Why does any of this matter? Why do we have to care about getting it "right"? We are living in a world that is driven by "whatever works," so don't we have the same right to transform our faith into something that just "works" for us, whether it is exactly what God intended or not?
This is an actual argument that Christians are making right now, and their justification for it is that "the world is different now than it was in the Bible. This is the reality that we're living in, and we have to have a faith that can meet the world where it's at."
No. Profoundly no.
And before we get too far into this, with persons stomping their feet and pumping their fists and demanding that today is unlike any other time in history and that the challenges we face in our culture are wholly unique, let's just call bunk on that, too. Shall we? This has been the challenge of God's people from the very beginning, and if you read the Old Testament even half-heartedly, you will see the very same arguments being made, not only by the people, but by the priests.
Hey, God, this covenant thing isn't really working for us. See, You don't understand how all the other nations think. It's not so simple as just being a covenant people.
Hey, God, all these behavioral laws you gave us? Yeah, they are nice, but they don't really work in the real world.
And on and on and on it goes. And here's the problem: most of us don't understand this for what it is.
We don't understand it because our English translations of the Scriptures have been lying to us. They have dramatized things, thinking that they have to be the most dire, most extreme, most scary of all circumstances in order for us to "get" what's going on. But things are not always as they seem.
Most of the Scriptures around this softening of God's commands are translated to say that we hate them. Men hate them. They hate God. They despise His altar. They despise His ways. And then we, so convinced that the purity of God's Word is not quite so important as the heart of it, tell ourselves that we don't hate God. No, we love God! And because we don't hate Him, it's okay to do what we're doing, to twist things just a bit to make them work in our own context.
But the Hebrew words that are actually used where our English translations give us "hate" and "despise" are not so extreme. Rather, these words actually mean "to think lightly of." In Malachi 1, for example, God lashes out at the priests for bringing impure offerings to His altar. The English tells us He accuses them of "despising" it, but the Hebrew literally says they "thought lightly of" it.
This is a world of difference. It's not that they actively hated God; they just didn't take Him seriously. They knew what He said about offerings and sacrifices, but they didn't feel any need to follow those instructions quite exactly. They tweaked them a little bit into something that "worked" for them and for the people. This was the sin. This was the offense.
This is what we're doing today. We refuse to take God seriously. We refuse to believe that He said what He said for a reason, that it matters how we do things to His glory. We think lightly of His Word, and His altar, and as a result, we are bringing impure offerings. And we're trying to convince Him that it's no such thing.
But He knows better. And keep reading into Malachi 2, and we see plainly how He responds to this: He threatens to smear dung on the faces of the priests who think so lightly of His Word and then to hold them up as impure offerings themselves.
How's that workin' for ya'?
That's why it matters that we take God's Word seriously. That's why it's so important that we stop twisting it to suit our own needs. That's why we have to diligently invest our time in figuring out what it is that God really teaches. Because our grave sin is not that we hate Him (and most of us know that. We love Him, for crying out loud!)...our greatest offense is that we think too lightly of Him and thus defile, not despise, His altar.