09 God’s Distinction Between the Wicked and the Righteous

Malachi 3 v 13 – 18

We’re returning to our series from the book of Malachi this evening, and I invite you to turn with me to the third chapter of Malachi’s prophecy. Please turn with me to Malachi chapter three. And we’re going to read together verses 13 to 18. Now pay very careful attention while we read. These are such appropriate words for us in these days in which we live. Listen to our Lord.

13“Your words have been hard against Me, says the LORD. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against You?’ 14You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping His charge or of walking as in mourning before the LORD of hosts? 15And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.'”
16Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before Him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed His Name.
17“They shall be Mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up My treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. 18Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him.
 (ESV)

The text ends with those words, “then once more you shall see the difference, the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him”. Judgment day will not be the first time that we see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve the Lord, and those who do not serve Him. Because the Lord says in verse 18, once again – once again, you will see the distinction. In other words, this distinction has been seen before. It’s just once more that it’s happening.

And it’s significant that it’s the Prophet Malachi speaking to the people in his day because they were just like we are, or shall we say that we are just like they are. We saw in chapter 1:1-5, that they doubted God’s love. We see in chapter 1:6-14 that they despised God’s Name, and we looked at that last time. Then in chapter 2:1 and on, we see that they defiled God’s covenant. Now we come to chapter 3, and we see that they disobeyed God’s word. Those were the sins of the people in Malachi’s day that the Lord addressed through a series of discourses by the mouth of the Prophet Malachi.

As I say, again, we are today very often, just as the people were in Malachi’s day. We doubt God’s love – it’s so easy to do that; we despise God’s Name; we defile His covenant. And then very prevalent these days – we disobey God’s Word. And that disobedience takes many forms – it’s not just knowing what God says and blatantly disobeying it – it even takes the form of contradicting God, and making God say what we want Him to say. As I pointed out this morning, the Word is God’s communication to us by the Holy Spirit. And here’s the problem for fallen human beings like us: In communication, there are various points at which communication can break down. It begins with the speaker. The speaker may not be clear and coherent. But even when the speaker is clear, what he said, is not always heard, what is heard, is not always understood, or is understood incorrectly. But what is understood correctly, is not always accepted. We don’t always make it our own, even though it’s clear. And then lastly, what is accepted, is not always acted upon and applied in the appropriate way.

This was the case with the people in Malachi’s day and it’s the case in the world where we live as well. The Lord has spoken, and He’s spoken clearly. But what we do is we disobey the Lord’s Word. The problem gets worse because how we see God, and what we say about Him, is a result of our circumstances. Have you noticed that before? How many times have you either heard or even uttered the lament: ‘Where is God in all of this? Look how easy people in the world have it. We as the Lord’s people, look how we have to suffer. My neighbour is such a pagan, but the Lord has blessed him with so many things. I serve the Lord and look how hard I have it.’

You see how we see God, and what we say about Him is often a result of our response to our circumstances. Now, this evening, what I want to say to you – in these days in which we live, but not only in these days, always – what we’re going to learn from Malachi tonight is regardless of how our lives may go, you and I need to be very careful of what we say. And here’s why – the Lord hears everything. The living God of heaven and earth hears everything we say. Not only does He hear what we say, He even hears what we think. So, we need to be very careful what we say to ourselves, to the Lord, and to others around about us about the Lord.

The text falls into two parts. The first part comes from verses 13 to 15, the second part from verses 16 to 18. And those two points make up the title of my message to you this evening: “The distinction between the righteous and the wicked”. And we’re going to see in those two parts, first of all, in verses 13 to 15, the Lord’s accusations against the wicked. Then in verses 16 to 18, we’re going to see the Lord’s acceptance of the righteous. We’re going to see what the Lord has to say in this discourse about the wicked.

  1. The LORD’s accusation against the wicked

    There are at least three very important indictments that the Lord brings against the people because of what they say. Notice verse 13, first of all, they are hard words against the Lord:
     Your words have been hard against Me, says the LORD. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against You?’

    Now remember, many of these people were finding themselves in very adverse providences, and they were seeing the heathen around about them prosper, and so on. And that caused them to speak hard words against God. And they do it in a way that they don’t even know that they’re doing it – very arrogantly they say to the Lord, “how have we spoken against You?” And the Lord points out to them at least three ways in which they have spoken words that are hard against the Lord.

