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Sermon Message

"Take It To Heart"

Malachi 2:2
Theme: We must make it our deepest indward determination and resolve to honor God in our lives.

(Delivered Sunday, June 22, 1997 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New American Standard Bible.)


Why did God make us?

I asked my children that question some time ago at the dinner table. It made for an interesting discussion. We agreed that it wasn't because God somehow 'needed' us - as if there were some sort of 'lack' in the essential nature of God that could only be filled by making people. Some have suggested that God made us because He desired love and fellowship; but, though He does love us and enjoy our fellowship, the Bible teaches us that a loving relationship and fellowship had already existed between the members of the Triune Godhead before creation (John 17:24), so that can't be it either.

So; what answer would you give to the question, "Why did God make us?" What reason did I offer to my children?

The answer I gave them was one that, I readily admit, I stole. I have grown to appreciate the wisdom found in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, written over 350 years ago. I couldn't have given a better answer than the one given at the very beginning of that catachism:

Question 1: What is the chief end of man?

Answer: Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

"That," I told my children, "is why God made us. He made us to glorify Him and enjoy Him throughout eternity."

God didn't make us because He was 'lacking' anything; although it wasn't until after He created man that He proclaimed His creation "very good" (Gen.1:31). Nor did God make us because He was lonely; although there's no question that He desired the fellowship of the man and woman He created (Gen. 3:9). The thing that God made us for - and the real point of our existance - is to "glorify Him and enjoy Him forever."

Now, I hope you'll pardon me for raising a theological issue at this point; but I believe it's an important one. None of this should be taken to mean that God wouldn't have had "glory" if we hadn't given it to Him! God is essentially "glorious" in and of Himself. In Acts 7:2, He is called "the God of glory". Jesus said that He enjoyed "glory" with His Father "before the world was" (John 17:5); and the apostle John said that "the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory" (John 1:14). And so, there is a very fundamental sense in which God is glorious in and of Himself, as an essential aspect of who He is. His creatures can neither add to His essential glory or take away from it.

Yet, there is another, distinct aspect to His glory - that is, the glory He "gets" from us when we adore Him for who He is, when we thank Him for what He does, when we love Him for the mercies and blessings He pours out on us, and when we submit to His rule and authority over our lives. Perhaps the best way of putting this is to say that we ascribe glory to Him. To ascribe glory to God means that we "attribute" glory to Him - that we recognize that He is already "glorious," that we think of "glory" as belonging to Him as a characteristic of who He is, that we praise Him for the glory that He already possesses and displays.

We can't can't "make" God one bit more glorious than He already is; but we are to "give" glory to Him. That's what He made us to do.

* * * * * * * * * *

Now, why is this important to understand that we were made to glorify God? It's because, if we're not glorifying God in our lives, we're acting contrary to our design.

Perhaps you can understand the matter if you think of knives in a kitchen drawer. Suppose we had a steak knife. Steak knives are great for doing what they were designed to do - cut steaks. But have you ever tried to butter bread with a steak knife? It's sort of frustrating; isn't it? You can't get a decent scoop of butter on it; and what butter you do get, you can't spread very well. It's much better to use a butter knife to spread butter.

But then, suppose we had a butter knife in hand. Have you ever tried to open a can of paint with a butter knife? You'll damage the knife if you do; because it's not in the design of a butter knife to pry open cans of paint. All you'd end up with would be butter knives that have curly little tips on the end - and just try buttering your bread with them! (You can probably tell that I have some experience in this!)

Simularly, if you and I are not ascribing honor and glory to God in our lives - if we're not "glorifying" Him; and instead are trying to live fulfilling lives apart from Him - then we're acting in a way that's contrary to our design. We're not doing what God made us to do. We'll go through life frustrated - spiritually spinning our wheels - completely out of kilter.

