How have we robbed you, God?

With the exception of organized crime, robbery is the most prevalent and costly crime in America. Many are surprised to find that shoplifting and employee theft rank together as the number one type of robbery. Though most thefts are under $30 worth of goods, they account for 70 percent of the loss suffered by business, costing $24 billion annually. 1

Shocked at such alarming statistics, many Christians are calling upon the court system to take strong measures to stem the crime wave sweeping this country. Yet these same people might be shocked at how God views their lives when it comes to the subject of robbery.

The average protestant is robbing God! He gives only 3 percent of his income to the church and 1/10 of 1 percent of his income — less than $3.00 annually per person — to missions. More money is spent on pets (food and care) than is given to churches and charities in the United States.

Malachi leveled the charge of robbery against Judah because she had cheated God in the area of giving. Such practice brought a scathing reprimand from the prophet and a call for the nation to return to the biblical principle of tithing.

RETURN TO GOD (v.7)

Judah had failed to learn from the past. Her history was checkered with disobedience from the time of Moses to the present “Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances”^ (v. 7), was the Lord’s indict­ment. Yet in a spirit of love, God stretched forth His hands and beckoned Judah to be reconciled back to Him. “Return unto me, and I will return unto you” (v. 7) was His gracious invitation. All Judah need do was return and repent, and God would stay His hand of judgment and once again restore full blessing to the nation.

But sin had blinded both priest and people to their true spiritual condition. With calloused lack of conscience, Judah claimed ignorance and innocence of any wrong doing. “In what way shall we return?” (v. 7) indicated their attitude.

Many believers today react the same way when confronted concerning their standing before God. Sin has so lulled the individual into a spiritual stupor that he is robbed of any discernment concerning his true spiritual condition.

ROBBING GOD (vv. 8-9)

God pointed out Judah’s sin by answering their question with a question, “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me” (v. 8). The Hebrew word for “robbed,” which occurs only one other time in Scripture (Prov. 22:22), means to defraud. The verb has been used often in Talmudic literature and means to take forcibly. 2

But how can mere finite mortals rob an infinite God who created, sustains, sover­eignly owns and controls all things (Ps. 24:1; 50:10; Hag. 2:8)? They did it in a number of ways which have already been presented: by failing to honor God (1:6), by offering corrupt sacrifices and service in their worship (1:8-14; 2:1-9), by breaking the covenant of marriage (2:10-16) and by defrauding the helpless (3:5). In other words, they robbed God by taking or keeping back that which belonged to Him and others!

Once again Judah asked,  “How have we robbed thee?” (v. 8). God’s answer was succinct, “In tithes and offerings” (v. 8).

Israel was required by Levitical law to give tithes and offerings unto God. First, they were to bring a tenth of all produce and livestock, or the financial equivalent, into the Temple for distribution among the Levites (Lev. 27:30, 32; Dt. 14:22). They in turn gave a portion of their tithe to the priests (Num. 18:21-32). Second, another tithe was brought to the Temple during special feast days (Dt. 14:22-27).Every three years the second tithe was held within the Israelite’s hometown to be distributed among sojourners, the father­less and widows (Dt 14:28-29). Fail­ure to tithe every three years would be defrauding these ^ groups of what was due them (v. 5). Third, a half shekel was required to be paid by all people over twenty years of age whenever a census was taken (Ex. 30:11-15).

Failure to properly tithe could have taken many forms: not paying the tithe at all, withholding part of it or not giving it at the proper time. Whatever the reason, refusing to tithe according to the law brought a curse, “Ye are cursed with a curse; for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation” (v. 9).

This is the third curse pronounced in the Book of Malachi thus far. First, the individual (1:14) was cursed for the deceptive practice of offering corrupt sacrifices. Second, the priesthood was cursed for hypocritical service (2:2). Third, the nation was cursed for robbing God in failing to give their tithe (3:9). Notice that failure to tithe cuts off blessings not only to the individual but to his family, neighbors and the nation.

