This article on Malachi 3:16 is about being true servants of God in the world today, which involves fearing God, repenting from sin, fighting for truth, giving glory to God, and seeking true fellowship.

Source: The Banner of Truth, 1998. 5 pages.

God's True Servants: Where are They?

Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another.

Malachi 3:16

Last century someone said: 'Churches are looking for better methods, but God is looking for better men'. Scripture shows us that God 'searches' for the right kind of men to serve his purposes. In Isaiah 6:8, we see God 'searching' for a man fit to serve him in that time. In Ezekiel 22:30 God declares: 'I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none'. But, if it is true that God is looking for men to serve his purposes, it is also true that he is not looking for any kind of men. In Ezekiel's time there were many prophets, priests and princes, but when God looked for a man among them to stand in the gap before him, he found no one! Why? Because they were not the kind of men he was looking for. One of the most fundamental and urgent problems we must face as Christians and especially as ministers of the Word is this: God wants us to be better men! My brethren, we should be better men! We should pray day and night to be made 'perfect, even as our Father which is in heaven is perfect'.

Generally speaking, 'progress' made western man much weaker than in the past. Man today is much more egocentric, dissolute and childish and for this reason, though in the past the world has always been wicked, today the world is abnormally wicked! In 1888 Spurgeon spoke against the evils of his own time and referred to the urgent need for ministers saying:

We need to be better men ... I feel that as the times grow sterner, I must cry to God for more grace that I may be able to cope with them. You can always cut a hard thing with something still harder. The granite Alps can be pierced by diamond. Oh, for grace to be equal to the worst case which can arise!An All-Round Ministry, Banner of Truth, p.302

If Spurgeon said those things more than a century ago, what kind of men we should be in this abnormally wicked generation! Malachi was calling Israel to a reformation. The burden of the prophet was addressed to the people and to the priests. God was looking for men to serve him in that generation. Therefore, let us observe what kind of men God found. Let us learn from this portion of Scripture who are these men and let us pray fervently that by the grace of God we might be the same kind of men today.

1. First of All let Us Notice that the Men which God is Looking for are Those Who Fear His Name🔗

Our first consideration in this regard is that they are not the same kind of men as the world is looking for. In 1 Samuel 16 we read that God sent Samuel to anoint David as king of Israel. When Samuel saw Eliab, David's brother, he said to himself: 'Surely the Lord's anointed is before him'. But the Lord said unto Samuel: 'Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart'. The apostle Paul speaks of 'them which glory in appearance and not in heart' (2 Corinthians 5:12). My brethren, how often we are tempted to judge and to conform ourselves to the standards of this evil world! The value of a man is measured by what he appears to be outwardly. What are his academic qualifications? Is he brilliant? Is he fluent in speech? How is he dressed? Is he handsome? But God is not looking for degrees, for brilliant, beautiful and well dressed people. God is not even seeking fluent pulpiteers. 'The Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.'

Who were the people about whom 'a book of remembrance was written before God' (Malachi 3:16)?

Who were the people about whom God said 'they shall be mine in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him?Malachi 3:17

They were those who feared the Lord. Let us remember God's promise: 'To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word' (Isaiah 66:2). Professor John Murray affirmed that 'the fear of God is the soul of godliness'. This fear does not consist in the dread of God's wrath and judgment, but is the fear 'which constrains adoration and love' (Principles of Conduct, Eerdmans, pp. 229, 236). It is the fear which consists in awe, reverence, honour and worship before his absolute sovereignty. 'The fear of God is the beginning of knowledge' (Proverbs 1:7), of 'wisdom' (Proverbs 9:10) and 'by the fear of the Lord men depart from evil' (Proverbs 16:6). Therefore, let us pray asking God: 'O Lord, unite my heart to fear thy name' (Psalm 86:11). God is looking for one that is humble, contrite and that trembles at his Word. God is looking for those who fear his holy name. O that such men may be found today!

2. Secondly, the Men whom God is Looking for are Those Who have Repented of Their Sins🔗

Why did they who feared the Lord speak one to another? Because they were awakened by God and had repented of their sins. In this regard, the adverb 'then' is very important because it indicates that there was a time when they were not 'speaking one to another'. Their hearts were hardened and in time they became indifferent to God. They were like the five wise virgins about whom our Lord said that they 'slumbered and slept' along with the foolish. The time came in Israel when even the faithful were not able to oppose sin in themselves, nor in society at large any more. At the time of Malachi's prophecy they were not walking 'in the Spirit' obeying God's commandments. How­ever, our text shows that there was a change in their attitude and that they repented of their sins. This implies that they examined themselves trembling at the Word of God preached by Malachi; that they confessed their sin and that they turned away from it. My brethren, today God is looking among us for men who repent of their sins. May God let us see the corruption of our nature and lead us in the way of holiness!

