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Malachi Series: Preventing Spiritual Disillusionment (Mal 3:13-18)

Updated: Sep 2, 2023

Preventing Spiritual Disillusionment

“You have criticized me sharply,” says the Lord, “but you ask, ‘How have we criticized you?’ You have said, ‘It is useless to serve God. How have we been helped by keeping his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord of Heaven’s Armies? So now we consider the arrogant to be blessed; indeed, those who practice evil are successful. In fact, those who challenge God escape!’” Then those who respected the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord took notice. A scroll was prepared before him in which were recorded the names of those who respected the Lord and honored his name. “They will belong to me,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “in the day when I prepare my own special property. I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you will see that I make a distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between the one who serves God and the one who does not.

Malachi 3:13–18

How can we prevent spiritual disillusionment, as we serve the Lord?

In Malachi 3:13-18, the post-exilic Jews were complaining against God as they did throughout the book (cf. Mal 1:2, 12-13, 2:17). This time, they were declaring that it was useless or vain to serve the Lord (v. 14). When they looked around at the pagans surrounding them who worshiped other gods and practiced gross sins, they were prospering financially, and Israel was struggling. Though Israel was back in their land, they were still under the rule of the Persian government. They were offering sacrifices to God in accordance with the Mosaic law and mourning over their sins and yet it seemed like God wasn’t listening, as their circumstances hadn’t changed. Also, there were probably some in Israel who were wealthy and rebelled against God’s laws and yet never seemed to be punished. This discouraged the religious in Israel and caused many to question God.

There is nothing wrong with questioning God while we pour out our hearts to him. That can actually lead to greater faith as we seek him, study his Word, and trust him even when things don’t make sense. However, there is a type of questioning based on a lack of faith that turns into criticism, accusation, and even blasphemy. That is what many of the post-exilic Israelites were doing. They declared, “The prideful are blessed, those who practice evil are successful, and those who challenge God don’t get punished!” (v. 15 paraphrase).

This was not the first time that the post-exilic Jews challenged God about this. Earlier in Malachi 2:17, Malachi said:

You have wearied the Lord with your words. But you say, “How have we wearied him?” Because you say, “Everyone who does evil is good in the Lord’s opinion, and he delights in them,” or “Where is the God of justice?”

It might seem strange that the prophet repeats a similar argument so soon; however, this means it was something the post-exilic Jews were really struggling with. They asked, “If God is for us, why are we suffering?” Maybe, some had even started to struggle with atheism, as they cried out, “Where is the God of justice?”

With that said, others amongst the post-exilic Jews were not criticizing God, though their circumstances were less than ideal. Instead, they gathered together, spoke with one another to encourage each other, and consequently, God heard them and promised to reward them (v. 16-18). They made have had doubts and questions as well, but instead of criticizing God and turning away from him, they turned toward God and one another to find strength.

From this text, we learn principles about preventing disillusionment in our walk of faith and ministry in general. Clearly, some of these Jews were tempted to doubt God, become angry at him, and fall away from him because of their circumstances. Unfortunately, that commonly happens in the church as well when we aim to serve the Lord but still experience many difficulties in life. Disillusionment can lead to anger at God and the church, burnout, and even falling away from God altogether. Certainly, this happens all the time in the church today, as it was happening with the post-exilic Jews.

Big Question: What principles can be discerned about preventing spiritual disillusionment in our service of the Lord?

To Prevent Spiritual Disillusionment, We Must Avoid Complaining and Grumbling

“You have criticized me sharply,” says the Lord, “but you ask, ‘How have we criticized you?’ You have said, ‘It is useless to serve God. How have we been helped by keeping his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord of Heaven’s Armies?

Malachi 3:13-14

As mentioned, the Israelites were complaining about God. This happened throughout the entire book. They complained about God’s love (1:2, “How have you shown love to us?”), his justice (2:17, “Where is the God of justice?”), and serving him in general (1:12-13, 3:14: “saying that the table of the Lord is common and its offerings despicable” and that it was “useless to serve God”). Their suffering as a nation and the prosperity of the pagan nations surrounding them who at times attacked and oppressed them caused the post-exilic Jews to doubt God’s goodness and plan.

Obviously, Israel also complained against God at other times throughout their history. In fact, it could be called a characteristic of the nation. When God delivered them from Egypt and led them through the wilderness, they complained against God then as well. They complained about a lack of water (Ex 15) and a lack of food (Ex 16), and when they got food, they eventually complained about a lack of meat (Num 11). Throughout their entire wilderness journey, they continually complained about their leadership (Num 16). Because of all their complaining, God judged them multiple times and many died (Num 11:33-34, 16:31-35). In 1 Corinthians 10:10-11, Paul said this about Israel’s complaining in the wilderness: “And do not complain, as some of them did, and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come.” Paul said God killed them because of their complaining. Specifically, in Numbers 11 and 16, God brought a severe plague, an earthquake where the ground opened up, and a fire that wiped out many grumbling Israelites.

