7 Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them. Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the Lord of hosts. But ye said, Wherein shall we return?
8 Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.
9 Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation.
10 Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.
One of these weekend widows met her husband at the door when he returned home from his first hunting trip of deer season and said to him, “I’m sick and tired of sitting around the house on weekends by myself. So the next time you go deer hunting I’m going with you.” That’s the last thing he wanted. And so he tried to talk her out of it. He said, “Honey, you know it gets cold out there. Sometimes we have to walk for miles and miles and sometimes you’ll sit in a deer stand all weekend and never get a single shot. You’ve never been deer hunting before and I’m not sure you would recognize a deer if you saw one.” But nothing could change her mind. She was determined to go. And so the next weekend, early in the morning he put her on the deer stand and took off down the trail to find one for himself about a mile away. And right at the break of day he heard her shoot three times in a row, ping, ping, ping. And then she started to scream. He thought, “My soul, what has happened?” He climbed down out of the tree and started to run down that trail and his mind started running away with him. He said, “I bet that this is beginner’s luck. She has probably spotted and killed the biggest buck in the whole forest.” And the farther he ran the faster he ran. And as he neared the place where she was he heard her shoot again three times, ping, ping, ping. He heard her yelling again and he came to a clearing and there stood in the middle of that clearing a tall, lanky cowboy with both hands up in the air and his wife pointing the gun at him saying, “Get away from there, that’s my deer.” And the cowboy said, “Yes, lady, but at least let me get the saddle off of him.”
The point of the story is that beginners are apt to make mistakes. And if you are a beginner in the Christian life, and some of you are, if you’ve been converted this past year or you’ve made a new commitment of your life to Christ in this past year, you are apt to make some mistakes and probably there is no area where you are apt to make more mistakes than in the realm of stewardship—Christian giving. I want to lay for you a foundation for Christian giving today, to set out for you some principles from God’s word that will help you to see that tithing is God’s wellspring. It is the source of blessings, joy, and enrichment to your life if you will begin.
The basis for our teaching is a passage from Malachi 3:7. Open your Bible there and get yourself a pencil and a piece of paper. You may want to take some notes and at least you will want to mark some places in your Bible as we move along.
The book of Malachi is the preaching of the prophet Malachi to the children of Israel. And his book is a series of indictments against the people of God for their failure to live as God wants them to live. In your Bible study this week you may want to spend some time in Malachi and to mark those indictments that God levels at his people where they fail to measure up to his teachings.
We have six of the indictments that he levels against the people of God, beginning in chapter 3 and verse 7. Here is what Malachi says: “Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them.”
Now his first indictment is that the people of God have gone away from the ordinances of God. That word ordinance literally means “prescribed boundaries,” and God is saying to the nation of Israel, “I have marked off the path that you are to walk. I have given you some prescribed boundary lines for your life and you have departed from that path. You are not walking the way you ought to walk.”
The people were not willing to confess their sin to God. And so they began to try to excuse what they had done wrong. God says, “Return unto me, and I will return unto you. But the people were asking, “In what way have we drifted from the prescribed path? In what way have we wandered off of your trail and your roadway for our lives?”
God tells them specifically in verse 8: “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, ‘Wherein have we robbed thee?’ In tithes and offerings.” The Lord said the ordinance that they had broken, the path from which they had wandered is the pathway of stewardship of giving and of tithing. God had prescribed from the very beginning that his people would give back to him one-tenth of their income. It was to be an expression of their whole-hearted commitment to him.
But God said that they had wandered away from that path. “Though I set it out, though I told you that is what you are to do, though I commanded you to tithe, you have drifted away from me,” he says. Now he describes the results of that disobedience in verse 9: “You are cursed with a curse: for you have robbed me, even this whole nation.” God doesn’t say, “You are going to be cursed.” He doesn’t say, “You are going to suffer hardships and difficulties.” He said, “You are already suffering because you have neglected to walk in my ways.” If you read the book of Malachi carefully you will discover that the nation of Israel was at that time in the midst of an economic crisis.
Their crops had failed. The cattle and the sheep were diseased and things were going bad for Israel in every way. And God said the reason why you are suffering this curse upon the land, the reason why the whole nation is suffering, is because you have robbed me. You have not kept my ordinances and you have not walked in the path that I marked out, especially as it relates to the giving of your money to the kingdom of God.
Now this invitation in verse 10: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith,” saith the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” In that verse the word all in the Hebrew language is emphatic. God is saying, “I want you to bring the whole of your tithe. I want you to bring every part of the tithe. I want you to bring all of the tithe into the storehouse.”
Obviously, the children of Israel had stopped giving to God altogether. But they were not giving what they should. They were tipping rather than tithing to God. They were giving him a little bit but not all that he had marked out.
