Writer Oscar Schisgall tells of how, as a young man, he went into a park to think through an important personal issue. He had been engaged for four years, but didn’t dare to marry. He had no steady source of income. Besides, he and his fiancée had dreamed of living in Europe. How could they move so far away with no certainty of income?
Just then he looked up and saw a squirrel leap from one tree to another. He seemed to be aiming at a branch so high that the jump looked like suicide. He missed that branch, but landed safely on a lower branch, and then made his way up the tree.
An old man sitting on the bench said, “Funny, I’ve seen hundreds of ’em jump like that, especially when there are dogs around and they can’t come down to the ground. A lot of ’em miss, but I’ve never seen any hurt in trying.” Then he chuckled. “I guess they’ve got to risk it if they don’t want to spend their lives in one tree.” Schisgall thought, “A squirrel takes a chance—have I less nerve than a squirrel?”
He and his fiancée married and sailed for Europe. As he worked hard at writing, the money began to come in, providing for their needs. He said that since then, whenever he has had to choose between risking a new venture or hanging back, he can hear the little old man on the park bench say, “They got to risk it if they don’t want to spend their lives in one tree” (Parables, Etc., 6/82).
I wonder if some of you, spiritually speaking, are confined to one safe tree. You’ve been there for some time and have not jumped out in faith to be where God wants you to be. Your experience with the Lord is somewhat comfortable, but, frankly, somewhat stagnant. To you, the Lord issues a dare: “I dare you to trust Me by giving to My kingdom as you should. Go ahead, jump, and see if I don’t catch you and hold you up.” That’s God’s dare to His people in Malachi 3:10-12:
God’s dare: If we will give properly, He will bless abundantly.
God challenges us to prove that He means what He says. He is waiting to do business with us, whenever we’re ready. He promises to open the windows of heaven and pour out blessing until we can’t contain it all. The only delay is on our part. As soon as we trust Him by taking the jump, He will show us that there are many more trees to enjoy than we had ever imagined. God says, “I dare you to obey Me by giving properly.” The question is, are you willing to take God up on His dare? Note, first:
Normally, God does not invite His people to test Him. In fact, Scripture contains some strong rebukes in situations where God’s people have put Him to the test. In Malachi 3:15, God rebukes the “doers of wickedness” who put Him to the test. In Psalm 95:8-11, which refers to the generation that died in the wilderness, God warns His people not to imitate them. He says, “your fathers tested Me, they tried Me, though they had seen My work. For forty years I loathed that generation….” It sounds like risky business to put God to the test!
But here, God throws down the challenge. He dares us to test Him to see whether or not His promise is true. When God dares us to test Him, we would be sinning to refuse (see Isa. 7:10-16).
Of course, when God tells you to do something, it is not risky in the ultimate sense, because you know that He will sustain you. But from our perspective, it still seems risky at first.
God is saying, “You begin to give to Me first, and I’ll pour out the blessings in response.” “Uh, listen, Lord, how about if You bless me first, and then I’ll give as You want me to give?” No, it doesn’t work that way. It’s like Peter walking on the water. You’ve got to get out of the boat and take that first step. Peter couldn’t keep one foot in the boat while he tested the water with his other foot, to see if it would hold him up. It was all or nothing.
God asks us to give to Him up-front, off the top. Each of us should determine by faith and prayer a pre-planned amount that God wants us to give on a systematic, regular basis. As I said in our last study, the New Testament standard for giving is not ten percent, but “as the Lord has prospered you” (1 Cor. 16:2). That means that as we earn more, we ought to give proportionately more to the Lord’s work. The principle of giving God the first fruits means that we shouldn’t buy everything we think we need, and then give God the leftovers. Rather, we trust Him by giving off the top of the paycheck.
That’s risky, isn’t it? What if I give at the start of the month and I have some unforeseen problem, so that I come up short at the end of the month?
I read about a man who was having trouble with this concept. He had been taught tithing, so he told his pastor, “I don’t see how I can give ten percent to the church when I can’t even keep on top of our bills.”
The pastor replied, “John, if I promise to make up the difference in your bills if you should fall short, do you think you could try giving that much for just one month?”
John thought about it for a moment and then replied, “Sure, if you promise to make up any shortage, I will try giving ten percent for one month.”
“What do you think of that?” mused the pastor. “You say you’d be willing to trust a mere man like me, who possesses so little materially, but you couldn’t trust your Heavenly Father, who owns the whole universe!” John began giving regularly off the top each month, and God always met his needs.
Up-front giving is risky because it requires faith. God’s dare exposes our lack of faith. Malachi was preaching to comfortable, cultural believers, but they weren’t living on the cutting edge of trusting God. Not only that, but they were grumbling against God because their circumstances weren’t as pleasant as they had hoped. The many promises about a glorious future for Israel had not come true. Israel was still under foreign domination. The crops weren’t all that great. So they were grumbling. Whenever we grumble about our circumstances, we’re really grumbling against the God who ordains and controls our circumstances. They were blaming God for not blessing them, but God puts the blame where it belongs: “You haven’t trusted Me by giving as you should. Test Me by bringing the whole tithe into the storehouse, and see if I don’t bless you until you can’t hold any more.”
