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God’s Word for You

Malachi 2:11-12 mortal and venial sins

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, March 6, 2021

11 Judah has been unfaithful. An abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem: Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the LORD, which he loves, by marrying the daughter of a foreign god.

In this verse, Malachi plunges into the figure of speech known as synecdoche, in which one word stands for another, either the part for the whole (“boots on the ground,” meaning the soldiers, not just their boots) or the whole for a part (“Poynette won the tournament,” meaning the team, not really the village). Here Judah (the people of Judah) has been unfaithful. The abomination is both divorce and idol worship. Israel is another way of saying “everyone,” since all the tribes apart from Judah and a few stragglers were carried off by the Assyrians and did not return.

The sanctuary that has been profaned is in one sense the tent of meeting, the Temple where the sacrifices took place. But since this is the point of contact between God and his people, it is not just the building but the people themselves who have been profaned. While they were in exile and without a temple, the people still had God’s Word. They had the Scriptures with them. In Babylon, Daniel was able to read the scroll of the Prophet Jeremiah, his contemporary, although Jeremiah never went to Babylon (Daniel 9:2). And the people knew the Scriptures and the Psalms from their worship life (Psalm 137:1-4).

This abomination is illustrated by marriages to those who worship false gods (“the daughter of a foreign god”). This shows a sin that is premeditated, planned out, and committed without repentance. It is a sin that kills faith. Many Christians fail to understand the difference between such sins and other sins with potentially different consequences. This leads some people to despair without seeing the full value of Christ because they feel that they cannot be forgiven. The distinction is between mortal and venial sins. This is not a difference of big sins vs. little sins, or sins that matter vs. sins that don’t matter, but in the attitude of the heart, the repentance of the sinner, and the consequences:

A, A mortal sin is committed on purpose; the person who commits it knows that what he is doing is a sin.

B, A mortal sin is planned in advance (premeditated).

C, A mortal sin is committed without a struggle; the sinner doesn’t care about God or his own soul, but only whether he can get away with it.

D, A mortal sin is committed without repentance, with no intention to amend or undo the damage done.

Someone who lives in such sins without repentance or even any guilt is condemned in strong language in the Scriptures: “Those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21).

Sins that are not mortal sins are called venial sins. A venial sin is any sin committed by a Christian who struggles over such a sin.

A, A venial sin can be a sin committed in ignorance. We are often unaware of our venial sins.

B, A venial sin can be a sin committed in a moment of weakness, when a Christian is overcome suddenly by a temptation. It was not planned, it may even have been struggled against, but whether it is a sinful act, word, or thought, the sinful flesh has acted out. We repent over these sins, and Christ promises us forgiveness.

All sin breaks the law of God, but Malachi saw his people falling into the state of rejecting God altogether. He was calling them to repentance, concerned for their immortal souls. But they were allying themselves with pagans who rejected the true God, unconcerned with God’s will, with repentance or forgiveness or a life of faith.

12 May the LORD cut off from the tents of Jacob any man who gives testimony on behalf of the man who does this—even though he brings offerings to the LORD of Armies.

This verse goes a step farther. The sinner committing a mortal sin is condemned in verse 11, but here anyone who condones such a sinful life, “who gives testimony on behalf of the man who does this,” is condemned. This is a warning to those ministers whose preaching leads their people into rejecting the text of God’s Word, and to doubt whether the gospel of forgiveness through Christ is necessary at all.

When we deal with individual sinners, we use all possible means to call them to repentance. When they are loved ones who have wandered away from the truth, we use an extra measure of patience and love. We must be aware that they may equate past differences they may have with us as obstacles that get in the way of our sharing the Word of Christ with them, and we may need to allow others to speak with them, and we might need to take a step into the background and pray for them.

However, when we deal with false teachers, ministers of the church who preach false doctrine and lead their congregations into sinful paths without any warning, we must watch out for them and avoid them (Romans 16:17). If we fail to condemn such false teachers, we run the risk of seeming to our own people as if we condone their false teaching.

If I were to urge you to pray for the people you know who struggle with sins, you would have a long, long prayer to consider, because everyone struggles with sins. Jesus said very simply, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:12-13). Job prayed and made sacrifices for his family (Job 1:5). King Hezekiah prayed for the nation when their hearts were right but their actions were not perfectly in line with God’s command (2 Chronicles 30:18-19). “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). Take your sins to God in prayer. Take your temptations to God in prayer. Pray for the people around you. Avoid false teachers, and their churches, but remember that you cannot avoid sinners. The number of sinners in the world is equal to the number of people in the world. All of them need to hear the gospel. All of them need to see the life of faith modeled and demonstrated by you. So live in the world, love the people in the world, but pray for them. Pray for us all.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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