Unlocking The Windows Of Heaven
November 14, 2004 | Randy Smith
Unlocking the Windows of HeavenMalachi 3:6-12
Sunday, November 11, 2004
Pastor Randy Smith
If you have joined our fellowship this past summer you might find yourself a bit suspicious as I announce that the topic of this morning's sermon is money. I've preached roughly 170 sermons from this pulpit and six have either in part or whole dealt with finances. Five of them have come in the past few months.
I say this by way of concession because I do not want the reputation of being unbalanced whereby the whole counsel of God is neglected. Furthermore, money is a sensitive subject and we are all well aware of church leaders who have overstepped their boundaries on more than one occasion.
With that said, I make no further apologies regarding this topic because the Bible, primarily off the lips of our Lord Jesus Christ, addresses this issue repeatedly and without shame. As we study through biblical books in their entirety (as we are doing with Malachi), we'll see how this topic is unavoidable. For God knows the tremendous influence of money for good and for bad and He is faithful to instruct His children repeatedly as to the use that promotes our greatest good and His greatest glory.
As a matter of fact, Julie and I were listening to a sermon tape by Dick Mayhue, senior VP of the Master's College on our return this week to New Jersey. In the message, Dr. Mayhue gave his listeners a multiple-choice quiz. He asked them to identify the greatest indicator of our spirituality. The choices were: A- Bible Reading, B- Prayer, C- Our Checkbook, D- Service in the church.
Obviously in light of this morning's topic, you can guess the correct answer. According to Dr, Mayhue, the way we spend our money is the greatest barometer of our godliness. We may not like to think about it, but spiritually speaking, money is where the rubber hits the road.
With our time that remains prior to the celebration of the Lord's Table, I'd like to walk you through verses 6-12 of Malachi 3, which could be deemed the most popular verses on giving contained in the entire Bible. It is my prayer that you will see from God's perspective the seriousness behind this command to give to the Lord's work and the profound benefits that follow for those who obey. This church (in my opinion) has given "over and above" to the Lord's work. So I also pray this material will be a great encouragement to your heart.
1. THE CALL FOR REPENTANCE (verses 6-7)
Let's begin with the first point, "The call for repentance." God first brings a comfort from His character and then a charge against the nation Israel.
First the comfort. Malachi reveals over and over again how ineffective Israel was in evaluating her standing before God. They couldn't understand why God was displeased with them. Continually they accused God of changing and failing to live up to His character, when in reality, they were the ones who changed (cf. Mal. 3:4) and unsuccessfully lived up to their side of the Covenant. Israel changed, but fortunately for Israel, Israel's God is immutable. That means He cannot change. In verse 6 God said, "For I, the LORD, do not change" (cf. Jas. 1:17; Heb. 13:8). They doubted His love, His justice and His faithfulness. But since God cannot change in these attributes toward His covenant people, verse 6 concludes, "Therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed. Israel's existence was not due to her character by any stretch of the imagination, but rather to the unchangeable character of God.
Now the charge: Verse 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.'"
Once again, God calls the nation to repentance. The unchangeable God calls them to change from their wayward living. He calls them to turn (or repent) from their disobedience. He calls them to return to Him if they wish to have Him return to them. But the people not aware of their shortcomings ask at the end of verse 7 a logical question, "How shall we return?"
2. THE COMMAND TO TITHE (verses 8-10a)
The answer is simple enough as we move to the second point. God responds in verse 8. "Will a man rob God? The rhetorical question sounds preposterous! What man in his right mind would ever want to rob God? And if he could, how could a man achieve any success in this pursuit? After all, how could we puny humans ever take what belongs to the Almighty God? As strange as it may appear, God confirms its reality. He says, "Yet you are robbing Me!" And we say, "Huh?"
The suspense is ended quickly. Verse 8 continues, "But you say, 'How have we robbed You?'" With that question, God provides the answer. It's specific and concrete. You are robbing Me, said God, "in tithes and offerings."
The Jews gave various tithes throughout the year as required by the law. A tithe basically means a tenth. Every tithe the Jews gave was one tenth (or ten percent) of their possessions to the Lord. One of these tithes was to specifically support the Levites.
You'll remember that there were twelve tribes in Israel. The Levites were the tribe responsible for the religious services (Num. 18:6). They were set apart to the Lord (Num. 3:12, 45). Since the Levites were not permitted any inheritance (Num. 18:24) and since their service to the Lord was to occupy all of their time, God provided one of the tithes given to Him from the Israelites to support their living. In Numbers 18:21 we read, "To the sons of Levi, behold, I have given all the tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service which they perform, the service of the tent of meeting."
