God is Generous | Malachi 3.6-15 (Marysville)
October 27, 2013 Series: Malachi | Rhetorical God
Topic: Old Testament Passage: Malachi 3:6–3:15
Intro: God is Generous
This is a dangerous text. It is somewhat rare to find an entire sermon series devoted to the book of Malachi from many churches. The book is seldom preached and when it is, you’d be hard pressed to find a sermon from chapter 1 with its scabby sacrifices or from chapter 2 with its poopy priests or even from the beginning of chapter 3 with its angry God. But, if you listen to enough preaching, either in person, through podcasts, or especially on TV, I GUARANTEE you will hear a reference to this particular text in Malachi 3.
Those who hold to what is called “Prosperity Theology” love Malachi 3. Prosperity theology, or “health and wealth” theology, is a doctrine created by man, centered on man, and dependent upon man, where the ultimate goal is NOT God’s glory, but man’s happiness. The “prosperity gospel” (not to be confused with the true gospel), teaches that financial blessing and good health is the will of God for His people, and that faith, positive thinking, authoritative speech, and especially tithes and contributions to churches will increase this blessing. Any lack of blessing, or diminished prosperity is, of course, God’s curse for one’s failure to believe or give. This theology is evil, unbiblical, and cruel; and those who teach or preach such things deserve to have feces on their faces.
As tempting as it might be for a pastor to abuse this text in order to guilt His people into giving, that is not what God intended it for. This text needs to be understood in the context of Malachi and Malachi needs to be understood in the context of the entire Old Testament. The Old Testament is about the unique Covenant relationship between God and His chosen people the Israelites. This Covenant relationship was intimate, personal, and loving, but it was also legal, sealed with an oath God made Himself. Tim Keller describes it this way, “A covenant is relationship more loving and intimate than a merely legal relationship, but more binding, enduring, and accountable than a merely personal relationship.” We must read Malachi 3, and all of Scripture through the eyes of Covenant—this one-way love relationship God has grace us with. Malachi is the last of many messengers sent by a faithful God, not only calling a rebellious people back to obedience to their Lord, but also inviting an undeserving people into relationship with their Father.
V. 6-7 | God’s Faithfulness 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?’
God does not change
God is immutable, meaning, His nature does not change. If God could get better, or worse, He would cease to be perfect. By nature God is unchanging in His love, in His justice, and in His faithfulness towards His people—even when they prove unfaithful. That is because God’s promises to bless and curse are dependent upon the faithfulness of Him alone. In Genesis 15, God established this Covenant through an ancient ceremony with Abraham. The eternal God chose to make a promise to a sinful man and His future descendants—through which God would one day bless the whole world. God signed His Covenant in person. Abraham was asked to kill then cut several animals in half, symbolizing what would happen to those who broke the agreement; God literally signed this covenant by walking between these pieces. Abraham would have expected to walk through as well, but God never asked Him to. By doing this, God declared two amazing things: 1) I will die if I am not faithful to my covenant and 2) I will die, even if you are unfaithful. God does not change in His faithfulness toward His children. God never ceases to be faithful to His promise, THEREFORE, the children of Jacob are not consume. If the salvation of God’s relationship to His people was dependent upon their perfect obedience, they would have been destroyed a long time ago—because they have never change either; they have never turned from their sin.
Return to Me
Having reminded the people of His unfailing faithfulness, God calls His people to RETURN to Him. In doing so, God reveals that His ultimate desire is to experience intimate relationship with His people. This is no more evident than the first verses of the prophecy where God boldly declared His love for an unfaithful people. A CALL TO RETURN is a call to repent, to stop indulging their flesh and to start enjoying God.; every call to repentance is an invitation to restore relationship. “Return to me” is the language of relationship. It is the call of a faithful husband to his bride who, uncertain of His affection and insecure in her beauty, is reminded of His unchanging love. It is a call of a faithful Father to his children who, uncertain of His anger and fearful of His rejection, are reminded of His unrelenting affection.
v. 8-10 | Our Unfaithful Fruitfulness
When they hear this call, the Israelites are unclear as to HOW to return to God. More than likely, their confusion comes from the fact that they believe God is the one who has been unfaithful. It’s not that they don’t know how to return to God—it’s that they believe they never left Him. God tells them that they way to return to Him is to OBEY. Their covenant relationship was not birthed out of their obedience, but the out of the gracious love of God. Obedience, therefore, is not what keeps them in that covenant relationship; obedience is, however, the way that they grow in that relationship. God had given very clear expectations for this relationship—the law. They were to GIVE God their lives, but God says all they have done is TAKE from Him. 8 Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes & 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.
