We saw last week that Malachi, which is about worship, began with a reminder of God’s love. This was important, because true worship is always a response to God based on the love he lavishes on us. When we understand the great love with which he loved us, worship tends to be heartfelt and genuine. When we forget God’s love, worship becomes little more than a duty. While offering worship out of nothing more than duty may be temporarily necessary, it is never a place we want to stay. We always want to move beyond mere duty to true devotion.
Because Malachi’s hearers did not understand God’s love for them, their devotion had devolved into duty. Malachi 1:6–2:9 shows the result of duty replacing devotion. The people still sacrificed. They still worshipped. But their sacrifices became a chore until they started offering to God that which was hardly worthy of his glory.
True love is willing to sacrifice. It is willing to go above and beyond to honour the object of its love. Since he had lavished such incredible love on his people, God expected them to respond with sacrificial devotion. He commanded that the best sacrifices be brought to him. This was not the greedy demand of a God disconnected from his people, but a reasonable expectation from those whom he had so graciously redeemed. But because they had forgotten their great love for him, the people—led by the priests—were bringing leftovers. They were content to bring to him the animals that were not even good enough for themselves. They were going through the motions—just barely. But that is the result when duty replaces devotion: We go through the motions of offering God the bare minimum.
The psalmist committed that God would be his “exceeding joy” as he came to the altar in worship (Psalm 43:4). Malachi’s hearers just barely tolerated God. They may have honoured him with their lips, but their heart was far from him (cf. Matthew 15:8–9).
Every generation faces the same temptation to replace devotion with duty. It is important to recognise when we have done so and to follow God’s counsel to repent and obey him. As we consider this reality this morning, I want to draw attention briefly to two ways that duty-replaced devotion might manifest itself.
First, and perhaps most obviously, duty-replaced devotion might manifest itself, as it did in Malachi’s day, with substandard worship. In the context of church life, that might look like a shoddily-prepared sermon or prayer. It may look like the worship team rushing through the songs at the last minute, just to get some practice in before the service. It may look like a Sunday school teacher giving little thought to the lesson but cramming some last-minute prep in thirty minutes before leaving for church.
In daily life, it might look a little different. It might look like a Christian employee doing the bare minimum at work, producing sloppy results—but just enough to maintain employment. It may look like parenting that doesn’t really point children to the gospel but is content to rush them out of bed to get them to Sunday school on a Sunday morning. It may look like a Christian student doing the bare minimum to scrape by when he knows that he might put in far better effort to glorify God with his abilities. We may not always be able to produce the highest quality, but God surely wants us to give our best in everything we do.
Second, and perhaps somewhat counterintuitively, duty-replaced devotion might manifest itself in excellence. I do not mean to disparage the notion of pursuing excellence for God’s glory, but excellence for excellence’s sake does not display true heart devotion.
Some churches pursue excellence at all costs—even at the cost of devotion. They hire the best speakers and worship leaders, even if their hearts are devoid of devotion. For some, a guitarist’s giftedness is more important than her devotion to God and her heart for leading people in worship. Some churches place a premium on a pastor’s oratorical ability or management skills, even to the neglect of his character. For them, duty has replaced devotion.
Similarly, on our daily lives, we can neglect our devotion to God in our pursuit of what we perceive to be excellence. We can neglect our families because we are so obsessed with making more money—ostensibly to provide for our families. We can so pursue excellence in education or sporting and our studies and practices come at the expense of devotion to God. We may produce excellent results, but duty has replaced devotion.
As you meditate on Malachi 1:6–2:9 this morning, pray for the grace to guard your devotion. Pray that God will guard you from replacing devotion with duty in any way. Worship him with a whole heart. May he be your exceeding joy as you come to the altar in worship.