Malachi Series: How to Be Faithful Ministers (Mal 2:1-9)
Updated: Apr 21
How to Be Faithful Ministers
“Now, you priests, this commandment is for you. If you do not listen and take seriously the need to honor my name,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “I will send judgment on you and turn your blessings into curses—indeed, I have already done so because you are not taking it to heart. I am about to discipline your children and will spread offal on your faces, the very offal produced at your festivals, and you will be carried away along with it. Then you will know that I sent this commandment to you so that my covenant may continue to be with Levi,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “My covenant with him was designed to bring life and peace. I gave its statutes to him to fill him with awe, and he indeed revered me and stood in awe before me. 6 He taught what was true; sinful words were not found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and integrity, and he turned many people away from sin. For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge of sacred things, and people should seek instruction from him because he is the messenger of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. You, however, have turned from the way. You have caused many to violate the law; you have corrupted the covenant with Levi,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “Therefore, I have caused you to be ignored and belittled before all people to the extent to which you are not following after me and are showing partiality in your instruction.”
Malachi 2:1-9 (NET)
How can we be faithful ministers of God?
The book of Malachi takes place after the Israelites had returned from their exile in Babylon. They had rebuilt the temple and the walls around Jerusalem. However, their spiritual lives were on life-support and a large reason for that was the priests. Israel’s priests were corrupt. When the Old Covenant required an animal sacrifice without blemish, the priests were lowering the requirements of God’s law and allowing people to sacrifice the blind, sick, and lame. They were despising God through their sacrifices. In Malachi 1:8, God criticized them by saying:
For when you offer blind animals as a sacrifice, is that not wrong? And when you offer the lame and sick, is that not wrong as well? Indeed, try offering them to your governor! Will he be pleased with you or show you favor?
Here in Malachi 2:1-9, God continues his rebuke of the spiritual leaders of Israel by focusing on their need to honor his name (v. 2) and be faithful to his Word (v. 7). If they did not repent (v. 4), he would severely discipline them and remove them from ministry (v. 2-3, 9).
As God rebukes them, we learn principles about how to be good ministers in God’s church. Now certainly, this text has specific applications to pastors and teachers who are the spiritual leaders in the church; however, all believers are called to be ministers. In fact, in the New Testament, we don’t have specific priests who do all the ministry as we are all called to be priests (cf. Heb 13:15-16). First Peter 2:9 says: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Sometimes we might be tempted to think those we pay to do vocational ministry should do all the work; however, Scripture says God gave pastors and teachers to equip believers to do the work of ministry (Eph 4:11-13). We’re all called to serve and be priests to one another and a dying world. Our spiritual leaders just help us do it better. Therefore, it behooves us to learn from this text how to be faithful ministers both to God and others.
Big Question: What principles about being a faithful minister can be discerned from Malachi 2:1-9?
To Be Faithful Ministers, We Must Minister with a Reverent Fear of God
“Now, you priests, this commandment is for you. If you do not listen and take seriously the need to honor my name,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “I will send judgment on you and turn your blessings into curses—indeed, I have already done so because you are not taking it to heart. I am about to discipline your children and will spread offal on your faces, the very offal produced at your festivals, and you will be carried away along with it. Then you will know that I sent this commandment to you so that my covenant may continue to be with Levi,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies… You, however, have turned from the way. You have caused many to violate the law; you have corrupted the covenant with Levi,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “Therefore, I have caused you to be ignored and belittled before all people to the extent to which you are not following after me and are showing partiality in your instruction.”
Malachi 2:1-4, 8-9
As God began the rebuke, he challenged the priests to take seriously the need to honor his name (v. 2). When referring to his “name,” it was more than something they called God. In that context, it referred to God’s person, attributes, and reputation. By teaching God’s Word and facilitating worship, including the sacrifices, the priests were to honor God’s name and help others do the same. However, they were not doing that; therefore, God promised to send judgment on them, not to destroy them, but to correct them. In verse 4, after naming some of the judgments, God said, “Then you will know that I sent this commandment to you so that my covenant may continue to be with Levi.” Discipline was meant to restore the Levitical priests to proper worship and ministry.
When God mentioned Levi, he was not referring specifically to Levi as the son of Jacob. From Levi eventually came all the Levites who were called to maintain the tabernacle and later the temple. And, from the Aaronic line in the Levites came the priests. There was no explicit covenant with Levites in the Old Testament as seen with Noah or David; however, under Moses, God clearly called the Levites to a role of ministering before God which was in fact a covenant with expectations (cf. Jer 33:20-21). When the Israelites worshiped a golden calf at Mt. Sinai while in the wilderness, it was the Levites who sided with Moses and judged the idolaters. Consequently, Moses declared that God would bless the Levites and that they would minister for him (Ex 32:25-29, 33:8-11). Exodus 32:25-29 says:
Moses saw that the people were running wild, for Aaron had let them get completely out of control, causing derision from their enemies. So Moses stood at the entrance of the camp and said, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.” All the Levites gathered around him, and he said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, has said ‘Each man fasten his sword on his side, and go back and forth from entrance to entrance throughout the camp, and each one kill his brother, his friend, and his neighbor.’ ” The Levites did what Moses ordered, and that day about 3,000 men of the people died. Moses said, “You have been consecrated today for the Lord, for each of you was against his son or against his brother, so he has given a blessing to you today.”
Later, when the Israelites were committing sexual immorality with the Moabite women, Phinehas, a grandson of Aaron, slaughtered a Jewish man and a Moabite woman who were flaunting their ungodly relationship in front of Israel. Because of that, God promised that Phinehas and his descendants would always be priests. In Numbers 25:12-13, God said:
Therefore, announce: ‘I am going to give to him my covenant of peace. So it will be to him and his descendants after him a covenant of a permanent priesthood, because he has been zealous for his God, and has made atonement for the Israelites.’”
Finally, before Moses died, he blessed Levi (who represented the Levites) for defending God’s covenant in Deuteronomy 33:9-11. He said this about Levi:
He said to his father and mother, ‘I have not seen him,’ and he did not acknowledge his own brothers or know his own children, for they kept your word, and guarded your covenant. They will teach Jacob your ordinances and Israel your law; they will offer incense as a pleasant odor, and a whole offering on your altar. Bless, O Lord, his goods, and be pleased with his efforts; undercut the legs of any who attack him, and of those who hate him, so that they cannot stand.
Therefore, because of the faithfulness of the Levitical tribe in their zeal for God while serving under Moses and Aaron, instead of getting a distribution of land like the other tribes in Israel, they received the priesthood. Deuteronomy 18:1-2 and 21:5 says,
The Levitical priests—indeed, the entire tribe of Levi—will have no allotment or inheritance with Israel; they may eat the burnt offerings of the Lord and of his inheritance. They will have no inheritance in the midst of their fellow Israelites; the Lord alone is their inheritance, just as he had told them.
Then the Levitical priests will approach (for the Lord your God has chosen them to serve him and to pronounce blessings in his name, and to decide every judicial verdict).
When many of the other tribes in the wilderness were unfaithful, the Levites were zealous for God. Therefore, God established his covenant with them to be his priests. However, their ancestors, the post-exilic priests, were corrupting this covenant (Mal 2:8). Consequently, God warned them to return to honoring his name or he would severely judge them. God gave this warning in hope that they might repent and be faithful (Mal 2:4).
Likewise, we must realize that we have all been called to be priests who minister in God’s name to our families, churches, and in our workplaces. It’s often been said that we’re the only Bible that some people might read. However, this call to minister for Christ and glorify his name is something that we must do with a holy fear, lest we also incur God’s discipline. It must be remembered that Aaron’s two sons were killed for offering a profane fire during worship (Lev 10). In Acts 5, God disciplined Ananias and Saphira for publicly offering gifts in worship but lying about them to make themselves look good. Because of their public sin, God judged them publicly by putting them to death. God also disciplined the Corinthians for mistaking the Lord’s Supper—some were sick and weak, and others died (1 Cor 11). In 2 Corinthians 7:1-2 (ESV), Paul said this about our sanctification: “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” Out of fear of God, we should seek to grow in holiness by cleansing ourselves from outward and inward sins—wrong actions and wrong heart motives. If all Christians must serve God with a reverent fear, how much more those in spiritual leadership who have a greater accountability before God? James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we will be judged more strictly.”
This is the very reason many Christians are not growing in holiness, some are neglecting their call to minister to others, and others are ministering improperly. They have no fear of God and his discipline. Proverbs 9:10 says, “The beginning of wisdom is to fear the Lord.” Therefore, we must cultivate a holy fear to properly minister to God and others. We do this, in part, by recognizing the potential judgments for improper worship and unfaithfulness in ministry in general. We see many of these in God’s warning of various judgments to the post-exilic priests for their improper worship and ministry.
Observation Question: In what ways did God promise to judge the priests for their unfaithfulness in honoring God’s name and ministering for him to others?
God promised to judge the priests in several ways:
1. God would judge the priests by removing the blessing over their ministry and allowing harm to happen to their followers instead.
In verse 2, God said he would turn their “blessings into curses.” It’s not clear exactly what this means. It could refer generally to all the blessings the priests received like portions of the sacrifices, opportunities to minister, health, etc. However, it could refer specifically to their ministry to others and the consequences of it. God had called the priests to pray blessings over the Israelites that God would honor. Numbers 6:22-27 says this:
The Lord spoke to Moses: “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is the way you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: “The Lord bless you and protect you; The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”’ “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”
However, when the priests blessed Israel, God would no longer bless the nation in response. He would make their ministry ineffective and allow it to bring harm instead of blessing. Because the priests’ teaching and examples were corrupt, they would commonly cause negative consequences for those who sat under their ministry. In verse 8, God said they had “caused many to violate the law.”
Similarly, in Matthew 23:13 and15, Christ said this about the Pharisees:
But woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You keep locking people out of the kingdom of heaven! For you neither enter nor permit those trying to enter to go in... Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You cross land and sea to make one convert, and when you get one, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves!
The Pharisees were not aiding people in coming to the kingdom, they were keeping them out of it and putting people in religious bondage. Apparently, the same thing was happening with the priests. Because of their sins, God cursed their blessings. Instead of helping people, the priests were damaging them. Certainly, this reminds us to test the teaching and character of our teachers, lest we and others experience consequences from their unhealthy ministry and example. In 1 Timothy 5:22, Paul warned Timothy and the Ephesians to “not lay hands on anyone hastily” and therefore share in their sins. If we put people in leadership who are not qualified, and consequently they hurt others, we will bear the responsibility before God. And if we choose to sit under people who are not qualified, we will bring pain to ourselves and our families.
God told the priests this so they would have a holy fear in their ministry, and we should have the same. It will keep us from many sins and the consequences that come from those sins. With that said, God was not done. He gave more warnings.
