I’ve observed over the years that there are essentially two groups of professing believers: those who feel perfectly comfortable, in fact keenly eager, to talk about Jesus and those who find it hard or even impossible to do so. Some examples… (1) When gently challenged by my wife as to his Christian profession, the man who fell madly in love with and married her sister, had him respond ‘Melanie, I also love Jesus, I just don’t talk about him.’ Huh?! (2) Riekert and Pippa Botha, a missionary couple from the Southern Cape, felt constrained by God to tour Southern and Central Africa for a year in their Land Rover, with one thing in mind only viz. to make contact with scattered pockets of believers, hand out audio Bibles in their vernacular, and talk with them about Jesus. Having visited Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania and Zanzibar thus far, they found most eager to engage on their pet theme (Jesus), with the notable exception of one or two groups who seemed not much interested, preferring to talk about themselves and their own needs.
[Riekert and Pippa on the right]
(3) Living in a retirement village, we’ve discovered that many of the residents attend ‘church services’ as a norm, but when trying to engage them in Jesus-conversation, they suddenly become cool and distant.
As Christian young people my wife and I happily sang a popular little chorus ‘Let’s Talk About Jesus… The King of Kings Is He, the Lord of Lords Supreme…’ today it’s never sung – ok, it was a long time ago!! Do you recall it perhaps?
On this theme of talking to each other about God, I’ve always appreciated the OT Scripture, Mal. 3:16-18 (NIV): “Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honoured his name. ‘They will be mine,’ says the LORD Almighty, ‘in the day when I make up my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.'”
Some background… (Westerners often naively imagine that the ancient Scriptures were written just for their nation in this hour, living in the so-called ‘last days!’ Joel 2:28ff & Acts 2 expose this heresy)
The minor prophet ‘Malachi’ (being on the shorter side myself, a young girl in our congregation years ago concluded her pastor must be ‘a minor prophet!’), a contemporary of Nehemiah the nation-builder, was God’s ‘Messenger’ to Israel way back in the 400’s BC, prophesying concerning the nation’s lax worship. Their laxity manifested itself through second-rate giving to the temple, marrying pagan wives, etc. In that setting their lack of giving meant that the temple staff suffered, the poor could not be relieved, etc.
Malachi’s good news was that there was a faithful nucleus of men and women who had a serious regard for God and whom he would remember and acknowledge before all! [Note, the common theme of all twelve Minor Prophets is ‘The Day of the LORD,’ i.e. the day of judgment for the wicked and restoration of the righteous]. This faithful group, while perhaps complaining with the others about the unrighteous seemingly getting away with things, at least took the Lord’s rebuke seriously enough to goad one another to repentance and faith. It was this ‘groping after faith and God himself’ that the LORD could not ignore.
Now we take a look at ‘THE MARKS OF THE FAITHFUL,’ throughout history but specifically reflected in Mal. 3:16ff. In these days of ecclesiastical confusion and blurred values all round, a topical subject methinks!
(1) The faithful talk about God/Jesus naturally and spontaneously. See e.g. Mr. and Mrs. (?) Cleopas on the road to Emmaus in company (unknowingly) with the risen Lord, whom they eventually offered over-night hospitality (Lk. 24:13ff). Over supper he broke bread with them, and suddenly their eyes were opened to recognize him, only to see him disappear: v. 32, “They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?'” They immediately returned to Jerusalem, bursting to share their Jesus-conversation with the eleven hiding behind closed doors! Think also of the apostle Paul’s exhortations to the body in Eph. 5:18bff: ‘Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs… Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (cf. Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 10:24-25; Jam. 5:13-20). Hot off the press is the news that China’s Henan Province is facing much more clampdown, with 7,000 churches closed down in the past 2 years and many house church pastors imprisoned (Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra). Despite this, in their underground gatherings members remain long after these have concluded just to chat with each other – as one who has visited these house gatherings in the past, I can safely guess what they were talking about, viz. the things of God! This does not mean that as believers we don’t enjoy happy every-day banter regarding our family, a beloved pet, a shopping bargain, or even some personal struggle – rather that, because all of our life falls under the majestic Lordship of Christ, our conversation sooner or later gravitates back to Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Footnote 1). In conclusion, let us seriously test ourselves, brothers and sisters: ‘are we indeed part of the faithful, godly remnant of our Lord??’ If not, we’re in real trouble.
(2) The faithful are assured that God listens to their conversation about him. The nation of Israel during Malachi’s time was not short of talking about God and their disappointment in him: cf. Mal. 3:13-15. But by contrast, the faithful remnant repented of all idle chatter about Yahweh. Note his gracious response to and commendation of the faithful!
(3) The faithful are assured of their eternal worth in the LORD’S sight. Of course, it’s up to them to ensure that they remain loyal to the very end – the Letter to the Hebrews had huge relevance to the original receivers who were contemplating returning to their law-keeping roots because of persecution. Hebrews is still hugely relevant to many Christian assemblies today who bargain on a gospel of cheap grace! Coming back to God’s faithful, the LORD recorded their faithfulness in his eternal ‘book of remembrance.’ The idea that the Lord keeps a record of the names of his people occurs as early as Exodus and the Psalms, but only Malachi calls it a ‘book of remembrance.’ The prophet’s thought is that not one true servant of his will be forgotten by God: 3:16/“‘They will be mine'” is emphatic in the Hebrew, and “‘my treasured possession'” further endorses the point.
(4) The faithful reveal the difference between those who worship the LORD and those who don’t. In many instances today there is no obvious difference between the faithful and the nominal. The one group is as ‘worldly’ (ego-centric, materialistic, etc) as the other, which is surely a tragedy for the kingdom of God. If we plead guilty here, let’s at least determine to once-for-all nail our colours to the mast and back it up with attitudes and behaviour consistent with the lordship of Jesus Christ! (cf. Mt. 7:21-23). Let us not be like the many who have lost sight of the greatness of our King, whose name is to be feared among the nations (Mal. 1:14). As always, ultimate judgment turns on a person’s response to God’s invitation to ‘return’ to him: “‘Return to me, and I will return to you,’ says the LORD Almighty!” (cf. 3:7)
The old hymn ‘I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses,’ may smack of sentimentality at times, but the chorus is powerful and beautiful: ‘And he walks with me and he talks with me, And he tells me I am his own. And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known!’
(1) Cf. the excellent article by Pr. Mack Stiles of Iraq on men learning to talk authentically about God among themselves: https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-awkward-duty-of-encouragement
Here’s the childhood song I referred to earlier…