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Malachi 3:6-12: A Theology of Giving Print E-mail
Sunday, 23 May 2010

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Your giving reflects your beliefs about God.  How you spend your money is good indicator of how much faith you actually have in the Lord.  There is a direct correlation between faithful stewardship and faith in God.  It is hard to be a good steward without believing certain truths about God.  Likewise, if we believe what the Bible teaches about God, then it is hard to avoid faithfully giving to the Church and to others.  Thus, every Sunday morning when the offering plate is being passed, it is not just a practical issue.  It is not just a financial issue.  No, first and foremost, it is a theological issue.  What you believe about God will directly impact what you put in the plate.  It will impact how you steward all of your resources, for good of for ill.

Malachi teaches us the connection between theology and giving in our text this morning.  As I have noted before, this is probably the text that we are most familiar with in the book of Malachi.  I remember hearing sermons growing up about ‘testing God and watching Him open the windows of heaven’ when we tithe.  Yet, what strikes me about this passage (and even the sermons I heard growing up reflect this to some degree) is what Malachi teaches us about God.  Yes, he clearly calls the people of Israel to give their tithes.  Yes, he commands them to stop robbing God. 

Yet, what I want to note this morning is the fact that all of the instructions that come from this passage concerning giving are based upon our beliefs about God.  And Malachi is not alone in this.  The Biblical writers often connect our belief in God (who He is and what He has done and promised to do) with the call to give (see Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:19-34 and Paul in 2 Corinthians 8-9.)  Thus, we need a theology of giving.  My challenge for you this morning is not so much to give more (although that may be a practical implication) as it is to believe more.  Believe what Malachi teaches us about God so that such belief will free you up to be a faithful steward of all your resources.  So then, what is Malachi’s theology of giving?

First, we must believe that God does not change (v. 6a).

The fifth disputation in the book begins with a clear theological statement.  Look at verse 6a.  The Lord does not change.  This doctrine has been called the immutability of God.  In the present context, the Lord is reminding His people that He has consistently been for His people.  He has been and continues to be dependable.  They could count on Him.  In fact, their very survival was because of His provision and protection (v. 6b, see below).  The Lord does not change in His care for His people.

Immutability is hard for us to grasp because everything else (besides God) is in a constant state of change.  It is this constant flux that keeps us uncertain so much of the time.  The seasons are changing, people are changing, we are changing.  Yet, not the Lord.  He never changes.  He is our rock and our constant.  Such truth should spur us on to trusting in the Lord.  We can trust His promises.  We can trust that He will not give up caring for His people.  We can trust that He will not abandon or forsake us.  Why?  Because He does not change.  Likewise, we can give faithfully, even sacrificially, because we know that He will see us through.  Believing that God does not change in His care for His people will free us up to give liberally.

Second, we must believe that God expects obedience (v. 7-9).

The Lord contrasts His faithful, unchanging nature toward His children with their faithless disobedience to Him.  Look at verse 7a.  Some might conclude from the doctrine of God’s immutable care for His people that He doesn’t care whether or not we obey.  Yet, this is not what the Bible teaches.  Yes, God’s love for His own is unchanging, but that does not mean that they can ignore His commands.  He is holy and He demands obedience.  Our belief in His holiness should encourage our obedience.  Yet, Israel had a history of consistently disobeying the Lord.  At times the Lord temporally judged them for such disobedience.  Yet, He did not completely forsake them.  Rather, He consistently called them to repent and return to Him, as He does here.  Look at verse 7b.  As we have seen before, the people question God’s statement about them: ‘How shall we return?’  Seemingly we see in each of the disputations the people’s lack of recognition of their own sin.  In each one the Lord tells them how they have disobeyed. 

What is the particular sin mentioned here?  Look at verses 8-9.  The Lord tells them that they are robbing Him.  Once again they respond: ‘How have we robbed you?’  The Lord answers them with the next phrase: In your tithes and contributions.  The Lord had commanded the people to give a tenth (tithe) of all that they made to the Levites and priests for the support of the worship and those who served (see Numbers 18:21ff).  Without the tithe, those who ministered could not support themselves and would have to work, which is what we see taking place in Malachi’s day according to Nehemiah 13:10.  Thus, the people were continuing in their disobedient ways by refusing to pay their tithes to the Lord to support the work and workers in the Temple.