Without properly meditating on Israel’s wilderness story, many of us might have little sympathy for them. However, the Israelites are just like us. Again, consider the fact that they wandered in the wilderness without water for three days, and when they found some, it was bitter (Ex 15:22-23). Since we’re accustomed to having a drink any time we want, just as the Israelites were in Egypt, it would be very hard for us to not complain when lacking fluids. Then when they were hungry, God gave them manna from heaven for food, which was great. But the problem was that was all they ate for days, weeks, and probably months at a time. What if they didn’t like the taste or the texture of it? Apart from that, is it possible to not complain, at least in our heart, if we’re eating the same food every day with no variety? Who wouldn’t complain? Also, we must remember the fact that they wanted some meat (Num 11:4). For some of us, a meal without meat is not a meal. It’s a snack. Though Israel often gets a bad rap for their complaining in the wilderness, the reality is that most of us would have been judged along with them. Hiking for days without water would have caused us to complain, eating the same food for months would have caused us to complain, and for many of us, myself included, not having any meat is almost like blasphemy!

One of the things we learn from Israel’s wilderness wanderings and their post-exile experience is that complaining is incompatible with our salvation. They were saved from slavery in Egypt and God deemed it unreasonable for them to complain after such a large display of grace. Certainly, this was also true with Israel during Malachi’s time. After God judged them through the exile for breaking his laws and worshipping other gods, God forgave them and brought them back to their land. Certainly, there were still some consequences from their sins. They had to rebuild the temple, the capital city, and much of the infrastructure that was previously destroyed when conquered by Babylon. They were under Persian rule. Things were not easy for them, but God had still given them much grace, especially after all their previous sins and their repeated sins after the return. Their complaining was incompatible with their salvation and the grace they had received even after salvation. Also, their complaining only contributed to their disillusionment and rebellion—leading to further discipline from God.

One of the things we must understand about complaining is that it is not a little sin to God; it is a big sin. The writer of Hebrews said this about bitterness in the context of the Hebrew Christians experiencing trials: “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God, that no one be like a bitter root springing up and causing trouble, and through it many become defiled” (Heb 12:15). Bitterness and complaining is contagious. Not only does it blind us to all the ways God has graced us, but it also spreads to others. It spreads throughout a family, an organization, and a church—limiting and sometimes destroying spiritual growth.

We get a good picture of the contagiousness of bitter, complaining hearts with Israel before they entered the promised land. They sent twelve spies to survey the land God promised them (Num 13). Two of them came back with a positive report of God’s faithfulness and how good the land was; while ten of them complained about the giants and the impossibility of taking the land. They then complained about God and Moses and convinced the Israelites not to go into the land (Num 13-14). “This task is too great!” they said. This root of bitterness coming from only ten Israelites defiled the whole nation and led to God’s judgment. The Israelites were judged by God and called to wander in the wilderness for forty years and everybody over twenty died in the wilderness for their rebellion.

What we must see is that this was happening again with the post-exilic Israelites. Probably, a prominent few were complaining against God publicly which was spreading throughout Israel and killing the faith of many. As a person doubted God’s goodness publicly, those seeds of doubt and bitterness were sown into his spouse, children, friends, extended family, and tribe. Consequently, not only were individuals disillusioned with God, but the majority of the community was—leading to various sins.

This happens today with us as believers as well. When we go through conflict with our family, financial struggles, health issues, work difficulties, etc., we tend to complain. Unlike Israel, we may not always directly complain against God. We complain about our spouse, children, co-workers, parents, bosses, government, or nation. However, since Scripture teaches that God is in control of all these events and people, we ultimately are complaining against him and his sovereignty (cf. Eph 1:11, Rom 8:28, Prov 21:1, etc.). Certainly, there is a place for pointing out wrong, injustice, or foolishness. But the manner is very important. In our pointing out wrong, we can be bitter, critical, and mean, or hopeful, helpful, and kind. We should be hopeful, helpful, and kind because we believe God is in control and trust him with the outcome. Consequently, in Philippians 2:14-15, God says this to believers:

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God without blemish though you live in a crooked and perverse society, in which you shine as lights in the world

“Grumbling” can also be translated “complaining” as in the NASB. Certainly, it would be a lot easier if God said, “Do most things without complaining!” However, he says “everything,” which is extremely challenging and can only be accomplished by God’s grace.

Application Question: How can we get rid of a complaining disposition which often leads to disillusionment with God, negatively affects others, and leads to our discipline (cf. 1 Cor 10:10-11, Heb 12:15)?

1. We get rid of a complaining disposition by learning to trust God more.

Solomon said this: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Prov 3:5). Also, in Isaiah 55:8-9, God said this:

“Indeed, my plans are not like your plans, and my deeds are not like your deeds,” says the Lord, “for just as the sky is higher than the earth, so my deeds are superior to your deeds and my plans superior to your plans.

The reason we complain and argue essentially is because we don’t trust God with our circumstances. We don’t trust that he is working all things out for our good (Rom 8:28). Also, often like Eve in the garden, we’re tempted to doubt God’s essential nature—his goodness (Psalm 135:3). The Lord is good and everything good comes from him (Jam 1:17). Therefore, to complain is to challenge his nature—his goodness. When we trust that we have an all-wise God working all things out for our good, then this trust will deliver us from complaining—complaining about God and others.

2. We get rid of a complaining disposition by acknowledging God’s sovereignty in all situations.

Ephesians 1:11 says God works “all things” according to the counsel of his will. Scripture teaches that God is in control of everything. Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord like channels of water; he turns it wherever he wants.” God controls the hearts of our leaders (and everyone else) like a person moving around water in his hand. He is sovereign over the hearts of people.

Certainly, the sovereignty of God is a difficult and controversial doctrine; however, it must be understood that this doctrine is crucial for us to “do everything without grumbling and arguing.” Therefore, it is an essential doctrine for our holiness in general and also for prayer. If God isn’t in control of everything, why pray? It is the backbone of a deep prayer life. If we don’t believe God is in control of everything, then we will not pray as we ought.

