“Revival and Generous Giving”                                              March 10, 2013

Malachi 3:6-12

 

Please open your Bibles to Malachi 3:6.

The Lord is speaking to his people who have grown cold to him.

   He wants to revive them spiritually and bring back into the circle of blessing.

He says:  I love you.  And I have some hard things to say for your good.

   Listen to me.


 

INTRO:  Once when I was a boy, my sister and I were talking about our dad’s

   birthday and what we ought to get him. 

He had a small aquarium in his study—and he kept guppies. 

   He had recently pointed out to us that one of the female guppies was about

   to have babies and he said that if he didn’t put her in a special container

   then when she had the babies, the other guppies would eat them.

For some reason he didn’t have a little aquarium net to scoop her out,

   and he said that he needed to buy one but he kept forgetting.

So Anna and I decided that we would buy him a net.

 

But we didn’t have any money, so we had to ask him for some.

We told him that we needed to get something for someone

   and would he mind giving us some money. 

   And then we had to ask him if he would take us to the store. 

He obviously knew what we were up to—

   but he feigned ignorance and gave money and took us to the store.

Then, when we gave him the net, he thanked us profusely—

   This is exactly what I need!  Just in time!  What a great gift!

   And we felt wonderful.

 

Isn’t it funny what you remember from your childhood? 

Little incidents that you store in your memory, and then in later years ponder them.

   It wasn’t until I was much older and had little children of my own,

   that I fully understood how much my father must have enjoyed that.

He didn’t need us to get him that net. 

   When we first asked him for money he could have said—

   I don’t need you kids to buy me an aquarium net, I’ll buy one myself.

   I’m not giving you my money so you can give me something.  Y’all run along. 

But of course he didn’t do that.  He gave so that we could give to him.

   He knew that his children would be blessed by being enabled to give.

   And he delighted in our delight in giving him his gift.

 

Our heavenly Father provides for us.  He sustains us with daily bread.

   He generously gives us many things.  Our lives are rich with his goodness.

And part of our life in the family of God is this—

   He wants us to give a portion of what he has given us back to him.

   He gives it to us and says:  Now you have the pleasure of giving it back to me.

God owns everything.  He does not need us to give him anything.

   He does not need our money.

But he knows that in many, many ways giving is good for us.

   And the Lord is delighted when he sees his children blessed through giving.

On the other hand, it distresses him when believers deliberately forfeit these

   blessings by not giving as we should.

 

Malachi’s generation knew the Lord and had walked with him as parents had,

   but they had faced some hard times and had allowed themselves to be pulled into

   attitudes and habits that had built a wall between them and God’s blessings.

The Lord was burdened by this.  He wanted the best for them.

   So he sent the prophet Malachi with five concerns.

Five important matters that the Lord in his wisdom knew that they must address

   in order to return to the family circle and the blessings of the covenant.

 

This is his fourth concern—their neglect in giving him his tithes and offerings.

Typical of Malachi, this is a very blunt, forceful passage.

   He says that if you don’t give tithes and offerings you are robbing God

   and you are under a curse. 

And he’s just as vivid describing the blessings that will come to believers

   who give as the Lord commands—the floodgates of heaven thrown open.

 

If you read passage all by itself, it can throw you. 

   You can imagine Malachi sounds like a TV preacher

I promise that if you give to the Lord’s work—if you give to my ministry—

   you will be blessed with health and wealth—

   a new car, a new house, a promotion, a wad of money appearing in your mailbox. 

   Test the Lord, send your money, and see if he doesn’t bless your socks off.

But if you don’t give—then I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes.

   You are going to be under a curse—all this stuff trying to keep for self—

   you’re going to lose it.  You’re going to remember this sermon, but it will be

   too late.  So call the number on your screen with your donation . . .

 

I have no doubt that this passage has been used for that sort of thing.

But that’s not the spirit of it at all.  Remember how Malachi starts, 1:2.

   The Lord says:  I have loved you.  You are Jacob, my chosen one. 

   You might not believe me when I tell you that, but I do. 

   I want you to put yourself in the place of greatest blessing.

