[A gavel bangs several times.]
BAILIFF: Order in the court! Court is now in session! The case today is: “Malachi versus the People of God.”
The charges: The plaintiff maintains that the defendant is guilty of robbing God.
JUDGE: As presiding judge, I must tell those of you on the jury that these are weighty charges. If guilty, the defendant faces serious consequences that will affect both him and his descendants for many years. So please hear the case carefully. We want no miscarriage of justice. The prosecuting attorney may call his witnesses.
PROSECUTING ATTORNEY: Thank you, Your Honor. My first witness is this gentleman from a remote region in Central Asia. He does not speak English, and so the following has been translated. Sir, you claim that these people have robbed you. Can you explain?
ASIAN MAN: Yes. My people have no Bible in our language and no missionaries in our area. For centuries, we have lived and died without hearing the good news about Jesus Christ, the Savior. But these people have had the Bible and the gospel in their culture for centuries. They have plenty of money, not only for basic needs, but also for many frivolous toys and luxuries. Yet they have not given sacrificially so that my people might hear about the Savior. We have been robbed!
PROSECUTING ATTORNEY: Thank you, sir. My next witness, Your Honor, is this orphan from Africa. Her parents both died of AIDS. I found her living on the streets and scavenging for food in the garbage. Can you tell the court how these people have robbed you?
AFRICAN GIRL: I have not actually seen any of these people before today. All I have known is a hard life, trying to survive and to compete for food with the other children on the streets. Before I came here, I had no idea that anyone lives as these people do! I hear that they just go to the store and buy all the food that they need! I hear that the stores and restaurants here throw away much better food than we find in Africa. I wonder if I could move to America so that I could look for food in the dumpsters here?
PROSECUTING ATTORNEY: Thank you, honey! Your Honor, my last witness cannot speak, at least not verbally. It is this human baby in this jar of formaldehyde. I could have brought in millions of them, but this one will have to do. If it could talk, it would say that it was robbed by the defendant, because if God’s people had given more to the pro-life cause, this child might not have died. Counseling centers and homes for unwed mothers might have been established to help pregnant young women keep their babies. So much more could have been done, if only more funds were available. The money is there, Your Honor. It’s just that these people have spent it on themselves, with little regard for God’s perspective. This baby was robbed of life! I rest my case.
JUDGE: The defense attorney may now speak.
DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Thank you, Your Honor. I’m sure that you and the jury will quickly see how silly these charges are! I ask you to consider several lines of evidence.
In the first place, my client is an upstanding, law-abiding, church-going citizen who would never dream of robbing anyone! He has never personally seen any of these victims and has never been near them or their property. Yet here he is being charged with robbing people he has never seen or met! It’s ridiculous!
Second, my client has worked hard to earn every cent that he has. He has never been on welfare. He has earned the right to spend his money as he pleases!
Third, my client never used his possessions or wealth to hurt anyone. He only asks for some peace and quiet, so that he can enjoy the benefits of his lifetime of hard work. He has just followed the American dream of the good life and of having enough to enjoy his retirement years. He certainly did not intend to harm these people who live on the other side of the earth!
Finally, my client was not aware that he was breaking any law. He is charged with robbing God, but we have only heard from these human witnesses. To bring God into the case is unconstitutional. We have a separation between church and state in this country. Besides, my client believes in God. He is a good church member and has often volunteered his time, not to mention his many years of tithing. This extremist prophet has framed my good client! I ask the jury to find him not guilty!
[The jury exits to consider the case.]
Could it really be that decent, law-abiding, religious folks are guilty of robbing God? Isn’t the prophet going overboard to level such charges against people whose lives are centered on their religion? Might their reaction (3:8) be justified: “How have we robbed God?”
And, yet, the charges stand. They are repeated in one form or another four times in verses 8 and 9, so that we can’t miss them. God charged the whole nation with robbing Him. And yet they were blind to the charges. If these religious Jews were guilty of the charges, but also blind to them, then perhaps we should seriously consider whether we, too, may be guilty, but blind, to the same charges. God is saying,
If we have robbed God, we must return to Him and give obediently to His kingdom purposes.
Consider, first, the charge:
First God gives a general charge of disobedience and then He narrows it to the specific charge of disobedient giving.
These people were living just as their fathers and grandfathers before them had lived, as culturally believing Jews. That was the problem. Their ancestors claimed to be followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but their religion was largely outward and cultural, not inward and heartfelt. Over the years, such religion gradually picks up elements of the culture, blending them in with the prescribed customs and rituals. This is called syncretism. God charges them and their ancestors of turning aside from His statutes and not keeping them. But they are dumbfounded by the charges.
