Read: Malachi 3:1 – 4:6
Malachi 3:10 – 12: ‘“Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “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! 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,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “Then all nations will call you blessed, for your land will be such a delight,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.’
Old Testament law required that when Jews provided offerings to God, the animals needed to be in perfect health and the crops be the first fruits. Jews were also expected to “tithe” the first tenth (10 percent) of their income to God to support the temple’s upkeep and its ministries. During Malachi’s time (about a century after the Jews had returned to their homeland and rebuilt Jerusalem and the temple), the Jews looked for ways around this – they were offering defective animals, less than the choicest grains and crops, and less than the first tenth of their income as required.
Today’s reading really speaks to me because when I first became a Christian, I also looked for ways to limit my giving; part of it I’m sure was that my definition of generous at the time was less than it is now (thanks to the Holy Spirit’s work in my life), but part of it was also that I didn’t think I could afford to give generously. That was a mistake, and thankfully the Lord showed me that giving is critical for Christians, and not because the Church wants your money. One of the topics Jesus preached about most frequently was money. There’s a very good reason for this; as Jesus taught in Matthew 6:21 “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” God doesn’t want us to give because He needs our money. Since God is all-powerful, He doesn’t need anything from us. God wants us to give generously because He knows that the process of doing so helps to free our hearts – it forces us to think about the priority we give God in our lives and what we truly treasure.
I have seen the act of worship described as “an expression of awe, devotion, and love — from man, the creature, to his Creator.” The Bible teaches us that tithing and giving offerings or gifts to God is part of worshipping Him. When the wisemen worshipped the baby Jesus, they presented Him with gifts (Matthew 2:11). Paul frequently wrote about giving as a form of worship (Romans 15:26, 2 Corinthians 9:13, etc). In Philippians 4:18, Paul describes the gifts given to him by the Philippians in these terms: “I am amply supplied, now that I have received … the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.”
This highlights the main point of the book of Malachi and what I believe is an important take away for us 2,500 years later – we can’t expect to please God by just going through the motions of any part of worshipping Him. When we do, we may be fooling those around us, but we aren’t fooling God; He knows our hearts, and He expects sincerity and obedience when we worship Him.
Throughout the Bible, God provides us instruction on how to give. I’ll briefly look at two areas of that instruction. The first question I hear a lot concerning giving is “why give”? That’s an easy one – because it’s a command from God. As Christians, we have a corporate and a personal obligation to give a portion back to God of what He has provided us. I sometimes hear that the command to give is just an Old Testament law that only applied to the ancient Jews; that interpretation isn’t accurate. As Christians, we are commanded to give in the New Testament as well; one example is 1 Corinthians 16:1. The Greek term often translated into “order” or “directed” in English in this verse is diatasso. The word loses a little context in translation to English. The meaning of this word in Greek would be similar to the kind of direct order a subordinate would receive in the military from his or her commander. For example, the same word is used five times throughout the Gospels either when Jesus (who was recognized by the authors of the Gospels as their “Master”) is telling someone to do something or to explain the relationship between a servant and his or her master. So when Paul orders (diatasso) the Church to give to support the Lord’s people, that is a command from the Holy Spirit to Paul to all Christians, and one that applies across time and not just to the early church for the Christians in Jerusalem.
The second question is how much should we give. We see biblical references ranging from 10 percent (several instances in the Old Testament as well as places in the New Testament such as Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42) to Jesus telling the rich young man to sell all of his possessions and give the money to the poor (Mark 10:17-31). Jesus also praises the poor widow for giving everything she has in Mark 12:41-44.
For my family and myself, we have read scripture, prayed, and concluded that God wants us to do two things when it comes to worshipping Him through giving: 1. Most importantly, to give generously, humbly, and cheerfully to Christian missions and work (2 Corinthians 9:7 – 13, 1 Timothy 6:17 – 19, Matthew 10:42, Acts 20:35, Proverbs 11:24, etc), and 2. To put Him to the test (Malachi 3:10) and tithe at least 10 percent of our pre-tax income to the church. It’s difficult for me to write this because I believe strongly that when we give it should be done privately, but I also know that sometimes privacy must be laid aside in order to encourage others in their walk.
Finally, to summarize the why, I’ll close with a few verses that help to answer that for my family:
Because God gave us the greatest gift possible in salvation and freedom through His son – John 3:16
Because God commands that we give – Malachi 3, James 2:15-16.
Because God blesses those who give generously and cheerfully – Deuteronomy 15:10, Luke 6:38.
Lord, thank You for Your generosity. You have given Your Son, Jesus, to cancel out our sin debt. We know that we can never repay Your grace, nor do You expect us to try. But we also understand that You do expect us to give back generously and cheerfully a portion of what You provide to us. I pray for wisdom to give in ways that will best honor You. I also ask that You help me to trust You that the gifts I give will be used to further Your kingdom. If I am struggling with my finances and feel I can’t afford to give, I ask You to please show me Your truth that I can and help me to take that first step. I ask all of this in the name of Jesus… Amen.
Note: Chris has given a few sermons on the importance and “how to” of giving; if you’ve missed them, check out the sermons on the Vineyard’s website: http://vineyardwheeling.com/sermons/ You’ll find one under the Baggage series titled “Dumping Greed”, one under the Unbroken series about Money, and other ones as well).