Sermon Manuscript . . .
Crushing Spiritual Apathy
Honoring God with your life as you prepare for the King
Introduction to Malachi
Is your heart engaged? For Christ is the King of all kings and is coming again to end the rebellion of sinners here on Earth and perfectly rule this planet? Christ took the punishment, bore the wrath, suffered the death you deserved–you should have been executed and Christ stepped in and was executed in your place.
Christ molded you as filthy clay and transformed you into a Ming vase (a vessel of honor), which is so remarkable it causes everyone to marvel at the potter, not the vase. Christ not only guarantees you eternal life in Heaven with him in perfection forever, but also guarantees sustaining you, empowering, and supplying you with all you need to live for Him in this life.
Christ opened your blind eyes to see reality, truth and beauty in this world, plus He transformed your heart so you could see Him with eyes of faith and enjoy the certainty of hope for a glorious future. Christ is so awesome, so incredible, so beyond us–it is impossible to stand in His presence in our current condition, even as His children. He actually has to give you a new body that is capable of standing in the midst of such holiness, greatness and power.
Christ is so powerful nothing can stop Him from accomplishing His will. He is so present, you are never far from His person. He is so knowing, there is nothing He is not aware of in the finest detail. He is so sovereign, nothing is out of His control. He is so loving, there is not one of His children that are outside of his affections. Praise the Lord, Jesus Christ is awesome.
There’re some of you whose hearts rejoice, even emotionally celebrate statements like those. For you, Christ holds first place in your life and heart. He is your first love and when He is talked about, praised, celebrated, you love it. When His Word is taught, you want to hear what He says. When His character is highlighted, you say, “Amen!”
But there are others of you in this room who are not in that same place. Now don’t beat yourself up. It could be that this morning, one kid threw up in the car, the baby blew out his diaper, the third has a glazed donut look under his nose from his cold, and everyone woke up crabby–so it’s taking your heart awhile to engage. But your first love is still Christ–you’re just a little beat up.
But there are others who are of a greater concern. What do I mean? One of the most spoken words of a secular high school student is, “Whatever…” “Cyndi likes you,” . . . “Whatever.” “You’re dropped from the team,” . . . “Whatever.” “You just got an ‘A’ in Math.” “Whatever.” I can’t see your heart, but there are some here this morning, when I was extolling Christ, they were internally responding with a, “Whatever.” Christ, salvation, Heaven, the Gospel, and God’s character are not your first affection. If you remain in a “whatever” state, it means you are not God’s true child.
There is only one other option–and that temporarily, right now, you’re battling with an interim spiritual apathy. This morning as you woke up, drove to church and are now here in this worship service, what is your spiritual temperature? 90% of you have soaked in a hot tub–you love the comfortable temperature. Some like it lukewarm, others warm, many hot–but there are a few who want lava level. And the Lord Jesus has not called you to be comfortable–your Savior has made you to be hot. And the only time you are not hot is when you are either lukewarm unsaved, or temporarily struggling with spiritual apathy.
This is exactly what Israel was battling with at the close of the Old Testament. Some were the religious unsaved. Others were believers, who had temporarily lost their heat. This is what is going on in this prophetic book, written by the great Italian prophet, Malachi. Open your Bibles to the last Old Testament book and follow along with your outline, as this great prophet confronts God’s people with their spiritual indifference.
#1 The CAUSE of APATHY
Here’s the background–how did Israel get apathetic? There is very little known about the prophet Malachi. The name Malachi means, “My messenger”. Malachi was the last of the writing prophets, but he wrote nothing about himself. There is no biblical information about Malachi’s ancestry, his call, or his personal life. Malachi was unwilling to talk about himself, but he was totally willing to proclaim God’s Word and openly declare God’s warnings pointedly at the people’s disinterest.
But how did Israel get into this unconcerned condition? God’s people were listless, uninterested, unconcerned, lethargic, disinterested, lazy and bored. Where did this come from? You know, after God created the world in six literal 24-hour days in Genesis 1, the crown of his creation in Genesis 2 chose to disobey God in Genesis 3, corrupting every human being, giving each person a nature opposed to God and loving sin. The sinful nature of every man, woman and child is the root of spiritual apathy. God graciously sacrificed animals, now that death from sin had occurred for the first time, and provided animal-skin clothes for Adam and Eve, as a gracious act of redemption.