It’s a wonderful thing to come from a long line of Christians. A Christian upbringing spares you much of the devastation that comes from a pagan background. But a Christian upbringing has its dangers. It is easy for the reality of a daily walk with God to leak out over the generations, where it becomes ritualistic and mechanical. Legalism creeps in, where families have rigid standards, but they aren’t necessarily biblical standards. Hypocrisy is another danger. Parents preach one thing, but the way that they relate to each other and to the children does not reflect the fruit of the Spirit. Gradually, a family drifts into a form of religion without the reality of knowing God, living by faith, and obeying His Word.
When these Jews protested the general charge of disobedience, God got specific:
This is called, “Going from preaching to meddling”! It’s easy to say in general, “I obey God.” So the Lord says, “Let’s get specific: How is your giving?” Ouch!
Giving is one of the most fail-proof litmus tests of your relationship to God. On more than one occasion, Jesus linked a person’s giving to eternal life. When Zaccheus, the wealthy tax collector, got right with God, his first recorded words were, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much” (Luke 19:8). His salvation immediately touched his pocketbook. Jesus confirmed this formerly greedy man’s conversion by saying, “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:9).
Contrast that with the tragic account of the rich young ruler. He seemed like such an eager potential convert. He came running (not walking) to Jesus and asked, “Good Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” What a witnessing opportunity! So Jesus said, “That’s easy. Just invite Me into your heart by faith.”
No, that’s not what Jesus said. He knew that the man had an idol. So He said, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But the man went away grieved, unwilling to obey Jesus’ words. Jesus didn’t run after him and say, “How about ten percent?” Rather, He said to the disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:17-23).
In Luke 16:10-11, Jesus states that our stewardship of money is a test of how we will do with more important responsibilities: “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you?” In the context, the “very little thing” is the money that God has entrusted to us! The “much” or “true riches” are the souls of people. Our use of money is God’s test of whether He can entrust souls to our care!
You can impress other Christians by your extensive Bible knowledge, your fervent prayers, or your many years of service in the church. But God does not look at any of those things to test your faithfulness. Rather, He looks at how you manage the money that He has entrusted to you. Are you greedy or generous? Do you have integrity in money matters? Are your priorities and motives for earning, spending, saving, and giving in line with His Word?
So, to evaluate God’s charge that we have robbed Him, we have to examine our stewardship of money. Maybe you’re thinking, “Whew, I’m off the hook, because I give ten percent to the Lord’s work!” Well, maybe, but probably not!
It may shock you to learn that ten percent is not the biblical standard for giving (for a longer treatment, see John MacArthur, Whose Money Is It, Anyway? [Word], pp. 97-113). Abraham once gave Melchizedek ten percent of his spoils from a single battle, but there is no indication that he regularly gave ten percent. Jacob promised to give God ten percent if God would do what Jacob wanted Him to do, but that is hardly a biblical model for giving! The Law of Moses actually prescribed several tithes that would have amounted to somewhere between 20-25 percent (Lev. 27:30-33; Num. 18:20-21; Deut. 12:17-18; 14:22, 28, 29). But in Israel, the tithe functioned more like an involuntary tax than as a freewill offering.
Many preachers (especially Baptists!) use Malachi 3:10 to teach “storehouse tithing.” One Baptist commentator says, “So-called storehouse tithing does have a sound basis in this verse.” The idea is that the church is the storehouse where you are supposed to give ten percent of your income. Anything that you give to other Christian organizations should be over and above that ten percent that goes to the local church.
I wish that I could promote that idea, because I’m sure that our church income would go up substantially if everyone did that! Frankly, we could use the money, both for ongoing budget expenses and to meet our need for more property and facilities. But that application stretches this text beyond credulity. The storehouse refers to the storage rooms at the temple, where the people brought the first fruits of their harvest. The priests who served at the temple used this produce for their needs. I’m sad to say that the storehouse was not the local church and the tithe is not the New Testament standard for giving!
It is significant that tithing is never mentioned in any instructions to the church, although much is said about giving. If the church is supposed to give ten percent, it seems strange that Paul did not mention this when he wrote to predominately Gentile churches, which would not be familiar with the Law of Moses.
People get nervous when you take away that ten percent figure. Somehow, it’s comfortable and simple to give ten percent. But the problem with tithing is that people get the notion that once they’ve paid God ten percent, they’re free to squander the rest on themselves. But I think that God would charge such people, however sincere they may be, with robbing Him.
You may wonder, “If I don’t tithe, then how do I determine how much I’m supposed to give?” The New Testament principle is that God owns it all. We just manage it for Him. The New Testament standard is, give generously and cheerfully “as God has prospered you,” out of gratitude for His indescribable gift of salvation (1 Cor. 16:2; 2 Cor. 8 & 9; Acts 11:29). For those who are very poor, ten percent may represent generous, sacrificial giving. For those who have ample salaries, ten percent may be robbing God.
