Sermon: “Robbing God” (Malachi 3:6-12)
Listen to the Sermon:
This morning we are in Malachi 3:6-12. We are coming to the fifth out of six disputes that structures the prophecy of Malachi. Throughout Malachi, as we’ve walked through it periodically over the last few months, we’ve seen a number of disputes that God has with his people. Issues ranging from God’s love, to the priest’s worship, to what they were offering and receiving in turn, marriage in the covenant community, and so on and so forth. In each one of these disputes we see the same general pattern emerge where God calls out his people on some specific issue. The people of God respond in turn antagonistically. God then responds in turn.
Today we are coming to the fifth dispute in Malachi that centers on the issue of tithes and offerings. Verse six is something like a hinge verse that both completes the previous dispute and opens this dispute. We will be reading and studying from Malachi 3:6-12. Hear now the word of our Lord.
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. Malachi 3:6-12, ESV
When I was a child, I remember seeing a television commercial that must have been popular because it seemed to circulate all the time. Whenever I’d watch my beloved Baltimore Oriels, who were just as bad then as they are now, I’d always see this commercial on repeat over and over again. Though I can’t quite remember what the commercial was advertising, nor can I remember the company responsible for producing the commercial, I do remember that throughout the thirty second ad, there was one line that was repeated over and over again by every actor in it. The line was this, “It’s my money and I want it now.” The young mother in the commercial would say it now, then it would flash to the businessman and so on and so forth. Everyone was saying, “It’s my money and I want it now.”
Now leaving aside whatever this specific issue that commercial was seeking to address or promote, let’s put on our theological eyeglasses for a moment and dissect that claim. It is true that when we think about money, almost all of us have been entrusted with financial resources. Some of us have been entrusted with more and some of us have been entrusted with less. In that way it would be fair for me to speak of my money and for you to speak of your money. It’s also true that when someone unlawfully steals those financial resources from us, it’s right and just that they be returned.
However, that being said, according to the Scripture all of our resources, whether our time, talents, or in this case our treasures, do not ultimately belong to us. The Scripture teach us over and over again that God above is the ultimately owner of all that we have and enjoy. Ultimately it all belongs to him. The Psalmist in Psalm 89, “The heavens are yours; the Earth also is yours. The world an all that is in it you have founded them.”
God is the creator of everything, all that we have and all that we enjoy. He’s founded heaven and earth and everything in it. Therefore, all that we have ultimately belongs to God. So, the Bible teaches us that it is incumbent upon all of us in the Christian life to learn not how to take and consume and horde all that we have to suit every desire that our hearts produce. Rather that we learn how to steward, according to God’s word, all that we have been entrusted by God with his resources.
This is stewardship 101 according to the Bible and if you were with us during the Building on a Firm Foundation campaign from January through March you heard this line over and over again. I trust that by now you all are virtually experts in the biblical theology of stewardship.
Nonetheless it’s right and just and fitting, especially since we are being trained and taught daily by a consumeristic world, that we often are reminded about what the Bible has to say on these issues and our possessions and money. Today gives us another opportunity to do that as we continue to stroll through Malachi’s prophecy.
In our text this morning the prophet Malachi accuses the people of God in his own day of adopting the kind of tight-fisted approach towards possessions contrary to the law of God. It’s the kind of approach that reflects a heart that says, “Everything I have is mine, to do with it as I wish.” It’s the kind of approach that is rooted in stingy hearts that seek fulfillment not in God and his promises, but in consuming and acquiring possessions.
So, Malachi, as we will see in view of this situation, does a few things throughout this text.
- For one, he reminds them of God’s law. Malachi reminds them of that God himself has to say about their possessions. God has a rightful claim to all that they possess and all that they own. There are statutes and there are rules that they are ignoring that govern how they should give tithes and offerings to the Lord. He points out where they are failing to abide. In short Malachi tells his audience it’s actually God’s money and he demands it now.
- Second, Malachi gets to their hearts by showing them the dissatisfaction that they are ultimately seeking in the depths of their souls; one that is focuses on taking and keeping and consuming for themselves. Just as the world would have us do today. It will never produce the fulfillment they are looking for.
