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Persistent Love - Guarding the Knowledge of God

Malachi 2:10-16


As a priesthood of believers, we are all responsible for guarding the knowledge of God. Here are some warnings if we don’t.


Malachi 2:1-9: “And now, O priests, this command is for you. If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart. Behold, I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings, and you shall be taken away with it. So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may stand, says the Lord of hosts. My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him. It was a covenant of fear, and he feared me. He stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. But you have turned aside from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts, and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you do not keep my ways but show partiality in your instruction.”


What is the job of a lifeguard? Would you agree if I say they guard the lives of those who are in the water? When I met my wife in the summer of 2007, she was a lifeguard. One day, she was in the water along with some other friends, and she asked me to jump in. I did not know how to swim but I trusted her. Why? Because she was a lifeguard and was supposed to be my girlfriend. Once I jumped in, she thought I was pretending, but I was really drowning. It was a friend who immediately pulled me up.


We put our trust in lifeguards or any other kind of guard because they are responsible for warning and defending us against potential harm. What happens if they neglect their responsibility? People perish.


In this passage, Malachi 2:1-9, priests were neglecting their responsibility of guarding the knowledge of God. Therefore, God warned them if they did not listen, obey, and change, then God’s people would perish, but they would be held accountable.


If we neglect our responsibility to guard the knowledge of God, people will perish, and we will be held accountable.


So, what is the knowledge of God and how do we guard it? The knowledge of God is the word of God and what is revealed in the scriptures. The way we guard it is by reading, teaching, and obeying in our speech and actions no matter the cost because God is worthy.


God is holding the priests accountable because despite having the knowledge of God and more specifically the knowledge of the law in the Old Testament, they neither preached it faithfully nor practiced it. In this way they dishonored and disrespected God and led the congregation into dishonoring and disrespecting God by offering unholy, impure, and improper sacrifices of defective animals that even a man would not accept. Israel’s lack of honor, respect, and reverence in worship was reflective of the priesthood’s attitude toward God’s name, His altar, and towards God’s law in teaching and judging.


The priests were to guard the knowledge of God, but they compromised it in words and actions. In our text, we see three warnings to the priests that have deep implications for the church and all believers everywhere when we fail to guard the knowledge of God in words and actions: a warning of the curse for being careless, a warning of the covenant for being corrupted, and a warning of consequences for being carefree. Let’s start with the first:


The Curse for Being Careless


Notice how verse 1 starts: “And now, O priests, this command is for you.” Do we have any priests among us today? You may say well priests in our context are pastors, teachers, and leaders in a church. You are not wrong, but I am not a priest in the sense of the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, priests were not self-appointed or appointed by the people. God chose them from one selected tribe of Israel, the tribe of Levi, for one selected purpose: to carry the responsibility of temple worship.


All priests were to be Levites, but not all Levites were priests. I am neither a Jew nor a Levite. Does that mean this command does not apply to any one of us? Turn with me to 1 Peter 2:5 and 9. These verses are for all believers in Jesus Christ. Verse 5 says, “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ,” and verse 9 repeats, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”


The moment we are saved we join the rank of the royal priesthood. The New Testament teaches the priesthood of believers which means we all are responsible to guard the knowledge of God. Therefore, the warning of the curse for being careless was not only to the Levitical priesthood but it is also for us, the royal priesthood.


Now let’s look at the warning itself. The NIV and other translations render the word “command” in verse 1 as a warning. Why? Because the conditional statement in verse 2 says, “If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings. Indeed, I have already cursed them because you do not lay it to heart.”


The priests were careless about their responsibility as God’s appointed priests. They neither listened nor did they obey because their hearts were not in it, this caused disobedience in Israel. Those of us who are married, you know how it is. Your spouse says you do not listen, you say that you do. She says tell me what I said, and you do your best to pull fragments of what was said from your sub-conscience to reconstruct what it was. Sometimes it flies but other times it doesn’t work. Listening does not equate to taking to heart what is said. God wants the priest to listen, and take it to heart, or else they will be cursed for handling God’s word carelessly.


In Deuteronomy 28, God outlined a long list of blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience, but I do not think that’s the case here. Here the idea is God will curse their blessing. Verse 2 ends with God saying He has already cursed them.


How has he cursed them already? By turning their blessings into curses. They were not being honored by the people as priests because they did not receive an appropriate portion of food, land, etc. for their personal and family needs. They were receiving discarded leftovers in offerings and tithes. God in verse 3 warns them that if this continues, there is more to come. Notice how in verse God says, “Behold, I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings, and you shall be taken away with it.” When there is no honor of God, there is no respect for the office of the priests, and as the offerings stop, there would be no need for priests. The line of Levites would lose the blessing of being God’s priests. The reference to the smearing of dung on their faces is the consequence of their careless handling of sacrifices.


Listen to Exodus 29:14: “But the flesh of the bull and its skin and its dung you shall burn with fire outside the camp; it is a sin offering.” Since they are defiling God’s altar, God will dishonor them by smearing dung on their faces and throwing them on the pile of dung. Then they would know how God feels when they dishonor God by offering Him the waste that disgusts them. Therefore, in verse 4, God says, “So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may stand, says the Lord of hosts.” This is a warning. If heeded the consequences will be avoided.


