Robbing God - Malachi 3:6-12

This is a sermon by Malcolm Peters from the Riverside Church service on 9th March 2008.

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Mal 3:9 "You are under a curse—the whole [church] of you—because you’re robbing me." said the Lord to His people in Malachi’s day. But then in the very next verse he says:

Mal 3:10 "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you won’t have room enough for it.

And so the key question for us as a church here [in Dunswell/ at Riverside] this morning is whether the Lord is cursing us for disobedience, or showering us with abundant blessings? What do you think? What’s happening to us corporately as a church? And can we hear the Lord speaking to us through these circumstances as interpreted by His word. And if we can are we listening?

Recap/ Context

But before we jump straight to application, we need to look more carefully at the text of God’s written word. And, as always, to understand God’s written word, we need to look at the context.

And so, if you’ve been here for the last few weeks, you’ll know that we’re about 100 years after the return from exile. 100 years after the temple had been rebuilt. 100 years after some amazing promises had been made about the restoration of God’s people as a nation; promises that Israel and Jerusalem would once again be on top. Money and wealth flowing into Jerusalem like in the glory days of King Solomon.

But the reality in Malachi’s day was very different. The political situation was a mess. The economy was a mess. The health service was a mess. The education system was a mess. And partly as a result of all that, the church was a mess. As we saw back in chapter 2, the clergy were a joke; going through the religious motions, but not really caring what they were doing and teaching a pile of rubbish. And so not surprisingly, the clergy’s poor teaching and bad example had led the people astray; not only were church services a mess, but the people’s moral and spiritual lives were a mess. Back in chapter 2, we saw that, as a society they’d slipped into quick and easy divorce. But last time, we saw that the catalogue of social sins was much broader than that. Turn back with me if you would to Mal 3:5 on [p892/ 1490]:

 5 "So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me," says the LORD Almighty.

The book started if you remember, with God’s profession of undying love for his people. Given the mess they were in, God’s professing people were questioning whether God still loved them. And so the first thing God does in the book is to reassure them of his love. I have loved you; always have and always will. When I made those unconditional promises to your forefather Abraham, I meant them. Like a marriage covenant, for better for worse, for richer for poorer. No matter what happens to God’s people, God would always love them. Because not to carrying on loving them would mean God has gone back on His word; it would mean he'd broken His promise to Abraham. And of course, that’s unthinkable isn’t it.

As he puts it in 3:6:

Mal 3:6 "I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.

God doesn’t change. Doesn’t change His mind or go back on His promises that is. We can utterly depend on God and His word; we can trust him with our very lives; and more importantly, we can trust him with eternity.

And because of that, the descendents of Jacob, the true people of God that is, are not destroyed. They deserve the judgment and destruction of v5 we looked at last time. And so do we, because none of us matches up to God’s perfect standards remember.

But the good news was that God had promised to rescue His chosen people from that coming judgement. He didn’t have to, but He’d given an unconditional promise of blessing to His chosen people. A promises to bless, protect and save. And because of that promise, and because I the Lord do not change, you, O descendents of Jacob, the true and faithful people of God; because of that unconditional promise, you are not destroyed under my just and certain judgement.

How amazing is that? We all deserve God's just judgement, but the Lord as provided a way out; a life raft to get us through the coming judgement. And as NC believers, we know that that life raft is the cross of Christ. Because on the first GF, Jesus died on the place of His people, taking the punishment that they deserve so that they could be justly forgiven. And throughout the Bible, God shows His forgiven people how he wants them to live. The 10 commandments and all that.

But as we can see from v7:

Mal 3:7: "Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you," says the LORD Almighty.

God’s professing people had binned the OT and were living lives that were morally no different to the people all around them. They had their church services, but it was all a farce. Because, when it came to what really mattered in life, and especially when it came down to hard cash as we’ll see in a moment, they were as ungenerous and uncharitable as the pagans around them.

And God says: get a life. Or more literally in v7 "return to me".