2. God would discipline the priests’ children.
Malachi 3:3 says, “I am about to discipline your children.” This would probably manifest in many ways. Because the priests taught God’s Word but didn’t live it out, their example would cause their children to rebel against the Lord and receive his discipline. Certainly, we saw this with Eli, the priest. Eli was not faithfully following God’s Word, and consequently, his children, who were also priests, were rebellious. They dishonored God, cheated the people, and slept with women offering sacrifices. Consequently, God put them to death and also promised to judge Eli’s future children. First Samuel 2:30-36 says this:
Therefore the Lord, the God of Israel, says, ‘I really did say that your house and your ancestor’s house would serve me forever.’ But now the Lord says, ‘May it never be! For I will honor those who honor me, but those who despise me will be cursed! In fact, days are coming when I will remove your strength and the strength of your father’s house. There will not be an old man in your house! You will see trouble in my dwelling place! Israel will experience blessings, but there will not be an old man in your house for all time. Any man of yours that I do not cut off from my altar, I will cause his eyes to fail and will cause you grief. All those born to your family will die by the sword of man. This will be a confirming sign for you that will be fulfilled through your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas: in a single day they both will die! Then I will raise up for myself a faithful priest. He will do what is in my heart and soul. I will build for him a lasting dynasty, and he will serve my chosen one for all time. Everyone who remains in your house will come to bow before him for a little money and for a scrap of bread. Each will say, “Assign me to a priestly task so I can eat a scrap of bread.” ’
Does this mean that God was going to punish the children for their fathers’, the priests’, sins? Probably not directly but indirectly. Ezekiel 18:20 says,
The person who sins is the one who will die. A son will not suffer for his father’s iniquity, and a father will not suffer for his son’s iniquity; the righteous person will be judged according to his righteousness and the wicked person according to his wickedness.
Since other Scriptures teach that children will not be punished for the sins of the parents and vice versa, we can be sure that the judgments on Eli’s children and the post-exilic priests’ children were because the sins of the parents would be repeated by the children. Sin is very hard to root out of a family line. Parents who struggle with alcoholism, abuse, infidelity, anger, being emotionally or physically absent, or even spiritual apathy, tend to pass their sins onto their children. As a default, we model our parents in both their righteousness and sin. This leads to generational blessing in patterns of righteousness and generational sin or cursing in repeated patterns of sin (Ex 20:5-6). The ungodly priests were leaving an ungodly pattern for their children which would lead to repeated sin and judgments generationally.
Sadly, negative generational consequences on the children of our spiritual leaders are very common in our day as well. The terms PK (pastor kid) and MK (missionary kid) have almost become synonymous with rebellion toward God and parents. Though a common ministerial pattern, Romans 1 applies this pattern of kids rebelling to everybody who does not honor God with their lives. Romans 1:18 says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness.” This pattern of God’s wrath is not revealed by earthquakes and tsunamis (which we might expect) but by God handing people over to ungodly thoughts and desires because of their lack of honoring him. Romans 1:21-22 says,
For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks, but they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an image resembling mortal human beings or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.
Consequently, Romans 1:24 says, “Therefore God gave them over in the desires of their hearts to impurity, to dishonor their bodies among themselves.” And Romans 1:26-27 says,
For this reason God gave them over to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged the natural sexual relations for unnatural ones, and likewise the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed in their passions for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
And finally, Romans 1:28 says, “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what should not be done.”
As mentioned, the judgment of God on people for not worshiping him is handing them over to ungodly thinking and desires, leading to ungodly actions like idol worship, sexual immorality, homosexuality, and all types of other things that “should not be done” (v. 28). In verses, 29-31, Paul details some of the other sins that appear for not worshiping God, and one of them is children rebelling against their parents—the same thing promised for the priests’ children in Malachi. Verse 29-30 says, “…They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, contrivers of all sorts of evil, disobedient to parents”. Having rebellious young people is a consequence on parents and societies in general for not properly acknowledging and worshiping God (v. 30). In some cities, people cannot walk safely at night because of rebellious young people. Therefore, though the curse on the children in Malachi 2:3 is applied to the priests for not honoring God’s name, we experience this all the time in our own families, communities, and nations as a consequence for not honoring God in our lives as well.
In addition, since the priesthood was based on heritage, maybe God’s discipline on the priests’ children was applied by not allowing the priests to have children or to lose them at early ages. Hosea, who prophesied to the Northern Kingdom of Israel during the divided kingdom stage, said God was judging Israel’s children for the nation’s sins as well; however, he expands on the judgment. Hosea 4:11-14 says:
Ephraim will be like a bird; what they value will fly away. They will not bear children—they will not enjoy pregnancy—they will not even conceive! Even if they raise their children, I will take away every last one of them. Woe to them! For I will turn away from them. Ephraim, as I have seen, has given their children for prey; Ephraim will bear his sons for slaughter. Give them, O Lord—what will you give them? Give them wombs that miscarry, and breasts that cannot nurse!
Childbirth would be low in Israel as a consequence of sin, and the children that were born would die young. Certainly, we see this happening throughout the world today. Infertility is high, keeping those who want children from having kids, and many adults are just choosing to not get married or get married and not have kids. When they do get pregnant, many are choosing to abort. In many nations, the abortion rate is higher than the birth rate. This all leads to a very low childbirth. And with those who are born, we’re losing many of them at a young age through gang or gun violence, drug abuse, suicide, and in some places war. Many countries are worried about their social security systems. If there are not enough young people replacing the old ones in the workforce, how will the elderly be supported in retirement? Certainly, we see God’s judgment generally throughout the world for not honoring him, as revealed through consequences on our youth.
Again, as a judgment for the post-exilic priests’ sins, God promised to discipline their children (Mal 3:3). This discipline manifested in their children’s rebellion, short life spans, and also probably by infertility problems. It should be remembered that even though God was disciplining the priests’ children, for the most part, he simply allowed the priests to reap the natural consequences of their rebellion. Their rebellion would cause their children to rebel, leading to the children’s judgment. This pattern would repeat throughout their priestly line. These truths were originally taught to Israel when they made a covenant with God at Mount Sinai. Exodus 20:5-6 says,
You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God, responding to the transgression of fathers by dealing with children to the third and fourth generations of those who reject me, and showing covenant faithfulness to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
In context, the sin of idolatry would commonly pass down for three to four generations, causing those generations to experience judgment. However, God promises to bless the children of those who love him for a thousand generations—meaning these family lines would commonly follow the Lord and receive his blessings. Generational sins are hard to root out of family lines but even more consequential than generational sin is generational righteousness. Righteousness commonly stays rooted in families for thousands of generations leading to great blessing. Certainly, this should be very sobering to us and encourage us towards faithfulness to God instead of rebellion. Our life choices will commonly affect multiple generations either for good or bad, as seen with the priests and the nation of Israel in general.
