Malachi 3:6–18 is the epicenter of prosperity theology—the idea that you give to God in order to get. But the biblical truth is, if we love God, we will use money; if we love money, we will use God—to get more money. This sermon discusses the biblical grounds for tithing and how giving (or not giving) reveals our hearts.
6 “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. 7 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?’ 8 Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. 9 You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. 10 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. 11 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. 12 Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.
13 “Your words have been hard against me, says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’ 14 You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? 15 And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’”
16 Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name. 17 “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. 18 Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.
All right, grab your Bibles. Go to Malachi. You think I would know where we’re going today. Malachi chapter 3:6–18. And, you know, sections of the Bible are like roads. Some we travel on frequently, some infrequently, some, perhaps, never at all.
What that means is depending upon whatever theological tradition you’re a part of, if you grew up in church, let’s say, there’ll be parts of the Bible that you’re more familiar with because you traveled through those sections very frequently. So if you come from what’s called a Reformed tradition, you spent a lot of time in Romans. If you come from a more practical seeker church, it’s a lot of Proverbs. If you’re from a church that’s more charismatic or Pentecostal, a lot of time in the Book of Acts.
All of that to say, today we’re going through a book of the Bible. So at Mars Hill, we like to explore all the roads in the Bible and go down to see what God has said and what God has done and what that means for us. And we’ve gone through, in the history of Mars Hill, more than twenty books of the Bible. Now we’re in Malachi and as we’re going through this book of the Bible, we hit a very curious section today, Malachi 3:6–18.
The question that is supposed here is, will man rob God? Some of you have never even thought of this section of the Bible. Maybe some of you even grew up in church, and you’ve never taken a look at Malachi 3. Some of you, however, have heard a lot about it, lots of sermons on this section of the Bible. And if you’re very familiar with it because it was a well-worn path at your previous church, you may have come from something called prosperity theology.
We’re gonna get into all that today because this text is really the epicenter and maybe the primary text for what has come to be known as prosperity theology, something that really took root in America and has gone global through television. So that’s where we find ourselves today.
It’s real timely because we’re at that time of year when people are giving and receiving gifts, generosity tends to increase. This is when people make their year-end tax-deductible gifts to charities and ministries of various sorts and kinds. This is the season where we start anticipating and preparing for our budget next year and how we will steward what God has entrusted to our oversight.
So in the providence of God, it’s all very, very timely. So we’ll jump right in. But before God talks about wealth, he talks about worship. Before he talks about us, he talks about himself and what he tells us is that he is unchanging.
Mars Hill, I need you to know this. This is a bedrock fundamental teaching of the Bible that God is unchanging. Malachi 3:6–7, “For I the Lord do not change”—couldn’t get any clearer—“therefore you, O children of Jacob, God’s people, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers”—this is a generational problem of a negative legacy—“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”—the God who rules over the angels and the demons—“But you say, ‘How shall we return?’” The whole book is a series of arguments that they’re having with God. They’re actually giving accusations toward God disguised as questions for God, and they are arguing and fighting with him here.
The basic idea is this: they fundamentally disagree with God. God says do this; they don’t want to. God says this is right; they say it’s wrong. They’re in a position of disagreeing with God.
How many of you’ve been there? Everyone should raise their hand, OK? We’ve all been there. We’ve all been in a place where we’re like, “I don’t agree, Lord”—which is a weird statement, right? “I don’t agree, Lord. You’re in charge. Wrong. Perfect and wrong. And never wrong and wrong.” I mean we find ourselves in those positions. And they’re in this position of conflict with God, and they keep arguing with God and raising questions toward God and accusing God and contending with God.
Here’s what God says, “I don’t change.” What that means is they need to change, and we are no different. We all reach points—and some of you are there today, where we’re in disagreement with God. “God, I don’t like what it says in your Word. I don’t like this part of the Bible. I think maybe you got this wrong. I don’t know if you should have done that. I don’t know if you should have said it like that. I don’t think you have any right to tell me to do that and to not do that and to stop doing that. And God, I disagree and I have some frustration, maybe some hurt. There are some points where you and I need to come to agreement. So here’s what I need you to do. I need you to apologize. I need you to change what you’ve said. I need you to rethink what you’ve done. I need you to evolve with the times. I need you to mature and grow. I need you to catch up with where the world is today.”
God says, “I do not”—what? “Change. I’m not moving.” When we talk of God, we talk of his attributes. Here we see a clear declaration of his immutability, which means that God is unchanging. And this is absolutely essential: God does not change—_we_ must change. We cannot remain unchanged and demand that God change. God has no sin. God makes no mistakes. God has nothing to learn. God has no way to mature. There’s nothing in God that should change. There’s everything in us that must change. And praise God that he’s unchanging. He said, “If I were unchanging, you would have been consumed.”
See, God’s a loving Father. He says, “I love you, and I’m still gonna love you. And I forgive you, and I still am gonna forgive you. And I’m gonna help you, and I’m still gonna help you. And it’s a good thing I don’t change my mind.”
How many of you parents have felt this way with your kid? You’re like “Were I not in covenant with the Lord, we would be down one person in this family very quickly. But I love you, and I’ve committed myself to you, and I’ve devoted myself to you, and you’re lucky I don’t change.”
Any kid who looks at their parent says, “You never change,” parents should say, “You’re welcome. You’re welcome.” And that’s what God is doing here. God is saying, “I’m not gonna change, but it’s for your good that I don’t change because that means that I won’t stop loving you.”
That being said, we must change, and this is where Christianity is different from spirituality. Spirituality says God is not a person but more of a concept, and God is not unchanging but is changing. So God evolves and morphs depending upon what culture or period God is in. Or God used to say that this is wrong, but now that culture has gone into a different understanding, God needs to catch up with the times, modify himself, edit the Scriptures, and make some adjustments so that God can be current. God’s not current; God’s eternal. God doesn’t need to change; we need to change. God doesn’t change with the times; God’s working on change all the time.
