Hopefully you have noticed by now that my preferred style of preaching is to take the text verse-by-verse, and explain crucial points along the way. This style of preaching is known as expository preaching. The key idea of expository preaching is to let the Bible be the very center of the sermon, and to let the point of the Scripture be the key point of the message. For the preacher, though, this style of preaching has both a pro and a con. The pro of expository preaching is that it allows me to go through a book of the Bible and preach on some of my favorite topics. The con, however, is that it forces me to preach on topics that sometimes, I would just assume avoid. This morning’s topic is one of those topics that would be much easier for me to just avoid, but the fact is that Malachi chapter three talks about it, and it would be sinful for me as the pastor to neglect a part of God’s word just because it is a little uncomfortable to talk about. You probably noticed from Bro. Morris’s scripture reading what this topic is. This morning, in part three of our series “God’s Message Through Malachi,” we’re going to take an in-depth look at the “T” word. That’s right. This morning the topic of my sermon is tithing. But before you pick up your rotten tomatoes, let’s read God’s word together. Our Scripture reference this morning is Malachi 3:1-12.
“Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: And the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, Even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: Behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts. But who may abide the day of His coming? And who shall stand when He appeareth? For he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: And He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: And He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, That they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness. Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the LORD, As in the days of old, and as in former years. And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the LORD of hosts. For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed. Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them. Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the LORD of hosts. But ye said, “Wherein shall we return?” Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, “Wherein have we robbed thee?” In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, Even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be meat in mine house, And prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the LORD of hosts. And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the LORD of hosts.”
Let us pray.
This morning the title of my sermons is, “Five Reasons Why Every Christian Should Give Back to God.” Essentially, in verses one through five Malachi is telling the Israelites of a coming day when their lives are going to be pure before the LORD. And then, in verses six through twelve, Malachi is telling the Israelites one specific thing that is going to be different about them after God has gotten ahold of their life. So now let’s look at reason number one for giving back to God.
Reason #1: We Give Back to God Because Christ Has Refined Us
Let’s read verses one and two of our text again together. “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: And the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, Even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: Behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts. But who may abide the day of His coming? And who shall stand when He appeareth? For he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap.” Do you realize what these two little verses are saying? In these two verses, Malachi is telling the children of Israel that one day, their Messiah is going to come and personally refine them. We’ve got a lot to talk about in these two verses, so let’s get started.
Before we talk about if and when this prophecy has been fulfilled, we need to talk about a few phrases. What is a “refiner’s fire” and a “fuller’s soap?” A refiner was a person whose job was to take the rocks from the quarry and put through the furnace in the hopes of regaining some of the valuable material inside the rock. So if a miner found a rock that he suspected had some gold within it, the refiner would burn it over the fire and melt off all of the excess until finally the gold shone through. A fuller is the Old Testament version of the man that runs the local dry-cleaner. His duty was to clean the clothes of the people who had enough money to pay someone to do their laundry for them. Clearly he didn’t have a washer and dryer to do the job for him, so he would most likely go down to the river to wash the clothes. This most likely would have been a fairly painful experience for the clothes themselves, since the fuller would be constantly wringing them out, or perhaps rubbing them up against rocks to get out that difficult stain.
So how is the Messiah going to be a refiner and a fuller to the children of Israel? Verse five describes how He is going to refine the nation as a whole. Verse five reads, “And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the LORD of hosts.” So God is telling the people that one day in the future, He is going to come and sift out all the evil doers who refuse to repent. So in the case of the refiner, these unrepentant sinners are like the excess rock that falls off of the gold deposit in the fire. In the case of the fuller, these sinners are like the stains that are removed from the clothing.
But I don’t believe that God only meant that He would judge the nation as a whole. I believe that He was also saying that He would refine each individual, and He would cleanse each individual who would let Him. God’s desire was to take this rag-tag bunch of Israelites and turn them into something precious and clean.
Now that we’ve talked about what the prophecy means, let’s look at its fulfillment. It’s fairly common in the Old Testament for a prophecy to have two separate fulfillments. Occasionally, a prophecy will even have three fulfillments. I believe that Malachi’s prophecy here actually has three distinct fulfillments in Scripture. It has a short-range fulfillment, a medium-range fulfillment, and a long-range fulfillment. So Malachi promised that a messenger would precede the Lord’s coming, and that the Lord would enter into His temple and purify the people. The short-range fulfillment of this prophecy is that Malachi himself is the messenger mentioned, and that God would use His message to change the hearts of some of the people. Remember that Malachi’s name actually means “my messenger.” So whenever verse one says “Behold, I will send my messenger,” The Hebrew is literally saying, “Behold, I will send Malachi.” So this prophecy was somewhat fulfilled by Malachi himself, because He did preach a message of purification, and in a way, God did come into His temple and purify some of the people. But praise God, this is not where this prophecy stops!
