31. Harsh Words

Meditations in Malachi : 31.  Harsh Words

Mal 3:13-14   “You have said harsh things against me,” says the LORD. “Yet you ask, `What have we said against you?’ “You have said, `It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty?

We have observed a number of times in this series that we can go through seasons where either God just doesn’t seem to be doing or saying anything, or that things are happening that we just don’t understand. The Christian life isn’t an easy, steady flow or continuous unchanging experience. It is a life of constant change and so often the causes of that change are not clear or where that change seems to be taking us is not clear. The most crucial thing is that our awareness of the Lord doesn’t stay the same. It may be because of things happening within us or it may be because of something the Lord is doing but in both cases the outcome is not clear to us where we stand today.

It is at such times that we can find ourselves thinking and then saying silly things, things that are possibly being prompted on by the enemy. The Lord seems at a distance, and so we blame Him for moving away; we didn’t realise it was simply because we have become over tired and had lost a measure of spiritual sensitivity. Perhaps we look around ourselves and see the standards of the world falling and so find ourselves grumbling and asking why God doesn’t turn up, and perhaps fail to see that He is waiting for us to move so He can empower us to bring about the change that is needed.

In all these ways (and many more) we can find ourselves saying silly, harsh things about God, things which, if only we could see the whole picture, we would realise are silly and are harsh and are unfounded and are not worthy of the children of God! This is the place that Israel have come to. The Exile is way behind them. They are the freshly constituted people of God living in a freshly built Jerusalemwith a freshly built Temple. It’s like they are ‘back to normal’ except the whole spiritual side of their life seems to have waned and they are, we have said before, doing the least possible. But then the standards of the nation fall and they begin to feel unhappy about their state and start to blame God. It’s at that point that the Lord says, “You have said harsh things against me,” Then, yet again, they exhibit spiritual blindness and ask `What have we said against you?’     

It is worth noting in passing, that because we are still sinful human beings, whenever we are called to account, we become all defensive. That is what is behind all these questions we’ve seen in this little book. The Lord makes a statement about their condition and instead of simply acknowledging it and saying sorry, they question it. Who, us? So the Lord now gives them an answer: “You have said, `It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements.”  If God is at a distance, they reason, He’s not here to see what goes on and not here to do anything about it, so why bother with all this religious stuff, why bother  with all this law keeping business. Well of course the reason is because those laws given by God are simply things in accordance with the way He has designed us so that we have the best chance of living at peace and in harmony with one another.

Never see requirements of the Bible – Old or New Testaments – as just mundane requirements of a God who wants to see if we will be obedient. They are an expression of His love and His means of enabling Israel (and now us) to live in the best way possible to achieve peace, harmony, blessing and fulfilment. God wants us to enjoy living but we will only truly have enjoyment when we live in accordance with the guidance He has given in His word, and by living in fellowship with Him. We may ‘get by’ in our lives and just survive, without such a relationship as so many people do, but that is learning to live in a second rate way and tolerating pain and upset. That is not God’s design for us.

But there is yet another expression of their having lost focus:and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty?”  They have lost all joy in their experience of the Lord and everything they do is drab and miserable. The less they do in fulfilling the Law the harder it gets. There is a very real issue here. Living half-heartedly as a Christian, trying to do the least possible, means that very soon it is all your effort and that becomes hard and wearying. This is why, again and again in Jesus’ teaching, he calls for whole-hearted surrender and whole hearted commitment. Only then do we find a sense of fulfilment and joy. Then we find purpose in life through Jesus’ call on our lives, then and only then do we find the real joy of the Lord. If we are doing anything less than whole-hearted commitment, then we will have a sense of second rate about life – because it is. The blessing of God flows on obedience – complete obedience, not half obedience which is no obedience really. May we understand this and may we live it.

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