Return to Faithful Giving
Please read Malachi 3:6-12 in your Bible. I used the NLT to prepare these remarks.
Missionary Lou Nicholes tells the story of a time when a pastor and a farmer in his church were talking over the fence one day. The pastor asked the farmer, “Abe, if you had one hundred horses, would you give me fifty?” Abe said, “Certainly.”
The pastor asked, “If you had one hundred cows, would you give me fifty?” Abe said, “Yes.”
Then the pastor asked, “If you had two pigs, would you give me one?” Abe said, “Now cut that out, pastor; you know I have two pigs!” “Generosity always sounds good in the abstract; many Christians picture themselves giving away half of an inheritance. Fewer, it seems, can part with one pig.”
People say, “The eyes are the windows of the soul,” meaning you can tell a lot about what a person is thinking just by looking into their eyes. I think a more accurate measurement is found further south - in their use of money. A person’s priorities are reflected in how they use their money because money is valuable.
Preachers say Jesus spoke about money more often than any other subject. That’s just not true. Jesus spoke most often on how we love God. Jesus occasionally used money as an illustration because love of money can get in the way of our love for God and because our use of money so accurately reveals our priorities. Jesus was all about love. As we shall see, this fits with Malachi’s message for today:
How we love determines how we give.
1. God-robbers put themselves under a curse. (6-9)
To know God’s will, we must know His nature. (6-7) The first thing we learn about God from this chapter is that God is eternal, His will and his character remain the same: I AM THE LORD AND I DO NOT CHANGE. This is a good thing because we don’t have to keep up with changes: He can be trusted to keep His word. For example, Malachi’s people were NOT DESTROYED because God had promised their father JACOB they would be a great nation. For the sake of His promises, God spared them.
Malachi has already detailed four ways the people had violated the covenant. Clearly, God was going to be faithful even though they were not. This had been the case SINCE THE DAYS Of their ANCESTORS.
The second thing Malachi reveals in these verses is that God is gracious; He is willing to forgive all who repent of their sins: “RETURN TO ME AND I WILL RETURN TO YOU.” To RETURN is to repent. To repent is to turn one’s back on sin and turn toward God. Repentance is a holiness issue and it is a relationship issue. If we want to be saved, we must enter into relationship with God. To do that, we must repent.
To obey God’s will, we must know human nature. (8-9) First, human nature is prone to temptation. Sin separates us from God, so that we must RETURN to Him. The ignorant question the people ask at the end of verse seven (“HOW CAN WE RETURN WHEN WE HAVE NEVER GONE AWAY?”) illustrates this weakness of human nature. They were unaware they’d moved away from God or they pretended to be unaware of it.
Second, human nature is prone to cheating. Why do people cheat? Most often it’s because of laziness; our default desire to do things the cheapest and easiest way possible. In verse eight God accused them of cheating Him: “SHOULD PEOPLE CHEAT GOD? YET YOU HAVE CHEATED ME!” They stuck with the lousy strategy of feigning ignorance: “WHAT DO YOU MEAN? WHEN DID WE EVER CHEAT YOU?”
God responded to their question with an explanation and with a warning to boot! He said, “YOU HAVE CHEATED ME OF THE TITHES AND OFFERINGS DUE TO ME. YOU ARE UNDER A CURSE, FOR YOUR WHOLE NATION HAS BEEN CHEATING ME.” (v. 9) Lets define these terms to better understand what God is saying.
First, the TITHE. The Law required that a TITHE, the first ten percent of a person’s income, be given to the temple for the maintenance of the building, support of the priests, and benevolence for the needy. The tithe was mandatory, not voluntary. In fact, the money or property to be tithed was considered to be God’s property, so withholding it was cheating; it was robbing God of what was actually His!
Second, the OFFERINGS. Offerings were voluntary, not mandatory. These were gifts made over and above a person’s TITHE. Offerings were expressions of a generous spirit meeting a special need or expressing an extra measure of gratitude to God.
God cursed the cheaters. As always, blessings are promised to those who keep God’s laws and curses are warned against those who violate it. The nature of the curse is not specified, but that doesn’t matter. They have been warned and should understand God does not treat this lightly. It is sin to CHEAT God, make no mistake. The consequences may not be immediate and they may not be material, but they are inevitable; God will see to that!
2. Faithful givers receive God’s blessing. (10-12)
Before we go any further, it must be said that we are no longer under the specifics of the Old Testament Law. The figure of 10% is, for followers of Jesus, voluntary, not mandatory. It is a guide we do well to follow, but the tithe that was mandatory under the Law is voluntary under grace.