There’s an analogy in Scripture that’s frequently used: it’s of a potter and clay. My daughter is an artist. She works with this medium, and perhaps some of you have had this experience. If nothing else, default to your Play-Doh experience, OK? And the way it works is, you grab the clay, you mold it, you fashion it, you’re in authority over it to turn it into what you think it should be.
In the Bible God says, “I am the Potter, you are the clay.” God says, “I shape you. You don’t shape me. I make you into what I want. You don’t make me into what you want.” You get that? Spirituality says that we are the potter, God is clay, and we get to make him and shape him, and if we don’t like it, then we just collapse him and start over and reimagine God as someone or something else.
God here is saying, “I do not change. I’m not like that.” God’s the same yesterday, today and forever, and it’s a good thing for his children. That being said, he is unchanging, but we must be changing, so now he’s going to talk to them about ways that he wants them to change. And they’ve been arguing with him. Man, it’s just a list of accusations in the form of questions, and they’re basically saying, “We’ve been pretty good. We’re not so bad. Our lives aren’t that horrible. Who are you to judge? You don’t understand. We’re really hurt. Times are tough.”
God moves from the theoretical to the practical, and he does so through the financial. He says, “OK, how about we start talking about very specific ways that you’ve sinned against me, and you need to change. Let’s pull up your budget.” So they’re gonna have a budget meeting with God. Aren’t you glad we’re not doing that today? Aren’t you glad I didn’t say, “Everybody bring your budget and we’re gonna go through it here on the screen, and we’re gonna talk about your money and your giving and we’re gonna see what the Lord says about that”?
Now, you should have that moment with the Lord very soon. You should sit down in the presence of the Lord with your budget for this year and next year and ask, “OK, Lord, let’s look at my finances. Let’s look at our finances, and see how it’s going.” But here they’re doing it publicly, and God is gonna speak to them practically.
He has a painful question. It is this: “Will man rob God?” Big question. It’s a question we all need to ask ourselves, “Would I rip God off? Would I steal from God?” “Will man rob God?”— Malachi 3:8—“Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’” You notice he will charge them, and then they’ll ask a question. That’s what guilty people do. “What do you mean? Could you clarify? How about this? How about that?” They’re changing the subject. They’re trying to get off the proverbial hook.
Sometimes when you and I have questions, it’s that we’re guilty and unrepentant, not that we really want to learn something. “In your tithes and contributions”—tithes, literally a tenth plus the contributions above and beyond to other things. “You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me”—stealing from God—“the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house”—this is a section of the temple—“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.”
He continues, “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 the nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.”
There it is. This is the epicenter for prosperity theology. Let me say what I appreciate about those who are dealing with issues of finances from this text. I might not agree with all their conclusions—we’ll get into that—but here’s what I appreciate: I appreciate the fact that they’re dealing with finances, wealth, and possessions.
Sometimes pastors are cowards when it comes to finances because we have fear of you, more than fear of the Lord. We’re fearful of what people think. We’re fearful of what people will say. And because for many people money is their idol, pastors avoid it because they don’t like the backlash, the conflict and the controversy that comes when you start approaching someone’s idol.
God doesn’t have that kind of fear. God talks of money a lot, money, wealth, stewardship, investments, possessions. God speaks of these things in the Old and New Testament combined about eight hundred times. It’s major, not minor.
And some people come along and they say, “You know, we shouldn’t talk about money. We should be like Jesus.” Well, those people have not read about Jesus because 25 percent of the time Jesus talked about money. You can’t say, “Don’t talk about money; be like Jesus.” I am talking about money because I want to be like Jesus.
If you look at Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the four Gospels, 25 percent of all Jesus’ instruction and words are on money, wealth, possessions, and stewardship. Most of the parables are all fiscally, financially related to how we spend our money because as Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, your heart is,” and giving is an indicator of your first love.
So I appreciate that they’re willing to deal with finances, money, wealth, possessions. I appreciate that they’re trying to work from the section of Scripture. Where I disagree is how this text is taught that you give to get because that can feed greed. That’s my concern. If we love God, we will use money but if we love money, we will use God to get more money.
The question is, what’s the goal, God or greed? And my fear is that sometimes it is taught like this, “They’re not giving. God says give. God says if they give, he’ll bless them.”
So all of a sudden, the text is taught like this, God’s a piñata, lives up in the sky, OK? God’s a full piñata, and the reason that the stuff hasn’t fallen down is you haven’t tithed. So go get a stick called a tithe, OK? And grab your stick and give the full 10 percent—shazam! The piñata explodes and out comes all the blessings. And when we teach it like that, ultimately it’s about greed. It’s about giving a little to the Lord to get a lot from the Lord. All of sudden, it’s more of a Ponzi scheme than a worship act.
So when we come to this text, let me unpack it and deal with it, and let me give you three buckets to put various sections of the Bible in. I call them Bible buckets because I don’t know what else to call them. So think of them like three buckets, and you go to a section of the Bible and you go, “OK, what bucket does this go in?”
Number one is the one-time promise. God says something to one person or one group of people, but it’s a special circumstance, not everybody gets that. There’s an all-time promise where God says something to a person or to a people, but it absolutely applies to everyone everywhere for every time. And then there is the one-time promise with the all-time principles that what God tells them is specifically for them but principally it’s for us all.
