A Pattern for the Faithful Ministry of the Word
So Malachi paints a picture of the failure of Word ministry and yet he gives us a promise about the future of the ministry of the Word for our great comfort.
And then thirdly notice he supplies for us a pattern for the faithful ministry of the Word – what it looks like. I want you to see three things about what faithful Word ministry should look like. First of all, in verses 1 and 2, faithful ministers, Malachi says, must hear the Word. “And now, O priests, this command is for you. If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send a curse upon you.” God calls Bible teachers first to be Bible hearers. They are to listen, Malachi says, not simply in order to retain the details and the facts. No, they are he says, “to take it to heart to give honor to the name of God.”
Faithful Ministers Must Hear the Word
Bible teachers must be Bible students, and Bible believers and Bible doers. The Word that must sound from our lips must ring in our ears and burn in our hearts, Malachi says. If the Word is not living water to you, if you teach the Word to others, if the Word is not living water to you, it will not likely quench the thirst of anyone else when you do teach the Word to others. Elders, Sunday school teachers, small group leaders, pastors of the flock of God at First Presbyterian Church, are you daily students of the Word? And does the truth that you learn, that you hear, does it penetrate your heart? Do you take it to heart to give honor to the name of God? Is the Word of God having its way in you that it might have its way in the lives of others through you? Faithful ministers must hear the Word.
Faithful Ministers Must Live the Word
Secondly, Malachi says faithful ministers must live the Word. Verse 5, “My covenant was with him and was one of life and peace and I gave them to him. It was a covenant of fear, and he feared me. He stood in awe of my name.” The spiritual realities held out in the Word of God must be spiritual realities experienced and enjoyed in the life of a servant of God. The great failure of the priesthood, remember, began when they themselves strayed from the way. It was the discrepancy between the message and the life of the messenger that was the great cause of stumbling for those who attended their ministries. Life and peace, holy fear of God, standing in awe of His name – no spiritual boredom here, but a heart captivated with the grandeur and the glory of the triune God. That’s the birthright of every single Christian, and it comes to us through the means of grace, that is, through the Word of God. And it is therefore vital that those whose calling it is to proclaim that Word for the good of the people of God should themselves taste those same spiritual blessings, that they should be what they call others to become, that they should know and taste and enjoy the grace they hold out to the world. This is a call to spiritual authenticity, to holiness in the life of a ministry. As McCheyne famously put it, “A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hands of God.”
Word Ministers are to Preach the Word
Word ministers are to hear the Word and live the Word and thirdly, and only thirdly, Word ministers are then to preach the Word. Verses 6 and 7, “True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.” There’s accuracy, “true instruction,” Malachi calls it; “no wrong on his lips.” That’s the great mark of his Bible teaching. What he says is clearly, manifestly, unambiguously what God says in the black and white of His Word. A faithful minister can say to his congregation with Paul in Acts 20:27, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” He does not pull his punches when the Word of God says hard things. He does not lean into his own idiosyncrasies so that his pet subjects and hobby horses characterize the ministry of his preaching. No, he preaches the Word in season and out of season, reproving, rebuking, and exhorting with complete patience and teaching.
Faithful Ministers Must Guard Knowledge
Furthermore, Malachi says he is to “guard knowledge.” Do you see that? He is to guard knowledge. How is he to do that? He guards it, notice, by giving it away. Faithful Bible teachers guard knowledge by giving it away, by multiplying it, by sharing it with others. The people “seek instruction from his mouth.” Malachi calls the priests, faithful priests, “the messenger of the Lord of hosts.” As the messenger of the Lord of hosts, that means he’s under orders. He’s not free to preach himself or his own ideas. He must say what God says. You may remember that Malachi’s own name, if you will remember when we looked at the first verse of the whole book of Malachi, when Malachi introduces himself, his name means, “My messenger.” And by calling the priests here the “messengers of the Lord of hosts,” Malachi is saying, “You are to do and to have the same sense of divine obligation as the messenger of God that I also carry as I come preaching to you.” Malachi, you will remember, calls his word, his sermon here in the book of Malachi, “an oracle,” or more literally, “a burden.” The Word of God comes to faithful Word ministers as a burden, as a compelling weight pressing with urgency so that you would say with the apostle as you are charged to teach the Bible, “necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.”
So a faithful minister is to hear the Word and live the Word and preach the Word. Notice that order. It must not be altered. Hear it, take it to heart, and as you do it will begin to change you. You will begin to live it out. It is only in the context of such a life that we ought to expect fruitfulness in the proclamation of what same Word. A faithful minister must be a student of the Word, must be steeped in the Word, and his life must be increasingly conformed to the contours of the Word if he is to be useful in the proclamation of that Word. May God raise up many more laborers like that because the fields are white unto harvest. So there’s a picture of failed Word ministry here. There’s a promise of future Word ministry here. And Malachi gives us the pattern of faithful Word ministry – what it ought to look like.