So what happened when the people forsook their tithes as we read about in Malachi?
This situation is dealt with in Nehemiah, a contemporary of Malachi. When the people refused to give this specific tithe, the Levites were unable to provide for their own personal needs. In Nehemiah 13:10 we read, "I also discovered that the portions of the Levites had not been given (their tithes), so that the Levites and the singers who performed the service had gone away, each to his own field." These men were forced to abandon their work in the temple and work in the fields in order to feed themselves. Their inability to dedicate themselves fully to the work of the Lord then negatively affected the spiritual affairs of Israel. Therefore Nehemiah 10:39 said these tithes were necessary to "not neglect the house of our God."
With this as a backdrop, we can now see why God said in Malachi 3:10 to "bring the whole tithe into the storehouse." The "storehouse" was the part of the temple complex where the Israelites brought their tithes and offerings. It was then the responsibility of the Levites to use what was necessary for their own domestic needs. Verse 10 continues by saying that a full storehouse was necessary "so that there may be food in My house" (the temple) so the Levites could have their physical needs met. And this could not happen adequately unless the people would bring the "whole tithe" as they were commanded. And because the "whole tithe" was not presented to God from the people, the spiritual life of Israel was adversely affected and God took great offense.
We already learned that He called the nation to repentance in verse 7. We already learned that such an act was robbing God in verse 8. And now in verse 9 God declares, "You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you!" (Some effects of the curse can be seen in verse 11.) Sobering words indeed! Neglecting the tithe was a grave offense in the eyes of the Lord.
I hope you feel the weight of this transgression. Or do you? I mean after all, we no longer have the obligation to support the Levites today and we all know that the tithe is not repeated as a New Testament command. So how can any of this in any way apply to us today in the church? Maybe it doesn't. Maybe we can just cut this section out of our Bibles. Or maybe we should take a closer look at both of these issues.
First of all, it's true that we no longer have Levites, but we do have Pastors who have been called by God to devote themselves full-time to the ministry. God, in the same way as He did in the Old Testament, calls His people in the New Testament to support these men. 1 Corinthians 9:13-14 makes a stunning comparison between God's full-time workers in both Covenants. Paul said, "Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar? (Transition to the New Covenant.) So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel." Galatians 6:6 adds, "The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him."
Beloved, if one is identified with a local church assembly but refuses to support the full-time pastoral staff by failing to give to the needs of their local church, they are committing the same sin as the Israelites when they robbed God by refusing to support those appointed to be devoted to the religious affairs of the community.
Now this is obviously a hard topic for me to preach because right now we are talking about one person, me! Possibly there of some of you (hopefully none) that feel it is merely my goal simply to get rich.
The deacons have begun working on the budget for 2005. About four weeks ago one of the men called me and asked how we as a family are doing financially. That means a lot to Julie and I to know that we are shepherded as well, to know that the church is concerned for our needs. My response was that the money allotted to our care has been sufficient and we are in no way interested in an increased salary. We have come here as your servants and have only asked of you what we believe God has asked of you, that you provide for us the basic necessities of life, no different than the Levites of the Old Covenant, in order that we may be freed up for full-time ministry. God has met our need through your generosity and for that, we are thankful.
Now, does that mean that our givings can cease once my needs are met? Absolutely not! We are candidating a second staff pastor to which this principle applies as well. We also have a secretary. Are we done at this point? We have a building that requires upkeep and maintenance. We have bills that need to be paid on a monthly basis. We have various ministries within the church whose existence requires financial support. We have the responsibility to care for special needs amongst some less fortunate within the congregation. Are we done at this point? We are in need of a building addition to equip and shepherd the new souls God continually brings our way. We have discussed a Christian school possibly some time in the future. We have dreamed of seminary and a radio station. Are we done at this point? We have hundreds of people within a stone's throw of the church who need the Lord. We have billions of people around the world without Christ. We have unreached people groups in the 21st Century still without any Gospel witness. Folks, this takes money! And the more the Lord provides, the greater will be our impact to further His kingdom! How concerned are we about the advancement of God's kingdom? I believe Dick Mayhue would say our checkbooks best answer that question.
