I want to tell you a story about my uncle. My uncle is a missionary kid in Pakistan and like myself he was a bit of a troublemaker. So, as a seven-year-old, my uncle decided to test the waters of what he could get away with. He had a game, Monopoly, and he decided he was going to take the money out of this game, go down the street to the candy store, and see if he could convince the store owner that this Monopoly money was, in fact, American dollars. So my uncle, he takes five hundred Monopoly dollars and walks down the street to the store.
Unbeknownst to my grandmother, he goes into the store and says: "Sir, I have no rupees”—the Pakistani currency—“but I have dollars. May I buy some candy with these dollars?" The store owner looks at my seven year old uncle and says: "YES! Yes, you may!" You see, five hundred dollars was about a year's worth of wages for this man. And so he thought he would be able to con my uncle. So my uncle gets a box of candy and says: "May I buy this much candy with my five hundred dollars?" The owner replies: "Yes, you can buy ONE box of candy for five hundred dollars! I will even give you ten rupees change. Because I do not know how the change works out. But here is ten rupees."
My uncle leaves richer than he was when he walked into the store and with a box of candy! The store owner, confident that he had just stolen—bartered for—five hundred American dollars, was also extremely happy. About two hours later, as my mother tells the story, my mother and my grandmother found my uncle stuffing his face with candy and found in his pocket ten rupees. My grandma, generous, gracious, kind woman that she was, was also an expert interrogator, and so figured out what my uncle had done. She grabbed him by the ear, walked him back to the store, and said to the store owner after explaining: "Here are your ten rupees, but my son is keeping the candy!"
The store owner says, "But he stole from me! This is fake money! You can't let him keep the candy! He needs to pay me for this box of candy!" My grandma smiled at him sweetly and said: "No, you knew that no seven-year-old should have this amount of money. Yet you took it from him willingly. And he took your candy willingly. Both of you will learn a lesson from this day."
You see, money, in the eyes of a seven-year-old, in the eyes of the store owner, and in the eyes of my grandmother, had power. Power to be wielded either for good or for bad. To be kept and stored or to be given freely.
This passage in Malachi speaks directly to how money should be used in relationship to our God. You see, money has a great tendency to become a god, in all of our lives! This passage looks directly at God talking to his people, saying: "You have allowed money to come between you and me, your Lord. Do not let this continue."
(Read Malachi 3:6-12)
The Immutability of God and the Children of Jacob
This passage begins with a very important introduction. It introduces God and it introduces the people he is speaking to—the children of Jacob. This introduction is amazing because it highlights the immutability of God. This is not a God who frivolously changes whether he loves his people or not. No, it says, "I the Lord do not change; therefore you" are not destroyed. Even in their sinfulness. Even as the children of Jacob break their covenants, God is faithful to his covenant.
The unchanging nature of God to his covenant should make us sing his praises. We, as those who are believers, fall under the completed covenant of Christ. So, when we read this passage we should say: Praise the Lord! For if we have accepted Christ, there is nothing that we can do to make God change his promises to us. This is not the diary of some crazy man. No, this comes from God, who is immutable and faithful to his promises.
Then it introduces those who are receiving this divine statement of God: Children of Jacob. Malachi here is very careful. He doesn't say: "Oh blessed sons and daughters of Israel" or "Oh blessed people of the Lord God." He says, "Children of Jacob … From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes." This is God, perfect, holy, immutable God speaking to people, sinful, frivolous, changing.
Don't miss this introduction, simply because you want to get to the good part. This is part of the good part. This is Scripture, and it says God is immutable, faithful to his covenant. "From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them." The introduction between the sovereign and unchanging God and a dishonest and disobedient people—who are blessed. For they are not destroyed. They are blessed because they have a God who is faithful to his covenant.
Return to Me
It then says: "Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’" This is a common manner in which Malachi writes. Six times we have this set up of a statement, question, and then God's answer. When we get to God's answer, you know God is going to be preaching.
This divine statement is not something that is different from God's covenantal faithfulness. This is not something that is different in God's nature. No, this is God's sovereignty stating: "I have always been faithful. And when you return, you will see my face again. Return to me, and I will return to you!"
Yet, the children of Jacob answer with probably one of the snarkiest answers that you could find. "How could we return to you, God?" This is a common theme throughout Scripture: "What have we done wrong, God? I know, don't look back on our history, God. Just ignore all of our sins. But what have we done wrong?"