I have shared with you how my boys love their iPads. Yes, we have put limits to what and how much they can watch, but I find it extremely disrespectful and dishonoring when they hear and acknowledge what we say to them only when we take the iPads away. They do not take it to heart, meaning they do not obey. If the priests in the text did not listen, change their ways, and obey, God would take their iPads away, in this case, meaning any distraction from obeying including the blessings that might be hindering them from worship.


When God holds back His blessings, we are left with a vacuum of God’s blessed presence, and that allows darkness to move in and function freely in our lives.


What is the application? Heed His warning. Listen to the Word of God and take it to heart, meaning obey it. Do not take your priesthood lightly and do not handle the Word of God carelessly.


Corrupting the Covenant


The second warning to the priests that have deep implications for the church and all believers everywhere when we fail to guard the knowledge of God in words and actions is the warning of the covenant for being corrupted. In verse 5, God describes how the Levitical covenantal relationship should have been honored and carried. Verse 5 says, “My covenant with him [Aaron] was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him. It was a covenant of fear, and he feared me. He stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity.”


This is a good example for us too. Verse 7 is where the title and the main subject of this text came from. It says, “For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.” God wanted the priests to guard His knowledge because this was His method to instruct others about Himself. He wants the same from us.


But notice the root issue in verse 8, “But you have turned aside from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts.” God contrasts the original ministry of the Levitical priest with the priest of the Malachi’s time. One causes people to turn away from sin and the other causes people to turn away from God.


Contrast your ministry as priesthood with the early church. The scriptures says the whole world was turned upside down because of the witness of the disciples. They had the same challenge that we do and more. Literally their lives were in danger for preaching, share, and witnessing Christ.


God is telling them not only have they turned aside from doing what they were supposed to do, which is to guard the knowledge of God by teaching and obeying, but they neglect of their responsibility has also caused others to turn aside from that too because nobody was teaching them the truth.


Once I was with a group of pastors. They were talking about gender identity issues and how pastors need to work on building bridges. I was the youngest among them, so they asked me what I think. I said that those who are confused do not need more confusion. They have already received mixed messages from everywhere. They do not need more of that, what they need is a clear response from the Word. A straight answer. When the pastors do not preach what the Bible says because it is uncool today, they add to the confusion.


The priests of Malachi’s time were corrupting the covenant by compromising. Social issues will change but the word of God will never change.


What is the application here? In the New Covenant in Christ, the covenant of the priesthood is being corrupted because we who are supposed to guard the knowledge are neglecting our responsibility of proclamation at home and in public.


The Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 is for the whole priesthood, male and female, young and old, to go and make disciples of every nation teaching them what Jesus has commanded and baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Ask yourself, am I sharing Christ with others? Am I making disciples? Seriously how many disciples are you making right now? Can you even put one name down? The priests were chosen and appointed by God to guard knowledge by teaching, obeying, and living it out. We were a royal priesthood. We have been chosen to proclaim the excellencies of Jesus who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.


The Consequences for Being Carefree


The third warning to the priests that have deep implications for the church and all believers everywhere when we fail to guard the knowledge of God in words and actions is the warning of the consequences for being carefree.


God says in verse 9, “and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you do not keep my ways but show partiality in your instruction.” The word for “despised” in Hebrew is baza, and the root word for that means “worthless.” It is to treat someone or something as totally worthless. Since they treated God as totally worthless, God will treat them the same way. The word “abased” in Hebrew is shaphal, which is an adjective meaning low or humble. It communicates humility of mind and spirit but also a condition in life. To bring about the humanity of mind, spirit, and actions, God will treat them as totally worthless. It is not that they do not have worth rather it’s the idea of indifference because that’s how they were treating God.


My wife Sarah used to work around Union Square in Manhattan. Every time I went to see her, I would run into a homeless young hipster community living their carefree lives around Union Square station. One of them had a sign, “Need cash for weed.” Being carefree is often seen as a good thing, right? No worries, no responsibilities, doing whatever makes us happy. But this is not good in the matters in which God will hold us responsible. The priests were responsible to guard the knowledge of God. They were being carefree, that is, they were irresponsible.


What is the application? God will humble us as he humbled the priests if we do not heed His warning and change our ways. He will turn our blessing into a curse by holding His blessing back. So do not be carefree at the expense of truth. We are responsible to share.


There was a man, who back in his home country, had an extremely hard life but his devotion to the Lord was evident in his prayer, reading the Bible, and serving God. One day God opened doors for him to the land of opportunity, the United States. He got a job in one of the top firms in Manhattan. The more time he gave to his career the more promotions and bonuses he got. He was a blessed man by any standard. His busy life practically left no time for him to go to church or read the Word, and even when he prayed here and there, he told God he was sorry that he did not give him the time he deserves. Then he fell ill. He was so ill that he could not do anything but lay in his bed facing up. This is where it occurred to him that now he has nothing but time to lay there and talk to God.


Sometimes I think God holds His blessings back because we are too busy being blessed that we forget the one who is blessing us. Therefore we do not have time to read God’s word and do God’s work.


The three warnings, the warning of the curse for being careless, the warning of the covenant for being corrupted, and the warning of the consequences for being carefree, have deep implications for us as a royal priesthood in Christ, and if we compromise and neglect our responsibility to guard the knowledge of God, He will hold us accountable.


Here is my appeal to you, please do not allow your blessings to become a distraction in your life and cause you to neglect your responsibility to guard the knowledge of God by reading, teaching, and applying them in your life.


To here the full sermon, click here.

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