Agonizomai: Malachi 3:10-12 - You Have Nothing to Give

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Malachi 3:10-12 - You Have Nothing to Give
Malachi 3:10-12 - You Have Nothing to Give

Malachi 3:10-12 Bring the full tithes 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.

As men we see tithes as a test of our faith. But God sees them quite differently. He sees tithes as the means of our putting Him to the test. Not in a wicked way, which is specifically forbidden in scripture, but in a way that demonstrates His faithfulness. He has promised certain things and the way to prove His faithfulness is to act upon the condition that qualifies the promises. "If you do this," God says throughout scripture and history to His people, "Then I will do something." God is faithful. God is reliable. God is to be trusted because He is the true and good and just and changeless and unfailing sovereign of all creation.

It was this way from the beginning and it was always a matter of faith. Adam showed a lack of faith when he took the fruit that Eve gave to him. He disbelieved God in a number of ways. He mistrusted God. He chose his wife over his Maker. Eve was deceived but Adam’s act of rebellion was pure will. It spoke defiance. It spoke disbelief in either God’s will to punish sin or the goodness of His nature in prohibiting something so seemingly harmless. (In fact, the fruit was utterly harmless. Believing otherwise is the mistake of many a cult. It was not the fruit that harmed, but the disobedience in eating it when it was forbidden.)

But we must always be careful to properly identify the true mover and the true object. Why do all Israelites, indeed all those professing to be descendants of Jacob, upon hearing the command to tithe simply not tithe rightly, if at all? Why do some (a remnant) fear God and the majority not? What makes one to differ from another? What dictates that some will have faith and others not? The scriptural answer can only be that it is God Who does this. {1Co 4:7 Ro 9:20-28} God commands all men to obey, and He holds all men accountable for their disobedience - but those who do obey know that it is an ongoing work of God upon their hearts that has brought them to it and will keep them in it. That is faith. It is how faith works. Faith is not in our own ability to obey, but in the God of all power to lead and keep us in the obedience that pleases Him.

And so the command is heard with understanding by the sheep. "My sheep hear my voice," says the Lord, "And I know them and they follow Me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of My hand." {John 10:27-28} But the goats, though the sounds fall upon their ears just the same, never hear with understanding - for the Word of Truth both hardens and further condemns them through their own unwillingness and defiance.

Thus, God’s people grow in grace, for grace upon grace is granted to them. They are the ones who have - and being found having, more is given unto them. True children of God grow in grace because God grows them using His preordained means. The Word, the Spirit and His sovereign providence nurture, guide and draw His sheep in the Way because they are His sheep and not so that they may become His sheep. Faith is the instrument - the obedience of faith - but this itself is also His gift.

When once we see the Godness of God and come to understand what it must mean for us that there is indeed a Supreme Being Who is in fact in all things (including the human will) actually and effectively supreme, then the "if you do this I will do that" statements and commandments in the Bible begin to be seen not as our cause affecting God’s action (or causing His reaction) - but as God working in His people to bring them to conformity with the image of His Son. Many desire and love to believe in God and are happy to grant Him some worship - but let once the underlying and inevitable sovereignty of His Person be seen to over arch their own supposed free will and the hatred, resistance and rebellion that still resides will flare up like a long-suppressed volcanic eruption. People love God so long as He either has no demands or no absolute power over them. But let God be God and then you will see the cat amongst the pigeons.

But we are limited human beings and we have varying degrees of light. Some are mature and some are babes in Christ. Some have come to understand the deeper things and some have not yet grown up into them. Sadly many actually prefer to stay in the nursery and even more sadly some are kept from graduating because their teachers are uninformed themselves. In any event some simply take the face value of statements like this and see the promise as contingent upon their action alone.

But these things actually show that God is so in love with His true church that He provides the means of their growth in grace and in the knowledge of their Lord and Savior by choosing to reveal to them the glories of His character through the obedience of their faith. It’s not about us - it’s all about God. Get this - it’s not even partly about us and partly about God. For us it is all about God from start to finish. It is about the revelation of the fullness of the glories of His nature in His Son, that we, the redeemed in His Son, might eternally glorify Him and enjoy Him forever through the magnification of His Name in praise and thanksgiving.

Is God promising to reward obedience here? Yes. Are the obedient thinking that they are, of themselves, doing something that makes them better than the disobedient in their own eyes? In the eyes of men? In God’s eyes? Why does obedience please God? I believe that the answer to that lies in Jesus Christ the Lord. For when God the Father sees fruitful obedience in any of His children He is seeing the fruit of His Son manifested in the people for whom He died. It makes no difference pre-incarnation or post incarnation - for all who receive eternal life receive it on exactly the same terms - a free gift of God by grace through faith in His salvation, provided in the Messiah.

Did Israel in fact bring all the tithes into the storehouse? History says not - for within about 480 years they had rejected Messiah and been utterly uprooted as a nation. There was no blessing in any general sense. Individuals obeyed and were blessed - as had always been the case. But the nation as a whole continued its slide into humanism, religiosity and apostasy. The remnant was saved, as God had planned from eternity.

Is there a lesson for the gospel age in this? Is tithing for today? Many a pastor gives his annual sermon on this text. Or when times of financial stress appear in church funding this sermon gets pulled out and laid upon the flock. Remember what tithes were. They were given to the Lord by donation to the Levites who administered the priestly offices. Sacrifices were conducted by the priests. They were without inheritance in Israel. They were separated unto God in place of the firstborn sons of every family in all the tribes of Israel.