Again, God gives this warning to the priests to help them fear his name and turn away from sin so they could receive blessing. This should do the same to us. Our patterns of righteousness or sin will commonly show up in our children’s lives bringing judgment or blessing.
3. God would discipline the priests by cursing their food in that they would struggle with meager resources.
When verse 3 talks about God’s disciplining the priest’s children, the word “children” is literally “seed” (KJV) and therefore could refer to their grain. In God’s covenant with Israel, he promised that if they rebelled against God, he would bring curses both on their children and grain. Deuteronomy 28:15-19 says,
But if you ignore the Lord your God and are not careful to keep all his commandments and statutes I am giving you today, then all these curses will come upon you in full force: You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the field. Your basket and your mixing bowl will be cursed. Your children will be cursed, as well as the produce of your soil, the calves of your herds, and the lambs of your flocks. You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out.
Therefore, it is very probable that the term is intentionally ambiguous—referring to both children and grain. It is clear from Malachi 3:11 that there was already a plague ruining Israel’s crops and harvest. Because the priests lived off the people’s grain offerings given as tithes, this would cause them to live in extreme poverty. As a result of sin, the priests would struggle financially.
Certainly, this at times happens to us as well. In Matthew 6:25-34, God told the disciples to not worry about what they would eat, drink, or wear because God knew their needs. But he also told them in Matthew 6:33 to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness and that all those things would be added to them. The promise of God meeting their needs was dependent on their faithfulness in worshiping and serving God. Often, when we are not faithful, God will allow seasons of leanness and difficulty to turn us back to himself. With communities, nations, and even globally, God may allow famine, drought, or even recession as a judgment. In Malachi 3:10-11, God allowed leanness in Israel’s harvest because they were not faithfully giving their tithes to God. Certainly, this should be a sobering challenge for us.
Are we faithfully seeking first God’s kingdom? If so, God promises to meet all our needs, which in context applies to financial needs (food, drink, and clothing) but can certainly be applied to all our needs in general: social, emotional, physical, and spiritual. When we put God’s desires first, he takes care of ours’. When we don’t, he often allows seasons of leanness to turn us back to himself.
God’s warning was meant to make the priests holy and faithful ministers. We must heed this warning as well so we can faithfully minister to and for God.
4. Finally, God would discipline the priests by allowing them to become unclean, publicly shamed, and removed from ministry.
In Malachi 2:3, God said, “I … will spread offal on your faces, the very offal produced at your festivals, and you will be carried away along with it.” When the priests sacrificed the animals, they had to take out the “offal” which referred to the intestines and the excrement they often contained. These were the unclean parts of the animal that needed to be taken outside of the camp and burned (Lev 16:27, Ex 29:14). They were not fit to be sacrificed to God. When God says that he was going to place the offal (intestines and excrement) on the priests’ faces, this represented them becoming ceremonially unclean, publicly shamed, and needing to be removed from the temple. God was going to end their ministry.
Sadly, this happens all the time. Pastors and vocational Christian workers are commonly falling into various scandals—adultery, robbery, spiritual abuse, etc.—and being removed from ministry. Some are committing apostasy—turning away from God—and dropping out of ministry themselves. God is exposing the failure of spiritual leaders to honor him and removing them from ministry all the time. Some stats in the U.S. say over 1,700 pastors leave the ministry every month. Certainly, there are many reasons for this—much of them not being the minister’s fault. However, for some—more than we would like to admit—God is publicly exposing their sin and removing them from ministry for not honoring his name. Malachi 2:9 seems to clearly refer to this public shaming during the priests’ removal: “Therefore, I have caused you to be ignored and belittled before all people to the extent to which you are not following after me and are showing partiality in your instruction.”
As we consider the great judgments God gave the priests, we should remember that serving in spiritual leadership comes with great accountability. James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we will be judged more strictly.” This should encourage us to constantly pray for our leaders and at times hold them accountable as a protection for them, their families, and our churches, which also suffer when a leader falls (cf. 1 Tim 5:20, Matt 26:31).
Micah Fries in his commentary on Malachi gave these five ways we should pray for our spiritual leaders as we consider the great blessing and burden God has given them in caring for people in the church and various other ministries. He says:
• Pray for their proclamation, that they would … preach and teach the gospel, the whole counsel of God.
• Pray for their purity. The greatest gift that a minister can give is not his preaching ability, his ability to visit the sick or to comfort those who have lost loved ones, how consistently he visits hospitals, or how engaging of a counselor he is. The greatest gift a pastor can offer to his church is his personal holiness before the Lord. Pray for his purity.
• Pray for your leaders’ marriages. The enemy would love nothing more than to destroy marriages. What God has brought together, Satan would delight in tearing asunder.
• Pray for their protection. The enemy is likened to a roaring lion seeking to destroy and devour leaders in the church (1 Pet 5:8).
• Pray for their perseverance. Ask God to empower them to stand firm to the end, looking to Jesus as their source, strength, and example of faithful service (cf. Heb 12:1–4).
We would do well to pray these often.
With that said, the main principle on being a faithful minister we should take from God’s judgments on the priests is our need to minister to and for God with a reverent fear. Our God is our Father and Friend, but he is also our Master and the Lord of the Armies of Heaven (cf. Mal 1:6, 2:2). He is a God of love and mercy, but he is also a God of justice and wrath. If we don’t worship him properly, like the church of Ephesus and the priests, we can have our lampstand removed—our ability to be effective in ministry and a light to all (Rev 2:4-5, Mal 2:3, 9). For some who dishonor him in worship, he may take us home early as with Ananias and Saphira (Acts 5:1-11) and the members of the Corinthian church who were mistaking the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:27-34).
