The Greek story of Antaeus is a myth of warning. You may remember that Antaeus was a giant who was the offspring of Mother Earth in Greek mythology. He always slept on the ground in order to maintain and to increase his strength, for he drew his strength from the earth. One day, he and Hercules engaged in ferocious fight to the death. Hercules would life Antaeus up and slam him to the ground, but Hercules noticed that each time Antaeus fell to the earth, as he lay there, he would have his muscles begin to bulge and revive and stand to fight again with renewed vigor and strength. So, Hercules fought with a new strategy. He lifted Antaeus high off of the ground and in the air he broke each one of Antaeus’ ribs and put him to death.
Separated from his source of strength, Antaeus was vulnerable and ineffective as a fighter; unable to overcome his foe.
Jesus, in John 15, would say,
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
A Christian’s ability to accomplish anything of lasting value rests upon his or her active connection to God through Jesus. A Christian who looses his or her vibrant, obedient, active connection to with Jesus also looses all energy and all spiritual power to win battles and produce real fruit. We become very much like Antaeus when separated from the ground – vulnerable and hapless. This is particularly true of spiritual leaders. A leader’s ability to produce fruit, or, that is to say, to accomplish anything of lasting value rests on his or her active connection to God through Jesus.
This is true of a mom or dad in leading children in the home. This is true of a Sunday school teacher leading young students. This is true of an executive in the work place wishing to accomplish something of eternal value; something that will last beyond this life. This is true of an elder or a pastor in the church. A leader’s lasting effectiveness does not depend upon that leader’s personal charisma, talent, popularity, management skills, or anything else, for a host of men and women has had all of these things and have produced much that impressed men and women, and yet, at the end of their life, had nothing of lasting value.
God alone is the One who grows lasting fruit. It is true that a human leader can grow fruit by themselves, but such fruit is the kind of fruit that disappears with time. Such fruit is often impressive in this world. In Malachi’s day the spiritual leaders were producing fading fruit of this nature. They had a Temple packed with people each Sabbath.
They had groups who brought in animals to sacrifice to God, so there was an incredible amount of activity and hustle and bustle in the religious order. The people seemed to be very content and very happy with the spiritual leaders. If you were to ask the priests, “Tell me, how are things going at the Temple,” they would say, “Great, just great!”
But, God was not impressed with their human success. They were in ministry for themselves for the honor of their own names. They were not, thus, bringing glory to God, and so every success that they enjoyed was, in reality, empty, vain, futile, and brought to them nothing. So, God, in His grace, sends to such spiritual leadership a prophet by the name of Malachi, with a message of a call for radical change. It is a call that the spiritual leaders would make as their top priority the honor of God’s Holy Name. God is, in effect, saying to these priests, “If you seek first after my glory everything else will be added unto you, but if you do not seek first after my glory nothing else will matter and nothing else will last.”
God, then, gives these priests some encouragement. He names four essential qualities necessary for spiritual leadership to honor God’s name.
Friend, as God places you in positions of leadership, whether that is a position in your home or whether that is a position in your work place, and to those of you who have positions of leadership in your workplace, I want you to know of God’s great responsibility that has been placed upon you, for unbelievers are looking unto you; they know that you claim to be Christians, and young Christians are looking to you in the work place, and they are asking the question, “Does what this person represent on Sunday morning, is it found to be true throughout the week?” Furthermore, as God has placed you as a leader within the church, whether it is in a small way over a small group, and perhaps over little children, or whether it is in a large way as an elder or a pastor or a teacher in this church, please understand that God places you and me in positions of great, great responsibility.
The context is found in Verses 1 and 2 of this admonition. Malachi calls it an admonition; it is a word of warning.
1 “And now this admonition is for you, O priests. 2 If you do not listen, and if you do not set your heart to honor my name,” says the LORD Almighty, “I will send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them, because you have not set your heart to honor me.”
The priests were not taking their God-given responsibility as leaders very seriously. Rather, they took this responsibility casually and carelessly, considering their present must be an evidence and a revelation from God that He is entirely pleased. In the midst of this, God declares that He is going to judge them severely because they are taking the responsibilities of honoring His name, through their leadership position, very casually and He is going to judge them severely for it.
God always holds leaders to a higher standard. He holds leaders to a higher standard, first, because of the special, God-given responsibility that they accept and are entrusted with when they are placed in positions of leadership.
