The Floodgates of Heaven: Malachi 3:6-12
would rate as your worst nightmare? How about dumping an old mattress? This
week the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported that a woman, identified
only as Anat, bought a new mattress for her mother as a surprise and dumped the
old one. But when her mother returned home she "almost fainted". She
had hidden her entire life savings inside. The old mattress contained $1m
(£700,000). When the woman realised her mistake, she rushed out to retrieve the
mattress but it had already been taken away to the local dump. She rushed to the
dump, only to find the mattress had been shipped to one of two larger landfill
sites, along with another 3,000 tonnes of rubbish collected that day. A search
of the first site proved fruitless so she moved onto the other close to the
Yitzhak Borba, the director of the site, told Israeli radio the woman was "totally desperate" when she arrived. He kept some of his staff on overnight to fend off treasure hunters and help the woman. But despite being unable to retrieve the mattress and its hidden fortune, "Anat" appeared philosophical about her loss. "People have to take everything in proportion and thank God for the good and the bad," she said. There has been no comment from her mother. (BBC Report). ‘More’ These four letters probably constitute one of the most powerful words in the English language. Very smart people stay up at night trying to figure out ways to convince us that we are (or ought to be) discontent…
They sell us the idea that we will experience true satisfaction if we just have more. All day long we are bombarded by the prophets of more. Use me, buy me, drive me, wear me, try me, put me in your hair. The things we can obtain just for more hair satisfaction are staggering! You can wash it, blow-dry it, condition it, colour it, straighten it if it's too curly, curl it if it's too straight, wax it if it grows where it shouldn't, or Rogain it if it doesn't grow where it should. ‘More’ is an insatiable desire and, unfortunately, not limited to something as trivial as hair. Satisfying the "more monster" can never satisfy our souls. Yet in the short run, saying no to "more" can be difficult, even frightening. No one sets out to be a greedy person, but it happens all the time—even in the church. Jesus saw this coming when he made this sobering statement:
"No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth" (Matthew 6:24)
didn’t say this to be harsh. He was just stating things the way they are. There
is not room for two masters in our heart. What does it take to tame the more
monster? What does it take to transform a heart from greed to generosity? For
most of us, it will not come simply by acquiring more knowledge, applying more
will-power, or even by studying more Scripture, important as these are. The ‘more
monster’ is too strong. We need a way of training. We need a tangible and
routine way to say, "Sorry, money, you are not on the throne. You will not
be the god of my life today." What we need, God has provided. It's called
the theme of our passage from Malachi 3 today. This is the fifth of six
disputes between God and his people. We have already seen in Malachi:
1. A dispute about God’s love (1:2–5)
2. A dispute about God’s honour (1:6–2:9)
3. A dispute about faithlessness (2:10–16)
4. A dispute about God’s justice (2:17–3:5)
5. A dispute about God’s blessing (3:6–12)
Malachi 3 we are introduced to the Floodgates of Heaven. There is an
unmistakable connection in Scripture between spiritual growth and material
values. Israel's giving patterns were a consistent thermometer of the nation's
inner spiritual condition. When the Israelites' hearts were kindled with a
spirit of worship to God, they overflowed with contagious expressions of
generosity. But when Israel's hearts turned inward to ingratitude, complaint
and idolatry, their hands withheld. And the more their hands withheld, the more
their hearts turned away from God.
With their hearts went their wallets. Malachi challenges their behavior and explains how God’s blessings are experienced. If we want to experience God's blessing we must do three things.
1. We must turn back to God (3:6-7)
2. We must stop robbing God (3:8-9)
3. We must start trusting God (3:10-12)
1. We Must Turn Back to God 3:6-7
“Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 3:7) That is what repentance means. Turning round. Sin is not primarily about breaking God's laws.
about taking God's rightful place. Sin is about running my life my way and not
his. Therefore true repentance is nothing less than a return to God Himself.
"Return unto me and I will return unto you." says the Lord. In New
Testament language John puts it this way: “If we confess our sins, he is
faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
(1 John 1:9).
Malachi's message is very simple. Turn back to God. But how do I demonstrate I have turned back to God? How do I show I am repentant? Turn back to God. Malachi says,
2. We Must Stop Robbing God (3:8-10)
“Should people cheat God? Yet you have cheated me! “But you ask, ‘What do you mean? When did we ever cheat you?’” You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me.” (Malachi 3:8 NLT)
principle here is consistent throughout the Bible. When we give, God blesses;
and when we withhold, God curses. So God says, "You are under a curse, the
whole nation of you, because you are robbing me." (Malachi 3:9). How? By
not paying what was due. Notice,
2.1 The Practice of Tithing
just came to your mind as you heard the word ‘tithe’? A mechanical obligation?
A religious tax? A fund-raising mechanism? An impossible requirement. An Old
Testament legalism. I used to think so. We need to realise that God invented
tithing for our good, not his. Tithing was instituted to help tame the more
monster. Indeed under the Old Covenant it was compulsory.
