After attending church one Sunday morning, a little boy knelt at his bedside that night and prayed, “Dear God, we had a good time at church today. I wish you had been there!”
We laugh because we know the truth behind the little boy’s innocence. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What is worship?
- Does what we do at church really make a difference?
- How would my Sundays be different if I did not come to church?
- What are my expectations of worship every week?
- Do I have any expectations?
- What should worship be like?
- Is our worship pleasing to God?
- Is what happens on Sunday all show and no substance?
I don’t know the answers to those questions. Everyone’s answers would be different. Mine would be different depending on what week it is. Churches spend an incredible amount of time, money, and human resources to make one hour a week meaningful. Even our church exhorts a lot of energy for one service. I struggle with that! While corporate worship is extremely important, church is far more then what takes place on Sundays. This past summer, a missionary in Honduras was asking me about our church. As I was trying to explain to him what we are like—because we are different—I said, “We are a ministry that does church, not a church that does ministry.” I had never said that before, but the more I thought about it, the more I believed it to be true. Since then, I have used that sentence a lot to describe our church.
As odd as it sounds, I guess God’s people have always struggled with proper worship practices. Some of Malachi’s harshest words to God’s people was about their worship of God. In one sentence you could say their worship was all show and no substance.
The Prophet Malachi
Malachi’s prophecies are really a series of seven short sermons. They are not so much predictions as they are exhortations. Today’s text is the second of those seven sermons. The sermon begins, “A son honors his father, and a servant his master” (Malachi 1:6a). This should go without saying. Children look up to their parents, and most people respect those who have authority over them. But this was not the case for the nation of Israel toward God! “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” (Malachi 1:6b, c). God is not mincing words here. His first sermon (Malachi 1:2-5) started with a proclamation of His love for His people. This sermon begins with the people’s refusal to honor and respect the God who loves them.
I bet if you were to ask the people if they honor and respect God as their Father and Master, they would have said, “Yes. Of course we do.” They may even been offended if you were to ask them such questions. I bet these opening statements caught everyone off guard. And if they didn’t, the next sentence certainly would, “It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name” (Malachi 1:6d). Wow! As we shall see, God wasn’t as upset with the people as He was the priests. God was saying it was the priests who were not showing Him honor and respect, and if the priests weren’t doing so, then why should the people?
The word, “contempt,” refers to an attitude of ongoing disrespect. They were treating God as insignificant and worship was a meaningless exercise. God was no longer important to them. God had lost His wonder in their eyes. All the while they were worshiping Him and offering Him sacrifices. During this whole time they were leading the people in worship, but it was all show and no substance.
Several years ago I was speaking at a youth conference in South Texas. It was a strange weekend. The pastor, who invited me down and who was in charge of the conference, acting odd the entire time. He seemed disconnected. He acted as if he did not want to be there. It affected the entire conference. There was a depressing cloud over the entire event. A week or two after the event, I found out the pastor had been involved in an affair with a lady at his church. He was forced to resign from his church. In a very real sense, he was guilty of the same thing the priests were guilty of, and it affected everyone around him. He was showing contempt for God’s name.
Likewise, we show contempt for God when we come to worship with no desire to really worship Him. When we act like saints on Sundays but sinners throughout the rest of the week, we show contempt for God. When we refuse to repent of our sins, but gather for worship anyway, we are acting as if God is insignificant and worship is meaningless. When God is no longer the top priority in our lives, and when church is no longer important, we show God contempt.
The people of Israel could not imagine that they were showing contempt for God, and so they asked, “How have we shown contempt for your name?” (Malachi 1:6e). God answered, “You place defiled food on my altar” (Malachi 1:7a). The people then asked, “How have we defiled you?” (Malachi 1:7b).
What follows is a conversation about the sacrificial system in the Old Testament. Something that is foreign to our understanding. The point Malachi is making is that people (starting with the priests) were offering sacrifices that did not really cost them anything. Instead of giving God their best, they were giving Him their leftovers. If you truly honor and respect God as your Father and Master, you will always give Him your best, not your leftovers.