And the Hebrew word for return here is the same word often translated ‘repent’.

1. God is faithful to His promises, but still demands repentance (v6-7a)

So what we’ve seen in v6&7a is that although God is faithful to His promises, He still demand repentance from His covenant people. And that’s the first main point in today’s passage; in v6&7a, we see that God is faithful to His promises, but still demands repentance.

And if His people stop disobeying Him, if they stop breaking the OC, then the Lord will return to them; return to them in the sense that he’ll stop having to discipline them as a loving father disciplines his child. When my children deliberately disobey me, then they get sent to the bottom step; and for a really grave offence, they have to go to their bedroom and sit on their bed. I haven’t stropped loving them; indeed, it’s because I love them that I’m disciplining them. And after a period of discipline, if there’s genuine repentance, then they can come back to the rest of the family. But if they refuse to repent, then they stay on the step for longer. And it’s the same with God. Return to me; repent of your constant breaking of my covenant, and I will return to you., says the Lord; I will let you back into my presence; I will again let you experience the blessing of my provision for you; as we’ll see in v10&11.

The Lord always keeps His promise to bless His people; but he still demands their repentance. And when they hear His voice, His true children will respond in repentance and faith. Maybe not immediately, but the Lord’s true children will all respond in repentance and faith at some point in their lives. But those who persist in unrepentant sin, well those people demonstrate that they aren’t and were never part of God’s true chosen people. They may have been ethnically Jewish, but spiritually, they’re like the descendents of Edom whom God hated back in chapter 1. God is faithful to His promises then, but still demands repentance.

  • Repentance involves faithful (obedience and ) generosity (v7b-10a)
  • But the problem with the people of Malachi’s day was that when God commanded them to repent, they didn’t know what he was talking about. Look with me at the middle of v7:

    Mal 3:7b:  "But you ask, 'How are we to return?'

    The people had been so badly taught for so long that their sinful attitudes had become ingrained; so when God told them to repent, they reply: repent of what? Are you saying there’s something wrong with the way we’re living? Don’t be ridiculous, I think you’ve got the wrong number or something.

    And it’s been the same ever since when God highlights our sin. When God puts His finger on a specific sin, a godly person is cut to the heart, like those that heard the Apostle Peter’s preaching at Pentecost. They were cut to the heart, and they repented of their sin.

    But what about the ungodly? Well when Jesus exposed the Pharisees’ hypocrisy, they accused Jesus of being a satanic lawbreaker; and then they went out and plotted how they might break the 6th commandment: J’s murder that is.

    That’s what happened in J's day. It’s what happens today. And it’s what was happening in Malachi’s day.

    Mal 3:7b:  "But you ask, 'How are we to return?'

    They didn’t get it. And they were in danger of being rejected as spiritual Edomites rather than the true people of God. But instead of instant judgement, God patiently spells it out for them. Look onto v8:

    8 "Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me.

    The word translated rob is not the usual Hebrew word for stealing. It’s a much stronger word that has the sense of taking something by force. So we’re not talking here about an illegal download or a bit of shoplifting. No we’re talking armed robbery. That’s what God's saying here: You, my people, you’ve been committing armed robbery against me. Imagine planning and carrying out an armed robbery of your parents’ own home. Unthinkable isn’t it, which is why His people reply: How do we commit armed robbery against you?"

     "In tithes and offerings. [says the Lord in response] 9 You’re under a curse—the whole [church/ nation] of you—because you’re committing armed robbery against me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.

    If you’ve been with us throughout the term, then you’ll know that the Lord has already rebuked the people of Malachi’s day their dodgy animal sacrifices back in chapter 1. Despite keeping up the appearance of religious observance, they’d given up on God and were bringing worthless animal sacrifices. And so God has said back in chapter 1, that he’d rather shut the church doors than be presented with such offerings.

    That was chapter 1. But what God’s talking about here is tithes and offerings. God’s people were committing armed robbery against him by not brining their tithes and offerings to the Lord.