That is why Malachi says the people of Israel were robbing God. The implications are quite profound. Tithing is not a principle we can dismiss as something associated with the Mosaic Law that was superseded by Jesus Christ. It is important to realise that tithing as a principle is four hundred years older than the law. Abraham gave tithes to God through Melchizedek (Genesis 14:10). Melchizedek gave Abraham bread and wine, symbols of sacrifice, and Abraham acknowledged his indebtedness to God by giving Him tithes of all his resources. In Matthew 6 Jesus assumes that his hearers already tithe. “When you give…” (Matthew 6:2). He merely criticises them for wanting to be seen doing so. The Book of Hebrews also assumes the practice “the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people.” (Hebrews 7:5). We also know from early church history that tithing was promoted by the church fathers. In England as early as A.D. 786, it was already common practice during the reigns of King Alfred, King Edgar, and King Canute.
And if you check out the Anglican Prayer Book of 1662 you will find this injunction at the end of the Communion Service, “And note that every parishioner shall communicate (take communion) at least three times in the year, of which Easter shall be one. And yearly at Easter every parishioner shall reckon with the vicar; and pay to him all Ecclesiastical duties, accustomably due, then and at that time paid.”
means in previous generations you would meet with me and I would assess your
liability, just as the Inland Revenue does today. Tithing is therefore
timeless. It was neither instituted by the law nor terminated by grace. It
was neither given by Moses nor rescinded by Jesus Christ. True, we are no
longer under law but under grace. “freely you have received, freely give."
(Matt 10:8). How then can we think of wanting to give less knowing we don’t
have to. The Practice.
2.2 The Principle of Tithing 3:10
“Bring the whole tithe” (Malachi 3:10). The literal meaning of the word tithe is "a tenth part." People tend to use the word loosely today. They may speak of tithing £10 a week when their income is £50,000 per year. For the math-impaired like me, giving £10 a week would be tithing only if my income were £100 a week. The Israelites were raised on the practice of tithing. To them, tithing clearly meant giving ten percent, not two percent not four percent.
What we Give: Proportionately
For many “the whole tithe”, will be one tenth of the total income (as the word indicates); for others, it will mean more. In his book “Rich Christians in an age of Hunger” Ron Sider argues the case for proportional tithing. That is, the more one has the more one gives, just as our taxation system assumes. So after deciding the basic amount you need to live on, for every £5,000 more you earn you might choose to give 1% extra. So if you began at the national average of £25k @10%, on £30k you might give @11%; on £35k @12%; on £40k @13% and so on. As a church we model this and give at least a tithe and a half of our income to outward mission.
Why we Give: Tithes and Offerings
Notice God refers not only to tithes but also offerings in verse 8
“In tithes and offerings”. These are not the same thing. The tithe was not a ceiling, it was merely a floor. Offerings were over and above tithes. The word “offering” means free will giving. The Bible teaches that God demanded the tithes, whereas he deserves our offerings. He demands the tithe because everything belongs to Him. Giving simply reminds us of that fact. It reminds us we are stewards not owners. In our free will offerings we express our love and appreciation. There is a difference though our obligation to maintain the regular ministry of the church and our freedom to respond to particular appeals for funds such as adopting a child with Compassion. It is for you to decide before the Lord, secretly, willingly and joyfully.
When we Give: First Fruit Giving
Strategically linked to the concept of the tithe and offerings was the concept of firstfruits. “Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops” (Proverbs 3:9). Why firstfruits?
giving was a concept that largely overlapped with tithing and probably referred
to the same gifts. But where tithing stressed the exact amount, the giving of
firstfruits reflected not only the timing but an acknowledgement of the source.
God is the Giver of the harvest. All we have is a gift from God, and we will
want to honour him with the first and best we have received, not the leftovers.
For Israel, that meant the first and the best of the wheat harvested, the first
and best of the wool sheared, the first and best of the fruit gathered all
belonged to God.
That is why many find the 1:1:8 principle helpful - or if you prefer - the 10:10:80 principle. It’s a good way to train children to handle money responsibly. There are basically five things we can do with money. We can spend it, pay off debt, pay taxes, save it and give it away. Researchers tell us that typically this is in fact the order in which we dispose of money… First of all we spend it, then we pay off debts, then we reluctantly pay our taxes, and if we have any left we will save some and if there’s any left after that we give it away. Interestingly the biblical pattern is the exact opposite. We are told to give our first fruits, then save some, pay your taxes, pay off our debts, and then learn to live of the rest.
Giving of your first fruits and giving a specific proportion of
our income at the beginning of the week, or beginning of the month, or the beginning
of the tax year - is the biblical way of thanking God for all that He has done
for us and trusting God with what is to come.
In our family Joanna does a superb Sunday lunch - especially when we have guests - chicken, roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, stuffing, roasted parsnip, sprouts, carrots, sausage wrapped in bacon, cranberry jelly and lashings of gravy. In the history of our family however, we have never invited guests round on a Monday to eat the cold leftovers. The family gets to eat the leftovers re-heated, if there is any. The message of firstfruits is not complex: God deserves better than the leftovers. Firstfruit tithing is one of the richest spiritual practices in all of Scripture. It provides a powerful series of reminders built into the very rhythm of the seasons and life.
