Their Problems And Ours

EasyEnglish Bible Studies that show that God is sufficient whatever the problem

Study 13

Malachi: The Problem of Indifference

by Raymond Brown, M.A., M.Th., Ph.D.

translated into EasyEnglish by Mary Read

A word list at the end explains words with a *star by them.


About these studies

(Indifference is when someone does not care. It may be a lack of care about life, other people or the things of God.)


Study 12 was about the problem of being greedy for things. We thought about Haggai’s difficulties. A group of *Jews had been *exiles for many years. Now they had returned to Jerusalem. Haggai had one main task. It was to persuade them to build the *Temple again. Haggai thought that this was vital. It was a way to show their feelings for God. They would be giving honour to God in every part of their lives.

So, they finished building the *Temple. They started to use it again. But, after some years, the people lost interest. They did not care about the things of God. This spoiled their *religious life. Now, it was just ceremonies.

This situation was not good. So, God sent a *prophet to the nation. His name was Malachi. He came after both Haggai and Zechariah. It was 70 or 80 years after them. Like theirs, his task was a hard one. He spoke God’s word in Jerusalem. (This was the *Jews’ capital city.) It was at about the same time as Nehemiah. Bible students suggest something. It is an idea about his main service. It is this. Nehemiah made two visits to the city. Malachi served between these visits.

One thing is definite. The people were lazy about the things of God. They had no *spiritual life. The leaders should not have been like this. But they were. They said that it was no use to serve God (Malachi 3:14, 15). They would not gain anything if they put him first in their lives. Even the priests did not care. So, many people copied them. They became more and more careless about *spiritual things. This was not a surprise. The priests were their *religious leaders. But even they were not sure about their beliefs. So, the people were unlikely to be different.

Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament. (The Old Testament is the first part of the Bible.) Some things are similar to our own day. We should give careful attention to Malachi’s message. We have the same problems in our own society. Malachi spoke to the people. He also spoke to their leaders. It might help us to study his words. Many people today do not care about *spiritual things. It is like this in Britain. It is like this in other countries too. People may not oppose *religious things. But they do not care. They think that it does not matter.

Malachi has messages for our own times.

1 *Religious or *spiritual indifference often begins where you would least expect it

We expect people like priests to put the things of God first. But it can begin with these very ones. It is easy to blame other people. But we should examine our own lives first. We may not be as loyal to Jesus Christ as we should be. Our words and our lives should make it easy for people to trust in him. But, often, they do not. W. E. Sangster was a famous Christian. He asked a question. ‘Are some people outside the group of *believers because you are inside it?’ How sad that would be if the answer were ‘Yes’.

Malachi speaks to the *spiritual leaders in 1:6, 7. It is a message to the priests in Jerusalem. They should have been good models for the people. They led the nation in *worship. The priests served in the *Temple. But it had no meaning to them. They offered sick animals to God. They gave him the worst, not the best that they had (1:8).

It is easy for us to say: ‘How awful’. But we may be guilty of the same *sin. We may give something to the *Lord. Perhaps it does not cost us anything. This does not just refer to money, but time or energy too. (Read 2 Samuel 24:24.) There is *spiritual indifference in our nation today. Maybe there is the same *sin in the group of *believers. They may offer their second best to God. This can mean the start of troubles. We must give our all to God. (Read Romans 12:1, 2; Luke 14:25-35; Mark 8:34-37; 10:17-31.)

2 *Spiritual indifference is a *sin

It can begin when there is no sincere love and *worship. *Religious words and ceremonies take their place. It was like this with the priests. They just went on repeating words. They did their duties in the *Temple. But they said: ‘How tired we are of all this’ (1:3).

God desires *worship that comes from love. He does not want only words. Ceremonies alone do not please him. Many *prophets spoke to the *Jews. They all gave the same message. There were Amos and Hosea. There were Micah and Isaiah. They spoke in century 8. Now, Malachi came with the same message. They could offer things that would please God. But there was only one way that they could do this. They must obey him because of love. If there was no love in their *worship, then God hated their gifts. (Read Amos 5:21-24; Hosea 6:6; Isaiah 1:11-20; Jeremiah 7:21-9:3 and 14:12 too.)