I’ll give you some examples. So let’s say what we’re looking at here is that God is making a specific promise to a particular person, and not everybody gets the exact same thing. So let’s say in the Bible, there is someone who has a relative that is very sick and ultimately dying or dead, and they run to the Lord Jesus, and the Lord Jesus says, “You can go home now. I’ve healed them. They’ll be well.” That was a specific promise for a specific healing for a specific person, and it doesn’t mean that every single Christian gets everyone in their family healed every single time. God can do that, but he doesn’t do it all the time, that’s why we call it a miracle instead of a Tuesday. It’s unusual, OK? It’s unusual.
So Peter gets out of the boat and walks on water a few steps. Some people will criticize him. “Oh, he only took a few steps.” That’s still pretty impressive to me. That’s a lot more than I’ve got. And what you can’t do then is say, “Well, Peter walked on water; we can all walk on water.” I’d encourage you not to try that unless you’re a good swimmer. It’s something very specific for Peter.
We don’t have like a ministry at Mars Hill called the Walking on Water ministry. It’s unique, you get that? One time, one time. Doesn’t mean God can’t ever do it again, but it means that God rarely does this.
The all-time promise. God does something that applies to everywhere, everyone, all the time. Jesus died on the cross in your place for your sins. If you turn from sin and trust in him, all your sin is forgiven and you’ll be with him forever. That’s for everybody, OK, and if you’re here, that’s for you, too. That’s not just for one person or one group of people, that’s God dying on the cross for the sin of the world. That’s a miraculous thing for everyone, everywhere, all the time.
Thirdly, there is a one-time promise with an all-time principle attached to it. So here’s what’s going on: in Malachi 3:6–18, pretty much everyone agrees that, at the very least, it’s bucket number one, OK? Here’s the situation, there’s a problem. The problem is they’re robbing God. That’s what it says. Now, they don’t feel like they’re robbing God, but God feels like they’re robbing God, so this is where they have the disagreement.
The situation is this: God made the earth. God gave it to them. They are an agrarian society. It’s mainly plant your crops and reap your harvest. That’s your business.
Think here in terms of business. They are generating their revenue, and they’re not tithing to the Lord. So God says, “Because you’re not tithing to me, you’re robbing from me,” and a tithe literally means a tenth. Ten percent off the top, first fruits off the gross not the net, right? And they’re looking at it saying, “God, what right do you have to stake claim to 10 percent of my business?”
How many of you own a business, a small business? You have investments? God sees himself as part owner. You say, “I don’t see it that way.” Welcome to Malachi 3. God sees himself as part owner. God says, “I gave you the land. It’s my land. It generates a return. Our deal is I get 10. You keep 90”—which is a pretty generous deal. He could have done it the other way. “How about you get 10, I take 90?”
Well, God was generous and said, “I’ll take 10, you keep 90.” Think of it this way: You own a plot of land. You rent it out to a farmer and your deal with the farmer is, I get 10 percent of all your proceeds from your crops, and the farmer doesn’t give you, the landowner, your percentage. That’s robbing.
Think of it like mining. You own a claim. You allow someone to mine that claim, and your deal with them is, I still own the land. Whatever you generate for revenue, I get 10 percent. But they keep a hundred. You’d say, “They’re robbing me.”
Let’s use a more contemporary example that some of you could directly apply to your vocation. Let’s say you’re in sales and your agreement with your employer is, I get 10 percent commission on everything I sell. So all the revenue from all your sales come into the company, and they don’t pay you your 10 percent commission. You would say you were robbed. You’d go to your boss and say the same thing God is saying. You’d say, “You’re robbing me.” “We had a deal that I would get 10 percent, and you’re not paying me. You’re stealing from me.” They don’t see their income, their business, their portfolio, their wealth as God’s. They see it as theirs. They don’t see that God is part owner and that he has every right to expect a percentage of their income.
And so he says, “You’re robbing me, and then the result is you’re cursed. The reason why things are so hard is because you’re stealing from me.” Think of it this way, you’re in business partnership with someone and they’re stealing from you, would you invest more in the company? No, not till your business partner became more honest, ethical, trustworthy, and stopped stealing.
What God is saying is, “I’ve invested. You’re not responding rightly. I won’t invest anymore until you change your mind because I’m not changing mine, and that’s the situation they find themselves in. So the solution is, bring the ‘full tithe,’ and I’ll pour down a blessing from heaven.”
Now, the full tithe here is the full 10 percent. Make up on all your giving, catch up. Give what you were supposed to give, and what’ll happen is, a blessing will come down from heaven. He said that literally it would flood down from heaven.
This kind of echoes the days of Noah when the floodgates of heaven opened, and the rains came down in judgment. Well, here he’s talking about the floodgates of heaven opening and the rain of God’s blessing coming down, and it may actually be literal rain.
It says here that their crops are struggling because of the devourer. We don’t know exactly what that is. Maybe it’s a locust plague. Maybe it’s a lack of rain. If that’s the case, what God is saying is, “If you will do what I ask you to do. I will send rain. I will provide for you. I will make your crops grow. I will make your business flourish. This is my promise to you if you will obey me.” That’s the deal.
The big idea here is this: all the blessings come down from heaven. See, they would have thought that their blessings were coming from their business, coming from the earth, that their blessings literally are coming from the ground up, from the harvest of their soil.
God says, “No, no, blessings don’t come from creation up. Blessings come from Creator down.” Jesus’ brother James says it this way: “Every good and perfect gift comes from above, from our Heavenly Father.” Ultimately all blessing comes down from God to his people.
This all foreshadows the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the greatest blessing of all, and he comes down from heaven. The gates of heaven open, and down comes the greatest blessing in the history of the world, the Lord Jesus Christ. God becomes a man. That’s what we celebrate every Christmas season.
The problem is they’re stealing. The answer is they need to stop stealing and start giving. And pretty much every commentator agrees it fits in bucket number one. He’s talking to people two-and-a-half thousand years ago and this is a specific word for them.
