Floodgates of Heaven
06/02/2005 at 9.30am / 11.15am
Jesmond Parish Church
A sermon preached by David Holloway
It is so important that we know what the bible teaches about money because money is so big in our lives and in our world. We spend a great deal of time thinking about it - about how much we've got, how much we need, how much we earn and how much we spend. But what informs our thinking? If we don't let our thinking be shaped by the Bible it will be shaped by our own natural greed and by the world's values. Listen to John Wesley in his sermon on the Causes of the Inefficacy of Christianity:
"Wherever true Christianity spreads, it must cause diligence and frugality, which, in the natural course of things, must beget riches! And riches naturally beget pride, love of the world, and every temper that is destructive of Christianity."How important we learn, and then regularly remind ourselves of, what the Bible teaches about money and wealth. So this morning we are going to look at Malachi 3.6-12.
And, first, I want to speak about THE CONTEXT of this passage, and then secondly, about THE COMMANDS.
So first, THE CONTEXT
And the context is clear. It is the character of Almighty God himself. Look at verse 6:
"I the LORD [I Yahweh - or as the old versions translate the divine name - I Jehovah] do not change."That is so fundamental. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus, at the beginning of the 5th century BC, famously said, "all is in flux" - all is changing. But Malachi, possibly a near contemporary of Heraclitus, saw that that was only half the story. Yes, all changes in terms of the material universe, human bodies and scientific achievement. But God does not change. The Bible teaches that, one, God's essential being does not change. The Psalmist says:
"Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God" (Ps 90.2).And God the Son does not change in his essential nature. Hebrews 13.8 says:
"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever."Two, God's truth does not change. Isaiah 40.6 and 8 says:
"All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field ... The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever."And, three, God's attributes do not change - his "infinite power, wisdom and goodness" (of Article 1 of the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England) and those listed in Exodus 34.6-7 where God proclaims he is ...
"... the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished."And that is Malachi's message. He is stressing the great fact that God's love does not change. Look at verse 6 together now with verse 7:
"I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them."God is changeless in his faithfulness. That means he is slow to anger (or judgment), abounding in love and faithfulness. These Israelites had defied God as we do. And they had been doing this "since the time of [their] forefathers." But they had not been destroyed, even though they deserved to be. God was faithful to his covenant with his people.
The book of Malachi is about the love of God; but also about how that love can get blocked by defiling worship (chapter 1), false teaching from the priests (chapter 2), marital breakdown (chapter 2), the occult, immorality and injustice (chapter 3 - the first part), and, in our passage, by failing to give. You say, "Why doesn't God do something about it?" The answer is, "he does." That brings us to our second heading
Secondly, THE COMMANDS and there are two commands; and I want to spend more time on the second. God's love will not tolerate sin for ever. ut God, in his love, offers a way of escape; and the way of escape is to "return" to him.
That is the first command, or a) . Look at the last part of verse 7:
"Return to me, and I will return to you," says the LORD Almighty.Returning to God involves faith and repentance - faith in the mercy and goodness of God and repentance by admitting you have done wrong and now seeking to do right. Repentance is not "remorse". Anybody can feel sorry for, or regret, being in a mess. Repentance also means you intend to stop sinning. Repentance now is by turning to Christ as Saviour and Lord. You trust him as your Saviour who died to bear the punishment you deserve; and you obey him as your Lord who gives you the Holy Spirit to help you obey. Who needs to do that this morning? This wonderful promise here in Malachi says that if you return to the Lord, he will return to you. So that is the first command. But you must first give yourself to God. When you have given yourself, you can then think about giving your money. However, the people in Malachi's day thought they had given themselves to God - as they saw it. But they had not gone on to give their money.
Luther said, "every man needs two conversions: the first of his heart; the second of his wallet!" However, when God said, "Return to me", these people hadn't a clue what they were doing wrong or how they should "return" - verse 7 - last part,
"But you ask, 'How are we to return?'"That brings us to the second command or b) - and I want to spend more time on this one.
Their problem was the sin of omission or ignorance. The Bible is quite clear about sin. There are sins of commission. The people listed in verse 5 of this chapter had sins of commission. They positively did wrong things:
"sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, ... those who defraud labourers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice."These sins are easy to see. But then there are sins of omission - what we fail to do that God wants us to do. Often we only half know about those. But because there is nothing that we have positively done wrong we think we are not so bad. And there are sins of ignorance - perhaps the most dangerous of all, because we are completely oblivious to them. Some of you remember Jesus' Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. Well, the people who were condemned were not "committing" sins. They were just ignorant of their sins of omission in not meeting the needs of Jesus' followers who were hungry, thirsty, in need of hospitality or clothing, sick or in prison. Jesus said:
"I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me. Then they will go away to eternal punishment" (Matt 25.45).Well, these people in Malachi's time were guilty of sins of omission or sins of ignorance. Look at verses 8-10:
"Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me.These people were robbing God by omitting to give as they should. Who is robbing God this morning? This is quite a shocking thought. You need to realize that in ancient times there were no safes or banks as we know them. So large sums of money or other treasures were often deposited in temples dedicated to some ancient near eastern god. It was felt that thieves might break into to a normal house or even a palace, but not the temple of one of the Baals.
