Sermon series: Apathy - Who Cares?
Jack Canfield, writing in "The Success Principles", asks participants in his seminars to agree to a list of 15 ground rules - be on time, sit in a different chair after every break, no alcoholic beverages until the training is over, and others. He makes them sign a form in their workbook that says, "I agree to keep all these guidelines and ground rules." On the morning of the third day, he asks everyone who has broken one of the ground rules to stand up. "What becomes apparent," he writes, "is how casually we give our word - and then how casually we break it."
Cavett Robert, author and professional speaker, writes, "Character is the ability to carry out a good resolution, long after the excitement of the moment has passed." Honoring your commitments is part of your character. It's a quality that attracts people to you and enhances your relationships and opportunities. Failing to honor your commitments will tarnish your image and have a negative effect on your reputation. It can create a barrier to personal achievement and erect a roadblock against success. By honoring your commitments you create a strong foundation that will support you and your endeavors. As a result you will be recognized as a person of integrity and character - someone others can trust. Werner Erhard states, "Your life works to the degree you keep your agreements."
Honoring commitments impacts all dimensions of life. Let me ask: Do you honor commitments you make to your team - to show up for them - even in tough or uncomfortable situations? Do you honor the commitments you make to your family and friends? Do you keep the promises you make to them? Do you honor commitments you make to yourself? Do you honor the commitments you have made to God?
The people of Judah, with the priests leading the way, had failed to keep their covenant agreement with God. They treated God with disrespect, dishonoring His name. They treated sacred things as common. They turned away from God's Law, disobeying His commandments. With the most egregious display of dishonor, some men divorced their Jewish wives, breaking their vows to marry pagan women.
Malachi provided a stern rebuke. He presented several reasons why the Jewish people were to honor their commitments. We should follow suit.
I. Responsibility: Respond in obedience
God desires for us to listen and to obey. "If you don't listen, and if you don't take it to heart to honor My name" (Mal. 2:2). It's one thing to believe something is true. It's another thing to obey it. James reminds us: "But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves" (James 1:22, HCSB).
Young Samuel provides a great model. After hearing God's voice in the middle of the night on three different occasions, "Samuel responded, 'Speak, for Your servant is listening'" (1 Sam. 3:10).
Can you say that now? Are you listening to God? Are you obeying God's instructions? Are you honoring your commitments?
The litmus test of obedience is whether or not you are living what you know to be true.
Malachi provides the details:
A. Revere God (v. 5)
Stand in awe of God. We live with a high view and enormous respect for God's holiness. Many of us, if we are honest with ourselves, play games with God. We compromise, disobeying whenever we feel like it. Revering our awesome God inspires obedience.
B. Receive truth (v. 6)
Accept God's instruction. Maintain a steady intake of the Bible. God's Word should penetrate our lives like a stake driven deep into the ground. A failure to teach and to receive the truth from God's Word sets the stage for wrong doctrine and shabby living. The crisis in many denominations demonstrates this: that their leaders could approve homosexual clergy is due to years and years of failing to teach and apply the Scriptures.
C. Righteous living (v. 6)
Walk in a manner that is good and upright, turning away from sin.
D. Represent God to others (v. 7)
The Levitical priests represent God and revealed His will to the people. We, as a kingdom of priests in the world today, bear that same responsibility. We are God's messengers to a lost world. We guide people into the truth.
These are four commitments we should make on a daily basis: Honor God, drink from His Word, live distinctly as God's people, and to be His messengers in the world.
II. Warning: Recognize the downside
Malachi does not sugarcoat the situation. He goes right for the jugular. He reminds his hearers that if they fail to keep their commitments, God will curse them. "'If you don't listen, and if you don't take it to heart to honor My name,' says Yahweh of Hosts, 'I will send a curse among you, and I will curse your blessings. In fact, I have already begun to curse them because you are not taking it to heart'" (Mal. 2:2).
The heart is the command center of a person's life, where we collect and consider knowledge, where we make decisions and plans that determine the direction of our lives. Here we determine to honor our commitments, to keep our promises.
The warning is clear: Failing to honor your commitments will damage your personal testimony, impact your success in life, and strain your relationship with God.