This is a point that a very famous Christian - Augustine - made at the very beginning of his book, "The Confessions of St. Augustine". The whole book is Augustine's prayer of thanks to God for salvation. Augustine begins with this expression of prayer;

Great art Thou, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is Thy power, and of Thy wisdom there is no end. And man, being a part of Thy creation, desires to praise Thee - man who bears about with him his mortality, the witness of his sin, even the witness that Thou "resistest the proud," - yet man, this part of Thy creation, desires to praise Thee. Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou has formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.1

* * * * * * * * * *

It's because of our intended design, as God's creatures, to give glory to Him - it's because God has made us for Himself, and because our hearts find no rest until they rest in Him - that I've been drawn to the word of exhortation God gives to the priests of Levi in Malachi 2:1-9; to "take it to heart to give honor to My name".

The book of Malachi is primarily a book in which God rebukes the sinful attitudes of the priests in Malachi's day. And I've come to believe that God's whole message to the priests can be summed up in that phrase: "take it to heart to give honor to My name." It's basic to our being as God's creatures that we give glory to Him. How especially innapropriate it is, then, for His priests - serving Him in His temple - to fail to "give honor" to God's name. Let me quote Malachi 2:1-9 in full. It says,

"And now, this commandment is for you, O priests. If you do not listen, and if you do 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; and indeed, I have cursed them already, because you are not taking it to heart. Behold, I am going to rebuke your offspring, and I will spread refuse on your faces, the refuse of your feasts; and you will be taken away with it. Then you will know that I have sent this commandment to you, that My covenant may continue with Levi," says the LORD of hosts. "My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him as an object of reverence; so he revered Me, and stood in awe of My name. True instruction was in his mouth, and unrigheousness was not found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many back from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts. But as for you, you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by the instruction; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi," says the LORD of hosts. So I also have made you despised and abased before all the people, just as you are not keeping My ways, but are showing partiality in the instruction" (Malachi 2:1-9).

In the past, we've talked about this passage and it's implications to me as a pastor. But now; I'd like us to look at it's implications to all of us as believers - and specifically its exhortation that we must make it our deepest indward determination and resolve to honor God in our lives.

* * * * * * * * * *

Let's begin by asking what it means to "take it to heart" to "give honor" to God's name. It will be helpful to look at this phrase bit by bit; so let's first think about what is meant by God's "name."

When we talk about someone's "name" today, we're usually refering to the verbal symbol we use to identify that person: "Joe," or "Mary". Sometimes, however, we use a name in a way that's more descriptive of something about the person. A name like "Tex" tells us where that person's from, or "Slugger" what that person does. Sometimes, we take the meaning of "name" a bit higher, and use it as a way of describing a person's character: that one person of outstanding reputation has a "good name"; or that a company that stands by its product has "a name you can trust".

It's much the same with the meaning of the Hebrew word for "name". The word for "name" can refer to a persons name, or it can refer to that person's history (Gen. 25:26; 32:28; Ex. 2:10), or a description of the person's character (1 Sam. 25:25), or a person's reputation and accomplishments (Gen. 11:4), or even that person's whole life (1 Sam. 25:21).

When the "name" of God is refered to in the context of Malachi 2:2, the word "name" takes on the highest meaning possible. It often means the whole self-disclosure of God in terms of who He is and what He can do. Micah 4:5, for example says, "Though all the peoples walk each in the name of his god, as for us, we will walk in the name of the LORD our God forever and ever"; that is, they will walk by faith in who God is and what He can do. Or Proverbs 18:10 says, "The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous runs into it and is safe"; that is, righteous people find safety and security in trusting in all that God is and all that He can do for them.

To my mind, one of the greatest examples of the significance of God's "name" is found in Exodus. In chapter 33, Moses askes God, "I pray Thee, show me Thy glory!" And God responded by saying, "I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you . . ." (Ex. 33:19).

God then told Moses to stand in a specific place in the cleft of a rock and wait. Moses obeyed; and God covered Moses with His hand and passed by; and as He did, God proclaimed;

The LORD, the LORD compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in loving-kindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations (Ex. 34:6-7).

In otherwords, God said He would "proclaim His name" before Moses; and what He then proclaimed was who He is and what He will do.

By the way; that's why, in the third commandment, God says He "will not leave him unpunished to takes His name in vain"; because anyone who missuses God's name is showing contempt for more than the mere word used for God; they're showing contempt for who God Himself is and all that He does. It's a very sinful thing to do!

