Hope for the Apathetic (Malachi 3:6-15)

Sermon Manuscript . . .

Hope for the Apathetic

Malachi 3:6-15

God desires the apathetic to awaken and return to Him. God offers hope to the apathetic (verses 6 to 7). Could you be apathetic? You are selfish with money (verses 8 to 12). You expect immediate reward (verses 13 to 14a). You equate form with belief (verses14b to 15).

I’m curious–how many have read, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up? How many have seen, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo?Men, how many would say that your home has been kondo’d? Netflix has made her a star, but Marie Kondo has been advocating home minimalism for almost 15 years. If you’ve never watched, her basic process is–evaluate what you own by category, keep things that bring you joy, thank and then dispose of what doesn’t. What you’re left with is things you love and so little that you don’t need a lot of space to store it. Her method is rooted in Shinto-ism, in case you’re wondering.

This move towards minimalism is everywhere. The first page of my Google search showed, “I Marie Kondo’d My Love Life”, “How I Marie Kondo’d My Whole Life”, “I Marie Kondo’d My Pantry”, “I Marie Kondo’d My Life After Divorce”.

The ease of Amazon shopping, the strong economy we currently have, and the rise of OfferUp and Craigslist all signal that everyone has too much. Our homes are designed to store more than we really need. So Marie Kondo, Tiny House Nation, and the life of minimalism has taken off. But what’s happening really isn’t new–2,400 years ago in the time of Malachi, minimalism was being practiced.

Yes, their homes only had what they needed. And their closets were much more bare than ours. They had just returned from exile less than 100 years prior. They were not a prosperous people. Money was tight. Supply was limited. The life that they had imagined was not coming true. The grass had seemed so much greener when living in Persia. While in exile, they heard stories and some could remember–life before captivity, what it meant to be free and the glory of the Temple.

Their hearts had soared when King Cyrus and King Darius had permitted their returns to Jerusalem. They had envisioned living as their masters did. When they returned home, they repented. Ezra read the Law to them and the nation mourned their sin and vowed to do better. They put off foreign wives. They wore sackcloth and ashes. They sought God’s forgiveness.

But that event had been about 25 years ago. Their return home did not result in many who genuinely walked with God. The change in circumstances did not create a desire to walk with God. And Malachi is writing to people who’d grown hard. They’d become apathetic. They now practiced a minimalistic religion. They did enough to get by. They did the minimum to keep up appearances. They did the stuff they thought God wanted them to do. They had Marie Kondo’d their faith.

And maybe you’re familiar with this. You might have been raised in a legalistic environment. You come to church now because you know it’s good for your kids. You think that being here on Sundays is what pleases God. You pray for meals and when feeling stressed. You give something when you’re at church. You obey enough to get by. But you’re not happy.

You don’t have hope that God will change anything. You don’t feel that He hears and answers your prayers. But you’re trying to live out what a Christian is. You’re doing the basics. That is who Malachi was writing to. It’s Jews who were practicing their religion. They were doing the work, but their heart wasn’t in it. And to these apathetic people, God offers amazing hope.

Malachi, to this point, has been condemning priests and people alike for their complacency. Speaking on behalf of God, he has been assaulting corruption, hypocrisy, infidelity, compromise, divorce, false worship and arrogance.

Open up your Bibles to Malachi 3. He begins chapter 3 by speaking of the messenger who will come first, and then the eventual return and judgment of the Lord. Malachi describes how the Lord will purify His people and make their worship righteous again. Now pick up in verse 5. “‘Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.
6“’For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. 7From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,’ says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’” (Malachi 3:5 to 7). Patrick ended in verse 5 last week and today we pick up in verse 6.

God offers hope to the apathetic (verses 6 to 7). Malachi reminds those who are going through the motions that God’s delayed judgment is the result of his character and promises. He says, “I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” He uses the phrase “children” or “sons” of Jacob to remind them of His covenant promise.

Turn over to Jeremiah 31:35 to 37 to see some of that promise. “Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— the Lord of hosts is his name: 36‘If this fixed order departs from before me,’ declares the Lord, ‘then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever.’ 37Thus says the Lord: ‘If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done,’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 31:35 to 37).

Two chapters later, Jeremiah is in bondage and Jerusalem is about to be destroyed, with Judah hauled into exile. Yet the whole of the chapter is about God’s faithfulness to His promises, that He will not allow Israel to be utterly destroyed. When God promises something, it will come to pass. Every time.

