Malachi 3:6-12: Robbing God
Topic: Default Passage: Malachi 3:6–12
Robbing God: Malachi 3:6-12
Our Scripture reading this morning comes from Malachi 3:6-12. It says,
6 “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. 7 From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ 8 Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. 9 You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. 10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. 11 I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. 12 Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.
May God bless the reading of his Word.
Today, I slightly hesitate to preach my passage. In a way, I feel kind of like Gideon in the book of Judges, when God first called him. Do you recall the story? God had called Gideon to lead his people. But before that could happen, God told him to tear down the large idol in the center of his town that Gideon’s father had erected. Scared by the prospect of what his people might do to him, he tore it down in the middle of the night when no one was watching, so no one would know who did it. Today, I have no such luxury in secretly tearing down one of our own idols. And let me just say that people tend to become more than a little grumpy when their idols are torn down. The sermon that I seek to preach, requires a tearing down of one of America’s most revered idols, the idol of “mine.” My life, my money, me. Now if there were no God in the heavens who did not tell us to think and act in certain ways, then you could chalk this message up to greed or meddlesomeness. But there is a God in the heavens who tells us to think and act in certain ways, particularly in our view regarding money.
The story is told of a man who had a horrible dream. He said, “I dreamed that the Lord took my Sunday offering—the money I put in the church offering plate—multiplied it by ten, and this became my weekly income. In no time I lost my TV, had to give up my new car and couldn’t make my house payment. After all, what can a fellow do on $10 a week?” So, apparently, this man had put a singular dollar bill into the offering plate, or box, each week, and thereby, in a sense, neglected the one who had given him all that he had. Which begs the question: if the Lord took your offering, whatever money you gave to the church each week, multiplied it by ten, and made that your weekly income, how much would you make? Would you be able to survive on it? I read a statistic last year that if church members in the United States increased their giving to 10 percent of their income, there would be an additional $139 billion available for faith-based organizations and overseas missions. How quickly might God, through our obedience, fulfill the Great Commission to go into all the world and make disciples, if we would but give. But statistically, only 5% of churchgoers in the United States tithe, giving 10 percent of their income to the church. A statistic all too telling of Jesus’ corrective admonition in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” The question I would like to pose to you this morning is, “Where is your heart?” Or, “What do you treasure?”
The sad state of the church in America mirrors the sad state of Israel in Malachi’s day, for we see the same neglect in today’s text. Israel failed to comprehend that everything they had—all material and spiritual blessings—came from God. God had commanded his people to give back a portion of their income, 10 percent precisely, as a sign of their trust in him, over and against trusting in their wealth. But they disregarded this command. And thereby, they robbed God of what rightly belonged to him. Do we, likewise, justify stinginess towards God when he has been even more lavish in his giving towards us? When was the last time you and I had to earnestly pray for our daily bread because we didn’t know where tomorrow’s meal might come from? If we want to properly image God, we image him in all facets. And one way we do that is by being generous to God and his work, financially. Should we fail in this, we limit our trust in him, and thereby limit blessing.
Which brings us to the main idea of our text: God curses self-indulgence but blesses the stewardship of his people when they faithfully use the resources entrusted to them in ways that honor him.
Back in ch1, vv1-5, God reminded his people that he had sovereignly elected them to be his. They had returned from Persian exile about 100 years before, still under Persian rule, with their land reduced to a mere fraction of its former glory. As a result, they had forgotten God’s love, because their sinfulness had caused them to experience God’s judgment. So, God called them in vv6-14 of ch1 to give him their best, for he is worthy. Instead, they brought God their worst, offering sacrifices that were blind, lame, and sick. And so, God cursed the priests in ch2, vv1-9 for allowing this, chastising them for their failure to give honor to God by guarding knowledge and seeking his instruction. And as the priests had gone, so had gone the people. One unfaithfulness led to another. Which led to a practical outworking of unfaithfulness to God in ch 2, vv10-16, manifested in unfaithfulness in marriage. Now the inevitability of this happening was a no wonder, for God’s messengers had failed to honor God and lead the people in the way they should go. So, God promised in ch 2, v17 through ch 3, v5 to send his own messenger to both purify his people through trial and vindicate his people through judgment of sin.
Which brings us to ch 3, v6. “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not destroyed.” Now if God were anything less than perfect, we could only hope that he might change, and change for the better. If you’ve ever had a mediocre boss or mediocre employment, you can only hope for a better boss or better employment when you or they leave. And sometimes it feels like you’re really taking a chance that it won’t actually get better. In fact, it may get worse. What a comfort to know that with God it doesn’t get any better, and it doesn’t get any worse. Given his manifold perfections, what a comfort and consolation to know that God cannot change. He cannot get any better. And being perfect—completely holy, righteous, just, and gracious—he also cannot get any worse. Therefore, he does not change. He is perfect in knowledge, omniscient, perfect in power, omnipotent, and perfect in presence, omnipresent.
