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My title this evening is TITHING , and I want to put the spotlight on a promise that’s embedded in that Old Testament Bible reading: Malachi 3.6-12. Do have that open in front of you.

Here’s a question for you. What would you rather do: give money or get money? Just think about that for a moment in silence. Given the choice, what would you prefer: to give some money away, or to get some money and pay it into your bank account?

From the point of view of the values of the world, the answer to that question is so obvious that it screams out at us: getting money is what we want. Who wants to be a millionaire? Well, obviously, we all do. But it’s only going to happen to the lucky few. For them, the problems of life will be over. The rest of us must struggle on, with greater or lesser degrees of happiness, depending largely on the size of our bank balance. That’s the way the world thinks.

Mind you, very often those who have reached the dizzy heights of multi-millionairedom seem to have a rather different perspective. Take this selection of rich Americans. John D. Rockefeller lamented:

“I have made many millions, but they have brought me no happiness.”

Cornelius Vanderbilt commented:

“The care of millions is too great a load… there is no pleasure in it.”

John Jacob Astor once called himself:

“the most miserable man on earth.”

But we listen to such voices and all too easily we allow the world to persuade us that they must be a bit cracked and it wouldn’t be like that for us. What we need is to get more money.

But that’s not the way it is in the Kingdom of God. Listen to Jesus, as reported by Paul in Acts 20.35:

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

In other words, if we had our heads screwed on and our thinking straight, we’d know immediately what we’d rather do: we’d rather give. There’s more blessing in that. Of course, that’s radical. If we live like that, that’s going to work a transformation. But that’s what knowing Jesus does. When we know Jesus, we begin to live by the Bible’s promises.

So what about God’s promise in Malachi 3? As we look at that now, there are three headings I want to use: first, A PROMISE GIVEN; secondly, A PROMISE TRANSFERRED; and thirdly, A PROMISE TO LIVE BY . Verse 10 is the promise. Here it is. This is God speaking to his people:

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”


A promise only applies to those to whom it is given, so it’s important that we understand the context here.

Begin at the beginning – 1.1:

“An oracle: The word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi.”

The prophet is the mouthpiece for God. The message is for God’s people Israel. When? Around 450 years before the coming of Christ – in other words towards the end of the long Old Testament history of God’s faithfulness to his people and their unfaithfulness in response.

After a thousand years of warnings, what God said would happen did happen, and Israel’s land was devastated, their city destroyed, their temple raised to the ground and their population exiled.

But such is the faithfulness of God that he would not let them go. He brought them back to Jerusalem from exile. Under Nehemiah’s leadership the city walls were rebuilt. With the spur of Haggai’s prophecy that we were hearing about last week, the temple was reconstructed. And they settled down again. And you would have thought they’d have learned their lesson at last, but they hadn’t.

No sooner had they got back on their feet than they began to lose sight again of what God had done for them. And as they lost sight of him they stopped living the way that he wanted them to live.

And in this prophecy of Malachi the Lord confronts them with their thinking and their behaviour and he challenges them to change.

They were doubting God’s love for them. They were neglecting their duty – maintaining a veneer of religious practice but what they were offering as sacrifices in the temple were the dregs of their possessions that they wouldn’t have dreamed of giving to anyone they feared. The teaching of their religious leaders, instead of pointing people to the true God, was dragging them away. In a word, Israel had yet again broken faith with God. They were trampling their covenant with him. There was social breakdown. They were promoting a multifaith agenda. Marriages and families were being torn apart and divorce was rife. What is more they were calling evil good. What God had clearly told them was wrong they were saying was God’s will. And yet at the same time there was outspoken atheism. They were saying that God wasn’t really there at all, and that living a life of obedience to God was a waste of time. They had come to think that sin and selfishness pay. And one symptom of this wholesale turning of their collective back on God was this: the tithe that they were supposed to bring into the temple they were keeping for themselves instead.

One tenth of their crops and their livestock should have gone to the temple. Why? Because it was God’s command. What for? To provide for the work of the temple; to meet the needs of the poor; and above all as a sign of their total dependence on God and as an acknowledgement that everything they had belonged to God. As someone has said:

“The tithe was never a ceiling for giving, only a floor. It was a beginning point. The tithe was a demonstration of obedience.”

Giving a tenth of everything would have been no great hardship but it would have been a sign of a life lived in joyful gratitude for God’s grace to them. Keeping the tithe for themselves was a symptom of the way they had turned their backs on God. And that’s the context in which this extraordinary promise is given. The Lord is saying to them: If you stay on this course that you are on, you will bring down judgement on yourselves. But it doesn’t have to be like that. There is another way. They are unfaithful but God remains faithful. 3.6:

“I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.”

All this sin can yet be wiped away. And in place of a curse, you can have more blessing than you can cope with. How? 3.7:

“Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.

They will have an abundant harvest. The world will see that they are on God’s side. And they will have a delightful land. That’s the promise, if they bring in their tithe as a sign of their newly restored relationship with God. So there’s a promise given.


That was a promise given to Israel. Does it, then, apply to us in any way? Is it a promise that can be transferred to us? Yes, if we are believers. Why? Because all the blessings that God promises his people are the inheritance of those who belong to Christ, 2 Corinthians 1.20:

“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ.”

And is the promise fulfilled for us now in exactly the same way as for the Israelites then? No. Why? Because when the promise is transferred to us through Jesus, it becomes even more glorious.