So the church has a requirement to support their occupational pastors. We also have many needs within the church that exceed the support of the pastoral support. But what about the tithe? God still requires His full-time support to be cared for, but does He still require the church to give ten percent of all they own to His work? What do you think?
J.R. Willis answers for many of us. "It is admitted universally that the payment of tithes or the tenths of possessions for sacred purposes did not find a place within the Christian Church during the age covered by the apostles and their immediate successors" (Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, ed. J. Hastings, Scribner's, 1916-1918, "Tithes").
But here's the potential problem. We know the tithe is not mentioned as a New Testament command and therefore assume that our giving, even if it is well below ten percent of our income, is acceptable in the eyes of the Lord. Is that always correct? To avoid legality, some in the church slide to carnality.
Allow me to give you some food for thought. Yes, I admit that Jesus never commanded the tithe, but He did not say in the Sermon on the Mount, "Moses commanded you to tithe, but five percent of your income is more than sufficient." If anything, Jesus always increased the expectations with the New Covenant as we now have a greater manifestation of the Holy Spirit. If anything, some of our Lord's greatest praise went to the widow who gave "out of her poverty (and) put in all that she had to live on" (Lk. 21:4). And He spoke against those who simply gave "out of their surplus" (their leftovers) (Lk. 21:4).
You may respond, well, the money required of the Jews is similar to our taxes today. There's some truth to that statement. As a matter of fact, many of us pay a higher percent in taxes, than the Jews paid yearly in their tithes (which was roughly 25%). But I respond, the majority of the Jews' money went to the Lord's work. How much of your givings to the government do the same? Zippo! As a matter of fact, you'd be surprised how much of your money actually goes to work against the Gospel! Now I'm not suggesting we forsake our responsibilities to pay taxes (Rom. 13:7), but I am suggesting that our giving to the Lord's work in the New Covenant maybe should exceed what the Jews gave in the Old Covenant, especially when we consider our wealth compared to their poverty (Gal. 2:10) and our Great Commission to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth (Mt. 28:18-20).
As a matter of fact, we must realize the tithe preceded the Mosaic Covenant. Abraham all the way back in Genesis 14:20 gave Melchizedek, "a priest of God Most High" (Gen. 14:18) ten percent of all he had. The same could be said of Jacob in Genesis 28:22 who said, "And of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You." Even Jesus did not rebuke the Pharisees for giving the tithe (Mt. 23:23). He rebuked them for neglecting the weightier matters of the law. The problem was not with the amount, but rather with their heart. Heart - a key word when we speak of New Covenant giving.
The Apostle Paul displays tremendous consistency in this matter. He never mentioned the tithe, but He did express the need for proportional or percentage giving. He called the Christians to give as they "prosper" (1 Cor. 16:2). In other words, those who have more are required to give more. Paul, like Jesus, greatly praised those who gave over and above to the Lord's work. As a matter of fact, he held these dear saints up as our examples.
"Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God" (2 Cor. 8:1-5).
Two verses later Paul urged the Corinthians to "abound in this gracious work also" (2 Cor. 8:7). And two more verses later, Paul holds up Jesus as our model who "became poor so that (we) through His poverty might become rich" (2 Cor. 8:9).
Could it be that the command to tithe has been eliminated from the New Testament because God wanted to give us an excuse for giving less or because God expected us to realize all that we have belongs to Him (Psm. 24:1) and out of joyful and thankful hearts, we would take great pleasure to giving back to Him? Could it be that God did not want to give us a maximum, but rather a minimum, whereby the New Covenant saint with the power of the Holy Spirit and the full awareness of Jesus Christ and with grace upon grace would by the gratitude of his own heart, exceed the required givings of the Old Covenant saint? That our giving would not be a manifestation of law, but rather a manifestation of liberality and reflection of God's grace working mightily in our lives like the Macedonians? Isn't this an indication of the "cheerful giver" whom God loves (2 Cor. 9:7)?
Isn't this an indication of one who's money is not his god? Isn't this an indication of one who gives God his best and not his leftovers? Isn't this an indication of one who "seek(s) first His kingdom and His righteousness" trusting the faithfulness of God (and not his money) that "all these things (necessary for life) will be added to (us as well)" (Mt. 6:33).
4. THE CONSEQUENCE OF OBEDIENCE (verses 10b-12)
As we move to the third point, giving to the Lord is a demonstration of our faithfulness to Him, now we see God's faithfulness to the giver. Earlier in this section (Mal. 3:7), God called His children to return to Him through faithful tithing. Now God expresses what He will return to the obedient giver.