Secondly, God holds leaders to a higher standard because not only do the leaders cause ruin to their own soul when they walk away, but, also, they cause ruin to the souls of those who rightly look up to them. That is why Jesus will say, “Whoever causes one of these little one’s who believe in me to stumble it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck and be thrown to the bottom of the sea.”2 I believe that He is not just talking about literal children, but also children of the faith. This is Jesus speaking. It is not the God of the Old Testament that we have talked about. Many like to divide out the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament, but this is Jesus speaking and He is saying the very same thing that God is saying through Malachi; that God will bring a severe judgment upon those who do not hold their leadership responsibilities with grave respect and with grave attention.
James would write, in James 3:1, NASB,
1 Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.
As James is writing this, he is not writing this as a discouragement for people to become teachers, but rather he is writing this as an encouragement to teachers to hold their role soberly and circumspectly. This is not only a caution to pastors, but it is a caution to parents and Christians in business as well.
Listen to what Pastor J. Vernon Magee, a pastor who is now with the Lord, comments upon this subject, “I am going to make a very strong statement: I would rather be the worst sinner on this earth, even a gangster or a murderer, than to be a minister who goes into the pulpit with an unbelieving heart and gives only a few, little pious platitudes to the congregation. God is certainly going to hold that man responsible.” That is exactly what Malachi is saying in these first two verses.
Now let’s look at Verse 3,
3 “Because of you I will rebuke your descendants; I will spread on your faces the offal from your festival sacrifices..
What is “offal”? Offal is awful! Offal is that part of the animal that was unclean and was not able to be sacrificed. The priests would gut the animals and take all of the entrails and all that is inside the entrails. Normally, the priests would take the offal and they would recognize that they could not lay it on the alter because it was unclean, and it had to be taken outside the camp. God is saying, “I am going to take that offal and I am going to rub your faces in it and rub your noses into that which is unclean thus making you unclean and you are going to be carried out, with the offal, to be burned outside that community because you are unclean.” It is a very, very strong word picture that God is giving to this people, and particularly to the spiritual leaders, of their unfitness and their unreadiness to hold the responsibilities that God has given them to hold.
In Verse 4, we read,
4 “And you will know that I have sent you this admonition so that my covenant with Levi may continue,” says the LORD Almighty.
Remember the priests were from the Tribe of Levi. He is telling them that they may be removed, but His plan will continue.
Up to this point the priests had been unconcerned that disobedience had any real consequences. They were figuring, “Nothing has happened to us yet,” and God says, “I am bringing this and I am sending you this admonition so that you might know that there are consequences to disobedience.”
The priests should have known this all along. If we look at Deuteronomy 28, when God is establishing the Nation and giving them the Law through Moses and establishing the priesthood and establishing His relationship with the people of God. In Deuteronomy 28, in naming this covenant that He alludes to, reveals a covenant whereby obedience brings blessing and disobedience brings cursing. They should have known this, but somehow they had forgotten it. He says in Verse 1,
1 “If you fully obey the LORD your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. 2 All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God.”
God is a God who acts in grace, but that does not mean that our actions of sin and disobedience have no affect, nor does it mean that our actions of obedience have no affect. He is saying that there is a direct relationship to the blessings that come from God that we experience in this life and in our obedience, as well as curses.
In Verse 15, He makes the opposite principle. Not only is there blessing for obedience, but He says,
15 “However, if you do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you..
and then He lists the curses.
The priests needed to learn that they could not mock God, and up to this point they believed that they could mock Him and could get by with continued disobedience, and yet having no consequences what-so-ever. But, God tells them, “I am going to have you taste the price for profaning my name.”
The Apostle Paul is going to talk about this very principle to New Testament believers in Galatians 6:7, when he says, “Don’t be deceived. Just because it seems, for the time, as though we are getting by with disobedience, don’t be deceived. God cannot be mocked. What-so-ever a man sows that he will also reap. If a person sows after the flesh, he will absolutely from the flesh reap corruption. If a man sows after the spirit he will absolutely from the Spirit reap life eternal.”
In the middle of this strong rebuke, and that is what it is in these first four verses, God interjects a wonderful portrait of God-honoring spiritual leadership so that the priests might understand that there is a way back.
The first essential quality of spiritual leadership that Malachi, under the inspiration of God, presents to the priests in 400 BC is this: a deep reverence for God. At the top of the list is a reverence for God’s name.
Look at Verse 5 with me,
5 “My covenant was with him, a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him; this called for reverence and he revered me and stood in awe of my name.”