The Lord commands the people to repent and obey in the area of giving.  Of course, there were other areas of disobedience, as we have already seen in the book of Malachi.  But this one was important as well.  Could they really think, or could we really think, that you could rob God and still be on good terms with Him.  No, He expects us to give Him what He has commanded.  We are to obey Him in this area and repent when we do not.  He is holy and demands our obedience.  When we are tempted to rob Him by not giving what He demands, then we need to be reminded of His holiness and of His call to obey in this area. 

Third, we must believe that God protects and provides (v. 6b, 10-12).

We have already noted God’s protection of Israel in verse 6b.  Look at that again with me.  God has consistently protected His people and prevented them from being consumed.  They are not to take advantage of this.  Rather, they are to see it as incentive to obey.  In particular, they are to see it as incentive to give faithfully and stop robbing the Lord.

We see more of God’s provision and protection in verses 10-12.  Look at verse 10 with me.  When we give to the Lord as He has commanded us to do, we are proclaiming our belief in His ability and willingness to provide.  We make it clear that we believe that He is sovereign (ruler over all), omniscient (all-knowing), and omnipotent (all-powerful).  The Lord tells Israel to put me to the test in regards to their giving.  This is not the same as ‘testing’ God by asking Him to prove Himself.  Rather, this ‘testing’ refers to us acting on our belief in His ability to provide. 

One commentator notes: “This proper testing, in which an individual or group investigates the truth, is hardly the same as the attitude of testing that demands that God show off to prove his existence or verify his word.” 1  Thus, we test Him because we believe, not in order to believe.  We know that He will provide.  He will open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.  As the Lord goes on to explain, He is sovereign over nature.  He sends the rain (as here) and will rebuke the devourer (v. 11).  He will cause their crops to succeed and the nations to call them blessed (v. 12).  The Lord has power over nature and the nations and by giving faithfully Israel will demonstrate their belief in these truths.

Many teach from these verses a form of the health/wealth gospel.  They reason: ‘If we give to God, then He will give back to us and make us rich.’  Yet, such teaching fails to consider the context of the passage, which is clearly an address to the whole community and not just individuals.  Stuart writes: “The promise is, however, corporate, not individual, as are virtually all Old Covenant promises of abundance.  No person or family can assume from this oracle that they will get rich from tithing.” 2  The Lord promises to provide for the community of Israel provided that they repent of their sins and give faithfully.  Those who preach a ‘health/wealth gospel’ ignore this context as well as the distinctions between the Old and New Covenants.  Thus, we must see this error for what it is, namely a distortion of the text and a false gospel.

The fifth disputation deals with the particular sin of robbing the Lord by not giving what He has commanded.  Instead of committing this sin, the people are encouraged to believe in God’s immutability, holiness, and sovereign power, so that they would in fact give faithfully.  By believing in these doctrines, they would be free to give all that the Lord has required of them.  Continued rebellion in this area would only demonstrate their unbelief.

Yet, how has the coming of Christ impacted this theology of giving?  We must affirm that the theology has not changed.  Just as in Malachi’s day (Old Covenant), God is still immutable, holy, and sovereign.  He still cares for His people, demands their obedience, and provides them with blessing.  The theology has not changed.  Yet, as followers of Christ, some of the practical implications from the theology have changed.  One of my commentators sums up some of the changes well: “The law (Old Covenant) declares one day out of seven to holy unto the Lord, the Spirit (New Covenant) sanctifies all seven of them.  The law sets apart one tribe out of twelve to be priests, the Spirit declares that the whole congregation has to fulfill the priestly office (1 Pet. 2:9).  The law demands a tenth part of his people’s possessions, the Spirit translates us to become God’s possession with all that we have.  Everything belongs to him.  We are but stewards who will have to give account of all we possess.” 3 

In our thinking on giving, we must begin with theology.  We must begin with the truth of God and all that He has done for us in Christ.  We must begin with His promise to bless us with eternal life through faith in Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.  Only after our souls have been reminded of these glorious truths of God are we prepared to ask the ‘how much’ question.  What do you believe this morning?  Do you believe in the provision of the cross (see Romans 8:32) enough to faithfully steward your resources for the proclamation of the message?  I challenge you to check your heart before you write your check.  If we truly believe what the Bible teaches us about our God and what He has done for us in Christ, then I believe that we will be well on our way to being faithful stewards.  I promise you this, you will never out-give our God.  Pray that He will increase your faith so that you will be free to give as you should.  Amen.

1 Douglas Stuart, Malachi, in The Minor Prophets, ed. Thomas Edward McComiskey (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), p. 1370.
2 Ibid., p. 1369.
3 Pieter A. Verhoef, The Books of Haggai and Malachi NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1987), p. 311.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Monday, 31 May 2010 )

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