The character of God undergirds every promise of God (Numbers 23:19, 1 Samuel 15:29). “I do not change, so you are not destroyed.” So rather than destroy, in His grace God offers hope. “’For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. 7From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,’ says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’” (Malachi 3:6 to 7).

I know it’s early and you might not be firing on all cylinders, but this is amazing. To these apathetic people, God offers incredible hope. “Return to me and I will return to you.” Priests and people were guilty of hypocrisy, infidelity, compromise, divorce without cause, false worship and arrogant pride. And the Lord pleads with them to repent–“Return to me.”

That word is used repeatedly throughout Scripture to describe the turning from sin and turning towards God. To return means you renounce sin and confess that is vile and you affirm God and His will for your life. Whenever you first professed to believe in Jesus,
that confession of hope involved some belief and confession that sin was evil and destructive, and that God’s ways were right and true. To return to God is that very act–and it encompasses relationship.

Each week, we have heard how the people in exile felt far from God. They still went through the motions. They still called themselves His people. But they didn’t think He was really around. They didn’t feel close to Him. Here, God is offering relational intimacy again. “You feel that I’m far? Return to me and I will return to you. Repent of your sin and apathy and you will find me close and attentive.” This is the continual plea of God from Israel’s captivity to their return. You read the Old Testament prophets and you see this again and again.

Isaiah 55:7, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”

Joel 2:13b to 14a, “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. 14Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him.”

Jeremiah 3:12 to 14, “Go, and proclaim these words toward the north, and say, ‘ “Return, faithless Israel,” declares the Lord. “I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful,” declares the Lord; “I will not be angry forever. 13Only acknowledge your guilt, that you rebelled against the Lord your God and scattered your favors among foreigners under every green tree, and that you have not obeyed my voice,” declares the Lord. 14“Return, O faithless children,” declares the Lord; “for I am your master; I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion.” ‘ “

Zechariah 1:3, “Therefore say to them, ‘Thus declares the Lord of hosts: “Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you,” says the Lord of hosts.’ “

But this is not just an offer to Jews 2,400 years ago. James 4:8, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” If you recognize hypocrisy in your heart and know that you have been going through the motions, then God is calling you right now to repent and return. He promises that if you draw near to Him, He will draw near to you.

The promises of God in Scripture are our greatest hope. He has promised that suffering has purpose. He has promised that His Son will return. He has promised to judge all disobedience. He has promised that Heaven will be a place of joy, where sorrow is ended. He has promised to fully remove the sins of those who hope in Jesus. And . . . He has promised that when you draw near to Him, He will draw near to you.

The promises of God are our greatest hope. The character of God undergirds every promise of God. So we know that everything promised will come to pass. The problem is that the apathetic are often blind. That is the sad conclusion to God’s amazing offer. Look at the end of verse 7. “But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ ” This is not a question that wants an answer.

My 6-year-old asks, “Why?” all the time right now. “Get in the car”–“Why?” . . . “Put on your shoes”–“Why?” . . . “Time for bed”–“Why?” Do you remember that stage? For my son, he is not usually looking for answers. He’s looking to avoid obedience. The question is not a genuine question. He is not ultimately concerned why his feet need protection, or the time at which his body requires sleep. If I answer the actual question, he doesn’t listen, but follows with another  “why?”.

When you read verse 7, the Israelites are acting like my 6-year-old. They are not asking a real question. It would be a genuine question, to ask, “How do I return? What do I need to do? I’m broken and I’m lost–I need help.” If this is your question, then come talk to me afterwards. I am happy to help you know how. But it’s actually written in such a way to reply, “How do we return when we’ve never left?” They are blind to their apathy. They don’t see their real spiritual condition.

Eight times, God accuses the Jews of sin and they contradict Him and ask for proof. They ask, “Why do you say that? How have we done that?” In verse 7 God promises, “Return to me and I will return to you.” They reply with “How shall we return?” . . . “Why do you think we need to do that? We’ve been doing what you asked.” They feel like they’ve been doing good. They are blind.

Could you be apathetic? Some of you might be like this. You assume everything is good. You have no knowledge of any issues. You don’t have the joy and zeal that some others have, but you are obeying Him, so all must be well. Some of you might have a nagging feeling in your heart that all is not well. A few of you already know that what everyone sees is just a sham of reality.

