Bringing Your Best to God


March 8, 2009 | Brian Bill

My wife was out of town for a few days this week.  Our girls did a great job filling in while their mom was gone but I didn’t do so well on the meal deal.  I caught a break on Sunday after “Pizza with the Pastors” when I was able to take some of the leftover pizza home (I actually discouraged people from having “seconds” so there would be leftovers).  

We ate pizza for dinner Sunday night.  On Monday when our two younger girls were getting ready for school I packed them each a piece of pizza for lunch.  Monday night we ate leftover pizza again.  On Tuesday morning they packed up some pizza for their lunches once more and I sent them on their way.  When I picked them up from school on Tuesday one of them asked, “Are we having pizza for supper again tonight?”  Thankfully I had thrown something in the crock pot that morning and proudly announced that the menu had changed.  They breathed a sigh of relief – I think they were secretly hoping that I hadn’t put pizza in the crock pot!

Not only did I serve leftovers to the ones I love, I was giving the girls something that cost me nothing.  Today we’re serving up a meal in the Book of Malachi, the very last book of the Old Testament. 

God wants your life, not your leftovers

Malachi’s message can be summed up in one phrase: God wants your life, not your leftovers.  The setting of his sermon comes about 100 years after Haggai’s preaching.  The Jews have returned to their land after living as exiles in modern-day Iraq.  The Temple has been rebuilt and the worship of God has been reestablished.  But things are not easy.  While outwardly everything seems OK, on the inside a condition of complacency is eating away at their commitment.  

Instead of experiencing expansion and peace, they seem to be in a holding pattern.  The people responded with eagerness to Haggai’s message but now these people have turned mediocre as they go through their religious routines with no reverence for the Almighty and in a relationship that has grown cold and distant.  In Haggai, the people listened and responded.  In Malachi, the people bristled and rejected.  They’ve become disillusioned and have started to ask if worship, family responsibilities and giving are really worth it any longer.  

Can anyone relate?  As God’s final spokesman at the end of the Old Testament, Malachi comes on the scene to challenge them, and us, to bring our best to God.  There is so much meat in this little book that it’s difficult to grasp everything in one sermon.  For our purposes this morning, we’re going to focus on how God wants our life, not our leftovers in three key areas: Worship, Family and Giving.

Here are a few distinctive features about this book that are worth mentioning before we dive in.

  • God is speaks in the first person in 47 out of 55 verses.  That’s the highest % in the entire Bible.
  • Similar to Haggai, God presents Himself as “Lord Almighty,” or Jehovah Sabaoth, 23 different times.  The Lord Almighty has all the hosts of heaven ready to do His work. 
  • God uses the Socratic teaching method, long before Socrates did, by employing a hypothetical dialogue, asking and answering their questions
  • This is the last message from God for 400 years.  Therefore we need to pay attention to it.

God wants your life, not your leftovers.  Let’s look first at the area of worship.

Giving Your Life to Worship

In chapter one, we see that both the people and the priests had become complacent in their worship.  Look at verse 6: “‘A son honors his father, and a servant his master.  If I am a father, where is the honor due me?  If I am a master, where is the respect due me?’ says the Lord Almighty…” during the first half of verse 6, the priests are probably saying, “Amen, that’s right God.  Bring it on.  Let the people have it.”  But notice the second half of the verse: “It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name.”  Ouch.  Now it’s time for them to listen.  

The priests were showing “contempt” for God, which means they no longer thought of Him as weighty.  They were despising their duties and scorning the sacred because worship had become wearisome, and they were taking God for granted.  And, they had the nerve to lash out at the Lord of Hosts.  Look at the last part of verse 6: “How have we shown contempt for your name?”  In verse 7, He answers them: “You place defiled food on my altar.”  Unbelievably, the priests persist in their questioning: “How have we defiled you?”  God replies, “By saying that the Lord’s Table is contemptible.”  

They were just going through the motions like we sometimes do when we allow the extraordinary to become ordinary.  In our day of convenient Christianity, familiarity with the holy can lead to a humdrum spirituality if we’re not careful.  One pastor said it this way: “When man is bored with God even heaven does not have a better alternative.”  If God bores you, then nothing else is going to satisfy you either.

Look at verse 8: “When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong?  When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong?  Try offering them to your governor!  Would he be pleased with you?  Would he accept you?  says the LORD Almighty.” The priests were accepting not just the second best from the people; but worse than that, they were bringing God sick sheep and gross goats.  They were offering the ones that weren’t worth anything.  If we only give God stuff that we no longer need, we haven’t really given at all.  They were content to give Him cold pizza that cost them nothing.