    The first thing we need to say, in their speaking:

    a. They declared serving God to be useless

    They came to the conclusion and said that serving God is useless (in verses 13 and the first part of verse 14). Notice how they said it. The Lord testifies against them and says:
     “you have said,” – and God can say that they have said, because we know that God heard them – “you have said, it is vain to serve God.” That word vain can be put in colloquial terms to mean useless – there is no use to it – it’s empty – it is vain to serve God. “What is the profit of our keeping His charge?” You see they were asking themselves, “what is in it for us? If we keep the Lord’s commandments, if we keep His covenant, if we keep His charge”, because His charge is His commandments and His covenant, and they were expecting some profit from it. And they were saying, “what is the profit of our keeping His charge? It is useless to serve God.” And we’ll see in a moment why they said that – what brought them to that conclusion – how did these people arrive at the conclusion that it is useless to serve God, and that there is no profit in keeping God’s covenant and commandments.

    But they did more, and I’m going to show you in a moment, why they came to these two conclusions – the conclusion that they declared serving God to be useless and secondly:

    b. They declared mourning before the LORD to be useless

    In the second part of verse 14, “or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts.” I said to you this morning, there is a tie between what we see here and what we see in the book of Romans chapter three. People sin, people do know that they sin, and what that sin does to a true believer is it makes the true believer contritious, sorrowful, sorry for their sin. Listen to me, beloved, if there’s sin in your life, you know that you need to be sorry for it. You need to walk as in mourning before the Lord of hosts, because He says so.

    But these people said, even in that it is vain. There is no profit of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts. So, they rejected God’s charge, and they rejected contrition. They said, “It’s no use to serve God, there’s no profit in doing it. And when we mess up and sin, there is no use in even coming before the Lord and saying that we are sorry, and ask for forgiveness and move on. Our circumstances don’t change.” You see, that’s part of their life realities. They were seeking to serve God, and to keep His charge, but they failed at it. But when they failed at it, it seems to me there were those among them, who really felt sorrowful about that failure and that sin, and became mournful before the Lord, walking before Him as in mourning.

    But look what they tried to gain from it: for their circumstances to change. And when they didn’t see the circumstances change, they came to the conclusion that it is useless to serve God. And it’s useless to be sorrowful when you fail at keeping God’s charge.

    c. They declared arrogant evildoers blessed

    Where did they come to this conclusion? How did they make this deduction? Verse 15:
     And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape!

    Do you see what happened here? Some of these people, they were truly seeking to serve God and keep His charge. They failed about it, and walked in mourning before the Lord, asked for forgiveness, and still they did not escape the harsh circumstances in which they found themselves. And while this was going on, they were in these harsh circumstances, the arrogant and the evildoers around about them were caring even less about keeping God’s charge. And they weren’t even sorry for it, in fact, they did it deliberately. Look what Malachi says – they not only prosper, but they put God to the test. They test Him with it, and they escape. It’s as though they are saying, “these people are saying, we’re going to see what God does if we do this and/or commit that sin. Let’s see what God does.” And then they committed it, and they carried on to prosper. And now these godly people were seeing this and saying to themselves: “what’s the use of serving God? Because we work so hard at it, when we fail, we weep for it. But our circumstances don’t change. Whereas the evil doers, and the arrogant around us, they go around not only sinning, but doing it deliberately, putting God to the test, and their circumstances don’t change. They stay, and they call it, ‘blessed’ as they were before.”

    Now this is a human thing. We see it in other places in Scripture as well. Psalm 73:3, “I was envious of the arrogant, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked“. “The tents of the destroyer prosper, and those who provoked God are secure, whom God brings into their power”, Job laments in chapter 12. In Jeremiah 12:1 we read “righteous are you O, Lord, when I complain to You, yet I would plead my case before You. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?” See, in Jeremiah’s day too, Jeremiah couldn’t understand it. He also felt a little bit, it seems, “it may be useless, to keep God’s charge, and to be contritious when you fail at it.”

    We also see in Psalm 37:7, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him. Fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices.” The Psalmist counsels us that this is going to be the reality of life in God’s providence in a fallen world, among fallen people. There will be those who do well, who seek to keep the Lord’s charge, who seek to serve Him, who seek to fear Him and when they don’t, to be sorrowful, and contritious for it. And yet, their providential circumstances will be very difficult. They will be poor, they will be sick, they will have things that afflict them. While they look around about us and they see the arrogant and the evildoers and the destroyers and the wicked, they see them thrive – they deliberately test God, and nothing happens to them. The Psalmist tells us to not fret ourselves over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices. And here He speaks to the righteous.