The question then is, is it an all-time promise? Is it not just for these people in God? Is this for all of God’s people all time? Those who hold to prosperity theology say yes, this is the way God always works.
The way this text is taught is, you have to give 10 percent to the local church, and the local church is the “storehouse.” There are lots of assumptions in here: if you will give 10 percent, God promises to prosper you. So you sow a faith seed. You trust the Lord. You give to get. You give him a hundred; he’ll give you a thousand. You give him a thousand; he’ll give you 10,000. You give him 10,000; he’ll give you a million. Test him, that’s what he says. And then they collect the offering.
How many of you have heard this? How many of you are twitching right now? You’re like, “We don’t believe that, Pastor Mark?” No. No. I would never teach it like that. I believe very clearly that this is not an all-time promise. It’s a one-time promise. Somebody said, “Well, you don’t believe the Bible?” Just so you know, I do. Those of you who have been around a while would back me up on that. There are times in the Bible when God tells someone to do something that not everyone else should do because it’s a one-time promise.
I’ll give you an example. OK, there’s a guy named Moses. He gets a stick. It’s called a staff. And God says, “Throw it on the ground.” What happens to the staff? It turns into a snake. Can you do that?
How many of you are like, “It’s in the Bible. I got a stick. I’m gonna do that.” Can you do that? No, because it’s not an all-time promise. It’s a one-time promise. God then tells Moses, take the stick down to the river. Put the stick in the river, and what’s gonna happen to the river? It’ll turn to blood, and it does. Can you do that?
How many of you have tried? You’re like, “I can’t do that.” It’d be awesome, but you can’t do that. You know why? It’s not an all-time promise. You can’t say, “Well, God told Moses grab the stick so as God’s people, we grab the stick and we get to—” No, you don’t.
Similarly there’s a guy in the Bible who’s blind so the answer is take the mud and stick it in his eye. How many of you are here and you’re like, “Don’t do that to me”? Can you do that? Can you heal somebody by sticking mud in their eye? No. Did God do that? Yes. Can God do that again? Yes. Does God do that a lot? No. It’s a one-time thing, not an all-time thing.
I’ll give you another one. A little boy shows up. Jesus is preaching a very long sermon, and I would tell you, Jesus loves very long sermons. I would just as a sidenote throw that out there, OK? Jesus is preaching a very long sermon, and everybody’s getting hungry and tired, and there are thousands of people. So a little boy comes with his lunch, basically a Lunchable. Think of a little kid with his Lunchable, and he knows everybody’s hungry, and he gives his Lunchable to Jesus, and Jesus multiplies it to feed thousands of people. Can you do that? Can you do that? Next time you go to a sporting event or a concert, you say, “Oh, no need for the concession stands. I brought a Lunchable. Everybody’s gonna be fine. Jesus is gonna do a miracle.” That happened. It could happen again, but it doesn’t happen all the time.
What we’re dealing with in Malachi 3 absolutely happened. God promised something very specific, and it’s not like this all the time, otherwise the offering becomes an ATM. You go up, punch in the code, “10 percent,” “Enter,” and out comes all the cash for you and you get more than you give.
My fear again is we give to get. We shouldn’t feed greed. Jesus says, “You can’t worship God and money.” And when it’s taught like this, my fear is you’re not loving God, you’re loving money and using God to get more money. And then the heart is wrong. The motive is wrong. The intent is wrong.
Now, one thing that the prosperity teachers will say—and some of them are brothers and sisters in Christ, some love Jesus, and some have other things that they teach that are very helpful. And I don’t want to be unnecessarily divisive. And I don’t want to name names. And I don’t want to make this incredibly negative.
But because they go to this text a lot, most people’s familiarity with the text is solely from this interpretation, which I don’t entirely hold to. But one of the things they will say is, ‘This is the only time in the Bible that God says, ‘Test me.’” You heard that? In Malachi 3, God says, “Give the 10 percent, test me, see if I won’t prosper you.” They say, “See, this is the only time God says to test him. Let’s put God to the test.” Well, I read some other stuff from the Bible. It says, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test,” so we have got to be careful with this.
But also since the Bible only says it once, wouldn’t that bolster my claim that it’s a one-time promise, not an all-time promise? God says it one time to one group of people and doesn’t say it again to other groups of people? That would bolster my argument that it’s a one-time promise, not an all-time promise. You with me? So now we’re on the horns of a dilemma. God said, “Give and I’ll bless you, but I will not tell you, give to get.”
So what does this section of Scripture have for us? I think now we’re in category three. It’s a one-time promise with all-time principles. This was God’s interaction with his people, and there’s a promise there and for us, there are principles there.
I’ll share some of them with you. I’ll call them generosity principles, and I believe there’s a big difference between a promise and a principle. A promise is “It will come to pass just like this.” A principle is, “This is usually how it works.”
See the difference? The Book of Proverbs is a great example. It’s wrongly taught as promises, it’s principles, all right? So when it says, “Raise a child in the way they should go and when they grow old, they will not depart from it.” People say, “God promises if you raise godly kids, they’ll grow up to be godly.”
How many of you’ve seen godly parents have ungodly kids? Because it’s a principle, not a promise. That’s how it usually works, but, of course, we live in a fallen world. It’s not always point A, point B connect the dot every time. There’s human sin, complexity, and variables. Proverbs says, “Without gossip, a quarrel dies down.” So if two people are arguing and you don’t talk about it, it tends to die down. That’s a principle. Is it a promise?
Any of you had an argument with someone, you didn’t say anything, and it didn’t go away? You can’t say, “God’s a liar.” No, no, it’s a principle, not a promise. There are promises that God gives. “The dead shall be raised”—that’s a promise. “Turn from sin, trust in Jesus, you’ll receive eternal life.” The Bible’s got a ton of promises.
