God's Love For His Elect People
September 12, 2004 | Randy Smith
God's Love For His Elect PeopleMalachi 1:1-5
Sunday, September 12, 2004
Pastor Randy Smith
After being exiled to Babylon in 586 BC as a consequence for their repeated sin, roughly 50 years later Israel returned to the Promised Land. The city walls were restored under Nehemiah. The Temple was rebuilt under Zerubbabel. Spiritual life was reformed under Ezra. The people were ruled by Persia, but they still enjoyed relative independence. The new Temple lacked the grandeur of Solomon's Temple, but sacrifices were at least being offered. The nation lacked the former material prosperity, but they certainly weren't going without food.
But Israel, bound by these inferior circumstances, began to question her relationship with the Lord. She lost her bearings. The nation began to drift away from God and gravitated toward spiritual decay. And the more distant God appeared, the more various sins dominated the landscape of God's covenant people. This lifestyle was the product of their concept of God. "It is vain to serve God," said Israel in Malachi 3:14, "and what profit is it that we have kept His charge, and that we have walked in mourning before the LORD of hosts?
They needed a word from their God, and God spoke to them through His prophet Malachi. The name Malachi literally means, "My Messenger." God would deliver His message through this bold man who was not afraid to speak the truth. Consequently, 47 of the 55 verses in this book are addressed in the first person because Malachi, unlike so many today, faithfully articulated God's Word regardless of how the people might perceive it. His message was one of rebuke, calling the nation to repentance. His message was one of warning, reminding the people of both the temporary consequences and future judgment of sin. And His message was one of hope, presenting God's love and faithfulness to His covenant relationships. Malachi 1:1 says, "The oracle of the word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi."
We must understand that the message of Malachi is also a timely word for the church today. We have been entrapped by the same spiritual pitfalls that consumed Israel. Our concept of God is also foreign to the Scriptures and based too often on feelings and circumstances. Hence, we've invented a god according to our own imagination.
One pastor identified five incorrect perceptions of God popular today: "The give-me god"- Like a vending machine, you put in and he is obligated to feed out. "The grandfather god"- Someone with candy in his pocket, cheery smile on his face and never a word of correction on his lips. "The hot-tub god"- his only concern, his only reason for being, is your happiness and contentment. "The jello god"- You pour him into any mold you want and he fits. "The Junior Executive God"- One who answers to me and does exactly what I say (James McCullen, Cross and Crown Sermons).
Allow me to be very clear. If we have adopted a god contrary to the God revealed in the Bible, we are committing idolatry. Our study in Malachi will present a side of God some of us never knew existed, a side of God you may feel uncomfortable with. But the question is will we accept God for all that He is? Will we allow Him to change our thinking compared to the expectation that He must change if He is to be worthy of our thinking? Will we appreciate the full revelation of God even if it fails to square with our feelings and expectations? Will we allow the true character of God to shape our lifestyle?
A poor concept of God in today's church has been fueled by an anti-intellectual approach toward faith. With the disinterest in sound theology and in-depth Bible Study, the church is adrift amongst a sea shallow thinking. A superficial understanding of God leads to a superficial relationship with God. Many have reduced the God who is exalted above the heavens to a convenient pet ferret carried around in one's pocket. And such an attitude has led to: Irreverent worship, indifference toward sin, inactive faith, incompetent preachers and inaccurate Gospel presentations.
This message of Malachi written roughly 2,500 years ago is desperately needed today! We need to shake the dust off our spiritual lethargy and reorient our lives to the character and demands of our Creator. We need more men and women like Malachi who are not afraid or ashamed to accurately speak God's Words. We need to recover the greatness and majesty of God for a church that has too long measured God by human standards. We need to present the true Gospel that exceeds every message this world has to offer without shame or compromise.
With this as a backdrop, we now begin God's Word to us through Malachi.
1. GOD'S LOVE DECLARED
Let's begin with the first point, "God's Love Declared."
About two weeks ago I agonized through a horrific Gospel presentation. After five minutes of jokes, the call consisted solely of "coming to Jesus" without any explanation of what that means. There was not a word about biblical faith, repentance, sin, the work of Jesus on the cross or the character of God. It was only ten seconds of, "You must come to Jesus." Listen, over 90% of central Jersey would acknowledge they have "come to Jesus" and they are currently heading straight to hell. People don't need false assurance that they are all right with God; they need the Gospel as it is presented in the Bible! And unless we accurately present the Gospel, we distort God's Word and offer nothing the Holy Spirit can use to regenerate hearts.
One thing this individual did elaborate upon was God's passionate and fervent love for each person in the audience. Again, is that accurate? I would not deny a common love that God has for all His creatures. But can we with the authority of the Scriptures, give people this affirmation? My Bible says that all unbelievers are "children of wrath" (Eph. 2:3), presently "storing up wrath for (themselves)" (Rom. 2:5). Of these people the Bible says, Jesus will "(deal) out retribution (because they do not) obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus" (2 Thes. 1:8). Psalm 7:11 says, "God is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day."