Unfortunately, many in the church have no concept of fearing God and therefore live as they please. To fear God is archaic and abusive to them, but Scripture is clear. We must both love God and also fear him. Hebrews 12:29 (ESV) says, “Our God is a consuming fire.” And Proverbs 9:10 says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. To be faithful ministers, we must minister to and for God with a reverent fear. Without it, we endanger ourselves and others. Do we both love God and fear?
Application Question: Why does the church today commonly lack a reverential fear of the Lord? What is the difference between a healthy fear of God and an unhealthy one? Which of God’s judgments on the priests stood out most and why? In what ways do we see these judgments commonly happening in the church today, especially amongst spiritual leaders? In what ways did a spiritual leader’s fall, and potential removal from ministry, negatively affect you? How is God calling you to grow in offering him reverential fear?
To Be Faithful Ministers, We Must Be Word-Centered
My covenant with him was designed to bring life and peace. I gave its statutes to him to fill him with awe, and he indeed revered me and stood in awe before me. He taught what was true; sinful words were not found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and integrity, and he turned many people away from sin. For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge of sacred things, and people should seek instruction from him because he is the messenger of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
In verses 5-7, God described Levi as the ideal minister. It must be remembered that God is using Levi, the father of the Levites, as their representative. Scripture actually doesn’t have much positive to say about Levi, the person. Of Jacob’s twelve sons, Levi was one of the worst, as he and Simeon murdered a whole village of men for raping their sister Dinah (Gen 34). When Jacob was blessing his sons before he died, Simeon and Levi essentially received a curse. Jacob, in prophesying, cursed their anger and said they would be divided and scattered in Israel (Gen 49:7). Since Levi’s ancestors were zealous for God during Israel’s rebellion in the wilderness (cf. Ex 32:25-29, 33:8-11), God took their curse and made it a blessing. Though the Levites didn’t receive a portion of the land of Canaan, their scattering throughout the tribes allowed them to minister to each of the tribes as priests (Josh 18:7). In the same way, God took the post-exilic priests’ blessings and made them curses (Mal 2:2), God took his curse on the Levites and made it a blessing because of their zeal for his name during Israel’s time in the wilderness.
As we consider the original Levitical priests’ character and ministry, we see that they were Word-centered. Malachi 2:5 says, “I gave its statutes to him to fill him with awe, and he indeed revered me and stood in awe before me.” Since God gave the original Levites the Mosaic law and the other books of Moses, they delighted in them. It gave them a reverence and awe of God which they shared with Israel as their teachers. By filling Levi with awe for God’s Word, the hope was that the Israelites would become enamored with God’s Word as well and become priests to the nations. Though the Levites were called to be priests to Israel, the Israelites were all ultimately meant to be priests to the world, as they drew others to God. In Exodus 19:5-6, God said this to Israel through Moses:
And now, if you will diligently listen to me and keep my covenant, then you will be my special possession out of all the nations, for all the earth is mine, and you will be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you will speak to the Israelites.
The Levites were called to be faithful priests to Israel, so the Israelites could be faithful priests to the nations. This, in a sense, is also true of the church. As pastors and teachers faithfully minister, they equip the entire church to be priests to their families, friends, co-workers, and the world in general. Again, 1 Peter 2:9 calls the church a royal priesthood, as all its members are called to minister to and for God. Likewise, God was calling the post-exilic priests back to God’s original covenant with Levi, so Israel could ultimately be equipped to serve God and the world. He gives the original Levitical priests, represented by Levi, as an example of an ideal minister to both rebuke and inspire the post-exilic Levites. Levi’s example applies to us as ministers as well.
Observation Question: What are characteristics of the ideal minister as pictured in Levi according to Malachi 2:5-7?
1. Ministers should help people have the life of blessing God desires.
In Malachi 2:5, God says of Levi, “My covenant with him was designed to bring life and peace.” Life and peace were two blessings God wanted the Israelites to have. Life was a common promise to Israel for being faithful to the Mosaic law, which was around 613 laws that God gave Moses on Mount Sinai. Consider the following promises in Deuteronomy:
Keep his statutes and commandments that I am setting forth today so that it may go well with you and your descendants and that you may enjoy longevity in the land that the Lord your God is about to give you as a permanent possession.
Honor your father and your mother just as the Lord your God has commanded you to do, so that your days may be extended and that it may go well with you in the land that he is about to give you.
If the Israelites faithfully obeyed God’s commands, they would live long in the land (and thus not be exiled) and they would extend their lifespans. Since salvation in the Old Testament was by faith in God just as it was in the New Testament, eternal life was implied. Genesis 15:6 says Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him as righteousness. By faithfully obeying God’s laws, Israel would demonstrate that they had true faith in God and therefore would have eternal life. James 2:17-26 teaches that faith without works is dead and that Abraham and Rahab (two Old Testament saints) proved their faith through their works. As Abraham offered to sacrifice his son, Isaac, to God and Rahab hid the Jewish spies even though it could cost her life, they demonstrated true saving faith in God.
Likewise, faithful ministers today help people have the life of blessing that God desires for them. As they share the gospel with others, those who accept come to have eternal life. As they teach biblical truths including things like honoring our father and mother, submitting to government authorities, and honoring God with our lives, it teaches principles that often promote a long life.
When God talked about Levi also bringing peace, peace or “shalom” was a common Jewish blessing. It certainly referred to peace with God, others, and oneself, but it also referred broadly to prosperity and well-being in everything. As Levi taught God’s Word and the people obeyed it, they received God’s shalom, his blessing on everything they did. Psalm 1:1-3 talks about the blessing on the person that does not follow the pathway of the wicked, but instead delights in and meditates on God’s Word. Because of this, God prospers everything the person does. Certainly, this is a promise for us today as well. In John 15:5 and 7, Jesus taught his disciples this:
I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me—and I in him—bears much fruit, because apart from me you can accomplish nothing… If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want, and it will be done for you.
