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Malachi 9

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Malachi 9.

Can you turn to Malachi chapter 3? We have been looking through this prophecy all year now, let’s step back a moment and have a look at where we have come so far. [P] Malachi is the last word of יהוה to His people Israel before He was silent for over 400 years. He had been speaking continually to them, but now He was giving up. He was fed up with them! So this is His last message in a desperate attempt to turn them back to Himself. So it is a heavy message, a burden, an oracle. In fact it is a series of oracles. But the first message wasn’t heavy, [P] it wasn’t a message against Edom but a message that He loved Israel [P]. What made it heavy was that Israel questioned that love. They were not close to יהוה. In fact the second message is directed against those who should be close to Him, His priests [P]; they maintained religion but it was a wearisome ritual, their heart wasn’t in it; they had, in fact, abandoned יהוה, and the covenant with Him, for idols. It was just religious ritual, going through the motions – they had lost the immediacy, the reality, the earnest devotion. There is a message for us, many of whom have been on the road for some years – we need to careful to preserve that first love, guard against it becoming just habit, of familiarity causing us to lose our appreciation and wonder. The people had gone the same way as their spiritual leaders. So יהוה had a message for them [P] – they also dealt treacherously, there was no faithfulness – they dealt treacherously with their brothers, they were unfaithful to their wives, divorcing them and breaking the covenant they had made with them. They also had broken their covenant with יהוה, been unfaithful to Him, turning to other gods. So things were in a terrible state concerning Israel’s relationship with יהוה. But יהוה had a plan to bring them back to Himself [P] – He promised to send His messenger and refine the people and the priesthood. Now He addresses the matter of them withholding tithes [P]. It is a funny thing, but you don’t often hear preaching from Malachi. It is a short book, some may consider it obscure; but if there is one passage I have heard preached over and over again, it is this present one. The church income is down a bit; perhaps the pastor is concerned that his salary won’t be met, so he dusts off his sermon about bring the full tithe into the storehouse; encourage the flock to give a bit more. They have a vested interest in preaching the message. So to be completely open before you; I thought I should make it clear that if the offering doubles next week in response to this message, the elders are going to pay me double for preaching. But it is one of the benefits of doing consecutive expository preaching, that you deal with a topic because it occurs in context, not because you have a vested interest. May I reassure you, before we start, that there is no need to exhort this congregation to give. We are a small congregation, but after the meeting Beth and I count the offering and frequently we are blown away by the amount! We are a small flock, the majority are collecting the pension; how could there be that much with few there?! But this section on tithing is not a new oracle, a fifth oracle, it continues straight on from where we were at last time: (you may recall) [P] [Malachi 3:6-12 “For I, יהוה, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed. ([P] There they were dealing treacherously, answering God back, setting up their own definition of what was right and wrong, and denying that God would judge them for what they did. They were in a terrible spiritual state – they deserved to be wiped out! [P] But for the fact that יהוה does not change, they would be consumed.) [P] “From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from My statutes and have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you,” says יהוה of armies. (the solution to their apostate state was to repent, [P] to turn back to God)“But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ (but they did not see any need to repent, they had no concept that they were doing anything wrong, had no idea what they had to do to turn back to God. They were completely unaware that they were doing wrong that needed to be turned from. So with infinite patience God answers their answering back with detailed specifics. He gives a specific example:) “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. (so this exhortation on tithing is just one specific practical example of how they could turn back to God. They thought that they didn’t need to repent, but they were in fact robbing God! A stinging accusation!) “You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you! “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says יהוה of armies, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows. “Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of the ground; nor will your vine in the field cast its grapes,” says יהוה of armies. “All the nations will call you blessed, for you shall be a delightful land,” says יהוה of armies.] In my personal quiet time I have been reading in Luke 18 the parable that Jesus told of the Pharisee and the tax-collector who went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee boasted about his tithing – but we are told the reason that Jesus told the parable in [Luke 18:9 And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt.] Like the people in Malachi’s day the Pharisee was convinced that he was righteous, he saw no need to repent, to turn to God [P]. And we can get caught up on the specific of tithing but the