It’s also got a number of principles, and we’ve got to make sure we understand the difference. Principles are about wise living, cause and effect, how things tend to work according to how God has wired the world. Well, here are eight generosity principles from Malachi 3.
Number one, God is generous with you. They don’t appreciate the generosity of God. They’re looking at what they don’t have, not what they do have. They’re not looking at their business income, they’re looking at how they wish their business income was higher, so there’s not an attitude of gratitude. But God is generous, right? He’s given them life and love. He says he’s their Father. He’s provided the land. He has provided an income. Maybe it’s not what they wanted, but it’s certainly a lot better than they deserve. God is generous.
You and I need to start with this. We need to start with this assumption. God gave us the earth. God made us in his image and likeness. God gave us the Lord Jesus Christ. God gave us the Holy Spirit. God gave us forgiveness of sin. God gave us righteousness. God gave us eternal life. God gave us gifts to serve meaningfully and valuably and purposefully. God’s a giver. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. Do you get it? God’s generous. We start there.
Number two, God asks for our worst and our best. So he’s telling the people in Malachi, “You’re committing adultery. You’re getting divorced wrongly. You’re stealing money. There’s all these troubles and issues. Bring them to me. We’re gonna forgive it, sort it out, and work it out. Bring me the worst.” And then God says, “Tithe, bring me your best.” God wants us to bring him our worst, all of our sin, and our best—our wealth.
What happens is people get more excited about bringing God their worst than their best. Give Jesus your sin. “OK.” And your wealth. “I don’t know. I don’t know. That’s Old Testament, I don’t know. It’s unclear to me.” God wants our worst and God wants our best. And God gives Jesus, God gives his best.
Number three, giving is your autobiography. Who you are is most clearly seen in how you spend. The difference between a spoken value and an actual value is the action around it, meaning this: you could say, “I love my family.” If we look at your budget, and there’s a lot more money for your hobbies than your family, we know what or who you really love. If we look at your budget, and there’s a lot of money that goes to some organization or cause, it tells us a lot about you and what you care about. If we look at your budget and a percentage goes to the Lord, that tells us something about your relationship with the Lord.
I would encourage you to look at your budget from this past year and next year and ask, “What is this as an autobiography? What does this say about me? How does this reveal who I truly am by how I spend?”
That’s the argument here. They’re arguing, “We do love you. We’ve not been that bad. We didn’t say anything that bad. Our marriage is fine.” And God says, “Let’s look at the finances because that’s your autobiography.”
Number four, faith without giving is dead. In the book of James he says that faith without works is dead. Faith is a devotion to God in here that results in a changed life out there. So James says, “You can’t have faith for God in here and not change life out there.”
Malachi is kind of like James in that way. He’s saying, “You say you have faith, but it doesn’t show up in your finances.” So faith without giving is dead. You can’t say you love God in here, but it doesn’t affect how you spend out there because out of the overflow of the heart, the wallet spends.
Number five, giving begins change in you. Thus far in the book, these people are not changed. They are arguing and fighting with God, as some of us are. And God doesn’t say, “Well, get your hearts right and when your hearts are right, then start giving.” God says, “Start giving” because he knows that that will help to get the heart right.
Similarly, let’s say I’m sitting down with a couple, a husband and wife, and they are at an impasse and in conflict, what I would never do is say, “Well, when both of you have a complete heart change and feel loving toward one another, then go out on a date and try and mend this relationship.” What I would say is, “Obey God, start loving, and serving one another, doing what God says, and see if that doesn’t start a process of change in your heart toward one another.” Do the right thing and then see if you don’t end up feeling the right way. Don’t assume that you must feel the right way to do the right thing. So God says, “Start giving and that will be the process by which you start changing.”
Here’s what happens, when it comes to giving, sometimes people, they’ll ask this question, “Why should I give?” Well, it’s good for them. It’s glorious to him. It’s also good for you. Once you start giving and living as a generous person, a couple of things happen: You start to become more grateful. You realize all that you’ve been given by God and others. You’re more grateful, more thankful.
In addition, you become more compassionate toward the needs of others. You stop just thinking about yourself and you start thinking about others. You stop thinking about what you want, you start thinking about what they need and giving starts to change you. It starts to change you.
Number six, God is looking for good stewards. Here in Malachi 3, these are all principles. God says, “I’ve got plenty of resources, but I’m not giving them to you because you’re bad stewards. You’re not giving generously to me. You don’t care about the poor. You don’t care about the ministry.”
Think of it this way: let’s say someone in your family died, left you a big inheritance, and you had to invest that money. You would be very careful, I would hope, to find a place that was going to steward the resources well. You wouldn’t go toward something in your portfolio, a piece of real estate or an investment, that was upside down and lost a ton of money and say, “Well, I’m gonna put it all in there.” I’m not gonna put it in there. I’m not gonna waste my wealth.
God is like that. He’s looking for good stewards. He’s looking for people who are going to take the money that he gives them and then to use them in a way that is godly and good. In Luke 16:10 Jesus says it this way: “He who could be trusted with a little, could be trusted with a lot.” The context there is wealth. The context there is wealth.
Number seven, in addition, life goes better for generous people. This is not voodoo. This is not magic. This is not get rich quick. This is not give to get. This is just a general principle for how life works. I was talking to Dave Ramsey, he runs Financial Peace. We use it at Mars Hill. It’s super helpful, would encourage you to sign up for it next year.