To not complain we must not only trust in God’s character but also acknowledge God’s sovereignty. Only a person who is fully trustworthy and good is worthy to be sovereign over the affairs of all things. We may not understand why tragedies happen in the world, but we can have peace because our God is altogether good, trustworthy, and sovereign over all situations.

3. We get rid of a complaining disposition by practicing thankfulness in every situation.

If we believe God is in control and we trust God, then we can practice thankfulness even in difficult situations. First Thessalonians 5:18 says, “In everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 says,

Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Paul says when we practice thanksgiving, prayer, and offer our request to God “in every situation,” God will guard our hearts with his peace. When Job lost his business and children, he declared, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. May the name of the Lord be blessed!” (Job 1:21). Are we practicing thanksgiving in everything? It’s essential to overcoming a complaining disposition that spoils our faith, brings disillusionment, and hurts others.

If we are going to prevent disillusionment, burnout, anger at God, and the like, we must be avoid complaining. It hurts us, others, and God.

Application Question: What are some things that you are often tempted to argue and complain about? In what ways do you struggle with discontentment? How do you practice (or is God calling you to practice) thankfulness and contentment to protect your faith (cf. 1 Tim 6:6-8)?

To Prevent Spiritual Disillusionment, We Must Avoid a Self-Focused Attitude That’s all about Profit

You have said, ‘It is useless to serve God. How have we been helped by keeping his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord of Heaven’s Armies? … Then those who respected the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord took notice.

Malachi 3:14, 16

It’s clear that the post-exilic Jews were upset with God. To them, God had not been faithful with his part of the covenant (Dt 28). Malachi 3:14 in the ESV translates their criticism of God this way, they said, “What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts?” The Hebrew word for “profit” was a technical term used for a weaver cutting a piece of cloth free from a loom, which was a machine used for weaving yarn or thread. The Jews were speaking to God like a gangster, declaring that they wanted their “cut” or percentage of the profit. Because their heart was all about “profit” and not worshiping God and completing his mission, it brought disillusionment to their faith when they didn’t get what they wanted. Certainly, it’s true, God’s covenant with Israel promised blessing if they obeyed and curses if they didn’t (Dt 28). However, they were the ones breaking God’s covenant by their sins; it wasn’t God. Beyond that, their mercenary hearts, which were all about profit, would never be satisfied with any blessings God gave. They would always be discontent and want more.

Unfortunately, this is common with many in the church. They serve God only for what they can get. It must be heard that many blessings come from serving the Lord, but we should serve God for more than the benefits. We must serve him because he is God and worthy of our obedience and worship. We must serve him because he is our Creator, Savior, and Sustainer, and all his ways are best.

Throughout Scripture, we see warnings against serving God for the wrong motives. In Matthew 6:1, Christ said this: “Be careful not to display your righteousness merely to be seen by people. Otherwise you have no reward with your Father in heaven.” Christ was warning his disciples to not worship God like the Pharisees. They did their fasting, praying, and giving to be seen by others; consequently, they would get no reward from God. They served God for the wrong motive—to be seen and adored by others. That was their profit. Also, in 1 Timothy 6:5, Paul warned Timothy about those “who suppose that godliness is a way of making a profit.” Many pastor/teachers were serving God simply because they wanted to make money. Paul warned Timothy that the love of money was the root of all types of evil and that many had fallen away from the faith because of it (1 Tim 6:9-10). Certainly, many serve God to be revered, while others serve him with the hope of making wealth. Others might serve him for relational benefits such as the enjoyment of Christian friends, family, and community in general. However, all these motives will ultimately lead to disillusionment in ministry because our reason for serving is really us—it’s self-centered instead of God-centered. We should serve God because he is worthy. We see this with the second group in this passage. In Malachi 3:16, they are called those who “respected the Lord” or “feared the Lord” (ESV). They served God because he was worthy, awesome, and because he deserved it. In Matthew 22:37, Christ said the greatest commandment was to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” In 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, Paul said if we did any type of ministry including speaking in the tongues of men or angels (forms of prayer) or giving all we have to the poor without love, it profits us nothing. God wants our hearts and if we don’t love him (and others), it brings us no profit. God does not accept it or reward us for it. The greatest command is for us to love God with all our hearts. Matthew 5:8 says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Pure in heart can also be translated “the single in mind.” Those who are single in mind in that they want to worship and know God above all things, he blesses. He meets their needs and provides for them. He reveals more of himself to them.

Therefore, we must ask ourselves, “Why do we serve, obey, and worship God? Is it for profit?” Certainly, many benefits come from faithfully following God including peace, joy, perseverance in trials, love for God and others (Gal 5:22-23), having our needs met (Matt 6:33), and receiving rewards in heaven (Matt 6:19). However, our greatest motive, as reflected in the greatest commandment, is to love and worship God. And the second is to love our neighbor as ourselves. We must be careful of a mercenary heart, which does everything for profit. In John 10:11-15, Christ described a hired worker who was overseeing the sheep. When the wolf came, because he was just there for money, he ran away instead of protecting the sheep. However, a good shepherd who loves the sheep gives his life for them when the wolf comes. This is also true for those who serve God. Those who truly love him and are not worshiping him simply for profit will be able to stand when trials come. However, those who are just there for profit will become disillusioned with God, angry with him, and commonly quit. Serving God for profit—simply for what we can get—always leads to disillusionment when hardships come. Like the seed sown on the shallow ground in the Parable of the Sowers, this person commonly falls away when trials happen because their root is not deep (Matt 13:20-21). They have a shallow faith and commitment to God.