And because God doesn’t change, his covenant promise to them hasn’t changed. And because God’s covenant promise hasn’t changed his people shall not be destroyed. You ask what is God doing? Rest in the knowledge that we serve a covenant-keeping, promise-keeping God. And what should that produce in God’s people? We had determined, last time, that that should produce worship and trust, that everything God allows you and I to go through serves ultimately as a means of our refinement. And part of that refinement, part of that worship, part of that trust and dependency comes in this next section of scripture which we will look at today. Verse 6 serves as a connection point between two sections. In the previous section, the people had thought that God would no longer judge sin. Here, he reminds them, that he remains both just and holy. He will judge—he will purify them—but not destroy. Which brings us to our next section. Though he will not consume…
I. God Curses Self-Indulgence, 7-9
A. God’s blessings require faithfulness, 7
“From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts?” You see, God had not changed. He hadn’t flipped the script on them. This was not a policy revision where a somewhat inadequate law was being replaced by a better one. No. God’s law was in effect. It just wasn’t followed. Yet look at the mercy he extends. He doesn’t consume them in v6. And here in v7 he offers return rights. You can come back. I will receive you. God stands mercifully ready. God hadn’t been deficient. He hadn’t turned his back on his people. In fact, it had been quite the opposite. They had been deficient. They had turned their backs on him. —A trope all too familiar to us. For, we do the same. This is a call to repentance. That’s what God means by return.
But they question God, “How shall we return?” Might I suggest that there’s only one way? I need not suggest, for God’s Word explicitly states that there’s only one way: the way, the truth, and the life, through his Son, Jesus Christ. I hesitate to gloss over this, otherwise, everything that follows in this text might appear as if one could merit or purchase God’s favor through good financial giving, through good stewardship. In fact, this is the controversy that sparked the Reformation in the church, where the Roman Catholic Church offered its people indulgences, a means of buying one’s way out of purgatory. Friends, only God can merit his own favor. For only he is perfect enough to not require change. And he merits his own favor by sending his own Son, Jesus Christ, to pay for our sins by his death on the cross. But that hadn’t yet happened in Malachi’s day. What we look back on, they looked forward to, awaiting what was promised according to Hebrews 11.
Until that day, they so struggle in their obedience, that they have forgotten God’s word, leaving them to wander in ignorance, asking questions for which they should have already had answers. But they did not know God’s word as they should, so they ask questions already revealed in his word. Isn’t it often the case that we have questions, questions perhaps that have often already been answered in God’s Word, if we would but read and know it. So, I ask you this morning, “How well do you know your Bible?” Because God has certain things, he wants you to know, and what he hasn’t already revealed can probably, honestly wait until heaven, where we will have an eternity to figure it out. So, God will specifically answer them as to what repentance and trust looks like in their case.
B. Trust God, proving that trust by trusting him with your finances, 8
“Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions.” God had commanded his people to give a regular portion of their income, 10% to be exact, proving they not only trusted God through lip-service, but through tangible, financial dependence as a realization that all good gifts come from above. At its heart this has to do with stewardship, with rightly using God’s gifts for God’s glory. Now this can be demonstrated in a myriad of ways, from rightly stewarding time, talent, and more to the point, finance. And we have a gross tendency to waste and misuse all of these, don’t we? But I want you to notice the tone of address here. It’s not just stinginess being addressed. It’s robbery. It’s serious. It’s stealing what rightly belongs to God. Now we often use words like “my money.” If it were ours, it wouldn’t be robbery. It’s God’s money.
And those who argue that the tithe is no longer operative for New Testament Christians miss the point of this passage. So often, we read the Old Testament wrongly, consoling ourselves that this or that was meant for Israel, and therefore, we are under no obligation. And thereby, we miss the lesson it teaches to all of us. We shouldn’t ask how much income can we keep, but how can we best steward God’s gifts to us? How can I show that my trust is completely in the LORD, not giving financially out of a reluctant obligation, but giving financially out of a joyful expression of love from a regenerated and redeemed heart, stewarding finances, time, and talent for God’s kingdom, rather than my own. In other words, we should ask, “How do I obey the spirit of the Law, even if not called upon to obey the letter of the Law?” One tangible way we do that is through financial giving to God’s work. That is part of why we have that black box in the rear of the room. It’s not just for connection cards, though we welcome anyone and everyone to fill those out, it is also for God’s people to give to God’s work. Brothers and sisters, Christians in the New Testament era did not give less than 10 percent to God’s work, but oftentimes more, as a show of gratitude and trust in what Christ had done for them. They—and we—more than any of God’s people in the Old Testament era had more for which to be grateful. We have Jesus.