God is talking about Levi and what is theirs by right as being part of the covenant and a part of the priesthood. He goes on to speak of what they were to be and what was in the past of Levi and the early priests.
Everyone desires life and peace and God says that life and peace begins with an attitude of awe and reverence and fear, so much so, that the psalmist would say, in Psalm 111,
10 The fear of (God) is the beginning of wisdom.
The psalmist would write, in Psalm 115,
11 You who fear the LORD, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield.
We live in an increasing dangerous world, don’t we? We have all kinds of things that promote fear inside of our soul. We think of terrorist threats; we think of nuclear proliferation, particularly nuclear weapons in the hands of rogue states; we think of crime rates and of events such as that happened on the campus of Virginia Tech; we think of natural disasters that seem to be growing prominence and in destruction; we think of energy crises as we roll past the gas station. All of these things promote fear, and yet here God says for us to fear Him, and in fact, when we fear Him we need not fear anything else.
It is ironic that in a world full of fearful things the single source of our refuge and of our safety is the One to whom we are instructed to fear. Solomon would write, in Proverbs 14,
26 In the fear of the LORD there is strong confidence, and His children will have a place of refuge. 27 The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life.
We try to avoid things, don’t we, that interrupt our peace, and yet we are told, here, to move towards the fear of God, and it is only as we move towards the fear of God that we really ever find any security, any peace, anything that is lastingly serene, any shield, and any refuge that is absolute. Our peace only grows as we fear God more.
This idea of fearing God seems so foreign to our modem ears. We do not hear about it very much, but I can almost hear the protests, “Pastor, you are not really afraid of God, are you? I could never worship such a God as would cause me to fear Him or cause me to be afraid.” Yes, I have to tell you, I really do fear God and, quite frankly, I am not afraid to say so. In fact, God would not be God if He did not excite fear.
The Scripture describes Him as a “consuming fire” and a God of inexhaustible Holiness. Jesus would describe His Father as One who is able to destroy both soul and body in Hell. What a description that is and it comes from Jesus! That is Jesus’ Systematic Notes on Theology Proper. Only as we fear God do we truly love Him and as we love Him we take great joy in fearing Him. It is the fear that brings joy and pleasure to the soul who engages in it.
One of my favorite descriptions of the meaning of the fear of God is from C.S. Lewis in his Chronicles of Narnia. He writes of two little girls, Susan and Lucy, getting ready to meet Aslan the Lion, the Christ figure. The two of them are talking with two animals, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, and Mr. and Mrs. Beaver are trying to prepare them for the encounter. They have talked of Aslan’s greatness and of his wonder and of his delightfulness and Susan says, “Oh, I thought he was a man,” of Aslan and then she says, “Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” “Ah, that you will, dearie,” said Mrs. Beaver, “and make no mistake, if there is anyone who could appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they are either braver than most or else just silly.” “Then he isn’t safe,” said Lucy. She is a little girl and you can imagine that in her head as she is preparing to meet this One. “Safe,” said Mr. Beaver, “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? Of course, he isn’t safe, but he is good. He is the King, I tell you.”
Is God safe? We have kind of made Him very safe today, haven’t we? We have made Him, and have given a picture and a portrait to people, of One who would hardly make us even a bit nervous, let alone tremble and terrified before His presence. We have made this portrait of God to our shame.
Indeed, the Bible reveals a God who is loving and gracious and merciful and good. As such, He is our refuge, but in a general sense we must know that God is not “safe” for He does not ignore sin. He responds to evil with a passionate and righteous judgment.
It is important for us as Christians, as we consider this subject of fearing God and of reverence of Him, to consider two different kinds of fear. There is the fear of the slave and there is the fear of the son.
The fear of the slave is one in which as we view God as harsh and unyielding; a task-master who is quick with the whip, and who leads us in a joyless, performance-based relationship and One who is constantly looking over our shoulder as an unmerciful Judge, willing and ready to condemn each and every failure that exists in our life. This is the way a slave would view the master, and not just any master, but a particularly harsh and unmerciful master.
But, I want to encourage you, Christian, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ you have been adopted into God’s family and you have been made sons, so much so that we now have the right to look up to Heaven and call God “Abba”, or “Daddy, Father”, and we need not carry on the fear of a slave, but we must embrace the fear of a son. This is a fear that is already established in God’s acceptance and in God’s grace, and yet holds a great mixture of reverence and pleasure; a mixture of awe and of joy; a mixture of indeed fear and trembling and yet love. This fear of God moves us towards Him in trust and it moves us towards Him in submission.
