Tag Archives: gracious giving

The God of Benevolence

For full sermon, watch the video.

Malachi said, “From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them,” (Malachi 3.7a, ESV). The sin that was confronting the Israelites was one that had been going on for generation after generation after generation for a thousand years. They had been taken into exile because they would not keep the Sabbath years. Now that they were back they were offering lame, sick, dying, blind animals as a sacrifice.  They had continuously living in a state of sin with no explanation, and Malachi was telling them that they were doing the same things that their ancestors had done.

And now he was calling on them to repent. “Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts,” (Malachi 3.7b, ESV). Yet they were so steeped in their sin and had been doing it for so long that they didn’t even realize they were in sin. They were blind to their own evil.  “But you say, ‘How shall we return?’” (Malachi 3.7c, ESV). This is an incredulous question, not a genuine. They aren’t asking what they can do; they are asking what they’ve done to deserve such an indictment. The question should be read as if stated, “Return? What have we done that we need to return? God is the one who left us. He’s the one that abandoned us in our needs.” Their sins and despair had blinded them to God’s presence. They were blinded to God’s graces.

So there was a blindness due to generations of sin that made it seem God was far when He was near. They couldn’t see their sin, and they couldn’t see God. Double-blindness.  Malachi understood their question of “How shall we return?” as what it really meant, “What have we done?” And he shows them their begrudgement.  “Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions,” (Malachi 3.8, ESV).  The people were robbing God; it could be said that they were defrauding God.  How? In their tithes and offerings.  Remember the indictment against the people for their lame, dying, blind, sick animals?  That was what they brought to make sacrifices.  Here is something similar, but different. Here we are talking about the tithes. This was the first fruits. This was a tenth of their harvest and such.

When we get to verse 10, we’ll see God calling for the “full tithe” to Him, indicating that the people may have been bringing a partial tithe or something less than a real tithe. That’s why I call it a begrudgement. It doesn’t seem like the people completely kept their tithes away, but what they gave, they gave begrudgingly. They did it out of duty. They did it out of obligation. They did it so that they wouldn’t be shamed. Who knows, but they didn’t do it out of love and they didn’t do it out of joy.

People ask me if I’m a person who believes in tithing or gracious giving. I think I’ve settled on that I believe in a gracious tithing. If anyone believes in tithing (and I am one of them), but will only tithe begrudgingly, then they are guilty of honoring God with their checks, but their hearts are far from him. The begrudging tither is helping pay the bills, but is receiving no benefit from the giving.

Yes, the tithe was part of the law, but as such it was part of the greater laws: to love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself.

One cannot begrudgingly be thankful or loving to God or to our neighbor. But the people in Malachi’s day were trying to do just that. Their hearts were not in their tithes and offerings.  And God saw their hearts even more than their tithes. And so we see his response to their begrudgement: “You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you,” (Malachi 3.9, ESV).

Now, let’s remember here what I said at the beginning of this sermon. We read out of Deuteronomy 28 and saw what would happen if the people were disobedient.  They would be cursed and their land would not provide food, as well as other things that would happen. Remember that? That’s why I read it then, because we need to understand that God is not just cursing willy-nilly. He is not being capricious or overly-sensitive. He warned a thousand years prior, and since then continuously sent prophets to remind the people generation after generation, what would happen if they turned from obedience. But never has He been seeking to obliterate His covenant people; he has always been seeking to make them into mature, faithful followers.

But Malachi’s prophecy doesn’t stop with the curse. It stops at God’s benevolence. Why? Because God is desirous to bless. Remember that it is more blessed to give than to receive and God is the quintessential Giver. Every good and perfect gift comes from Him. The fact that we are givers is a sign of the imago dei, the image of God.  We imitate God when we give. And just as it pleases us to give, so it pleases Him to give and more so!

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 devourer 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. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the LORD of hosts. (Malachi 3.10-12, ESV)

Notice the return. At first Malachi is general, return to me and I will return to you, but now we see how they are to return. “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse.” The temple had a storage room for food, and God was calling on His people to bring in all that they owed, and so showing their repentant, returning hearts for Him. This isn’t penance, where we work to gain God’s love, but repentance, where we return to God and his ways. God already loves us; we can’t earn that back because we never lost it in the first place. But we can stop drifting so far, turn around and draw near to Him, experiencing the love that He has always had for us.

But notice the fact that He tells them to “put me to the test.” But there are two tests going on here.  God is testing the Israelites by calling on them to bring the full tithe. Will they bring it and live by faith rather than by sight?  Will they believe that God is true to His word? By doing so, they are putting God to the test. In reality, it is proving God. That’s how the KJV translates this wording. Will God prove true?

In God’s defense, He has pointed back to Deuteronomy 28. You are cursed with a curse, the whole nation of you. What curse? The curse of Deuteronomy 28. It’s as if God is saying, “I told you this would happen. I promised you this would happen. You didn’t believe me, and it happened. I’m always true to my word. And as part of my word, I said that when you return, I will remove the curse and I will bless. Trust me. Test me. Prove me. You’ll see that I can be trusted.”  Look at what God told the people in Deuteronomy 30:

The LORD your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your cattle and in the fruit of your ground. For the LORD will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers, when you obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that are written in this Book of the Law, when you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, (vv. 9-10, ESV).

