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  • Writer's picturePastor Brett

Test Anxiety #2

Previously: 1. God tests us. (1 Peter 1:6-9)

-( Presently )-

2. We test God, but only in one way.

(Malachi 3:6-12.)

At this time of year, we see our kids and grandkids off to school. Be it elementary through graduate school, it is our students who struggle with Test Anxiety. In support of students and to get us in a proper frame of mind, I begin with a “College Prayer.”

O Lord, hear my anxious plea

Calculus is killing me.

I know not of “dx” or “dy”

And probably won’t until the day I die.

Please, Lord, help me in this hour

As I take my case to the highest power.

I care not for fame or loot

Just help me find one square root.

And Lord, please let me see

One passing mark in chemistry.

Oh such a thing I constantly dread

I’d rather join the Marines instead.

Lord, please give us a sign

That You’ve been listening all this time.

Please lead me out of this mental coma

And give me a shot at my diploma.

The last of the prophets, Malachi ministered at time when the love of Israel had grown cold. He confronted several problems and one of them was tithing, the expected offering of the first ten percent of one's income to God.

Normally, we do not test God or need to test Him, because He does not change and is therefore perfectly reliable. “I am the LORD and I do not change” the nature and character of God are eternal. (6-7) This truth is offered to explain how it is that the DESCENDANTS OF JACOB have not already been DESTROYED for their unfaithfulness. Even when we are unfaithful, God can be counted on to keep His promises. The destruction-deserving sins of Israel mentioned here: They had SCORNED God’s DECREES and they had FAILED to OBEY Him.

Israel needed to change (repent) and so do we, to become more like Jesus. Here's a promise: “Now return to me, and I will return to you.” God’s faithfulness is proven by His offer to RETURN to His people who repent. One reason they hadn’t repented was they were ignorant of the fact they’d sinned! They saw no need to RETURN when they’d NEVER GONE AWAY in the first place.

In verse eight, God accused them of having CHEATED Him. They acted surprised, and wondered how they were guilty of cheating God. (Of course, this entire dialogue is a fiction created by Malachi to bring accusation against the people and urge them to repent.) Repentance is impossible without admitting our sins. Failure to repent is the most serious kind of failure, for it means we are still UNDER A CURSE as v. 9 makes clear.

One sin for which Israel needed to repent was failure to pay their tithe. This was not an isolated incident; it had become part of their national character. They refused to pay the TITHES AND OFFERING due God, yet thought everything was fine between them and God!

In Old Testament Law, a “tithe” was the first ten percent of a person’s income, whether it was crops, cattle, or cash. An OFFERING was an additional gift to God that a person would make for the forgiveness of sins, to complete a vow, or express gratitude to God for His generosity. The people had fallen short of that standard and God gave Malachi a message of confrontation.

As Christians, we are not bound to the specific strictures of Old Testament law, but we use them as a guide for understanding what God expects of us. When you combine the teaching of both Testaments, God’s standard for giving back to him includes making regular donations, giving a percentage of income, committing something that has value to the giver, and cheerfulness (see 2 Corinthians 6:9).

God's solution to the problem of their disobedience was to invite them to do something He had forbidden elsewhere; to test Him. “Try it! Put me to the test!” (10) One reason a person might fail to keep God’s standard of giving is the fear of running out. This can be selfish hoarding or unselfish concern for one’s household; the point is the person who chooses to not tithe is showing a lack of faith in God to take care of him.

The best way to develop trust in God and to mature our faith is by experience. This is like doing an experiment, taking a chance. Give sacrificially; it must hurt at least a little bit. Instead of giving God the easy leftovers, you give Him the first portion of your time or money or other resource. Then watch and see how God “earns” your trust by taking care of you. God will always pass this test.

This sacrificial lifestyle will do a lot more for you than penny-pinching and hoarding. God will always out-give you. There are no promises of worldly wealth or ease here, but generous blessings of all kinds will come to those who are generous with God.

If they were faithful to do this, here are the blessings God promised in verses eleven and twelve:

- Abundant provision = “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!” Notice the degree of blessing; pouring out of an open window - too much to be contained, overflowing the amount of their need. This is not the action of a stingy God, but a generous, loving God.

- Removal of the CURSE. As we saw in verse nine = “You are under a curse, for your whole nation has been cheating me.” As the material outcome of their cursed status, they had suffered the loss of crops. In verse eleven God promised, “Your crops will be abundant, for I will guard them from insects and disease. Your grapes will not fall from the vine before they are ripe.” God will bless their labor with fruitful reward. Only when we rely on God do we have the experiences of His provision and He in that sense “earns” our trust. If we only do what we can do, if we only ever stay in our comfort zone, we will never have the experience of God’s provision that builds our faith in Him.

- Special status = “Then all nations will call you blessed, for your land will be such a delight.” When the Lord lifts His people up, it directs our attention to God. Grateful praise and worship are the inevitable result, and everybody benefits from these.

Twice in this passage Malachi quotes THE LORD OF HEAVEN’S ARMIES. This title refers to God as a Divine Warrior. The title reinforces the fact that God is powerful, and He will do as He promises. Nothing can keep Him from blessing us except for our own stubborn refusal to repent and obey His commands.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:20-22 God explains why this matter of testing is so important to our life of faith. Paul wrote:

Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. Stay away from every kind of evil.

He cautioned against an attitude that rejected everything unfamiliar just because that is easier. He commanded them to, instead, take every prophecy on a case-by-case basis, to test them for authenticity.

We’ll learn more about this kind of testing in the last message in this series, but for now let’s note the general principle in the words TEST EVERYTHING. This command requires biblical knowledge, moral consistency, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. There are no exceptions. We are not to take any claims to represent God at face value. We are to TEST EVERYTHING.

The immediate purpose of the testing is to discern teaching that is GOOD, so we can HOLD ON to it, or EVIL so we can STAY AWAY from it. People today are especially leery of the word “judging,” but the Bible does not condone moral ignorance. This command to TEST EVERYTHING is kept by having our spiritual and moral eyes wide open.

The first and most important application of TEST EVERYTHING is in regard to self. We must submit our thoughts, words, and deeds to the standards God has set. We must get rid of everything in our lives that violates God’s standards. We must devote ourselves to everything that helps us obey God’s will.

Testing becomes a problem and veers into judgmentalism when we use our own standards or when we apply God’s standards to others more frequently or more rigorously than to self. It also becomes sin if we give voice to criticism more often than praise. Remember, the command is to HOLD ON TO WHAT IS GOOD as much as STAY AWAY from EVIL. We do much better when we praise the light than when we curse the darkness.

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