If God passionately loves these people why would He send them to hell? If God passionately loves these people why should they change their lifestyle? If God passionately loves these people what makes the Gospel more attractive than any other message? And if God passionately loves these people, does His love for them not change if they become His children and enter into His covenant of grace?
Search every Gospel presentation delivered by Jesus and the Apostles and not once will you hear any of them emphasize or even declare God's love to the unbeliever. Their message is always one of repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. However, those who come to God on His terms do have the assurance of His love. In other words we should not assure unbelievers that they are abiding in God's love, but we should flood the covenant child that he or she is the beloved of God as the Scriptures emphatically declare. They are the recipients of a love from which they will never be separated (Rom. 8:35).
This is the strategy of God in Malachi from the get-go. Before his stern rebuke in the chapters that follow, His first words to the covenant nation are contained in verse 2. "'I have loved you' says the Lord." What greater motivation is there to get this wayward nation back on track than to initially remind them of His love? Though they had departed from Him, God is faithful to love His covenant children despite their unfaithfulness (Lam. 3:22-23).
For example, I love all the children in the world. My heart was broken, as was yours, when I learned of the 150+ children who were slaughtered in Russia last week. But my love for them is not the same love I have for my three daughters. A distinction has been made in my affections; therefore, my daughters receive more of my time. They are the recipients of my protection and gifts. They incur loving discipline. They are reminded every day of my love for them. And when they stray, hopefully the declaration of my unending and unconditional love coupled with the faithful demonstration of that love in the past will be the impetus to pull them back, knowing their father will always be there to forgive and restore the relationship.
Now God says the same to His unruly children, "I have loved you." The verb tense implies past, present and continuing love (Jer. 31:3). This is a persistent love (Dt. 10:15; 33:3; Am. 3:2). This is a personal love from a personal God who is alone unique to the Judeo-Christian faith. This is a love that was demonstrated continually in the history of Israel.
2. GOD'S LOVE DENIED
Despite this incredible declaration from their Maker, the people (as we move to the second point) either through their words or actions reply in verse 2. They have the audacity to ask, "How have You loved us?"
You see, when a proper understanding of God is nonexistent through weak theology, we expect God to show His love for us in a way we deem best. I encounter this all the time in pastoral counseling. "If God really loved me, He would heal this illness." "If God really love me, He would bless this romance." "If God really loved me, He would improve this work situation." I've heard God's love called into question for not blessing one with a spouse while others have called His love into question for the spouse He has given them! Over and over God's love is challenged by those He created - finite minds that deem themselves wiser than the counsel of God. Such childish thinking fails to call into account the omniscience, supremacy and goodness of God's character. Such childish thinking abolishes faith in God's providence and promises in Scripture that clearly affirm He is the essence of love (1 Jn. 4:8). It says to God, "We know more about love than You do!"
This line of reasoning would enable my young daughter to say, "Dad, if you really loved me, you would let me spend all my money on these rip-off games at Wildwood." "Dad, if you really loved me, you would let me go without wearing this uncomfortable seatbelt." "Dad if you really loved me, you would let me eat ice cream every night for dinner." "Dad if you really loved me, you would play with me all day instead of going to work." We try to explain, but too often our kids just don't get it. So what do we do? We simply encourage them to trust us in our love for them.
I say all this to show that we are not much different than the Israelites. Here's their beef: "Why hasn't the Messiah come? You don't love us." "Why wasn't the Exile as dramatic as the Exodus? You don't love us." "Why aren't we free from Persian rule? You don't love us." "Where is the glorious Temple? You don't love us." "Why are we suffering from plagues? You don't love us." In other words, "If You really love us God, you have to do better! We'll teach You how to be more loving!" What an audacious challenge and blasphemous proposition brought to Almighty God!
3. GOD'S LOVE DEFINED
How will God respond? As we move to the third point, God will define His love for the people. But before we examine His response, allow me to ask you two related questions.
First, does God love you? To that question, the acceptable answers are only "yes" or "no." And for the second question, how do you know it if you answered "yes?" How has God's love been defined in your life?
If you answered "yes" to the first question, did any of you point to the doctrine of election as evidence of God's love to answer the second question? Probably not! The doctrine is often minimized and even denied by most in the church today. I guess we have once again become wiser than God. You see, when God needed to define His love for the Israelites, He first turned to His sovereign love for the nation.
Beginning in verse 2: "'I have loved you,' says the LORD. But you say, 'How have You loved us?' (now, here it is…) 'Was not Esau Jacob's brother?' declares the LORD. 'Yet I have loved Jacob; but I have hated Esau'" (Mal. 1:2-3a).
If your comprehension of God's love is based solely on circumstances and feelings you have fallen into the trap of the Israelites. If your comprehension of God's love is based on His free, sovereign and electing grace, then your thinking is biblical, based on our text from the Word of God this morning.
This theme is even carried into the New Testament as God called out people in the New Covenant to form His church. "We love, because He first loved us" (1 Jn. 4:19). Ephesians 1 explains how we were chosen in Christ and predestined in love. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved" (Eph. 1:3-6).
