It’s not often I begin a blog post with “seventhly”!
So here goes!
Seventhly, it can become tempting in a mediocre age to attribute to God actions which dishonour His Name.
To recap, we’re in the book of Malachi, in the latter half of the fifth century B.C.. Malachi was prophesying a couple of generations after the people had returned from exile. Malachi was prophesying at a time when the excitement and enthusiasm of their homecoming had worn off.
A rebuilt temple and rebuilt walls no longer inspired any sense of wonder. They had become a familiar part of everyday life.
The promises of return had been fulfilled. But the prophesied glory associated with them seemed absent.
Doubts were creeping in about God’s goodness. God, it seemed, had forgotten the righteous. Malachi 2.17 records:
You have wearied the Lord with your words. “How have we wearied him?” you ask. By saying, “All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and he is pleased with them” or “Where is the God of justice?”
How easy it is when we’re living between promise and fulfilment for enquiry to slide into accusation! What was once a theological question about the “problem of evil” can reinvent itself as an ethical indictment of the Almighty. Disappointed hearts produce bad doctrine.
In a mediocre age it can be tempting to attribute to God actions that dishonour His Name.
When that heart shift occurs, it usually manifests itself in altered behaviour.
In Malachi’s day, one of those behaviour shifts was seen in the abandonment of the practice of tithing. People stopped giving in the way prescribed by God:
“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.
“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’
“In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. 11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. 12 “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty. Malachi 3.8-12
The people no longer connected their giving practices to their spirituality. They had severed the connection between giving and the flow of God’s grace into their lives.
In a mediocre age we can be tempted to think of other things that what we give to God could be used to purchase: reduce the mortgage; have a better holiday; drive a better car.
Of course, if giving or tithing is understood simply in accounting terms, or as a financial transaction, weighing up alternatives makes sense.
However, withholding our tithe means that we (i) reduce the flow of God’s grace into our lives; and (ii) we begin to divert our resources from the bank of heaven to earthly pleasures.
Putting a brake on our giving, therefore, is an eighth temptation in a mediocre age.
Finally, in a mediocre age we can be tempted to develop the attitude that it is pointless to serve God.
Malachi states the problem in the bluntest of terms:
13 “You have spoken arrogantly against me,” says the Lord.
“Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’
14 “You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty? 15 But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it.’”
“It’s futile to serve God. What’s the point?” That was the kind of thinking that was developing in Malachi’s day. This kind of thinking indicates a shift to a secular mindset – or more worryingly a secular heart.
“These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Matthew 15.5,quoting Isaiah 29.13) is one of the most frightening pronouncements Jesus made about the people of His time.
Disappointment and disillusionment can tempt us to think that it is pointless to serve God. We do well, therefore, to remember that God remembers all that we have done for Him, and He will reward us:
God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. (Hebrews 6.10)
We live in a mediocre age. But we can live above the mediocrity of our age. We can do that by listening, not to the voices of our age – or of our own hearts. We begin to live above the mediocrity of our times when we hear and heed the prophetic word of God calling us to faith and faithfulness.
The temptations that threatened the people of Haggai’s day and Malachi’s day still stalk the contemporary church. Thankfully, if we will draw near, we will hear the unmistakable call of God that the people of those post-exilic times heard. A call that beckons us to live for his glory in a day of mediocrity.