So if you’re holding back on giving until the Lord blesses you, you’ve got it backwards. Give generously, by faith, off the top, and God will bless you. We are called to walk by faith. Giving what you can comfortably afford after you’ve bought everything you think you need isn’t giving by faith.
God could have said, “Test Me now in this: Serve Me by teaching Sunday School.” Teaching Sunday School is a vital ministry, but for most of us there’s not a lot of risk in doing it. God could have said, “Test Me now in this: Read your Bible every day.” That’s a good thing to do, and I hope you do it, but reading my Bible every day isn’t risky. But when God says, “Test Me now in this: Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse.” Yikes! That’s risky!
You can’t fake it with giving. It really is the bottom line! God knows that our hearts follow our treasure. Invest a chunk of your treasure in the stock market and your heart will be in the daily stock report. Give God your treasure and your heart will be in the things of God. There’s no such thing as truly giving God your heart without also giving Him your treasure. If your heart is too much in the world, it’s probably an indication that your treasure is too much in the world. Put your treasure in God’s kingdom and watch your heart follow!
So God’s dare is, “Test Me now in this: Give generously, up-front by faith, and I will bless you.” But don’t overlook the fact that the dare hinges on a condition:
Some promises in the Bible are unconditional. They depend totally on God and His faithfulness to His Word. But other promises are conditional, and our text is such a promise. We must fulfill the condition, “give properly,” for God to fulfill the blessing. The text reveals three aspects of proper giving:
Verse 10 shows that God is concerned about His house, the temple. He wanted the people to give so that the priests could be supported so that proper worship could be carried on at the temple. God’s house was where He manifested His glory at the mercy seat. Worshiping God at His temple was the ultimate priority for God’s people.
Today, the church is God’s house, His temple (Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:5). Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her (Eph. 5:25). He said, “I will build My church…” (Matt. 16:18). His purpose in our day is to be glorified in and through His church, by saving His elect and building them together into a holy dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Eph. 1-3). So the church is not just a nice extra, a spoke in the wheel of life. Christ and His church ought to be the hub for the believer. Everything should revolve around the church, because building the church is what God is doing in the world. You will give properly only when you make Christ and His church your priority.
I heard about a man who complained that the church was always asking for money. Obviously, he did not see the priority of what God is doing through the church. His friend said to him, “I know how you feel. But a while back, something happened that changed my thinking.
“A baby was born into our family. We discovered that he needed a lot of things—clothes, food, medical attention, and many other things. As the little boy grew, we kept having to pour out money for him. The older he got, the more it cost! Teenaged boys consume a lot of food!
“But last year, in his junior year of high school, he was killed in an auto accident. Since the funeral, he has not cost us one penny. Which way do you think we would want it?”
If our priority is life, we will spare no expense to preserve it. If one of my kids faced a life-threatening condition and it cost me a million dollars to get the proper medical care, I’d go into debt for the rest of my life to provide it.
If our priority is to see lost people receive eternal life through Christ, shouldn’t we give all that we can to help His church carry out that mission? If we spend more on entertainment, our pets, and other non-essentials than we give to fulfill the Great Commission, our priorities are not right. We’re not seeking first His kingdom.
As I said in our last study, God picks money as the litmus test of our faithfulness. He says, “Do you want My blessing?” “Oh, yes, Lord! I pray constantly for Your blessing.” “Fine! Bring the whole tithe into My storehouse. Then I will know that you are faithful to Me, and I will pour out My blessing.” These folks were probably token givers, dropping a bit in the collection box to salve their consciences. But they didn’t have God’s perspective on money.
Last time we saw that when Jesus said, “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much” (Luke 16:10), the “very little thing” refers to money. “Much” refers to eternal riches, to the souls of people. The person who has a lot of money in his portfolio is not truly rich in God’s sight. The truly rich person is the one who manages the very little thing (money) that God entrusts to him in such a way that God’s kingdom is advanced.
The point is, you’ll never give properly if you view money and material possessions as the world does, as the really big thing in life. You’ll greedily hang on to all that you can get. You’ll build bigger and bigger barns to hold it all, but you won’t be rich toward God (Luke 12:15-21). But if you adopt God’s perspective, you’ll see money as the means of laying up treasures in heaven, by giving to reach lost people with the gospel. Proper giving means adopting God’s priorities and His perspective toward money.
God says, “Test Me now in this….” Don’t wait until you’re out of college and have a comfortable income. Don’t wait until you strike it rich. Don’t wait until the kids are out of the nest and you are financially secure. Don’t wait until you get through the current crunch, and then you’ll apply this. “Test Me now!”