This wide, all-encompassing meaning of "name" is what is meant in God's exhortation through Malachi to "take it to heart to honor My name".

Second, let's consider what it means to give "honor" or "glory" to God's name. The literal meaning of the Hebrew word Malachi uses is "heavy" or "weighty". Figuratively, the word is used to describe someone or something "noteworthy" or "impressive" - that is, someone worthy of honor. It's much like what we mean when we hear an opinion from someone we greatly respect, and we say such a person's opinion "carries a lot of weight" with us.

God Himself used this same word when He gave the fifth commandment; "Honor your father and your mother" (Ex. 20:12); and in Malachi 1:6, when He asks, "A son honors his father, and a servant his master. Then if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My respect?"

And so; "to give honor God's name" means to show the utmost respect and reverence for the honor of God in terms of all that He is and all that He does. Again, it doesn't mean that He doesn't have honor unless we give it to Him - He is, as you remember, "glorious" in His essential being. What it means, rather, is that we recognize how honorable and much to be revered He already is - and that we treat Him accordingly.

Obviously, this means much more than merely not using God's name as a curse word. It means that, from our very heart, we show reverence and respect toward God - that we "ascribe" glory and honor to Him from the depths of our soul as well as in our actions. God once rebuked the people of Israel and promised to bring punishment on them, "Because this people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of traditions learned by rote . . ." (Isa. 29:13). God wants us to "give honor to His name" from our hearts.

That leads us to the matter of what is meant by "taking it to heart" to honor God. "'If you do not listen, and if you do 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; and indeed I have cursed them already, because you are not taking it to heart" (v. 2).

I believe that the phrase "take it to heart" is the key to this word of exhortation. The idea behind this phrase is much more than making it a mere occasional thing to give honor to God's name. It calls us to make it our inward determination, and to establish it as a life-guiding principle deep within our soul, that we will always honor Him in all our ways, and to never allow anything or anyone to sway us from that heart-felt comittment and resolve. It involves making a decisive comittment, well in advance of the situations and circumstances of life.

Why does God call His people to such a comittment? Why must we "take it to heart" - to set it as a principle of our inner-being - to "give honor to His name"? I can think of three primary reasons.

First, it's our duty. For one thing, it's our duty as His creatures. He made us for Himself; and He has the right to receive honor and glory from us. Paul says of the Lord Jesus, in Colossians 1:16-17, "All things have been created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together." Revelation 4:11 says, "Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they existed, and were created."

Furthermore, it's our duty to give honor to His name because we are His redeemed believer-priests. It was for this reason He saved us! Peter says, in 2 Peter 2:9-10; "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." In Ephesians 1, Paul describes the individual work of each member of the Triune Godhead - the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; and after each description of what was done for us, he gives the same reason - "to the praise of His glory" (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14).

We're to "take it to heart" to give honor to His name because it's our duty to do so!

A second reason why we must "take it to heart" is because of the circumstance we live in. We live in a world that is hostile to the things of God - a world that militates against honoring God's name. And it's important that we make up our minds in advance to honor God and take our stand for Him.

I love the story of Daniel's three friends as an example of this. Do you remember it? Nebuchadnezzar, the king of the Chaldean empire, set up a huge golden idol in his own image, ordered a group of musicians to be ready to play, and commanded everyone, everywhere, to bow at the sound of the music and worship his statue?

Daniel's three Jewish friends - servant leaders in the Chaldean empire - refused to dishonor God by bowing to an idol. This made the king furious! He warned them to bow at the sound of the music, or he'd throw them alive into a blazing furnace. "And what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?" he snarled.

I don't believe the three young men were being in any way disrespectful to the king in their answer; but their answer shows that they had already - far in advance - "taken it to heart" to give honor to God. They said,

O Nebuchadnezzar, we don't need to give you an answer concerning this. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up" (Daniel 3:16-18).

And of course, God did rescue them. But honestly - how many today would have given up at that point and bowed? How many would have said, "What would it hurt to bow? After all, it's only a statue; and everyone else is doing it. Why be a weirdo about it?"