First Corinthians 10:31 says, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” We must serve God because he is worthy and good, because he is our Creator, Savior, Sustainer, and because we want to glorify him, and not just for the benefits—though they are many.

Application Question: In what ways can wrong motives in ministry or life in general lead to spiritual disillusionment and sin (cf. Matt 5:8, 6:1-8)? Is it always wrong to do things for profit? Why or why not? How can we purify our motives, so we are serving God to know him and glorify him instead of for profit?

To Prevent Spiritual Disillusionment, We Must Avoid Focusing on and Comparing Ourselves with Others

So now we consider the arrogant to be blessed; indeed, those who practice evil are successful. In fact, those who challenge God escape!’”

Malachi 3:15

Another clear problem with the post-exilic Jews was their focus on others and their blessings. When the Jews looked around at the arrogant and evil, it seemed as though they were blessed and successful. Even those who were challenging God through their rebellion seemed to escape without God’s judgment. It’s not clear who the Jews were looking at, whether the ungodly in Israel or the ungodly nations outside of it. Either way, their wandering eyes led them into covetousness, discouragement, and anger with God. As they considered the ungodly around them and their prosperity, it discouraged the Jews and caused them to criticize God. This also happened with Asaph in Psalm 73 as he also focused on the wicked. In Psalm 73:2-12, he said this:

But as for me, my feet almost slipped; my feet almost slid out from under me. For I envied those who are proud, as I observed the prosperity of the wicked. For they suffer no pain; their bodies are strong and well fed. They are immune to the trouble common to men; they do not suffer as other men do. Arrogance is their necklace, and violence covers them like clothing. Their prosperity causes them to do wrong; their thoughts are sinful. They mock and say evil things; they proudly threaten violence. They speak as if they rule in heaven, and lay claim to the earth. Therefore they have more than enough food to eat, and even suck up the water of the sea. They say, “How does God know what we do? Is the Most High aware of what goes on?” Take a good look. This is what the wicked are like, those who always have it so easy and get richer and richer.

When Asaph was focusing on the wicked, he stumbled spiritually. He began to question his obedience to God. In verses 13-14, he said, “Surely in vain I have kept my motives pure and maintained a pure lifestyle. I suffer all day long, and am punished every morning.” It wasn’t until he entered God’s temple to meet with him that he had peace. Verse 17 says, “Then I entered the precincts of God’s temple and understood the destiny of the wicked.”

Likewise, one of the things that will commonly cause us to become disillusioned in our faith and ministry is focusing on others instead of God. This can lead to pride when we are successful, or it will lead to insecurity, discouragement, and depression when we struggle. Both can lead us to criticize, neglect, or rebel against God. In 2 Corinthians 10:12 (NIV), Paul said this: “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.”

Many today are disillusioned with God and their calling because of their focus on others. When they look at their social media feed and see their friends, their marriages, children, careers, and wealth, they become disheartened with what God has given them. With others, as they watch the TV and the wealthy the world parades in front of us—telling us what to buy or wear, what job to have, where to go school, and who to date or marry—it leads to discouragement with God’s plan for us. Sometimes, it is the expectations of family, friends, and co-workers that leads us away from God and his plan for us. Again, all of these can lead to dissatisfaction and struggles with our faith.

It is good for us to remember that with God’s only Son who became human, God didn’t choose to raise him in a wealthy family; he was birthed into a poor family. After his birth, they couldn’t offer lamb sacrifices at the temple; they sacrificed two turtledoves, which was the sacrifice of the poor. God’s Son was not tall or attractive which would have been desired in that society. Isaiah 53:2 says, “he had no stately form or majesty that might catch our attention, no special appearance that we should want to follow him.” Also, God’s Son didn’t live in a nice neighborhood. He lived in the ghetto. When the religious leaders heard about his hometown, they declared, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). Vocationally, when people who worked with their hands were looked down upon in Greco-Roman society, God made his Son a carpenter. When his Son died, he died the most shameful death in that ancient world, death on a cross. Deuteronomy 21:23 says, “for the one who is left exposed on a tree is cursed by God.” In every societal metric, Christ would have failed and been rejected. However, he was perfect and pleasing to the Father (Matt 3:17, 17:5). He is what all believers should aim to be. And yet, if Christ used society’s metric to measure himself, it would have led to discouragement and disillusionment with God as it does with many believers today. In addition, when comparing ourselves with others, we must remember that God is ultimately the potter who is in control of people’s lives. Yes, we make free choices. But, ultimately God places one person in a wealthy country and a wealthy family with opportunities others don’t have and places another in a country that is not very wealthy and a family without much money with limited opportunities, just as God did with Christ. We must realize he gives us different gifts and places in different spheres for his glory and to honor him. And we must remember God won’t judge us by the standards of success in our society; we’ll be judged based on faithfulness to God’s Word and with the gifts and opportunities he gives us. If we are going to be kept from disillusionment in our ministry to the Lord, we must be careful not to focus on others nor compare ourselves with them. As Paul said, those who do this are “not wise” (2 Cor 10:12). Instead, we must focus on God and what the Lord has called us to do.