We may have become careless in our own *spiritual lives. It is so easy for this to happen. We must always be aware of this danger. It is very easy not to be sincere. We can pretend to love and to obey God. The name for someone like that is a hypocrite. An actor is the same word in the Greek language. It means ‘the person who wears a mask’ (or cover on his face). In plays, actors pretend to be someone else.

Jesus used this word for a group of men. They were the *religious leaders at that time Their name was the Pharisees. They had many extra rules. They insisted that the people must obey them all. But their ceremonies, too, had no meaning. Jesus made it clear that he hated their methods.

Perhaps we have ‘a mask’ in our Christian lives. We are hypocrites. We pretend to be people that we are not. Only the *Lord Jesus can help us to recognise it. Only he can help us to be free from it. There is a lot about the Pharisees in the Bible. It must be there to warn us today. There are always similar dangers for us. The words of Jesus in Matthew 23 are one example. They are not ‘comfortable’ words. They are there to warn us.

3 God tries to prevent *spiritual indifference

He reminds his servants about his high standards. He expects much from them in their life and service. The book of Malachi does not just blame people. It has a clear, helpful message too. It tells the people what God expects. He expects certain things from the *religious leaders, or priests (2:4-9). It also tells them that God gives. He gives to those who are sincere in their service for him.

Let us consider Malachi 2:4-7. It is an important passage. It speaks about the priests. It shows the quality of *spiritual life that God requires from them. Leviticus deals with the right practice of ceremonies. Malachi deals with the inner life of the priest.

The Bible says that all *believers are priests. So, it is important for us too. (Read Revelation 1:6 and 1 Peter 2:5-9.) But perhaps we do not live and work as if we are priests. The words are not just a *religious formula. They make demands on the person who uses them. There were standards for a priest’s life. We must be willing to have these same standards for our lives. God expected certain things from the sincere priest in Israel. We will see what these things were. Then we will see what God promised. He made promises to those who tried to live by this standard.

3.1 What God expects:

He wants his priests:

·           to show respect (Malachi 2:5).

They ‘respected me. They showed me honour.’

·           to be loyal (2:6). They ‘taught the truth’. In those days, priests were the teachers (2:7). Anyone could go to them for advice and help. God’s *Law was their guide. They aimed to be always loyal to its teaching. (Read Deuteronomy 33:10.)

·           to be holy (2:6). They ‘did not teach lies’. A person should fill his mind with God’s true words. Then there will be no room for bad thoughts or words. Read 1 Peter 2:1-3. Here, Peter urges his readers. He wants them to desire God’s words. He says that they should be like a baby. His words are: ‘Be hungry for the pure milk of the word (the Bible).’ This would help them to stop saying many wrong things. Words can cause much damage.

·           to be his friends (2:6). They ‘walked with me’. Moffatt translated the Bible in 1926. He says it like this: They ‘lived close to me’. Perhaps we do not live close to the *Lord.

·           to be gentle (2:6). They ‘were honest and loved peace’. (Read 2 Timothy 2:24 and Titus 3:2.)

·           to show pity and sympathy (2:6). They ‘turned many away from *sin’. This was what true priests sincerely wanted to do. (Read James 5:19-20.)

This is a very high standard. But the *Lord God is kind. He does expect us to serve him in this way. But he gives us what we need to do it.

3.2 What God gives:

·           Power (2:4).

Priests serve ‘the *Lord of Hosts’. God’s title here is important. It means ‘the God of armies’. It describes the One who overcomes in battle. This God helps his people to do the same. The ‘*believer priest’ has a hard task in the world. But God gives us all the power that we need. (Read Philippians 4:13 and 2 Corinthians 12:9.)

·           Security (2:5). ‘I made that Agreement with them.’ His people had God’s great promises. They never changed. These are times of constant change. But the ‘*believer priest’ can be glad. He can be very grateful too. There are things that will never change. (Read Hebrews 12:27-28.) The sincere priest in Israel was often sad. So often, the people were not loyal to God. Their attitudes to him often changed too. But God never changed. He was always loyal and true to his people.