Abiding in Christ through prayer, worship, Bible study, and obedience to God’s Word leads to great fruitfulness (John 15:5). This fruit manifests in the fruits of the Spirit such as joy, peace, patience, and longsuffering in great difficulties. It leads to fruit as people are drawn to Christ and set free from sin. It also manifests in answered prayer (John 15:7).
As ministers of Christ, God calls us to himself so we can be salt and light to the earth so that others can have eternal life and a life of blessing and peace. Second Corinthians 5:14-15 says,
But thanks be to God who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and who makes known through us the fragrance that consists of the knowledge of him in every place. For we are a sweet aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing
Are we faithful ministers to Christ bringing life and God’s blessing everywhere we go?
2. Ministers should deeply study God’s Word and worship God because of it.
Again, Malachi 2:5 says, “I gave its statutes to him to fill him with awe, and he indeed revered me and stood in awe before me.” In Job 23:12 (ESV), Job said this about God’s Word, “I have not departed from the commandment of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food.” He treasured God’s Word more than his food which no doubt helped him worship God even during severe difficulties. In Job 1:21, Job declared, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. May the name of the Lord be blessed!” In 2 Timothy 2:15 (ESV), Paul said this to Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” This reminds us of how we also must do our best to study God’s Word and understand it, so we can apply it to our lives and help us worship God more. The more we understand God through his Word, the better we can worship him even within trials. This is what faithful ministers do and help others do.
Are we deeply studying God’s Word, leading to a greater awe and worship of God?
3. Ministers should teach God’s Word and counsel people based on it.
Malachi 2:6-7 says, “He taught what was true… For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge of sacred things, and people should seek instruction from him because he is the messenger of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.” Our study of God’s Word should make us reverence God more, but it also should prompt us to share it with others. To the lost, we teach them the gospel. To the discouraged, we teach them God’s promises so they can have hope. To the person caught in sin, we teach them how to be free and, at times warn them, so they’ll want to be free. We should all be faithful stewards of God’s Word, teaching it to our families, including our children, and others God brings us (cf. 1 Cor 4:1-2). The Great Commission is for us to make disciples and teach them everything Christ commanded (Matt 28:19-20).
Are we faithfully sharing God’s Word with others?
4. Ministers should walk in a close relationship with God and have godlike character.
Malachi 2:6 says, “sinful words were not found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and integrity.” When it says, Levi “walked” with God, it is a picture of moment-by-moment obedience, dependence, and intimacy with God. In the Old Testament, it was used of somebody who had unusual intimacy and fellowship with the Lord. It was used of Enoch (Gen 5:22, 24) and Noah (Gen 6:9). Levi’s walk with God made him a person whose yes meant yes and his no meant no. He was a person of integrity and also peace. Instead of being a person who always was in conflict with others, Levi was a peacemaker. He forgave those who hurt him, sought to reconcile with those he hurt, and sought to help others reconcile with God and others. All these godly virtues came from his intimate walk with God as he lived a life of prayer, worship, study of God’s Word, and obedience to it.
Are we seeking to walk closely with God? Are we aiming for an extremely, intimate relationship with him? Are we running away from anything, including our entertainment and relationships, that might hinder our relationship with God? That’s how Levi was, referring to the original priests. Because of their intimacy with God, they had godly character and a positive impact on others.
5. Ministers should turn people from sin.
Malachi 2:6 says, “he turned many people away from sin.” The original Levitical priests weren’t monks who were simply concerned with their own life and relationship with God. They were concerned with their friends, family, co-workers, community, and nation. Their relationship with God prompted them to intercede for their community and help them get out of sin and be forgiven. Likewise, Jude 1:22-23 says this about our relationship with those caught in false teaching and sin: “And have mercy on those who waver; save others by snatching them out of the fire; have mercy on others, coupled with a fear of God, hating even the clothes stained by the flesh.” James 2:19-20 says this:
My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone turns him back, he should know that the one who turns a sinner back from his wandering path will save that person’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
Christ was not OK with simply having his relationship with God, the saints made righteous, and the angels in heaven. The sins and consequent judgment of the lost caused him to leave heaven and come down to the earth to die for and save sinners. Likewise, if our faith in Christ does not give us a great concern for those caught in sin and eternally lost, then there is something wrong with our faith. Faith in Jesus makes us more like him. Therefore, we must also be tremendously concerned with ministering to a lost world and the church within it.
Are we, as ministers, seeking to turn people away from sin to their Savior?
6. Ministers should represent God.
Malachi 2:7 says this about Levi, “he is the messenger of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.” As messengers, the original Levitical priests represented God, including by how they spoke and acted. Consequently, they were not allowed to add to the Word, soften it, or take away from it to make it more attractive to people, acceptable to the culture, or even less offensive to themselves. They also were not allowed to live in a way that dishonored the one they represented. Unfortunately, many professing believers who likewise represent God have watered down his Word. They have changed God’s standards for marriage, parenting, and the leadership of the church. They have changed grace into license for sin. And because of these things, they lead many into sin instead of toward God and holiness, and they store up judgment for themselves. As ministers, we must recognize that we represent God. People are always considering Christ, accepting him, or rejecting him based on their view of us. We are his representatives, his body on the earth. Are we seeking to represent Christ well in all we do?
As with the original Levitical priests, if we are going to be faithful ministers, we must be Word-centered. We must commit to deep and consistent study of God’s Word. We must study it, pray it, sing it, live it, and teach it so we can know God more and help others know him. Without doing so, we’ll be prone to the sins of the post-exilic priests, including falling into rebellion, false teaching, and pushing others away from Christ instead of to him. We’ll also come under God’s judgment.
