Message: The Discipline of Worshipful Giving | Scripture: Malachi 3:6-12 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
- What is the main basis/reason for why we are supposed to give of ourselves (including our physical possessions) as worship to God?
- What is man’s tendency when it comes to worshipful giving? Why is this his tendency?
- Are the regulations for tithing imposed upon Israel still binding on us today? How does this affect our own disposition towards giving? What is our disposition towards giving (e.g. is it legalistic)?
- What does God promise for those who worship and give to him their whole hearts and lives? How is this different from what Israel expected? To you, is what God promises any better than what he promised Israel?
- How is it that you struggle specifically with giving? Which of the five principles for giving listed at the end of this sermon do you struggle with most?
- What have you learned specifically from this sermon and/or from the sermons in previous weeks? How has God been challenging you to apply the gospel more to specific areas of your life?
- How can we be praying for you this week in something that you’re struggling with/something that you’ve found victory in?
- Make sure to leave time to pray for one another.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I thought given what Pastor Michael preached to us last week about giving thanks, and the spirit of the season, revisiting specific applications of how we give thanks would be appropriate. So, this morning, we’re looking at Malachi, because I believe what this prophet says is, in a way, speaking directly to us as a people, and, perhaps, he’s even speaking directly to us as a church. You see, Malachi is writing in such a way that he’s attacking something vitally wrong with Israel, and it’s something that Israel does not see in itself—they’re blind to it. They think they’re doing everything right, but Malachi is saying that despite all your religiosity, your actions are worthless. Israel’s situation is compounded by the fact that Malachi is written around the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, so these are Israelites who have just been in exile for fifty years. But now, they’ve returned to their land that was initially taken from them, and if you recall, Ezra finds remnants of the law, and he gathers Israel together, and he reads it to them, and, after reading it, they reconstitute their covenant with God and dedicate themselves to the rebuilding of the temple.
So, this is the picture that I want to paint you. On the one hand, Israel has returned from exile after years of military defeat, and they are not even half of what they once were in their glory, and the reason they aren’t in good shape is because, as a nation, they disobeyed the law of Moses. On the other hand, Israel, despite finding the law and rededicating themselves to God, they’re already forgetting what they’ve rededicated themselves to! Instead of obeying and worshiping the God who’s displayed his saving grace over and over again, they start to backslide. Malachi is writing to warn them not to lose their way before it’s too late.
The point of Malachi is that Israel has forgotten, yet again, what it means to worship God as he deserves. The law of Moses reminds the people that they were saved by God’s grace through Moses out of Egypt, and, now, out of Babylonian exile into this land to possess his holy presence and to be his elect. Therefore, they were supposed to set themselves apart—give yourselves whole-heartedly to your God. Don’t be partial with the laws you choose to obey and which ones you don’t—obey it all, obey it as a response to God’s faithfulness. Don’t be negligent in your observance. Malachi tells them they’re failing to be worshipful in two ways: 1) they were not giving their full tithe and offering, and 2) they were marrying and giving their hearts to people idol-worshipers. Both acts displayed Israel’s shortsightedness and rebellion against God’s profound, saving grace displayed in their history. More than this, both acts displayed that Israel expected God to be faithful to them without expecting this same thing of themselves. This essentially summarizes chapters 1 and 2 of Malachi.
Then, in chapter 3, Malachi shifts his tone, and tells the deflated, faithless Israel who believes that God has deserted them that a messenger is coming, and this messenger shall prepare the way for the Lord. His coming will do two things: 1) it will refine and bolster the faithfulness of the truly elect people of God, and 2) it will foreshadow judgment upon those who refuse to worship, fear, and glorify God as he deserves. It’s these words that form the centerpiece for Malachi’s prophecy. Don’t lose faith, a messenger is coming, and following him, God himself shall appear as victor for his people and as judge over his enemies.
This brings us to our text today in Malachi 3:6-12. I’ll be reading it to you from the ESV, as the translation from Hebrew into English is a little smoother here. Would you read it with me? TWoL.
For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. 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 the Lord of hosts. But you say, “How shall we return?” Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, “How have we robbed you?” In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. 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.
