"The Lord Almighty says to the priests: "A son honors his father, and a servant respects his master. I am your father and master, but where are the honor and the respect I deserve? You have despised my name!" But you ask, 'How have we ever despised your name?'" (Malachi 1:6)

The comedian, Rodney Dangerfield, made a living with his repeated accusation: "I don't get no respect around here!" Somehow, it was funny when he said it. Not so funny here, however, to find God voicing the same complaint against His people.

Last time I mentioned that the message of Malachi is organized around nine questions which are found scattered throughout the book - nine questions that reveal to us the true condition of the hearts of the people. In the first question, 'How have You loved us?', Israel showed their sinful and self-absorbed impatience with God in their blatant denial of His love for them. In spite of all that God had done, they just didn't 'feel' very loved. It was their opinion that a God who truly loved them would do more to help them and to cause their lives to prosper. Let me encourage you to go back and look at this complaint and ask yourself again - is that how I treat God?

Today we come to the second question. God's rebuke, found here in this verse, is aimed (we are told) at the priests of the nation. However, the same could be said of the nation as a whole for the attitude seen among the priesthood was shared by many. Being targeted are the hearts of those who should have known better - the very individuals who should have been in the best position to honor God. However, these religious leaders, we discover, possessed no real passion for God, no real love for Him or for their appointed duties, and no genuine respect for the God they served. But when confronted with their hypocrisy, they respond with feigned offense, "How have we ever despised Your name?"

My Bible Dictionary tells me that 'to despise' (the charge being laid to them) means to have contempt for or to disesteem. It shows willingness, on their part, to take God lightly or to treat Him as one who possesses little value. The exact opposite is held up before them in the opening of this verse when God points to the son that 'honors' his father or the servant who 'honors' his master. To honor is to acknowledge a prevailing value and to show recognition of glory and worth in someone. But this was lacking in the way these priests treated God.

How did this lack of respect - this despising of God's name - manifest itself? In the verses which follow, God discusses the mismanagement of their religious duties - the defiling of His altar. By this we see that their disrespect of God showed itself in their frivolous disregard for the sanctity of their ministry. Perhaps it is implied here that they were lax in the handling of the sacred utensils or the way they went about their Temple work which included ceremonial washings and careful handling of the offerings. Obvious, from the following verses, was their neglect of God's command that only the very best of the animals were to be offered as acceptable sacrifices. Instead, these priests thought nothing of offering up to God the sickly, the crippled, the poorly developed, the diseased animals - probably keeping the best for themselves. All of these actions reveal an unholy and unhealthy regard for God.

Now, our Westminster Shorter Catechism reminds us that "the name of God is anything whereby God maketh Himself known." Therefore, God's name includes His Works, His Word, His merciful acts of deliverance and salvation, His wondrous providential care for His children. These, too, were being despised by these priests who honored God only with their lips and showed contempt for Him in all that they did.

The passage begs the question - how are we (you and I) equally guilty? In what ways do we render to God less respect than is due Him? How do we despise His name?

Might it not be seen in our own indifference to spiritual things? - or in a lack of genuine concern that we offer God the best of all we have - the best of our time, our labor, our resources? What about the neglect of our vows or the violation of worship when offered with less than the wholeness of our heart and attention?

Clearly John Calvin is correct when he writes that this rebuke aimed at the priests could equally be seen to target the people of the nation. Just as the sons of Eli, through their own corruption, had caused the spirituality of the people to suffer, these wicked priests were the cause for a dangerous downward spiral of righteous zeal among the populace. The whole nation was suffering from the lack of righteous leaders. However, this only goes to point out the absolute necessity for each one of us to take responsibility for our own actions - to determine for ourselves, with the spirit of Joshua, that we (and our household) will serve the Lord. We will put God first, offer Him the best of ourselves, rendering Him the honor due His name in every corner of our lives and at all times. In no private sphere of our existence will we defile His name but will conduct ourselves as true sons, true daughters of the King of kings, and love Him with our whole heart.

Now think about it, won't you? How have you despised the name of the Lord? How have you treated Him lightly? Where have you set your own thoughts and will above His instruction? What type of diseased sacrifices have you sought to offer up to the Lord? Ask God to show you any and all areas in your life where He is not honored, and then turn to Him in repentant confession.