"You are presenting defiled food upon My altar. But you say, 'How have we defiled You?' In that you say, 'The table of the Lord is to be despised.'" (Malachi 1:7)

The Apostle Paul, addressing his coworker Titus, wrote, "To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure". The Prophet Malachi witnessed the truth of that statement in his day, and among a most unsuspecting group - the priests. How unimaginable that these men - the spiritual leaders for the people - that they should be the ones singled out as being most guilty of defiling the name of the Almighty.

Of course they denied it. In their way of thinking all their actions were justifiable and prudent, given their circumstances. Isn't that always the thinking of the unbeliever who wishes to point to circumstances outside himself or herself to excuse their deplorable behavior? These are they who operate under the flawed way of thinking which claims that all evil and the moral flaws of men stem from unjust circumstances without. Altering these unfair circumstances will pave the way, they say, for the renewal of man. In other words, inward good and purity will flow naturally as the external is made pure.

But, as I say, that way of thinking is mortally flawed. The rottenness of man may be evidenced by that which is without, but the problem lies within. Changing the circumstances may make the pigsty more palatable but it remains a pigsty.

Malachi addresses a blinded priesthood (and nation) - blinded to the evil of their own hearts. As long as the proper things were done - the prescribed ceremonies observed - the voluminous number of animal sacrifices offered as commanded - then it was supposed that they rightfully should meet with God's good pleasure. After all, it was the outward action that counted, right?

To these men, the Prophet brings a charge of defilement - of defiling the name of the Almighty. That word, in the Hebrew, points to something which has become polluted or stained. Of course, the priests couldn't imagine why Malachi would even say such a thing. How had they polluted God? In what way were they guilty of soiling the very character of the Almighty? In response, the Prophet points to the disrespect shown at the altar - the disregard for God's Laws in the offering of sickly and blemished animals. In other words, the impurity within these men, revealed itself outwardly in impure offerings. To those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure. So it was with these priests.

But what about you and me? Is it possible that we too could be blinded equally to our own flawed thinking? Is it possible that we justify a less than perfect offering unto our God - justify that by our circumstances? 'I don't go to church because Sunday is my only day off from work.' 'We don't tithe on our incomes because these are hard economic times and surely God understands.' 'I haven't forgiven so and so because God knows that she was the one who hurt me - not the other way around.' Do thoughts such as these not belie the fact that the problem of impurity lies within us? How, then, can we hope to honor a God of absolute purity when all that we offer is tainted by the impurity of our own hearts?

Malachi labeled these men as 'cheats and swindlers'. To him, their actions amounted to nothing more than 'robbery' in that they offered God less than the best. Now, how do we 'cheat' God? Perhaps you'll agree it can be done in the midst of worship - when what we offer is done in ignorance or carelessness or without the heart. Are we not guilty of 'robbery' when we seek to appease God by giving something other than what He seeks or by rendering something which has cost us nothing? Do you not recall the story of David who sought to purchase the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite so as to build an altar on that site unto the Lord? Araunah, out of respect for the King, wanted to donate his threshing floor, but David would not have it, saying; "I will not offer to the Lord that which has cost me nothing." I want you to think about it - think about your relationship to the Lord. What does it cost you? Do you render Him service out of which you suffer some expense? Is there any real sacrifice of time in your daily existence in the honoring of the Lord? There are 1,440 minutes in every day; 10,080 in each week. Is it too great a sacrifice for you to give God sixty of those each week? - or twice that? - to join with God's people in corporate worship and the praise of the Almighty?

But even all that doesn't get to the real need to offer God a life of purity. As the sacrificial animals were to be without defect - so too should this be our desire - even as it is our future. We know that it is God's purpose that one day we should stand before Him without blemish or stain - and this because of the cleansing of Christ Jesus. But are we not now to walk in that purity, laying aside the deeds of the flesh, seeking to honor God in all our doings?

These wicked priests blindly asked: "How have we defiled the Almighty?" They simply couldn't see how truly profaning their actions were in God's sight. They imagined that God would be content with the scraps and leftovers of their lives. Why should they give to a God no one has ever seen the best of what they had? Perhaps you've never voiced it quite so boldly, but have you not acted in keeping with that same flawed thinking? Think about it!