Lest We Forget (Malachi)
Leading Question: What does Malachi tell us that we need to know today?
Note: Three issues/passages stand out as particularly significant for believers today: the predestinarian perspective on Jacob and Esau (1:2-3), tithing (3:10), Elijah the prophet (4:5-6).
1. “I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated” (1:2-3). Paul tussles with this quote in Romans 9:10-21. Those favoring a free-will perspective find his rhetoric amusing; those favoring a predestinarian perspective do not. Is there any way to resolve this tension? In the opinion of the author of this study guide (Thompson), there is not. The resolution to the difficulty seems to be that the differing perspectives must balance out each other in the church in the persons of people holding the differing views.
What is perhaps most remarkable in our individualistic age is that free-will parents tend to give birth to Calvinist children and Calvinist parents tend to give birth to free will children. Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, in their How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (3rd ed., 2003, p. 20), note rather wryly, “Both ‘eternal security’ and the possibility of ‘losing one’s salvation’ are preached in the church, but never by the same person!” When addressing the tension between the free-will and Calvinist perspectives and the texts supporting each position, these same authors observe: “Our experience as teachers is that students from these traditions seldom ask what these texts mean; they want to know “how to get around” these texts!”
An article at the end of this lesson suggests, somewhat playfully, another way of obtaining balance. In short, a free-will person can “choose” to be a Calvinist on alternate days!
2. Tithing: Does the formula work? (3:10). Tithing is highly recommended by many churches. Almost from the beginning the practice has been urged by Adventists. But it is still not a “test of fellowship.” Jesus’ statement in Matthew 23:23 supports tithing in a rather unique way. He criticizes the Pharisees for their strict tithing practices while neglecting “the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.” But then he adds: “These you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others.”
In class discussion, it could be profitable to share tithing stories. We can inspire others to step out by faith and do what the Lord says in Malachi 3:10: “Put me to the test.”
3. Elijah the Prophet (4:5-6). Malachi specifically states that God “will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes” (NIV). This led some in Jesus’ day to think that John the Baptist might have been Elijah (Luke 9:8; John 1:21). Others thought that Jesus himself might have been Elijah (Luke 9:19). The SDABC, in the light of Luke 1:17, suggests that the passage may not refer to a particular person, but to the “spirit and power” which accompanied Elijah’s ministry. Such an approach would likely reduce speculation about the appearance of an extraordinary messenger of the Lord at the end of time.
“A Calvinist on Monday, Wednesday, Friday”
Is my title wishful thinking, conviction, or playfulness? Yes! But I’d choose “conviction” if I could. I’d love to enter the soul of a real Calvinist, not to wreak havoc, but to understand, and not like a doctor understands a patient, but from the patient’s own perspective. It would be like sharing a beautiful sunset as two people are drawn together in awe and wonder. Or the sharing of a luscious fresh peach. Knowing glances and happy noises reveal a common joy.
But if sunsets and peaches bond us naturally, theology requires miracles. In the words of Thoreau, “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” Yes, theological unity needs miracles.
And I’ll be honest: I want a miracle. Why not? Miracles are biblical.
But do I need a miracle to become a Calvinist? Didn’t Calvin earn his Adventist spurs with a chapter in Ellen White’s The Great Controversy? Not exactly. At least one devout Adventist has gone into print with the line: “The Satanic God of Calvin.” Strong feelings those!
And thus looms the great question that keeps dividing believers: Is our future in God’s hands or ours? Does God choose us or do we choose God?
Now if you simply answer Yes! and wonder what the problem is, you’re in good company. As C. S. Lewis has noted, Paul, without explanation, puts the two perspectives back-to-back in Philippians 2:12-13: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” – “for it is God who is at work in you.”
Our trouble is the temptation to choose one or the other instead of keeping them together. Indeed, even though Paul puts both together in Philippians 2, elsewhere he comes down so hard on the divine side of the equation (e.g. Rom 9-11) that he is often seen as virtually the opponent of freedom-loving James. Historically the two sides have clashed again and again: Augustine (400s), Calvin (1500s), and Whitefield (1700s), arguing for divine sovereignty; Pelagius, Arminius, and Wesley, defending human freedom.
Adventists typically are free-will people, more at home with Methodists than Presbyterians or Lutherans. But as I see it, our free-will roots have kept us from really hearing Paul – hence my conviction that I should be a Calvinist three days a week.
It happened as I was reading devotionally in the Gospel of John and was surprised by two familiar verses. I’d read them many times before but hadn’t heard them. In John 12:27, Jesus wonders about asking the Father to “save” him. “No,” he says. “That’s why I came.” Suddenly I heard the other prayer in the Garden, “Let this cup pass from me” (found in the synoptics but not in John). In John 15:16 I was startled again: “You did not choose me, but I chose you.”
I had always “heard” the human side of those experiences: Jesus’ human desire to escape death, and my freedom to “choose” God. It’s time for me to hear the divine call, not just the human will. Maybe it can happen on MWF. That’s a curious kind of Calvinism, to be sure. But by God’s grace, miracles can happen.
It may be, however, that in this case I’m expecting too much. Instead of being like a shared sunset or luscious peach, my love for Calvinism could be like my appreciation for my wife’s love of high mountain peaks that plunge into deep, dark chasms below. She revels in the heights; they terrify me. But because I love her, I love to see her exhilaration – as long as I don’t have to go to the edge myself. We’ll see. In the meantime, I am going to be a MWF Calvinist.