·           Peace (2:5). God’s special Agreement was one about ‘life and peace’. Many sad things upset the sincere priest then. But he could be sure about the Agreement of peace. Worry is a *sin. We may not be as free from it as we should be. We lose so much energy by being anxious. But there is something worse than that. We show a lack of trust in God.

There was a bishop (church leader) in America. He was very upset about many problems. So, he spent part of the night in prayer. This was good. Then he thought he heard God speak to him. ‘Quayle, you go to bed’, God seemed to say. ‘I will stay awake for the rest of the night.’

·           Special benefit (2:7). Priests are ‘the messengers of the *Lord of Hosts’. (Note: Messengers are people who deliver messages.) The name ‘Malachi’ means ‘My messenger’. Here, the *prophet speaks about the benefits he has because he is a priest. He is God’s messenger. What a great benefit he has. He can speak to people about the great God.

4 God desires sincere *worship

So, he reminds them about the Coming Day. Malachi knows the awful *sins in the present. But he cares very much about the future too. Then people will see the results of those *sins. There is a great and certain Day ahead. That Day is for all people at all times. Then all will see the true value of their words and actions. (Read Malachi 3:1-5; 4:1.) Our actions now will have God’s *judgement then. (Read Matthew 25:31-46; 7:21; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 14:10-12; Hebrews 13:17 and 1 Peter 4:5.)

5 It is not good to be careless about *spiritual things

God knows that it will affect our relationships with other people. It also affects our relationship with God. (That is bad, too, of course.) Malachi repeats the message of the *prophets who came before him. Notice the *sins of the people. It is at the time when they did not care about the things of God (Malachi 3:5). The people had:

5.1 No confidence in God’s *sovereignty

They accepted those who did magic. They went to them for advice about the future. They did not go to their great God.

5.2 No respect for a holy God

God declared his moral laws. They were very clear. But many of the people neglected them. They *sinned by wrong sex acts.

5.3 No obedience to God’s word

(Obedience is the act of obeying.) God clearly said that a man must speak the truth. (Read Exodus 20:16.) He must be honest and fair with his employees. (Read Leviticus 19:12-13.)

5.4 No sharing with God in his love

They did not help widows. They did not care for children with no parents. They did not help strangers. (Read Deuteronomy 24:17 and Exodus 23:6.) God cares about all these people in need. He desires that his people should share his feelings. (Read Psalm 10:14; 68:5 and Deuteronomy 10:18-19.)

6 *Spiritual indifference denies God’s *sovereignty

It robs God of love, honour and service. He should have these things from us all (Malachi 3:7-9). We all come to God with nothing. We come to ask him for help. We become Christians. Then something sad often happens. We become thieves. We steal from God. This is the subject of Malachi’s severe words.

7 Some people will choose to put God first in their lives

This gives him great joy. The majority may not care, but the few make God glad. (Read Malachi 3:16-18; 4:2-3.) He is very pleased with them. So, he has made a book with their names in it. It is serious when *spiritual and moral life decreases. But there are always people who are different. Their determination is to honour and obey God in everything. May God help us to be like them.

For Discussion

1.    The name Malachi means a person who brings a message. We have significant and serious teaching in his book. But we do not know anything more about what kind of person Malachi was. Think about his message. Then what kind of a man do you think that he was? And what were his special qualities when he took God’s message?

2.    There is a danger when we do something regularly. We can do it badly or carelessly. And we can do it without much thought. How can we avoid that danger in our spiritual relationship with God?

3.    Can Christians make God tired with their words (Malachi 2:17)? If it is possible, how and when could they do this?

4.    ‘Religious but not honest’. This was God’s terrible opinion about some of the people who lived in Malachi’s society (Malachi 3:5). Is that serious judgment still true in our modern world?

5.    Malachi was the last of the *prophets before John the Baptist came. Think about Malachi’s message. Why was it necessary for Jesus to come? Why was this need so urgent?