One application we can take from God pointing the post-exilic priests to the example of their faithful ancestors is the need for us to also have godly examples. Yes, Christ is our perfect example whom we should never lose focus on (cf. Heb 12:2), but we also need godly human examples to model. Paul said this of himself and other godly examples in Philippians 3:17, “Be imitators of me, brothers and sisters, and watch carefully those who are living this way, just as you have us as an example.” And the writer of Hebrews said this about the models of faith like Noah, Abraham, and others in the Old Testament: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us” (12:1). By looking at the models of the faith in Hebrews 11, they would be challenged to get rid of sin and even non-sinful things that hindered them (maybe like their entertainment, hobbies, or relationships). The OT heroes of the faith would also be a tremendous inspiration to endure for the Hebrew Christians in their particular life race, including trials that came along with it.
Personally, as I find ministry exhausting, discouraging, and at times even desire to leave it altogether, I find the witness and example of older, more seasoned, faithful pastors a tremendous encouragement to me. It helps me get rid of sin and other areas of compromise and faithfully endure for just another day, week, season, and year. The post-exilic priests needed reminders of and inspiration from godly examples, and we need them too. Thank God for faithful examples! May God use us to be examples of faithful parents, workers, and servants of Christ to others!
Application Question: What characteristic of the ideal minister stood out most and why? Who has God used as a godly example in your life? How do they encourage you to be faithful to God? How is God calling you to grow in the characteristics of an ideal minister as seen in the original Levitical priests (Mal 2:5-7)?
To Be Faithful Ministers, We Must Be Careful of Common Stumbling Blocks in Ministry
“Now, you priests, this commandment is for you. If you do not listen and take seriously the need to honor my name,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “I will send judgment on you and turn your blessings into curses—indeed, I have already done so because you are not taking it to heart. I am about to discipline your children and will spread offal on your faces, the very offal produced at your festivals, and you will be carried away along with it. Then you will know that I sent this commandment to you so that my covenant may continue to be with Levi,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies … You, however, have turned from the way. You have caused many to violate the law; you have corrupted the covenant with Levi,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “Therefore, I have caused you to be ignored and belittled before all people to the extent to which you are not following after me and are showing partiality in your instruction.”
Malachi 2:1-4, 8-9
Finally, as we consider the totality of God’s challenge to the post-exilic priests in this passage, we see a few common pitfalls in ministry that we must be careful of. If we’re not, it will hinder and destroy our ministry to God and others.
Observation Question: What were some pitfalls of the priests’ ministry to God and others as seen in Malachi 2:1-4 and 8-9?
1. Be careful of serving God as a dull routine without a devoted heart.
In Malachi 2:2, God challenged them to take his command to honor his name “seriously,” and if they didn’t, they would be judged for “not taking it to heart.” The priests’ problem was a heart issue and not always an issue of their acts. Ministry and worship had become a vain and boring routine for them (Mal 1:13). Unfortunately, a lot of our worship and ministry to the Lord can turn into a dead routine without any heart or true worship. That can happen with reading the Bible, going to church, singing worship songs, preaching, and serving others. This was happening in the church of Ephesus though they were a very sound and biblical church. Consider how Jesus described them in Revelation 2:2-5:
‘I know your works as well as your labor and steadfast endurance, and that you cannot tolerate evil. You have even put to the test those who refer to themselves as apostles (but are not), and have discovered that they are false. I am also aware that you have persisted steadfastly, endured much for the sake of my name, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you: You have departed from your first love! Therefore, remember from what high state you have fallen and repent! Do the deeds you did at the first; if not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place—that is, if you do not repent.
There was so much right about this church. It was a doctrinally sound church that rejected false prophets. They were serving the Lord and enduring trials (probably including persecution). However, it’s possible to do the right things with a dead heart. That often happens in marriage when we take our spouses for granted and don’t pursue their hearts as we should. The relationship, though there is nothing wrong with it as far as the acts, lacks the love and passion it should have.
What do we do when our relationship with God has just become a dull routine? We don’t stop our righteous routines, we just reform them by confessing our sin to God and pursuing God with a deeper passion. Jesus told the Ephesian church to remember how they used to love him, repent, and seek him like they did at first. We also must remember when we loved God’s Word more, prayed more regularly, and pursued him in a deeper manner. As we recognize the deadness of our religion, we must repent and pursue God with all our hearts. Maybe, that means going to bed earlier to get up earlier to study God’s Word, pray, and seek him in a deeper way. With church, maybe that means coming to church earlier to prepare our hearts and seek him passionately. Maybe, that means cutting back on the busyness in our lives so we can take more time to serve others and get involved in a Bible study. We must be careful of dead routines in our religion and reform them through repentance and a renewed zeal.
2. Be careful of a self-focused (and at times possessive) attitude in worship and ministry.
In verse 3, when God says, “your festivals,” this seems to be sarcasm. They were supposed to be God’s festivals which were instituted after Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. They were a way to remember God’s acts and celebrate him. However, the priests were treating the festivals as though they were “their” festivals instead of God’s. This is why they could lower the standards of God’s sacrifices (Mal 1:7-8). They also were probably adding their own traditions to God’s festivals. Isaiah, who ministered to the Southern Kingdom of Israel before the exile, said this about Israel’s worship in his day:
The sovereign master says, “These people say they are loyal to me; they say wonderful things about me, but they are not really loyal to me. Their worship consists of nothing but man-made ritual.
Apparently, Israel had added lots of man-made traditions which actually distracted from God and hindered Israel’s worship of him. For Israel and their priests, the festivals, sacrifices, and worship services had become theirs instead of God’s.