The second way this prophecy was fulfilled was 400 years later, when John the Baptist came and prepared the way for Jesus. Jesus physically entered the temple and threw out the money changers. So Jesus literally purified the temple. But for the last 2,000 years, Jesus has also been purifying every man, woman, and child who will let Him. But even beyond that, there is a long-term fulfillment of this prophecy that we have yet to see. One day in the future, Jesus Christ is going to physically return to planet Earth and purify this world and everyone in it. In verse five it talked about God judging all of those different kinds of sin. One day in the future, Christ is going to come and be just like that refiner. He is going to put in the rock, and every person who has not been forgiven of their sins is going to fall into the lake of fire, and those that have trusted in Christ are going to remain like purified gold.
But for the sake of our topic this morning, we are going to focus primarily on fulfillment number two. The first reason that we give back to God is because He has refined us and cleansed us. We in the church are just like that rock in the hands of the refiner. When we accepted Christ, we agreed to submit ourselves to His leading, and to do whatever He told us. That commitment started within us a process of purifying and cleansing that we are still undergoing today. As we progress in our Christian lives, the Holy Spirit is continually teaching us new lessons, and continually shedding off all of the parts of our lives that we are better off without. And just like the fuller has to wring out the clothes and rub them up against rocks, sometimes the process of Christ changing our lives is a little bit painful. And one of those painful lessons that God’s word teaches us is that we must learn to give back to God. And one part of that giving back is in the area of our financial resources. So reason number one as to why we give back to God is because He is refining us, and part of that process is learning to give back to God. Let’s move on to reason number two.
Reason #2: We Give Back to God Because He Has Been So Good to Us
Let’s read verse six now together. “For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” What is God talking about when He says that He does not change? If you were here two Sunday nights ago, hopefully you remember that one of the qualities of God is that He does not change. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And one of the ways that He does not change is that He always keeps His word, no matter what. More than fifteen-hundred years before God made this statement in Malachi chapter three, He made a promise to Abraham that his descendants would be a great nation, and that all of the families of the earth would be blessed by them. Later on, God promised David that the scepter would never leave his family. God told him that there would always be a king from the house of David. Even when God was absolutely furious with the children of Israel for disobeying His commands, He never once considered obliterating them. That is what this verse is talking about. God has promised to always keep His end of the covenant that He made between Himself and the children of Israel. So in a couple verses when God is going to tell the children of Israel to start tithing, it would be fresh on their minds that God has spared them time and time again throughout their history. God allowed them to return from captivity whenever what they deserved was to be wiped out by the Babylonians. God was perpetually good to the Israelites because God is faithful to His word.
And all of these years later, we can surely resonate with that fact, because God has been so good to us as well! No matter if you are here today and you are barely scraping by on welfare, you can rest assured that you are better off than the vast majority of people in this world. And probably all of you can think back to a time in your life when you could have easily died; whether it was from a sickness, or a car wreck, or from some time when you did something really, really dumb.
I remember when my little brother and I were younger, we would often walk about a mile from our house to this little river. This river has beautiful cliffs that run along one side of it that hover twenty-five or thirty feet above the water. Now, the water itself is no more than waste deep, but when my brother and I looked out at the water from the top of that cliff, it seemed just like a diving board that was begging us to jump off of it. Now, as the older brother, I was the one responsible for making the crucial decisions that day, but when my little brother asked me if he could jump off, the only answer I could think of was “Sure, why not?” Before I could second-guess myself, my little brother was flying through the air. And when water is only waste deep, it is going to do extremely little to break your fall. My little brother could have been paralyzed that day by jumping off that cliff. But you know what? He didn’t even have a bruise. The only way I can explain it is that God was good to him that day.
But even if you all are too smart to jump off cliffs, I’m sure you can say that you are blessed to just be alive. And so the second reason that Malachi tells us to give back to God is that God has been so good to us, and He deserves us to give a little bit back to Him.
Reason #3: We Give Back to God Because Everything is His Anyways
Let’s read verse eight again. “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, ‘Wherein have we robbed thee?’ In tithes and offerings.” God charges the Israelites in this verse with stealing from Him because they are not giving Him their tithes. The question is, why is it stealing from God to not give God our resources? Bro. Red, would you consider it stealing if Bro. Pete reached over and stole your wallet while you weren’t paying attention? Of course it would be. But, would you say that Pete is stealing from you just because he doesn’t give you the money in his wallet? No, that wouldn’t be stealing because it’s his money, not yours. But in this verse, God claims that we are stealing from Him whenever we do not give Him our tithes and offerings. How does that work? How can God accuse us of stealing just because we keep what is rightfully ours?
The fact is, God not only created everything, but He owns everything, too. God is the rightful owner of everything we own and everything we are. So when God tells us to give Him a portion of what we have to Him, He is actually telling us to give a portion back to Him, because it was His in the first place. But I don’t want any of you to think that I am up here harping about money this morning, because truth be told, money is only a small part of what Malachi is talking about. God doesn’t just want us to be generous with our money, He also wants us to be generous with our time and energy. So does this mean that you need to spend exactly 2.4 hours every day with God? Or maybe it means that one out of every ten steps you take needs to be ministry-related? Or does that mean that for every loaf of bread you buy, you need to give two pieces to the homeless shelter? No, or course we do not have to do things like that. That is exactly the kinds of things the Pharisees did in the New Testament. Did you know that they would measure out ten percent of each of their herbs and spices and then donate them to the temple? And Jesus called them hypocrites, because they had missed the big picture of what it means to give back to God.
