The Messenger - Week 2: Commitment
Today we are continuing the sermon series "The Messenger," a series based on the Old Testament prophecies of Malachi---the last book of the Hebrew Scriptures.
The name Malachi actually means "my messenger."
The role of the prophet in ancient Israel was a dangerous one--especially if what you were prophesying was unpopular. And the message that Malachi had for the Hebrew people was a hard one to hear.
Times had become challenging for the Hebrew people, and their commitment to God had taken a hit. The prophet calls the Hebrew people out on their lack of commitment in the second chapter of Malachi, which will be the focus of our study today.
But first, I want to share something with you that I think might help us prepare to learn together today.
I've learned over the years that most of my biggest regrets have been due to a lack of commitment on my part. Let me explain.
When I was in high school I played basketball. Our team wasn't half bad. We went to the state championship two years in a row but were runners-up both times. The first year we lost by just a few points. I was the starting forward that year.
My coach decided my junior year that this bigger, clumsier guy would be better at my position than I was, so I got benched. I wasn't a great player, but even off the bench I was good for about 8-10 points a game, and I was good at defense.
I decided that because I was outplaying the guy who took my spot, I was being singled out by the coach and I didn't like it. So the week before we were supposed to play in the championship game, I quit.
And the team lost by about six points.
What I demonstrated at that moment--a moment that has never left me to this day--is that I was involved in the basketball team, but I wasn't committed to it. If I had been committed, it wouldn't have mattered what challenge I faced, I would have stuck with it.
There is a huge difference between being involved and committed.
And that's the big question that each of us needs to ask when it comes to our commitment to following Jesus. When the challenges come... when things aren't exactly going our way... or when we feel like we can go it alone... how do we respond?
Do we show that we are involved in our faith... as opposed to being committed?
I've heard the difference between involvement and commitment explained like this.
When you sit down to eat your ham and cheese omelet for breakfast you can rest assured that the chicken who offered up the eggs was involved in your breakfast... the pig who provided the ham was committed.
Today we're going to be reading from chapter two of the book of Malachi, verses 10-16.
10 Do we not all have one Father? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our ancestors by being unfaithful to one another? 11 Judah has been unfaithful. A detestable thing has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem: Judah has desecrated the sanctuary the Lord loves by marrying women who worship a foreign god. 12 As for the man who does this, whoever he may be, may the Lord remove him from the tents of Jacob—even though he brings an offering to the Lord Almighty.
13 Another thing you do: You flood the Lord’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer looks with favor on your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. 14 You ask, “Why?” It is because the Lord is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.
15 Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth.
16 “The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the Lord Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.
There's an interesting thing that happens throughout the book of Malachi. The people of God keep asking the question "How?" "How have we broken faith with you God?" "How have we worshipped improperly?" "How have we offended you?" This question is asked like seven times.
It's like the people of Israel here are shocked that things aren't going their way. They are surprised that their relationship with God isn't great. After all, according to them, they are doing all the right things, going through the motions of worship--as Britta alluded to last week.
"Surely, God is supposed to love us for trying!" They seem to be saying.
And then the prophet lets them have it. He basically tells them that none of the things they are doing matter if their heart isn't in the right place. And he also tells them that their commitment isn't even close to what it should be, no matter what they tell themselves.
It's important to understand the setting within which Malachi is delivering this hard word. This prophecy occurs during a time in Israel's history when the exiles who were taken to Babylon have returned to Jerusalem. By this time the walls of the city have been rebuilt and so has the Temple.
But this group of returnees begins to struggle to maintain their faithfulness to God. Many of the men who were in Jerusalem began to look around at the other tribes around them and saw younger women they wanted to marry. The only obstacle to their desires, however, was the fact that they were already married.
So they divorced their wives, abandoned them and married women from these other tribes--tribes that worshipped other gods.
But there's more going on here than infidelity and betrayal between married people. In verse 11 there is an alternate translation from the ancient Hebrew that actually reads, "Judah has been unfaithful. He loves Asherah more than YWHW."