6.    ‘Where is the respect that people should give to me?’ (Read Malachi 1:6; 2:5 and 4:2). God is very near to us and he loves us very much. We should be aware of these wonderful truths. But we must always have an attitude of respect and of worship too. How can we do this best?

7.    God said ‘I am not pleased with you’ (Malachi 1:10). Those words must have been terrible for the people who lived in Malachi’s society to hear. Jesus is our greatest example (John 8:29). How can we find out what pleases God? (Read Ephesians 5:10;
1 Timothy 2:1-3; Hebrews 13:21 and 1 John. 3:22.)

For More Discussion

1.    The New Testament describes all believers as ‘priests’. (Read 1 Peter 2:5, 9; Revelation 1:6; 5:10 and 20:6). There is a most beautiful description of an ideal priest. It is in Malachi 2:4-7. How can modern Christians be like that, with the privileges and opportunities that we have today?

2.    Ceremonies can become an alternative for sincere love. And just repeating the same words does not express genuine loyalty. How can we make sure that we do not have a formal religion like that?

3.    Malachi said things that would have upset his hearers. He said that God was very tired of worship that was not sincere. And God wished that they would just shut the *Temple doors (Malachi 1:10). Old Testament *prophets who lived before Malachi had the same problems. And they said similar things. (Read Isaiah 1:11-20; Jeremiah 6:20; 7:21-23; Amos 5:21-24 and Micah 6:6-8). How important is their teaching in our world today?

Word List (Words with a *)

AD ~ these letters are for 2 Latin words; they are Anno Domini; they mean ‘in the year of our *Lord’; so AD is any date after the birth of Jesus.

believer ~ a person who knows and accepts the *Lord Jesus Christ; this is another name for a Christian.

exile ~ someone who must leave their own land, often for a long time; it can also mean the time when this happens; the word is a noun or a verb.

Jew ~ person or people from the Jewish nation; God chose them to be his special people (read Deuteronomy 7:6-8); our Old Testament (the first part of the Bible) tells their history; their language is Hebrew; Jesus was a Jew.

judgement ~ when God or a person says what is right or wrong; he tests behaviour; he decides if it is right or wrong; then he acts on the decision; judgement can be about legal or moral matters.

Law ~ the Law usually refers to the first 4 books in our Bible; Moses wrote them.

Lord ~ a name that we call God or Jesus; we call God or Jesus Lord when we do what they say.

prophet ~ a person whom God chooses; he gives special messages from God.

religious ~ about religion; a person can be religious; but he may not really know God (read Acts 17:22; 2 Timothy 3:5 and James 1:26, 27).

sin ~ when someone does not reach God’s standards; when someone does not obey God’s rules; the word can speak about a state (Genesis 3; Romans 3:23; 5:12-17); it can also be an act; so, the word can be a noun or a verb.

sovereignty ~ God’s absolute right to govern everything in the way that he chooses; but God always does things that fit with who he is; he will never act in any other way; so, we can trust his sovereignty completely.

spiritual ~ holy; the part of life that is to do with the things of God; it speaks about things that start with God; so they fit with his nature; it also speaks about people; when someone pleases God, he is spiritual; it speaks about attitudes too; we should have the same attitudes as God.

temple ~ The *Jews’ special large building for God; it was in Jerusalem. The enemy destroyed it in *AD 70; since that time, *Jews’ special buildings are called synagogues.

worship ~ the word can be a verb or a noun; to honour God with words of prayer and praise; it is a way to appreciate God for himself; we are also being grateful for all that he has done; we can worship God together; we study the Bible; we praise him; we pray to him; each person can worship God too; worship is an attitude of thanks; we give honour to God; we respect and praise him; worship is also acts; to give ourselves to God and to serve him can be an act of worship too (Romans 12:1); (a right attitude will lead to right acts; right acts will come from a right attitude). (Important note: people can worship idols; they give to a false god what belongs to God only.)


By full permission of author

EasyEnglish TRANSLATION: Mary Read


© 1999-2014, Wycliffe Associates (UK)

This publication is written in EasyEnglish Level B (2800 words).

June 2003

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