes in 1 Peter 2:9: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
4. The Lord treasures us: “In the day when I make up my treasured possession.” The King James Version says, “They will be mine on the day that I make up my jewels.” That’s a good translation because the word “possession” means “a valued treasure.” These words were quoted at the inauguration of the covenant in Exodus 19:5: “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.”
Do you know that God treasures you? He is crazy about you. You matter to Him far more than you know. Allow the truth of Isaiah 62:3 to soak into your spirit: “You will be a crown of splendor in the LORD’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God.” And listen to the love that God has for you in Zephaniah 3:17: “The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”
5. The Lord spares us: “I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares His son who serves Him.” Because He listens to us, remembers us, claims us, and treasures us, He promises to spare us. Because God is just, we deserve justice. But because He is merciful, we don’t receive what we deserve. In fact, we receive much more than we deserve – that’s called grace. Aren’t you thankful that God did not spare His Son? Because He was sacrificed in our place, we are now free. Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
Making a Distinction
As we wrap up this morning, can I ask you a question? Which group are you in? Are you looking around and complaining, or are you looking up and comprehending? As God eavesdrops on our lives, He makes a distinction between those who know Him and those who do not. We see this in the last verse of Malachi 3: “And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.” The Bible makes it clear that there is no middle ground. We’re either…
- Saved or Lost
- Alive in Christ or Dead in our sins
- In the Light or in the Darkness
- In the Kingdom of the Son or in the Kingdom of Satan
- On the road to Heaven or on the highway to Hell
If you’re not sure what group you’re in, let me encourage you to stop denying your guilt before a holy God. Recognize that serving the Savior is the only thing that matters and come to grips with the fact that God is fair in all His dealings with us.
It’s time to look up and comprehend that…
- The Lord listens to you
- The Lord remembers you
- The Lord claims you
- The Lord treasures you
- The Lord wants to spare you
God has done so much for us! Romans 2:4 reminds us that we need to respond to His grace and mercy in order to activate it in our lives: “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” Friend, allow God’s kindness to move you to repentance right now.
Turn back to verse 16 for a moment. I want you to notice that once the people decided to exalt God and edify one another, they did something to help them remember their commitment: “A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name.” They put their names on the line. Will you commit yourself to believe right now and then will you publicly acknowledge that from this point on, you will serve the Lord until the end? I’m going to lead you in a prayer of salvation. If what I pray reflects what’s in your heart, please pray along with me silently and then when we’re done I’m going to give you an opportunity to come down front and sign your name in this booklet. When you do, I will give you this booklet and a helpful book that will help you get started in your walk with Jesus.
“Lord Jesus, I can no longer deny that I am not doing what I should. I admit that I’m a sinner and that I’ve been serving myself and not you. I believe that you paid the price for my sins and that you listen, remember, claim and treasure me. And now I want you to spare me. I turn from the way I’ve been living and invite you to come into my life. I receive you as my Savior and my Lord, my Forgiver and Leader. If there’s anything in my life that you don’t like, get rid of it and help me to exalt you and edify those around me as I serve you to the end. Amen.”