May God help us, as we live in this hostile environment, to make up our minds now, well in advance, and "take it to heart" to give honor to God!

A third reason we need to "take it to heart" to give honor to God is because it requires thoughtful determination on our part to honor Him in the area of personal choices. That's implied in the phrase "take it to heart".

Even though God created us for the purpose of glorifying Him, we've inherited a sinful nature from our first parents that inclines us against giving honor to Him. God enjoyed fellowship with Adam and Eve in the garden; but after they disobeyed Him, they not only didn't give honor to Him - they hid from Him! And even after we trust Jesus' sacrifice for sins and experience forgiveness, we still struggle with the sinful tendancies we've inherited from our first parents - tendancies toward fleshly gratification, greed and pride. Paul said, in Romans 12:1-2,

I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).

This word of exhortation from Paul is a call to give honor to God in the arena of our personal choices and practices. It requires that, when it comes to making decisions about what we will or will not do, we will have already presented our bodies to God as a living sacrifice. For us, the decisions will have been made.

We're not to simply give honor to God in the heat of the moment - we're to have already "taken it to heart" to do so before we even come to that moment!

* * * * * * * * * *

Let me close by suggesting some ways we can "take it to heart" to give honor to God. We find them suggested in this text itself.

The first thing we should do - something so obvious we might even miss it if we don't look carefully - is found in the very beginning of verse 2: "Listen". The idea of this word is to "give heed with a readiness to obey". It's a call to pay serious attention and do what is said.

If we're not giving due honor to God in our lives, we have a serious problem. It's not a preference matter - it's a matter of sin. God gives us warning in this passage how He feels about His people not giving Him the honor they were made to give Him. In His mercy, He calls us to give attention to the matter.

By God's grace, may He give us the ears to "hear" His word of exhortation. May we "listen!"

Second, we should accept the provision for "life and peace" He has made for us through His Son Jesus.

In verses 4-5, God speaks of the covenant He made with Levi - a covenant that God Himself established and sought to keep - a covenant "of life and peace". God made it possible, through the ministry of Levi in offering sacrifices, for the sins of the people to be atoned for.

Today, we stand under the privilege of a greater covenant. Jesus, at His last meal with His disciples, gave them the cup of wine and said, "Drink from it, all of you: for this is My blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins" (Matt. 26:29). Have you "drank" from that cup? Have you placed your trust in the blood of Jesus, shed on the cross for sins? You cannot "take it to heart" to give honor to God if you refuse to accept His verdict on your sin, and to accept the "provision for life and peace" that He made avaiable there.

Third, we should make it our practice to "reverence" God. God testified of Levi that he "took it to heart" to give honor to His name, in that Levi "revered Me" (v. 5).

To "reverence" God means to hold Him in our thoughts with a sense of "holy dread" - to realize that the God we serve is majestically "Holy, Holy, Holy" (Isa. 6:3).

I suggest that, if you would "take it to heart" to give honor to His name, then you ask Him to give you a growing sense of how majestically holy He is, and ask Him to help you to reverence Him, to fear Him, and tremble at His majesty. Ask Him to show you where you have been responding to Him with irreverence, and ask Him to help you repent of it.

We should learn to "stand in awe" of His name. God said that Levi "stood in awe of My name" (v. 5). He treated God's name - that is, all that God is and does - as something holy and sacred; something worthy of worship. If we would remember that the angels of heaven hold his name in awe, we would be more inclinded to do so ourselves.

And finally, we should "commit" to a walk with God. God Himself testified that Levi walked with Him "in the peace and uprightness" (v. 6); and we too should walk with Him in the peace and uprightness that is ours by grace through Christ. It's a walk that involves turning from sin (v. 6); and that is characterized by seeking and obeying the instruction of God's word (v. 7).

All of this describes for us what it means to take it to heart to give honor to His name. May He enable us to do so more and more; because that's what we were created to do!

1Augustine, The Confessions of St. Augustine, NPNF, Series 1, Vol. 1, p. 45.

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