Sin increased and corrupted to the point that God destroyed the human race with a worldwide flood in Genesis 6, but God saved Noah and his family with the dinosaurs and land mammals on an amazingly designed ark. Their offspring was supposed to spread out and fill the earth, but they disobeyed God again and chose to stay together and build a society without God, centered around a great tower. God judged the entire human race again, scattering them around the world by giving them different languages, which created different nations in Genesis 11. But how would God reach these nations with the knowledge which leads to faith in YHWH?
God’s gracious, evangelistic heart was expressed again. God chose Abraham in Genesis 12, who would grow to become a nation who would reach the nations of the world. You know the story of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. Every nation requires a people, a constitution and a land. God protected the family by sending them to Egypt. They supernaturally grew to millions of people, God delivers them out of bondage through Moses, gives them His law–their constitution, and through Joshua they regain the Promised Land.
But under the rule of God, his leadership was guided through judges and the law. Sadly, people did what was right in their own eyes and stumbled badly in Judges. So God pursued His plan for a king. The people chose an external king–the biggest guy but with no heart, in Saul, who ruled for 40 years. Then God selected a man after his own heart, in David, who ruled for 40 years. Then Solomon became king for 40 years–but Solomon disobeyed God’s law by overtaxing God’s people for even more wealth, multiplying wives, and increasing horses, or trusting in military might and not the Lord.
As a result, when he died in 931, the nation split into two kingdoms, with Israel in the north with 10 tribes and no godly kings, finally taken captive by Assyria in 722. And the two southern tribes known as Judah in the south with a few good kings, finally taken captive by Babylon in 605BC. During this split kingdom, Hosea and Amos sought to recapture the hearts of Israel in the north, and many prophets proclaimed to Judah in the south. There was a lot of unfaithfulness to God and His Word, but some moments of obedience.
Daniel was taken captive and lived in Babylon starting in 605. Ezekiel left in 597 and Jeremiah left in 586 when Jerusalem was destroyed, which is when he wrote the book of Lamentations. During the 70 years while they were in exile, the world kingdom changed from Babylon to the Medes and Persians, described in Daniel 5. And under the new government, the Persian leaders allowed the return of the captive Jews back to the land.
In 538BC, Cyrus issued a decree that enabled the exiled Jews in Babylon to return to their land and rebuild their temple. About 50,000 of them accepted the challenge. Tribes from both Israel in the north and Judah in the south returned, now calling themselves Israel. But as they returned, their hearts were quickly fading. They were quick to rebuild their own homes, but slow to rebuild God’s temple. The people demonstrated they were more interested in their own lives, than honoring God. To deal with this, God sent his prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, who preached directly about their lack of concern for the Lord. And finally in 515, they completed God’s temple.
Ezra visited them in 458. Then in 445, Nehemiah became the governor for all of Israel who had returned, and he served as their leader for 12 years. Then when the amazing Nehemiah returned to his office in Persia, the hearts of the Israelites began to fade. Their faith dried up, they began to disobey in subtle ways as they increasingly began to live externally, instead of dependence upon God and His Word. When Nehemiah returned back to the land of Israel, he took some drastic steps to reform the nation. Then most likely the prophet Malachi was called by God during this very specific, spiritually apathetic time to expose the sins of the people, and call them to repent and return back to God. And Malachi crushed it.
The cause of spiritual apathy is sin. If lost, our sin nature keeps us religiously apathetic and indifferent. If saved, our battle with remaining sin causes us to drift toward externals and apathy. Those who returned from captivity were made up of the saved believing and the unsaved religious and both believing and unbelieving were struggling with spiritual lethargy. Can you feel their struggle?
Their life after the exile did not turn out how they had hoped. The return to the Promised Land was supposed to make life easy and better. But even though the temple is built, it is shabby compared to Solomon’s temple. And they have not returned to be a world power, but a struggling nation in the midst of world powers. And the land is hard to work and the conveniences of Persia are gone. And spiritually, it just isn’t what they thought.
Faithful Christians (some in this room) also battle with disappointments–unfairness, church leaders who forsook them or believers who betrayed them. Many of us are worn out by the self-control and discipline necessary for faithfulness. And the battle against the devil, the world and our own flesh can be exhausting. And sometimes we struggle in heart with apathy, indifference and disinterest.