Do you realize that there are over one-hundred and fifty references in the Bible to the fear of God? Is not this a major theme that God would have us embrace? If we are to be qualified, spiritual leaders let us move towards reverence.
The second essential quality is a dedication to the teaching of God’s Word, as we see in Verse 6,
6 “True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips.”
God, in Deuteronomy 33:10, gave the priests the assignment of teaching the Law to the people. This is the assignment of every spiritual leader; that is to speak the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth, and where do we find the Truth? Jesus would say, “Thy word is truth.”
Ezra, who was a contemporary of Malachi, was a great model of this kind of spiritual leadership. Ezra 7 tells us,
9 .. .for the gracious hand of his God was on him. 10 For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.
This is the call of spiritual leadership: to study and observe and then to teach the Law of God and to teach the Scriptures. If any of us were left to create our own message, we would, at best, speak Truth that is mixed with error, for our whole souls are mixed with error, but when we proclaim God’s Word we know that we are speaking that which is eternally true and which has been established forever, before time, before creation, and before the soul of man was in existence God’s Word and God’s Truth was there and present and God has graciously given us His Word and He has given us His Truth.
This Truth is not true for a certain time and for a certain people and for a certain culture, but for all time and for all people. There is a great need for the true servant of God to study God’s Word and then to present God’s Word thoughtfully and diligently. It is so easy for teachers and spiritual leaders to play to the gallery and give to the people what they long to hear and what their itching ears want to hear, but the goal of spiritual leadership is not popularity. The goal of spiritual leadership is God’s glory and it is God’s blessing and this requires us to dedicate ourselves to faithfully proclaim and teach God’s Word and not just open God’s Word and ask some questions about it and have a dialogue about it, but to teach it and give instruction.
That is what others need and this, my friends, is a crying need in our day. It is a crying need for our moms and dads to pick up the Word and begin to instruct their children in the Scriptures. This is what it means to have spiritual leadership in the home and it is a crying and grave need and problem in the church today. The Word of God is largely replaced by man’s word through psychological principles or sociology or philosophy. These have become the source of teaching and instruction in the church.
I remember, several years ago, of a man I met in the narthex of our church and I introduced myself to him. He had not been in our church before and I asked, “What brought you here? Why are you coming here today?” He said, “I am a leader in my church and I was driving to church today and I realized that I didn’t have a Bible in my hand and that I didn’t bring a Bible with me. Then I realized that I hadn’t brought a Bible with me to church for the last two years. Suddenly, on my way to church today, I realized that had never needed a Bible in my church for the last two years.”
Friends, what is needed in spiritual leadership is a dedication to the teaching of God’s Word. Paul would say to Timothy, in 2 Timothy 4,
2 .be prepared in season and out of season.
When leaders fail to teach God’s Word we fail to hold onto the responsibilities that God has given us. If we loose God’s Word we loose our foundation, for God ordained the means to save, sanctify, and strengthen His people as the teaching and preaching of God’s Word. This is the way cold and spiritually dead hearts are converted.
Donald Grey Barnhouse was a pastor of a previous generation and he would speak about his preaching, when he said, “When I come to preach, I consider that the people in the pew are like great barrels – some of them are empty and some of them are full of gun powder. When I preach the Word that is the match. I throw out the match and suddenly ‘BOOM!’ somebody explodes. I throw out the match and sometimes nothing happens. That is God’s doing but I know that it is the Word of God that is the match that ignites the heart.”
Friends, our responsibility is to come with our barrel full of gun powder ready to be lit and have life, energy, and vitality drawn. It is the Word of God that converts souls and it is the Word of God that sanctifies us.
Why is it that the ministry of preaching God’s Word is so rare today? Many people don’t want to hear it. It is not entertaining enough. It is too disturbing. It is too offensive. It is too controversial. I am very thankful for a vibrant community, but God warns us.
In Amos 8, in the time of Amos there was a warning for the people of God in the Exile, and we read,
11 “The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “when I will send a famine through the land— not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD. 12 Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the LORD, but they will not find it.”
What is interesting about that is that this is not only a description of a great problem of a famine of the Word of God, and people staggering and looking and realizing that they need something but they are not able to find it, but this is God saying that He will send the famine. It is a judgment of God upon a nation and upon a people when we wonder from church to church and we don’t hear the Word of God. This causes God’s people to fall upon our knees and recognize that this is a time ofjudgment of our land and unless something changes, unless God brings about a revival, the famine will bring starvation and starvation will bring certain death and ruin to a people.