Every time I tithe, I remind myself that God is on the throne. Not me. Not money. Every time I tithe, I remind myself that all I have is from him. My tithe is not a tip for good service, as though God were some waiter to be patronized. Every time I tithe, I remind myself that God is the owner and I’m his steward. Every time I tithe, I make a declaration: "I will trust you, God" even when trusting doesn't feel easy, safe or natural. Every time I tithe, I am reminded, even as I calculate the amount of my cheque, of how much I've been given. I count my blessings, and in doing so, I put to death (or at least injure) the ‘more monster’ in me. The practice of tithing; the principle of tithing.
2.3 The Place for Tithing 3:10
"Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse." In the sanctuary there was a storehouse built for depositing the tithes and offerings of the people. It was God's prescribed method that all the tithes and offerings were to be brought to one place. The New Testament equivalent is the local church. Christian giving will naturally include needs beyond the local church, but our primary responsibility is to support the ministry where your membership is established, where your spiritual life is nourished, and where your church privileges are enjoyed. If you give elsewhere, directly to mission agencies or to Christian charities, that is well and good, but it should not be at the expense of the ministry of the local church. The practice of tithing; the principle of tithing; the place for tithing.
2.4 The Purpose of Tithing 3:10
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.” (Malachi 3:10) Deuteronomy teaches, “Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year.” (Deut. 14:22). Why? Three reasons - three ‘so that’s’
Tithing teaches us to revere the Lord “so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always.” (Deut. 14:23) - tithing is a way of training us in spirituality. As John Ortberg points out “Money is a litmus test of our true character. It is an index of our spiritual life. Our stewardship of money tells a deep and consequential story. It forms our biography.” Training.
Tithing helps us care for the Poor “so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, (Deut. 14:29). Tithing ensures we use God’s resources to do God’s will and clothe and feed those who serve and those in greatest need. The tithes and offerings were the only means by which the servants of God lived. They had no inheritance of their own. In a similar way, God has ordained that those who preach the gospel shall live by the gospel. The church lives and functions by means of the tithes and offerings of His believing people. The bulk of our tithes and offerings at Christ Church goes on modest salaries and accommodation for those who lead our various ministries. Maintaining our existing staff team very much depends on you. The buildings and administration make up only a small proportion of our annual budget. This year we will also be giving away to wider mission work around £40,000.
Tithing facilitates the Lord’s Blessing “so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.” (Deut. 14:29) - tithing demonstrates that God can trust us with more of his resources. This was the purpose of tithing. So that we revere the Lord, so that we provide for Christian workers and the poor, and prove ourselves trustworthy in small things. Malachi’s message? We must turn back to God. We must stop robbing God and
3. We Must Start Trusting God 3:10-12
"Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it." (Malachi 3:10).
I hear you say, "Stephen, you don't know my circumstances. I cannot afford to tithe." My answer is simple. On the basis of these verses, "You cannot afford not to!" God's purpose for the church is that we should be as "a delightful land" (Malachi 3:12) - a paradise of fruitfulness and fragrance. When we give regularly, freely, secretly, sacrificially, in proportion to our income, God’s blessing will be so evident that even seekers will marvel at God’s generosity in Jesus Christ. I remember when one of our girls was younger she asked who decides the price of things in the shops. I said, the value depends on how much someone is prepared to pay.
If you want to know how much you are worth, don’t look at the house you live in, where you take your holidays, the name of school your children attend, the make of car you drive or the style of clothes you wear. Look to the cross. For there you were bought with “the precious blood of Christ.” (1 Peter 1:19). That is what you are worth to God. That is what it cost to buy you. “You are not your own, you were bought with a price, therefore honour God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)… with your salary, your pension, your investments, your savings. Look to the cross and see the pure and unadulterated grace of God. That is why Malachi can say in verse 6, “I the Lord do not change so you… are not destroyed” (Malachi 3:6). In the early Church, grace-filled hearts led to open hands. This is how Luke describes their response:
“All the believers were of one heart and mind, and they felt that what they owned was not their own; they shared everything they had. And the apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great favor was upon them all. There was no poverty among them.” (Acts 4:32-34)
The application? Very simple. “"Test me in this," (Malachi 3:10) God says. This is the only time in Scripture when you are invited, no, urged to test the goodness of God. This is the only way to defeat the more monster. “Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” (Malachi 3:10) Will you? If you do, God promises two things in return: He will open the floodgates of heaven pouring upon you blessings on earth and treasures forever in heaven. What are we waiting for? Let us pray....
 Opening illustration taken with thanks from “Tithing: A Training Exercise for the Heart” by John Ortberg in Giving, Unlocking the Heart of Good Stewardship, by John Ortberg, Laurie Pederson & Judson Poling (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2000), pp. 45-49.