“Since the days of your fathers, you have turned from my statutes; you have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord of Armies.
Yet you ask, “How can we return?”
“Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing me!”
“How do we rob you?” you ask.
“By not making the payments of the tenth and the contributions. You are suffering under a curse, yet you—the whole nation—are still robbing me. Bring the full tenth into the storehouse so that there may be food in my house. Test me in this way,” says the Lord of Armies. “See if I will not open the floodgates of heaven and pour out a blessing for you without measure. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not ruin the produce of your land and your vine in your field will not fail to produce fruit,” says the Lord of Armies. “Then all the nations will consider you fortunate, for you will be a delightful land,” says the Lord of Armies.
Malachi 3:7-12 CSB
We’re dealing with a passage today that has been misused throughout history.
You would think that it should be appropriate to read any passage of scripture and take it literally, just as it is written. But, when you are reading the Old Testament, you have to be careful, because the Old Testament is a limited revelation. It contains parts and shadows of a fuller reality. And that’s where I think this passage can be misunderstood. Let’s consider what the passage says.
At a surface reading, this passage says that giving your financial offering to God will result in an immeasurable outpouring of blessing on you. Now, the Old Testament Israelite surely would read this passage and hear the Lord saying that He will prosper them, bless them, financially and with property if they are faithful to provide for the Temple, the Priests and the Levites. In other words, if they are faithful to bless God’s workers, then God will be bound to bless them all-the-more.
And then consider how we read it today. We read it and it certainly seems like the Lord is saying that if you are faithful to give to the church, then God will return that blessing back to you in abundant financial blessing. That’s almost what prosperity preachers proclaim, except that prosperity preachers are rich men who are saying if you give ‘me’ money, you will be blessed by God. Here, the Lord is saying that if you give ‘God’ money you will be blessed. And that’s a little whole lot different.
The question we need to ask is, Does that apply directly today? Does God bless people who give financially to the church? And if God does bless us when we give financially to the church, is that blessing financial blessing, or is it something else entirely?
Well, what we need to understand this passage is a tool for interpretation. And I believe the best tools come from the scriptures themselves. Let’s look at the book of Hebrews, where we find one of the most important tools for reading the Old Testament. In chapter 8 of the letter to the Hebrews, the author was discussing the temple system and the gifts and offerings that the Israelites offered at the temple. He was talking about animal sacrifices, offerings of produce from the field, and gifts of money. He wrote,
This is a reference to Exodus 25:40. In that passage, the Lord had instructed Moses in precise detail on how to erect the tabernacle, the place that the Israelites would worship the Lord in the wilderness. This was before the temple was built. It was like a large portable temple. And the Lord warned Moses not the diverge in any way from the plan to build the tabernacle, to build it exactly as instructed. Every table and every lamp stand was to be crafted and placed in the temple, exactly as God had instructed. And every gift was to be offered exactly as God had instructed.
But why? Why does it have to be exact? Is God so vain that everything has to be exactly a certain way?
The author of the letter answers that question clearly. He says that the tabernacle and the gifts must be exact because they serve as a shadow of the heavenly things to come. In other words, the tabernacle was a dim picture of the throne room of God in heaven. And the gifts we give to God are dim pictures of eternal gifts.
So, that’s the tool. When you read about Israel and the gifts that they offered at the tabernacle and later at the temple, these gifts were a dim picture of the eternal gifts. The Kingdom of Israel itself is a dim picture of the eternal Kingdom of God. So, when you read the Old Testament now and you see something odd about Israel, you can ask, What does that say about God’s eternal Kingdom? and see if you can answer that question.
Back to Malachi.
Malachi said that financial gifts to God result in blessing. And that got me thinking that the Kingdom of God is not a physical Kingdom as it was in the Old Testament. So, there’s a shadow. It’s no longer as it was in the days of the patriarchs and the days of Israel. We live in a new era that we often refer to as the church era. So, I want to look through the passage in Malachi and see what is different now that the Kingdom of God is present in Christ through the church.
Let’s begin with…
Malachi 3:8 says,
That’s pretty simple. The Lord accused Israel of robbing Him by not giving Him the tenth of their produce that was required in addition to other contributions that the Lord required from the Israelites.
The idea of robbing is so baffling here. The Jewish person of the day may have had a hard week or hard month or hard year and decided that they just couldn’t offer God what was commanded. In their eyes they were withholding their tithes and contributions. It was theirs to do what they wanted with and they chose not to give it to God because times were tough and it was just too much to ask.
But, God says, not so. The Psalmist wrote,
And the author of the letter to the Hebrews said,
Withholding gifts from the temple was robbing God because the Israelites didn’t own a thing. It’s all God’s. Notice in those verses, the various authors connect the creator to the owner. Everything is God’s because He made it and He can take it all away and be perfectly just in doing so.
Are you suffering financially?
Notice this principle: Even if God has caused it, he has done nothing that is unjust. He has a reason for it. Even if God causes poverty, He has done so in incomprehensible wisdom to draw you nearer to Himself and to demonstrate His magnificent glory in you and through you to the ends of the earth. You have no right to grumble in your poverty, but must praise God, for even in times of trial … we see God at work.
So, rich or broke, to withhold money from God is to rob God. In the Old Testament times that meant withholding offerings of produce and animals from the priesthood and the temple. But, in the New Testament times that means withholding from the church. I’ve drawn the line from Israel to the church for you many times, so I won’t do that again today.
But, to refuse to give is exactly what Malachi says. It is robbing God. And that’s why I have many times encouraged you to give joyfully even if you think you cannot.
Give something. They say that the average Christian gives a little less than 2% to the church. So, just start there. Be average and start giving 2%—start this week—give 2% of your income to the Lord’s work and let’s just see where that leads you and your family and where it leads us as the church in our mission to see Christ glorified in our city.
But, let’s not just talk about the responsibility to give. Let’s talk about the…
The posture required of the Israelites was strict obedience. The Lord said,
The Israelites were called to strict obedience. I believe that the idea was to demonstrate the heart of God through the law of God. That is to say that God wanted them to learn how good and pleasing it is to be obedient to the Lord.
But, the New Testament paradigm is a little different. The Apostle Paul—alluding to this Malachi passage—wrote,
So, he says the same thing. If you give generously, you will receive generously. But, he says, it’s not strict obedience. It’s actually that you give generously according to the way you have been convicted in your heart.
So, don’t start giving because I have made you feel guilty. Don’t do it because I keep talking about money and you want me to stop. Instead, do it because you are firmly convicted that God loves it when you give generously. God loves a cheerful giver, so give joyfully to the Lord’s work because you want to apease Him.
The posture of the Old Testament lends itself to begrudging obedience and halfhearted gifts, but in the New Testament, God calls us to give according to our hearts and to give joyfully. It’s a heart outward approach.
In the Old Testament, Malachi mentions …
… so we also need to consider if there is a curse for halfhearted gifts in the New Testament.
The opposite of a blessing is a curse. Blessings and curses exist on a spectrum. To be blessed is to not be cursed and to be cursed is not to be blessed. Here we see that the Israelites were suffering. They were being persecuted by surrounding nations. They were toiling relentlessly in the fields just to survive. Many of them were living in abject poverty. Because they robbed God, they were under a curse.
I believe that there is something to that in the New Testament as well.
Notice, money itself is not evil. It’s how you feel about money that is either good or evil. The Apostle Paul told Timothy that to crave wealth for yourself results in faithlessness and grief in life. That is curse. I believe that the way that you give says a great deal about how you feel about money in your heart. In fact, I believe the way you give says very little about how much money you have and volumes about how much you love it.
Whether you have a little or a lot of money is not the question. But, how big of a sacrifice is the gift? That’s the question.
I always recommend that people give a percentage of their income. The Lord said,
When you give a flat amount each month or each week that you attend, that doesn’t really test God. But, when your giving goes up and down with your paycheck, then that is when we can really test and see if the blessing will come. And I think giving a percentage is biblical anyway—not just in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament. Paul wrote to the Corinthian church,
Notice that Paul says to set aside money to give according to the way you prosper. That means, the more you make, the more you give. The less you make, the less you give. That sounds like a percentage to me, just like what is commanded of Israel in the Old Testament.
I also agree with the wisdom of Solomon who wrote,
In other words, don’t give a percentage of your wealth to the Lord after you have paid all your bills. Instead, give it first, the first produce of your harvest. Before you keep anything for yourself, give God what is rightfully His, right off the top.
I think this is a huge benefit of online giving. If you go to SonrisePalmdale.com and click the link that says ‘giving,’ you can give there instead of waiting for Sunday. I like to use the online giving for a number of reasons. I have two different jobs and get 3 paychecks every month between the 2. Two of those, the amount is predictable, so I have it setup to automatically give on the 1st and 15th when those paychecks come in. And then when the third paycheck comes in, I give based on that check immediately before I put any of the money towards anything else. I don’t even wait until Sunday. I set it aside like Paul instructed the Corinthians to do as soon as I am able to do so. I would encourage you to do the same.
As long as we are talking about it, I often get asked about this. There’s a very old argument about whether you should give a percentage of your gross or your net on your paycheck—before or after taxes. In other words, Should I give money to the IRS before I give money to God? That’s what you’re asking. And I think the answer to that question is self-evident. Give a percentage—whatever you have settled in your heart—to God on the full wage that you have received, when you receive it. Set it aside before you do anything else, right off the top. That’s the biblical model for giving to the Lord’s work.
So, there is a curse of suffering and grief for those who do not give back to God the fruits of what has been given to them. And if there is a curse, then there is a blessing. So let’s talk about…
The Lord said through Malachi,
There was a promise of prosperity in the Old Testament. But, this changes slightly in the New Testament. We already read the Apostle Paul’s words,
There is something to this idea that you will be blessed generously if you are a generous person. But, I’m not sure that the blessing we receive is exactly prosperity. This is where I believe the prosperity Gospel preachers get it wrong. They love to read Malachi 3 and then ask for money on the promise that God will return the gift back to you in dollars and with interest. But that’s not what the text promises.
So, I looked at the idea of wealth and blessing in the New Testament. And what I found is that God doesn’t promise us wealth. He promises us provision for needs as His people. He promises that our sanctification will result in the fruits of the Spirit—joy, peace, goodness, patience, and so on. But, God does not promise us wealth. In fact, Jesus said this:
If I read that correctly, the blessed are not the rich and prosperous. The blessed in the New Testament are those who are poor in spirit, who mourn, who are humble, who are hungry for the word of God and thirst for the righteousness of God, those who are merciful towards the undeserving, those who are pure of heart, who make peace, and those who endure persecution for the sake of the Gospel of Christ. That doesn’t sound like prosperity or wealth or success in the this world. It almost sounds like the opposite.
But, notice the blessing. It’s a blessing that is far greater than anything present in this world. Prosperity doesn’t even come close to the blessing of the New Testament. New Testament blessing isn’t prosperity in this life, but immeasurable prosperity in the life to come. Any blessing you have recieved in this life is just a shadow, a dim picture of the blessings of eternity. The blessing of the New Testament is the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s comfort in the face of affliction. It’s life on the new earth with Christ forever. It’s being filled with righteousness. New Testament blessing is the mercy and grace of God upon our wretched souls. New Testament blessing is the ability to see God. It is the right to be called sons of God, which means it is eternal prince-hood in God’s heavenly Kingdom.
How small is the promise of the Old Testament compared to that? How small is prosperity in this life compared to the riches promised in God’s eternal Kingdom?
Jesus told a story in the book of Luke. He said,
Jesus wants us to store up eternal, Kingdom of God riches not riches in this life.
Oh, that I might suffer poverty in this life that I might be rich towards God! How small a thing is it that I might live a life of generosity and extreme selflessness in this life that the Kingdom of God might be full of God’s people.
