Please open your Bibles to Malachi 3:13
The Lord is speaking to his people who have grown cold to him.
He wants to revive them spiritually and bring back into the circle of blessing.
He says: I love you. And I have some hard things to say for your good.
Listen to me.
INTRO: Over the past few months I’ve been slowly re-reading William
Manchester’s magnificent biography of Winston Churchill.
I’m in volume two, which is titled Alone.
It’s about those years, most of the 1930s, in which Churchill was excluded from
political power. He was Member of Parliament, but he was a back bencher.
Which means that he was considered a political liability,
so he was given no cabinet appointments by any of the parties.
It was during the 1930s that Hitler and the Nazis began to rise to power.
Churchill saw with prophetic clarity the threat they were to England—
but pacificism and unilateral disarmament were universally supported.
Not only did the party in power refused to arm England—
But even the minority party—the loyal opposition—held the same view.
Everyone, both in the Labor party and the Conservative party believed strongly,
in a policy of appeasement toward Germany, fearful of offending Hitler.
Churchill had no political power in ordinary sense of the word.
He had held no cabinet or committee appointment,
he had no standing in any political party, he had no supporters.
But Churchill had one great weapon in his arsenal—the power of his speech.
He used his remarkable command of the English language to built an unshakable
case for arming the nation and united front against Germany.
He demolished the arguments for appeasement—and the political establishment—
both sides of the aisle hated him for it. Called him a warmonger.
When the truth was, he greatest desire was to keep England out of a war.
Even though no one agreed, he continued to speak throughout that lonely decade.
Listen to something he wrote 40 years earlier, when a 23 yr old cavalry officer.
“He who enjoys (speech) wields a power more durable than that of a great king. He is an
independent force in the world. Abandoned by his party, betrayed by his friends, stripped of
his offices, whoever can command (the) power (of speech) is still formidable.”
When events vindicated Churchill, and all of Europe had fallen before Hitler,
England finally turned to the one man it had ridiculed and scorned for a decade,
asked him to be Prime Minister, form a government, save England.
And it was his speech that in the darkest hour rallied a nation sunk in defeatism.
Speech is the great power of human life.
It is through the spoken and written word that the thoughts and feelings in one mind
can be transferred into another mind, and there take on a life of their own.
Speech makes human relationships possible.
Through speech we express and experience love.
Speech that makes culture and civilization possible.
Everything we take for granted in our lives as human beings depends on the
power of speech. It is the chief instrument of human life.
And if that is the case, if our speech has such power for creative good,
then of all things in our lives, it must be distinctively, intentionally Christian—
governed by God’s law, motivated by the love of God and neighbor.
But, we all know that because of our fallen condition,
there are few aspects of our personhood more negatively affected than our speech.
The Bible is full of this gloomy fact. In that famous passage in James 3 we read
No man can tame the tongue. It is a fire, a world of evil among the part of the body
There is not a one of us here, who does not deeply regret things we have said
and things we have not said. And often times, the damage caused by those
spoken or unspoken words can never be undone in this life.
Our speech reminds us that we need Jesus Christ.
We need his forgiveness for all the evil we’ve done with our words—
and we need his perfection and his Holy Spirit to guide us and change us,
so that we can become people who use our speech for the glory of God.
Now, I’ve started off big.
But I want to bring it down to something more specific and immediate.
It’s the concern of Malachi in this passage. How we talk to each other.
Malachi’s generation knew the Lord and had walked with him as parents had,
but they had faced some hard times and had allowed themselves to be pulled into
attitudes and habits that had built a wall between them and God’s blessings.
The Lord was burdened by this. He wanted the best for them.
So he sent the prophet Malachi with five concerns.
Five important matters that the Lord in his wisdom knew that they must address
in order to return to the family circle and the blessings of the covenant.
This is his fifth concern—their patterns of conversation.
They way they talked to each other. What they talked about.
He says: If you are going to be blessed and be a blessing,
you must cultivate the art of spiritual conversation, you must foster godly talk.
God uses spiritual conversation to preserve and sanctify his people.
It seems like a simple thing, but it’s profoundly powerful.