Counterintuitively, God says in our passage today that the only way that you will find true blessings is by loosening your grip on the things that you have and seeking satisfaction and fulfillment in me. God says, I’m the source of blessing not these things that you are called to steward for your enjoyment.
In the same way that’s God’s message to us. Even though we are no longer bound by this specific tithing practices of OT Israel, God’s claim on our possess is no less than what it was in Malachi’s day, in the 450s BC. God’s exhortation to his people through Malachi that blessings and life will never be found by hording possessions also remains true for us today.
Just like this community that Malachi address, we too are called and commanded to generosity with our possession, rooted in hearts hat acknowledge God’s generosity to us. Hearts that acknowledge his ownership of all things. Hearts that trust that God alone, not in our possess whatever we have and enjoy, will ultimately satisfy the God sized cravings of our soul.
So, today’s big idea is this. God requires repentance from stingy and selfish stewards.
Malachi’s central refrain in this passage is a pretty simple one, it’s repent. He says that in verse seven, “return to me says the Lord”. In this text God gives his people and us three reasons to repent.
- We repent because of God’s gospel generosity.
- We repent because of our rebellious robbery.
- We repent because of God’s promise of prosperity.
We repent because of God’s gospel generosity
God’s people are called to repent in view of God’s gospel generosity. In the first two verses of our passage, verses six and seven, we see God’s abundant generosity displayed toward his people. Even in full view of their sin, which makes it all the more extraordinary.
Look with me at verses six and seven,
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?’ Malachi 3:6-7, ESV
Last time we were in Malachi, we talked about how God’s unchanging nature is one of our core reasons for hope in view of our sin. We have hope because God doesn’t just revoke his promises on a whim. We can trust that the one who speaks to us in his word and says, “You will be my people and I will be your God” because God doesn’t just toss that promise aside.
What he promises is certain because God doesn’t change. In Jesus Christ, the messenger of the covenant that Malachi prophecies about 3:1, we see how it’s possible for God’s unchanging justice and mercy to remain side by side in perfect harmony. That is good news that God is abundantly generosity to his people by simply being who he is, the unchangeable God.
As we move onto verse seven, we are reminded that while God doesn’t change in his approach to his word, his mercy, or his covenant love for his people. He is unchanging. Malachi tells his audience that you haven’t changed very much either, at least not functionally, to your approach to sin. That’s not good news.
Malachi says to his audience that your guys are acting just like your ancestors who from Genesis up until now in Malachi, 450s BC, have failed time and again to keep God’s law. You’re no different, you’re acting just like them.
A commentator on this passage, Ian Dougwood, points out that it’s also no surprise God even calls them children of Jacob in verse six. It’s not merely because Jacob is their ancestor, but like Jacob they have acted and are continuing to act like cheats and scoundrels. Just go back to Genesis and Malachi’s audience is acting like that now, especially in their approach to tithes and offerings.
Therefore, they deserve to be under a curse, as Malachi tells them later in Malachi that indeed they are, and they deserve to be judged for their sin because they are acting just like their ancestors in their approach toward their sins.
Notice, in full view of their sin even after God exposes their sins and the sins of their fathers, they still have hope because God won’t consume them. Instead he’s going to call them to repentance. He says, “return to me and I will return to you says the Lord of Hosts.” The unchanging God isn’t about to just throw in the towel on his covenant people and his promises.
Remember the opening dispute that started Malachi that started in the first five verses of Malachi. What did God say to them? He said, “I have loved you.” Even now, we see his abundant generosity and his covenant love on display. Because God graciously and patiently calls them to repentance.
Return to me says the Lord of Hosts. We see throughout verses six and seven, God’s abundant generosity and his unchanging commitment to his covenant promises and covenant people realized throughout the history of redemption. If God’s people are going to repent of their stingy and selfish stewardship, among a countless amount of things from which they need to repent, it needs to be the first thing that they grasp. The God they are sinning against, by withholding what rightfully belongs to him, is the God that has only ever been abundant generosity towards them.