It is even worse with the younger generation. We are now paying for the sin of child-centered parenting. Those parents who lived for their kids instead of Christ, those who did everything for their kids–they gave them choices, their happiness was more important than their holiness, there was little discipline and never any sacrifice. Christian parents didn’t serve in the church, they just served their kids. They gave them what they wanted when they wanted it, never what they needed. They taught their children that the world, all of life revolved around them. And now those children have grown to adulthood, but they still expect everything to be about them in the church and for them in the church.
Yet a church that is biblical is not a church for them–a true church is for Christ. Churches sacrifice for Christ, live for Christ, love Christ first above all. As a result, the child-centered kids who have now grown to adulthood drift into a convenience Christianity, seeking only a place that fits their lifestyle, harmonizes with their preferences, and revolves around them. As a result, they drift into spiritual apathy, if they know Christ at all. No pick up your cross, run to win, die daily.
Subtly, they transition from living for God (Who gave them everything) first, to living for themselves first, loving themselves first, and giving to themself first. Some of Israel were saved and faltering, others were religiously unsaved–but all of them were apathetic. So how did Malachi address it?
#2 The APPROACH against APATHY
Malachi took the approach that every single one of you are familiar with. Remember saying to your teen, “Hey, Rupert, you didn’t clean your room.” And they replied, “What do you mean I didn’t clean my room?” And you clarify, pointedly spelling out, “Rup, your dirty clothes are all over the floor, you haven’t vacuumed your floor in a year, and you can’t see the top of your desk.”
You’ve said to your spouse, “Sweetie, I am really concerned about your diet.” And the response, “What do you mean my diet?” So you reply, “You’re so thin, you have to run around in the shower just to get wet. All you eat is egg whites, watermelon and Twinkies–you need better food choices.”
You’ve said to your friend, “Dude, you constantly repeat yourself!” And he says, “How have I done this? How have I done this? How have I done this?” And you say, “See? You continue to say the same thing the same way more than once.”
This is how Malachi attacks spiritual apathy–Malachi is known for his clarity, simplicity and directness. So God, through Malachi, makes a pointed comment against some aspect of spiritual coldness. Israel responds to this statement–almost sarcastically, almost with hostility. The people say, “How have we done this?” Then Malachi answers their statement with clear confrontations from God, pointedly proving to the indifferent where they’ve violated God’s Word in that stated area. Malachi shows them how they violate the initial statement.
Look at how Malachi does it. Turn to Malachi 1:7 and you will see Malachi’s pointed technique. Read Malachi 1:7, “You are presenting defiled food upon My altar. But you say, ‘How have we defiled You?’ In that you say, ‘The table of the Lord is to be despised.’ ” Turn to Malachi 2:17, “You have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet you say, ‘How have we wearied Him?’ In that you say, ‘Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and He delights in them,’ or, ‘Where is the God of justice?‘ ” Turn to Malachi 3:8, “ ‘Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me!’ But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings.”
To stir people out of their spiritual disinterest, they must be shocked out of their unconcern, by engaging in the process–not merely being told what is wrong, but calling them to evaluate their own hearts through pointed questions. They need to see where their lives do not measure up to God’s character and God’s Word. They need their cage rattled. They need to question whether they have truly been honoring God or possibly dishonoring God. And that is the process of the prophet Malachi. The cause is sin undealt with. The process is pointed questions directed at the heart.
So what are the character issues which concern the Lord about His people? What are the signs of apathy which Malachi condemns? What qualities should alert you about your own heart concerning spiritual apathy?
#3 THE CHARACTERISTICS of Spiritual APATHY
The cultural conditions in Israel during the prophecy of Malachi were exactly like the other post-exilic historical writers like Ezra and Nehemiah—poor crops and a faltering economy (Malachi 3:11), intermarriage with the non-Jewish heathen (2:11), defilement, compromise and corruption of the spiritual leadership–the priesthood(1:6ff), the oppression of the poor (3:5), a general disdain of genuine faith (1:13ff), and lack of support for the needs of the temple (1:8 to 10).
It was a declining time in society and among the faithful, a growing coolness. In Malachi’s day, society was materialistic, secularistic, smug, wrapped in the clothes of a dead religion, divorce-prone, callous about the plight of the poor, and conceited in their dismissal of God. The prophet was burdened about these alarming sins in his people. They were desperately wicked, but didn’t know it. Malachi must speak out. He knew he might face immediate opposition, especially from the religious establishment. Nevertheless, Malachi proclaimed the word of the Lord. What were the characteristics which defined their apathy? Turn to these passages.