Two points:

   1.  The curse of robbing God.

   2.  The blessings from testing God.

MP#1  The curse of robbing God.

Will a man rob God?  Yet you rob me.  But you ask, “How do we rob you?”  In tithes and offerings.  You are under a curse—the whole nation of you because you are robbing me.

 

Israelites were required by the law of God to tithe, to give one tenth of their income,

   in the form of offerings brought to the Temple—given for the use of the ministry.

Now, it makes all the difference in the world how we read and respond to this text,

   depending on whether or not we too are required to tithe.

This is a question about which Christians have strong opinions.

   Some say we are just as obliged to tithe our money as the Israelites were.

   Others argue that tithing was for Israel, other giving standards in New Testament.

 

Let me ask you a personal question: 

   What do you hope is the Bible’s answer about tithing? 

   What do you hope I tell you—to tithe or not to tithe?

I hope that what matters most to you is to know God’s will—

   his good, pleasing, and perfect will—so that you can do it with all your heart.

   Because in keeping God’s commandments is great reward.

 

The argument for the continuation of the tithe is basically this:

The tithe is not just for Israel, because it predates the law of Moses.

   Abraham paid a tithe to Melchizedek after receiving a priestly blessing from him.  

   Jacob vowed a tithe to God at Bethel after his dream of the stairway to heaven.

Tithing is not just for national Israel, but inseparable from life of faith.

 

The New Testament does not specifically say:  Christians must tithe.

But in 1 Corinthians 16 Paul affirms the principle of proportionate giving.

   Different amounts, depending on your income, but the same proportions. 

The only thing missing in Paul’s instruction is the exact proportion. 

   The argument is that Paul didn’t have to spell out the proportion, because the rest

   of the Bible makes clear—one tenth—as practiced by all saints in Scripture.

 

Those who argue against the tithe say that its omission in the New Testament

   is very significant.  That as a law it was tied to national Israel.

   And that there are numerous places where it could have been reaffirmed, wasn’t.

Specifically, they also point to Paul’s instructions on giving, 2 Corinthians 9.

   There he lays down two principles—giving must be generous, sacrificial.

Emphasizing these rather than a tenth, more in keeping with the expanded

   character of the New Testament age. 

On the whole, I’m more convinced by the argument for the tithe—

   but even if you aren’t, even if you want to emphasize generous, sacrificial giving,

   it brings you to virtually the same point in practical terms of how much to give.

In Philippians 4:18 Paul is commending the Philippians for their giving.

   (Your gifts) are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.”

 

Paul is using Old Testament worship language here.

   “A fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God”

   was a way of describing Temple worship in Jerusalem at its best.

You know what it’s like on a Saturday evening in the summer,

   you walk outside and all through neighborhood people have grills going.

   You smell the smoke, you smell steak cooking—makes your mouth water.

That was a big part of the worship experience in the Temple.

   The smoke of the sacrifices, the fat being burned, the roasting meat.

And as that smoke and smell would ascend, it was a tangible symbol

   that the Lord was pleased, that he was accepting the worship of his people.

 

So Paul was saying:  Your giving is an act of worship. 

   It’s a way of praising God, of declaring his worth.

And, of course, in Old Testament worship, animal sacrifices and grain offerings,

   and other produce were their tithes and offerings.  The Israelites would give

   the firstborn of the flock and herd, and a tenth of their grain, wine, and olive oil.

So there is this Old Testament worship connection that Paul makes.

   Your giving is an act of worship that pleases God.

 

But there’s something deeper—and it’s quite amazing.

This language “a fragrant offering, and acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God”

   is the very same description Paul uses for Jesus Christ.  Ephesians 5:1 

   “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

And all the great Old Testament sacrifices, the Passover lambs, the blood of tens of

   thousands of bulls and goats through the centuries, tithes of Old Testament saints,

   were just shadows and pointers to the death of Jesus Christ.

 

God the Father gave his Son in love so that you could be forgiven and saved.

And Christ offered up his body on the cross to accomplish your salvation.

   And God looked down from heaven at the broken body of his son,

   in all that ugliness and blood and pain and said, this is a fragrant offering.

Do you believe that?  Do you know that Jesus died for you?