Is there any longer a sacrificial system? Is there a priesthood that offers up sacrifices and cares for the things of the temple? Or is the reality here of which these things are now mere figures? Each believer must find the way in these things through study and prayer. But it seems clear that true believers understand the radical nature of their conversion and, as they come into the fullness of the understanding of their position in Christ such things are not a focus of inner debate. A true believer owns nothing and knows that everything belongs to God. What a man keeps, he keeps by the grace of God. What he gives, he gives by the grace of God - all in Jesus Christ.

Preachers who turn passages like this into a means of laying guilt upon the congregation for the "new building project" or the "general fund shortfall" are in danger of returning to the old sacrificial system where obedience to certain laws and precepts actually justifies a person in God’s eyes. They are in danger of making flesh their arm and of using human means to try to bring about spiritual ends. Clear distinctions must always be made between the fruit of righteousness and the cause; between the effect and the source. If preachers spent more time putting forth the whole counsel of God in the power of the Holy Spirit the true sheep would be kept and grown and opened up like flowers to the purposes and will of God, and giving would be as natural as breathing because they would be abiding in the Giver of all things. They would hear the voice at their shoulder saying, "This is the way, walk in it." {Isa 30:20-21}

To a believer the whole earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. We may be stewards called to responsible use of what God lends us - but He is always free to take away that which is His - be it material or relational {Job 1:21}. To think in terms of "this is God’s and this is mine" is a fundamental error that springs from a wicked heart. It disbelieves God as owner and ruler of all. It ascends the sides of the north. It rises up. It fails to apprehend reality. It is religious without being the least bit spiritual. It not of faith and it cannot please God. Such thinking can lead to a nit-picking, unresponsive, self-righteous and unspontaneous lack of generosity worse than anything seen in heathens, because it is mixed with the hypocrisy of death. If all things are held lightly and in trust, and the believer is listening for call or alert to the tug of the yoke, then legalities dissolve in a spiritual union with the Law-giver Himself, from Whose very essence these precepts and graces spring.

Nevertheless, there is no denying the experiences of believers throughout the ages. Some say, "You can’t out give God." They have experienced something. They have proven God. They have found blessing in obedience. But what danger also lurks in such thinking. How short a distance between giving out of love for God and a sincere desire to be conformed to His will on the one hand, and giving in order to receive some greater material thing back from God on the other hand. In such thinking the blasphemous and wicked teachings of Kenneth Copeland and his ilk find their root. The false prophets who peddle the prosperity gospel on television make the Name of Christ a byword among the heathen. The concept "seed money" has nothing to do with the teachings of the Bible.

God does promise to rebuke the devourer and to pour out heavenly blessings upon Israel if they are obedient is this matter of tithing. And God has blessed many a faithful servant who has obediently given for the advancement of the kingdom, as the Spirit has led. Too many have received from God in this way, including myself, for it to be denied, even in the age of grace. There is a principle at work that consumes without profit what we withhold without faith. And there is a principle at work that supernaturally blesses the obedient return to God of the things that are His. I will not call it giving, for what has any one that he might give anything to God?

Only let these things not be overlaid with carnal and worldly principles that begin with us giving God something of ours and getting a tit-for-tat - or even a "double portion" - of material enhancement back. That is not blessing. Material increase is not blessing. Blessing is being enabled to see the hand of God upon one’s life through the obedience of faith that is produced in us by the Holy Spirit because of the work of Christ. Sometimes this is a material blessing. Often it is a supernatural sufficiency regardless of supply - something we just can’t quite understand but nevertheless experience. Sometimes it is a blessing utterly unrelated to physical needs or wants. In all cases, though, it is always the revelation of the character of God in Jesus Christ at work in us and the world around us. To see Him is to be blessed. To see Him is to love Him - and what greater blessing can there be than that, considering where we are coming from?

Blessed indeed, then, is the nation of true Israel. They see God. Remember the beatitude that says, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God?" Do we now understand that this does not only (nor even mainly) mean that we shall see Him in eternity - but that we shall see Him at work in the world and in ourselves whenever we decrease and He increases; when we abide in the truth - when we truthfully apprehend, understand and see - our own absolute poverty and it dawns upon us that all our riches are in Christ Jesus - and all our righteousness. He is our purity and our righteousness.

It is the fruit of the Spirit of God testifying to the Lord Jesus Christ in every believer that causes the world to call the saints blessed. O, they may not express it that way, but they will note the difference between us and the world and they will either give glory to God or hate us for displaying what they do not have. Again, it all finds its nexus in Jesus Christ.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ahhh...words that bring life and freedom! The utterly blasphemous teachings from synergistic "pastors" has spread from america to the rest of the world. We need more men like you to speak up against it, in order to turn the tide so the new converts will be taught the truth-that everything is truly all about Jesus.

11:16 am  
Blogger Derek Ashton said...


I was listening to this on my way into work this morning, and what a blessing. There are some amazing parallels between your discussion of election here and my latest post on faith and election. So, I'm not completely off the wall, I guess! The tithing discussion here is absolutely the best teaching on tithing I have ever heard, perfectly balanced. Some pastors are afraid to free their people from the burdens of the law, afraid of what might happen, but they don't realize what God will do with truly free people who delight in imitating His generosity.

Thanks for all the encouragement.


8:33 am  
Blogger agonizomai said...


I know what you mean about doubting if we have it right. But curiously (one might even say "paradoxically") it is most often those who examine themselves that turn out to be closest to the truth.

For any surfing postmoderns who happen on this, I'm not advocating that truth is illusory or relative, but that those who are constantly checking that they know the truth, and who are refining their understanding of it, are most likely to speak the truth.

Thanks for you encouragement, Derek. Been wondering a bit where you were. Glad things are on track.



PS Always feel free, if so led, to post extracts of my stuff on your site when they suit your purposes. -T

8:52 am  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home