Our text this morning confronts Israel, and us, with a question. Are we like Israel—those who have been saved repeatedly yet refuse to give our wholehearted worship to God? Are all the forms of religious service lacking in sincerity, sacrifice, and faithfulness? In our acts of worship that are often less emphasized, like giving, do we sometimes miss the mark?
I want to be honest with you and say that we, including myself, as a church, we often don’t display the kind of worship that brings glory to God, similar to Israel before Malachi. One evidence of this is in the way that we give—or some weeks, don’t give. Yet, worship to God is not a single-faceted thing. It’s not just knowing what we know, serving the ways we serve, or caring in ways that are comfortable to us—no worship is whole-bodied and all-encompassing, and it includes doing those acts that we’re less willing to do with hearts filled with joy. Worship is sacrifice, it’s intentional, it’s disciplined, it’s regular, and it’s generous. More than all of this, worship is grounded, it’s grounded in the character of God and what he’s done for us. Worship is giving of ourselves as a response, and this is our proposition this morning: Give because God Generously Calls, Provides, and Sustains. Give because God has given, give because God continues to give, and give because God requires it. In other words, give as a response—Give as worship.
1) The Depth and Truth of Worshipful Giving
Malachi 6 says this, “For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore, you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” It is from this verse that we can derive three truths. The first truth is that all of the requirements of chapters 1 and 2, and the promise of God in chapter 3 are grounded in the unchanging nature of God. It is because God is unchanging that, despite Israel’s feeling that God was distant from them, he remained as near and as intimately connected to them as ever. Why? Not because Israel deserved it, but because God is and must always be God. God does not and cannot break his promises. He is and shall forever be their God. However, God’s immutability also means that his requirements over his people are unchanging. His elect must be holy. They must obey him. He must be worshiped as God, and failure to do this is the highest form of treason.
It is also because God is unchanging that we learn the second truth from verse 6, namely, that once God calls someone to himself—once he makes them his own—they are always his. See how he says, “For I, the Lord, do not change, therefore, you, O children of Jacob …” This phrase, “children of Jacob” is actually not only a reference to the promise that God makes to Jacob in Genesis 28, but it’s actually a more direct reference to the beginning of this book in chapter 1. There, we see these words in verse 2, “I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet, I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated.”
What’s happening, here in Malachi 1, is that God is reminding his people that despite the fact that Jacob was the second-born, he chose Jacob to be the heir to Abraham’s and Isaac’s promise. There was no reason for Jacob to be selected, and yet he was. So, on the one hand, God is still God in his immutable character, and his immutability carries over in his selection of Jacob who did not deserve to be selected. Nothing about these facts have changed, even though Israel’s been exiled, and even though their land and temple has been destroyed. God is not constrained by land or by temples—he is God, and he is the God of the people of Jacob. In other words, once elect, always elect. He has not forgotten nor forsaken his people. He is unchanging and, therefore, he is unwavering in his promise. God has, is, and will always be faithful to those whom he calls his own.
The third truth that we learn from verse 6 is that because God is unchanging, and because God keeps his promises to his people, God has exercised his mercy by preserving them—they have not been consumed. Israel was utterly sinful and wicked towards God, and yet, God did not treat them as their sins deserved. He sustained them through it all. Don’t get me wrong, he also rebuked and punished them, but the fact that they still exist at all shows the magnanimity—the generosity—of his mercy and his long-suffering patience.
What I want us to notice, particularly, in these three things—that God is immutable, faithful, and merciful—is that at no time does Malachi mention anything worthy in Israel. It is God who does not change. It is God who calls his children. It is God who has not consumed them in their wickedness. This is the depth and truth of God’s holy character above and beyond our own wickedness, and this alone ought to move us to faithfulness in every conceivable way. We are to worship God with our lives—we have done nothing good, yet he has done everything good. We deserve no reward; he deserves all praise. Give of yourself, worship God because of who God is, because of what he has done, because of what he is doing, and because of what he shall do for those whom he calls his own.