God delights in blessing His people. He does not delight in disciplining His people, but does so out of love. This is the only place in all of Scripture where God calls on His people to test Him in such a way. But He does so because He is anxiously awaiting to bless. He will open up the heavens and pour down the rain that gives water to the crops and causes them to grow, which will feed them, their animals, and the priests of the temple. The nations will see how God has blessed His people and they will exclaim it as well.

God is most definitely a gracious Giver. And the greatest gift God has given was His one and only Son. It is by His death and resurrection we are set free from our sin, our begrudgement, our blindness. It is through Him that we are truly blessed by a benevolent God. Will you repent, turn to Christ, and receive God’s blessing of salvation?

Tithe Versus Gracious Giving

What deep waters I am about to wade into!  Care to join me?  It’s always deep in the sea of money, wouldn’t you say?  The question that comes up so often among Christians is such: are we still obligated to the tithe, or are we simply to be gracious givers?  Personally, I believe in the tithe.  But I believe that the tithe is given by the very grace of God.  Here is why.

It is often argued that tithe was a part of the Mosaic law as a ceremonial law.  Since Jesus fulfilled the law, then we are no longer under such a law, and are free to simply give graciously.  I don’t deny it was part of the Mosaic.  It’s clear that it was, but what often is overlooked is that apparently the concept of tithing was pre-law.  When Abraham rescued his nephew Lot from captors, along with many others, they brought back the spoils of war.  They were met by Melchizedek, a type of Christ in the Old Testament.  “And Abram gave him a tenth of everything,” (Genesis 14:20b, ESV).  Is it not strange that Abraham knew to give a tithe?  Either he picked 10% out of thin air or it had been established in paganism or he already knew what God required.  I would venture to say that God did not see Abraham’s gift and then decide to make it law.  It is more likely that Abraham, the friend of God, already knew what God required, though there was no law to instruct him.

The writer of Hebrews clearly tells us that Jesus was of the priestly order of Melchizedek, greater than Moses and greater than Aaron.  Under a new priest comes a new law, the writer wrote (Hebrews 8:12) but I do not see this involving the tithe, since the tithe was instituted with Melchizedek hundreds of years before the Mosaic law was established.  If it was established with the type (Melchizedek), then perhaps it should remain when the antitype (Jesus) comes.

Jacob also vowed to give a tithe to God at Bethel.  “And this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house.  And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you,” (Genesis 28:22, ESV).  Some would argue that Abraham and Jacob are exceptions and not the norm.  Perhaps they are right.  However, if Jacob kept the vow (and there is no reason to believe he didn’t), then this was the norm–at least for Jacob.  Again the question needs to be asked: why 10%?  From what place did that figure come?

I have also heard the argument that if we were to give a “real tithe” then we would be giving 20-30% of our income.  Basically the argument goes like this.  The first tithe was a tithe that we tend to think of (giving to the temple).  The second tithe was to be used to hold a feast for the family in Jerusalem.  To me, though the word tithe or tenth might be used, it is not in the same category as the tithe to the temple.  This is was more like a party that should not be skimped on, as it was a celebration unto God.  The third tithe was only paid every three years, but not to the temple, but within ones own city to help the foreigners and the poor.  This is much closer to our local and state taxes than a tithe.  So I still maintain that the tithe (that is most similar to what we think of as a tithe, not a party requirement or a welfare tax) was 10%.

But what about gracious giving? Aren’t we to simply give graciously?  Yes, we are.  But I once heard a pastor preaching (unfortunately, I cannot remember his name) who brought up that grace goes beyond law.  Law states no murdering, but grace states that we are not to be angry/wrathful toward our brother.  Law states no adultery, but grace states that we are not to lust. His argument was simply that grace goes beyond law.  So even if the tithe was strictly law, then gracious giving would go beyond the tithe.  Gracious giving would not be less than 10%, but greater than 10%.

But I believe that while we give the tithe, we do so out of grace.  Not simply because grace goes beyond the tithe, but because it is by grace that I give.  My life was changed completely by God’s grace over me.  That includes how I spend my money.  I am no longer the selfish-spender I once was.  By grace I see that there is more to church and to God’s kingdom than just myself.  I see the needy, the hungry, the lost, the dying, and the grace that God placed in my heart wells up within me and I cannot help but give.

Is that not what Paul means in 2 Corinthians?  “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.  For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord,” (8:1-3, ESV).

It would seem that these poor churches, being filled with grace, saw the need and could not help but give.  That’s what grace giving is about.  Before grace, they would not have cared, but after grace they cared enough to abandon self-security and self-comfort and give.  No one does that apart from God’s grace upon their own hearts.  It should be noted however that this giving was for those not in their own church.  This was for the saints elsewhere (pun intended).  So then, what is it that was given to their own church?  Was anything given?  I know it’s speculation, but I would speculate that they did.

Now the question that inevitably comes up when mentioning tithe: should we give gross or net.  I’m a gross guy (pun intended).  Even though we do not take home our full paychecks (taxes, social security, 401K, health insurance), we still benefit from the full paycheck.  We still have government (state police, statesmen, etc.) that we benefit from taxes.  We still have retirement security that grows interest (social security excepted) for our future.  We still have health insurance that helps pay for bills when necessary.  Since we benefit from these, I would say we ought to pay tithe from the gross.

So it is time to come out of the deep waters.  I’m not sure if I helped or if I stirred the mud, but at least we’re on dry land again.  So what do you think?  Are we under a tithe or just gracious giving?  Leave a comment.  I’d love to hear from you.