This blog post is Part 2 of a series entitled, "Give to Grow More" by Pastor Jeffrey Dean Smith of Donelson First in Nashville, TN.
Message Date: July 24, 2022
Malachi is the last prophetic message from God before the close of the Old Testament period. The book of Malachi is a short book, with only 4 chapters containing only 55 verses. It is the last book of the Old Testament. We know nothing about the author except his name.
As always, context is critical: Here at the close of the Old Testament, the nation of Israel has been through so much. The nation came under siege. Many were murdered. Their cities were ravaged. Those who survived were taken as slaves in exile in Babylon. But after 70 years, the Lord has brought them back to Jerusalem and has restored them as a nation.
We know that the prophet Malachi spoke these words sometime after the nation of Israel has returned from their Babylonian exile. We know that the temple has been rebuilt and a sacrificial system of animals at the temple has also been re-established. Life in Jerusalem has returned to somewhat of a degree of normalcy.
And, with this new routine, an unhealthy pattern of complacency and apathy has emerged. The priests did not fear God. And, as it relates to spiritual matters, the nation of Israel has become less than reverent and holy in their worship, sacrifices and day-to-day dealings.
The book of Malachi is really an indictment of God to His people because of their incessant unholy habits and behavior. So, this last prophet of the Old Testament has words for the nation of Israel. And, as we will see today, his words are ever important for us too, because these words aren’t just for the nation of Israel. No, God speaks through His prophet Malachi's words for the entire world:
To better understand God’s indictment upon Israel, look at Malachi 1:6-14
This is just one example of the covenant God states that His people have broken with Him. - - the sacrifice of animals. God made it clear earlier in the Old Testament that his people were to bring to him the very best when it comes to a sacrifice.
Instead, we read that they were bringing blind animals, animals with diseases, and animals that were lame. Look at what God says to His people:
He says, “I am your father, and I am your master.” He then questions, “Where is the honor due me? Where is the respect due me?” And, this is just the beginning of the Lord’s displeasure with His people. Malachi walks through a list of areas in which the nation of Israel is falling short in honoring the Lord. And if I could summarize their shortcomings in one word it would be this word:
Irreverent = to display a lack of respect.
To be irreverent doesn’t merely mean that one is lacking respect. No! There’s an action involved here among God’s people who are displaying a lack of respect. Do you see the difference here?
The nation of Israel isn’t just void of respect for the living God. In this case, they are actively displaying disrespect! And Malachi addresses this.
These four chapters would make for a really nice study for us at some point, for Malachi touches on many issues of the Christian life that warrants our attention. He speaks of the importance of sacrifices being something we do reverently by bringing our very best to the Lord. He gives a very strong challenge to the priests about their lack of strong spiritual leadership.
As a matter of fact, look at this strong language the Lord uses through the prophet Malachi to address this very issue: Malachi 2:1-3
You may have heard of people being called a poopy face before – maybe even using stronger curse words than the word poopy!
One thing that really speaks to me in this book is: As a follower of Jesus Christ, I am expected to covenant in total allegiance to Him.
A casual approach to obedience is never an option with God! God never grants me permission to welcome complacency and apathy in my relationship with Him and my covenant to Him.
Look at these powerful words: Malachi 3:5
God, through the prophet Malachi, speaks to the nation of Israel about a plethora of ways in which they are breaking their covenant with Him. He addresses poor sacrifices, divorce, sorcery, adultery, perjury, those who defraud their employees, those who mistreat widows and the fatherless, and then, Malachi addresses another critically important covenant upon which we will spend time today:
THIS is the page to which my Bible was opened on Tuesday! I haven’t stopped praying through this passage this week. And I have been convicted by what I have read. Let me share my thoughts on what the Lord God spoke through Malachi to the nation of Israel and to us all:
1. God never changes His expectations for my giving.
One translation of the Hebrew of this wording means:
“I the Lord do not change” (Hebrew) = What I ask of you never changes.
What has God “asked of me” in His Word in regard to covenant giving?
In regard to covenant giving, what has God asked of me throughout the entirety of His Word:
1. Honor God with the first of my wealth.
Proverbs 3:9-10: Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.
2 Chronicles 31:4-5: He ordered the people living in Jerusalem to give the portion due the priests and Levites so they could devote themselves to the Law of the Lord. As soon as the order went out, the Israelites generously gave the first fruits of their grain, new wine, olive oil and honey and all that the fields produced. They brought a great amount, a tithe of everything.
