In 1944, an unknown sales representative wrote down a phrase on a napkin that became one of the best-known marketing slogans in American history. “When you care enough to send the very best.” That simple sentence shaped the business vision of Hallmark Cards; but, interestingly enough, I think it also echoed a timeless truth. There is a connection between what and how we give to others and the condition of our hearts. Giving someone the best seems to say that we consider them worthy of the effort. Because of the place they hold in our hearts we are called to think beyond the casual and convenient. Lest you think that I have suddenly become a greeting card salesman, let me tie this with what we have been studying lately on worship; and in particular, the lessons of Malachi chapter 1.
Perhaps some quick background information would be appropriate. When it came to the sacrifices, offerings, and payment of vows, God required that the Israelites bring their best animals and goods to Him. Nothing with a defect was allowed (Lev. 22:20–23). By the time Malachi came on the scene as a prophet, Israel had turned from God, gone through long years of suffering and warfare and ended up exiled into foreign lands. They had experienced the mercy and power of God by creating a way for them to return to their homeland, rebuilt the temple, the walls around the city and reinstituted the worship patterns outlined in the law. But, after all that, there was a problem. According to Malachi 1:6-14, their worship of the God who had rescued them had become corrupt. The people had started to offer diseased, crippled and injured sacrifices – leftovers and hand me downs. Worse yet, the priests were allowing it! God took exception with that!
We can only surmise what was going through the people’s minds as they prepared to bring their offerings. “God will understand. I need to keep the best for the market.” “God will understand. Besides, we have not heard from Him in awhile. He probably won’t notice.” “God will understand. It’s the thought that counts.”
Unfortunately, God didn’t and doesn’t understand. Refusing to remain silently on the sidelines, the “Lord of all heavenly armies” speaks – directly, concretely and scathingly. How is it possible that God’s people could ever find Him “contemptible?”
There are several reasons why bringing the best to God was so important. First, doing so said a lot about God. He is the “Lord Almighty”, the top of the heap, the great “I AM”, the most important and worthy being in (and outside) the universe. Bringing our best acknowledges that. If we wouldn’t bring a broken or ‘white elephant’ gift to a friends wedding because we intend to honor them, why would we think God is less worthy of the very best.
But there is a second reason as well. It is vital to remember that God didn’t “need” their offerings. He doesn’t “need” ours. What we bring to Him ultimately communicates the condition of our hearts, and the relationship we have with Him. When Israel brought their very best, it required faith, and love and thankfulness – all matters of the heart. Whether it was the very best pigeon if you were poor or the very best sheep if you were rich, the offering of the best was a declaration of the state of affairs in the heart of the worshipper. Nothing has changed about that in the centuries in between then and now.
There is a direct and forceful warning to the worship leaders, the priests, in the context of Malachi’s prophecy. They were to be the “quality control” guys in regard the offerings brought to the Lord. They failed. Rather than call the people on their inauthentic worship, they took the casual, easy and politically correct path. No one cared – neither people, nor priests. The result was a twisted version of what was meant to be a shining declaration of the wonder and majesty of God’s name and their love for Him. Despite sticking to the formality of the process, their hearts were betrayed by the fact that they didn’t care to send the very best.
I asked this question in class, and I ask it again here as a point to ponder. How would we respond to our spiritual leaders if they really called us out on the quality of what we offer to the Lord? Do we care enough to send God our very best in worship and in every way?