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We live in an age in which sincerity is the watchword in worship and religion. When it comes to matters of faith, people are less concerned about whether what you believe or do is right or wrong as they are about whether your beliefs and actions are sincere.

The problem, of course, is that it is easy to be sincerely wrong. You can really believe something but be dead wrong about it. You can be sincere in your actions—as Uzzah was when he reached out his hand to stop the ark from falling—and yet blatantly disobey God. Sincerity is not the hallmark of obedience.

Malachi is a book about worship. It is a book in which God accused his people of wrong worship—and in which they sincerely objected that they had done nothing wrong. But God showed time and again exactly what they had done wrong—how they had wrongly worshipped.

A stark feature of Malachi’s message is that worship is not about the worshipper. In the worldview of sincere worship, the worshipper determines what is acceptable and unacceptable in worship because the sincerity lies within the worshipper’s attitude. But God showed his people through Malachi that true worship looks beyond self to also consider God and others.

We should also note that worship as it is seen in Malachi is not exclusively corporate worship. Worship had its corporate element at the temple, but worship was also about bowing to God in rightly treating others in daily life. The worship that Malachi addressed was worship in all of life.

Interpreters are largely agreed that Malachi can be divided into six broad disputes. The disputes follow a basic pattern. For the most part, God accuses his people of wrongdoing and, in response to their objections, shows them exactly how they had done wrong. The disputes can be seen as follows: First dispute (1:1–5); second dispute (1:6–2:9); third dispute (2:10–16); fourth dispute (2:17–3:5); fifth dispute (3:6–12); sixth dispute (3:13–4:6).

Malachi presents us with a basic challenge: It matters how you worship God. God expects things from his people and it matters that we bow to him and do what he expects. We do not determine the rules of worship. In acceptable worship, we respond to God in obedience.

This requires a worldview shift. Malachi’s prophecy seems to emphasis this. Malachi was the last of the writing prophets. He wrote after the exile, after the temple had been rebuilt, and after worship there had resumed. But his message shows God’s people were as self-focused as they had been from the beginning. In the beginning, Adam and Eve showed that they were more interested in following their own way than obeying God’s rules. Malachi shows that nothing had changed. Thousands of years later, rather than gladly bowing to God’s will, God’s people still pursued their selfish desires and insisted on doing things their own way. Dever is correct: “Selfishness ruled as sovereignly in the temple grounds of post-exile Jerusalem as it did when Adam and Eve listened to the serpent.” Thankfully, just a few pages beyond the end of Malachi, we are confronted with one who did not pursue his selfish desires but chose in every way to submit to his Father.

How about you? Malachi confronts you with a direct question: Will God prove sovereign in your life or will selfishness reign supreme? God has expectations of the way we relate to ourselves. God has expectations of the way we relate to others. God has expectations of the way we relate to him. We all face the choice of whether we will bow to God’s expectations or pursue our own selfish desires. I trust that our time in Malachi will confront is with this question. I pray that we will all respond in the right way.

As we work through Malachi over the next week or so, do so with intentional prayer for grace to submit to God’s will rather than allowing self to reign sovereign.