2) Man’s Tendency in Worshipful Giving
Look at verses 7-9 with me, “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 the Lord of hosts. But you say, “How shall we return?” Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, “How have we robbed you?” In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.
I hope you can see in these verses that I’ve intentionally mislabeled the heading for this section of the sermon. Man’s tendency in worshipful giving is not to give. And here, there’s a very clear comparison being made between God and man. God is unchanging, infinitely faithful, generously merciful. God gives. But man is unreliable, stingy, greedy, and altogether arrogant in his own abilities. This is what we see in these verses, and the thing that God points out to them as evidence that they have profaned, mocked, and rejected him is in their lack of offering.
To them, they think that they’re doing everything they’re supposed to be doing. Ezra and Nehemiah have said worship God, so they worship God by gathering to hear the law preached, sharing in one another’s company, breaking bread together, helping to build the temple. Surely, these things are enough! But God says to them, you’re missing something. You might have given your mind, your strength, and your time, but you have not given me your heart. What you love is still your own wealth. What you hold onto is still your possession. I want that. Unless you’re willing to give me what I require of that thing you treasure most—you are robbing me, says God.
Just so as a brief aside, does anyone know how much the total offering that each person in Israel was to give to God? Put the Lord’s tithe, the festival tithes, the poor and needy tithes, the temple tithes, and the voluntary tithes together, and you get each Israelite giving nearly 25% of their provisions as offering. What do we learn from this? We learn that worship is costly and sacrificial. It hurts. It sobers us. It requires a depth of generosity that most of us in this room, including myself, likely have never willingly offered ourselves.
And the question that God asks both of his people in Israel and of us in this text is poignant: “have we robbed God?” Perhaps you’re thinking, well I give to God in many other ways—my time, my service, my wisdom, my knowledge. And his response to us is that while he does want these things, it’s not enough. You can be sure that of all the things he does not want from us is our excuses for why we’re so willing to give the things we want to give, but when it comes to “our” resources, that’s something I can skip this week.
This is what Israel gave him—excuses, and what is it that he says to his own covenant people in verse 9 who make excuses like this to him? He doesn’t say you’re saved. No, he says you are cursed. To those whom God is unchanging, to those who fall under the promise of Abraham, Isaac, and. Jacob, to those whom he has preserved despite their wickedness, what happens when they fail to worship him with their whole lives, including with their things? They receive the anger of God. They show that their hearts are far from him, and the day is coming where he will withdraw his heart from them.
Brothers and sisters, let me tell you that God doesn’t care about whether or not we meet our budget. The 25% that Israelites were called to pay wasn’t about the 25%. What he cares about is your heart, and for some of us, this may mean that we should be giving even more than 25%. For others, it may mean that you can’t even meet the 10% mark, but at the end of the day—God will not settle for your security to be found in something other than himself. He won’t settle for anything less than your whole heart. If there is any part of you that finds contentment in what your bank account says, or if there is any part of you that says you don’t have to give any more because our church has met its budget—which it hasn’t in months, by the way—then you’ve got this whole thing all wrong. Your devotion, your worship, your generosity towards God as a response for what he has done to you is not measured in what you give. No, it’s measured in what you keep (Capitol Hill Baptist Church). Measure your heart. Evaluate whether or not God really is who you say he is, and whether or not your actions accord with the words of your mouth. Consider that despite your own wickedness, Christ gave himself up as an offering, and in being the perfect offering, he became the curse of verse 9, so that you might once again worship him rightly. Worship—give because God generously calls you to himself, he provides you with himself in Jesus, and he sustains you in himself for the glory that awaits his true worshipers.
3) God’s Requirement for Worshipful Giving
After this juxtaposition between God and man in verses 6-9, Malachi finishes in verses 10-12 with the imperative of what worship that is pleasing to God looks like, and I’ve been saying it throughout this sermon: it is to give. And on top of the initial reason that the prophet has provided in verse 6, he gives us four additional reasons why we are to give. 1) We’re to give so that his house and those who serve his house might be properly taken care of.