First In chapter 1:1 to 5, God’s people had forgotten God’s electing LOVE
God had chosen to love them as His people–not because they deserved it, but because God chose. Malachi 1:2, “ ‘I have loved you,’ says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have You loved us?’ ‘Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?’ declares the Lord. ‘Yet I have loved Jacob.’ ” One of the surest paths to apathy is to forget God’s chosen love for you.
First John 4:19, “We love, because He first loved us.” Christ proved the level of God’s love for you on the cross. People in society do the dumbest things when they believe they are not loved and Christians do the dumbest things when they forget they are greatly loved by Christ. The greater you forget God’s love for you, the greater your apathy will increase.
Second In Chapter 1:6 to 2:9, the nation was led by Compromising Spiritual LEADERSHIP
The priests and people had subtly moved away from God’s Word. They acknowledged Him as their God, they didn’t deny Him–but they no longer obeyed Him as Lord. They began to do things their way and not God’s way. They no longer gave the Lord their best, but their leftovers. The priests stopped doing things God’s way.
Whenever Christ’s followers acknowledge Christ but do not obey Him, they are apathetic or apostate. The moment your leaders do not follow God’s Word and the moment you consider obedience as optional, you are in a dangerous place. First John 2:4, “The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” If disobedience is a way of life in any area, you have lost your assurance of salvation. Apathy begins when you look at the commands of God as a burden and an option. Another characteristic of apathy is . . .
Third In Chapter 2:10 to 16, the Jewish men were UNFAITHFUL to their WIVES
The erosion of marriage led to rampant and indiscriminate divorce. So Malachi lets those returned from exile know exactly what he thinks of divorce. Malachi 2:16, “ ‘For I hate divorce,’ says the Lord, the God of Israel.” Faithfulness to God is seen in faithfulness to marriage. Commitment to God is seen in a commitment to your spouse and family. A strong loyalty to marriage leads to a strong loyalty to the home. And a strong devotion to the home leads to a strong devotion to God’s people.
The proper shepherding of the home proves a leader is qualified to shepherd the Church. God hates broken promises and disdains broken vows–especially the marriage vow. Those who are unfaithful to their marriage will be apathetic to their God. Friends, a decaying marriage makes a believer apathetic to the things of God.
Fourth In Chapter 2:17 to 3:5, the people began to question God’s JUSTICE
To justify their lack of obedience to God’s Word, they start attacking God’s character. You’ve heard this–“Why did God allow those jets to fly into the twin towers . . . How can you be a loving God if you allow all these people to be killed or suffer as they do?” Instead of seeing their own sinfulness, they attack God’s wise sovereignty.
They ask in Malachi 2:17, “Where is the God of justice?” And how does Malachi answer this accusation? He speaks of the coming forerunner of the soon to arrive Messiah. He speaks of John the Baptist . . . and the God-man, Jesus Christ. Malachi 3:1, “ ‘Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,’ says the Lord of hosts.”
The question of where is God’s justice is answered by the coming just one. Where is justice is answered by the only one who is fully just in every way. The question of justice is answered by mercy and grace. If you received justice, you would be sent to Hell. But John the Baptist will announce Christ in John 1:29 with, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
Christ, who deserved justice, received the greatest injustice against himself for you. God is just to pour out his wrath against you for all eternity because of your sin, but chose to receive the greatest injustice, since perfect Christ was punished for your sin. God poured out His eternal wrath against Christ in your place. There is God’s fair justice.
The people of Israel had been disobedient to God’s Word in every way. Obedience brings blessing, but disobedience brings consequence–you reap what you sow. Those consequences led to Israel being conquered, the city leveled and their temple destroyed. Their disobedience caused God to allow a pagan nation to take them captive, enslave them in a foreign, pagan, idolatrous, unlawful land for 70 years.
When they returned, they thought everything would go back to the way it was, but it didn’t. Things had not turned out as expected. Israel was not a great and prosperous land, courted by all the nations. In a vast empire, she was a tiny province of no account. The Jews were living in one of the stagnant backwaters of the world. How could it be said that God loved them? Even the shekinah glory had not returned to the temple. It was like God had abandoned them. As a result, they became apathetic, lazy, and only looking out for themselves.