   If you do, then you are going to be amazed at what Paul says about your giving.

He’s saying that when you give, God the Father gets the same sort of pleasure

   that he got from the death of Christ—it’s a fragrant offering, pleasing to him.

Your sacrificial gifts reflect Christ’s sacrifice.

   God sees what they cost you, and that pleases him because it shows that

   his fatherly love has made a deep impression on your heart.

It shows him that you are giving because you have understood and appreciate

   the great gift of his Son, and have been changed by it.

If this is what our giving means, then should we give less than OT believers? 

   We who have seen all they longed to see, should we give less than tithe? 

 

When you don’t give as you should, you rob God of the honor due him.

   You are saying with puny offering, this is how little I appreciate your Son Jesus.

Makes you ask:  Is my giving sacrificial?  Is my giving really costing me anything?

Listen to the way C.S. Lewis expressed it in Mere Christianity:

   “I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give.  I am afraid the only safe rule is

   to give more than we can spare.  In other words, if our expenditures on comforts, luxuries,

   amusements, etc. is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our

   own, we are probably giving away too little.  If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us,

   I should say they are too small.  There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do

   because our giving excludes them.”

 

How is your lifestyle different from an unbeliever with the same income

   as your own because of your giving?  Do you drive the same cars? 

   Live in the same houses?  Go on the same vacations?

What are the things you haven’t been able to do or buy because of your giving?

What level of financial security have you given up because of your giving?

   Do you see how practical this is? 

 

If you say:  I can’t afford to give.  What that really mean is : 

   I can’t afford to give without sacrificing something I don’t want to sacrifice.

But here’s the thing:  God wants that sacrifice.  It pleases him.

   And he’s promised that as you give he will open the floodgates of heaven.

   He will make up for what you have done without in wonderful ways.

 

That’s the curse that comes from robbing God. 

He’s not going to let you starve, but you will not get all the wonderful, supernatural

   provisions that you would otherwise get from him—life will be the poorer for it.

You’ll have that extra 10% padding your budget, but it will just be money to you—

   and you will be soon parted from it.  When could have had heavenly blessings.

MP#2  The blessings from testing God

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.”  “Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”

 

It’s often pointed out that there are many places where the Bible says:

   Do not test God.  Do not put the Lord your God to the test.

But Malachi 3:10 is the only place where God himself says:

   Test me. 

 

Now of course, these are two different kinds of testing.

To test God in the negative way means to try his patience, to presume on his grace,

   to sin with impunity and think that he’s not going to notice or do anything.

   Imagine a parent or a teacher saying:  Don’t push me.  That’s negative testing.

But this positive invitation to test God comes in this instruction on giving.

   See, God knows how hard this is.  He knows how hard it is for us to give.

   Money and the love of money are the most common idols of the heart.

In money we find our security and our identity.  Giving it away, sacrificially,

   systematically, year after year over the course of your Christian life—that’s hard.

   It was hard for the Old Testament saints and it’s hard for us.

 

So the Lord, in his kindness says, ok—Test me. 

You think it won’t work out,

   you think that if you give in this way you won’t have enough—test me.

He promises three big blessings—

   Provision.  I’ll throw open the floodgates of heaven.

   Protection.  Prevent pest from devouring our crops and vines will not cast fruit.

   Participation.  I’ll have to explain that one.  It’s the heart of this last blessing

   that “All nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land.”

What are we to make of these promises?  

 

First, they are clearly promises for this life.  Not talking about the life to come.

   There are many promises about the blessings of heaven, but not these verses.

   God is promising to give you these things in this life.

Second, there is clearly a material aspect to these blessings.

   The health and wealth preachers have so distorted this, by claiming that God is

   going to make you rich and give you a Cadillac, that it’s easy to over-correct,

   to say that these are just spiritual blessings that are being promised.

 

But they are not just spiritual, these are promises of material blessings.

   Not according to a formula, but as the Lord perfectly suits them to children.

It helps me to understand this by filtering it through my own experience.

After I graduated from seminary and was called as an assistant pastor to my first

   church, things became very tight for us.