Some people say that the Puritans were too introspective and that they used to go too far in searching for 'secret sins'. If it is true that the Puritans sometimes analysed and searched too much within their own and others' souls, it is also true that today we search ourselves too little before God. The very notion of sin is disappearing in the world and in the professing church. But the Lord has always been pleased to visit his people when they repent. My brethren, we need to be better men. We must be more holy. We are to be men who fear nothing but sin! Richard Baxter in his Reformed Pastor rebukes his fellow-labourers. Speaking of ‘The Sins of the Ministry' he says: 'If God will help us in our future duty, he will first humble us for our past sin'. Yes, if God will help us in our future duty, he will first humble us for our past sin.

3. Thirdly, the Men whom God is Looking for are Those who Dare to Fight Alone Among Ungodly Professors, Backsliders and Apostates🔗

When did they that fear the Lord speak one to another? Again the adverb 'then' is very helpful and it shows us that the conversation of the faithful has been occasioned by the words of the ungodly. Their meeting took place in a period of terrible backsliding and apostasy. Let us remember the burden of Malachi:

A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is mine honour? and if I be a master, where is my fear? Saith the Lord of hosts unto you, O priests, that despise my name. And ye say, Wherein have we despised thy name? ... The priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. But ye are departed out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi, saith the Lord of hosts ... Judah hath dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah hath profaned the holiness of the Lord which he loved, and hath married the daughter of a strange god ... Your words have been stout against me, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, What have we spoken so much against thee? Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts? And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered.Malachi 1:6; 2:7-8, 11; 3:13-15

What a terrible picture! Nevertheless, these God-fearing people repented of their past sins and covenanted with God and among themselves to remain faithful to the Lord in the midst of that generation.

History has something to teach us at this point and its lesson is this: When things are at their worst, God begins a change. This change is usually accomplished through persons who had the courage to stand alone for the sake of truth. Let us remember Luther and the other Reformers and martyrs of the Reformation. Let us remember Spurgeon, especially at the end of his life, when he fought alone against the spiritual declension of the churches. Above all others, let us remember and study the example of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who became man just when the Jewish church was corrupted to the extreme and was obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross!

Let us think a little more about this point. Those who are willing to fight alone must be aware of one of the consequences of today's pluralism. Religious pluralism holds that no one religion can advance any legitimate claim of superiority over any other. This means that no religion can hold itself to be right and the others wrong. This theory has changed the nature of tolerance. D. A. Carson in his book The Gagging of God explains that in the past the focus of tolerance was on people, while today it is on ideas: 

Toleration of diverse ideas demands that we avoid criticising the opinions of others ... In the religious field, this means that few people will be offended by the multiplying religions. No matter how wacky (crazy), no matter how flimsy their intellec­tual credentials, no matter how subjective and uncontrolled, no matter how blatantly self-centred, no matter how obviously their gods have been manu­factured to foster human self-promotion, the media will treat them with fascination and even a degree of respect. But if any religion claims that in some measure other religions are wrong, a line has been crossed and resentment is immediately stirred up ... Exclusiveness is the one religious idea that cannot be tolerated.

This changed focus on tolerance tends to eliminate any opinion that makes exclusive claims about any truth except the dogmatic opinion that all dogmatic opinions are to be ruled out.

Those who are willing to fight alone must be aware that this new focus on tolerance has negatively influenced most Christians. The world does not tolerate the exclusiveness of the gospel of God and this intolerance has weakened the testimony of the church concerning the truth. I am not referring only to our confession of the truth before the world, but especially to what produces this kind of weakness, to its cause, namely the marginalisation of gospel doctrine within the church itself. Gospel doctrine is not determining the lives of people in the churches any more, and yet, in spite of this, one is not allowed to denounce the sin, unfaithfulness, or backsliding of God's people. You are not allowed to say with old Thomas Watson that 'repentance is necessary for God's own people' or that Christians 'must offer up a daily sacrifice of tears' because 'repentance is a continuous act'. It is said that this attitude is offensive and that we must be sensitive and respectful to others' opinions. As D. A. Carson puts it 'Why draw lines? It is painful to do so and it is also impolitic. Why alienate people? Why should it be thought necessary to draw lines, when drawing lines is rude? ... (but) drawing lines is utterly crucial at the moment'.