    Now we’ve seen the Lord’s accusations against the wicked, in their hard words against the Lord: They declared serving God to be useless, they declared mourning before the Lord to be useless, and they declared the arrogant evildoers blessed. That’s the Lord’s indictment. That’s His accusation against them. He’s saying, “you have said that it’s useless to serve Me, you have said that its useless to be mournful before Me when you fail, and you have told Me that the arrogant evildoers are blessed.”

    That’s the Lord’s accusations against them. But that’s what marks the wicked. The wicked call the arrogant blessed. They say that it’s no use to serve the Lord. They say that it’s no use to be sorrowful for sin before the Lord. That’s the wicked, but among them who were speaking like this, there was a very special group of people for whom we praise God.

    We’ve seen the Lord’s accusation against the wicked. Now let’s from verses 16 to 18 see the Lord’s acceptance of the righteous. How did the righteous respond? When Malachi confronted the nation and said, “This is what you’ve done! You’ve spoken hard words against the Lord, saying ‘to serve Him is useless, to be mournful for your sin before Him is useless, and that arrogant evildoers are blessed.'”

    Something happened when the Lord’s people heard it. Look at verse 16. And when I read it this week, it deeply blessed my heart. It’s something we need to do more often. Verse 16:
     Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another.

    They spoke with one another. Now, we’re not told what they said to one another. But what they did say to one another, we can very easily glean from the text because of how the Lord responded to what they said. They must have said the opposite of what these people were saying in these harsh circumstances. They spoke to one another. I think what they said, they came together, and they said, “Did you hear that? Did you hear what God said? The Lord says, ‘Now we are saying that serving Him is useless.’

    God is saying we look at the world around about us as those – the evildoers, and the arrogant – who put God to the test and get away with it, proves to us that it’s useless to serve God. And it’s useless to even feel sorrowful for sin when you become aware of it. They were envious of the arrogant. They fret themselves over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries up evil devices – they fret themselves over them. But not so these people who spoke with one another. They must have said to one another “That’s not right, you know, that is not right. What we are saying is not right.” How do we know that that’s probably what they said? Because we see their humble words with one another. They spoke with one another.


  2. The LORD’s acceptance of the righteous

    We see secondly, the Lord’s paying attention to them, we see the Lord’s pleasure in them, and the Lord’s promises to them. That’s how the Lord accepted the righteous. He pays attention to them, He shows His pleasure in them, and He makes His promises to them – and He keeps them.

    a. The LORD pays attention to them

    Notice the Lord’s paying attention to them. And this is what I said to you earlier on. Be careful what you say when life gets tough, because the Lord hears everything. Look at verse 16:
     The LORD paid attention and heard them.

    You see, the Lord paid attention. When you find yourself in affliction, when you find yourself in adverse circumstances, and you say things, such as “it’s useless to serve God. It’s useless to even become contritious when I sin, because look at how these evildoers are blessed, and they do none of that.” Be careful not to say that because the Lord pays attention, and the Lord hears, and what we are saying is not only untrue, it is wicked and sinful. So, we see the Lord paying attention to them.

    b. The LORD shows His pleasure to them

    Notice, secondly, the Lord’s pleasure in them. The Lord took pleasure in them. In verse 16, the last part:
     a book of remembrance was written before Him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed His Name.

    So here we can see also that in what they said, the Lord saw that they were those who feared Him and esteemed His Name. In adverse circumstances where the wicked prosper and they are afflicted, they fear the Lord, and they esteem His Name. They don’t go and say “it’s useless to serve the Lord, it’s useless to be sorry for sin. We may as well be like the wicked and test God and get away with it.” They don’t say that. They say: “No, God sees everything. God hears everything. God is in control. In this world, you will have persecution, you will have trouble, but be of good cheer the Lord is overcome the world. This is not the end, it’s just a step along the way. It’s not our destination. It is our journey.”