2) We’re to give because by giving, God promises to bless us with more. The prophet starts by saying God wants us to test him, and he ends with the words in that last phrase of verse 10 saying that he will return the favour “until there is no more need.” In other words, God dares us to give abundantly and generously, and he says, in response, disproportionate to what you give, I will give back to you “until my abundance is exhausted,” or “until I run out,” or “until you get sick of what I have to offer.” This is absolutely astounding because the infinite God of the universe does not run out of anything, and what he has to offer is infinitely satisfying. God is saying, as the one who is incomparable in his generosity, if you give generously, then you will receive even more generously—and that overflow shall not cease. It’s not a complicated concept, but when we check our hearts, we have to be honest that very few of us actually believe these words because, otherwise, our offering box would be overflowing.
3) In verse 11, we’re to give in our worship because God assures that our offering will yield fruit. You’re not giving to an empty cause. You’re not even giving because you like me or because this property is nice. You’re giving because God is working in your giving to do marvelous things, and he’s protecting every step of those processes so that his plans might take place. Right? We’ve just seen this this past week with Operation Christmas Child. 10,000 boxes in Alameda. Nearly 2,000 boxes flowing in and out of this church alone, and every single child who receives one of these boxes will hear the gospel. Did you know that, per capita, more people come to saving faith through this ministry than through any other evangelistic endeavour of our time? It’s incredible, and the fact that it is still going is evidence that God rebukes whatever force is at work to stop it. God is at work not only in your giving but in how your giving is being spent. He will make sure he is glorified—the question is whether or not you desire to see him glorified in all that you do.
4) In verse 12, we’re to give worshipfully because by it the nations will know God is yours, and, more importantly, that you are God’s. This is covenant language. To be a land of delight refers to Isaiah 62:4, which talks about the Lord’s delight in his people as a husband delights over his wife. There is nothing that he withholds from her. It is like those movies, where you see a man treating his wife well, and all the other women see her, and say to her, “how did you get so lucky?” Low and behold, what they don’t know is that she was once a prostitute and beggar on the street, and yet, he still chose to love her. A worshipful giver—a cheerful giver—influences the desires and motivations of others by their worship, and through it, they cause these outsiders to come in and worship with them.
Now, I want to bring something very important to your attention about this book. This command given to Israel is a command cast in a shadow. See, for Israel, the promise of blessing correlates directly to physical prosperity under the law of Moses: long life, money, land—their worship correlated to rewards in this life. But remember chapter 3 flips the tone, and it moves from focusing on the transactional nature of the law towards something else entirely. Elijah is coming again to prepare the way of the Lord, and this Lord is both the refiner of his people’s faith and the judge of sinners.
If you have your Bibles, turn with me one book to the right to a familiar passage in Matthew 11. There we see a story of two men: John the Baptist and Jesus, and it’s in this story, verse 10, that Christ quotes from Malachi 3:1: Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you. What has Jesus done here? Malachi never says the words, “who,” “your,” or “you” in the line “who will prepare your way before you.” No, Malachi says, “he will prepare the way before me.” What Jesus is saying here is either truth or blasphemy, and you either have to say Amen or be damned because Malachi, in giving these words, is speaking from the point of view of God towards Israel. But Jesus, is speaking these words from the point of God to himself. God told Israel that he is coming after his messenger. Jesus is telling them that John is that messenger, and that he is God.
Yet, how sad is it that this story ends not with people worshiping and exalting Jesus as they are called to do in Malachi 3. Instead, what does Christ say? He says that they reject both John and him. In seeing John, they did not remember the words of Malachi. In Jesus’s succession of John, they did not consider him to be the Lord for whom John had prepared the way. And this is why, when Jesus says that he is the Christ and says that he and the Father are one, Israel’s reaction isn’t one of worship. No, it’s one of anger. In fact, they are so carried away with their anger that they take both this messenger and his Lord, and they kill them.
It makes complete sense. Why? Because just as it was in the case of Malachi, these people who slayed John, and these people who crucified Christ upon a tree, they belonged to those who had no desire in their hearts to worship God as he required or as he deserved. Just like with the people in Malachi’s time, these Israelites, who possessed Christ in his physical presence, had forgotten what God had done for them in the past and how that was to affect their present worship through their future expectation of what was to come. They lived as those who had been abandoned, and their “worship” reflected it.