I think that John Piper’s teaching is sound, that Christians ought to live with a wartime mentality, gladly making personal sacrifices in order to advance Christ’s cause. If we expect missionaries to live sacrificially for the sake of the gospel, shouldn’t we hold ourselves to the same standard? If we live in relative luxury while people perish because there aren’t enough funds to get the gospel to them, are we not guilty of robbing God?
Before we look at God’s remedy for how to turn from this crime, please notice the mandatory sentence:
All crime is dumb, but robbing God is really dumb, because God knows that you are guilty and you can’t escape His sentence.
“You are cursed with a curse … the whole nation of you!” To rob God is to shoot yourself in the foot, and it doesn’t just hurt you. It also hurts all of God’s people. By withholding their tithes and offerings, the people forced the priests and Levites to work for their own support. That meant that they had to neglect the temple, causing worship to suffer. The inadequate worship adversely affected the Jewish families that came there to worship.
Not only that, but when the people refused to trust God by giving, God allowed the devourer to attack their crops (3:11). That may refer to locusts or other insects, or to hail or drought. God, who controls all of His creation, can either block harmful forces from our lives or turn them loose to wreak havoc. God does not delight in sending plagues on His people. But every parent knows that if you do not discipline your children when they disobey, you are not acting in love towards them. As God’s children, we need to learn that sin has negative consequences. Obedience opens the windows of heaven to pour out God’s blessings (we will look at this in our next study).
When God’s people obey Him with their giving, the nations will see how God blesses His people and they will be drawn to the delightful land. The world isn’t drawn to disobedient Christians who are under God’s discipline. They are drawn to obedient believers who know the joy of God’s delightful blessings. Our generous giving to the cause of world missions directly blesses those who hear the gospel and come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
I cannot say whether or not you are robbing God. It is a matter for each of us, myself included, to examine individually, prayerfully and continually. I find that it’s easy to slip into a worldly mindset with regard to giving. But if you are guilty of robbing God, He gives the remedy here:
God does not say, “Return to keeping My law,” although the people needed to obey His law. Rather, He says, “Return to Me.” When we have sinned, the root need is always relational, not just for outward conformity to a rule or law. The motive for obedience, whether in morals or giving or whatever area, should always be love for the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
How would my wife feel at Christmas if I gave her a present and when she said, “Thank you,” I replied, “I was just doing my duty as your husband”? Even if it were a really nice gift, my loveless motive would kill the joy of the gift! If my relationship with her is right, then the gift will not be a duty, but a delight!
If you’re not giving generously, systematically, and sacrificially to the Lord out of love and gratitude to Him, then you need to return to Him. Get your relationship right and giving becomes a joy and delight. Notice, also, God’s abundant, gracious love. Even though Israel had sinned against Him for centuries, He promises that if they would return to Him, He would return to them (3:7). Like the father of the prodigal son, God is ready to run to us with His gracious forgiveness and restoration, when we return to Him.
As Jesus said, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love…. You are My friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:10, 14). In other words, you cannot be living in disobedience to God and truly say, “I love Jesus” or, “I’m under grace.” That would be like me saying, “I love Marla,” all the while that I was committing adultery against her! Love for my wife is inextricably bound up with obedience to my marriage vows.
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse.” I presume that they were giving something. They just weren’t giving what the Lord required. They weren’t obeying completely. They were like folks who salve their conscience by dropping a few bucks in the offering plate every once in a while. But they weren’t being faithful stewards of all that God had entrusted to them.
Partial obedience isn’t really obedience; it’s just convenience. If I got audited on my income taxes, I wouldn’t fare well if I told the agent, “I pay most of my taxes, except when it’s inconvenient.” If my kids only obeyed me when it was convenient for them, I wouldn’t call that obedience!
Although for many Christians, giving ten percent would be a huge increase, tithing is really not all that difficult. You have to budget and be disciplined to do it, but it can become a routine matter. But if God requires that we give as He has prospered us, and that we seek first His kingdom and righteousness by laying up treasures in heaven (Matt. 6:19-33), that’s a different matter! It means that I constantly must examine my heart motives and my stewardship of all that God has entrusted to me. I need to judge myself in this area not by the standards of our culture, but by God’s Word. We all should ponder often Paul’s words to Timothy:
Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed (1 Tim. 6:17-19).
The jury files back in after deliberating your case. What would the verdict be? Are you guilty of robbing God? I’ll leave you to wrestle with that before the Lord, not just this week, but as a recurring battle as you seek to be a faithful steward of all that He has graciously entrusted to you for His kingdom purposes.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2003, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation