Stewardship Series ~ in three parts: “Prepare Our Hearts, O God”
July 18, 2021 part 2: “Ten Bags of Gold Relate to the Plate” Malachi 3:10
(#1. Prepare Our Hearts to Offer Thanks to You, O God! Ez.36:25-27
#3. What Do You Mean, “Sacrifice” ?! 2 Cor. 8:3–5)
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
Today is part 2 in our short sermon series on ‘Stewardship’. Last Sunday we spent our time thinking about how God prepares our hearts to offer back to Him a fitting thank-offering in proportion to all that He has given to us. God creates in us a new heart & new mind, so that we will be good stewards, moved by faith in Christ. Our focus was the ‘preparation’.
Today our Scripture comes from Malachi 3, where God is accusing His people of robbing Him by withholding their tithes & offerings. So the Lord challenges them with these words:
“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.”
Our theme thought is: “Ten Bags of Gold Relate to the Plate.”
So, when the offering plate comes around, *what goes thru your mind? Do you think you’re ‘tipping’ God for His good service to you? Do you give so you’ll feel less guilty for a sin you did? Do you think the offering is the price of admission for worship expenses = like electricity/heat? Is it our membership dues for the customer services we need = like a baptism, a wedding, a funeral?
When we pray: ‘give us this day our daily bread’, our ‘daily bread’ includes all that we need to support this body & life. Such as: /food & clothing, /home & land, /money & goods, /a godly spouse & godly children, /good weather & peace, /health & good friends, and the like.
Let’s picture God giving those blessings to us as bags of gold = I just named 12 different areas of God’s blessings == picture ten bags for each area of life-blessing. That’s ten bags of food; ten bags of clothing; ten bags of good weather; ten bags of good health, and so on.
In Malachi 3:10, God is asking us: “How do those ten bags of gold relate to the plate?” To look at our offerings as if we’re tipping God as our waiter, or to see them as just our membership dues, would miss the point God is making on how He sees a relationship between His bags of gold to us and the church offering plate. So, let’s ponder this lesson.
The word ‘tithe’ means ‘a tenth’; it’s the example of the offering that Abraham gave to God thru the faithful priest named Melchizidek in Gen.14. In the Bible, God repeatedly used the measure of 1/10th as the official guideline for the people of Israel. In Deut.14, God says that the purpose of the tithe is: “so that you may learn to revere the name of the Lord your God always.’ The offering of 1/10th is one of the oldest established guidelines in Scripture. It’s no longer a ‘law’ as such, because maybe the Lord will move you -at times- to give more. But the tithe remains the baseline; and our selfish old nature needs this baseline. The Lord calls you to return to Him one bag out of the ten bags He gives you. ‘Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, …and (see)… if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.’
Let’s understand that offerings are not -mainly- a ‘financial’ thing between you & the church; our offerings are given to God – thru the church. That’s God’s view. When God provides what we need for this body & life, it reflects His relationship with us; so then our thank-offerings back to Him -thru His Church- reflects our relationship with God. Think of what that means when people claim to be God’s people but they want very little, or nothing, to do with His Church. Our relationship with God is reflected every Lord’s Day, & whenever God puts in front of us His offering plate. Using His Church, it is God who receives our offerings. Like our prayers to Him, our offering to Him is part of our relationship with Him.
In the prophet Malachi’s time, it had been about 80 years since the Israelites returned from captivity in Babylon. The grandchildren & great-grandchildren now were working the soil and eating of the harvest of the land. But the new generations were repeating the same sins as before. So, they were finding other things to do besides keeping His weekly sabbath, and observing His festivals of prayer & offerings & worship. They’d do a few things, and they’d bring some skimpy sacrifices to offer to God. Some were saying it was too tiresome to do all those Scripture-things; it was too inconvenient to bring Him their first-fruits and a whole 10th of their harvest. But in God’s view, they were stealing from Him.
God had given the Israelites in the OT several laws about the offerings they were to bring to the temple; the tithe was one. Since the majority of the Israelites farmed the land, so we read this in Lev 27:
“Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the Lord’s; it is holy to the Lord.” The people were to bring to the temple an offering of 10% of their harvest.
Another important offering the Israelites brought to the temple, (which would relate directly to the Messiah) was the offering of the firstfruits. Ex 23: “The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the Lord your God.” That meant that as they began to harvest their grain, and as they began picking fruit from the trees, they were to bring the first & the best of those fruits == only the best for the Lord of Life. God even told them that if it was difficult to store up their tithe of actual food, they should sell that food & store up their silver (or money) & bring that to the temple.