issue was that they could not conceive how they needed to turn back to God. And we can be like that; think that we are OK, trust in our own attainment of Christian living, and look down on those who are not like us. It is religious pride! God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble, like the repentant tax-collector. The only righteousness there is, is Jesus’ righteousness – we can only boast of what He has done. So these people in Malachi’s day saw nothing wrong that they needed to turn from. Again they answered back to יהוה; “How shall we return?” So יהוה gives them a specific example [P] – no doubt He could have cited other matters. But here they thought that they were fine religious people and יהוה accused them of robbing God! [P] It is a sin to rob our fellow man, but to rob God! What a terrible crime! Here they thought that they were OK but in fact they were guilty of a gross sin! And it was the whole nation that was doing it! They were robbing God because they were not paying the tithe. This was a legal requirement as citizens of Israel. Of course tithing dates back before the Law given to Moses at Sinai. Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of what he took as spoils when he defeated Chedorlaomar who carried off his nephew Lot; and Jacob promised to give יהוה a tenth when He appeared to Him at Bethel in a dream of a ladder going up to heaven. This was not commanded, it is something that they gave voluntarily – it was just something that they spontaneously gave to God. But later, when the Law was given, the tithe was commanded. It was then something that God stipulated, a legal requirement. If you didn’t pay it you were disobeying God! Corn, wine, oil, and flocks were tithed. The tithe was taken annually at the sanctuary and shared by priests and Levites. They had no possession in the land, as did the other 12 tribes (yes, there are a total of 13), יהוה was their portion. So the tithe, that was given to יהוה; was given to the Levites, so that they could do the work of service in the tabernacle/temple. According to (Numbers 18:21-32), every tithe in Israel was given to the Levites in return for their priestly service; so the tithe was used to support the Levites. (Deuteronomy 26:12) says that every third year, the Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows were to be given the whole tithe in charity. So the tithe was a tax imposed on the nation of Israel, a tax used to fund the tabernacle/temple worship system. Now USA imposes a tax that is used to fund education and welfare and foreign aid – all good and noble things of which I may approve. But I do not pay that tax! It is not exacted from me as a legal requirement because I am not American. However, I do have a legal obligation to pay taxes to the NZ government. Now, I am not a Jew or an Israelite; furthermore there is no temple worship system in place with Levites – I do not pay that tax. We do not financially support the Levites, unless we buy their jeans. Some people say that tithing was and OT thing not in the NT. It was in the NT – Paul would have tithed, because he was a Jew; but Titus would not, because he was a Gentile. So are you under a legal requirement to pay the tithe? Let me give a clear and unequivocal answer: “No!” But can we rob God? Most assuredly – and not just money: our time, our devotion, the worship that is due to Him – and above all the glory that is due to Him. [Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,] – that is the essence of sin – we fail to give יהוה the glory that is His due. We rob Him of His glory! I am doing it all the time! You see that there is a consequence for robbing God: [P]You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you!” [v.9]. We are the losers if we fail to give to God because the result is a curse. The curse means that we will have less than if we gave. [P] Instead of prosperity there was leanness – they would work their fields but encounter frustration – there was a destroyer at work: the fruit of the ground was destroyed and the vines cast their grapes. But if they repented, brought in the tithe that they were withholding then the blessing would flow again. [P] יהוה encourages them to do some elementary science, to run a controlled experiment. Try it and see – bring in the tithes and see whether what they have increases or decreases. It sounds back-to-front to human reasoning: if you give away you are bound to have less. But יהוה says try it and see whether it works. His principle is the more you keep for yourself the less you have and the more you give away the more you have. It goes contrary to our sense - but what we have does not depend upon us, but on what יהוה gives us. All that we have is from Him! If you practise the principle of generosity He will bless you, pour out abundance so that you have more than if you hadn't given. Try it and see if יהוה didn’t open the windows of heaven and a downpour of blessing would overwhelm them – it would overflow. It runs contrary to human reasoning. We figure the more we hold on to the more we have – because we think that what we have comes from what we earn. But it doesn’t! What we have is given to us from God [James 1:17 Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.] [1 Corinthians 4:7 For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?] So what we have doesn’t depend upon what we earn and grasp, but on what God gives. Jesus said [Luke 6:38 “Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.”]