It’s good to remember Peter’s conversation with Christ in John 21 after being restored to ministry after his betrayal. Christ essentially told Peter that he was going to die a martyr (v. 18-19). However, after this, Peter asked Christ about John (v. 21). In John 22:22, Christ responded, “If I want him to live until I come back, what concern is that of yours? You follow me!” Likewise, if God wants to bless others (including evil people) with more wealth, health, and opportunities than us, what does that have to do with us? Either way, we must focus on the Lord and faithfully follow him. Hebrews 12:1-2 says it this way, “… and run with endurance the race set out for us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith…” We must focus on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. He initiated our faith and will complete it as we focus on and follow him. When we take our eyes off him to focus on our circumstances and other people, we’ll stumble in our respective races, and some might even quit. Likewise, the Jews were comparing themselves with others which led to discouragement and criticizing God. We must be careful of the sin of comparison and instead focus on faithfully following our Lord and serving him wherever he has placed us. Are our eyes on the Lord or others?

Application Question: How do you struggle with comparing yourself with others? Why is comparing ourselves with others unhealthy? How can we avoid unhealthy comparisons? How is God calling you to protect yourself from unhealthy comparisons and focus more on him and his calling?

To Prevent Spiritual Disillusionment, We Must Consistently Gather with Other Faithful Believers for Mutual Encouragement

Then those who respected the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord took notice.

Malachi 3:16

As mentioned, there were two groups of Jews in this passage. One group, which was probably the majority, was looking at the evil people who were prospering, probably both within the Jewish community and outside of it. This caused them to criticize God, and some may have rejected him completely. However, within the Jewish community, there was still a remnant of faithful believers. Historically, even in the most difficult seasons spiritually, God has always preserved a faithful remnant who followed him. During Elijah’s time when Israel was rebelling against God by worshiping Baal, God preserved 7,000 who had never bowed down to worship and kiss Baal (1 Kgs 19:18). Likewise, in the midst of sin, apathy, and hardness of heart, there was a faithful remnant amongst the post-exilic Jews who continued to respect the Lord and obey him. The word “respected” can also be translated “feared.” They “feared the Lord” (ESV), meaning that they reverenced him, adored him, loved him, and at the same time feared his displeasure and discipline. The term feared the Lord is used throughout Old Testament to refer to holiness and righteous living coming from a right relationship with God. Consider the following verses:

Do not be wise in your own estimation; fear the Lord and turn away from evil.

Proverbs 3:7

The beginning of wisdom is to fear the Lord, and acknowledging the Holy One is understanding.

Proverbs 9:10

Praise the Lord! Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments!

Psalm 112:1 ESV

Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways!

Psalm 128:1 ESV

Those who fear the Lord turn away from evil (Prov 3:7), grow in godly wisdom (Prov 9:10), delight in God’s Word (Ps 112:1), and follow his ways (Ps 128:1). They are different from the rest of society who ignores God, disobeys him, or denies his existence.

This remnant within Israel did not only worship God individually but corporately, as they gathered to worship God and encourage one another in this dark season in Israel. As mentioned, even many of the “religious” Jews were sinning against God. It was a lonely season for a Jew who truly feared the Lord and tried to follow his ways.

Likewise, this is also true for us. In following God, we will always be a minority, sometimes even within a local church or denomination that professes him. If we are going to avoid disillusionment with our faith and in ministry, we must continually gather with other faithful believers to encourage one another, carry each other burdens, and worship God together. Hebrews 10:24-25 says,

And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near.

Practically speaking, this includes gathering on Sundays for worship, but it is much more than that. In Sunday worship, it is hard for us to complete many of the “one another” aspects of Hebrews 10:24-25 and throughout the New Testament. We’re called to “take thought of how to spur ‘one another’ on to love and good works” and to be “encouraging each other.” In John 13:34, Christ calls us to love “one another.” Galatians 6:2 says, “Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” James 5:16 says, “So confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed.” One author said there are over thirty “one another” texts in the New Testament. We fulfill these texts best outside of Sunday worship when we gather with believers in small groups or one-on-one situations. It’s good to remember that the early church, which was a mega-church of 3,000, gathered at the temple for worship but, also, from house to house to study Scripture, worship, and fellowship. Acts 2:46-47 says:

Every day they continued to gather together by common consent in the temple courts, breaking bread from house to house, sharing their food with glad and humble hearts, praising God and having the good will of all the people.

Ideally, every local church should not be a church with small groups but a church of small groups, where everybody is meeting together in smaller gatherings to fulfill the “one another” passages in Scripture. Thinking about one another, loving one another, spurring one another to love God and good works, encouraging one another, carrying each other’s burdens, praying for one another, and using our gifts to serve one another. Very few people can use their spiritual gifts on a Sunday, but each of us can use them in small groups or one-on-one as we meet with others.

In fact, since gathering with others for corporate worship, mutual encouragement, and serving one another is so important for our faith, it’s very possible that many of those who were criticizing God had stopped gathering for corporate worship or were attending sparsely or half-heartedly. This is true with most houses of worship. Those who most love God most love his people and therefore find ways to meet with them regularly to build them up. For example, when Christ restored Peter after he denied the Lord three times, Christ kept asking Peter, “Do you love me?” Then Christ would say, “Feed my sheep and lambs” (John 21:15-17 paraphrase). For Christ, love for him could not be divorced from caring for his people, especially the weaker ones (the lambs). It was through loving the sheep that love for Christ was expressed and enjoyed. Likewise, those amongst the post-exilic Jews who truly feared the Lord, gathered together with other faithful saints to encourage another, worship God, and build each other up. Apart from faithfully opening up and sharing life with other believers, we will be prone to stumble into sin and spiritual disillusionment.