How I rob God
God condemns the Israelites as thieves who have stolen from Him. The Israelites have robbed by withholding their full tithe. The word “tithe” means “tenth”. God commanded that a tenth of the people’s income, their first fruits, was owed to God. All families were required to pay this basic tenth to the Levites for the ministry and maintenance at the temple. Priests were not exempt; they were required to pay a tenth from what they received from the people’s tithe. As a side note:
• The prescribed tithe (tenth) of the Old Testament was a requirement of the Law.
• The tithe was not carried into the N.T. because Jesus fulfilled the Law (weekly offerings)
• We are now under the law of Christ, a Law of Love, which interprets the law to its fullest measure
• Tithe is a helpful guide, but our generosity is to be response to the generosity of Jesus (socks/blood)
We can safely assume that whatever the people or priests were giving, it was as lame as their sacrifices. They had given a partial tithe, which is to say, they had become comfortable with “partial” obedience. God’s not, He calls them thieves. There are several reasons why people might “rob” God:
1. We rob God when we FEEL like an owner. The Israelites do not think they are robbing God because they wrongly believe that they own whatever they have. God’s command was not to bring YOUR whole tithe; He commands them to bring THE tithe. We rob God when we wrongly believe that it is our time, our money, or our energy to be spent they way you want. We are not owners, we’re stewards.
2. We rob God when we ACT to avoid a curse. The Israelites wrongly believe that they can avoid deficiency through disobedience. Because they don’t find security in God, they fear losing what they have. We often withhold our time, money, or energy, because we want to avoid what we’ve imagined is our earthly personal hell, not realizing that by doing so, we may be avoiding His divine-blessing.
3. We rob God when we THINK wrongly about fruitfulness. The Israelites are robbing God because they have redefined “prosperity” to be something different than what defines it to be. Robbing God is not taking what is God and holding, it is giving to something else deemed better. We don’t save our time, energy, and money in a trust fund for Jesus—we give it to another god we believe will bless us.
Our Unfaithful Fruitfulness
To quote a line from the old movie THE ITALIAN JOB, “There are two kinds of thieves, those who steal to enrich their lives and those who steal to define them.” We are guilty of both. Though we use rational sounding excuses like “I can’t afford it,” we withhold our time and money from God because we don’t trust God will take care of us and/or that life will be happier or more meaningful apart from obedience to and relationship with Him. This was the sin of our first parents. God hasn’t changed, and neither have we.
And some thieves are very successful. In other words, we can prove to be unfaithful to God, rob Him, and be fruitful in the world. When our kingdom becomes more valuable than God’s, we decide what pain we want to avoid, and what prosperity we want to experience. Then we sacrifice our time, money, and energy to build it. In the process of sacrificing to get the fruit we believe is most important in the world, we sacrifice the fruit that God says He wants us to have in Him. Some take God’s money and build a fruitful lifestyle. Some take God’s time and build a fruitful career. Some take God’s energy and build a fruitful social life. We take what is God’s and work to produce what we deem fruitful. What is the fruit you are hoping to produce in yourself or in your family? What sacrifices are you making to produce it? Have you ever wondered what fruit God wants you produce? We can grow a beautiful orchard of oranges with our lives, but if I’m supposed to be a beet farmer, then it’s an EPIC FAIL.
V. 10b-12 Our Faithful Fruitfulness
Like the Israelites, we all have our excuses for why we don’t give to God. There really all the same reason, we don’t believe that faithfulness will lead to fruitfulness. God challenges Israel to test their conviction saying: OBEY and SEE WHAT HAPPENS.…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.