The phrase “windows of heaven” is a figure of speech that describes for us the bountiful way that God wants to bless. He often uses this in the Old Testament. God is picturing heaven as his home above us. And when he wants to bless us, he shoves the windows up and he pours out his blessings upon us. And he says, “I want to bless you. I want to shove open the windows of heaven and pour out all that I have upon you, but I cannot do that and I will not do that unless you walk on my path. Unless you walk within the prescribed boundary lines that I have set out for you. And if you will do that, we’ll open the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing that you shall not have room enough to receive.”
Just in case any of you who doubt that promise from God, God says, “Prove me now herewith.” Underscore that word prove in your Bible. It means “try me.” It means “Put me to the test. If you don’t think I’ll bless you, if you don’t think I’ll open the windows of heaven and shove out a bounty upon you, then just prove me, put me to the test. Try it and see and you will discover that I am trustworthy, that I am dependable, that I will do what I say I will do.”
As Malachi was challenging the people of God to give, he was in no way trying to bribe them into obedience to God’s law. He was not saying, “Now, if you will tithe, God will bless you.” And using that as a means of bribing people to do what they ought to do. It is true that God does bless, but it is not an attempt to bribe the people. Tithing must always be given out of a sense of gratitude. The motive is as important as the amount. We give because God has been so good to us. We give because we are grateful for his blessings upon us. We give not to gain, but because we are grateful.
But while we give out of gratitude, there is the promise and the assurance that if we will do what God tells us, his blessings will come upon us. It is the single statement of truth. If you remove the barriers, the blessings will flow. It is a singular truth for every Christian to latch on to. You remove the barriers between you and God and his blessings will flow into your life. But until we walk the prescribed path, until we come in obedience to walk down the trail that God has marked out for us, then God cannot and will not bless us as we want.
There are principles of stewardship that you can build upon in this passage and other passages in the Bible. And I want to share with you seven principles of stewardship that I think you need to know. You may want to write these down and ponder them because they are basic principles set out in the Bible and they are drawn from this passage of scripture.
1. Everything belongs to God.
The psalmist said in Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.” Everything belongs to God, by virtue of the fact that God created it. By virtue of the fact that God sustains it. By virtue of the fact that God is the only one who is eternal, we can say that everything belongs ultimately and finally to God.
A preacher preached on that text one Sunday and after the service was over, a wealthy member of his congregation invited him home for lunch. And after lunch they went for a walk through this man’s vast ranch. They saw the lush green meadows, the fat cattle, the fruit trees, and beautiful buildings and after they had looked at all that this man owned, the rancher turned to the preacher and said, “You said today that all the earth was the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. Are you telling me that none of these things belong to me?” And the preacher said, “You ask me that same question a hundred years from now.”
We brought nothing into this world, we are going to carry nothing out. This world was here when we got here and it will be here when we leave. Now, do you really own it? Do you really possess it, or does it ultimately and finally belong to God?
2. God has entrusted his world and everything in it to us.
He expects us to use it and to enjoy it and to manage it wisely and in the right way. The natural world has been entrusted to us for God, having created the heavens and the earth, gave man dominion over all the natural world. The Gospel has been entrusted to us. Peter says we are stewards of the manifold grace of God. The experiences that we have in in our lives, we are stewards of those. God allows us many different experiences. Some of them good, some of them bad, you mix them all together and those experiences make us what we are. God expects us to use those experiences for the good of other people. If we go through some tragedy we can better understand another person who goes through that tragedy. If we have been helped in a time of need, then we are able to help someone else in time of need. And so we are stewards, not only of the natural world and its natural resources, we are stewards of not only the Gospel but also of our experiences.
The Bible goes beyond that to say that we are also stewards of all that we possess. All that we have, we are God’s managers of. Since it all ultimately belongs to him, while it is in our hands it is the stewardship to be managed for his honor and his glory.
3. God blesses those who honor him with their possessions.
Too many people give that testimony and there are too many times when it is set out in the Bible for it not to be true. God blesses those who honor him with their possessions. Listen to what the writer of Proverbs says in 3:9-10: “Honour the Lord with thy substance, and with the first fruits of all thine increase: So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine.”
God says, “If you will honor me I will bless you.” When we withhold from God, we do not impoverish God at all. But we do impoverish ourselves. When we do not give to God that which is rightfully his, God doesn’t suffer. God’s work is going right on whether we give or not. God does not depend upon us. If God depended upon us he would be in bad trouble. However, some of you are cheating yourselves out of the greatest blessings in life, not just material blessings, but all kinds of spiritual blessings, growth, and joy in your life because you have not learned to give to God. And he has promised he will bless those who honor him with their gifts.
The tithe has always been recognized as an expression of our stewardship to God, that he rules everything and we are to manage that for him. When we give back to God, that is an expression of dedication and recognition that we are giving our total selves to him. God knows that we have needs. He knew that his people had needs. He expected them to use a portion of what he put in their hands for their own needs and for their own benefit.