Nehemiah 10:35-37: We also assume responsibility for bringing to the house of the Lord each year the first fruits of our crops and of every fruit tree. As it is also written in the Law, we will bring the firstborn of our sons and of our cattle, of our herds and of our flocks to the house of our God, to the priests ministering there. Moreover, we will bring to the storerooms of the house of our God, to the priests, the first of our ground meal, of our grain offerings, of the fruit of all our trees and of our new wine and olive oil. And we will bring a tithe of our crops to the Levites, for it is the Levites who collect the tithes in all the towns where we work.
2. Honor God with a tithe of my wealth.
Leviticus 27:32-34: Every tithe of the herd and flock—every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd’s rod—will be holy to the Lord.
No one may pick out the good from the bad or make any substitution. If anyone does make a substitution, both the animal and its substitute become holy and cannot be redeemed. These are the commands the Lord gave Moses at Mount Sinai for the Israelites. Couple these Old Testament passages with our study of the New Testament last week and we see we are to also:
3. Honor God by not hording my wealth.
Matthew 6:19-21: Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
If my giving doesn’t force me to live by faith, it could be my giving needs to be evaluated.
4. Honor God cheerfully with my wealth.
2 Corinthians 9:6-8: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
So, these are the decrees in God’s Word when it comes to Giving to Grow More church.
God’s people were not doing this. They left God’s ways behind. Look at what Malachi says:
Malachi 3:7: “…Return to me…”
Why the call to return? Because again:
1. God never changes His expectations for my giving.
2. I rob God when I am not a giver to God.
God’s people are called to return to Him because they have robbed Him. How?
Ouch! God calls them robbers! Because they have withheld giving back to Him financially.
A robber of God = one who is not a covenant giver
So, guys, I’ve got to say this. I can’t skip over areas on scripture just because I’m fearful that this might offend someone, cause someone to leave, or someone’s feelings, or make someone mad. God’s word is very clear here. So here we go:
I am robbing from God if I am not giving back to God financially.
Notice that the verdict of “robber” doesn’t just come down on a few people. No! God says that ALL of His people are cursed.
Most likely, this was a widespread indictment because there was widespread abuse of God’s people not giving back to God what He demands.
Donelson First, this means:
3. I have a responsibility to protect the storehouse of the Church.
Notice Malachi 3:9 - - All of God’s people were judged for the actions of some of God’s people. We have a requirement as a God-revering church to encourage, expect and to hold one another financially accountable to God.
This means we must too not merely consider this passage individually but also do so corporately as the Church, as God’s people. Malachi is addressing ALL of God’s people. We must take this same warning as all of God’s people of the Church. We have already read where God said, “I the Lord do not change.” – Malachi 3:6
So if God does not change, again, meaning if “what He asks of us never changes,” then this means that corporately in the present day we too hold the same responsibility as God’s people held here in this passage in Jerusalem.
If God’s people rob, then corporately, “We all rob!”
Malachi 3:10 God says here to bring the whole tithe into the store house.
God says here in Malachi 3 that the nation of Israel was under a curse because they were not doing exactly as a nation, as a whole, not as individuals, but as his people, they were not collectively bringing the entire tithe into His church.
Therefore, they were not receiving the full blessing of God’s favor.
Isn’t this what God is saying? By the entirety of His people choosing collectively not to bring the fullness of what He was asking, they weren’t fully receiving the blessing that He had for them as his people.
We each have a responsibility to protect the storehouse of the church. Malachi’s challenge to God’s people is proof to each of us:
4. My personal giving impacts the Church’s getting.
God’s people were not receiving a full blessing from the Lord because they were not covenant givers.
Remember, God told us in Vs. 6: “I do not change.”
So… If God’s expectation then was for His people to give, and, if the result of them not giving meant that they were being penalized for their choice, and, since God doesn’t change, we have to believe that God’s response today to a church who isn’t unified in their giving will receive a similar verdict from God that will adversely impact God’s favor on the church. Now does this mean if we are not all giving here at Donelson First, we are under a curse? I can’t answer that…
I don't want to mislead us. I don't want to say we are if we aren't. And I also don't want to assume we're not just because it doesn't sound good for your Pastor to say, “We are under a curse.” Here’s what I do know:
Rather than debate whether or not we are under a curse, I am confident of this, a more useful approach, and one that we can gauge, that is reverent and attainable: Let’s just be a church who does what God says.
What does He say?
5. Test God.
God says, “Test me!” You know what this means: “Give God a chance to really bless you!”