Our final observation upon this matter is that we must be engaged in the diligent practice of 'biblical intolerance'. Preaching on this duty, Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones said:

There is an aspect of intolerance in the Christian faith and I go further and assert that if we have not seen the intolerant aspect of the faith we have probably never seen it truly. All false teaching is to be hated and opposed. We are told in the New Testament that it was hated by our Lord and all the apostles, and that they opposed it and warned people against it. Is that being done today? Do we subscribe to the prevailing teaching which dislikes warnings and criticising of false teaching? Do you agree with those who say that a spirit of love is incompatible with the negative and critical denunciation of blatant error and that we must always be positive? There can be little doubt but that the church is as she is today because we do not follow New Testament teaching and its exhortations and fail to stress the negatives and the criticisms. The result is that people do not recognise error when they meet it. They accept what appears to be nice and do not realise that error is to be hated and denounced. Imagining themselves to be full of a spirit of love, they are beguiled by Satan.

Therefore my brethren, we must be ready to follow the Lord Jesus Christ in the old paths of loneliness and fight, of suffering and struggle for the sake of the gospel. Are we men like this? Are we willing to stand alone and to disregard what too many professing Christians, not to say unbelievers, expect from us? Are we free from the fear of men? Dare we resist the temptation of pleasing men? Are we ready to be unpopular? May the Lord give us grace to stand even when that means to be alone.

4. Fourthly, the Men whom God is Looking for are Those whose Faith Gives Glory to God🔗

What do they that fear the Lord say one to another? Though the prophet does not say expressly what these God-fearing men said one to another, we can gather the contents of their conversation from the context, especially from the words of the Lord about them. One commentator, E. H. Merril, explains that 'those fearing the Lord gave evidence of their renewed commitment by talking to one another. Presumably, they discussed the meaning of Malachi's message and together agreed that it correctly pinpointed their sinful condition and called for their radical reformation'. In other words, the faith of these men led them to work for the glory of God.

Our goal is to glorify God in all things. In Psalm 122 we read: 'Because of the house of the Lord our God I will seek thy good'. In Psalm 137 we read:

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.

Let us ask ourselves, especially if we are pastors or elders: Am I seeking the good of the church? Am I doing everything that is in my power for the cause of truth? Am I earnestly 'contending for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints'? Is my faith working and bearing fruit that will remain? Am I serving God with self-denial and diligence? Is Jerusalem above my chief joy?

Today men are feeble! Many Christians and many ministers are not willing to work hard! People want to enjoy themselves, to relax, to spend their money to find pleasures and to be psychologically and emotionally free from burdens. How different is the testimony of the Apostle Paul who, speaking reluctantly of himself, said:

In labours I am more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep. In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren. In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.2 Corinthians 11:23-28

Where are men of this kind today? Are we like this, my brethren? Are we not too indulgent with ourselves? Are we not too lazy? Do we not love too much the comforts and the enjoyments which the world offers us? Thinking of George Whitefield, Spurgeon said that in comparison with him many people seemed to him 'half-alive'. If we make the same comparison with today's people, evidence compels us to say that men are 'almost dead' and their fibre has almost vanished! Let us 'speak together' and let us 'consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as we see the day approaching' (Hebrews 10:24-25).

5. Finally, the Men whom God is Looking for are Those Who Love and Seek True Fellowship🔗

In spite of their individual loneliness, those who feared the Lord gathered together to speak one to another. They did not remain in isolation, but they sought each other because they longed for true Christian fellowship and so they joined their hands in order to be strengthened in God's service. Those who feared God in Malachi's time looked out for one another. My brethren, we too must love, seek and promote true Christian fellowship!

This is the will of God for the church. True believers are 'all one in Christ Jesus' (Galatians 3:28), because 'by one Spirit are we all baptised into one body' (1 Corinthians 12:13). Our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us to 'love one another as he loved us' (John 13:34-35) and prayed that his disciples 'may be made perfect in one' (John 17:20-23). Moreover, God has 'commanded his blessing' where the brethren 'dwell together in unity' (Psalm 133). The early Christians used to 'continue with one accord in prayer and supplication'. On the day of Pentecost they 'were all with one accord in one place' and after those events they continued daily to live in one accord (Acts 1:14; 2:1; 2:46).

God loves to see those who fear his name dwell together in unity and rejoices in those who promote brotherly love. Therefore let us beware of that kind of isolationism which feeds human pride! Let us keep our heart from the temptation to glory in our supposed integrity and courage! Let us resist the temptation which Satan offers when he suggests that 'we alone are right'. Therefore, we must work for the good of all true believers and exercise biblical tolerance. Our Lord warns us against the sin of sectarianism and encourages us by saying that we shall receive a reward if we give only a cup of water to someone 'because he belongs to Christ' (Mark 9:41). We must love and seek fellowship not only with those who agree with us in everything, but with those who truly belong to Christ and fear God. This attitude not only honours God, but will enable us to help disillusioned and confused Christians, especially those who need to be delivered from the influence of false teachers. This will make heaven and our ultimate communion with Christ and with his people more real and more desirable. May God help us to fear his name and to speak one to another in these abnormally wicked times.

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