God’s response in this passage is for you. Because the Jews ask for proof that they’ve wandered, Malachi describes three blinding marks of an apathetic faith. The first one is . . .

1.  You are selfish with money  (Verses 8 to 12)

” ‘Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, “How have we robbed you?” In your tithes and contributions. 9You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. 10Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. 11I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear,’ says the Lord of hosts. 12‘Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight,’ says the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 3:8–12).

Do you know the story of Maxx Pizza in Murrieta? They recently closed due to health issues of the owners. But before it was Maxx, it was Bob’s Murrieta Pizza Company. Same company, same owners–except one . . . Bob himself. Bob was arrested in 2013 for embezzling more than $1.3 million from the store. It took four years for him to be caught. He was the name and the other owners were the money. They were the ones who discovered the theft and turned him in. Bob’s became Maxx because Bob stole and got caught.

Here in Malachi, God charges Israel with robbing Him. They’ve been stealing from Him–a simple case of embezzlement like Bob did. This word was used for plunder and pillaging–like when Genghis Khan would conquer a city. After all the citizens were out, his men would plunder the city. They would take everything valuable from it, strip it down to nothing–and he would bring enslaved Chinese accountants, who kept track of all the loot. He didn’t just steal a bit–he plundered. He robbed them blind. And that’s the type of action being described here. They deny it. of course, and ask for proof. “How have we robbed you?”

His answer is that their tithes and offerings were sub-par. Their worship of Him was weak. Their dependence on His provision was lousy. What should really capture your attention here is at the beginning of verse 10. “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse.” The issue is not that they weren’t giving. The issue is that they were giving less than what had been commanded.

Chapter 1 of Malachi is full of indictments over them giving God fourth-best. They offered sick, lame and blind animals in sacrifice. When they had to give money, they gave less than what the Law required. You would think that plundering meant that they were taking money out of the Temple–but in God’s view, it’s just as bad. As a whole, what this means is that Israel’s action is far more evil than we think. I don’t think of stingy giving as an assault against God, but He does.

So we should be gravely concerned. A lack of giving is symptomatic of a greater spiritual issue. If you are selfish with your money, there is a spiritual issue. And I can safely say that you are blind to it. I checked with Nigel on this. In five years of counseling at FBC, up to fifteen meetings a week–no one, NO ONE has sought counsel on greed or materialism. People recognize adultery. We recognize anger. We can self-identify lying. But we are strangely blind to materialism and greed.

I believe that one of the reasons that the Bible talks more about money than sex is that materialism is blinding. Five years of counseling cases–not one of them about greed or materialism. Think about that. This is the issue that God uses in Malachi to reveal spiritual blindness. In 2002 after 9/11, the Red Cross ran into trouble for not using donated funds for their intended purpose. Some of you remember that–it was a huge deal. They took in $1 billion and gave out less than half. Their CEO was fired as a result. Do you handle God’s money that way? The issue is not that the Israelites weren’t giving–they were. But partial obedience is disobedience.

They had just come back in the land and enemies were at their front door. Economic conditions were hard and they were trying to re-establish themselves. Their motivation to withhold was probably due to circumstances. They felt that they didn’t have enough to give what God had commanded. You’ve been there, right? You get a pay cut, or your car breaks, or your tax bill is huge. So your generosity towards church or missions or compassion work declines.

Or maybe it happened when you got your first job. You looked at that little paycheck, you thought about your bills, and you got in the habit of slipping God a $20 on Sundays. That is what happened here. But look at verses 10 to 12. After the accusation, God responds with incentive.

‘Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need

11I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear,’ says the Lord of hosts. 12‘Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight,’ says the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 3:10–12).

To those who are apathetic about giving, God says, “Repent and trust me. Obey me and it’ll be fine. In fact, it will be better than now.” It’s an amazing promise of God. So what does this mean for us? We don’t live in the land. This promise is not to us. And we’re not commanded to tithe. As believers, we are granted freedom in how much we give away of God’s money. Let’s be clear–everything you have is His. But you have freedom in the way you manage it.