God has spent the last two chapters of Malachi telling the children of Jacob what they have done wrong. These are not obedient children that have just said, “Oops, did we make a mistake? Sorry.” No, they answer with a snarky, "How can we return? If we never left you, how can we return? We can't turn around! We've been looking at you, God. We've been worshiping you! We can't return to you."
I read this question and it made me think immediately of the youth group I get to work with. In the youth group, I have a brother and sister, two siblings, who often hurt each other. Normally it is the older brother who finds a way in which to get a ball to hit his sister. 95% of the time, it is by accident. They don't mean to hurt each other, they actually love each other. So often, I will go up to the older brother and say, "You need to apologize to your sister. She is crying."
He will walk over and apologize. All will be good and the games will go on. Sometimes, however, he will go, "I didn't even hurt her!" And I'll respond, "Dude, she's on the ground crying!" He'll respond, "Well, fine. I'm sorry."
This next response by God is that same response I give the older brother. "She's hurt! Say sorry." God says, "Return to me." God gives them this open space. "Return to me." And they respond, "Why do we need to return?" Just like the older brother, "I didn't even hurt her."
God's response to that is, "Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me." This is not some light manner in which God feels slighted. No, God is asking the children of Jacob to return to him, because they are robbing him!
This verb, rob, is used only six times in the entire Old Testament. Two of those uses are found in Proverbs 22. The other four uses are in verse 8 and verse 9! "Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you."
God has gone from “return to me, and I will return to you” to the meat of the matter. The children of Jacob are robbing God. How are they robbing God? In their tithes and their contributions.
It's not simply a disobedient nation to which God is calling “return to me.” No, it's a nation that is actively robbing God. This is not a passive verb, they are not simply ignoring their tithes and contributions. They are actively robbing God of his tithes and contributions. The children of Jacob are blessed. They are God's chosen people. We fall under God's covenant as believers. Blessed beyond imagination. And yet when we don't give back to God honor, praise, and glory, we rob him.
It says in verse nine: "‘cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. 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." This robbing of God is not simply a monetary issue. We as people, as humans, struggle with money. God does not. God owns the cattle on a thousand hills. God, creator of everything, owner of everything, has simply given us the opportunity to have money that we can tithe and contribute. Yet when we do not give God our tithes, we dishonor him and we are unfaithful.
It is really important here to remember where the concept of tithes started in the Old Testament. Genesis 28 tells the story of Jacob fleeing his brother, looking for a place of safety, sleeping in Bethel, seeing angels come up and down this heavenly staircase, waking up and having a very strange conversation with God.
(Read Genesis 28:20-22)
Jacob was a bargainer par excellence. My uncle had nothing on Jacob. Jacob was using nothing. He didn't even have Monopoly dollars and he is going up to God and saying, "Hey, if you give me everything, everything I desire, if you bless me, I will give you a tenth back. You know, give me the world, tenth back, fair deal! Right, God?"
God was gracious to Jacob. So the people of Israel, the children of Jacob, have continued in this. Not because God needs ten percent. Not even because God needs money or wants it. Simply as a remembrance of God's faithfulness and graciousness!
"God, if you remain faithful—which you will! Then I will give you a tithe to remind myself of your glory. I will remind myself by this. That it is not me, working in these fields, that makes the crops grow. It is not me making this money. No, it is you allowing me, in your sovereignty, to make this. In your generosity to live this life. And I will give you out of that tithes and contributions. Out of that joyous knowledge that you are my God, I will give you a tithe."
Our Wrong Understanding of Tithing
Sometimes, as Christians, we have a wrong understanding of what a tithe is. We often think that a tithe is what we give to God so that he'll give us more. We need to have a better understanding of Genesis 28 in our giving.
We are blessed beyond imagination. Especially as an American congregation. And so, when we give to God, we should not be saying: "God, could you bless me now?" We are declaring, "You have blessed me in enormous ways! Thank you, Jesus! For you are faithful to your covenant! For you are faithful to me! And so I will faithfully honor you with my tithes and contributions."
When we don't do that, we rob God! We reject his sovereignty and generosity in our lives. We claim that we can do life without him. And when we claim that, we are wrong! That is the end of that conversation. "You are cursed with a curse," verse 9. You are robbing me, the whole nation is robbing me, and you are wrong to do so.