    In Upminster where I grew up there’s a fully preserved medieval Tithe Barn. And here’s a picture of it [hold up/ on the screen]. And the purpose of this barn, like lots of others all over England, was so that God’s people could give a tithe, a 10th that is, of their income to God. And in the agricultural economy of the day, that meant brining a 10th of their produce to a tithe barn; the tithe barn which was run by the church in order to fund both the church itself and its welfare services to the poor.

    And that tradition of Christian tithing is rooted in the OT law. The book of Leviticus states that a 10th of all produce in the land of Israel was "holy to the Lord". But you’ll find the concept of tithing woven throughout the OT from Genesis to Malachi. And as was the case in medieval England, the tithes in OT times went to support the clergy and via the church to the help poor and needy. So what’s tithing then: it’s giving 10% of our regular income to the Lord.

    8 "Will a man rob God? Yet you commit armed robbery against me. "But you ask, 'How do we commit armed robbery against you?'
          "In tithes and offerings. Says the Lord.

    We’ve looked at tithes. So what about offerings? Well the word translated offerings here isn’t the usual word for the animal sacrifice kind of offerings. Not it’s a technical word for special thanksgiving offerings which were waved in front of the Lord and then given to the priests to supplement their incomes. So we’re not talking here about the regular giving. No we talking about special one-off offerings to the Lord to give thanks for a special blessing: maybe the birth of a child; or the dedication of a new church building or whatever.

    But God’s intention was that through the regular giving of tithes as well as the one-off special offerings, the church would be properly funded: the gas bill would be paid as well as the clergy with enough flexibility in the budget to reach out to the community in word and deed.

    Well that was God’s intention in the OT. So what about under the New Covenant? Well we don’t find a command to tithe in the NT. But what we do find is a command to be generous with what the Lord has given us. And that generosity was to be rooted in the amazing Grace we’ve received in the Lord Jesus Christ; an amazing grace that was only foreshadowed in the OT; an amazing grace that gives us a assurance of eternal life in a way OC believers could only have dreamed of. In 1 Corinthians, Paul specifically tells Christians to set aside a proportion of their income every week or month in keeping with their income. And so the Christian tradition has always used the OT tithe as a starting benchmark for our generosity.

    Now some people on low incomes couldn’t hope to give 10% of their income to the Lord. But others could perhaps give much more. Over the last 100 years, our nation has grown in material prosperity beyond the wildest dreams of our ancestors. But over that same period, the generosity of God’s professing people has lagged much farther behind. It’s absolutely offensive to God when people suggest that His church should be funded by raffles and jumbles sales. Would we think it acceptable to fund the NHS or our soldiers in Afghanistan with a couple of jumbles sales and a whip round in the pub? Of course not. But the church is defending us from a much greater enemy than the Taliban. The church is providing not just physical healing, but eternal healing as it defeats Satan’s’ strongholds and spreads the message of eternal salvation. What an affront to God to think such an important job should be funded with loose change.

    And so we’ve seen in v7b – 10a, that true repentance involves faithful generosity. True repentance involves faithful generosity.

  • God blesses faithful Generosity (v10b-12)
  • And in the remaining verses, we see that God blesses faithful generosity. Look with me at v10b:

    Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. 11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit," says the LORD Almighty.

    These verses are seeped in the OC language of blessing and curses. And what God’s basically saying is that if you repent, truly repent and demonstrate your repentance with faithful generosity, then I will reverse the curses I’ve put on you. I’ll send rain to make your crops grow. I’ll get rid of the locusts who are devouring what the drought has left. I’ll stop the vines and the other fruit trees from literally ‘miscarrying’ their fruit. In short, if you obey me, I’ll give you agricultural and material blessing. Indeed the Lord will bless them so much that the blessing would literally ‘overflow’; an overflowing abundance that will eradicate all need and mean they won’t have room to store the surplus.