Last week our passage was from Ezekiel = 200 years earlier. But in Malachi’s time, the people were once again having ‘heart-trouble’. Their hearts should’ve been ‘soft’ & filled with gratitude to God; instead they had hearts of stone. They were like the Pharaoh-of-Egypt who refused to listen to God’s word thru Moses. They ignored the prophets who told them that God is gracious, but He could very easily ‘close’ His hand & cut off their blessings.
God’s truth thru both Malachi & Ezekiel still apply to US today. And our hearts are tempted to be stiff toward God as we make excuses. We surely live in a land of plenty, and we enjoy many great blessings. Yet, we might think in one of two ways: either we don’t have enough to be able to give God His tithe; or we have too much for such a big offering. A hardened heart finds it hard to remember that it is God who provides us our 100%.
*Is it too much for God to ask us for His 10%?
It’s true that the NT doesn’t use the word ‘tithe’ like the OT does; however, it also doesn’t say that the tithe has gone away. The NT talks of our thank-offerings in terms of a good ‘portion’ in keeping with our income; it also talks in terms of being generous and being a cheerful giver. *Why? Because now it’s crystal clear how much has been given to us in the life & work of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Without the word ‘tithe’ in the NT, our relationship with God thru His Church & offering plate has NOT gotten weaker, but it’s gotten stronger in light of the cross & open tomb = in light of the fulfilment of our gracious adoption as the sons of God, who have an eternal kingdom waiting for us.
When Jesus died on the cross for the sin of the world, He fulfilled The Law of the Tithe. But now the Law of Love takes over; the law of grace & faith & faithful servanthood; the law of hope & peace in our Savior. So the compulsion of the Law of the Tithe is done; but the guideline of God’s idea of 10% has never been dropped or improved on. It was a good guide for the old nature of the Israelites back then; it remains a good guide for the old nature of God’s people today; and until Christ returns.
*Why would NT believers be less thankful with their offerings than the OT believers? *Is it easier to give our offerings under compulsion or under freedom? St. Paul says ‘freedom’ is better. In the OT, believers were quite tied to the world, waiting for the world’s Savior to come & deliver His salvation. In the NT, in our time, we baptized-believers-in-Christ are not so tied to this world anymore. We are tied to the name & person of Jesus, whose next move is to return from heaven and bring an end to this world & everything in it. We are tied to our eternal hope of heaven, where our food & clothing & house & fields & money & goods have no place anymore. Their place is for ‘now’, benefiting the work of the kingdom, and the need of our family and our neighbor.
That’s why one bag out of ten is very ‘doable’, in view of our forgiveness in Christ and in view of the gospel work of God thru His Church. And actually, that 10% might seem a little stingy in our thanks God for all that we are blessed with. So, if thru Malachi you’ve heard God’s call to you to consider your thank offerings, and to bring to Him the full tithe, so the next thing is to test yourself. God has promised you that He is able to ‘open the windows of heaven and pour out blessings so that you will not have a need.’ The guideline is one bag of thanks to Him, and the other nine are for using wisely in living as His people.
Now, as we said last Sunday, when you follow God’s Word, you can expect pushback from your old nature, and also from the world around you. You’ll think: ‘I worked hard for what I have; it’s mine. I’ll decide what to do with it.’ Another thought is, ‘I give God a lot of my time instead of my money.’ But today we’re saying that the ‘Malachi tithe’ applies to each different area of our life; as each area of blessing comes to us from our God who provides it all.
In order for us to have hearts to trust His word, God has promised us His help. God promises to remove our hearts of stone, and to give us a heart of flesh; to give us a new spirit, and to cleanse us with water. So, when Jesus arrived and brought to the Church the gift of Baptism, the Lord has fulfilled that promise to you. He has cleansed your heart, and given a new spirit in you. He has clothed you with Christ & His forgiveness; and by Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, He has given you a life for new living.
Part of our new living is our living relationship with His offering plate. That plate reminds us of the many bags of gold the Lord has given to us; in the plate, we see the place to return our personal thanks to Him. In Deut.8, God says, “You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth.”
The believers in Corinth are a 4-part example for us. Part 1: Paul tells us, “They gave themselves first to the Lord.” This is also our faith: first, we belong to the Lord. Part 2: we’re told that they were “overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.” ‘overflowing’ would be the opposite of robbing God. Part 3 is the guideline: “On the first day of every week, each of you is to set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up (for the offering). And part 4 is God’s response to such faith & trust: “God loves a cheerful giver.” (2Cor.8; 9; 1Cor.16)
In our Malachi text, God makes a promise: He will “open the windows of heaven for you, and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” That picture is our reassurance that our HF is our source of life and all gifts; He will most certainly never forget His people. Therefore, our faith tells us we have no reason to rob Him of His tithes & offerings. He has promised to care for us, and bless us; because that’s who He is, and that’s what He’s promised in Christ Jesus.