Beginning in verse 10. "'Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,' says the LORD of hosts, 'if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows. Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of the ground; nor will your vine in the field cast its grapes,' says the LORD of hosts. All the nations will call you blessed, for you shall be a delightful land,' says the LORD of hosts."
This verse on putting God to the test has troubled some because quite often in Scripture we read that we are not to put the Lord our God to a test (Ex. 17:2; Dt. 6:16; Mal. 3:15; Mt. 4:7; Ac. 5:9; Heb. 3:9). However in this case, God calls us to test Him with our givings. Will we accept His challenge? Do we really believe His Word that He will open the windows of heaven and pour out for us a blessing until it overflows? Do we have the faith to trust in the promises of God? Do we want to see the Lord's blessings? Are we bold enough to put God to the test?
Now I'm not advocating prosperity theology, but I do believe God is a faithful rewarder to the faithful giver. How He will reward us, that I cannot say, however, I do believe what we sow is what we reap (2 Cor. 9:6; Gal. 6:7). I do believe William Greathouse who said, "Material prosperity and physical health do not invariably accompany faithfulness to God. But spiritual health and prosperity do." And I do believe C. H. Spurgeon who said, "God has a way of giving by the cartloads to those who give away by shovelfuls." And I do believe Jesus who commanded us to "store up for (ourselves) treasures in heaven…for where (our) treasure is," Jesus said, "there our heart will be also" (Mt. 6:20-21).
One author (Dan Fortner) said: "Worshipful giving involves faith. It is giving from the firstfruits of all our increase. If we give what we have left over after paying our bills, entertaining our families, and laying aside for retirement, we have given nothing. That kind of giving requires no faith. That kind of giving is an abomination to God. He will not have our leavings! If we would honor God in our giving, we must prove God with our giving. Prove His faithfulness. Prove His promises. Prove His Word. Prove His goodness by giving to him what you need, thus trusting Him to supply your need. God challenges us so to prove Him (2 Chron. 31:5-10; Mal. 3:10; Luke 6:38). It is written, "Honor the LORD with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase: so shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine" (Pro. 3:9-10).
We must take the command to give to the Lord's work very seriously. We must learn from the Israelites that the sin of robbing God invokes His severe judgment. And additionally, robbing God withholds His desire to open the floodgates of heaven and pour out His unlimited resources into our lives.
Beloved, I'm not here to tell you what percent you should be giving to the Lord. Your giving should be voluntarily and not under compulsion (2 Cor. 9:7). But I am here to say that God wants your heart and your giving is a reflection of your heart and a reflection of your spirituality.
Do you want to see your money (which is actually God's money) make an eternal difference? Do you want eternal treasures in heaven? Do you want blessings from the eternal God? Then maybe we need to put God to the test in this area as He has commanded us.
Perspectives on Giving:
The New Testament does not teach a doctrine of tithing (i.e., the mandatory giving of 10 percent of one's income.) Nor does Paul define what constitutes giving generously. He does not even provide a target number or general guidelines. The only rule is to give freely and generously as an expression of our continuing trust in God's grace (9:5-8). Paul simply assumes that believers will give all they can to meet as many needs as they can in order to glorify God as much as they can.
Second Corinthians, NIV Application Commentary, Zondervan, 2000, p. 381
Although the tithe is not mentioned (in the New Testament), the giving of weekly offerings is (1 Cor. 16:2). And more importantly, it is generally the case that in the New Testament the obligations of the Old Testament legislation are heightened rather than lessened. That is, the law is interpreted in the fullest measure. So while we are not required to give a specific tenth of our income, it is hard to think of a normal Christian, blessed with the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, doing less. Under reasonable circumstances any true believer in Christ should give more than the tenth, for all we have is the Lord's.
James Montgomery Boice
The Minor Prophets, vol. 2, Baker, 1986, p. 602
The more you prosper, the higher should be the proportion of your giving. There is no percentage goal in giving. Giving 10 percent of your gross income does not necessarily mean you have fulfilled the will of God. That's not a ceiling of giving to stop at, but a floor to move from.
Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 1991, p. 151
Used by permission of NavPress - www.navpress.com. All rights reserved. For more information please see the website www.BibicalSpirituality.org.
I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.