I often hear people say God elects based upon some good He sees in certain individuals or the "foreknowledge" of their decision to receive Christ. These answers may be more politically correct or self-flattering, but they are not in accordance with the Word of God. The verses I read in Ephesians 1 clearly indicate that He chose us (verse 5) "according to the kind intention of His will." "By His doing (we) are in Christ Jesus" (1 Cor. 1:30).
I often hear people say the doctrine of sovereign love leads to pride. Nothing can be further from the truth! This biblical truth strips us of all pride. It acknowledges that we cannot come to God on our own (Rom. 3:11b). It weans us of self-reliance (Jn. 6:44; 15:16) and it removes all ground for boasting (Eph. 2:9) as if we were an equal partner in achieving our salvation. We concur with Jonah 2:9. "Salvation is from the Lord."
The God-dependent humility of this doctrine was the point Moses made to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 7. "For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers" (Deut. 7:6-8a; cf. 1 Cor. 1:26-27).
And this oath to Israel was initiated by God calling Jacob (also named Israel - Gen. 32:28) and his descendents to Himself in a covenant relationship. While other nations were passed over, God for His own sovereign purposes (unknown to us) chose to reveal Himself specifically to Israel. As a matter of fact, He made a distinction between two twins (Gen. 25:19f) who would be the forerunners of great nations. He bypassed the older, Esau, from whom would spring the Edomites. And He chose Jacob, from whom would spring the Israelites. It was a choice made before either of the two were born (before the foundation of the world - Eph. 1:4) or had done anything good or bad (Rom. 9:11). God's decision did not take into account the birthright of Esau (Gen. 25:25), the feeling or attitudes of the parents (Gen. 25:28a) or the moral imperfections of Jacob (Gen. 25:29-34) and his descendents. Yet by God's sovereign will which belongs to Him as God (Psm. 115:3; Dan. 4:35), one would receive grace, an unmerited gift of His favor while the other would receive the righteous judgment for their own wickedness.
This righteous judgment is mentioned in verse 3 (of Malachi 1) and verses that follow. "But I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness. Though Edom says, 'We have been beaten down, but we will return and build up the ruins'; thus says the LORD of hosts, 'They may build, but I will (notice this is God's doing) tear down; and men will call them the wicked territory, and the people toward whom the LORD is indignant forever'" (Mal. 1:3-4; see Isa. 11:14; 34:5-6; Jer. 49:7-22; Eze 25:12-14; 35:15; Jo. 3:19; Am. 1:11, Obad. 1:1-21).
But that's not fair! Unfair to Edom? They were a wicked nation by their own doing and they received judgment from a holy God. What's unfair about that? Unfair to Israel? Is it unfair for God to show mercy to whom He wishes? Though the purpose of this doctrine in Malachi is to comfort, there is nevertheless an uneasiness that was familiar to even the biblical writers. The Apostle Paul took up this matter in his letter to the Romans and used these exact verses from Malachi to defend this truth.
Romans 9, beginning in verse 10, "And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, 'The older will serve the younger.' Just as it is written (a direct quote from Malachi 1), 'Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.' (The objection of fairness is expected…) What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.' So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy" (Rom. 9:10-16)
How have You loved us? asked Israel. God responded, "I passed over many nations some more righteous than you (Dt. 4:34; 10:14-15). I have left them in their ways and have responded in righteous judgment for their actions. To them I gave what they deserve, judgment. To you I gave you what you do not deserve, mercy. I have chosen to make a covenant with you, Israel, and I have been faithful to that covenant. 'I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness' (Jer. 31:3). 'I brought (you) out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with great terror and with signs and wonders' (Dt. 26:8). Yes, I have disciplined you, but 'for whom the LORD loves He reproves, even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights' (Pr. 3:12). You are 'chosen…to be a people for (My) own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth' (Dt. 7:6). You received "(My) statutes and (My) ordinances' (Psm. 147:19). You are 'My son, My firstborn' (Ex. 4:22b). 'For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed'" (Mal. 3:6).
4. GOD'S LOVE DEMONSTRATED
As we move to the closing point, how does God expect us to demonstrate the knowledge of His love? Answer - He expects us to be thankful and respond in joyful, God-centered worship. Verse 5, "Your eyes will see this and you will say, 'The LORD be magnified beyond the border of Israel!'"
And with the coming of the New Covenant, we see the sovereign love of God extending beyond the border of Israel. Though most of His children came out of Israel in the Old Covenant, the New Covenant speaks of His church composed of people from "every nation and tribe and tongue and people" (Rev. 14:6; cf. Jn. 10:16).
And in the New Covenant we see the greatest demonstration of God's love. The means whereby He will bring all His elect children to Himself. Romans 5:8 says, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." When we look to the One who bore our sins, we are forever reminded of the great love that God has for His children. And that love once received, like it was intended with the Israelites, should compel us to God-honoring obedience (II Cor. 5:14).
May we "know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge" (Eph. 3:19) and glorify Him not by challenging His love, but rather by receiving His love, experiencing His love, obeying because of His love and proclaiming His love "beyond the border of Israel" (Mal. 1:5).