The following is taken from my notes and the discussion at our second session of “Campfire Theology – for men”. This has been a new fellowship opportunity where men get together for a cookout, some acoustic praise music, and studying God’s Word together. Session 1 was looking at the rebuke brought by the prophet Malachi to the men of Judah for not being faithful to their marriage covenant. This session we look at the charge God brought to the people that they were robbing Him….
We are going to continue on in our study of Malachi, but first a quick review of where we were:
God’s Love for Israel – Chapter 1:2-5
Priests’ Polluted Offerings – Chapter 1:6-14
God Rebukes the Priests – Chapter 2:1-9
Judah Profanes the Covenant (Faithless) – Chapter 2:10-12
Faithless to the Wife of your youth – Chapter 2:13-16
We touched briefly on Chapter 3:1-5 and talked about some of the things that the Lord is against, and how most of that list that was written so long ago could be describing our culture today.
In all of these things we see that the issue is really one of the heart. After the 400 years of silence following this message Jesus raises the standard so that lust is the same as adultery; hate is the same as murder. The more we read of what Jesus taught, the more clearly we can see that the issue always has been not the actions that we do, not the things that we say, but rather the heart inside of us.
Matthew 23:23-27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law; justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful , but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
Now back in Malachi Chapter 3 we read about another heart condition when God levels the charge against the people that they are robbing Him.
Malachi 3:6-12 “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. 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?’ 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. 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, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devour-er 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.”
Now there are some false teachers that point to this passage when peddling their lies of a prosperity gospel. Saying things like “If you give to God, He will then give to you.” or “If you give from a little bit of money, you will get a lot of money” as they in error misuse this and other scriptures. The error here is glaring though, and is addressed by Jesus as well on that hillside long ago in “The Sermon on the Mount”
Matthew 6:19-24 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
It is an issue of heart. If you are giving to God with the thought that this will somehow cause God to “owe” you something, or because you are viewing it as a simple cause/effect relationship than you are giving a polluted offering that is every bit as detestable to God as the polluted offerings from the priests back in Chapter 1.
How do you reconcile the admonition about robbing God by not tithing, the rebuke of Jesus to the Pharisees, the warning about not making your treasure here on earth, and the challenge to test God’s faithfulness with your giving? With just one time reading through, it can feel like conflicting messages from God. I believe that they all point to the same question though, “What do you place first in your life?”
I enjoy reading, and crime dramas are some of my favorites. During the investigation of some of them, there can be a technique used called “a forensic financial analysis”. This is basically someone who is skilled at finance rooting out details of a person’s life through their use of money, whether this person is a victim or a suspect. As some of you know, my dad died almost two years ago, and since my sister lives in Boston it was up to me to deal with most of the estate. What follows when someone dies, felt to me like the description of a forensic financial analysis. Preparing the inventory of assets and liabilities, searching through the computer files, digging through piles, finding receipts and bill payment histories. No matter how well you think you know someone there are bound to be surprises there.
For just a minute I would like you to pause and consider how you would feel about your life being examined right now in that level of detail. Does the idea make you a little uncomfortable, or does your mind jump to when was the last time your browser history was cleared, or maybe that one certain spending trend? Now let me ask you another question, would there be evidence in such an analysis of God being first in your life? Would there be any evidence that you placed a higher value on lost people coming to know the Lord Jesus than you placed on your own comfort?
Now admittedly some things that you may do for the Kingdom would not show up that way. For example picking up groceries for that single mom would look just like your own grocery bill. If you prayerfully consider your financial life however, God knows what was purchased, and the motivation behind every dollar you have ever spent. He will reveal your heart condition to you if you ask and humbly listen.
What about the question of whether a Christian should tithe? Personally I believe that it is a good starting point, but that the evidence of the New Testament church (Acts 4:32-37) points to giving far beyond the 10% commanded by law. If we truly understand that we are saved by grace, that all who do not accept Jesus as both savior and Lord will perish, and that the Great Commission is for us to be God’s hands and feet, then I believe that a changed heart will want to give to God in excess out of a thankful heart and an honest desire to see people saved. The whole issue of how much would be rendered moot, by putting God first and seeking His kingdom.
I have one last story to share before we go into discussion time, and to set the tone for open honest discussion, this story ends with unanswered questions in my life. Like probably most of your employers, mine offers a 401K retirement plan. I work for a large company and the plan is a good one, not extravagant, but they match 50% of your contribution up to a certain percentage of your salary. This money is then invested in the stock market either through one of their standard mutual funds, or you can choose to be more involved and direct the investments yourself. Now they also have it set-up so that every year at annual raise time, the amount you contribute will automatically step up 1% until you reach maximum contribution amount. You have to physically opt out of this automatic increase if you do not wish for it to occur. Their matching contribution stops before your maximum contribution. I stopped mine at their match limit to maximize the employer match, but also to leave as much as possible to take care of a family of 6 living on one income.
Now the question that I ponder often how to find the balance between good stewardship as we are extolled in Proverbs, vs laying up treasure on earth and not trusting God to meet our needs. Where is the balance between planning responsibly and leaving God out of our future plans? I have to be honest and tell you the questions around this situation have swirled for me and consumed many hours of prayer.
Luke 12:15-21 “And he said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’ And he told them a parable saying, ‘The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul,”Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry” ‘ But God said to him “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
That description by Jesus, sounds scarily like the American Dream to me. The man in this parable was not criticized for being successful, or for building bigger barns to store a bountiful harvest. The problem comes when he stops working “Soul you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” Yet this mindset is exactly the mindset that is thrust at us as the responsible way to plan for retirement. Every week I get mailings or emails from the retirement fund encouraging an increase in order to “maintain a comfortable standard of living in your golden years.” Yet I cannot find anything about that in the Scriptures.
It is all about heart, whether we are talking about looking at a girl on the sidewalk with bed-sheets on our minds, or if we are holding back from God financially. It all comes down to heart. Men we are called to be leaders, to be men of God, leading our families, leading in our churches, and leading in our communities. But if we are allowing the enemy territory in our lives in these basic areas of sex and money, we are disqualifying ourselves from leading. We are putting barriers between us and God, barriers that Jesus died to tear down. Our culture is broken and desperate for a Savior.
2 Timothy 3:1-5 “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.”
Revelation 3:17-18 “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.”