In Sunday School, we have been listening to, and singing along with, Alan Jackson on a gospel album. We thought that we could listen to Alan again this week for our opening hymn!
The scripture for this week's lesson is:
You can click on the scripture above to open the text in a new window.
Malachi mentions no kings at the beginning of his book. This makes establishing an approximate date for the prophet's ministry challenging. Even so, the book's contents offer some clues.
The issues addressed by Malachi are similar to those facing God's people in the time of Nehemiah in the fifth century BC. With permission from King Artaxerxes of Persia, Nehemiah had traveled from Persia to Judah around 445 BC to rebuild Jerusalem's walls.
Some issues addressed by both Nehemiah and Malachi include mixed marriages (Nehemiah 13:23-27; Malachi 2:11), the failure to tithe (Nehemiah 13:10-14; Malachi 3:8-10), and corrupt priests (Nehemiah 13:4-9; Malachi 1:6-2:9). These similarities point to a date for Malachi that is post-exilic. That means the setting is an era after the exile in Babylon ends in 538 BC (see Ezra 1:1-4)
Bolstering the conclusion that Malachi is post-exilic is the use of the title "governor" (Malachi 1:8). This was Nehemiah's official title (see Nehemiah 5:14; compare Haggai 1:1; 2:21); before the exile, Judah had kings, not governors. Based on these and other facts, scholars conclude that Malachi is chronologically the last of the prophets, of about 430 BC.
The Babylonian captivity occurred between the ministries of Micah (last week's lesson) and Malachi. The delinquent leadership against which Micah spoke so passionately had resurfaced in Malachi's day. And it was just as displeasing to the Lord in Malachi's time as it had been in Micah's.
Normally, we discuss the lesson during our Sunday class. Please take some time to think about and reflect on each question. If you are reading the lesson with someone else, discuss your thoughts together. If you would like to, you may post some of your thoughts and answers below.
Malachi's words should serve as sobering warnings to leaders in the church. Dangers abound when we become casual about doing God's work. It's a small step from an attitude of indifference to one of antibiblical rationalizing by those who serve the Lord in leadership positions. The late Dallas Willard once observed, "The greatest threat to devotion to Christ is service for Christ."
Those who earn wages by serving the church or a parachurch ministry can come to see what they do merely as a source of income. They forget that theirs is a ministry done in service to the Lord and for his glory. Certain words and actions become part of the routine, of what is expected according to their job description. It's a slippery slope.
One source of help may be for the leader to arrange to meet with a group of fellow leaders (either within or outside of the congregation) for mutual prayer and encouragement. Many have found such accountability groups greatly beneficial in keeping them spiritually sharp and providing valuable counsel when temptations or other challenges occur (compare Malachi 3:16).
Speaking honestly to one another can be of immeasurable value in avoiding the spiritual barrenness that brought God's harsh criticism of the priests in Malachi's day. Inviting candid feedback from a fellow servant of Christ is always preferable to being on the receiving end of God's correction!
Father, keep us from handling sacred duties in such a way that we lose sight of you. Empower our church to remember our covenant with you. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
Benediction: Psalm 19:14
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer. Amen.