. It is a picture of abundance – that is the blessing of יהוה! What we have depends upon the blessing of God. If they turned back to God and repented in this specific instance of tithing, then God would remove the curse, the destroyer and the agricultural blight; would be gone and abundant blessing would overflow them. So much abundance that all around would take note, it would become proverbial; they would be known as “blessed”, the “delightful land”. When יהוה blesses it is abundant (Mal 3:10) and so it is obvious to all. When we are walking rightly with יהוה the consequence is evident to all around - Even the world notices that we are blessed, fortunate, happy. On the contrary, when we are going our own way - the curse is obvious also - and people realize that we are an unfortunate people. But when the LORD blesses His people their land is a delight - it is a pleasure to live there. Always God rewards obedience with blessing. The blessing comes from walking in His way, not in our own selfish plans. We can have curse or blessing – the choice is set before us. יהוה wants to bless us – and that blessing is contingent upon listening to Him and obeying what He says. It is a Divine principle that God blesses obedience. For Israel in Malachi’s day, the specific issue was that of tithing; it may well be a different issue for us. But always the issue is one of hearing יהוה’s voice and turning from our own way to go His way instead of our own. [Deuteronomy 30:15-20 “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love יהוה your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that יהוה your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it. “But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall surely perish. You will not prolong your days in the land where you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess it. “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving יהוה your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which יהוה swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.”] Did יהוה need their tithes and offerings? No, it [Psalm 50] says that He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, He didn’t need their paltry sacrifices. It was obedience, submission to His will that He desired. As I said, the issue goes beyond tithing. Tithing may have been the issue in Malachi’s day, we may think that it is irrelevant because we are not required to tithe – but still the issue is of turning to God to walk in His ways instead of going our own selfish way. They would rather spend their money on themselves, keep the good animals and offer God the rejects. [P] But seeing this prophecy talks about honouring God financially, let us have a quick look at some New Testament advice on how we are to use money to honour God. So does the New Testament give believers no directions concerning the used of their finances? On the contrary, it has quite a lot to say about money. We are to honour God in every area of our life, and that includes our money. As I have said that there is no Scriptural obligation for a Gentile Christian to pay tithes [P] – we are not required to appear three times a year in Jerusalem before יהוה, we do not sacrifice a lamb at Passover, we do not have to marry our brother’s wife if he dies childless, we can eat ham. We do not live by Israelite laws – Paul makes it clear that if we start trying to keep those laws, we have to keep the whole lot, perfectly! [Galatians 5:3 And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law.] James agreed: [James 2:10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.] Although we are not bound by the law to tithe, Scripture nevertheless makes it quite clear that we are to honour God with our finances. [P] [Proverbs 3:9-10 Honour יהוה from your wealth and from the first of all your produce; so your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will overflow with new wine.] Our money is the currency representing our time, talent, energy and effort - it is obtained by the giving of a part of our life; and we exchange that for other goods. Money represents part of our life, and so our use of it indicates what we set value upon, what is dearest to our heart. Man spends it on himself - clothes, food, shelter, pleasure - this shows that the most important thing to him is himself! By giving to God the first part we acknowledge that He is first in our life. Our use of money reveals where our heart is. Often the first indicator of a deteriorating relationship with the LORD is a drop off in giving to Him. One may still be attending church and doing all the "right things" and appear a fine Christian - but as soon as you withhold your finance from Him it indicates that you have placed yourself before Him! To withhold it, to spend it on myself is ROBBERY! Our use of money indicates who we are living for - what we esteem as most important - what do I spend "my" money on? It is not mine - it is the LORD's! [P] We are stewards – we administer what is entrusted to us. 1 Corinthians says the characteristic required in a steward is faithfulness: [1 Corinthians 4:2 moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.] Jesus told a story: [Luke 19:12-17 So He said, “A nobleman went to a distant country to receive a kingdom for himself, and then return. “And he called ten of his slaves, and gave them ten minas and said to them, ‘Do business with this until I come back.’ “…… “When he returned, after receiving the kingdom, he ordered that these slaves, to whom he had given the money, be called to him so that he might know what business they had done. “The first appeared, saying, ‘Master, your mina has made ten minas more.’ “And he said to him, ‘Well done, good slave, because you have been faithful in a very little thing, you are to be in authority over ten cities.’] You see that the way he handled a small thing like finances, determined whether he was trustworthy to handle greater responsibility, bigger things [Luke 16:10-11 “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? ]. So the way we handle money is a testing-ground – a proving-ground – it determines what we will be entrusted with in the coming Kingdom. The question is whose is the money? Who is it due to? [P] Do you remember the Pharisees trying to catch Jesus out, asking whether it was right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? It was a trap, a trick question – but Jesus answered on a far deeper level, addressing the financial system that they had already bought into. This is what He said: [Matthew 22:18-21 But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, “Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites? “Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.” And they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” ] Is the money Caesar’s or God’s? They were already steeped in Caesar’s, the world’s, system – as are we. But Jesus said, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s” Do we pay taxes to the government? Paul said: [Romans 13:7 Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. ] Tax us due, so we are to pay it; be it 19% or 31% that is what is due to the Government. Now tell me, do you think more is due to John Key or Jesus? I pay 31% to the NZ government – financially, I am honouring it more than God! Is God worthy of more honour? Of course He is! And financially is one way of expressing that honour. When the Bible talked of honouring parents, Jesus was clear that honouring meant a financial commitment to them. Paul had a lot to say, particularly to the Corinthians, about giving. Robin has already dealt with this but let’s have just a quick look at [2 Corinthians 9:6-13 Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. (he speaks of giving as investing. You cannot out give God. If you give to Him, you will reap back far more than you gave – God cannot be in debt to you. So there is a return, a reward for giving. It is seed that will multiply. Now some have distorted this into a teaching that is mercenary and selfish – where your whole motive in giving is so that you can get. That is a perversion of what is being said here. But nonetheless the principle stands.) Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, [P] (there is the key principle for Christian giving – it is not under compulsion, it is not a legal requirement or due – otherwise it is not a gift, it is a bill. A gift is voluntary. We begrudge paying bills, that is not to be the motive. Our heart has to be in it. In our own heart we decide what we will give – then we must keep to that heart pledge that we have made. In giving, as in all things, it is the heart that counts.) for God loves a cheerful giver. [P] (the word is: “ἱλαρός” – from which we get the word “hilarious”! Giving is not to be onerous, something done begrudingly – if it is resented, it takes the whole fun out of it. Giving can be fun! Exciting! I saw once a couple decide to go into fulltime ministry because of a gift anonymously given – it just about scared the pants off of me! We have just had Hannah’s birthday, and we gave her gifts. What if we came with the attitude – “I supposed we’d better get her something. Here you are.”? That is no fun! It spoils everything! No, we love to give her something and see her excitement and joy. We get joy from her joy! That is how giving to God should be! Hilarious! I remember once, when some mission funds got mislaid, the leader of the Red Sea Mission Team saying, “there is some money God cannot use.” He wasn’t concerned – if the money is not given with the right cheerful heart, it is better not given. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, (if you are bountiful, you will receive bounty so that you are able to be bountiful) so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; as it is written, “He scattered abroad, he gave to the poor, His righteousness endures forever.” Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed (remember sowing and reaping bountifully?) for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; (It is a mitzvah, a righteous deed. It is God who gives us what we have; our ability to give is because of His grace, His gift to us. We are only returning what He has given in the first place) you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, (Why do we reap bountifully, so that you can give bountifully, liberally) which through us is producing thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God. Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all,) Do you see what happens? You give, the people who receive give thanks to God, glorify Him for His supply - and so, your gift actually causes God to be glorified. Not only are you supplying someone’s need, you are purchasing the giving of praise to God. Like it or not money is tied to your heart [P] – but may be not in the way you think. Jesus said: [Matthew 6:21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.] Now I would have thought that it would be the other way around! You give where you heart is, give to the things that are on your heart. But Jesus said that your heart will be where your treasure is. So if you have invested in this material world; that is where your heart will be. Do you want to set your heart on things above (as Colossians 3 exhorts us)? Then invest in heaven, in the things of God. Your heart will automatically go where your treasure is. [P] We can get up-tight about our finances but there can be great release, joy and abundant blessing when we hand over to God the control of our purse strings.

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