III. Reason: Remember the benefits
Malachi provided several spiritual benefits to honoring commitments with God. He wrote, "My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave these to him; it called for reverence, and he revered Me and stood in awe of My name" (Mal. 2:5). Life and peace was the Lord's covenant promise. Life speaks of a qualitative, satisfying life known only to those who are recipients of God's favor. Peace is more than a quiet soul, but also welfare of every kind.
When a person honors their commitments they reach out into an unpredictable future and make one thing predictable: they will be there, they will follow through, and they will be true to their word. With one simple commitment, a person creates an island of certainty in a sea of uncertainty. When you honor your commitments you take a hand in creating your own future. And that is a good thing, a healthy thing.
IV. Failure: Resorting to unfaithfulness
The priests failed in their responsibility to teach the people God's Law. The people in turn failed to revere God, receive his Word, and live distinctly from their nonbelieving neighbors. The result was their disregard for God's standard concerning marriage. Five times in this passage Malachi used the word faithless. Some translations use the phrase "breaking faith" or "deal treacherously." Simply speaking, they did not honor their commitments. They failed to keep their promises. They broke their vows.
The word faithless has the idea of pillaging something intended to remain protected and is tied very closely to another word that is used in this section - covenant (v. 10, 14). A covenant was a solemn and binding mutual agreement between two parties. When one party failed to fulfill his covenantal obligation, the covenant was said to be "broken" in that the other party was no longer obligated to fulfill his obligations. The Jews had broken that agreement. God no longer had to fulfill his side of the obligation.
The Jewish men had violated the covenant agreement with their wives (v. 10). They had failed to keep the commitment to their spouses. But this was only a repercussion of the larger issue stated in verse 8: "'You, on the other hand, have turned from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have violated the covenant of Levi,' says the LORD of Hosts" (Mal. 3:8). The word corrupted means to damage something as to render it useless.
Many a marriage, friendship, or business partnership has been rendered useless because one person failed to honor a commitment.
V. Action: Erecting boundaries
Malachi provided some needed action steps: "So watch yourselves carefully, and do not act treacherously against the wife of your youth . . . Therefore, watch yourselves carefully, and do not act treacherously" (Mal. 2:15-16). The word watch means "to hedge with thorns" or "to protect by attending to." He was speaking to marriage, saying there are some things we can do to promote and protect our marriages. But the principle applies to all our commitments.
Here are a few boundaries to consider erecting to protect the commitments you make:
I alone am responsible for my life. I will stop blaming, rationalizing, and excusing my failure to honor my commitment.
I can't do everything, so it's okay to say no.
I will speak with purpose.
I will only make commitments I intend to keep.
I will write down all the agreements I make.
I will clear up any broken agreement at the first opportunity.
I will follow through on the commitments I have made even though it may require sacrifice, work, and cost.
We have a God who honors his commitments. He keeps his promises. He fulfills his word. When you choose not to quit when the going gets rough, stick to lost causes because you said you would, hold on to a love grown cold, stay with people who have become pains in the neck, then you are most like God.
The book, "A Promise Kept", is the story of Robertson McQuilkin, a former missionary and seminary president who gave up his post because his wife Muriel had Alzheimer's disease. He dedicated himself full-time for as long as the Lord deemed necessary to take care of his wife. He wrote of traveling with his her:
Once our flight was delayed in Atlanta and we had to wait a couple of hours. Now that's a challenge. Every few minutes we'd take a fast-paced walk down the terminal in earnest search of what? Muriel had always been a speed walker. I had to jog to keep up with her.
An attractive woman executive type sat across from us, working diligently on her computer. Once when we returned from an excursion she said something without looking up from her papers. Since no one else was nearby I assumed she had spoken to me, or at least mumbled in protest for our constant activity. "Pardon?" I asked. "Oh," she said, "I was just asking myself, Will I ever find a man to love me like that?"
McQuilkin turned to the woman and said, "Oh yes, you can find a man like that. You can find a man like that, because I've found a man like that. The only reason I love my wife the way you see me loving her is because the man Jesus first loved me. The only resources I have to draw upon to love my wife the way I do are the resources he gives me. Mirrored in my relationship here with my wife you can see the faithful love of God for me."
When we honor our commitments we are like God.