These people were more concerned with keeping what they had than they were in giving God their best.  Their hearts were not in it any longer.  They were still coming to church but it was just a meaningless ritual to them.  They had accepted mediocrity in their lives and their leaders did nothing about it.  

Verse 10 should cause us to bolt upright in our chairs.  God would much rather have us shut down the church than to come to Him with lousy leftovers: “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar!  I am not pleased with you, says the LORD Almighty, and I will accept no offering from your hands.” How would you feel today if when you came, the doors were locked and everything was sealed up tight?

As hard as this may be to hear, God does not need our sacrifices.  He’s saying to us today, “I’d rather you shut everything down than have you continue in a phony religious ritual.  If you’re not prepared to give me every inch of your life, I’m closing the doors.”  Friends, no worship at all is better than halfhearted sacrifice.  When we grasp the greatness of God, we’ll give God our best.  Conversely, when we offer Him little or nothing, we’re really saying that God doesn’t matter much to us.  

That’s what happened to the priests in verse 13.  Instead of counting it a privilege to minister on God’s behalf, they exclaimed, “What a burden!”  It was more trouble than it was worth in their minds.  They even “sniffed at it contemptuously,” which means that they “puffed” or “blew” in exaggerated exasperation.  I imagine God looking at us and wondering why we get so bored with Him.  

Are you giving God your best with your time, and with your talents?  Properly understood, worship must lead to service.  Is your service substandard?  Are you on the sidelines?  We’re having a ministry fair in three weeks that will help you discover a place where you can serve our great God.  So many of you are already doing that, but there are still others who have not experienced the joy of serving.  Are you giving Him what is left, or what is right?  God wants your life, not your leftovers.  

Giving Your Life to Your Family

God wants us to give our all in worship and secondly, He doesn’t want us giving leftovers to our family.  One of our five vision areas for this coming year is to focus on families.  The other areas include prayer, music, assimilation and discipleship.  In Malachi 2:14-15 we see six foundations for the family.  This passage deals with marriage but I certainly don’t want to imply that singleness is somehow less honorable. 

1. God is the witness to your vows:

“…the Lord is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth because you have broken faith with her…” 

The word, “witness” means to “testify or record.”  Important legal agreements required witnesses, and covenantal commitments called on God as the ultimate witness as in Judges 11:10: “The elders of Gilead replied, ‘The Lord is our witness; we will certainly do as you say.’”  It’s sobering to recognize that God is a witness at every wedding.  When you get married, you are vowing to be forever faithful to your spouse and you are doing so in the presence of Jehovah Sabaoth.  

2. Your spouse is your partner:

“…though she is your partner…”  Reflecting back on the account in Genesis, Malachi is reminding us about God’s original design for marriage.  Genesis 1:31 sums up God’s feelings about everything He made: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”  Genesis 2:18 provides a stark contrast: “It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a helper suitable for him.”  This word “helper” refers to a partner or companion.  Literally, in Hebrew it means, “One who answers to, or corresponds to, one like himself, one who speaks his language.”  

Friend, if you’re married, then your spouse is your partner, the one who corresponds to you.  Are you treating each other as fellow teammates?  Can you say that you are friends with your marriage mate?  If not, then look for ways to fortify your friendship.  We’re beginning a six-part series today during the second hour based on principles and clips from the Fireproof movie.  One of the tag lines is this: Never leave your partner behind.

3. Marriage is a binding covenant of commitment:

“the wife of your marriage covenant.”  It’s important for us to understand how Malachi’s listeners would have understood the word “covenant.”  In Old Testament times there was a ceremony used between two tribes to promise a son or daughter in marriage.  The fathers would butcher some animals, cut the carcasses in half, and then at sundown walk barefoot through the blood path.  The slaughtered animals symbolized what would happen to either party if they violated the terms of the agreement.

A covenant was an exclusive, solemn and binding mutual agreement between two parties.  In God’s eyes, marriage is a covenant of committed companionship.  Unfortunately, in our culture today, instead of pledging faithfulness to each other “as long as we both shall live,” many plan to remain together “as long as we both shall love.”  A Hallmark card captures this lack of commitment: “I can’t promise forever.  But I can promise you today.”  

Married couples, will you reaffirm your unconditional commitment to the imperfect spouse God has given you?  Will you pledge to keep the sacred covenant of marriage as long as you both shall live?