They were promised lots of disease free wheat and more ripe grapes than they could handle. In other words, earthly, material blessings. Are believers promised material blessings? Yes – and much more. Listen again to the words of Jesus we heard read earlier from Luke 6.38:

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

In other words, you can’t out-give God. God is not stingy. He is not looking to profit by us. He’s looking for ways to give to us. And he doesn’t stint. There’s no short measures with him. When it comes to doling out blessings, he fills up our lives, then he presses the blessings in until we can hold no more, then gives us a good shake to make sure the blessings are well settled so he can fit some more in. And then once we’re filled to the brim, he just keeps on pouring so we overflow with blessings.

Now maybe you’re thinking to yourself, ‘That’s not how I see my experience.’ Well, a number of points need to be made.

First, be generous. We have to be generous people if we’re going to make room in our lives for God to pour in blessings. If we batten down the hatches to make sure we hang on to everything we’ve got, then God will leave us to it.

Secondly, count your blessings. We also have to have our eyes open to see the blessings we’ve already got. It is all too possible to be so caught up with aspects of our lives that are not as we want them to be, that we lose sight of so much blessing God has already given us in other ways.

Thirdly, expect suffering. We need to be aware that this side of heaven, our blessings come mixed with suffering. Yes, we get both material and spiritual blessings now, in this life. But we also live under continuous attack from the world, the flesh and the devil. This promise of Jesus is in Mark 10.29-30:

“I tell you the truth, no-one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields – and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.”

Then fourthly, remember eternity. And that’s the other thing: never forget this - whatever blessings you’ve experienced so far as a believer, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

All the heavenly riches of eternal life sharing in the glory of Jesus await us. And they will take our breath away. And none of us will say to ourselves, “I do regret giving so much away during my life on the old earth. I wish I’d kept more for myself.” No. We’ll say to ourselves: “I wish I’d made even more room in my life for the Lord to fill with blessings by being even more generous than I was.”

There’s one other question to answer here. Is tithing a law for Christians? No. There is no direct command in the New Testament that Christians should give a tenth. However, Jesus affirmed tithing when talking to the teachers of the law and the Pharisees; the apostle Paul urges giving that is proportionate to our income; and it’s been pointed out:

“Every New Testament example of giving goes beyond the tithe.”

God saw fit to require a tenth as an appropriate sign of wholehearted devotion under the Old Covenant. For that reason alone it seems like a suitable minimum for believers – and that’s why on the giving literature we recommend a tithe as a guideline. Surely we wouldn’t want to give less would we? Unlike the Old Covenant people of God, we’ve seen Jesus. We see so much more clearly the glory that’s in store for us. But our giving is not by law. It is a voluntary response to the grace of God that we’ve experienced. It is an expression of thanksgiving. It’s been said:

“Tithing requires calculation. We literally count our blessings, thanking God for his generosity.”

So here in Malachi is a promise that is transferred to us through faith in Jesus. Then


What are the guiding principles by which we make our decisions about how to use our financial resources? We can’t settle those without being clear about the basis on which we live our lives.

We belong to God. We have been bought by Christ at the price of his blood. “Return to me,” the Lord said to Israel – and he says the same to us. We are to hand back the whole of our lives to the Lord. Along with our lives go all of our money and possessions. What we give and what we use on ourselves and our families is his.

Israel’s tithe was a sign of renewed covenant faithfulness to the God who had rescued them. What we give back to God by giving for the cause of the gospel is a sign of our recognition that we owe our lives to him. And the amazing truth is that when God asks us to give, his purpose is not only to bless others, but to bless us through our giving. I quote:

“The tithe was a divine invitation to test God’s promises to provide.”

The sad truth is that not enough of us accept God’s gracious invitation. Research in the US a few years showed that between 30 and 50 % of active church attenders give nothing. Whether the proportion is lower in the UK in don’t know. Let’s make sure that’s not true of us. One Christian man says this of his own experience:

“When I first heard about tithing I felt it was out of order. Didn’t people know that I had commitments, a mortgage, credit card debts, school fees to survive, pension contributions to make? Look, when I am financially stable, then I will gladly give money away to others. Till then, please leave me alone. Then one day I met a man who earned very little and yet still gave away 10 per cent of his income. I thought if he can do it, there is very little excuse for me not to, so I started giving modestly. Shortly after that I received a pay rise and it seemed reasonable to give away a small percentage of that as well. I began gradually to increase my monthly giving until it reached 10 per cent of my earnings.”

He’s not alone in learning to live like that. It’s evident that many do accept God’s invitation and live by his promise. Recent research in the UK found that evangelical Christians in the UK give on average 12% of their income to churches and charities – 9 times the average level of charitable giving in the UK population. The report says:

“This equates to about £3,000 a year in after-tax income for the average household.”

And we have seen quite wonderful generosity here over the last few years. Praise God for the impact of his grace. God gave a promise to his sinful and selfish people, Malachi 3:10,

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”

By faith in Jesus we are to take hold of that promise and make it the key financial principle of our lives.

“Give,” says Jesus, “and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

And what will our giving mean specifically for the work here at JPC? That’s what we’re going to hear about in the Giving Review presentation a bit later. But now, let’s bow our heads to pray.

Heavenly Father, we praise you for your gift of Jesus and of life. Thank you for the generosity that we’ve seen you inspire among your people. We acknowledge afresh that all we have comes from you and belongs to you. Teach us more and more to use these resources for your purposes and to your glory. Amen.

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