It has happened over and over again, throughout church history. May it not happen in the United States and may we a people who pray to God.
The third essential quality is a life of joyful obedience. It is not enough to teach the Word but we also must live it out in daily submission, as we see in Verse 6,
6 “True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin.”
He is speaking of a life of Godliness. Spiritual leaders are to obey as we teach God’s Word. We are all called to practice what we preach, but we ruin our influence when we disobey God.
I remember when my son was five or six-years old he was learning a little bit about road signs as we were driving in the car. He would say, “What is that sign?” I would reply, “That is the speed limit and that forty is saying that is the speed limit that the government has set for us to abide by.” My son looked down and said, “Why does that say forty- four,” as he was looking at the dash board of my car. He was recognizing that something was not quite right. Children do.
And people who sit under leadership do. They observe, don’t they? It is not the ruin of our own soul, but it is the ruin of those who God has called us to lead.
The fourth essential quality of spiritual leadership is a ministry of reconciliation. The Old Testament priest was not to be satisfied with his own sanctification and his connection to God. He was to be zealous for the souls of others.
Verses 6 and 7 tell us,
6 “He.. .turned many from sin. 7 For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge…”
This knowledge that is being preserved is not just information. It is not that the leader is to preserve the information of the history of the Hebrew kings or the background of the New Testament or the fine points of theology or quotes from giants throughout church history. When he talks about preserving knowledge I believe that Malachi is talking about the knowledge of God.
God would say, in John 17,and this is Jesus speaking,
3 “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you…”
This is the call of spiritual leadership, not simply to revere God’s name and teach God’s Word and live a joyful life of obedience and say, “That is enough. That is my responsibility.” Indeed, we cannot affect people’s salvation and conversion, but we can long for it and we can pray for it and we can yearn for it and we can persuade towards it.
God has called us to be ambassadors as spiritual leaders, each and every one of us. Moms and dads, you are an ambassador sent by God for your children to yearn and pray and teach and persuade and do everything in your power to get them information and live out the example and to long for their salvation and conversion and let them know that you are longing for it.
In 2 Corinthians 5, the Apostle Paul speaks of his own ministry and of ours, when he says,
“Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men.
It is the desire for the glory and honor of God’s name that we want others to bring glory and honor to God’s name, so we are trying to persuade men, for Christ’s love compels us if we love people at all we are going to be compelled to seek after the salvation of their soul. Paul continues in 2 Corinthians 5,
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…
God has given us a ministry to each one of us as believers. Paul continues,
19 .that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
Friends, I want you to know that, first, you can be reconciled to God. God sent His Son Jesus Christ as a sacrifice so that your sins might be removed from you and a righteousness which is not your own can be given to you and that God sent Jesus to be the One who is to be our Mediator. We have One who stands between us and God and who reaches out to us in becoming man and living a righteous life and dying on the cross. When we connect ourselves to Him we are mediated unto God and we are able be connected and joined to God Himself and to be a worshipper and be one who is connected to God’s eternal plan and God’s eternal Kingdom. But, friends, reconciliation, that very word, means that there is something wrong in the first place and that is where the Gospel begins. It tells us that when we are born in this world, we are born in a position of being in enmity with God and being opposed to Him and against Him, and whether you feel that is to be true in your soul or not, that is God’s description of your life and of mine.
I would, as an ambassador of God, implore you, be reconciled to God and come to faith in Jesus Christ. For those of you who are spiritual leaders, I implore you and encourage you to be ambassadors for God has set you in your place, in your home and in your workplace and in this church, for a specific reason. He has entrusted you with this message, and as you fear God you will begin to persuade men because the fear of God promotes such ministry.
Thank God He has given us the ministry of reconciliation. We look at this dark and lost world and we see how messed up it is and we throw our hands up in the air and we say, “What can we do?” God says, “Here is what you can do: be my ambassadors to reconcile men to me.”
Antaeus, remember him from Greek mythology? He was removed from the ground of his strength and thus he was crushed. Parents, teachers, executives, and pastors, here is the ground of your strength: it is a deep reverence for God; it is a dedication to the teaching of God’s Word; it is a life of joyful obedience; and it is a ministry of reconciliation. Praise God this is ground that we need never, ever be uprooted from; a ground that keeps us securely connected in a lively way to God through Jesus who is our Savior forever.