Look at Malachi 2:15: “So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.”  Verse 16 begins with the Lord God of Israel saying: “I hate divorce…So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.”  The word, “guard” means “to hedge with thorns” or “to protect by attending to.”  

4. God’s intention is for intimate oneness:

“Has not the Lord made them one?”  In order to fully understand this phrase, we need to go back to Genesis 2:24: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”  In order for oneness to be established three things have to take place – leaving, cleaving, and weaving.

5. Marriage is a platform to extend God’s glory:

“In flesh and spirit they are His.” Marriage is the prism through which God reveals His covenant relationship with His people.  This is stated in Ephesians 5 where we read that when the husband and wife fulfill their God-given roles and live out His purposes, everyone around them learns more about the loving leadership that Jesus has for the church. One of the most important things to remember is that God not only designed marriage to meet the need for companionship but ultimately to further His purposes on earth.  Your marriage belongs to Him and it’s meant for ministry. That’s why it’s essential that a believer only marry another believer.  

6. Marriage is a greenhouse for growing godly kids:

“And why one?  Because He was seeking godly offspring.”   As we look at the final foundation for the family, let me first say that some of you wish you could have children and God hasn’t given them to you.  Others of you may have decided to not have kids.  Whatever your situation, please hear this.  You are a family whether you have children or not.  Forgive us as a church for putting pressure on you, for being insensitive, or for looking down on you as if something is wrong with you.  Some of you are parenting solo.  I want you to know that I have the highest respect for you.  I don’t know how you do all that you do.  May God bless you for laying yourself out for your kids!  

One of the best ways for kids to come to Jesus is through the influence of godly families.  In fact, we could say that the family is the school in which God’s ways of life are to be learned.  Deuteronomy 6:6-7: “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.  Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

According to a just-released study by Life Way Research, most parents say they are trying to improve their parenting skills but few look to the Bible and only 15% look to the church as a source of guidance for parenting.   The vast majority of parents (96%) agree that they consistently try to be better parents but more than 60% ignore parenting seminars and over half don’t read religious books on parenting.  Scott McConnell, associate director of LifeWay Research offers his insight: “Parents claim they are trying hard to be better parents but they are not welcoming outside guidance or advice…Christians are routinely neglecting biblical guidance and encouragement in their parenting today, relying instead on their own personal experience.”

By the way, God calls out the importance of faithful fathers in the very last verse of Malachi.  In referencing the future work of John the Baptist, who came in the spirit of Elijah, we read these words: “He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”  Dads, is your heart turned toward your children or are you emotionally distant from them?  Teens, are you working at your relationship with your dad?  The key here is really a heart issue.  Ask God to turn your hearts back toward each other again.  God is all about reconciled relationships.

Unfortunately, these people were serving cold pizza that cost them nothing.  God wants your life, not your leftovers.  Another way to demonstrate surrendered living is through our giving.

Giving as a Way of Life

It’s impossible to go through Malachi and not talk about money.  Let me just say that some of you are really hurting right now because of layoffs and other economic issues.  I recognize that.  I also want to say that our offerings have been fantastic this budget year.  Many of you are already living a life of giving.  Please turn to Malachi 3:6-12 where we will discover five features of grace giving.

1. Refocus on God’s character (6). 

As we’ve been learning in the Minor Prophets, our view of God determines everything else about us.  If we consider Him weighty, we will live and give accordingly.  If we see God as out to get us, then we’ll be afraid and give only to appease His anger. And, if we don’t think much of God at all, chances are we won’t give much either.  Verse 6 helps us get refocused: “I the LORD do not change.  So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.”  God is speaking in the first person.  To “not change” means that God can be counted on.  He does not waver or falter because He is faithful.

2. Return wholeheartedly to God (7). 

The first part of verse 7 is a summary statement of the fickleness of the followers of God down through the centuries: “Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them.”  They, like us, have turned away, which literally means, “to turn off.”  

And yet, despite how we live and what we do, God graciously calls out with words that reveal His longing for relationship.  Look at the next phrase in verse 7: “Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord Almighty.”  To return means to turn back to what we know is true.  

You would think they would want to return to their Redeemer, especially since He promised to restore the relationship and even cure their wandering hearts.  But, once again, God’s people haven’t changed much over the centuries.  Instead of returning wholeheartedly, they deny that they even have a problem.  Look at the last part of Malachi 3:7: “But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’”  

This is now the sixth time in the book where they have responded like smart alecks.  The New Living Translation captures their denial: “How can we return when we have never gone away?”  They don’t think they’ve done anything wrong.  How can they come back when they’ve never left?  God has an answer for them that may be surprising.