Application Question: Why is gathering with other believers for worship, encouragement, accountability, and service so important for our faith? What are some potential consequences of neglecting to gather with other believers? How has God enriched your faith through being involved in smaller gatherings with believers, like small group, ministries, or accountability relationships?

To Prevent Spiritual Disillusionment, We Must Understand the Reward of the Righteous

Then those who respected the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord took notice. A scroll was prepared before him in which were recorded the names of those who respected the Lord and honored his name. “They will belong to me,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “in the day when I prepare my own special property. I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you will see that I make a distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between the one who serves God and the one who does not.

Malachi 3:16–18

After describing those in the second group, those who feared the Lord and gathered to encourage one another, Malachi described the various blessings these people would receive from the Lord. The first group, which was spiritually disillusioned and criticizing God, believed that there was no profit in serving God (v. 14). The proud prospered, the wicked were successful, and those who challenged God were never disciplined (v. 15). However, Malachi shows faithful people in Israel who were serving the Lord in the midst of their difficulties and that God would reward them. There is indeed profit in serving the Lord, though it’s not always immediate. As the faithful heard or read Malachi’s words, they would have been encouraged to persevere in the faith. Likewise, various rewards come with faithfully following God, some that we receive in this life but much more in the next. In secular society, rewards are given as a motivation to excel whether in sports, academics, or business. Similarly, God promises us various rewards if we are faithful which are meant to encourage us to do so as well. First Corinthians 9:24-25 says:

Do you not know that all the runners in a stadium compete, but only one receives the prize? So run to win. Each competitor must exercise self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.

Matthew 5:6 says, “But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.” And Matthew 6:19-21 says,

Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and devouring insect destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and devouring insect do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.

Though the first group had a mercenary heart that was all about profit on earth, wealth and success, there are appropriate awards that we should seek which are given as motivations for us to be faithful on earth.

Observation Question: What rewards or blessings would the faithful post-exilic Jews receive from God?

1. For the post-exilic Jews’ faithfulness, God heard their worship and prayers and would bless them.

After those who feared the Lord gathered, the NET version says, “the Lord took notice.” It can also be translated as in the ESV, “The Lord paid attention and heard them.” Though we’re not told exactly what they said to each other, because it says they feared the Lord and that God heard them (v. 16), we can assume that part of their time together was worship and prayer. Ephesians 5:19 described how when we’re filled with the Spirit we speak “to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” In worship and prayer, there is a sense in which we both speak to God and one another about the glory of God. This was the very thing many of unfaithful post-exilic Jews were upset about. Malachi 2:13 says, “you weep and groan, because he no longer pays any attention to the offering nor accepts it favorably from you.” Because of their sins, God was not accepting their worship. In Psalm 66:18, David said it this way, “If I had harbored sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” When we are in rebellion against God and neglect him, it hinders the effectiveness of our prayers.

Likewise, when we faithfully follow the Lord, he hears our prayers and blesses us. In John 15:7, Christ said this: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want, and it will be done for you.” James 5:16 says, “The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness.” However, James 1:7-8 says that a doubleminded man is unstable in all his ways, and he will receive nothing from the Lord. Being doubleminded, trying to live for God and the world, hinders the effectiveness of our prayers. Like any good parent, God realizes if he rewards his children when they are disobedient that only hardens them in rebellion, while rewarding them when they are righteous encourages further righteousness.

Though the rebellious believed there was no profit in serving God, there was and is. God rewards the prayers of his righteous ones, and he moves on their behalf. That doesn’t mean God answers every request. He doesn’t. He only gives his children what is good and best. However, like other good parents, he delights to bless them by giving them their hearts’ desires. Psalm 37:4 (ESV) says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” God rewards the righteous by answering their prayers, but he withholds his generous hand when his children are in rebellion.

2. For the post-exilic Jews’ faithfulness, God memorialized them by writing their names in a book so they could be rewarded.

When it says, “A scroll was prepared before him in which were recorded the names,” it can also be translated “a book of remembrance was written before him” (v. 16 ESV). This seems to correspond with the actions of kings in those days. Commonly the major events in a kingdom and remarkable works of its citizens were written in a book so they could be remembered and often rewarded. This is what happened with Mordecai in the book of Esther. Because of his exceptional deed of preventing an assassination of the king, his name and acts were written down in a book of remembrance. One night, the king of Persia couldn’t sleep and therefore read the book. When he was made aware of this event, he greatly rewarded Mordecai. Esther 6:1-3 (ESV) says,

On that night the king could not sleep. And he gave orders to bring the book of memorable deeds, the chronicles, and they were read before the king. And it was found written how Mordecai had told about Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s eunuchs, who guarded the threshold, and who had sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus. And the king said, “What honor or distinction has been bestowed on Mordecai for this?” The king’s young men who attended him said, “Nothing has been done for him.”