Fifth In chapter 3:6 to 12, the people refused to repent over their poor GIVING
God makes it clear, the use of money and possessions is a clear indicator of your heart. Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Malachi gives a specific challenge to those now back in the land. The prophet confronts God’s people, calling them thieves for keeping what they were supposed to be giving. Their poor giving indicated something was very wrong in their hearts before God. Malachi 3:8 and 10, ” ‘You are robbing Me . . . in tithes and offerings. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.’ “
God commands His people to give faithfully to the Church, regularly on Sunday, proportionately, according to what you have been given, generously like Christ gave to you, with a cheerful heart. When you begin to keep all God gives you for yourself, you become spiritually apathetic, uninvested, uninterested in God’s work in the world. Your heart follows your treasure–if it’s all spent on you, then your heart is centered on you. If a generous percentage is spent on Christ, then your heart is centered on Him.
Some of those who returned were not believing–they were religious but with no new life. Others who returned were believing and were struggling. So Malachi reminds them . . .
Sixth In chapter 3:13 to 4:6, the people didn’t own the reality of ETERNITY
Malachi 4:1 and 2, ” ‘The day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze, … 2 But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall.’ “
The proud are the ones who have forgotten God’s electing love–who compromise in leadership, who are unfaithful to their wives, who question God’s fairness, who refuse to give generously. These are those who will experience the reality of eternal torment. The humble are the ones who remember God’s electing love–who seek to be godly leaders, who are faithful to their wives, who don’t question God’s justice and who give generously from a heart of faith. These are those who will experience God’s righteousness forever.
The apathetic don’t consider the reality of eternal life for all men and women–the lost to torment and the found to blessing. And that is why Malachi spoke and wrote this letter for Israel and for you. It was a low time for Israel and it is a low time for today’s Church–we need Malachi. So take this home.
A. DISAPPOINTMENTS should not lead to APATHY
Israel was disappointed–why were they captive for 70 years, why back with nothing? And instead of trusting the Lord to be working out His will in their lives, for their best and for His glory. In their hearts they were untrusting, a little resentful–apathetic. This is big for some of you in this room. You say, “I trusted God and things did not go my way. I was relying on the Lord and I was hurt in a terrible way.” Then slowly apathy, distance, unconcern grew in your heart. You said, “I will not deny Him, but I will not trust Him.”
If you find this in your heart, cry out to your Lord Jesus Christ, who suffered under God’s will as an example for you to follow. Repent and memorize Genesis 50:20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” And Acts 2:23, “This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” God allowed godless men to put Christ to death to accomplish His plan. Life is hard–God allows people to do mean things, but to grow you. Trust Him.
B. ENTHUSIASM for God is a part of being IN CHRIST
The actual word enthusiasm comes from two Greek words–en and theos, in God. When you’re in Christ, you are enthusiastic–full of life, full of joy, full of love. Christians should be the last people to be bored or apathetic. We can “rejoice always“, “count it all joy” in trial, and know “God causes all things to work together for good.”
Born again believers are not to be listless, uninterested, unconcerned, lethargic or bored. Fight apathy by living in Christ, full of His Spirit, depending on what you have in Christ. True spirituality is not merely external actions, but internal devotion. Crushing spiritual apathy means growing in external obedience and internal affection. Malachi will call God’s people to obey their God and God’s people to love their God.
C. Staying HOT means focusing on Christ’s return
Malachi was calling the returned exiles to look for the coming of the forerunner, who would introduce the world to the coming Messiah, the Savior and Redeemer. Read aloud Malachi 3:1. ” ‘Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,’ says the Lord of hosts.”
They were looking forward to His first coming–He is coming! Well, my family–He is coming back. And how we live in light of His return matters. John puts it this way in 1 John 2:28, “Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming.” Abiding in Him is what keeps us hot, fresh, authentic and heart driven. Do you have confidence today, that when He returns, you will not be ashamed?
D. Apathy is only cured by SALVATION in Christ
Christ came the first time to accomplish salvation for His chosen. God became a man, died in the place of man, a perfect sacrifice pleasing to God. Bore the wrath of God against sin upon Himself, took our punishment, died in our place, then rose from the dead–so when we exchange our lives for His, we can be forgiven and made right.
Christ is coming the second time to rule this entire planet, with those He has saved. We are here to share the message of salvation and make followers of Christ. We are here to make a difference which will last for all eternity. No one can be apathetic who has been transformed by Christ. No one can be apathetic who has been awakened to the Gospel message. No one can be apathetic who gets to share the message and make disciples. No one can be apathetic who is immersed in the community of an alive church. No one can be apathetic who is looking forward to the return of Christ to rule. No one can be apathetic who gets to enjoy Christ face-to-face forever in Heaven. Let’s pray.