They are going to repent of their stingy and selfish stewards with God’s generosity towards them. He’s always been generous towards them. This call to repentance is an act of generosity. And the promise that he will return to them should they repent is an act of generosity. If they are ever going to bring the tithe back into the storehouse with the faith that God requires, they need eyes to see their sin and they need eyes to see God’s generosity.
Here’s the problem, God’s people have been blind, just as they have been blind to God’s generosity, so too they have been blind to their own lack of generosity.
God’s people are called to repent in view of their rebellious robbery.
So, God says, return to me and repent. Here’s how God’s people respond to that call, starting at the end of verse seven,
… 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. Malachi 3:7b-9, ESV
Don’t mistake the question here. It’s not anything like a humble and sincere questions as we find later in the Scripture, such as, “What must I do to be saved? Tell me I’m convicted now tell me what to do.” This is an arrogant pushing back at God like all the rest of the questions the people of Malachi ask throughout the prophecy that can be understood in the sense of, “Why in the world would I need to return?”. It assumes that we are good, and God is ridiculous to think otherwise.
Of course, the is not God’s evaluation of their need for repentance. Rather, in verse eight Malachi takes God’s people to the primary issue is he’s seeking to address, tithes and offerings.
Let me give some background here. In the law of Moses God’s people were commanded to give a certain portion of their income back to God, what we know as the tithe, as a response to how God had been greatly and mercifully abundant towards them. With the acknowledgment that everything is owned by God anyway and we are merely stewards of all that’s been entrusted to us. All the principles that we outlined at the beginning to the sermon.
We think about the tithe we think about giving 10%. It was probably never that straight forward. I’ve put an article in the table in the parlor that Pastor Jacob wrote and distributed about the tithe, so you might be familiar to be with it already. I would encourage you to read it if you have more questions about it.
In short, there’s good reason to believe that the law of Moses actually required three tithes the people would give from the produce of their land. There was first a tithe, 10% that they had to give to support the ministry of the Levites who then supported the ministry of the priests. The Levites were the only of the twelve tribes of Israel who weren’t allotted any land when the people of God settled in the land of promise. So, they were supported by the other tribes. That was the first tithe, 10% of your produce to the Levites who would support the priests.
Then there was an additional 10% tithe that was to support the participation of one of the three big feasts that God’s people were called to partake in every year. There was another 10% tithe to support the poor, which was given about every three years. So, all in all, the requirement to tithe on God’s people was something like 23% of your produce every year. Again, these specific tithing commands all rested on the principle that everything is God’s anyway.
So, if you fail to give God what God requires of you in his law, well then you were effectively robbing God. That is precisely what Malachi accuses the people of God of doing in his own day. They had been withholding what belongs to God by right. As a result, we learn through this passage that they are reaping very real consequences in the land. For one, Malachi indicates that the land is under a curse. We read in verse nine through eleven,
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. Malachi 3:9-11, ESV
You may have a footnote in your Bible that says something like, this is probably a name for some crop destroying pest. At least this is what my Bible says about this. That’s probably accurate. They were likely dealing with some kind of famine in the land as a consequence of their own sin. But that wasn’t the only consequence the people of God were reaping. The other consequences are that the social and religious structures that the tithe was intended to support were collapsing. Their lack of tithing had self-destructive consequences. By failing to give the tithe, those in poverty were no longer being protected and the priests who were called to administer sacrifices and provide instruction to God’s people weren’t being supported either.
No wonder the priests and the Levities were tempted to give partial instruction as we learned in their sin in chapter two. To be sure, God doesn’t let them off the hook in anyway, but to fail to give the tithe had this snowballing effect of corruption among the community of God’s people. It affected the worship, the priests, the poor. There wasn’t an area of their life that didn’t remain unaffected.
Ultimately, we find through this that the people of God have been disillusioned about God. They don’t care about his word. They don’t appreciate that everything they enjoy ultimately belongs to God. They don’t trust that God could really satisfy them, nor have they really gasped his abundant generosity in the first place, so they don’t give their tithes. They keep and horde their possession for themselves. In effect they rob God and they need to repent. Otherwise the very real consequences that they are reaping will continue. More importantly that includes God’s displeasure towards them which should grieve them more than all of the other consequences that they are reaping combined.
