In his helpful study on The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made, Mark Dever introduces the message on Malachi with the question: ‘Isn’t sincerity in our worship all that counts?’ He then notes the way in which the idea of being sincere reigns today. He begins this way:
“Sometime back, Psychology Today interviewed CNN talk-show host Larry King and asked him why he was so good at his job of interviewing people. King replied, ‘I’m sincere. I’m really curious. I care what people think. I listen to answers and leave my ego at the door. I don’t use the word ‘I.’”
Dever found it amusing that King identified his skill at interviewing as based on his lack of using the word ‘I,’, and yet used it six times in the three lines answering the question! He wasn’t being critical of King, he indicated. For King ‘is, without doubt, one of the best interviewers on television,’ declared Dever. In fact, what sets King apart from many others is that he gives his guests time to answer his questions. ‘But,’ he added, ‘it is striking that King – without any intended irony – focused on himself as not being the center.’
Yet, ‘Really, I think we are all like that. It isn’t just King. All of us find our natural center in ourselves.’ Then drawing on Shakespeare, he writes, ‘We simply assume that what Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet said is true: “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man” (Liii. 78-80).
Certainly, self-knowledge is important. Sometimes we need to be brutally honest with ourselves. Recognizing this, Dever goes on to say:
“But in our day, we are regularly told that the self must not only be known, it must be regarded, expressed, actualized, and obeyed! Everything from our economics to our family life, from our health to our politics, must conform to the requirements of the self. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not endowments of a Creator; they are the inherent rights of the self. Descartes may have said, ‘I think, therefore I am.’ Yet our motto today is ‘I want, therefore I am.’”
It’s no surprise, then, that sincerity has come to be regarded as chief of the virtues. King listed his own sincerity as the first reason why he was a good interviewer. Sincerity appears to be a virtue with no downside. When we say that someone is ‘sincere,’ we are suggesting that the person possesses an integrity and an authenticity that are, without question, good. Sincerity has a plain, simple honesty about it – a kind of ‘what you see is what you get’ quality that is fresh, even noble. Longfellow said that sincerity is ‘Just what I think, and nothing more nor less.’ Who can object to that?
Surely the alternative is incalculably dangerous: to be insincere is to deceive and to hide from others, from ourselves, and ultimately from God. Insincerity and falseness are certainly bad, we say, and sincerity is certainly good.
‘But is sincerity as good as we think?’ asks Dever. He continues: ‘I assume there are people who have sincerely killed their neighbor, sincerely hated their parents, or sincerely blasphemed God.’ By itself, Dever notes, ‘sincerity does not make us right. I can be sincere and wrong at the same time. Sincerity is necessary, but it is not sufficient.’
He then draws this introduction to our subject matter of worship when he writes, ‘Our culture’s overemphasis on the sincere self has also affected how we think about religion.’ He continues:
“Sincere self-expression has come to rule not only in the fields of art, psychology, child-rearing, and education, but in religion. If yesterday’s buzz words were ‘official’ and ‘professional,’ the buzz words today are ‘authentic’ and ‘real.’ Popular religious faith today places a premium on being private, centered on the self, and ambiguous about God.”
I wonder if this is the kind of religion that you look for: private, self-centered, vague about the God to whom you sing and pray, but very sincere!
If so, then you have come to the right book in the Bible – and the last book in the Old Testament – Malachi.
I hope you can join us this week as we look at ‘The Message of Malachi: Does It Matter How We Worship God?'
For His Glory,