Often Christians will ask, Why does God bless some with abundance and not others? Al­though the ultimate reason is unknown, God does promise to pour out abundant blessing on those who are liberal givers. Those who rob God in their giving are actually robbing themselves!

REWARDING THE GODLY (VV. 10-12)

The people did not have to experience a curse if they were obedient to the Lord. In fact, seeming disaster could be turned into blessing if they were faithful in their giving. The key to blessing was complete obedience. “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse” (v. 10).

The storehouse was the chamber in the Temple where the tithes and offerings were kept (1 Ki. 7:51). Two things must be said concerning the word ‘storehouse.” First, the word in context does not refer to the local church, for the Church was not in existence during this time. But having said this, the Christian should bring his gifts to the local church where he fellowships in order to support that ministry. Second, there is no place in Scripture that forbids giving to a parachurch ministry. The issue was not dealt with since parachurch ministries were nonexistent at that time.

The question of Christian tithing has been debated through the centuries. There are two positions which are commonly held on the subject, and no matter how the question is answered, objections will be raised by the other side. First, some believe that tithing is to be practiced by Christians today for the following reasons. Tithing preceded the law and was practiced by Abraham (Gen. 14:20) and Jacob (Gen. 28:22). During His ministry, Jesus neither spoke against nor abolished the practice of tithing. In fact, He endorsed it! He told the scribes and Pharisees, “For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, justice, mercy, and faith; these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone” (Mt. 23:23). In the epistles, no writer ever spoke against or did away with the principle of tithing. Therefore, it should be practiced today as a fair percentage required by God in support of His work. But giving should not be limited to the tithe, for free-will offerings are to be brought on top of the tithe (v. 8).

Second, there are others who believe that the principle of tithing is not binding on the Christian today for the following reasons. The Bible did not institute tithing before the law, for there is no record that Abraham, and Jacob were instructed by God to tithe. It was an amount that they freely determined on their own. Although the Israelite was required to tithe by law, the principle is not binding on the Christian today, for he is not under Mosaic Law. It is true that Jesus supported the tithe principle because He was speaking in the context of the law to those who were under the law at that time, but He would not endorse it for those in the Church today. Although the writers of the epistles did not renounce the tithe, neither did they endorse it.

Just what is the New Testament teaching on giving? The principles are clearly presented in the Pauline epistles. Giving must come from a willing heart (2 Cor. 9:7,11-12), a right mental attitude (2 Cor. 9:7) and be given on the basis of grace, not law (2 Cor. 8:7). The Christian is to lay up systematically a proportionate amount as God has pros­pered him and to bring that gift to church on Sunday (1 Cor. 16:2). Giving is to be voluntary (2 Cor. 8:12), out of what the person has (2 Cor 8:11-12) and is proof of his sincere love for God (2 Cor. 8:8; 9:1-2,5,7). The individual is to count it a privilege (2 Cor. 8:4) to give sacrificially and liberally (2 Cor. 8:2,9) to God and His work. Giving is to be by “every one” (1 Cor. 16:2) in the Church with no exceptions. Men of impeccable character are to be given oversight in the collecting, counting and record keeping of the gifts donated to the local church (2 Cor. 8:19-20). God will reward the faithful giver with joy (2 Cor. 8:2), abundance if he sows liberally (2 Cor. 9:6) and the ability to give even more (2 Cor. 9:7-11).

Nowhere in Scripture does it teach that God’s work is to be supported by unbelievers, financial gimmickry, church raffles, rummage sales, bake sales, car washes, coercion by church leaders or special stewardship organizations called in to collect annual pledges from parishioners. These types of “fund raising” seem to be inconsistent with the “grace giving” principles outlined in the previous paragraph.