Asherah was the ancient goddess of fertility that was said to be the consort of the ancient Sumerian god El. Archaeologists have uncovered household statuary from this era of Jewish history and discovered that some Hebrews were worshiping YWHW and his wife Asherah.
So the prophet declares that violence has been done not only to the marriage covenants of the people of Israel but also to their covenant with God. The self-indulgent use of divorce by so many of the men in Israel was a symbol of a greater problem.
And after all of this, the Hebrew people are wondering why their relationship isn't right, their worship falls flat, their prayers meet silence...
There's so much truth in this passage for those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus today. The great tragedy of American Christianity is that our churches are filled with people who are involved in their faith but are not committed to it.
But why are we surprised?
Our entire culture is permeated with a lack of commitment. It affects all aspects of our culture: sports, education, marriage, corporations, institutions... we're used to a lack of commitment aren't we?
1/2 of all marriages in the U.S. experience some kind of infidelity. Over 1/3 of all marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. Athletes create their own brand, and look out for themselves and themselves alone. There is no commitment to team, no loyalty to the fan base.
We've lost faith in education and most of the institutions within our society because of lack of commitment to excellence and the greater good.
We have come to know that most corporations care only for the bottom line, and not for their customers and patrons.
And Christians are right there in the midst of it, looking like everyone else with our lack of commitment to our faith, our willingness to give up when it gets difficult, our lack of desire for anything other than mere involvement.
We talk a good game, but when it comes to truly following Jesus we look like fans and not followers.
I found the following definition of Commitment in the Urban Dictionary that I would like to share:
Commitment is what Transforms the promise into reality. It is the words that speak Boldly of your intentions. And the actions which speak Louder than the words. It is making the time When there is none. Coming through time After time after time, Year after year after year. Commitment is the stuff Character is made of; The power to change The face of things. It is the daily triumph Of integrity over skepticism.
When I say I love you, I mean that I'm committed to working to love you even when it's hard.
So what does it look like to be a committed Christian?
I think it comes down to three things: A committed Christian is committed to being in a worshipping Community, committed to growing in Godly Character and committed to exhibiting Jesus-Centered Compassion.
Community, Character, Compassion.
First Community. Here's the thing. If you are committed to being a Christian you know that the only way to stay that way is to be part of a worshipping Community of people who are bent on the same thing. a glowing coal might be able to burn for a while outside of the fire, but eventually, it will fade away into ash. You need a church, a worshipping community that gathers to fan the flames in one another.
Second, Character. If you are doing absolutely nothing whatsoever to grow in your Christian faith---does that demonstrate involvement or commitment. Do you ever crack open your Bible outside of reading the Scripture on the screen on Sunday morning? Do you find yourself only praying when you are in trouble or you need something? Do you have hours to spend binging on Netflix, but only moments to spend on tending your soul? You need to show your commitment by growing Godly Character.
Lastly, Compassion. If you are the kind of Christian who walks around angry and jaded... If you are the kind of Christian who can list all of the people who aren't welcome at your table... If you are the kind of joyless, Jesus-follower who actually keeps people from following Jesus... then maybe you're involved instead of committed. Jesus-centered Compassion is evidence that you are committed to following him fully. Your joy should be infectious. Your kindness legendary. Your mercy unending. Your grace amazing.
Following Jesus requires some effort on our part. Not works. Effort. It's not easy to put aside the tremendous temptation to merely be involved in our faith as opposed to being committed.
The great missionary to Africa was told by a mission agency that they would gladly send him additional missionaries to help him if there were good roads to travel upon to get to him. Livingstone told them he didn't want anyone who needed a good road to travel.
"I prefer those who will come when there is no road at all." He told them.
Are you just involved in your faith? Do you need a nice wide road to walk upon to follow Jesus? Or are you ready to stumble on a narrow, winding road that takes commitment?
What will it be today and everyday from this day forward?