The God Who Refines
by Jacob Hudgins
“He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD”(Malachi 3:3).
Israel in Malachi’s day is immature and childishly obstinate. “‘I have loved you,’ says the LORD. But you say, ‘How have you loved us?’”(Mal 1:2). They challenge and argue with God and Malachi, his messenger. Particularly God is frustrated with their attitude toward worship: “But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the LORD of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the LORD”(Mal 1:13). Something needs to change here.
Yet the same people have the gall to turn around and express frustration with God: “Where is the God of justice?”(Mal 2:17). God responds to their challenge and taunt. “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap”(Mal 3:1-2). God promises that he will come, but it will not be in a pleasant way. He will send his messenger (this appears to be John the Baptist, see also Mal 4:5-6) to refine his people. Once they have been refined, “they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD”(Mal 3:3) and “the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD”(Mal 3:4). Refining will be painful, but good for them.
Refining involves removing impurities from something, usually by extreme heat. Malachi speaks of a “refiner and purifier of silver”(Mal 3:3). Peter speaks of Christians enduring trials “so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ”(1 Pet 1:7). Jesus uses a similar gardening image: “every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit”(John 15:2). Pruning is cutting back a branch so that it can bear more fruit in the future. All of these pictures reveal a God who subjects his people to painful processes that make them better.
God refines us because he cares about us. He loves us too much to leave us the way we are. When we are childish, immature, and shallow, he wants to change us. That process involves pain—physical suffering, relationship loss, disappointment, failure—yet bears the fruit of discipline and character. What is vital is that we embrace the process as God’s work and give him glory. Rather than simply wanting all difficulty to end, we must ask: How will my difficulty help me grow? What impurities need to be removed from my life?