It may be good to start with the tithe as a proper standard for giving, but both Testaments teach that giving is not to be limited to this amount. The Israelife was required not only to bring his tithe but offerings too. It has been said, “If tithes and offerings were required under law,  how much more should the believer give under grace!”  In fact, some who give only 10 to 20 percent of their annual income could actually be robbing God if their income is six or seven digits.

God challenged Judah to “test” or try His faithful­ness in rewarding them for paying all the tithe that was required. If they were obedient,- a number of blessings would be forthcoming.

First, God would rain prosperity on them, “I will ..open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing” (v. 10). In other words. God would unlock His storehouse in Heaven if they filled His storehouse on earth. Then the Lord would send such an abundance of rain “that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (v. 10). This phrase literally means until a failure of sufficiency.3, Malachi challenges believers to try to exhaust God with giving. Naturally, this is impossible, for God has limitless resources. The promise of abundant rain was a blessing linked to an obedient walk by the nation (Dt. 28:12).

He makes the same type of promise to the believer today. “But: seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you,” (Mt.6:33). God gives proportionately to the believer’s giving “He who soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he who soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully” (2 Cor.9:6).

Second, God would remove the pestilence, “And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground” (v. 11). The devourer is any predator who would destroy their crops. The word “devourer” means to eat or consume, and it was the name given to the locust who swarmed over the fields in the Middle East leaving nothing green in its path (Joel 1-2).

Third, God would renew productivity to the land, “neither shall your vine cast its fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of hosts” (v. 11). The word “cast” means to miscarry or drop the grapes before they had ripened. Obedience in the area of tithing meant a guaranteed harvest for Judah.

Fourth, God would restore prominence to Judah in the eyes of other nations, “And all nations shall call you blessed” (v. 12). This will ultimately take place during the millennial reign of Christ. The restored Israel will become a blessing among the nations (Zech. 8:13), will be reestablished as the head of all nations (Dt. 28:13) and will receive worldwide acceptance (Isa. 61:9). In that day Israel will be a “delightsome land” (v. 12), one that is pleasurable and pleasing in which to dwell (cf. Isa. 62:4). All nations will serve Israel in that day (Isa. 60:12).

Christians present many reasons and excuses for not giving to the Lord. Some have been taught improperly or not at all concerning what God requires in the area of giving. Some do not give out of greed and a desire to spent all their money on self- gratification. Some believe that they cannot afford to give — they have a young family to support, they are in debt, saving for retirement on a pension or just too poor. Still others believe that by giving their lives to a full-time ministry, they are not required to give financially. The Scripture teaches that “every one” (1 Cor. 16:2) is required to give to the Lord’s work. Those holding any of the above positions must restructure their giving according to biblical principles.

The Christian cannot afford not to give. By robbing God of what is due Him, the individual is actually robbing himself and his family of many personal blessings, for giving pays earthly (Lk. 6:38) and heavenly (Mt 6:19-20) dividends.

How the Christian handles money is a true barometer of his spiritual life. The rich young ruler came to the awful realization that his wealth robbed him of eternal life because he put it before a personal commitment to Christ (Mt, 19:21). Failure to handle one’s money properly can rob the Christian of spiritual growth, opportunities and blessings. The Lord said, “If, therefore, ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous money, who will commit to your trust the true riches?” (Lk. 16:11).

Jesus did not mince words when it came to speaking about one’s attitude toward giving. He said, “’For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also… No man can serve two masters; … Ye cannot serve God and money” (Mt. 6:21, 24).

Have you taken a spiritual audit lately when it comes to giving? Are you robbing God like the average protestant by giving only 3 percent or less to the Lord? Are your treasures here on earth or in Heaven? Remember, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35) in more ways than one.

How have we robbed you, God? is a question we must all ask!

ENDNOTE
  1. Youth Problems, Editorial Records Reports, “Shoplifting” (Washington: Congressional Quarterly, Inc., 1982), p.103.
  2. Joyce Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah and Mahchi (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1972), pp. 245-46.
  3. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Malachi: God’s Unchanging Love (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984), p. 91.

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