1. The necessity of godly talk
2. The content of godly talk
3. The reward of godly talk
MP#1 The necessity of godly talk
Why is the cultivating of spiritual conversation necessary for the good and
blessing of God’s people? Why do you need it? Why can’t flourish without it?
Malachi explains the necessity of godly talk
by contrasting the conversation of two groups of people in the church.
Now, that is worth noting. Malachi was not concerned about how unbelievers talk.
He was not concerned about bad language on TV
He was not concerned with the conversational topics of non-Christians.
His focus was completely on people of God.
In the congregation of Israel, there were a significant number of people who
conversed with each other in a way that was leading to their spiritual decline.
Their conversation is described, starting in verse 13.
“You have said harsh things against me,” says the LORD.
“Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’”
God: You’re disrespectful to me in speech. No we aren’t. What have we said?
So God tells them:
“You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements
and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty?
I’ve been serving God. I’ve been going worship, going through all the motions
of worship, and what has it gotten me? Nothing. He continues:
But now we call the arrogant blessed.
Certainly the evildoers prosper, and even those who challenge God escape.’”
And furthermore, God doesn’t even know or care about what’s going on.
Evil and arrogant people prosper and he doesn’t do a thing about it.
Now, here’s the thing—they weren’t actually saying those words.
These were church people. They knew how to talk the talk.
They didn’t walk into the Temple and say: It’s futile to serve God!
Malachi was exposing the deepest attitudes of hearts.
You see, their conversation was full of complaining about the negative
circumstances of their lives—self-pity, jealousy and discontentment.
He was telling them, your talk is revealing your underlying theology—
which is that God’s got it all wrong, he’s not running my life in the right way.
They were offended: We don’t think that. Oh yes, you do.
As Jesus said: “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”
So there was this group—and it was probably the biggest group.
When they were together, they talked about how hard life is, they complained,
the expressed their jealousies—and they were dragging the whole church down.
But there was another group. “Then those who feared the LORD talked to each other.”
And that’s all that is said. We aren’t told the content of their conversation.
I think it’s pretty easy to figure out. We’ll discuss that in a moment.
But just look at the contrast. Here is a group of believers who did not feel deep
down that God doesn’t know what he is doing, that he’s unfair,
that he’s capricious, that serving him is futile.
They are described as people who fear the Lord. And that fear shaped conversation.
Do you fear the Lord? American church doesn’t talk much about fearing God.
We talk about loving him. Serving him. But what does it mean to fear God?
I got a great illustration of fearing God this week from one of our church
members—Edith Whitehead, and her husband Ted.
Edith and Ted were telling me about their skydiving days.
How every weekend they would meet with others who loved this hobby and
would jump out of airplanes together. I asked them what was the appeal.
And Ted said that he loved skydiving because of how it focuses you.
You must be very attentive to every detail, to particular preparations,
and moments and actions—because your life is in your hands.
In other words: If you truly love skydiving, you fear it, you respect it.
It will provide you with some exhilarating thrills but only if you fear it.
The moment you don’t, when you become presumptuous and dismissive of the
way skydiving must be approached, the rules and protocols—put life in danger.
And even though I’ve never been around skydivers, or heard a group of them
talking—I bet that they don’t have much patience for people who ridicule
the procedures and scoff at the details and foolishly put lives in danger.
That’s the fear of God. It’s not being so scared of him that you flee.
No way, I’m too scared to jump out of an airplane! Not that fear.
It’s a fear that is completely compatible with love.
Because you know how he really is. Know his ways. And you respect him.
There’s that famous line in the Chronicles of Narnia when the children are asking
about Aslan, the lion king of Narnia. They ask, is he safe?
Mr. Beaver says: Safe? Who said anything about safe? Course he isn’t safe.
But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.
Here’s the simple, yet O so important point—
It is this kind of conversation that Christians need.
Talk from people who know God and fear him.
And who, when they are talking about the stuff of their everyday lives,
the good and the bad, have a deep down, fundamental respect for the Lord.
Because they know that every single time the open their mouths,
no matter what they are talking about, expresses their view of God and his world.