The point in all of this is that every breath we breathe, every bite we eat, and every dollar we make actually belongs to the God of the universe, and He gave all of it to us, and told us to be good stewards of it. And part of being a good steward is giving back to God a little bit of the good things He has given us. So reason number three for why we give back to God is because everything we own is His anyways, and He tells us to be generous with some of it. Now that we’ve looked at three reasons why God tells us to give back to Him, let’s look at two ways that God blesses those who give back to Him.
Reason #4: We Give Back to God Because He Blesses Us for Our Faithfulness
Verse ten of our text reads “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be meat in mine house, And prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” In this verse, God is telling us that if we are faithful to give back some of what we have to Him, He will be faithful to bless us with more than we had before. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not going to stand before you like Joel Osteen and tell you that God is going to make you rich and give you good health because you tithed. But here’s what I do know: In some way that we do not understand, God takes care of the people who take care of His church. But the fact that God is going to bless us from Heaven itself makes an interesting point. God does not need your tithes. Did you know that? God is going to do His work in the world regardless of what you give back to Him. This verse makes it evident that tithing is some kind of test that God gives His disciples. Malachi offers up a conditional statement and says if we have enough faith to tithe, then God will bless our faithfulness. But once again, tithing is not just about money. Tithing is about giving of ourselves to God because He deserves it.
Let me give you a real-life example of God honoring our faithfulness. Raise your hand if you have ever been to Chik-fil-a. As you can see, it is a pretty popular place. In fact, it is my favorite restaurant in this world, bar none. And if you pass a sign on the highway that tells you that there is a Chik-fil-a at the next exit, if you look closely, you will see three little words underneath the “Chik-fil-a” part. It says, “Closed on Sundays.” From day one, their founder Truett Cathy made a commitment to God that He would never open the restaurant on Sundays. He wanted Sundays to be a day of rest for himself and his employees, so that they could enjoy church instead of having to work. And his son, Dan Cathy, who is now the CEO, says that Chik-fil-a can do better business in six days of the week than any of their competition can in seven. And you know what, I agree!
That is just one example of how God honors us when we agree to give back to Him. Chik-fil-a gave back to God one day out of the week, and now they are one of the biggest restaurant chains in America. The fourth reason we should tithe is because God blesses us for it, and the fifth reason is the flipside of that.
Reason #5: We Should Give Back to God Because He Will Protect Us from Disaster
Let’s read verses eleven and twelve once more. “And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the LORD of hosts. And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the LORD of hosts.” In verse ten, God promised to bless us from Heaven if we tithed, and now in verses eleven and twelve, He tells us that He will protect us from disaster if we are willing to give back to Him. Specifically, He gives examples that a farmer would understand. He says that the devourer will not destroy the crops, and that the crops will be ripe just in time for harvest. So often, we neglect to look at the spiritual side of things. So you might be asking, “How on earth is God going to bless me because I gave to His ministry?” Truth be told, we won’t know the specifics until after we’re in Heaven. How has God blessed Chik-fil-a for their faithfulness? Is it God that puts that extra crispiness in their waffle fries? Or maybe it was God who gave someone the idea to develop their special honey mustard sauce? We won’t know in this lifetime, but you can be sure that God does bless their faithfulness. And you can be sure that He blesses yours, too.
I hope that you have not misunderstood me this morning. As I said at the beginning of this message, it is not easy preaching a sermon that is sure to step on people’s toes. But this is not me ranting, this is God speaking through a prophet named Malachi, telling us that He is constantly refining us, teaching us difficult lessons like the practice of tithing. Malachi told us that God deserves our tithe not only because He has been so good to us, but because everything we have is His in the first place. And as Sister Janette comes to the piano, let us also remember how Malachi told us that the God that asked this of us has plans to bless our faithfulness in ways that we can’t even imagine. I know that it is a common objection among Christians in this economy to say that they cannot afford to tithe, but according to Malachi, we cannot afford not to tithe!
But if you’re here this morning, and you have never accepted Christ as your Savior, do not think for one second that God just wants you to give Him some money and that will make Him happy. God wants your heart. He wants you to willingly turn from your sins and look to Him as your Lord. We do not believe, like the Catholics of the medieval ages, that somehow donating money to the church will buy forgiveness of sins. The Bible tells us that the only way to be forgiven of sin is to call upon the name of the Lord, and He will forgive you. The altar is open this morning. If you are here, and God is telling you that He wants you to start honoring Him with your time, energy, and resources, then this altar is a great place to solidify that commitment. And if you would like to trust in Christ as your Savior, this altar is a great place to make that decision, right in front of a group of people who will become like a family to you.
Let us pray.
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