Now, verses 10, 11, and 12 could perhaps be the easiest sermon to preach if I were a prosperity gospel preacher. I could get up on my high horse and I could say: "Bring me your tithes and God will bless you! Test God, not me …" I could say that. I could walk off the stage. And I would be a heretic. Because that is not what these verses say.
God is a God of abundance, of joyous abundance, of blessing beyond comprehension. But that does not mean driving a Ferrari or a Lamborghini. No, what that means is worshipping God and knowing that we are called children! Being able to call out, through the Holy Spirit, “Abba, Father!” Knowing that he hears us. Blessed beyond imagination! Our imagination can picture a nice house in the mountains. They cannot, in any sense of the word, imagine our humble, sinful, selves being made righteous by Christ! Standing before the throne of God. That is blessed.
We are currently stuck inside, because of this virus. I would advise you, if you have not seen the movie Instant Family, to watch it . A couple wants to adopt a small baby, but instead they get three children—between the ages of 4 and 17—and they have no idea what they are doing. It's a true story and it is a joy to watch. In one scene, after the couple have the three kids, it shows them showering the kids with presents, toys, gifts, and Mcdonalds. Then one of the kids does something that gets them in trouble and some ground rules have to be set. The kids respond like any kid who stopped getting their way would respond: "Why are you doing this to us? Why do you hate us? WHY?" The kids cry and scream. One even runs away. The parents explain, that through ground rules, through asking for obedience, they are showing love.
You see, the end of verse 10 is not, “no more desires.” It's not in our own lives “until you have all the money you need or think you could ever need.” No, it is no more need. God knows our every need. He cares for them. He cares for each one of us. He knows our spiritual, our physical, our mental needs. He desires for us to be in prayer, in fellowship, in relationship, in community. Many of those needs are met through those things.
This promise is not the promise of those parents just giving toys away. No, it is the promise of our Father, who loves us. He says: "Be faithful, and I will bless you! Be faithful! Tithe! Contribute!” Not because it pays Micah’s salary. Not because it keeps the church doors open. Not because it sends missionaries overseas. Those are all really good things. Especially the first one! But no. Rather, tithe and contribute because God is faithful and we highlight his faithfulness through our faithfulness in giving. By doing this, we highlight that we are nothing without him! Be faithful and he will be faithful to bless!
Verse 11 is a specific promise to the children of Jacob in Malachi and yet the tenet of truth that is held in it is for all time and all people. Be faithful and I will bless you! Then we come to verse 12. Verse 12 is my favorite verse in this entire passage. Because it gets to the heart of something I am extremely passionate about. It says: "Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts."
If you know your Old Testament, than that statement "all nations will call you blessed" will ring a bell. The Abrahamic covenant bell. A covenant that God is faithful to! All nations will call you blessed. The Lord says to Abraham: "I will bless you, and you will be a blessing to the nations."
Our faithfulness brings about God's blessing so that we can be a blessing! All nations calling us blessed is our proclamation of Christ to the world. A ministry of encouragement and reconciliation. Christ's ambassadors within the world results with all nations calling us blessed. We will be a land of delight.
What does it mean for our churches to have non-believers walk by our doors and say: "I hope they never close!" How do we, as Christians, be seen as delightful to non-believers? This is not talking about fellow believers viewing us as blessed. No, this is talking about non-believers viewing us as blessed.
In this time of fear and frustration, in this time of toilet paper madness, we have a chance to be the church in ways that I have never experienced in my life. Some of you, who are of older generations may remember a time of war, not the war against terror, but the Vietnam War, the Korean War. You may remember a time where Christians could be ministers of reconciliation in times that have been likened to this virus by news pundits. I pray that we will not be a church that sits on our hands. That we will not be a church that puts a little bit of money in the offering plate on Sunday and calls that our tithe. Because we are not being faithful to our God who is sovereign, generous, faithful to us through that.
Rather, God calls us to give in full so that all nations will call us blessed. Whether that means taking food to those who are unable to leave their houses right now. Or giving of our toilet paper to the toilet paper-less. Or simply being a voice of peace in this turbulent time. May we be faithful! To be blessed! In order to be a blessing!
You see, being blessed is being obedient. Obedient to the commands of God! Be generous, tithe, call God faithful for he has given you the life you live. And all nations will call you blessed. Be faithful, be blessed in order to be a blessing!
Micah Ward graduated this May, 2020, from Denver Seminary with a Master’s of Divinity. He works as the Youth Director at GBC Denver and Lord willing plans to move to South-East Asia in 2021 to share the gospel.