Now I am grateful that I get to be the one preaching this today, for I receive not a cent of financial compensation from this church. Pastor Josh rightly does receive his wages, as he has every right to according to Scripture. According to 1 Timothy 1:17-18, he, as our teaching pastor, deserves his wages. Or 1 Corinthians 9:11, if he has sown spiritual things among us is it too much if he reaps material things from us…concluding in v14 that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. I am grateful to have the opportunity to support God and his work here at Redeeming Grace in giving of time, talent, and finance. It’s a joy. And far be it from me to try and guilt or coerce you into anything. I simply want to be faithful to preach these next verses in Malachi as I slowly make my way through the whole book with you. And secondly, but perhaps, more importantly, I want to see God’s blessings poured out in your life, as you faithfully follow him. God doesn’t need your money. But he does want you to demonstrate—in a myriad of ways—if you actually trust him: to be a doer, and not just a hearer. And one way we do is give. Let’s briefly look at this more in depth.
Considering both Old and New Testament teaching, how do we conduct ourselves regarding financial giving? —Four principles from the New Testament:
(1) Luke 6:38 tells us that our giving effects our receiving. In other words, God stewards resources to you when you faithfully use them for his kingdom. And let me just say that you cannot outgive God. Romans 8:32 says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Now that is not a promise that you will always have material wealth and blessing, but you will be cared for as well as, or better, than you deserve.
(2) 1 Corinthians 16:2 tells us that our giving should be in keeping with our income. In other words, it’s proportional to how much God has given you. It’s the same principle found in the widow’s mite, where Jesus commends an old widow for giving two small coins out of her poverty, which was proportionately more than the many coins the rich gave out of their wealth.
(3) 2 Corinthians 8:7-8 tells us that our giving is an act of grace that shows others the genuineness of our love. You might say that giving shows others what God is like. That he is generous. And that our faith in him is genuine, such that we want to be like our Heavenly Father in terms of generosity. John Piper says of this passage, “Paul wants to play down commanding [proportionate, tithe-like giving], not in order to limit giving, but to unleash liberality that will go beyond strict proportion.” Charles Spurgeon suggests, “We should give as we love. You know how much our Lord Jesus Christ loved by knowing how much he gave.” He gave all.
(4) 2 Corinthians 9:7 tells us that our giving should be done cheerfully. Not reluctantly, not with the thought, “What’s the minimal amount I can give to get by,” but how can I joyfully be a blessing as I have been blessed. Now I will admit, this is the principle I have struggled with the most. Sometimes, I don’t want to be cheerful about it. In fact, I’ll confess, I’ve been reluctant at times. As a servicemember, I am used to doing my duty, whether I like it or not. I suck it up and press on. But God’s after our hearts, not our accounts. He wants us to experience the joy of cheerful giving. And it is a joy, when we open our hands, releasing that death-grip of selfishness and control regarding money.
Now there are at least two dangers we must be wary of here.
(1) We can give to God and his work with wrong motives, stoking a self-righteous pride like the Pharisees who tithed everything, to include their seasonings, while neglecting weightier matters. Some of you know I’m a big barbecue guy, smoking low and slow, whether rain, shine, or snow. I didn’t anticipate that rhyming when I first wrote that. And I love good seasonings. And my favorite seasonings come from a Texas company called Meat Church. What other seasoning is there for a pastor, right? Well, can you imagine me dumping a tenth of each container of my Meat Church seasonings, like a Pharisee, in the black box near the rear of this room? Nothing might fuel pride faster than majoring on that sort of minor. Believe me when I say that none of our volunteers want seasonings dumped in that box. But we can get so focused on giving in a legalistic manner that we start feeling pretty good about ourselves, right? Again, God is after our hearts. We can give with the wrong motives. Or…
(2) We can fail to give to God and his work, feeding a self-indulgent greed like the parable of the rich fool who tore down his barns to build larger ones, saying to his soul, “relax, eat, drink, be merry,” not knowing his soul was required of him that very night. Such—it says—is all the fate of those who lay up treasures for themselves and are not rich towards God. So, we need to be careful here. We do not want to stoke self-righteous pride on one hand by doing the right thing with the wrong motive. And neither do we want to fuel self-indulgent greed on the other hand by failing to do the right thing with the wrong motive. And should we fail in this…
C. Unfaithfulness yields a curse, 9
“You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.” They had returned from exile approximately 100 years prior. Perhaps then, they could have more easily justified neglecting God, when times were tough, when they were broke and rebuilding. Now it’s just plain robbery. Right after they returned from exile, the prophet Haggai had warned them to pay attention to God and his house. At that time, they left God’s house in neglect, opting instead to rebuild fancy homes of their own. By Malachi’s day, they had now both tested and exhausted God’s patience. And so, he curses the nation. Their land would continue to be dominated and controlled by the Medes and Persians, then the Greeks, and later the Romans, with silence from God for 400 years to come. But it didn’t have to be that way. The solution is simple. Because while God curses self-indulgence…
II. God Blesses Stewardship, 10-12
I want you to notice that God’s blessing comes from three places in these three verses:
(1) Blessing from heaven in v10, (2) Blessing from the earth in v11, and (3) Blessing from the nations in v12.
