Fire: God as Purifier (January 15)

Malachi 2:17-3:4


Malachi calls us to submit our sinful selves to God’s refining fire. When it comes to our own shortcomings, however, our own self-deception is a big barrier to seeing ourselves as God sees us. The challenge of this lesson is to help members break through the politeness, simple answers, and surface discussions that may be more comfortable. There is nothing comfortable about God’s refining fire.

Teaching Suggestions

•    You might light a candle as a reminder of God’s presence, though not without some further explanation. Malachi has in mind a roaring fire hot enough to melt metal and burn off impurities, rather than the soft white light of a single candle. A crackling red hot fire (or really blue hot) under a pot of molten metal would be more apropos, but not advisable in the church building. See “A Purifying Flame,” p. 18 in the Teaching Guide.

•    See a video of Smelting Gold on this web page.

•    Questions for discussion: Does God cause all of the fires we experience in life? Some of them? Do some trials just happen? Can we learn and grow from trials of life whether God is directly responsible for them or are they simply a part of life in a broken world?

•    Often when we think of sin, we immediately think of stealing, lying, murder, etc. Page 17 of the Formations Commentary helps us think of materialism as sin.

•    We tend to read the Bible as individuals when often the scriptures are written to the community. How are we to understand corporate sin? How does a community/society as a whole sin?

•    A prayer of confession written for us can help us recognize sin in our lives we might be blinded to and otherwise ignore. The Teaching Guide suggests using a “Litany of Confession” from the Resource Kit. There are also some readings in our hymnal, The Worshipping Church, that you might use: 459, 123, and 457. In my office I have several other books that contain prayers and litanies of confession that could be used with your class (see Resources). Below is a sample litany of confession.


•    Books in my office that contain prayers and litanies of confession:
o    Enter Every Trembling Heart: Prayers for Christian Worship, Killinger, pp. 47-59
o    Let Us Pray: Contemporary Prayers for the Seasons of the Church, Galindo, pp. 66-67
o    For the Living of These Days, Smyth & Helwys, 31

•    For additional commentary on the text, see these commentaries in our library:
o    Mercer Commentary on the Bible (Mercer University Press, 1995)
o    Harper’s Bible Commentary (Harper & Row, 1988)

(Prayer & Litanies for the Christian Seasons, Sharlande Sledge, Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 1999, p. 51)

For failing to renew ourselves through quiet withdrawal from a life of haste and confusion; for thinking that the journey you intend is always active and outward…

We confess our sins, O God.

For leaving it up to you to do the healing and caring work that we should be doing…

We confess our sins, O God.

For ignoring others when we are alienated from them rather than engaging in the difficult process of reconciliation…

We confess our sins, O God.

For failing to see your image in all things and in all people, even in ourselves…

We confess our sins, O God.

For straying so far from the truth that we find truth hard to recognize…

We confess our sins, O God.

For walking away from your invitation to be wholly ourselves before you and walking toward passions and pleasures that have become our gods…

We confess our sins, O God.