Growing up in Scio, my family lived on a 60-acre berry farm. My mom managed the farm, and my dad ran a wood manufacturing business out of the two big barns out back. I got to have both of my parents working from home for my entire childhood. My mom was always on a tractor, and my dad was always on a forklift.
Both of them had crews of people they would hire to help out during the busy seasons. Most of the guys that my parents hired were Hispanic, so there was a little bit of a language barrier. My parents knew a little Spanish, and the guys knew a little English. So, they were able to eventually figure out a system of communication that worked okay; however, something always seemed to be lost in translation about the tools. Money was tight back then, so the number of gloves, shovels, saws, and all the other tools that were needed for both businesses was limited. Generally, whoever needed a tool just poked around the barns until they found what they needed and used it, and sometimes lost it, and occasionally broke it.
Dad was just as bad as the guys about putting tools back in the right spot, so my mom got pretty frustrated when she couldn’t find her good gardening shovel or her brand new leather gloves. Dad would tell the guys that my mom’s tools were off limits, but he is self admittedly not the best with confrontation. His threats were taken as more of a suggestion than a mandate.
Eventually, my mom had to do something about it, and the guys were pretty scared of her because when she said something she meant it! So she started writing on all her tools with a big Sharpie the word “PATRONA,” which in Spanish means “Boss Lady.” She didn’t have a problem with the tools after that! My parents each had the title “Boss,” but one of them commanded the respect of that role more than the other. Those guys wouldn’t touch anything that was labelled “PATRONA” because they respected and feared the lady who owned it.
Respect is a major theme in our passage of Malachi this week. The priests were no longer respecting God. They were offering bottom barrel sacrifices because they thought there wouldn’t be any real consequences for disobeying Him. They were treating Him kind of like the guys treated my dad. They didn’t take His threats very seriously. If the priests had treated their governor, boss, or even their own fathers the way they were treating God, they would have been ostracized, shamed, or even punished for it. And yet that was how they were treating the God of the universe. They simply didn’t respect God anymore, so they didn’t respect His commands about His sacrifices.
God had clear mandates in His law about the conditions of the sacrifices that He required. They were to be perfect, unblemished, and actually worth something to the people giving the sacrifice. They were supposed to be foreshadowing Jesus, our perfect, sinless sacrifice. The sacrifices were “tools” that belonged to God, and He had good reason for them to be treated with respect.
If God had physically come down and written on what was rightfully His with a giant Sharpie, those priests would have taken things a lot more seriously! They would have known that God was not only present but deadly serious about enforcing His commands. But it shouldn’t take a heavenly Sharpie for the priests to respect God, and it shouldn’t for us either.
It can be so easy to forget to respect and to fear God when we aren’t face to face with Him. We start to think sin isn’t that big of a deal, especially because no one is getting struck by lightning or swallowed by the ground if they disobey God. We, like the priests, start to mistake God’s patience for indifference, ignorance, or even absence. I know for me the only way I can keep my respect and fear of God in proper perspective is if I am regularly reading the Bible. When I read passages about God’s judgment and hell, my respect-ometer goes way up!
Our culture likes to think of Jesus (if they even think of Him) as all grace and no consequences. They look at God in the Old Testament and see my mom — someone not to be messed with. Then they read about Jesus in the New Testament and see my dad — full of grace and only focused on loving people. All grace, no consequences.
I don’t know why we think that would ever work. Nothing works with all grace and no consequences. Think about running a business, or exercising, or food choices, or parenting for goodness sake! All-grace parenting will fail every time because letting sin go unpunished isn’t grace at all. It’s enablement. Jesus didn’t let sin go unpunished. He chose to take the punishment Himself. The only one in the Bible who truly wants sin to go unpunished is Satan because he knows it will take us farther and farther away from God.
We can’t separate God into the Father of consequences and the Son of grace. He is both, and we don’t ever want to forget what our sin cost Him and what is waiting for those who don’t fear and respect Him. The last half of Malachi tells us exactly what awaits those who don’t, and it is not something I would wish on anyone.
So, don’t wait for a Sharpie signature from God to respect and to fear Him. Don’t bank on the grace of Jesus, while ignoring the consequences of your sin. Grace is a beautiful thing, but only if we realize its true cost and remember the One who paid that cost for us on a cross.