A. Blessing from heaven, 10
“Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” When God says put him to the test, he’s indicating that we cannot outgive him, that we can trust him with the gifts he’s given us. If you think giving to God will result in poverty, you’re mistaken. He seeks to pour down blessings to the point where he says, “there is no more need.” I have seen this principle be true in my own life, where I held on to income, and never had enough, to later give it, and never seemed to lack. Many of us have been so ill-used by others that we treat God the way we treat other people: with kind-of-a wariness, with an uncertainty that he doesn’t quite have our best interest at heart, with a caution that he’s perhaps going to pull the rug out from under us. Has that happened to you with someone you trusted? Because God is perfect, and does not change, might I suggest that you can trust him without inhibition. He stands read to open the windows of heaven for you and pour down a blessing until there is no more need. He gives blessing from heaven in v10.
B. Blessing from the earth, 11
Because of their neglect, Israel had experienced pestilence that devoured their crops. Bringing in the tithe would cause that to stop, for God promises to rebuke the devourer so that it would not destroy the fruit of their soil, and their vine should not fail to bear its fruit. All their efforts to cultivate good crops had been sought without seeking the LORD. They had poured infinite capital into the earth with little to nothing to show for it, for they failed to recognize the Giver of gifts. How much effort do we waste without seeking the LORD’s face, without falling on our faces in prayer, asking that he would act for his namesake? Could we—like Daniel—pray that God would hear us, forgive us, pay attention to us and act for us, for his own sake, simply because we are his? Surely, he can, and surely, he will provide if we seek first his kingdom.
And so, I ask you this morning, what does your bank account look like? Is God at all reflected in it? Do you give to his work, to his church, to his missionaries? Further, what does your prayer life look like? Do you often proceed with your plans without reading God’s word or asking God what he would have you do? Do you spin your wheels in a frenetic pace of work, forgetting to ask God’s provision in the endeavor? He can do more in a moment, then we can do in a lifetime. Now that is not to suggest that we sit around on our hands and do nothing. God calls us to work, and to work hard. But he’s not asking us to futilely spin our wheels in the mud going nowhere, but to anchor ourselves to him, in order that we might have spiritual traction. He gives blessing from heaven in v10, blessing from the earth in v11.
C. Blessing from the nations, 12
If Israel gave to God what rightfully belonged to him, had they looked different from the world around them in how they managed and stewarded their finances for God’s glory, rather than their own comfort and ease, then they would have seen the promise of this verse fulfilled, where all the nations of the earth would have call them blessed, for theirs would have been a land of delight. Unfortunately, they did not truly heed the warnings in this passage, and thereby did not fully receive the blessings promised.
By the time that Jesus came upon the scene 400 years later, God’s house had been made into a den of robbers. The religious leaders would tie heavy burdens, hard to bear, upon the people. Religious devotion had become a show. Personal honor sought above the honor of God. Even the son of God himself, Jesus Christ, would be crucified and killed at the behest of such leaders, in order that one man might perish for the people, so that the whole nation might go on with business as usual. Fortunately, that’s not it works. God does not abdicate his power, and his plans cannot be thwarted. For their disobedience, their nation, their sacrificial system, their comfort and ease, would be put down within a generation of Christ’s death and resurrection. Even still, he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. While each sought a kingdom of his or her own making, God brought his kingdom instead. He lived the perfect life expected; the life we could not live. He died to atone for both their sins and ours. Buried he carried sin away. And he arose in order that all who repent of their sins and believe that Jesus Christ is both Savior and Lord, now stand justified before God. And one day he will return for his people.
Will he find faith on the earth? Will we continue to rob him of what is rightfully his? Does the way we handle possessions show that we delight in God? What we delight in is what matters most to us. The way to recover our delight in God is not just to start giving. But to first, remember why we ceased, or never started, giving to God’s work in the first place. Afterall, God is after our hearts and our trust. And then give. Because he is the great Giver who gives life, and life more abundantly, to all who seek him.