How can I test God:
Here in Malachi, we read: Malachi 3:10
We looked at this passage last week: 2 Corinthians 9:7
We have already established that a tithe = 10%. So, then which is it?
Give a tithe – 10%?
Give what I have decided in my heart to give?
Well, there’s biblical evidence in the OT & NT that speaks to both. Many people believe that a tithe was strictly connected to the OT law and that when Jesus fulfilled the law with His death this OT teaching went away. I also know many Christians who have taken the 10% figure from the Old Testament tithe and have applied it as a “recommended minimum” for Christians in their giving. There’s nothing wrong with this.
So, here’s where I land - - here’s what I believe is a great approach: Tithe+
Give a tithe - 10%. Give + - What I have decided in my heart to give.
Let this OT principle be a great starting point for you & your family. And then pray & decide in your heart what you will do in & above the tithe principle.
I’ll tell you what we do in our family:
We give a Tithe+. We have used the tithe principle for many years as a basis, but not as an end-all. We give 10% of our income here to Donelson First as a basis, but we also give a plus. We at times designate to different ministries, and we also give outside of the church to people & ministries & opportunities that we have decided in our hearts we are passionate about, and places that we feel led by the Lord to give. So, we give Tithe+!
Giving 10% is a consistent pattern we see in OT scripture. God’s people throughout the entirety of God’s Word are called to give. So, committing that you are going to give 10% off of the first of your gross income is a great starting point. If you can’t give 10%, do what you have decided in your heart to do. I also know many who give way beyond 10% because they have decided in their heart that the tithe plus more is what the Lord would have them to do. This is great too!
This is really what Malachi is saying here. Look at: Malachi 3:8
Malachi details 2 ways in which God’s people are robbing God:
1. My tithe = 10% of my income.
2. My offering = what I have decided in my heart to give.
What can really help here in the area of financial management & committing to a Tithe+:
1 Chronicles 29:10-13
God owns everything. I own nothing. All that I have, I would not have without God. Everything I have is God’s. And I only have what I have because God allows it!
Therefore, since it is His, committing to giving is really about prioritizing!
Proverbs 3:9: Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops.
God gets the first of my finances. Not the last.
Look, you probably know this to be true: If you wait until all the bills have been paid to decide what you feel comfortable giving to the church, there probably isn’t gonna be a lot, if any, left over to give to the church. This is why we have to remember: It’s all His!
So: Give back to God what is God’s first!
We also can test God as we continue to:
My first freshman semester @ BU: I made 3 D’s. - Accounting 1. Biology. Men’s Chorus. - Accounting 1 was hard. Biology was super hard. Men’s Chorus was the hardest!!! - I still remember that conversation I had w/my parents the day my grades came over Christmas break in 1987! I had to evaluate if I was willing to commit to doing better, to staying the course!
God says, “Test me.” This is an active process. This is an ongoing process.
Let me ask: When was the last time you evaluated your finances, giving + the covenant you have with the Lord when it comes to your commitment?
Again, we do this in other areas of our lives: Balancing a checkbook. / Meeting with a financial advisor. / Planning for vacation. / Budgeting for retirement. Should we not be doing the same as it relates to our covenant as givers to the Lord? I think so!
A periodic evaluation of my covenant is an important application in my commitment to be an obedient giver.
Jeffrey: What do you mean by “my covenant?” We too can test God as we work to:
4. Be Accountable to One Another
This is what we are doing here. We are talking…well, I’m doing most of the talking right now. So, this is a conversation we need to be having and keep having with one another. We encourage one another to be givers. - Givers of our time as we serve. - Givers of our finances as we support the ministry of the Church.
Lastly, we ultimately test God as we:
Yes, the word covenant can be used as a verb! This is an action. An agreement.
Covenant = an agreement with God.
“A scroll of remembrance…” = to remember their covenant with God + with one another!
This is exactly the reason for God’s verdict on His people here in Malachi. Malachi speaks to these people about this very thing: Covenant!
He speaks of their:
You & I already covenant with our money in so many ways. My quick list: Comcast. Verizon. Apple. Cinco de Mayo. Netflix. OnStar. DCA. Belmont. Jim Bryson!
Getting into the rhythm of covenant giving begins with my commitment to honor God with my finances.
Jeffrey Dean Smith is a husband, father to Bailey & Brynnan, author, and the Senior Pastor at Donelson First in Nashville, TN. If you are in Music City, meet Jeffrey and enjoy iced tea on the front lawn each Sunday at 10:30a.