But, even in their disregard for God’s word, God speaks into their deplorable with the word of grace and hope. He promises blessing if they repent by bringing the full tithe into the storehouse. That leads to our final point.
God’s People are Called to Repent in View of God’s Promise of Prosperity.
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. Malachi 3:10-12, ESV
In verses ten through twelve God issues a promise. He says to his people, if you bring the full tithe into the storehouse by faith, I’ll reverse the curse that is upon you and your land will once again bear fruit. God promises that if they return to him in faith and exercise hearts of repentance it would result in their blessings. God would bless them according to his word and send rain to water the crops and land and do away with the ravaging pests that are wreaking havoc on their produce. He would nourish their people once again.
He calls them in verse two to put them to the test. To test God in the Scripture is generally a bad thing to do. That’s what Israel did while they were in the wilderness. What God is calling for in this context is really nothing more than trust my word. God wants his people to believe that he is the generous God who will bless them if they turn back to him in faith and repentance and bring the full tithe into the storehouse by faith.
He wants them to acknowledge who they are and who he is. Their status as stewards and his status as the Lord of Hosts who owns everything that they enjoy. Don’t mistake that call, it wouldn’t be enough for them to give the tithes in a heartless or unattached way. As if God is merely calling for a commercial exchange of goods and services. God’s not going to bless them if they simply go through the motions and give their produce with hearts unaffected by the gospel generosity of God. No, he wants them to give according to his word out of hearts that have tasted and seen his gracious gospel generous mercy, cheerfully we might add.
When they do that, when they bring their full tithes into the storehouse in worship of the God of Israel, he would bless them once again. So that even the nations would see that God cares for his covenant people.
We read in verse twelve,
12 Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the LORD of hosts. Malachi 3:10-12, ESV
God’s people are called to repent because the tithe and the offerings that they are clinging to could never be the source of satisfaction that they are expecting them to be. They are treating their produces effectively as idols. So, God calls them to repentance in view of something that is so much better than what they are settling for at present. He says, loosen your grip on these things and see that I am the true source of blessings, not these things. In the same way God calls us, his church, to look at our possessions, whatever we have and whatever we enjoy in view of the surpassing greatness of know Christ Jesus our Lord.
Friends, we have even more reason than the people of God in Malachi’s day to be generous with what has been entrusted to us as stewards because we see the generosity of God in the face of Jesus Christ. We have the blessings that would come through the messenger of the covenant announced to the people of God in Malachi’s day. We have the riches of Jesus Christ at our disposal, so we too repent. We repent of hording what God calls us to give because we trust in the better promises of Jesus Christ and we trust God’s word when he says to us, “And my God will supply every need of your according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
So, let’s consider for a moment a few more ways we are called to apply this text.
At the outset, I want to address one of the questions that is often raised on the issue of tithing today. That is, whether or not we are commanded in the New Testament, the new covenant, if we are called to tithe in the same that that the saints in the Old Testament, the old covenant, were called to tithe.
There are a couple of different views out there on this question, even in the Presbyterian and reformed tradition. Again, I would commend Pastor Jacob’s article on the table in the parlor for more information about this. In short, in the new covenant we’re no longer bound by this same exact tithing requirements that Old Testament Israel was bound to under the Mosaic Law. Those precise requirements have effectively expired in the new covenant.
However, in the new covenant we are commanded to something more. That is a radical generosity, as stewards who have experienced the greater generosity of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is what leads Paul to command the church in Corinth to excel in the act of grace of giving in 2 Corinthians 8:7. For some of your this radical generosity that God calls his saints to in the New Testament to embody and to display will lead to giving far beyond 10%.
Furthermore, the precise legislation governing in the law of Moses may not be legally binding for us anymore in the new covenant. But those laws should still structure and inform our giving today in a number of ways. God still owns everything we have by right. It all belongs to him and we are commanded to be generous and to give to God in support of his church and his ministries. That command still applies to us today.
That being said, let me home in on a few specific applications from this text that call us to be a generous people.