Now, what exactly does godly talk sound like? Brings us to the second point.
MP#2 The content of godly talk
A few years ago, Allison and I went to the General Assembly of our denomination.
Once a year, the Presbyterian Church in America meets to deal with matters
that concern the church as a whole.
Every congregation can send ruling elders as delegates.
And every teaching elder, every ordained pastor, can also attend as a delegate.
The reason Allison went with me, is because at General Assembly we will see
old friends in the ministry, people we went to seminary with years ago.
They’ve scattered all over America and the world. You don’t see them every year.
There might be reasons don’t see a certain person for a long time.
But when you do, there is this common history and bond.
So anyway, we were at General Assembly, and we ran into two seminary couples.
Got to spend a short time in conversation with both of couples at separate times.
In both cases, the subject of their personal finances came up.
One couple had been hammered financially in a difficult move.
They had taken a beating on their house and there were some other things.
The other couple had not experienced something as traumatic, but they were at a
stage in life in which they were getting pinched by a lot of big expenses.
Allison and I were encouraged by the first couple.
We came away from our time with them sad for what they were going through,
worried about our friends, but our own faith was strengthened and refreshed.
After hearing them talk about their money problems, we felt closer to the Lord.
Here’s why. They feared God.
Their conversation reflected it—even as they talked very realistically and painfully
about where they Lord had taken them.
But the conversation with other couple had opposite effect on us.
We enjoyed seeing them personally, but their money talk discouraged us.
As Allison and I analyzed it later, we realized that they were discontented.
Discontentment with your life is fundamentally discontentment with God.
It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements
and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty?
It came out in subtle ways in their conversation and weighed us down.
What if Allison and I had ourselves been going through financial problems when
we attended that meeting? And what if we had only run into couple number one?
Think of the good that could have come from that conversation.
On the other hand, what if we had only run into couple number two?
But what exactly is the content of godly conversation?
I think we all know it when we hear it, but can we describe it more exactly?
We aren’t given any content here in Malachi, but plenty of examples in Bible.
In Psalm 66, several points where the psalmist is talking to other people.
And at one point he says:
Come and see what God has done, how awesome his works in man’s behalf!
He turned the sea into dry land, they passed through the waters on foot—
come, let us rejoice in him. He rules forever by his power, his eyes watch the nations.
What’s he talking about? When did God turn sea into dry land, people walked?
You remember. Israelites leaving Egypt where had been slaves for generations.
Pharaoh came out with army to slaughter them. Caught between army and sea.
The Lord parted waters of Red Sea, pass through on dry land, drowned Egyptians.
Now, many years did that happen before this Psalm was written? At least 400.
This was ancient history, and yet for him it was also salvation history.
This was God working in the world, redeeming a people for himself.
He believed it. And more than that, he applied it to himself by faith.
Because after saying, come and see what God did 400 year ago he says:
Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me.
Just like those believers way back then who were caught between Pharaoh’s army
and the sea—I was between a rock and a hard place.
And just as the Lord heard them and delivered them, he’s done the same for me.
Let me tell you about it, all you who fear God.
That’s the fundamental content of godly conversation.
Let me tell you what God has done. A vivid sense of the active presence of God.
A couple things to ponder about this:
First, some believers are better at this than others.
See his hand, conscious of his ways. Can talk freely and openly about the Lord.
Others find it much more difficult. I do. I’m always amazed at Christians who
speak so freely of the Lord. We should all cultivate it, whether hard or easy.
Second, sometimes this means keeping your mouth shut. In Psalm 73, Asaph describes a hard time in his life, he was very discontented. Complaints against God.
If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed your children.
If I express doubts and negativity it’s going to hurt people. Keep to self, work out.
This is an important balance to the value we American Christians place on
transparency. There’s a sentiment that says you shouldn’t bottle things up,
it’s unhealthy, you need to let it out.
Maybe that’s true psychologically. But here is a man who says:
In the midst of my worst spiritual crisis, God gave me the grace to keep my
mouth shut and keep my feelings to myself for the good of tender believers.
MP#3 The reward of godly talk
He says: The Lord listened and heard. He listened and heard their conversation.
