(Delivered Sunday, October 19, 2008 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
I ask you to turn with me to the very last book of the Old Testament—the Book of Malachi.
Malachi is a little book with a big theme. It's a book that, basically, contains a dialog that God has with the people of Israel—except that God Himself does almost all the talking in this dialog. In it, He calls His people back to a life of holiness before Him; and commands them to "take it to heart" to give glory to His name (2:2).
And this morning, I ask that you listen to what God says to His people in Malachi 3:8-12. It's an unusual portion of this "dialog". It's the only charge God makes in the Book of Malachi that has a promised attached—a promise of blessing if God's people will hear His charge and obey His call. God says;
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This morning's passage brings us to a subject that I've always been more than a little hesitant to touch on in my preaching ministry—the subject of tithing; that is, giving ten-percent of the wealth that God entrusts to us back to Him for the work of His house.
One of the objections that people often have to pastors preaching on 'tithing' is that it smacks of 'legalism'. "We're not under law of Moses", people will say; "We're under grace of Christ." Of course, that's absolutely true. Sadly, many pastors and Bible teachers have made tithing sound like a return to the bondage of law. I would never want my words this morning to be misunderstood as a matter of placing 'New Covenant' people under 'Old Covenant' restrictions and obligations. To do so would be to dishonor the sufficiency of the cross of Jesus Christ.
But as I have studied the Bible, I've made an interesting discovery: Tithing actually predates the law. The first time we read in the Bible of 'tithing' came several centuries in God's program before the law had been given. The Bible tells us that Abraham (then called Abram) had to rescue his nephew Lot and many of his family members and neighbors from a marauding army of enemies. After Abraham rescued his family and restored their possessions to them, Melchizedek, king of Salem—an Old Testament type of Christ's priesthood (see Psalm 110:4; also Hebrews 6:20)—came out to bless Abraham. And we're told that Abraham "gave him a tithe of all" (Genesis 14:20; see also Hebrews 7:1-10).
Four centuries later, when God gave the law to His people through Moses, He did command the Jewish people to tithe. But Abraham, in his day, wasn't obligated by law to 'tithe' to this mysterious priest who was a type of Christ. The law had not yet been given. He tithed as a grateful response to God's goodness to Him. Later on—still centuries before the law had been given—God gave Abraham's grandson the promise of the same blessing that He gave to Abraham. And in response, Jacob promised that, "of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You" (Genesis 28:22).
And that's how I believe you and I are to understand tithing today. It's not a matter of law. Rather, it's a matter of grateful and humble worship. The Bible tells us that, for the man or woman under grace through Christ, giving is not to be done "grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7).
But at the same time, though it isn't an obligation of "law", I believe that tithing is an obligation. As I hope to show you from God's word this morning, 'tithing' isn't just a matter of deciding to generously give to God something from out of what belongs to us. Rather, it's an act of worship in which we recognize that all that we have comes from Him, and that we honor His ownership over all by giving back to Him a portion of what is already His. It's a matter of recognizing several things: (1) that God really is God; that all that we are and have has God as its source, and that it all already belongs to Him; (2) that He entrusts what He gives to us as a matter of stewardship, to use for His glory and in accordance with His will; and (3) that He calls us to live on ninety-percent and return a tenth of what He gives us back to Him for His work.
And if I may say so, that makes what we do with His "tenth" an important indicator of whether or not we are truly submitted to Him in all other areas of stewardship He has entrusted to us. That's why He promises to bless those who honor Him with His "tenth".
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So then; with all these things in mind, let's look at this passage together. And the first thing I ask you to notice is . . .
1. THE CHARGE (v. 8).
He asks His ancient Jewish people, "Will a man rob God?" What an outlandish question that must have seemed! How can any man even lay hands on anything that belongs to God—let alone rob Him of it! "Yet," God says, "you have robbed Me!"
Anticipating the challenge His people would raise to this charge, He says, "But you say, "In what way have we robbed You?" And if I may say so, the only way any mere human being could ever even lay hands on anything that belongs to God and "rob" Him of it would be by God first giving it to them and by them then refusing to give it back to Him in accordance with His will. And so, He says that the way they have robbed Him is in this: "In tithes and offerings".
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God had brought His people out of the bondage of slavery in Egypt, and chose them for Himself. He brought them into a rich land and blessed them with a wonderful inheritance. All that they had was a gift from Him. And in the law He gave them through Moses, He had commanded that they give back to Him from out of what He had given them.