3. Realize the importance of giving (8-10a). 

Look at verse 8: “Will a man rob God?  Yet you rob me.  But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’  In tithes and offerings.” The word “rob” here means to “take forcibly.”  On Wednesday I saw a story on CNN about a robber who stole the entire Sunday offering at a church in Nebraska.  The reporter was really worked up about this and said, “He better watch out for the lightning strike…some have no shame…it’s time for confession, my friend.”  Do you know what’s more terrible than stealing from a church?  It’s ripping off God.  How could they be stealing from God?  They had begun to take what belonged to Him and kept it for themselves.  They had lost sight of the fact that God owns everything.  

As a way to recognize God’s rightful rule and omnipotent ownership of all things, God’s people in the Old Testament were instructed to give tithes and offerings.  This word literally means “a tenth,” or 10%.  Actually, if you were to add up all the requirements, the total would be closer to 25%.  While some would say that this teaching is based on the Law, let me remind you that Abraham practiced tithing 400 years before the Law was even established in Genesis 14:20 when he gave a tenth of everything he owned to the priest Melchizedek.  

Failure to tithe properly could have included not giving at all, withholding part of it, or not giving at the proper time.  Whatever the reason, because they had been robbing God, verse 9 says that the whole nation was under a curse.  

When we grovel about giving or withhold what is His, we are robbing God of His right to use us to propel His purposes in the world.  Look at the first part of verse 10: “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house…”  The storehouse was the chamber in the Temple where the tithes and offerings were kept.  Let me make three summary statements about the application of tithing for today.

  • While we are no longer under the Law, tithing is a good benchmark for believers.  In other words, it’s a good place to start, sort of like a “minimum guide” for giving.  
  • It’s easy to tithe and yet miss out on what’s really important.  Jesus took the Pharisees to task not because they didn’t tithe, but because they had become so legalistic that they no longer cared about their love for God or for their neighbor.  
  • The practice of tithing is a good reminder of who’s in charge of my life.  When I give at least 10%, it’s a way to be reminded that God owns everything that I have.  God wants what my money represents—me.  When giving to God, we’re simply taking our hands off what belongs to Him in the first place.  Joe Stowell writes, “It’s not so much what you have but, rather, what has you that makes all the difference.” 

I don’t have time to give a full picture of what the entire Bible teaches about giving but let me quickly draw three more principles from 1 Corinthians 16:2: “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income…”  Giving should be punctual, personal and proportional. 

4. Relinquish control by trusting God (10b). 

When we first give ourselves to the Lord, all other giving is easy

When we give at least 10% of our income to God, we’re saying that we trust Him to enable us to live on the other 90%.  Malachi 3:10 is the only place in the Bible where God tells us to test Him.  To “test” means to investigate or prove something as true.  We’re warned about not putting God to the test and yet when it comes to giving, God invites us to test Him because the real issue is not money, but trust.  Or, we could put it like this: When we first give ourselves to the Lord, all other giving is easy.

5. Rejoice in God’s blessings (10c-12). 

Look at the last part of verse 10 through verse 12: “…and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it…Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land, says the LORD Almighty.”  

God says that He will open wide the river of heaven and will blow us away with His blessings.  The phrase “floodgates” is used in Genesis 7:11 where we read what happened when God started to flood the earth with water: “…on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened.”  The world says the more you take the more you have.  God says, the more you give, the more you are.  Corrie Ten Boom put it this way: “The measure of a life is not its duration, but its donation.”

When I give, I put myself in a position to trust God to meet all my needs.  In addition, God declares in verse 12 that His plan for global evangelization will be met.  Can you imagine what would happen to the cause of missions if every believer would give at least 10% to kingdom purposes?

Self-Centered or Surrendered?

In Malachi 3:13-15, we read of three complaints that some of the people had against God.

  • We’ve done nothing wrong.
  • Serving is useless.
  • God is not fair.

In Malachi 3:16-18, another group of people are described.  Instead of complaining, they were committed.  Rather than being self-centered, they were surrendered.  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.  Instead of laying some awful charges against the Almighty, they declared Him to be awesome.

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.  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.  

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?  God 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
  • Once born or twice born
  • 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.

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 stand to confirm that you have made a commitment to be a Christ-follower.

It boils down to this.  Am I going to give Him my life?  Or will I just give Him leftovers that cost me nothing?

“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.  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.”

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?