I was interviewing him for a project recently and he said this, and it really made a lot of sense to me: life just tends as a principle to go better for generous people. Here’s why: would you rather be married to someone who is greedy or generous? Well, generous. Would you rather have as a close friend someone who’s greedy or generous? Well, generous. If you’re an employer hiring somebody, it comes down to two candidates. One’s greedy and one’s generous, who would you rather hire? Well, the generous person. Let’s say you’ve got a company, you’re looking to promote someone into leadership or management, who are you most inclined to choose, someone who’s greedy or generous?
As a general principle, life tends to just go better for people who are more generous. It’s that reap-what-you-sow kind of thinking. Their life in Malachi 3 is going difficult. It’s hard. It’s a frustrating season for them. But part of it is that they’ve not been a generous people, yet they’re expecting God to be generous with them.
Number eight, you will be tested to rob God. See, they’re in an economic downturn, and times are hard. The first thing they did is cut their giving to God. That was the first thing they cut out of their budget. You will be tested. I will be tested. We will be tested, principally speaking, to rob God.
I’ll give you a bit of my history and story—some of you know bits of it. God saved me in college at the age of 19. And I’m a 19-year-old college kid, poor, right, broke college kid. Didn’t even have a car to get back and forth to school, like just trying to knock out my education, bumming rides home for the holidays. A broke college kid.
God saves me. I start going to a great church, and the offering plate comes by, and my thought is, I hope somebody here has a job because I’m not participating. That was kind of my original thought, and I’m working my way through college. And then God convicted me passing the plate every week. “Hey, this is your church, too.” So I started giving occasionally and not very generously but put in twenty bucks or whatever. Thought, OK, I’m doing something.
Well, then, I married Grace, and we’re married between our junior and senior year of college. She had a semester left. I had a year left. And we sat down. She’s like, “OK, how much are we gonna give to the church?” I was like, “What? We’re broke. We’re married. We’re in college.” We were making about a thousand dollars a month. This was twenty-some years ago. We’re making about a thousand dollars a month. Our apartment including utilities—it’s a basement, you know, little rental in somebody’s house—is like two hundred bucks a month. Our date night on Friday is either the ninety-nine-cent movie theater or the $1.50 movie theater if we wanted to go big time, OK? We did our laundry at the laundromat because we couldn’t afford a place with a washer and a dryer.
I look at Grace. She’s got the gift of giving. She’s got the gift of faith. And I look at her and said, “Well, what do you think we should give?” She’s like, “We need to tithe. We need to give 10 percent.” I was like, “A thousand dollars a month is all we make. A hundred dollars to the—we don’t have that.” She said, “Oh, well, we just need to pray and trust the Lord.” I was like mmm-hmm.
How can you argue with that? She always does that. And I was like, OK. I like plants, and she likes to pray, and so we’re good together. And I said, “OK, well, we’ll see what happens.” So we gave a hundred dollars and boom, something went out on my truck that we couldn’t afford. I was like, “Well, we can’t give to the Lord. The truck blew up. We need the truck to get around.” She said, “No, no, we just need to pray. We need to trust the Lord.”
I promise you this happened, OK? I came home, I can’t remember if it was the mailbox or under our front door, somebody anonymous put a hundred dollar bill in an envelope. And I showed it to Grace I was like, “You’ll never guess.” She’s like, “Well, we prayed. Why are you surprised?” I was like, “Ah.” I was like, “You gotta be kidding.” She said, “See, the Lord’s showing us that he’ll provide.” I was like, “Well, I can’t argue with that. That’s pretty bulletproof right there.”
So then we’re married for a few months, and she had a college loan that was supposed to be deferred but somehow it wasn’t deferred, and as soon as I got married, I got the bill, and this wasn’t part of our budget. I said, “Honey, we can’t afford this.” She said, “Oh, you know, well, the Lord will figure it out.” I was like, “Ah.” I mean when you have a godly wife, so frustrating, you know? So I’m like OK. Well, we’ll see, we’ll see what the Lord does, you know? You know, OK, whatever.
I swear to you, I go to Bible study with my pastor. My pastor walks up to me he says, “Mark, I’ve been praying for you. I don’t know why I feel like the Lord told me to give me this.” He handed me a hundred-dollar bill, my second hundred-dollar bill. I was like, what? I go home I was like, “You’ll never guess what.” She’s like, “I bet you I do.” Like, really, really?
Now, here’s what I—I’m not gonna teach this as a promise, right? Therefore today give a hundred dollars and when you go home, there’ll be a hundred dollar bill underneath your door. OK, am I promising that?
Some of you are like, “I don’t know.” No, I’m not, OK? But principally, the Lord knew that this was a test for us, and he was going to teach us that we could trust him. That’s how he did it for us. I don’t know how he’ll do it for you. But you’re giving will be tested. So Grace and I have been giving through our marriage. I didn’t know I’d be doing this today, but our prayer was and has been every year, “Lord, this year let us give more than last year.” That’s been our prayer for twenty years as a married couple, and God’s always been very gracious and generous toward us to help us to answer that prayer.
Now, from some of you right now, I could just feel the resistance. You’re like, “So God wants my money?” Here’s what I’d say: Oh, he wants may more than that. He wants your money, wants your mind, wants your body, wants your marriage, wants your kids, wants your business, wants your house, wants your sin, wants your soul, wants your eternity. If you’re freaked out about the money, that’s only the beginning of what he wants. He wants everything. He wants all of you.
That’s what Jesus is asking. Now, this leads to an inevitable question that people often ask: Should Christians tithe? In the Old Covenant, it’s called the “Law,” and there are specific rules, and God’s referring to one here in Malachi 3—tithing the 10 percent.
In addition, there’s the New Testament new covenant because Jesus comes, fulfills all the old covenant, and then we live in the new covenant under grace. So Romans 6:14 says we’re no longer under law, we’re now under grace.