Back in the book of Leviticus, He told His people;
Even a tenth of the herds and the flocks were to be given to Him (v. 32). This was to be a "tithe" paid to the priestly tribe of Israel—the Levites. God had set the men from that tribe apart from all of the others; so that their only vocation was that of caring for His tabernacle and supporting His people's service of worship. And this tithe was to be their provision.
In Numbers 18:24, He says;
And did you know that the Levites were then to pay a tithe as well? They were to "tithe" out of the tithe that had been given to them, and give it to the sons of Aaron who served as priests in the tabernacle. God's law commanded that the best of that tithe be “tithed” to the priests. God, in Numbers 18, goes on to say;
The priests in the temple were dependent upon the tithe of the Levites to do their work. And so, just think of how this worked down the line. If the people didn't tithe faithfully to the Levites, then the Levites wouldn't be free to care for the tabernacle or tithe to the priests. And if the Levites didn't tithe faithfully to the priests, the priests would be unable to do the work of the offerings and sacrifices to God.
And in Malachi's day, that's exactly what was happening! The people had neglected to give God His tithe; which forced the Levites to take on farming jobs in order to survive; which in turn greatly hindered the work of God's house. In Nehemiah 13:10-13, we read about how Governor Nehemiah discovered this problem:
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Let me speak frankly. If every believing man, woman young person faithfully gave ten-percent of what God has entrusted to them to His house, for the work of the cause of Jesus Christ and the support of His called servants, just imagine what the church could do in our day! Think of what we could do within the churches! Think of what we could do in world-missions! Think of the ways we could serve our own community!
I've checked with our own church treasurer recently about this. I asked him, "Just out of curiosity; what would happen if everyone that we presently have in our own church tithed? I don't mean anything else—just regularly tithed?" He laughed and told me that not only would we have enough to meet our budget, but we would have more than enough to see our church's ministry explode and expand into all kinds of new areas.
And please understand, dear brothers and sisters; it's not merely a matter of giving God something that belongs to us. It's a matter of giving back to Him what He says was already His. That tenth is His tenth; and He says that when we don't give it back, we are robbing Him.
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And so; look next with me at . . .
2. THE RESULT (v. 9).
God says, "You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed Me, even this whole nation."
I was fascinated to read this in the original language. Literally, it says, "With the curse you are being cursed." It's not a warning that they would be cursed. It's an announcement that they are already being cursed. And it's not just with any curse. It has the definite article—"the curse".
I believe this hearkens back to the words God spoke through Moses in Deuteronomy 28. There, we read of God's promised blessings on His people for their obedience. But the largest portion of that chapter is devoted to His harsh warnings of the curse that would fall upon them if they would not obey His voice or carefully observe His commandments. Already, it would seem, they were being cursed with "the curse" because of their disobedience to Him.
What's more, this verse can be translated, "With the curse you are being cursed, and you are robbing Me . . ."; as if to suggest that the hardship they were suffering because of their disobedience was becoming, for them, an excuse for more disobedience and for a further withholding of the tithe. And in all of this, it wasn't just a few individuals that stood guilty. It was the whole nation.
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It's hard not to think of this in terms of our own contemporary situation. As we all know, we're being told that—because of the greed of others—we're living in financial hard times. Churches and worthy Christian ministries—along with almost all areas of society—are hurting financially, because we're living in "hard times".
But two things need to be said. First of all, hard times do not excuse us from giving God what He says belongs to Him. Our faithful stewardship doesn't depend on the circumstances of this world, but rather on God's call upon us. If, thanks to “hard times”, we have only a dime to our name, then it still remains our duty to convert it to a nickel and five pennies and faithfully give one cent to God's work.
And second, who's to say but that the hard times have not come about as a result of disobedience to God in the first place? In fact, who's to say that—when things are traced back to their original source—the hard times aren't a result of the sort of greed that expresses itself in a refusal to give God His rightful place in our priorities, and to render back to Him what He says belongs to Him?
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Note, then . . .
3. THE SOLUTION (v. 10a).
He says, "Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house . . ." The solution is to get back to doing what should have been done in the first place. It's to place priorities back in the right order, to stop robbing God, and to faithfully bring what He says is His to the place He says it should go.
To "bring" the tithe into the storehouse of God would have required some planning on the part of God's people. It would have meant that people needed to take careful account of what it is that God had given them, to figure out what God's "tenth" of that amount was, to set it aside unto Him, and to bring it to where He wanted it to go. All of this would have required forethought. It would have required putting God's portion first in their plans.
And note also that He says to bring "all" the tithes into the storehouse. It would not be acceptable to God if His people were to bring only a fifteenth or a twentieth. Nor would it be acceptable to Him if they were to bring only a portion of the tithe to His storehouse, and the remainder somewhere else. He allowed them to be generous, and to send whatever there was of the overflow from the ninety percent to the places they thought best. But He said specifically that all of His tenth—the whole tithe—was to be brought to the storehouse so that there would be food in His house.