Put me to the test
God puts out a challenge—He tells His people to test Him. Instead of thinking so much about fruitfulness, He wants them to focus on faithfulness. All of our excuses for not giving God our time, energy, and especially our money ARE NOT a result of our countless attempts to do so. I am not a “Prosperity Preacher” declaring that if you give a “tenth” in the plate, you’ll get rich. But I do want to consider what you give. I want to consider NOT how obedient your giving is, but how faithful it is. What I mean is, what does the consistency of your giving reflect about your faith in God’s promise to not change? What does the amount of your giving reflect about your faith in God’s promise to provide? What does your attitude toward giving reflect about your faith in God’s promise to bless? Our obedience does not ever dictate our relationship with God; but it does reflect it.
I will make you fruitful.
God tells us to be faithful and He will make us fruitful. Have you ever considered how faithfulness is related to fruitfulness? This is a dangerous thought. When I say that, I know that our minds automatically translates fruitfulness into material prosperity—or fruitfulness as we define it. Is that what God promises? Here is what He says:
1. If you will be faithful, I will open the windows of heaven. The windows of heaven are often references to the rains of heaven. We need rain in order to produce a harvest. God does not promise us new lands or larger borders—he doesn’t promise us anything different than what we have right now. But He does promise to bring life to what feel like dry lands—to make them fruitful.
2. If you will be faithful, I will pour out what you NEED – God does not promise to give us what we want, like a Father, He promises to give us what we need. We view what we need often like getting socks for Christmas instead of an XBOX. God not only gives good gifts, He promises to give the right gifts we truly want, the ones that bring genuine contentment and true satisfaction.
3. If you will be faithful, I will rebuke the devourer – God promises to remove whatever hinders the fruitfulness that I want for you. Of course, we can wrongly take that to mean that God will remove anything YOU determine is an obstacle to fruitfulness YOU WANT. Sometimes this means removing things you enjoy but are really hindering you from relationship with Him—like pruning a tree. Other times, that means leaving some of those things that in your eyes are obstacles, but in His are tools.
V. 13-14 Conclusion: God concludes this text with a return to relational language—to covenant: 13 “Your words have been hard against me, says the LORD. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’ 14 You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the LORD of hosts? 15 And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’ ”
They say…It is meaningless to serve God, to give to God, or to obey God; that there is no profit in it for me; because they have separated obedience from relationship. We do not serve or give to our spouses only when it benefits us. We do this, especially when it doesn’t, because of our covenant with them. In the same way, we do not obey God because we believe it will profit us. We have already profited by our faithful God giving Himself completely over to us---therefore we obey, and we serve, and we give. We don’t give to get blessing, we give because we got every blessing we could ever want in Christ. Those who know they are loved by Christ, love to give to Christ. 8 I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 9 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. 10 And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. 2Corinthians 8.8-10
Sometimes desire follows obedience; and obedience follows belief in the unchanging, un-relentless, unfailing grace of Jesus Christ. WHEN you believe this gospel THEN you GIVE because Jesus GAVE.
1. I give because Jesus gave me security as an adopted child forever
2. I give because Jesus gave me the protection from every danger, every fear, and every curse
3. I give because Jesus gave me the hope of immeasurable eternal riches in heaven
4. I give because Jesus gave me the confident to manage His stuff on earth while I’m away from home
5. I give because Jesus gave me the pleasure of reaping what I sow with His stuff
6. I give because Jesus gave me the joy of giving which is way better than receiving
7. I give because Jesus gave me the peace of having more by choosing to have less
8. I give because Jesus gave me the capacity to be sacrifice until it hurts
9. I give because Jesus gave me the eyes to see that true fruitfulness is satisfaction in Christ
Keller wrote, “As we realize God’s grace, we also understand that our earthly possessions are expendable. We are also fed physically and spiritually when we engage in this kind of Christ-like generosity.” Yes, if you begin to sacrifice like Christ, you will experience the suffering of Christ and less “profit”; you will have less money, less time, and less comfort. But you will also experience the joy of Christ; you will have more peace, more hope, and more satisfaction. Even if you lose the “fruit” of the world, you will enjoy the fruit of Christ and show the world the truth of Christ.