I like how John Piper described our freedom. He said that in emphasizing our freedom and setting aside our slavishness, we should think about our families. In God’s Word, Christians are free in how much you must play with your kids or how often you must kiss your wife. You have freedom not to do those and you are not breaking God’s law. And so, to show your freedom, you can choose to kiss her once a week. Because you are free from the Law, you can choose to play with your kids on Thursdays for ten minutes each week. If you have Christ and not commandments, then how are you content to do less? We should use our freedom to do more, not less. You kiss your wife more–you play with your kids more.

The same is true for the freedom you have in giving. You are free to give proportional to your income. First Corinthians 16 and 2 Corinthians 9 make that clear. If you’re not giving in some proportion to your income, then you’re not obeying New Testament commands to Christians. But many people would argue that kissing your wife and playing with your kids is happy and fun, but giving away hard-earned money is not.

I would disagree and many other Christians would disagree. The Word of God would disagree. “God will rich supply all your needs in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). “Instruct those who are rich in this world to be generous and ready to share” (1 Timothy 6:17 to 19).

In 2 Corinthians 9:6 to 11 the point is this, “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. … 10He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.”

Proverbs 11:24 to 25, “One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. 25Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.”

The problem is not that you don’t have enough money to give. The problem is that you’ve been putting it into the wrong investments. The Bible describes it as your storehouse, your treasury. Maybe you’ve been investing into clothes, credit card bills, your 401k, a home, a vehicle, even your kids.

Luke 12:15, “And he said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’ ” You put money into the treasury where you worship. That doesn’t mean that you just give more here today, or at church in general. Maybe you need to. That’s commanded as a priority. But the promise of God is bigger than that. He will enrich you with everything you need in order to be liberal and generous. He will supply your needs, and an excess to distribute to others.

If Christians around the world took this to heart, there would not be a church, a missionary, a ministry or an orphanage in need. The needs of our world are far less than what God has already supplied to His saints. We are not waiting on God to provide. We are waiting on God’s children to awaken. Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

The spiritually apathetic are selfish with their money. It is the longest challenge of the text. It is the one with greatest promise. It is the one that the most people are blind to. God calls the blind and apathetic to hear, change and trust Him. The next mark of the spiritually apathetic is . . .

2.  You expect immediate reward  (Verse 13 to 14a)

‘Your words have been hard/strong against me,’ says the Lord. ‘But you say, “How have we spoken against you?” 14You have said, “It is vain to serve God” ‘ ” (Malachi 3:13 to 14). What is the profit of our keeping His charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? Again, God accuses them and they contradict Him.

No real surprise at this point, right? Their blindness is evident. They have given blemished animals. They have disobeyed His laws. They have married foreign and idolatrous wives. They have assumed God was fine with evil. They have violated His covenant over and over. Then they say, “What have we said against you?” They are not asking, but declaring their innocence.

To which God declares what He has heard them say to one another. Sometimes we forget that God is aware of all we do and say. We think that we’re alone–God is not there. When the darkness comes, God is not there. When it’s just us and one other, God is not there. So God repeats to them some of what He has heard them say. “It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping His charge?”

Now think about what’s being said. They are saying, “I am obeying, but I don’t see any benefit. It is pointless to obey God. My life is no different than my godless neighbor. What is the profit of obeying God? Life actually looks easier if I don’t. In fact, some of them look happier–and they’re not making a single sacrifice.” The spiritually apathetic expect immediate reward. They believe that God must bless and affirm every effort they make. And if He doesn’t, then righteousness doesn’t matter.

Maybe you arrange with your teenager that they have to mow the lawn, take out the trash and wash the car each week in order to get an allowance. So they mow, do the kitchen trash and spray the car with water. Then they look at you expecting to hear, “Great job–here’s a tip for not having to ask three times like normal.” The apathetic expect immediate reward. Israel is looking for praise at the slightest act of external conformity. They are seeing no profit to their obedience. So they whisper to one another, “This doesn’t matter. Why are we doing this?”

Do you feel that way about your Christianity sometimes? You think that dressing modestly doesn’t really matter. You see no reward in telling the truth all the time. You traded the Bible for devotional emails because they’re quicker and easier. You don’t see how what you give at church really matters to anyone other than the church. You feel like prayer is less effective than actually doing something.

All of those things are rooted in a desire for immediate reward. If your heart regularly nags you to ask, “Why am I doing this again?”, spiritual apathy is the likely cause. It means that eternity is absent from your thoughts. Your concern is for the here and right now. You look at all of life through that and you do whatever it takes to get ahead.