Christians, Malachi called God’s people to give based upon a past redemption that symbolized a greater redemption to come. In the same way, I stand before you to tell you to give based upon a past redemption that symbolizes a greater redemption to come. Israel had seen the miraculous in their salvation from their enslavement in Egypt and from exile, but they had not yet seen Christ. Still, the prophet called them to give abundantly. How much more emphatic is this command for us to give generously who have received the gift of grace in Christ through his perfect life, his sacrificial death, and his resurrection over the grave? He has conquered our enslavement from sin. He has picked us up out of the depths of Sheol and brought us to himself with infinite compassion. How much more emphatic is this command for those of us who have not only received the promise of grace in Christ’s death, but who have received the promise of hope that our Messiah is coming again?
Worship is a whole-life discipline—it’s a discipline in remembrance of a God who gave and gives generously, it’s a discipline in joyful thanksgiving for what we’ve graciously received now, and it’s a discipline in unfailing, hope-filled expectation in what is still to be received. You see, the promise does not carry over in the same way as it did for Israel—the promise in your giving isn’t that you’ll necessarily reap rewards in this life like Israel did, although you may. And the requirement is not to tithe 25% like Israel, although some of you probably should. No, the promise is far greater—it’s a promise that true, full worship now yields something in eternity far more lovely than anything you can imagine because Christ has come to die and rise again in order to assure it. Yet, I am convinced that there are some of us in this room who do not believe in this truth, and thus act as though our robbing God is a permissible. Some of you may say, well I wait until the end of the year to give, and I’m telling you to stop that! Stop waiting to be faithful. Stop waiting to worship. This was what Israel did, and look what happened to them. I’m not asking for your money for my benefit—again, it’s not about meeting the budget. It’s about God, and God in Exodus 23 and Deuteronomy 16 says, no one is to appear before him empty-handed. Have you shown up to church today empty-handed and without actual offering? Have you come with a willingness to give only part of yourself when he asks for all of you? Give because God has given us himself, and he will keep giving to us, even after he calls us home.
Here are some principles on how to give:
Give regularly—make it a habit of worship, just as you make coming to church a habit.
Give prayerfully and thoughtfully according to what you have decided in your heart to give—it is not something I or anyone else in this church can judge, but God knows your heart. He knows where you’ve laid your treasure. He sees that greed whenever you look at that number in your bank account, and he calls you turn your eyes and look upon him instead. Trust that he is working for your good. Trust that he seeks to prosper you whether in this life or the next for the sake of glorifying him.
Give progressively—not all of you are called to give only 10%. Yes, everyone should consider starting there, but some of us are robbing God of the worship he is due by staying there. Consider some simple math, a person who makes $30,000 and gives 10% is left with $27,000 to live off of. Another person who makes $60,000 and gives 10% has $54,000 to live off of. How staggering is it that this second person can increase their giving to 20% and still have over $20,000 more to live on than the first person? God does not stay stagnant in his giving—he constantly ups the stakes in Christ, and so, too, should we.
Give sacrificially. Kent Hughes and C.S. Lewis collectively say it this way: “Grace giving—that is giving because we have received grace in Jesus and are no longer tied to the expectations of tithing under the law—goes beyond a mere tithe, but rather gives till it hurts. Grace giving affects one’s lifestyle. There are things one cannot have, and things forgone when one indulges in grace giving . . . If our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them. Givers of God disarm the power of money. They invite God’s grace to flow through them. Lastly, give wholeheartedly. I’ve said this already, but Paul says it better in 2 Cor 9:6: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. This is talking about your spiritual well-being, but don’t think for a second that your spiritual well-being has nothing to do with your physical offering. Again, Kent Hughes says it best when he writes, “It is possible to give God our money without him possessing our hearts, but it is impossible for him to possess our hearts without also possessing our money.” In this season, and more pointedly, in this life, give God all of your heart because he’s given you all of himself in Jesus, and he promises to give you even more on that day when Christ shall come again.