God, it seems to me, gives us great freedom in our stewardship of the remaining ninety percent of what He gives us. I believe we are to be sure to faithfully pay our bills from out of that ninety percent. I have learned that, when bill-paying time comes, I can pay those bills as a part of the stewardship God has entrusted to me of that ninety-percent. I don't have to fret about paying the bills; because it's God's money, and I'm just His steward. What's left over is for me and my family to enjoy, and to save, and to give elsewhere.
But God also, it seems to me, is very specific about where His tenth goes—all of it.
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Now; God could have ended the matter there. But as I pointed out to you at the beginning, this particular rebuke from God is the only one in Malachi that closes with a wonderful promise. Notice . . .
4. THE INVITATION (vv. 10b-12).
He says something remarkable—something that you won't find the likes of anywhere else in the Bible: "'And try Me now in this,” says the LORD of hosts, "If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it" (v. 10).
God actually says, "Test Me! See if this isn't so!" And in the original language, He emphasizes this invitation. He uses what is called a 'particle of entreaty'; that is, He actually says something like, "Please do this! I pray you—Test Me!" He also backs up the appeal by calling Himself "the Yahweh of hosts"—as if He were saying, "Please test Me in this; because you can trust the great promising-keeping God of armies." And what's more, He uses a negative construction in the original language that means something like "whether not". Put it all together, He is saying, "And test Me—I pray you—the promise-keeping God of armies—whether it is not so that I will open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such a blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it."
What a remarkable invitation! And what a remarkable promise! We cannot open the windows of heaven and pour blessings down upon ourselves. Only God can do that. But He promises that, if we will be faithful with His “tenth”, He'll open the windows of heaven and bless us with an abundant “ninetieth”! It sounds very much like Jesus' words; when He said,
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Now; we need to be careful with this. I have heard of some people who became bitter with God over this point. They said that they had tithed for years, and they never got blessed! I've even heard someone suing their church to get their tithes back because they weren't "blessed". (And I don't expect they ever will be, do you?) One of the things that we must be careful of in all this is that our faith is in God—and not in tithing. Tithing isn't a magic formula for blessings. It's a matter of faithful, obedient worship to God.
And another thing that we need to be on guard against is the thought that the rich blessings of God that come down to us through the windows of heaven are strictly material in nature. Very often, they are. But just as often, they involve things that are far greater than what money can buy for us.
I see this suggested in the other things that God promises. For example, He says, “'And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, so that he will not destroy the fruit of your ground, nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field,' says the LORD of hosts" (v. 11).
Most scholars recognize this as a reference to locusts or blights that plagued the land and ruined crops. God promises to "rebuke the devourer" for the sake of His people; so they won't suffer the loss of any of the things that they have in the ninety-percent He gives them to live on. I believe that a modern-day application of this is that God will stand as our advocate to protect us from the multitude of losses we suffer in everyday things of life—the thefts, the financial down-turns, the unexpected bills, the sudden car repairs.
I believe a very wonderful blessing from God is the prevention from losses, and protection of things that I already have! Some people may not think it's a very spiritual thing to say; but giving the promise-keeping God of armies His 'tenth' in order to secure His favor in "rebuking the devourer" for the sake of my remaining 'ninetieth' sounds like a real bargain!
I also see the nature of His blessings in what He says at the close of this passage; "'And all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a delightful land,' says the LORD of hosts" (v. 12). This, again, hearkens back to the promised blessing God had given to His people in Deuteronomy 28:
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Dear brothers and sisters; let me close with an invitation. I believe it's an invitation that I can freely give you, because it is authorized by God Himself in this passage.
Test God in this. Take the challenge. Make it your commitment to faithfully bring His tithe to His house, so that His work is provided for. Don't do it to manipulate God. And don't just hurriedly write a check in the sanctuary as you see the offering plate coming. Take the time to prepare your tithe at home, before you come. Prepare thoughtfully to give a full tenth of all that God has graciously entrusted to your care. Thank Him for His goodness to you; and ask Him to bless His tenth to His cause. And then, bring the whole tithe to His house; and give it as an act of genuine worship, because all you have is from Him.
Do this faithfully for a year. And then look back, and see for yourself. You'll discover that, over the course of that year, you lived far more abundantly and more blessedly on a ninety-percent that honors God's tenth than you ever could have lived on the hundred-percent that you would have kept to yourself.
Test Him in this! You have God's own word on it!
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