And Malachi's hearers or readers knew that it was a particularly heinous crime in the minds of their pagan neighbours to rob one of their deities by breaking into one of their shrines. So to be accused to robbing Almighty God - the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the living God of the Bible - for an ancient Jew was serious beyond measure. But such is the accusation being made here. They were being accused of keeping back for themselves the tithe or tenth. Giving a tithe or a tenth had a long history. It antedated the giving of the law by Moses. Abraham gave a tithe, we read in Genesis 14, to King Melchizedek. And this tithe or tenth was for the Levites at the Temple or the House of God for sacrificial purposes or for their own domestic needs or for whatever emergencies arose. So it was like modern giving to Churches or Christian missions or Christian charities today.
And what is more this was, verse 9, "the whole nation of you". There was a culture of refusing to give to the LORD. It is very hard to do God's work without resources. Praise God, however, for the faithful giving at this church - not least for last year. I am sure we were all encouraged by the fact that we broke even. It was a sign, I believe, that we can't be completely going in the wrong direction in our thinking about the future. But perhaps someone is asking, "is the Old Testament still relevant today in what it says about money?" Yes! For the New Testament is just as forthright. And the New Testament is so clearly balanced about giving.
On the one hand, Jesus warned against greed. In Luke 12:15 he said:
"Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."On the other hand, he warned against the wrong sort of giving. The Pharisee in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector - tithed - he gave away a tenth of all he got. But his giving was all outward show and trying to impress God. He completely failed to realise that like every other member of the human race, he was in bondage to sin. He was unaware of his sins of ignorance. And nothing he could do would help, except cry to God for mercy, like the Tax Collector did.
Jesus warned some other Pharisees that you can give faithfully and tithe and yet commit very grave sins of omission. He said in Mat 23:23:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices - mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law - justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practised the latter, without neglecting the former [your faithful giving].The Old Testament tithe is proportionate giving. And the New Testament clearly teaches proportionate giving. Paul says we are to give "in keeping with [our] income" (1 Cor 16.2). Jesus here commends the Pharisees giving a 10 percent proportion or a tithe. Zaccheaus gave 50 percent (Luke 19). The poor widow gave 100 percent (Mark 12). However, even total sacrificial giving like that of the poor widow can be flawed. Paul says in 1 Cor 13 verse 3:
"If I give all I possess to the poor ... but have not love, I gain nothing."So you are to give proportionately. But, of course, God doesn't need our gifts. Through the Psalmist, God says (Psa 50:10):
"every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills."He is the God of "glorious riches". But he loves our response. Our giving is a way of saying "thank you". Imagine giving a child a box of chocolates. They immediately go up to their room and come down later with their face and fingers covered with chocolate and an empty box. You then give another child a similar box of chocolates. But they immediately open it in front of you and offer you the first chocolate. Your proportionate giving is like giving God the first chocolate.
However, what did the early Christians especially remember about Jesus' teaching on money? We are told in Acts 20.35 in what is called the 10th beatitude:
"It is more blessed to give than to receive."Science is now confirming the truth of that beatitude. The current edition of Time magazine has as the main feature, I quote, "The New Science of Happiness." For seven years there have been a number of research projects. And a first finding is regarding wealth - namely that once your basic needs are met, additional income does little to raise your sense of satisfaction with life. So what does? First mentioned, is religious faith. I quote, that "seems genuinely to lift the spirit," though the researchers admit, "it's tough to tell whether it's the God part or the community aspect that does the heavy lifting."
Jesus said: "it is more blessed [and that can be translated, 'it makes you more happy'] to give than to receive." So why do God's people not give? Old Matthew Henry, a Puritan Commentator, said it is because of "the weaknesses of faith concerning the gains and advantages of charity [or giving]." That is the heart of the matter. Do you believe God's promises? Or are you being motivated by fear - fear that God is wrong and you will be less happy after you have given? Look at verse 10 again and then verse 11:
"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. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit," says the LORD Almighty.Do you believe that is possible? Probably the people were not giving to God because they were afraid life would be hard if they gave their tenth to God. There were already, it seems, pests devouring their crops and they had poor grape harvests. To give to God in those circumstances seemed folly. How would they survive? But they were fools. You can never outgive God. Jesus said (Luke 6.38):
"Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."So this is not just Old Testament teaching. The New Testament also speaks about the blessing of giving. That doesn't mean a crude prosperity doctrine - that is to say, for every pound you give you will get back £10.
True, sometimes to encourage faith God causes that to happen when it is needed. But there will be blessing in other ways. If this new science of happiness is right, more money can mean misery - witness the lives of some of the winners of the National Lottery. A problem with more money can be "reference anxiety". That's the new jargon for "keeping up with the Jones's".
So God will bless you in other ways because money is not always a source of true happiness.
To conclude look at verse 12:
"Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land," says the LORD Almighty.Our supreme motivation in our giving should be God's glory and then thankfulness for all his giving to us, most of all in Jesus Christ. And God's glory comes as other men and women realize that to trust and obey God is the way to true happiness.
That would happen, Malachi was saying in his day, when people gave as they should. Praise God, that is what happens at this church. Others "call [us] blessed" as they see at least the roots of true happiness in the Christian fellowship here. They see that people find meaning and purpose in life as they trust Christ, and find friendship and fellowship as they get involved.
But all this is possible because God's people have given faithfully in the past and today. Giving, says Paul in 2 Cor 9.12 and 13, not "only supplies the needs of God's people" but "men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ."
So - remember "God's glorious riches". Then - as Paul says in 2 Cor 9.7:
"Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."May that be true of each one of us this year, as we think about our giving.
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