The question is, when it comes particularly to the 10 percent tithe, how does this apply to us? Well, in the Old Testament, the Old Covenant, the law was 10 percent. Firstfruits off the top, gross not net, unto the Lord. In addition, he talks about contributions in Malachi 3. So this would be above and beyond feasts, festivals, the poor, seven-year giving, all kinds of things. If you amortize it out, it’s 25 percent to 27 percent of your gross income that goes to the Lord.
Now, you go to the New Covenant, the New Testament, and the only time it uses the language of the tithe is in relation to the Pharisees, and it’s negatively because they were giving their money without giving their heart to the Lord. And Jesus says, “You keep giving me your money, but you won’t give me your heart.” That’s hypocrisy.
The Bible then, in the New Testament, talks about giving with very different language. If you want to study it, 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 is the place in the New Testament that talks about giving the most clearly and the most extendedly, if I can use that language. It says that our giving should be, as believers, cheerful. “I love the Lord. I’m glad to give, OK?” It should be sacrificial. Whatever is sacrificial for you.
I love that God doesn’t just give an amount because if he gave an amount, the poor would really strain to meet it and the rich wouldn’t strain at all. God wants our giving to be sacrificial so that rich and poor are being generous and sacrificial. So it’s to be cheerful. It’s to be sacrificial. It’s to be regular, not just, “I feel guilty this week, maybe I’ll feel guilty again next year.” It’s regular, and it’s also proportional so that those who make more give more, and that those who make less give less, but all give something.
That being said, very few people tithe today. Of those who profess to be Christians, about 27 percent, so about a quarter, tithe. The rest do not give that much. The younger you are, the less likely you are to tithe. Right now most churches, missions, organizations, denominations, are held up by older people who are more generous, and their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren are far less generous. So the younger you are, the less you give, and what that means for the future of Christianity is that it is very concerning, because as the older generation passes away, the younger generation is not making up the difference.
In addition, the people who are least likely to tithe, to give at least 10 percent, are those who make more money. Proportional to their giving, the poor give a higher percentage than the rich. And some of you are thinking, “I’m not going to give, but one day when I make more, I will.” Statistically it’s not true. It’s like someone’s saying, “I’m going to commit adultery to prepare myself for future faithfulness.” It doesn’t work like that. “I will rob God so that one day I can be faithful with my finances toward God.” It doesn’t work like that. It doesn’t work like that.
That being said, some would come along and say, “It says it in the Old Testament. It doesn’t say it in the New Testament. Therefore, we don’t have to do it.” I would say, well, let’s be careful because sometimes what was in the Old Testament is not erased in the New Testament. It’s actually increased.
I’ll give you an example. In the Old Testament, it says, “Do not murder.” We dealt with that in the Ten Commandments. Jesus comes along and says, “Do not murder, and do not be angry with your brother in your heart.” Well, that’s an increase in the command. In the Old Testament, it says, “Do not commit adultery.” Jesus comes along and says, “And don’t look at anyone lustfully in your heart because that’s adultery of the heart.” That’s an increase.
I would not tell you that you have to give 10 percent. What I would tell you is that you need to go home and meet with the Lord and talk to the Lord and pray to the Lord and set your budget with the Lord. In Malachi it’s interesting because they gave the money to the temple, but ultimately God says, “You are robbing me.”
Here’s the deal: God gets the temple out of the way and the ministry out of the way and says to his people, “It’s between you and me.” You may put it in that account, but it’s ultimately my account.” What I would tell you is you need to meet with the Lord. You need to pray to the Lord. You need to budget with the Lord. You need to pledge to the Lord. And whatever that is, if it’s cheerful, regular, sacrificial, proportional, then do that, and don’t rob God.
My fear is, if I give you a percent, you will make it a ceiling and not a floor. We would say that a tithe is not necessarily a ceiling. “Someday maybe I’ll get up to 10 percent,” but it’s better to see it as a floor. This is a good place to start a life of generosity, and by God’s grace, aspire to increase our giving through the course of our life as we mature in everything. You want to grow in Bible knowledge. You want to grow in service. You want to grow in prayer. You should aspire to grow in giving. It’s part of your spiritual development and part of your spiritual growth.
That being said, some of you are going to really struggle for two reasons. Some of you will struggle because you’ll feel like God is taking what is yours. Well, that’s the problem. It’s his, and you should be grateful that he shares some with you. Others of you will struggle because you’ll want to give to the Lord, to get from the Lord, and you’re gonna come to a text like this in a way that is more akin to prosperity theology.
Here’s why it’s important to study the Bible in context: those who teach Malachi 3:6–18 tend to ignore the previous verse. This is why if you were to take a line out of my conversation with my wife, Grace, and ignore twenty years together in the context of the conversation, you could come to a really bad conclusion. We need to look at Malachi in the context of the whole Bible. We need to look at Malachi 3 in the context of the whole book of Malachi. In chapter 3, verse 6, God starts talking about wealth, but in chapter 3, verse 5, just before that, he says something very, very, very insightful.
Would you like to read it with me? Here’s what he says: “Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers.” He says, “I’m gonna judge some things that really bother me, first on the list, sorcery.” And then chapter 3, verse 6, he goes into finances. How do these go together? Here’s what sorcery is: trying to manipulate God, trying to control God, saying, “I think I know what God is doing. I don’t like it. I want God to do something else. I need to change God. I need to manipulate God. I need to redirect God.” That’s sorcery. It’s spirituality. It’s paganism.
This is how non-Christian spirituality thinks. “Through karma, you can control your future.” Goofy books like The Secret send out positive energy, and you’ll get a blessing in return. Word-faith teaching—“If you speak it, it will come back to you, and God will have to bring your words to pass because you have authority like he did in creation”—which is insane. “If you will give, you will get. Give 10 percent and watch the floodgates open and all of God’s blessing will come down into your hand. You can control him. You can control your destiny. You can control your future. You can control your God.”