Moreover, though there are great rewards now for faithfulness in serving God, like answered prayer, spiritual family, and knowing God in a deeper way, these rewards will be multiplied in the coming kingdom. Hebrews 6:10 says, “For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love you have demonstrated for his name, in having served and continuing to serve the saints.” Therefore, though we may suffer now and experience many difficulties, God remembers our faithfulness, our sacrifice, and how we care for his people, and one day, we will be rewarded. Not only does he record our faithful works, but also records our sufferings and tears. All of them will be taken into account on the day of reward. Psalm 56:8 says, “You keep track of my misery. Put my tears in your leather container. Are they not recorded in your scroll?” Also, all God’s redeemed have their names written in the book of life (cf. Rev 13:8, 20:15). In Philippians 4:2-3, Paul said

I appeal to Euodia and to Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I say also to you, true companion, help them. They have struggled together in the gospel ministry along with me and Clement and my other coworkers, whose names are in the book of life.

Thank you, Lord!

3. For the post-exilic Jews’ faithfulness, God took them as his special treasure and would especially care for and provide for them.

In verse 17, God said, “‘They will belong to me,’ says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, ‘in the day when I prepare my own special property.” The phrase “special property” can also be translated “treasured possession” (ESV) or “jewels” (NKJV). This was a technical term used of a king and his personal wealth, apart from the wealth of the state (cf. 1 Chr 29:3, Ecc 2:8). It represented how precious these people were to God but also their safety. A king’s personal treasures were kept locked away tightly so no one could steal them. The Jews that feared the Lord were precious to God and he would keep them safe. God aimed to comfort and encourage the faithful Jews and help them persevere by telling them this.

Likewise, we must know God’s great love and care for us as well if we are going to persevere in the faith and not become disillusioned in difficult times. When Satan tempted Eve in the garden, he attacked her trust in God. He tried to make her believe God was a liar and that he was keeping the best from her. Similarly, when Job went through trials, Satan’s aimed to get Job to curse God—to get him to believe God didn’t care for him. This means our understanding of how much God loves and cares for us is extremely important in keeping us from sinning and turning away from God. This is why Satan commonly attacks our view of God.

Furthermore, in considering the term “treasured possession” or “special property,” God used the same Hebrew term for Israel after he delivered them from slavery in Egypt. Exodus 19:5 says, “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.” Amongst the post-exilic Jews, the remnant who feared the Lord were truly his special treasure because they diligently listened to God and kept his covenant. Likewise, God says the same thing about believers in the New Testament. In Ephesians 1:17-18, Paul prays that believers be awakened to the hope of their calling as God’s glorious inheritance. He says:

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, will give you spiritual wisdom and revelation in your growing knowledge of him,—since the eyes of your heart have been enlightened—so that you can know what is the hope of his calling, what is the wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints

He later prays in Ephesians 3:18-19 for God to give them grace to know the depth, width, and height of his love for them. They were precious and loved, but they needed God’s grace to understand that. We need to know this as well. God loves us so much that he sent his Son to die for us, so we could have eternal life and be with him (John 3:16). And as we comprehend the depth of this, it will drastically change us for the good. In 2 Corinthians 5:14 (NIV), Paul said, “For Christ’s love compels us.” God’s love for the apostles compelled them to live for Christ and share the gospel with others. Understanding how much God loves us will motivate us to serve him as well. Also, 1 John 4:18 says, “perfect love drives out fear.” The more we understand God’s love, the more we’ll be delivered from worry about our future or the fear of what others say or think. In addition, understanding God’s love will motivate us to love him more. First John 4:19 says, “We love because he loved us first.” Because God loves us, we’ll have more peace and motivation to serve him faithfully and love him deeply. This is what God wanted the post-exilic Jews who feared him to understand. Though going through difficulties, they were God’s special treasure on the earth. He loved and enjoyed them and would protect them. It’s the same for us. Understanding this concept will deliver us from fear and motivate us to love and faithfully serve him as well.

4. For the post-exilic Jews’ faithfulness, God would openly vindicate them and deliver them from the judgment of the wicked.

In verses 17 and 18, God said this:

I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you will see that I make a distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between the one who serves God and the one who does not.

When God said, “once more,” they would see the “distinction between the righteous and wicked,” this means he had shown this distinction at other times during Israel’s history. Certainly, this had happened repeatedly, maybe when God judged the pagan nations fighting against them or judged the ungodly within Israel. This first happened when God judged Egypt for their enslavement of Israel and their unwillingness to let them go. Moses used similar language to Malachi when describing God’s final plague on the Egyptians’ firstborn and flocks. Exodus 11:4-7 describes this:

Moses said, “This is what the Lord has said: ‘About midnight I will go throughout Egypt, and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, to the firstborn son of the slave girl who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle. There will be a great cry throughout the whole land of Egypt, such as there has never been, nor ever will be again. But against any of the Israelites not even a dog will bark against either people or animals, so that you may know that the Lord distinguishes between Egypt and Israel.

However, with God’s promise to the faithful post-exilic Jews, he was also answering the accusations of the wicked post-exilic Jews. They said that the prideful were blessed, those who practiced evil were successful, and those who challenged God escaped judgment (v. 15). In God’s reply, he declared that none of the wicked would ultimately escape judgment. There was coming a time when the righteous would be openly rewarded and the wicked judged. This will ultimately happen at Christ’s coming which Malachi will prophesy about in Chapter 4. He says,

For indeed the day is coming, burning like a furnace, and all the arrogant evildoers will be chaff. The coming day will burn them up,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “It will not leave even a root or branch. But for you who respect my name, the sun of vindication will rise with healing wings, and you will skip about like calves released from the stall. You will trample on the wicked, for they will be like ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies … Look, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord arrives.

