Malachi 3:7 offers what could easily be the theme verse of the entire Minor Prophets. God says to His people, 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.
The theme of our series in the Minor Prophets has been “come back to me!!!” But where do God’s people start? The answer may surprise you.
Malachi 3:7b-9—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.
The word “tithe” literally means tenth. Malachi says “tithes” (plural) because there were three commanded tithes in the law.
One tenth was given to the Levites, to support the ministry they did in the temple (Numbers 18:21-24). This is sometimes called the Levite Tithe and it’s the tithe that is most like the giving we do in the church today. It was giving to support the work of the ministry.
Another tenth was set aside to be consumed during the annual festival (Deuteronomy 14:22-26). This is sometimes called the Festival Tithe, and it’s more like setting aside money in advance for an annual trip.
A final tenth was set aside once every three years to support the poor (Deuteronomy 14:28-29). This is sometimes called the Poor Tithe, and it’s kind of like money you pay in taxes to support government programs like welfare, medicaid, etc.
“Contributions” is referring to various freewill offerings God’s people gave, above and beyond the required tithes. Apparently in Malachi’s day, God’s people were neglecting both their tithes and their contributions, and as a result God says they’re robbing Him!!!
Isn’t it interesting when God’s people ask Him how to return, He starts by asking for their wallets. What does this tell us about God? What does it tell us about money?
The history buffs reading this certainly know the name Sam Houston, the legendary general, war hero, politician and namesake of Texas’ largest city. But you may not know that, towards the end of his life, Houston came to faith in Christ. He was so serious about his newfound faith that he was committed to paying at least half the minister’s salary. When asked about it, he replied, "When I was baptized my [wallet] was baptized, too."
Has your wallet been baptized? Do you worship God with your wealth?
Which leads to the oft-debated question: Do I have to give a tithe?
From the outset, let’s admit this is a debated issue among Christians. We can say for certain that at least one of the tithes is no longer in effect since it was related to the annual Jewish festivals (the Festival Tithe).
The tithe given to care for the poor required 10% every three years. But Jesus requires even more. Rather than giving a portion of our income, Jesus challenges us to sell our possessions to care for the poor (Luke 12:33). At the very least, we ought to admit that the call to care for the poor among us has not diminished on this side of the cross.
The special tithe to care for the Levites seems to be echoed in the NT command to support the work of the church. Consider 1 Corinthians 9:13-14, for example. Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.
Notice how Paul draws a parallel between giving to support the work of the Levites in the temple and giving to support the work of the local church. For this reason, I encourage every Christian to give at least 10% of their income to support the work of your local church.
That said, let me remind you that God doesn’t need your money. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. The silver is His and the gold is His. He’ll be fine whether you give or not.
And PBC doesn’t need your money. Jesus will build His church, whether or not you faithfully give.
And as an employee of the church, I don’t need your money. God has proven His faithfulness to meet my family’s needs again and again.
But you need to be a giver. You need the discipline of regular, sacrificial giving so that your soul does not become ensnared by the riches of this world.
So if you’re not giving at least a tithe, I would challenge you to do everything you can to start. And if you are, I would encourage you to ask how God might enable you to give more. After all, it’s been said that tithing is merely the training wheels of Christian giving.
As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 9:6-8, The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.
There’s an old story of a king who went into the village streets to greet his subjects. A beggar sitting by the roadside eagerly held up a bowl, hoping the king would put some money inside it. Instead, the king shocked everybody around by asking the beggar to give him something. Taken aback, the poor man gave the king three grains of rice. The king then dropped something into the poor man’s bowl. When the beggar looked inside the bowl he was astonished to see three grains of pure gold. The poor man lamented, “If I only had give him all I had!”
That’s what Jesus wants. All you have.