Malachi continues: “But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’
“By saying that the Lord’s Table is contemptible. When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame 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.
“Now plead with God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?”—says the Lord Almighty” (Malachi 1:7b-9).
Let me take some liberties and put these verses in a twenty-first century context: “How have we defiled God? By saying that worship is a waste of time. When you take old, worn out clothes, to Graceworks, and keep the good clothes for yourself, is that not wrong? When you give a meager amount to the church, but spend your last dime on a lottery ticket, is that not wrong? Try cheating the IRS! Would they be pleased with you? Would they accept a penny less than what they think you owe them? Now, plead with God to forgive you. Don’t give Him less than your best.
If we are not going to take worship seriously, God says He would rather us just shut our church doors. God will receive His glory either with us or without us. God says, “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. My name will be great among the nations, from where the sun rises to where it sets. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to me, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the Lord Almighty” (Malachi 1:10-11).
When we don’t take worship seriously, we show contempt for God, we defile God, and third, we profane God. Through Malachi, God says, “But you profane it by saying, ‘The Lord’s table is defiled,’ and, ‘Its food is contemptible.’ And you say, ‘What a burden!’ and you sniff at it contemptuously,” says the Lord Almighty.
“When you bring injured, lame or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?” says the Lord. “Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king,” says the Lord Almighty, “and my name is to be feared among the nations” (Malachi 1:12-14).
Why would God be so upset with these improper sacrifices? It’s because the Old Testament sacrifices pointed to Christ. Thus, a defiled sacrifice was a defilement towards Jesus Himself; and that is blasphemy! Not taking worship seriously is a dangerous thing.
I have talked to gang members and leaders, both in prison and outside of prison, both in the States and in Honduras, and one thing most all have in common is an understanding of authority that results in a deep respect for God. They may not be following God, but they respect Him too much to play games with Him. I have had gang members recite to me what it means to be a Christian, and assure me they believe in the Bible and in a literal heaven and hell. They have even told me they know they are going to hell. When I ask why they don’t give their lives to Jesus and follow God, they say, “Because I know I can’t live the life He wants me to live and I refuse to be a hypocrite. You don’t mess around and play games with God. You are either all in or you are all out.” I find it out that some MS-13 members have a higher view of God then many in the church. They would rather spend eternity in hell then show contempt for God’s name.
We don’t live in Old Testament times, and we don’t worship with animal sacrifices. What does all this have to do with us today? If we are not careful, our worship to God can be all show and no substance. Thus, here is the big question: How do we make sure there is substance to our show? How do we make sure our worship does not defile God, nor show Him contempt?
First, prepare yourself for worship each week. How do you do this? Worship God during the week. Listen to praise music. Read your Bible. Pray. Count your blessings. Tell other people how good God has been to you. Go to bed early on Saturday night instead of staying up watching TV, or doing something else. Get to church on time Sunday morning. Come to church anticipating what God is going to do. You can’t expect God to speak to you on Sunday if you have ignored Him all week.
Second, participate in worship. Once you are at church, determine to engage yourself. Talk to people. Grab a cup of coffee. Share prayer requests. Fellowship. Stand up when we sing (even though we say you don’t have to). Kneel to pray at one of our four prayer alters. Lift your hands. Clap your hands. Close your eyes. Dance. Shout. Run around. Meditate. Contemplate. Receive communion. Give an offering. Take notes during the sermon. Tell people you love them. Help tear down after church. Encourage one another. Pray for one another. Worship is not a spectator sport, it’s a full-body contact workout. If worship on Sundays is boring, it’s not my fault, but yours.
Third, apply what you hear in worship to your everyday life. Maybe God is telling you to keep your old clothes and donate the new clothes you just bought but don’t really need. Maybe He is telling you to give a sacrificial gift to someone else. Maybe He is telling you to get back to having your regular quiet time, or to serve your neighbor or co-worker or spouse. If you will listen, every Sunday God will give you directions for what He would like for you to do over the next seven days. Apply what you hear. Sunday worship becomes relevant when you allow it to change your life, not just your schedule once a week.