If you’re in debt, with credit cards maxed out, you need to curtail your spending and work out a plan to get out of debt. But part of your budget should include giving. Even if you’re below the poverty line, you can figure out ways to give if you really want to.
Years ago, I read about a church in Thailand of 400 members where every member tithes. As I said, ten percent is not God’s standard, but rather how He has prospered you. But in their case, ten percent represents sacrificial giving. These people were receiving a weekly wage of 20 cents, plus their rice!
Because of their faithfulness, they were able to support their own pastor. They had sent two missionary families to spread the gospel in another area. They give substantially to help the poor and the sick, because they relate to their need. By the way, every person in this church has leprosy! But, they give!
Procrastination is the foe of obedient giving. It’s always easier to think about obeying God tomorrow than actually obeying Him today. It’s like the farmer whose pastor visited him to see if he could help support the Lord’s work. The pastor asked, “If you had two farms, would you be willing to give one to the Lord?” The farmer said, “Of course! I only wish I were in a position to do so.”
The pastor then asked, “If you had $10,000, would you give $5,000 to the Lord’s work?” The farmer exclaimed, “I’d love to be able to give like that!”
Then the pastor sprung his trap: “If you had two pigs, would you give one to the church?” The farmer was taken aback for a moment, but then blurted out, “That’s not fair! You know I’ve got two pigs!” (“Our Daily Bread,” Fall, 1980)
We wrongly think that we will be less anxious if we get our nest egg in place first. Then we will be in a position to give. But the Lord said that we will increase anxiety if we live like that. The only secure investment is one where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves cannot break in and steal (Matt. 6:19). To overcome financial anxiety, start laying up treasures in heaven now.
So, God’s dare is, “Test Me!” The condition is, Give properly.
God promises to bless us more than we can handle if we will obey Him by giving properly to His work. You think, “Wow, I’ve always wanted to be rich! If I give to God, then He will bless me so that I can get that new car and …” Wait a minute! God promises three blessings, but wealth is not one of them.
This is not a promise of wealth, but of adequate provision. The unbiblical “health and wealth” teaching preys on greed: “Give and you’ll get rich,” or, more accurately, “Give to my ministry and you’ll get rich!” But the motive is wrong. God never blesses greed.
God’s promise is rather, “If you will open the bottom of the funnel by giving generously, I’ll pour it in the top of the funnel so that you will not suffer lack. But if you greedily close up the bottom of the funnel, I’ll quit pouring it in the top.” Paul elaborates on this principle (2 Cor. 9:8): “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.” As has often been said, “You can’t out-give God.” If you give generously, God will take care of your basic needs.
“All the nations will call you blessed, …” Israel was to be a blessing to the nations (Gen. 12:1-3). When God’s people give generously to his cause, then the nations will hear the gospel and in turn bless those who gave to bring the good news to them. What greater joy can there be than to meet someone in heaven who says, “Thank you so much for giving to the cause of missions, so that I heard about Jesus Christ”? What better way to invest your money than in the souls of people for whom Christ died?
“You shall be called a delightful land.” In a delightful land, people live delightful lives. This may ultimately refer to the millennium, but to whatever degree God’s people obey Him by giving generously to His work, the land is delightful. The sins stemming from greed are diminished. Needs are met. People find Christ. Love is demonstrated. Obedience in giving opens the floodgates of God’s blessing in other areas.
A man who set the example by taking up God’s dare was George Muller, who is famous for founding an orphanage in Bristol, England, in the 19th Century. While Muller cared very much for the orphaned children, his deeper motive in opening the orphanage was to prove the faithfulness of God to a skeptical world. He determined never to make the financial needs of his work known, except to the Lord in prayer. Each year he published a journal after the fact, describing how God had answered prayer by meeting the needs of the children in the previous year. Although there were times of severe testing, the children never missed a meal.
What many do not know is that Muller not only received millions of pounds in answer to prayer; he also gave away millions to God’s work from funds that came in for his personal support. If he had wanted, Muller could have lived lavishly, but he kept his lifestyle simple and gave everything else away. I once calculated that from 1831-1885, Muller gave 86 percent of his personal income to the Lord’s work! He said, “My aim was never how much I could obtain, but rather how much I could give” (Arthur T. Pierson, George Muller of Bristol [Revell], p. 299). He would pray the money in so that he could give it out as the Lord led.
From 1870 on, Muller personally contributed enough annually to the China Inland Mission to largely support the entire staff of 33 missionaries (Roger Steer, George Muller: Delighted in God! [Harold Shaw Publishers], p. 224)! Appropriately, Roger Steer’s biography of George Muller is subtitled, “Delighted in God!” Muller had a delightful life because he took God at His dare by giving properly. People from around the world to this day call him a blessed man.
How about you? Are you going to stay in the same “spiritual tree” all your life, afraid to trust God, making up excuses why you can’t give as He wants you to? God says, “I dare you to give!” Go for it—now!
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