The Bible is clear on how to give faithfully. We don’t have space to cite all the Scriptural evidence here, but we will share all seven principles.
Number One = Give to God first. As we’ve already seen in this passage, giving God our least instead of our best is an unacceptable offering. Knowing human nature, giving to God first is also a way to ensure that we remember to give at all. This has a practical value of making it easier to give because you don’t miss with what you don’t have.
Number Two = Give a percentage of income. Though the 10% figure is not required, the New Testament does validate giving some percentage of your income. For me, 10% is easy to figure. I like easy math. Giving a percentage is a discipline that makes your giving easier since you are not allowing your feelings to dictate your giving. The percentage of your income you set apart to God is your decision and your business only. Remember, the crucial issue is the size of your faith, not the size of your donation. A good motive makes a good offering.
Number Three = Give whenever you receive income and not when you have not. God didn’t ask anyone to go into debt to make their gifts. Be sensible; the practice of giving when you receive guarantees you have the ability to give. Also, this is another way of removing feelings as a factor in your decision in what to give. Waiting until you feel like giving more often results in not giving.
Number Four = Give cheerfully. When you give, remember you are acting in partnership with God and with one another. That’s a happy moment. In 2 Corinthians 9:7, Paul wrote, “God loves a cheerful giver.” If giving makes you crabby, you’re not offering it in the right spirit and you’ve put yourself under a curse.
Number Five = Give sacrificially. Don’t give God your least, give Him your best. We’ve learned from Malachi that genuine offerings much cost us something. Going cheap on God hurts you first, others second. It was the kind of behavior that God cursed.
Number Six = Give generously. In Galatians 6:7 Paul referred to the Law of Sowing and Reaping. People who are cheap at planting time will reap less at harvest time. This is a rule that God enforces. You will benefit from your own generosity. The benefit may not come until heaven, but God will see to it you are rewarded.
Number Seven = Give your own gift, not comparing yourself to anyone else. A reason for percentage giving is that it puts the poor and the rich man on equal footing; each of them gives in proportion to his income, not in comparison to anyone else’s. This is one reason Jesus advocated for keeping your giving private (see Matthew 6:1-4); to prevent pride and competition as motives for giving. God loves gifts that are given with love as a motive. Love for Him and love of others are approved motives.
Expect divine blessing in recognition of faithful giving. When people obey God’s commands and faithfully supply God’s house, His response will generosity. As you would expect, God’s generosity will be much greater than what we’ve shown Him. As preachers rightly say, “You can’t out-give God.” Here are the five promises God made here in Malachi 3:
“I WILL OPEN THE WINDOWS OF HEAVEN FOR YOU.” (10)
“I WILL POUR OUT A BLESSING SO GREAT YOU WON’T HAVE ENOUGH ROOM TO TAKE IT IN.” (10)
“YOUR CROPS WILL BE ABUNDANT, FOR I WILL GUARD THEM FROM INSECTS AND DISEASE.” (11)
“YOUR GRAPES WILL NOT FALL FROM THE VINE BEFORE THEY ARE RIPE.” (11)
“THEN ALL NATIONS WILL CALL YOU BLESSED FOR YOUR LAND WILL BE SUCH A DELIGHT.” (12)
Because God does not change (6), His promises can be trusted to be true. We can be confident and put our finances in His hands. Verse ten is the one time in Scripture where God commands, “TRY IT! PUT ME TO THE TEST!” In this way, God promised, “You’ll find it’s a lot better to obey than to cheat!”
How we love determines how we give.
People will cite the fact that 11 of Jesus’ 39 parables mention money as evidence that money was His go-to subject. However, nobody cites the fact that in 18 of the 39 parables He mentioned food as proof that Jesus was a “foodie.”
This message isn’t about money. It’s about love. What do you really love? People who love God will use money in ways very different from the ways people who love money. People who love others before self will use money in different ways from people who love themselves first.
The best way to stop overthinking the subject of money is to adopt the biblical method of honoring God first with our money. Then we help others with our money. What’s left we use for our needs. The problem is most of us go through our income in exactly the opposite direction. We meet all our needs and greeds first, then God and the needy get what’s left. God says, “Live life in the right order and trust me to do more than take care of you - I will bless you.”
“Return to Faithful Giving,” a sermon by Rev. Travis Peterson, delivered on February 15, 2009, at Olney Southern Baptist Church, Olney, IL.