- Are you a thankful person? Our call towards radical generosity, in this text and largely in the new covenant is rooted in an acknowledgement of how God has been abundantly generous to us. He has been abundantly gracious with his people throughout the history of redemption.
Through Christ we experience that generosity in ever greater ways than the Old Testament saints. We have been blessed with life in Christ and the presence of God through the Spirit of the risen and ascended Christ. Those gospel realities that drive us to repentance daily are also what drive our generosity too.
So, are you someone who takes stock of all of the good gifts that the father has lavished on you and responds to those gifts with a soft and generous heart? A heart that knows and trust that we have a father who feeds the birds of the air and you’re more valuable then they and he does feed you.
Or are you only focused on what you don’t have, constantly bitter towards those who have more than you and angry at God for the lot that he’s entrusted to your care? If we are going to be the kind of generous people, the kind of generous church that God calls us to be, that’s never going to happen with sour and bickering hearts towards one another, or towards those in the world who look like they have more than you. Are you a thankful person?
- What things are preventing you from being generous? Let me acknowledge first of all that we have a generous church. I remember during the Building on the Firm Foundation campaign our treasurer telling me and the other officers that we have a generous church and we do praise for that. Maybe for you, this passage has still confronted you with a lack of generosity in your own life.
Why is that? What are some of the reasons that you are not generous with the resources that have bee entrusted to you? For some of us, maybe the answer is fear that we really might not have what we need if we loosen our grip on what we have. Or fear that if we give up more of what we have to God and his purposes then we won’t have the good stuff in life that we think our stuff gives us.
In a way, this wasn’t much different than what the people of God in Malachi’s day faced. They are dealing with a famine in the land, which by most sensible measures would say store up what you have, tighten your grip and don’t give it away. Yet God calls them to give him their due. Ian Dougwood writes, “In the face of dire economics he called them to be less attached to what they had rather than more.” God calls them to step out in faith, even in their fear with the promise that he will satisfy them in a far better way than any of their stuff could satisfy. What false beliefs are preventing you from being a generous person?
- Pray about other ways that you could continue exercising generosity. Beyond giving of your finances to your church or the Building on a Firm Foundation campaign, both of which is important to do and what we believe is what God has called us as a church to do. We are called to give in support of the local church there are also additional ways to exercise radical generosity.
One of those ways is to give your time and talents. There are always serving needs in the church. Right now, as we look forward to the fall, we have needs in Sunday school, college ministry, the music team. We need qualified men to be nominated as elders and deacons who can take the time to go through officer training and then Lord willing exercise their talents by serving Harvest as officers in the church.
There are ample ways in the church that you could practice generosity through your time and your talents by serving. Furthermore, outside of our formal ministries there are ways to be generous with your time and your talents through practicing what Rosaria Butterfield calls, “radical ordinary hospitality” in your homes. Reaching out to your neighbors or welcoming new people from Harvest.
So, pray and think about other ways, in addition to giving financially to the church, where you could practice generosity. Pray friends, that the grace of the Holy Spirit we would all grow in being a generous and thankful people. Pray that the Lord would show you in own heart how the idols that you are clinging to and the lies that you may be believing are preventing you from being the generous person God calls you to be. Pray that the gospel of Jesus Christ would become sweeter to our minds and our hearts each day, for as Paul says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich yet for your sake he became poor so that you, by his poverty might become rich.”
Would we be a generous people and a generous church because in Christ Jesus we have been made rich.
Lord, we thank you for this text. We thank you for the Scriptures, we thank you for the reminder that all that we have and enjoy ultimately belongs to you. You are the one who at the same time didn’t horde possessions but gave them to us to steward and enjoy. So, we pray Lord, that we would learn in our own lives to be faithful stewards to all that you have entrusted to us. That we would learn to be faithful stewards, not out of a sense of guilt, but out of a sense of joy and cheerfulness based on the work of Jesus Christ that we enjoy. For you have been a generous God to each one of us. You have been a generous God to this church, and we pray that out of that generosity that we taste and see in the gospel of Jesus Christ that we would be a generous people. We pray this in Christ Jesus’ name. Amen.