    Now we need to be careful how we apply this. Because as NC believers, we know that the blessings that the OC pointed forward to were primarily spiritual; when the Lord blesses us, it’s the salvation of the Lord Jesus Christ we’re mainly thinking about and the relationship with Jesus as individuals and as a church that follows that salvation. But we still live in a physical world and the Lord knows that. When people were worrying about the economy in J's day: He commanded them to seek first the kingdom of God and then all these other things, the material things we need like food and clothes, would be given to us as well. Even under the NC, God still blesses faithful repentance and generosity by providing for all our physical needs; not all our Western materialistic wants. But He does promise to provide for all our genuine needs.

    And as a family we can testify to the Lord’s provision for us in this way. When I had a normal job in the City of London, applying this teaching meant that we were able to give away more than 10% of our earnings. But when we first went to Bible college, our income dropped by about 80% and then Bethan was born a couple of months later adding to our expenditure. Even though it seemed a struggle, we decide to continue tithing our much smaller income. And the Lord provided for all our needs throughout that time and ever since as well. And so the question is, will we take the Lord at his Word when it comes to our money - even when it seems hard.

    But we mustn’t miss the main point of this blessing. Look at the last verse in our passage, v12:

    12 "Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land," says the LORD Almighty.

    Even under the OC, the material blessings of God’s people had an evangelistic aim. As the nation of Israel prospered, the surrounding nations would notice and want to come and find out about Israel’s God. Just the Queen of Sheba did when she same to visit King Solemn.

    And if evangelism was the ultimate blessing of the Lord under the OC, it’s even more the case under the New. God blesses the faithful generosity of His people by growing His church; growing in depth as people grow in their relationship with God; but also numerical growth as more people are reached with the Gospel and join the church.

    Final Application/ Challenge

    So let’s return to that question I posed at the beginning. Is the Lord is cursing us for disobedience, or showering us with so much blessing that we don’t know what to do with it?

    Well last year as a church, we more than met our budgeted 25% increase in regular income. And that was despite the fact that we lost a few members during the year. However, my sense is that the core congregation is growing in our knowledge of the Bible and our relationship with the Lord. Growing in depth that is. And the Lord is also adding new people to our regular congregation, as well as bringing existing member along more regularly; our family service, and especially our parade services are increasing successful in bring in fringe people into church. Last week we had nearly 90 people in church. And so, on the one hand, it seems that the Lord is showing His blessings on us as a congregation.

    But there is another side. As you know, Riverside shares its staff with SFs. And this year Riverside celebrates its 10th anniversary. But after 10 years, and even with last year’s increase in giving, we’re still being subsidized by SJs to the tune of £10K/ year. SF is now fully meeting it allocated share of costs. But, unlike SFs, Riverside is still well short of paying for its clergy. And as a church, we pay nothing for Bryony; if Bryony’s replacement is a married man with a young child, which could be the case, then in my view, it would be immoral to pay them only £5K/ year. The primary purpose of the tithes and offerings was to fund the work of the church and especially to pay for its staff. And so despite the obvious blessing we’ve experience over the last 12 months, I think there’s still a grave warning for us from God’s Word: if we’re unwilling to pay for the staff needed to do the Lord’s work, then we may find that the Lord replaces our blessings with lean times.

    And so the question as we close this morning is this: are we really repentant and demonstrating that repentance by how we’re handling our money? Will we take the Lord at His Word on this issue, even when it hurts? Let’s pray.

    Closing Prayer

    Lord God almighty, thank you for your blessings, supremely in the gift of the Lord Jesus Christ, but also in the many material and other blessings you’ve showered on us in recent months. Help us to come back to you in genuine repentance, and to live lives of faithful generosity as an act of thanksgivings for all you’ve done for us in Jesus. For our blessing in this world and the next, but your ultimate glory we pray, Amen.

    Return to me, and I will return to you," says the LORD Almighty. "But you ask, 'How are we to return?' 8 "Will a man rob God? Yet you are committing armed robbery against me. "But you ask, 'How do we rob you?' "In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse—the whole church of you—because you are committing armed robbery against me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.

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