The condition of the priesthood was miserable and fallen, especially after his people returned to Jerusalem from Babylon. The prophets Ezra and Nehemiah in particular speak about this. The return of the people to Jerusalem was miraculous on the one hand because they laid the foundation of the temple and began to offer sacrifices to God. But on the other hand, there was a lot of impurity. Many of them were married to pagan women and had brought their idols with them. It was a mixture of any kind of impurity and with time it did not get better. Because it is always easier to go down than up. So it is not surprising that at the time of the Lord’s first coming, their spiritual condition was so terrible that John the Baptist called them brood of vipers. He must have been very brave to say something like that. For he said this not to criminals, but to the scribes, Pharisees, and those in high places, when they came to him to be baptized: “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, Brood of vipers! Who put you up to this, that ye should escape the wrath to come?” (Mt. 3:7). This was the condition of the people of Israel before the first coming of the Lord. This also shows that their condition has not changed for the better at all because of the word of Malachi!
Yet, even though God’s people were in such a pitiful condition, Malachi 1:2a says, “I have loved you, says the Lord.” He didn’t say, “I’m not sure I love you anymore,” but he reminded them of the love he had for them from the beginning. This should remind us of what the Lord said to the church at Ephesus, “You have forsaken your first love” (Rev. 2:4). It shows us that the Lord is still waiting for our first love for Him. How about your love for the Lord? He will ask you, “Do you love me?” Just as when the risen Lord asked Peter, “Do you love me?” The answer must have been embarrassing for Peter, for he had just denied the Lord three times. He answered, “You know that I love you” (John 21:15-17). The gentleman then asked him a second and third time. When the Lord asks us this question today, it seems easy to answer Him, “Yes, Lord, I love You”; but then we go away and do many things that hurt Him. Then when he tells us not to do it anymore, we keep doing it anyway. Then he will ask you again, “Do you love me?” Then at the end of the day you will say, “Lord, you know.” We are so quick to say, “Yes, Lord, I love you.” Our love must not be just lip service. The Lord said, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Mt. 15:8; Isa. 29:13). Our love for Him should constantly increase and be expressed in our daily lives.
The Lord began by telling His people, “I have loved you,” by which He meant, “I have never ceased to love you.” The love of the Lord is unchanging. This does not mean that it is always increasing, rather it means that once he loves, he loves you to the end: “…he had shown his love to his own who were in the world, and showed it to them to the uttermost.” (John 13:1b). Even on the cross he did not change his mind. When the Lord says “I have loved you,” that is a very strong promise. Nothing touches a person’s heart more than the love of God. God loves you, and this love is overwhelming. Children need to know that their parents love them. Parents correct children because they need to, but it is done out of love. Children “love” their friends who play with them, but who will take care of them when they are sick? Will their friends buy them new clothes and feed them every day? God’s love is the greatest power in the universe: “For God so loved the world” (John 3:16). His love on the cross was exceedingly powerful. When we preach the gospel, we should not only convince people that the Lord is their Savior because He died for them, but rather we should make them understand God’s love. “For the love of Christ presseth us thus, … And therefore died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again” (2 Cor. 5:14-15). This love is a pressing love. If you do not touch this love, it will be difficult for you to give up everything because you love many things more than God.
It is very significant how God begins His speaking in Malachi, “I have loved you.” Touch the love of God and never leave the first love. When the Lord touched my heart for the first time, it was truly stunning! The Bible became my pillow. I loved his word and spent a lot of time reading it. When he called me, I was floating in seventh heaven. His love filled my heart. With such love, you are ready to give up everything else. There is nothing more important for you. When God’s love has touched our heart, it changes everything. But when our heart is hardened, nothing can move or change us. This is a serious and strong word from the Lord. It is His love that moves us to turn to Him. She doesn’t give up easily.
He did not love his people because they were so great. They were a stiff-necked people – and we are no different! He did not choose us because we are so good and so wonderful. On the contrary, we are nothing. Nevertheless, He chose us before the foundation of the world, that we might be holy and without blemish before Him in love (cf. Eph. 1:4). It is very difficult to fathom such love.
Since we are His priests, the most important thing is to know His love. Everything we do for the Lord, we are to do out of love for Him and out of His love for us. When that love is no longer there, preparing for the festival gatherings becomes a burden for us: “Oh no, it’s Sunday again, and I have to prepare. What am I going to do?” If you love the Lord, you will say, “Praise the Lord, it is time for the feast!” This is not teaching. If you love him like that, nothing will be impossible for you. Paul said that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. Neither problems, death, persecutions nor suffering (cf. Rom. 8:35-39). We therefore come back to the church at Ephesus, to whom the Lord said, “I have not forsaken my love for you, but why have you, my bride, forsaken your first love?” His desire is a glorious church, His bride! But they left the first love, and once we leave the best love, he is no longer number one in our lives. Pretty soon he won’t even be number two anymore and very quickly won’t mean anything to us. Therefore, his word exhorts us to keep the first and greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mk. 12:30). In a congregational hymn it says, “What shall I give thee, O Lord, …. Not just one part for your full salvation, all I give for you.” To love with all your heart means to love with all your soul. The most important part of our soul is our mind. If we love God with all our mind, we will not forget Him. We will think of him in every situation, “Lord, what do you want me to do? What do you say?” We are also to love him with all our strength. And the second commandment is equal to this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk. 12:31). For us priests, the most important thing is to love Him with our best love. Even in your marriage, he must be number one. He must have the preeminence in all things (cf. Col. 1:18).