Lord's Day Evening Meditations February 15, 2004

Malachi 3:8-18

Is It Vain To Serve God?

The people of Israel were not bringing the Lord what was rightfully His, and so He said, "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse and prove Me now herewith if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing." Verses 10 - 12 illustrate a simple, but very important Scriptural principle: the Lord must always have first place. That is not selfishness on His part; it is simply divine order. Remember, "In the beginning God," and "That in all things He might have the preeminence." In every area of our lives: our homes, our families, our work, our undertakings, etc., the Lord is to have first place, and if we thus have our priorities right, then the rest will be blessed accordingly. We must remember, however, that the blessings that we speak of today are spiritual blessings, not necessarily temporal things.

We'll look at an illustration of this in the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 17. Read verses 8 - 16. Because of the famine in Israel, Elijah was sent to a widow in Zarephath to be sustained through it, and when he arrived there the woman was preparing to cook her last handful of meal with a little oil for her and her son and then only death remained. Elijah told her, "Fear not, go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and thy son." Elijah was the "man of God," a type of Christ. He was to have his portion first, and then, "The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth." What did that woman need in order to follow Elijah's instructions? She needed faith in the word of the man of God. She had the faith, and it was not disappointed.

In Proverbs 3:9 we read, "Honour the Lord with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase," and then the blessings will follow. That is what the Lord asked of His people in Malachi, and He promised them such a blessing as there wouldn't be room enough to receive it. Do we have our priorities right?

"Your words have been stout against Me, saith the Lord." v. 13. As usual they questioned what they had said against Him. "Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept His ordinance?" In other words, they were saying, "God doesn't see and doesn't reward what we do for Him. We serve Him for nothing." Is that true? Is it vain to serve God? Is it worthwhile or not worthwhile to serve the Lord and live for Him? Keep in mind that serving the Lord is not necessarily going to preach in a foreign country. It is basically living for Him. You young people who have your life before you, if the Lord waits a little longer, who are you going to serve, the Lord or Satan?

One thing that sometimes makes it difficult to see the value of living for the Lord is that the benefit of doing so is not always received immediately, and also, that it is not usually in material things, or shall we say, in the way that we would like it to be. What does the Lord have to offer us if we decide to live for Him? A cross. In Matt. 16 the Lord had been rejected by His people and so He told His disciples to no longer tell people that He was the Christ. What He had before Him now was not His Messiahship, but His death. From then on He was a rejected Lord with only the cross before Him. With that in mind He said to His disciples, "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." v. 24. That doesn't sound very interesting or attractive, does it? Well, living for the Lord and serving Him never was, and never will be, attractive to the flesh, but that doesn't mean that it isn't a very happy and most blessed life.

What does it mean to "take up his cross"? It is not making a wooden cross and carrying it across the country, as some have tried to do. Nor is it some great trouble or sorrow that I can't get rid of, and therefore resign myself to bearing it as a "cross" that I must carry. No, the cross speaks of death-the end of self, the setting aside of one's own will, pleasures, and desires ("let him deny himself") in order to let the Lord have His way. And is this all sorrow and trouble? No, it is one of the happiest things a believer can do. The blessings of living for the Lord are not only for heaven. There are many to be enjoyed even here and now. Look at Paul in Acts 26. He stood as a lonely prisoner, a man who had nothing to his name in this world because he had lost everything in serving the Lord. He stood before a most impressive assembly, composed of some of the power and wealth of the Roman Empire. What a contrast between the lonely, penniless prisoner and the pomp and wealth of this world! Yet, that man, despised and persecuted by the world, could say to them, "I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds." v. 29. In other words, "I wish you were all like me, except for being a prisoner." Paul was a happy man! He had all the blessings, and such largeness of heart that he wished that all that assembly of Roman officials had the blessings that he enjoyed. His heart was full of peace, joy, and love. That is an example of the blessing that living for the Lord can give us at the present time.

Let's look at an example of future blessing. Read Heb. 11:24 - 26. Not many people have had the opportunity that Moses had. As the son of Pharaoh's daughter he had before him the power and wealth of one of the mightiest countries in the world at that time. He could have enjoyed to the full "the pleasures of sin for a season." But he said, "No, I am not an Egyptian, I belong to the people of God, and I am going to identify with them" (the people of God at that time were a bunch of abject slaves). That is what he did, and what trouble he suffered with those people! Did he make the wrong choice? Look at Matt. 17:1 - 3. The disciples saw Moses in glory with the Lord Jesus! Wrong choice? Never. The "pleasures of sin" that he rejected would have been only "for a season"; the "affliction with the people of God" that he endured was also "for a season," but the glory that he has with the Lord will be for ever.

Towards the end of his life, Joshua gathered the people of Israel together and reviewed with them all that the Lord had done for them. Then he said, "Choose you this day whom ye will serve." His own choice was, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." Josh. 24:15.

Who will you serve,

the Lord Jesus or Satan (sin)?

Here are the two masters to choose from. The Lord offers you His cross for the present, with joy and peace of heart, and an eternity of glory with Himself. Satan tempts with "the pleasures of sin" which can only bring remorse, and for the unsaved, an eternity of judgment. Thankfully, if one who belongs to the Lord gets enticed into sin, he or she cannot be lost because they belong to Christ. Their loss is in this world - a wasted life which is really a very great loss. Did Moses make the right choice? "He had respect unto the recompense of the reward," a reward which he has already long enjoyed, and which he will enjoy for ever.

In Malachi they said, "It is vain to serve God." In other words, "God doesn't respond to us for what we do for Him." See what the Lord said in Mark 9:41. "For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in My name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward." Why, then, was the Lord not responding to their service in Malachi? They were not serving Him at all, but as we have already seen, they were doing everything contrary to His will. They were offering lame and sick sacrifices, withholding the tithes, polluting His altar, etc. etc., and then they blamed God for not responding to their service! There is a loving Master Who claims our hearts, our lives, and our service. "Choose you this day whom you will serve." S.L.