I won’t go into the reasons, but compounding the financial scarcity was the threat

   of a very large expense that would have been crippling at that time in lives.

 

There where two verses of Scripture that comforted me.  Said them over and over.

   1 Timothy 6:6-8  “But godliness with contentment is great gain . . .”

   Pro 15:17  “Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred.”

Along with those verses came a deep conviction that we needed to tithe.

   I had never been serious about giving—I gave sporadically and very little.

But in that hard time I realized that giving the first tenth of my income was a way of

   expressing my trust in God and making a statement about who I was. 

 

This is what Christians do.  We trust God with our money.

   So we just started tithing.  I was paid once a month. 

   I would deposit my paycheck, and then the first check I would write was the tithe.

And it would go in the offering plate the next Sunday and there was nothing

   to be done about it.  We were locked in for the month. 

 

That was in 1992, and Allison and I have never looked back. 

And I can say without a doubt that the Lord has opened the floodgates of heaven.

   and poured out his blessing—and a large part of that has been material.

This church has been a blessing to us financially. 

   The Lord has enabled us at times to give above the tithe.

   We couldn’t have done that if the floodgates had not been opened.

 

The greatest blessing from heaven has been the way giving has helped me

   be more content with what I have.

   I’ve always struggled with discontentment.  It’s a frequent battle.

But there has been in my life a tangible connection

   between giving away the first tenth, and contentment with life God has given me.

When I think about that in terms of this passage, I would certainly say that this

   has been the Lord’s protection.  It’s been through contentment that he has

   prevented the pests from devouring my crops and my vines from casting fruit.

Every so often, when I struggle with discontentment, I’ll get to thinking

   about how much we give per year, and how I could use that money.

And sometimes I’ll really let my thoughts get the better of me, and I’ll add up

   how much it’s been over all these years and how much of a cushion I would

   have if I had saved and invested all that money instead of putting in offering plate.

But that’s not how it works. 

   Because if my discontentment had been given full rein these past 20 years,

   I’m sure that I would have hurt myself and my family spiritual and financially.

Giving and contentment has enabled me to be a better steward of what I have.

 

I ran across a line in a sermon this week. 

God will enable you to do more with 90% than you can do on your own with 100%.

   That’s not something you could prove scientifically.

The fact is that sometimes unbelievers are better off financially than believers.

   That’s what bothered Asaph in Psalm 73.  But it’s the experience of countless

   believers that as they have given sacrificially, God has provided.

 

Provision, protection, and participation.

Here’s what I mean.  The Lord says through Malachi—If you give me offerings,

   “All nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land.”

Does that ring any bells?  It’s an echo of God’s promise to Abraham.

   I will bless you—through that blessing you will be a blessing to nations,

   and they will bless you—they will be drawn to your God through you.

I think this is a glorious way of saying that through your giving

   you will participate in the spread of the Gospel through the nations.

 

It’s through your offerings that the kingdom of God has a visible presence

   in the world through the church, and it’s through your offerings that you

   participate in the work of Christians called to minister in special and

   difficult places.

Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, that where your treasure is,

   there your heart will be also. 

Those things on which you willingly spend your money

   are the things that you cherish most.

Giving to the cause of Christ’s kingdom, causes you to love that kingdom.

   It causes you to identify with and glory in the success of missionaries.

 

A wise pastor said: 

   You will very rarely meet a Christian family that tithes faithfully that is not obviously being blessed for it: either in the wisdom with which they have been taught by God to handle their money, or in the pleasure they get from it, or in the love many others have for them for the good they have done, or in the satisfaction they receive from participating in the advancement of the kingdom of God, or in the heavenly-mindedness which is the fruit of their turning away from the love of money, or in a thousand other blessings not directly related to money, but which their Heavenly Father has rained on them because they have honored him.

 

And in the final analysis, giving is about your heavenly Father.

   You’re his child, he provides for you, and you get to give him a portion of

   that provision because you know how much he loves you. 

And within that family circle, within that covenant relationship are great blessings.

 

Let us pray.  May the words of the old hymn be the prayer of our hearts:

Grant us then the grace of giving With a spirit large and free,

That our life and all our living We may consecrate to thee.