That’s what we are really talking about when we talk about giving our wealth for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Every week when we ask you to give it’s not so that we can afford to keep doing the same thing we have always done week in and week out. I don’t know about you, but Christ did not call me into His church to be consumed with rote religion. I’m here for mission!
I haven’t shared this in a while and the numbers have changed since I last looked them up. But, God called me here to Sonrise because he gave me a vision for East Palmdale, specifically for far East Palmdale, the 93552 area code that stretches from 40th to 70th East. Today there are over 40,000 people living in that area code and only one small church.
I believe that God is calling us to mission, to go to that area code and begin to teach people the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are missionaries and that is our mission field. I have a vision to go there and get God’s share.
How many people do I want to see saved, discipled, and faithfully worshiping every week?
God’s share, 10%. I have a vision for 4000 people to come to Christ through your ministry in East Palmdale. 4000 professions of Christ. 4000 baptisms. 4000 people repenting of sins. 4000 people worshiping God with hands held high in loud and joyous praise.
But, not just that. I have a vision to see other communities that many of you live in and that are much like East Palmdale, have churches planted with that same vision to go and get God’s share, to see people come to Christ. The Antelope Valley has many Christians in it, but not enough. The mission field is huge and I pray that through your financial giving and giving of time and energy that God would call, equip, and send workers into the harvest and that those workers would be us.
I love when we hear amazing stories of church planters and missionaries who have done amazing things for God in very difficult parts of the world. It’s so encouraging. They are storing up treasures in heaven and treasures unimaginable; they have unfathomable riches towards God. But, those riches are not just for them; Christian, those riches are for you. God has called you by His son and empowered you by His Spirit and He is enabling you through His church to be a part of that mission.
So, here’s what I am challenging you to do today. And I’m going to do this as well. My family has been faithfully giving 10% of our NET income to the Lord’s work for well over a decade now. But, starting with my very next paycheck, we are going to start giving from the gross—that is before taxes, the first fruits. And we are going to increase our giving by 2%. We’re doing that because we believe God’s mission is greater than our comforts.
Johnny Hunt, a great and godly pastor and one the former presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention likes to say that 10% is training wheels. God is calling us to greater generosity and so I see no reason to stop at 10.
I’m asking you to follow our lead. If you want to see the Spirit of God move in East Palmdale, I’m challenging you to start giving from the gross of your paycheck and to add 2% to whatever it is that you are already committed to give. If you are here and you don’t give, start giving 2% like I challenged you earlier. If you are like my family and you give 10% already, start giving 12%. If you already give 15%, start giving 17%. If you give $20 a week, start giving 2% plus $20 a week.
Trust God and give God His portion. Give for the mission. And give joyfully.
If you are a member of the church, or if you watch the financial updates on the bulletin every week, you know that our giving is down $3000/month from last year. The solution that our strategic focus team came up with was to freeze certain line items. The biggest one they froze was outreach. And they also capped our giving to North American and International missions. I don’t share that as a complaint or criticism. There was only a couple different ways to approach the issue. But, that’s a practical example of how giving to the church is necessary for the mission of the church. We literally have no missions budget right now.
This is what God has called us to as His church. We are to support, not just our corporate worship, but to reach out beyond our walls and see our community changed by God’s Kingdom.
And that’s what we are really about. We want to see God’s Kingdom coming into this world. We gather faithfully every Sunday to worship, to lift our eyes to God and to give Him praise, not just for blessings in this life, but for the blessings He has promised for the life to come.
When we gather we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. We do so because God has given everything by the death of His son Jesus Christ, that we might live. Jesus is the perfect eternal gift and all of our gifts are just shadows of the perfect gift of the Father. In light of the gift of Christ, how small are the gifts we give to God?
Jesus came to earth as a man to suffer in life and be persecuted, even unto death on a cross, so that by the shedding of His blood and the breaking of His body, everything broken in us might be made whole again—that the spiritual void that exists between man and God might be bridged and we can enter into the presence of the Almighty. That’s what we celebrate—not the shadows, not the imperfect life lived now, but the perfect and the eternal.