Every time you speak to another person, there is a divine eavesdropper.
You know how sometimes your cell phone rings, you see it’s from somebody you
know, but when you answer, you can tell they didn’t mean to call you?
I think the slang term is a pocket call.
And sometimes you can hear them talking in the background to somebody else.
They don’t know you’re listening. So you strain to hear something juicy.
Come on! You know you’ve done that!
What if you knew that every time you talked on the phone and you mentioned
another person, suddenly that person could hear what you are saying?
Well, God listens to everything you say.
And he hears the thoughts and attitudes behind your conversations.
And if at some point in this sermon you’ve thought—
OK, godly speech, spiritual conversation, I can do that. I can work on that.
The sober reality of God listening just demolishes you.
Because we all know that when certain things are said, when certain words are
spoken, there is no taking them back, and no number of apologies or compliments
or positive comments will ever undo the evil that is done.
You can say something that ruins a friendship, that costs you a job, that sours a
marriage, that crushes a child—and that’s that. It’s said and not taking back.
And just think how many things you’ve said in conversation,
that if certain people knew, things would be ruined.
If you all knew the things I’ve said about many members of this church,
you would get rid of me as pastor today.
If my friends knew the things I’ve said about them,
I wouldn’t have two friends left in the world.
God knows. The things you’ve whispered.
The times you’ve said: Now don’t tell anybody I’ve said this, but.” He’s heard.
How to you escape that? How do you even begin to cultivate godly talk,
if you’ve blown it and continue to do so with your flapping tongue?
Here’s what’s so amazing about Malachi. He doesn’t go this direction at all.
He doesn’t say: OK, God’s heard every word and you’re dead.
Instead, he says: Just open your mouth and honor God.
And this is what he will do. Vs. 16.
“A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared
the Lord and honored his name.”
A scroll of remembrance. At this time in Israel’s history, they were under the
administration of the Persian empire. It was the custom of Persian kings to keep
such a book of good deeds done by loyal subjects.
Remember that detail in the story of Esther, her uncle Mordecai uncovered a plot to
assassinate the Persian king? Later in the story, a night king couldn’t sleep.
Told servants, bring me the book of memorable deeds, read it to me.
As read, he heard about how this Jew Mordecai had saved his life.
Why hasn’t anything been done to reward this man—major turning point in story.
Your conversations are so important to God, that when you speak in a way that
honors him, builds up other believers, he writes it down.
Why? To reward you like a Persian king would?
No, it’s something much more profound.
“They will be mine,” says the LORD Almighty, “in the day when I make up my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.”
You speech reveals who you are and whose you are.
When the Lord hears his people in godly conversation, it deeply pleases him,
because it is evidence of the effect his fatherly love has had on their hearts.
He says: That’s my son talking. And in the end, in the day of judgment,
there will be a distinction between those who belong to me and those who don’t—
and it will be their speech that is the evidence that sets them apart.
That’s why the Bible says over and over things like—out of the abundance of the
heart the mouth speak, and by your words you will be acquitted and by your
words you will be condemned. Because over time, reveal what’s really inside.
But what about the terrible things I’ve said?
The people I’ve harmed. The lies I’ve told. My bragging. My complaining.
All those things that deep down are arrows aimed right at the goodness of God?
Jesus died for those sins too. He suffered and died for all your evil speech.
And even though sometimes in this life we have to deal with the consequences
of bad things we’ve said, Christ has taken on himself their cosmic consequences.
He’s made things right between you and God.
You are united to him. His perfect speech is your record now.
So you can open your mouth, and cultivate godly conversation,
and know that when your heavenly father hears your halting and imperfect
conversation, he hears his perfect Son Jesus, and he hears your desire deep down
to honor him.
And that is the reward, the pleasure our speech brings the heavenly Father.
Winston Churchill also once said:
“Words are the only thing that last forever.”
He wasn’t a Christian and he got that wrong, of course.
There are many things that last forever.
But words are chief among things that last forever.
So let’s be committed, for the sake of our Savior, to make our conversation,
the words we speak to one another, worth remembering forever.