If this is you, Malachi is speaking to you. He is calling you to wake up. The Lord is pleading with you to return to Him. Our digital devices condition us to look for immediate gratification. Our ability to shop, buy, store and gift is unmatched in history. It has never been harder to think about eternity. But the promise of God is that your inheritance is future. The reward for your obedience now is future.

Most of the time, you are not going to see benefit to godly choices. Sometimes you’ll actually feel the cost of choosing to obey God. Hebrews 11:25 to 26, “[Moses chose] rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.”

Colossians 3:23 to 24, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” The spiritually blind do not see this. They are selfish with their money. They expect immediate reward for any act of obedience. The third sign of spiritual blindness . . .

3.  You equate form with belief  (Verse 14b to 15)

We see this in the second half of verse 14. “You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? 15And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape’ ” (Malachi 3:14 to 15). They walked as in mourning before the Lord of hosts. They had all the forms of their religion–but it was a show.

Less than 100 years after returning from exile–just 25 years after a national confession of sin before Ezra and a public hearing of the Law, in that time they had moved from a genuine concern for sin in their hearts to a surface-level concern to keep up appearances. Parents, you know how easy this is? When your child is young, you don’t want them to cry in the store, so you buy what they’re asking for. You threaten to punish but never do, because you just want them to stop. You ignore the heart and focus on the externals.

When they’re older, you talk to them more about their hair color than you do about the biting tone in their voice. You stop talking about their heart, because they become defensive and never want to go there. So you ignore the heart and address appearance. It is easier to keep external forms than see internal heart change.

The Jews had been doing all the externals. They had worn the right clothes. They had appeared to grieve over sins. They equated religious forms with righteousness before God. We do this today in other ways. We express outrage at the proliferation of the transsexual agenda and think that God is okay with us watching adultery for entertainment.

You bring your kids to church and youth group every week, but you curse God and His Son in how you talk each day. You plead with God to change your trial at work, but you don’t see how you’re contributing to the problem. You think that certain external forms are what make you righteous before God. We pretend to grieve over our sins. You might cry. You might feel guilt.

We pretend that we spent time with God. You might be able to quote Scripture. You could tell me what you read. But you’re just pretending that your walk is fine. And you show up and you sing and you listen and you go home again without any concern to apply what you heard. Maintaining the form of Christianity is not the same as genuine belief. It’s just a mark of spiritual apathy. Real belief isn’t evidenced by your attendance or by feeling guilty. Real belief is evidenced by the opposite of what we just heard.

1.  Your heart is unattached to this world so you can give freely.

2.  You know that Christ is returning with a glorious inheritance, so you live in a way that maximizes your reward then.

3.  You come to church, read the Word, seek accountability–all because you are overwhelmed by God’s grace and want to display your thankfulness to everyone around you.

This might not be you, but here is the amazing thing–God desires the blind to see (Verses 6 to 7). If you have been apathetic and your eyes have been opened, God is calling to you to return–to move past the minimalist faith you’ve been living. It’s how we began this passage. They wanted proof of their need–He has furnished it.

And now God is asking through His Word–will you put away your arrogance and repent? Will you trust in the Lord will all your heart and not lean on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledging Him? If Malachi has been describing your life today–how long will you hide your sin? How long will you pretend ignorance? How long will the patience of the Lord endure?

So often we blame our circumstances. We think that if things were different, we would do better. The Israelites thought this. If only we weren’t in captivity, we would worship God freely. If only we weren’t enslaved and in this foreign land, we would be able to obey Him. But when they returned, their hearts hadn’t changed. Now they blamed their poverty. Circumstances still kept them from obedience.

Friend, there is no circumstance to blame for your distance from God. And this offer of hope and return for you is a limited-time offer. You see, there is a promise coming–next week. Another message of justice and judgment. Jesus is coming–not just the first time, which has come to pass. But He is returning as a judge. And that is the last thing that they’re going to hear for 400 years. After Malachi, there is silence. And they are left to wrestle with, “Am I apathetic about my professed faith? Will I awaken and return to the Lord as my Savior–before the Lord returns as the wrathful Judge?”

About John Pleasnick

John serves as a pastor and elder at Faith Bible Church

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