Unfortunately, this commonly happens today. Those in leadership treat the church as though it’s theirs and not God’s, when in reality, they are only under-shepherds. They act like their decisions and teachings are never flawed or to be questioned, as though they directly speak for God (or are God). We must be careful of leadership like this. However, this also happens in the pew. For many, the church exists to serve and please them. It’s commonly been said there are two types of church members. Some come and say, “This is my church. How can I serve?” Others come and say, “This is my church. It exists to serve me.” Though the second may never say this directly, the excessive criticism they have for the church and those in it shows what’s in their heart. They are bothered by the worship, the preaching, the leadership, the members, the air conditioning, the heat, the seating, the coffee, and everything else. Anytime something doesn’t fit their standard, they criticize. We must be careful of acting like church exists for us and not God.
Are we at church to worship and serve God? Or is it primarily for us—to encourage us, satisfy us, or help us check our religious box? Be careful of a self-focused (and at times possessive) attitude in church.
3. Be careful of studying and sharing God’s Word but not applying it first to ourselves.
In Malachi 2:9, God said this to the priests, “Therefore, I have caused you to be ignored and belittled before all people to the extent to which you are not following after me and are showing partiality in your instruction.” Though the priests were teaching others to follow God, they were not following him properly themselves. They were studying and teaching but not first applying God’s Word to their hearts. Thus, God needed to rebuke them directly through Malachi, the prophet. Unfortunately, many ministers teach God’s Word but are not faithfully applying it first to themselves. In Matthew 23:3, Christ said this to his disciples about the Pharisees: “Therefore pay attention to what they tell you and do it. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they teach.” It is possible to teach others and yet not teach ourselves. It’s possible to feed others and yet not feed ourselves. We must first minister to ourselves so that we can faithfully minister to others. We must first repent so we can lead others in repentance. In Matthew 7:5, Christ said we must first take the plank out of our own eye so we can see clearly to take the speck out of another’s.
In our ministry to others, we must first remember to minister to ourselves by repenting of our sins. If we don’t, we dishonor God who we represent and will turn others away from God. This is also true with parenting. If children see hypocrisy, including religious hypocrisy, in our lives, we will lose our ability to truly parent them, as their hearts and ears will close.
Before we minister to others, are we ministering to ourselves through studying God’s Word and applying it?
4. Be careful of showing partiality in ministry.
In Malachi 2:9, God says he would shame them publicly in part because of the “partiality” they showed in their instruction. Priests were called to aid in overseeing cases in Israel as they were to be experts on the Mosaic law (Lev 19:15, Dt 17:8-9). They were apparently tempted to favor the rich to get favor from them and harshly treat the poor or common because they had nothing to offer. Micah, who prophesied during the divided kingdom, said the priests during his time-period proclaimed “rulings for profit”—probably referring to them taking bribes (3:11). Maybe, the partiality also applied to how they were lessening the standards of God’s law for their benefit in accepting blemished sacrificed. Since they ate from the sacrifices, a blemished sacrifice was better than no sacrifice at all. In that way, they were lifting themselves up over God and others. They were favoring themselves.
James also warned the Christians of his day against partiality in James 2:1-13. When the rich attended the church, they would honor them by giving them a seat. But when the poor attended, they would have them stand in the back or sit by their feet. They took the standards of the world and applied them in the church. Sadly, we do the same. The church commonly looks down on those with less education or money and exalts those who have more. The church commonly struggles with great ethnocentrism as it favors those of the same race or ethnicity and treats those of another as less. This was happening in the early church as the Jewish Christians provided food for the Hebrew widows and not the Greek ones, though they were both Jewish (Acts 6). The church must be careful of showing partiality like the world, lest they come under God’s judgment for not representing him. If anything, the church is called to show special favor to the poor and the foreigner because God shows special favor to them when the world does not. Consider the following verses:
For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, mighty, and awesome God who is unbiased and takes no bribe, who justly treats the orphan and widow, and who loves resident foreigners, giving them food and clothing. So you must love the resident foreigner because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.
Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their adversity and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
… have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man…
Are we showing partiality to the rich, educated, and beautiful while looking down on the poor, uneducated, and plain? Are we harboring ethnocentrism—pride in our own race—or nationalism—pride in our nation—and looking down on others? If so, we have harbored evil thoughts before God, as we are all made in his image and display his dignity and God desires all the nations to know and follow him. He desires the nations so much that he commonly tells us to leave our own to reach others, including nations that are enemies of ours (see the story of Jonah).
If we are going to be faithful ministers to God, we must be careful of common pitfalls in ministry including dead, religious routines, a self-focused (and at times possessive) attitude, teaching God’s Word but not first applying to ourselves, and showing favoritism and partiality in our ministry where we look just like the world by honoring the haves and dishonoring the have nots.
Application Question: Which common pitfall in ministry stood out most and why? How have you seen or fallen into some of these pitfalls in ministry? What are some other pitfalls in ministry that we must be careful of?
How can we be faithful ministers of God? In Malachi 2:1-9, God rebukes the post-exilic priests. They were not honoring God nor being committed to his Word. He reminds them of his judgment and the chaste example of the early Levitical priests to help them repent and continue in ministry. This text teaches us that:
1. To Be Faithful Ministers, We Must Minister with a Reverent Fear of God
2. To Be Faithful Ministers, We Must Be Word-Centered
3. To Be Faithful Ministers, We Must Be Careful of Common Stumbling Blocks in Ministry
Application Question: What stood out most in the study and why?
• Pray for God to help us have a reverent fear of God that guides and motivates our ministry to him and others.
• Pray for God to help us know his Word in a deeper manner and more effectively share it with others including believers and unbelievers.
• Pray for God to deliver us from every temptation and protect us from the enemy.
• Pray for God to empower our spiritual leaders (both in our congregation and abroad), give them wisdom, make them holy and fruitful, bless their families, and protect them from the enemy.