    The Lord pays attention to what we say to one another, the Lord hears what we say to one another. And we too want the Lord to take pleasure in what we say to one another, especially in the midst of this pandemic. And in the political situation that we find, especially in the Western world today, we need to be careful what we say – that what we say are not hard words against God. We need to be careful of that.

    We sometimes think it’s hard words against the world and hard words against the evildoers, but we don’t notice that they can the hard words against God – they can reveal that we don’t really trust Him, that we too think it’s useless to serve Him, and it’s useless to be sorrowful before Him. “Service and sorrow, before God is useless. Because look at the wicked they don’t do it, and they are having a good time of it – they escaped, they’re getting away with it.” We need to be very careful to see this and to say it because the Lord pays attention. The Lord hears. We need to be those who fear the LORD, when we speak with one another, that the Lord may make us people who fear the Lord in everything we speak with one another, so that when the Lord hears what we say, He can take pleasure in us. And so also, to “make a book of remembrance before Me, of those who fear Me, of those who esteem My Name like this.”

    In everything that we say in our adversity, it must fear the LORD, it must esteem His Name. We cannot respond to life and it’s harsh realities in word or in action in any way that does not show that we fear the Lord, and that we esteem His Name, not because of what we will profit from it, but because we know who the Lord is. And we know we want to belong to Him.

    We get now – having seen the Lord paid attention to them, and the Lord took pleasure in them to lastly, in verse 17:

    c. The LORD’s promises to them

    They are wonderful promises beloved – they’re my prayer for you at this time. Look at the Lord’s promises to them. Verse 17:
     They shall be Mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up My treasured possession…

    That day, when the Lord separates the sheep from the goats, they will be among the sheep. “They shall be Mine.” They shall be His treasured possession. Do you want to be part of the treasured possession of the Lord? Then you need to be among those who fear the Lord and esteem His Name in a world that blasphemes it and gets away with it while we suffer adverse providences. If you want to be among those who belong to the Lord, then this is where you need to locate yourself – you need to fear the Lord and esteem His Name.
    Not only will they be among His treasured possession, look what the Lord says:
     I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him.

    What wonderful words: “…spares his son who serves him.” You know, this is who we are to God. Many of us have sons – I have a beloved son. You know, and when we look at our sons and our daughters, when they try to serve us as parents, and they mess up. What do we do? As long as they remain part of the family we spare them – we give them second and third chances. We don’t give them the bad that they deserve. We give them the good that they don’t deserve, which is grace. We withhold from them often the bad that they deserve, which is mercy. That’s what sparing them means. God will show them grace, God will show them mercy – those who are His treasured possession – those who fear the Lord and esteem His Name in a world where people blaspheme God and put Him to the test and prosper, while we keep the Lord’s charge and are sorrowful for our sins, we often find ourselves in very adverse providences.

    Why is the Lord doing all of this in His promises to them? Verse 18:
     Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him. 

    On that day, the wicked who does not serve Him will have nothing but eternal damnation. But the ones who serve God, they will be among His treasured possession and share with Him in His eternal glory.

    We saw this morning in the book of Romans. How can this be? Because we cannot serve God perfectly. Well, when we don’t, we are contritious before Him. We come before Him and we say that we are saved not by our works, but by faith in Jesus Christ. That’s how we keep the Lord’s charge, His commandments and His covenant. We keep them in the Lord Jesus Christ. We know that this world is not our own, we are just passing through. We love not the world, nor the things thereof. We don’t measure the faithfulness, and the grace and the mercy of God by our providences and by the prosperity of the wicked around about us. We measure it by our Lord’s promises, and His being and His person and His faithfulness. We know we will have trouble in this world, sometimes far greater trouble than the wicked. We don’t envy them. We fear the Lord and we serve the Lord. That puts us among the righteous and not among the wicked.

May the Lord in the Lord Jesus Christ this evening, put us among the righteous, who inadequately and imperfectly so, but intentionally so, we seek to serve the Lord. We don’t consider it a useless thing. We consider it the purpose of our existence – to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. We don’t consider contrition before the Lord to be useless, not before the God of mercy and grace. When He sees our sorrow for our sin, He’s swift to forgive, to give us the good that we don’t deserve, to withhold from us the bad that we do deserve. So, serving God is not useless in this harsh world. Mourning before the Lord is not useless, and the evildoers are not blessed. They will be revealed for who they are. And you and I, we will be among His treasured possession in the Lord Jesus Christ. Take heart in these things beloved.