4. The tithe is the basic expression of stewardship.
But as they gave back a reasonable portion to God, it became an expression of a symbol of the giving of their own self unto him. And when we see giving and tithing in this light, it is not a gimmick to get money. It is a deeply spiritual act of consecration. It is the way of saying in a tangible, concrete, and meaningful way, “God I give myself fully and completely unto you.” Money means so much to most people. They spend so much time getting it and feel that they have so many needs in their life. So when we give a reasonable portion to God, it is almost invariably an expression of giving ourselves to him.
5. Giving beyond the tithe is grace.
You need to be careful about tithing, lest you think that tithing is the resting place rather than the beginning place. Tithing is not the place to stop in your Christian giving. It is the place to start in your Christian giving. And there are an awful lot of people who ought to be giving not 10% but 25% or 50%. Some of you here could give 50% of what you make and still live a life of luxury. God has blessed you so very much and he wants you to go beyond the giving of just a tithe and to grow in the grace of giving as the Lord Jesus gave his life.
You see, we can make tithing an idol. Once I have bowed down before the altar of tithing, feeling that if I gave 10% that I have arrived spiritually, I am satisfied with myself. I do not need to go beyond that. We feel that we have arrived spiritually in that part of our life, and it is never true. If the law called for a tithe, then grace called for the giving of our whole selves unto him. And if we are not moved beyond that and thinking beyond that, then we have become legalistic and we are not operating as though we are recipients of the grace of God. Don’t ever let tithing be a point of pride in your life. Thank God for what he has given, continue to give out of gratitude, and as he blesses you, give more and more.
6. A systematic approach of giving is proper.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 16:2, “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.”
The first day of the week was the day when Christians met to worship. That was the resurrection day. Paul said when you come together as the people of God, place as an offering as God has prospered you. And if God has blessed you then you give much. If God has blessed you just a little, then you give just a little. And if God has not blessed you at all, don’t give anything at all. And the person who has not been blessed at all gives nothing. He has given as much as the person who has been blessed much gives when they give much. You see God has made it possible that all of us give exactly the same amount. For if we give as God has blessed us, whether it be little or great, it is all the same to him. But it is proper and it is fitting that in the plan of God, in the design of God, we give systematically upon the first day of the week to him and to his work.
7. Giving money can never be a substitute of giving yourself.
I’m convinced that true Christian stewardship begins with a clean break from the false God of mammon. You know the Bible sets out again and again that the material possessions of this world are a god that many people worship, many people bow down to. They do not hold their possessions—their possessions hold them.
And there are thousands of people in our congregation who bow down before and worship the false god of what they possess. It controls your life. It dominates your life. It is more important than God is. And if you doubt that, then all you need to do is check your checkbook and find out where you spend your money. And you’ll know that the material things of this world have become your god.
Christian stewardship begins with a clean break from the false God of mammon, a recognition that the one who made the heavens and the earth is the true God. And all things belong to him.
The bottom line of Christian stewardship is that God wants your heart. And until he has your heart he will not be satisfied. God will not be satisfied with 10% or 25% or 50% unless that is an expression of a total commitment of yourself to him. But if you give yourself to him, then the giving of your money will be no real problem to you.
Let me reverse that: if you are having trouble with your pocketbook in the church house, the problem is not that low down. The problem is right here in your heart. You have never given that heart fully and completely to God. For when there is that total surrender of self to him, we are able to deal realistically and honestly with the possessions that we have.
These are the principles on which we are to build our Christian stewardship. Everything belongs to God. He has entrusted everything that he has into our hands. He will bless us if we honor him with these possessions.
And you are saying in your own mind, “It can’t be done. He won’t do it. I can’t get by.” God says in the Book, “Prove me now herewith. Put me to the test. Try me.” That’s exactly what the word prove means. Test me, try me, and see. And you can hear testimonies about tithing and you can be blessed and helped by them. But friend, you will never know until you put God to the test. I want to challenge you, right here, right now today, not for my sake or for the sake of this church, but for your sake. Because you are the one who wins and you are the one who loses.
I want to challenge you for your sake to make that kind of commitment to God right here, right now. You’ve thought about it a long time. You’ve been struggling with it, but you never have taken the step of faith. Why don’t you do it today? Say, “Lord, for six months I’ll put you to the test. If you fail, then I’ll quit tithing. But if you are true, I’ll keep right on doing what you have told me to do.”
Then at the end of that time, if God has failed you, I’ll let you give a testimony and you can tell everybody else about it. God can’t be anymore fair than that. Will you make that kind of commitment today? For your sake, for the sake of the work of God to the ends of the earth. You know it would be a great day in God’s kingdom if we make that kind of commitment in our own hearts.