Attitudes in Serving God
13"You have said harsh things against me," says the Lord.
"Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’
14"You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out His requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty? 15But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly the evildoers prosper, and even those who challenge God escape.’"
16Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in His presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored His name.
17"They will be mine," says the Lord Almighty, "in the day when I make up my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him. 18And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.
The Lord must yet again rebuke some of the children of Israel: "‘You have said harsh things against me,’ says the Lord. ‘Yet you ask, "What have we said against you?" You have said, "It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out His requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty? But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly the evildoers prosper, and even those who challenge God escape"’" (vss. 13-15).
The Lord rebukes them for what they said: "‘You have said harsh things against me,’ says the Lord." And what did they say?: "You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God.’" They are rebuked for demeaning the service of God. Notice that the Lord considers what they said to be speaking against Him. To declare service for God as futile demeans God Himself, and implies that He is not worthy to be served.
Their problem was that they approached service to God with a mercenary spirit. They asked: "What did we gain by carrying out His requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty?" (vs. 14). It is wrong to serve God with the primary motive being: "What do we gain?" Their primary goal in serving God was to profit materially. They thought that because they served God, He must serve them. They served "not from love to God, but in the hope of being well paid for it in outward prosperity; when this was withheld, they charged God with being unjust, forgetting alike that God requires very different motives from theirs to accompany outward observances, and that God rewards even the true worshipper not so much in this life as in the life to come" [JFB, 723].
Their problem was that they were too focused on material riches, so that they did not take advantage of the spiritual riches that are poured out on servants of God. You see, in this world, the benefits received by serving God are primarily internal, rather than external, and as such, they are unseen by the untrained eye. The servant of God may not be rich in his bank account, but he is spiritually rich, experiencing peace, resting in contentment and enjoying a sense of purpose in life. He has communion with God, and gets to taste the powers of the world to come. All things work together for his good, and he lives in confidence, being an heir to divine glory.
The ungodly man who tries to serve God has a sense of futility because he sees that "evildoers prosper." He envies these evildoers for their material riches, yet he envies the wrong things. "Vain are all the riches, honours, pleasures of this world, without the serving of God… What profit is there in all other things besides service to God]?" [Westminster Divines].
Now, we cannot deny that the prosperity of evildoers can be a stumbling block to many people, even believers, especially immature believers, who have yet to experience the fullness of the goodness of God that comes from a long walk with Him. God was not rebuking the children of Israel for merely wondering about mysteries they did not yet understand, He was rebuking them for the hasty conclusion that they jumped to: "It is futile to serve God." Malachi contrasts the behavior of the ungodly, who jumped to this hasty conclusion, with the way the godly handle such a difficult thing to understand: "Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard" (vs. 16). When encountering a difficult concept concerning spiritual matters, rather than jumping to a hasty conclusion that faults God, the godly man seeks to come to a proper understanding of things. He seeks counsel with other godly people to find answers. By faith, he trusts that God is just, and so, he simply cannot come to the conclusion that it is "futile to serve God." "As the ungodly spoke with one another habitually in disparagement of God’s dealings, so the godly speak with one another habitually in justification and praise of God’s dealings" [JFB, 724].
Do not think that God does not notice His people discussing spiritual matters, diligently seeking the answers to spiritual mysteries, wrestling with difficult passages in the Bible, discussing these things in passionate conversations with other believers at Bible studies. In fact, Malachi tells us: "… and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in His presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored His name" (vs. 16). God sees and takes note of those who wrestle with Biblical difficulties through diligent study of the Bible. Your time is not wasted.
Note, there are two traits of the godly, mentioned here by Malachi, that cause them to be more diligent than the ungodly, as they try resolve difficulties concerning spiritual matters. They "fear the Lord", and they "honor His name". The ungodly see the evildoers prosper and immediately conclude, "It is futile to serve God." The godly "fear the Lord", and so they would not jump to such a hasty conclusion that faults God; and they "honor His name", thus they believe that God is a just God, and a loving God to those who serve Him, and so they would not hastily conclude that it is futile to serve God.
As mentioned, God honored the diligence of the godly by writing their names in a "scroll of remembrance" (not that God needs to write the names down to remember them; but He writes them as a tribute to honor the godly). And what will the fate of those whose names are in such a scroll be? Will their service to God be, in the end, futile? By no means! "‘They will be mine,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘in the day when I make up my treasured possession’" (vs. 17). This is the opposite of futility! To be considered God’s own "treasured possession"!
And what of the evildoers? Will they forever prosper? Certainly not! The godly will be spared in the day of the Lord, "just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him." As for the evildoers, their exact fate is not mentioned here, but suffice it to say, "And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not" (vs. 18). In the end, all will see and know the perfect justice and righteousness of God.