So the reason the tithe is not commanded by Paul is not that Jesus abolished it. He didn't, He approved it (Lk. 11:42). Nor was the reason that we should no longer give proportionately. We should "as we may prosper" (1 Cor. 16:2). The more you make the more you give. Nor was it that the need of the ministry is less in the New Testament. It's not. Teaching, preaching, caring and missions all take money. …The reason that Paul did not use the command to tithe in order to enforce his teaching about giving was that he wanted to emphasize willingness over constraint, and liberality over limitation, and a sense that all our money is God's not just a tenth.
Sermon: Malachi 3:7-12, December 6, 1987. Used by Permission. www.DesiringGod.org
If we are going to "set aside" the command to tithe…because it feels slavish and legal, and because we want to promote freedom in our giving, then let us beware of jumping out of the frying pan of legal slavery to a command into the fire of carnal slavery to fear and greed. Sin lurks at both doors.
Sermon: Malachi 3:7-12, December 6, 1987. Used by Permission. www.DesiringGod.org
It seems fair to ask, 'God, do You really expect less of me - who has your Holy Spirit within and lives in the wealthiest society in human history - than You demanded of the poorest Israelite?…The tithe is God's historical method to get us on the path of giving. In that sense, it can serve as a gateway to the joy of grace giving. It is unhealthy to view tithing as a place to stop, but it can be a good place to start…Tithing isn't the ceiling of giving; it's the floor. It's not the finish line of giving; it's just the starting blocks…True, some would be sacrificing more by giving 5% of their income than others would be by tithing or even giving 50 or 90%. Certainly the affluent should never "check off the box," as if giving 10% automatically fulfills their obligation. The 90% belongs to God, too. He doesn't look at just what we give. He also looks at what we keep…When people tell me they can't afford to tithe, I ask them, 'If your income was reduced by 10% would you die?' They say, 'No.' And I say, 'Then you've admitted that you can afford to tithe. It's just that you don't want to'…I have no problem with people who say 'we're not under the tithe,' just as long as they're not using that as justification for giving less. But in my mind the current giving statistics among Christians clearly indicate most of us need a jump-start. If you find a gateway to giving that's better than the tithe, wonderful. But if not, why not start where God started His First Covenant children?
Excerpted from The Treasure Principle by Randy Alcorn © 2002 by Eternal Perspective Ministries, pg. 61-65
Those who give much without sacrifice are reckoned as having given little.
Men of Integrity, Vol. 1, no. 2
In our culture, I personally believe this admonition should mean that we give a minimum of 10% of our gross income. If at all possible, this should be a starting point. If it is not possible, it should be our goal - one that we should ask God to help us reach as soon as possible.
Becoming a Spiritually Mature Leader, Quoted in: Leaders on Leadership, ed. George Barna, 1997, Gospel Light/Regal Books, Ventura, CA 93003, Used by Permission, p. 102
When we come to the end of life, the question will be, "How much have you given?" not "How much have you gotten?"
Men of Integrity, Vol. 1, no. 2
God judges what we give by what we keep.
It is never said in so many words that we are to give 10% in the NT, though it is worth pointing out that the tithe was not original to Moses and the Mosaic law. It is found early in the life of God's people. Abraham paid a tithe to Melchizedek in Gen. 14, if you remember. There is some case there for arguing that the tithe is basic to human life as God ordered it. But, if you are not persuaded of that, remember that if the 10th is not our rule any longer, surely in the NT we are not going to argue that we should give less! We are not going to argue that having seen the Lord on the cross, having witnessed the resurrection, knowing as we now do what price was paid for our redemption, we should give less than they did in the OT? Surely not. Jesus, remember, makes a point of calling attention to the generous gift of a poor woman when she was worshipping at the temple and Paul makes a good deal of the sacrificial financial stewardship required of Christian believers. Now, perhaps we like the tithe after all!
Sermon: Studies in Malachi No. 9, March 16, 2003
A Gallup Poll from October 1988 shows that the more money Americans make, the less sacrificial our giving becomes. Those making less than $10,000 per year give an average of 2.8 percent of their income each year to churches, charities, and other nonprofit organizations. Those making $10,000 to $30,000 give an average of 2.5 percent, those making $30,000 to $50,000 give 2.0 percent, those making $50,000 to $75,000 give a total of only 1.5 percent of their income to their church and all other nonprofit groups.
Plain Talk, USA Today, December 23, 1988
Quoted in: Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 1991, p. 151
Used by permission of NavPress - www.navpress.com. All rights reserved. For more information please see the website www.BibicalSpirituality.org.