God says, “I don’t agree with sorcery.” In fact, “I do not”—what? What’s the next verse? “I do not change. “You don’t control me; I control you. I don’t obey you; you obey me. You can’t decree the future and command that I bring it to pass. I know the future and you need to change and align yourself with me.”
Principally I believe that God is generous toward those who are generous, but I will never make you a promise that God is a means by which to gain more wealth so that you can feed your idolatry of money, OK? And it all comes down to God wanting everything and ultimately. The Bible summarizes that as the heart, the seat, the sum, the center, the decision-making headquarters of your soul. We may be talking about your wallet, but ultimately, it’s directed by your heart, and giving reveals your heart.
We’ll close with this: Malachi 3:13–18, “‘Your words have been hard against me,’ says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’” They’re still arguing, right? “You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’ Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name. ‘They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my’”—Do you see that line, Mars Hill? Just meditate on that for a moment—“‘treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between the one who serves God and the one who does not serve him.”
God says, “There are righteous people who serve me and wicked people who don’t.” And the wicked people, he says, are all predisposed by this particular attitude: “What’s in it for me?” That’s their argument. Why would we give to the Lord? What profit do we get? Why would we serve the Lord? How does it benefit us?
This is consumerism. Consumerism is a religion, and it’s not a new one. And a consumer knows what they want, and they look at a religion and ask if they get what they want without giving very much. “I want money, but the God of the Bible doesn’t give me enough money. And I want to be praised, and the God of the Bible doesn’t praise me enough. And I want to have my way, and the God of the Bible says that he gets it his way. What good is this religion? It doesn’t work.”
How many of you have approached our church, a church in ministry, and said, “Well, if I give, what do I get? If I serve, how do they serve me? Will I receive more than I give, and if not, what use is it to me?” God doesn’t think like that. God doesn’t look at you and say, “Where’s my profit?” God doesn’t look at you and say, “I’ve served you. When are you gonna serve me back? When are you gonna match my gift?”
We can’t match his gift. It’s grace. It’s unmerited. It’s undeserved. It’s inexhaustible. The ungodly asks, “What’s in it for me?” And he says the godly ask, “Why would he choose me as his treasured possession?”
What we’re talking about here is treasured possession. Let me ask you this: what’s your most treasured possession? What is the one thing that if God took it, you would be arguing and fighting with him as they are in Malachi? You’re like, “God and I would have a war if he took my spouse, my kid, my house, my job, my car, my health. If he took that—my reputation—we would have a war because that’s my treasured possession.”
Here’s what God says, “You’re my treasured possession.” Hear me in this: you are his treasured possession. You belong to him. All of you belongs to him, and he treasures you. He values you. He purchased you through the gift of his own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, that you would be his children, his people.
Well, this changes everything. If we are his treasured possession, then he is our treasured possession. Nothing compares to the Lord. Nothing’s as valuable as the Lord. Nothing matters as much as the Lord. And even if we lose our treasured possessions, we’ll never lose our treasured possession. The world doesn’t understand this God. I need you to love this God because he has loved you, and if he’s willing to make us his treasured possession—pretty crazy thought, right?—it is only fitting and right that we would choose him as our most treasured possession. Amen?
I love you. We’ve had a great year. We’re growing in generosity and maturity. And as we prepare for Communion where we give God our worst, our sin, and remember God giving us his best, the broken body and shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, as we collect our tithes and offerings and celebrate what God has done this year and anticipate what God has next year, I want to share with you from your executive pastor and my friend Pastor Sutton Turner, a year-end report. And here’s the good news: there’s actually some good news. I should know this. Gosh. That sounded like—thank you, Jesus.
Howdy, Mars Hill. Pastor Sutton, your executive pastor. Really excited to give you our church family update for 2013. Mars Hill Church has grown in numbers and faithfulness throughout this last year. It’s been an amazing year, and just over the last twelve months, almost 1,100 people have been baptized at Mars Hill Church, 422 babies have been dedicated, 219 couples have gone through our pre-marriage counseling, 93 weddings have been performed by our pastoral team, and 746 people have been added to our church family. Thank you, Jesus.
Over the past twelve months, our giving per adult per week has gone from $37 to $44 and not only has our giving per adult gone up, our total number of givers is almost 4,000 across our fifteen local churches. And our global audience now numbers 3,500 per year. Thank you, thank you for your faithfulness. So with the increase in givers and the increase in gifts, we have beat budget by $1.3 million over the last five months all while we’re holding our operating expenses in line.
So what are we doing with this excess margin? We’re investing these funds into new homes for our five churches, Phoenix, Huntington Beach, Everett, Tacoma, and Olympia. During these last several months, thousands of volunteers have invested countless numbers of hours into these local churches, and I want to say thank you. Thank you for loving and serving your local church family.
But there are still lots to do. Right now we’re praying for $2 million to come in above and beyond normal tithes and offerings to go to things like finishing the renovation of our five churches, sponsoring additional church planters in Ethiopia and India, going from forty-three church planters to 73 for 2014.
Next, it’s going to go to fund operating costs to get Corban University at Mars Hill Church and Western Seminary at Mars Hill Church launched fall 2014. Finally, it’s going to go to fund Jesus Festival 2014. It’s gonna be on Friday August the 22nd. It’s gonna be outdoor baptisms, a celebration of Jesus Christ, and an old-style outside revival. Mars Hill Church, we are so excited to end the year 2013 in an amazing way and launch 2014, which is poised to be our greatest and most evangelistic year ever.
Note: This sermon transcript has been edited for readability.