Malachi 4:1-3, 5

This was important for these faithful post-exilic Jews to understand so they wouldn’t become discouraged during their present circumstances. For a season, it may seem like the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer; however, there is coming a time when God will publicly vindicate the righteous and judge the wicked. There are many New Testament prophecies about this. At Christ’s coming, the angels will separate the tares and wheat and put the tares into the fire and the wheat into the barn house (Matt 13). Also, at Christ’s coming, he will separate people as a shepherd separates sheep and goats. The goats will go into outer darkness and the sheep into the kingdom (Matt 25). Today, the group that criticizes God and those who fear him stay together and at times it may be hard to tell them apart. But a day of separation is coming when the sons and daughters of God will be publicly vindicated and rewarded for their faithfulness. Consequently, those who truly fear the Lord must keep a future perspective and hope lest they become weary and disillusioned in their current circumstances.

Steve Cole shares an often-repeated illustration about some missionaries from Africa returning from the mission field to the US which represents our need to keep a future, eschatological perspective as we faithfully serve the Lord in difficult circumstances. Reward and vindication are coming.

Years ago, an elderly missionary couple who had served for years in Africa, was returning to New York City to retire. They were feeling discouraged, defeated, and afraid. Their health was broken and they had no retirement pension. When they got to the wharf to board the ship, they discovered that they were booked on the same boat as President Theodore Roosevelt, who was returning from a big game hunt. No one paid any attention to this old couple, but they watched the fanfare as the President arrived. A band was playing and the crowd was waving and straining for a glimpse of the great man.

As the ship crossed the Atlantic, the old man grew more and more depressed. He said to his wife, “Something is wrong. Why should we have given our lives in faithful service for God in Africa all these years, and yet no one cares for us? This man comes back from a hunting expedition, and everyone throngs to see him. It doesn’t seem fair!” His wife tried to comfort him, but he couldn’t shake his depression.

As the boat docked in America, more bands were playing and more crowds had turned out to greet the President. Many dignitaries were there, and the papers carried the story on the front page. But no one noticed the missionaries. They slipped off the boat and went to hunt for a cheap apartment and for jobs.

That night, the man’s spirit broke. He felt that God had abandoned them. He complained to his wife, “We don’t have anyone to help us and no where to go. Why hasn’t God met our needs?” His wife wisely replied, “Why don’t you go in the bedroom and talk to the Lord about the whole thing?”

Some time later, he came out of the bedroom, but his face was different. He was happy now. His wife asked what happened. He said, “I went in and told the Lord the whole thing. I told Him that it’s not fair. I told Him how I was bitter because the President received this tremendous homecoming, but no one met us as we returned home. And you know, as I finished, it seemed as though the Lord put His hand on my shoulder and said simply, ‘My child, you’re not home yet.’”

We’re not home yet either. There is a day coming where God will spare his children the just indignation that the wicked deserve and reward them openly. We must keep our eyes on that day if we are going to be faithful to the end. Remember what Paul said to the Corinthians after reemphasizing that believers will be literally resurrected from the dead: In 1 Corinthians 15:32 (ESV) he said, “If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’” If there is no future hope for us, then we should just live for pleasure and party it up just like everybody else. However, since there is a future vindication in the resurrection and reward with it, he says in 1 Corinthians 15:58 (ESV): “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” Instead of being disillusioned in our ministry to the Lord, especially when life is difficult, we must stand firm and be always abounding in Christ’s work for our labor is not in vain. One day, along with the post-exilic Jews who feared the Lord, we’ll be rewarded. Some of those rewards happen in the present (Mark 10:28-31), but most will be in the future. Lord, come! Lord, come! Amen!

Application Question: Which reward of the faithful post-exilic Jews and its application for believers today stood out most and why? Why is it so important for believers to understand God’s great love for them, that they are his special possession? How can we get and keep a future, eschatological perspective while living our daily lives? In considering the believers’ eventual eternal reward at Christ’s coming, how is the Lord calling you to be “abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Cor 15:58 ESV)?


How can we prevent spiritual disillusionment in our service of the Lord, especially when times are difficult? In Malachi’s prophecy to the disillusioned post-exilic Jews who were questioning God’s goodness and righteousness, we learn:

1. To Prevent Spiritual Disillusionment, We Must Avoid Complaining and Grumbling

2. To Prevent Spiritual Disillusionment, We Must Avoid a Self-Focused Attitude That’s all about Profit

3. To Prevent Spiritual Disillusionment, We Must Avoid Focusing on and Comparing Ourselves with Others

4. To Prevent Spiritual Disillusionment, We Must Consistently Gather with Other Faithful Believers for Mutual Encouragement

5. To Prevent Spiritual Disillusionment, We Must Understand the Reward of the Righteous

Application Question: Which principles about preventing spiritual disillusionment stood out most and why? How have you at times struggled with spiritual disillusionment and how were you set free? How is God calling you to apply the principles in this study?

Prayer Prompts

• Pray for God to comfort the spiritually disillusioned in the church, that he would hear their prayers, restore them, and move on their behalf.

• Pray for God to forgive us and deliver us from a complaining, self-focused, and covetous disposition that hurts us and others.

• Pray for God to bond the body of Christ together, that we would love, serve, encourage, pray for, and partner with one another more which will increase our faith and help deliver us from sin and discouragement.

• Pray for God to empower us and give us grace to be thankful, selfless, and kingdom-focused.

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