Putting God to the Test

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A successful American businessman from a poor background (so not Donald J Trump!), William Colgate, founder of Colgate Palmolive was asked: "What's the key to your success?" He said: "After coming to Christ and committing my life to him I made a contract with the Lord, claiming the promise: 'Who honours me I will honour'. I began tithing - giving 10% of my income away – despite having very little - and I kept my contract with God who began blessing me from then on." The Christian founders of Quaker Oats, The Holiday Inn and Kraft foods said the same. They'd claim they'd tested God's promise and found it true - the promise from Malachi 3.10:

Bring the full tithe 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.

Do you believe that? Well as we continue our Giving Review, which is also a Spiritual Health Check, in Malachi 3.6-12, our title is Putting God to the Test. But first,

1. What do we learn about God & Ourselves? (v6-7)

There are two things about God. One, that he doesn't change. His nature, his goals, his plans and his ways of acting don't change, either for the better (because they're perfect and he can't become better than he is) or for the worse. God says (v6):

I the LORD do not change.

That's why we can learn from Malachi. God's principles in the Old Testament are unchanging. Yes, you have to apply them in the light of Jesus Christ and the New Testament. But God himself does not change. And, two, he is gracious. Verse 6:

So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not consumed or destroyed.

The people in one sense deserved to be destroyed for what they'd done. But God is merciful. He forgave them. And he offered them blessings. As we'll see these weren't just spiritual blessings but also material blessings. Do you believe all that? As you perhaps begin giving for the first time or review your giving, remember God is unchanging, faithful and gracious. We give in response to what he's done for us. But what about us? What do we learn about ourselves? Verse 7:

From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them.

That's what the Bible means by sin. The truth is we've all turned away from God's laws. Who here struggles with greed or coveting? I do and so did the Apostle Paul as he admits in Romans 7. At first he didn't realise he was covetous and greedy. Only when he'd done the equivalent of a Giving Review did he realise he'd failed and that he was getting worse. He probably thought, 'Why should I support God's work? Why should I give to others in need? After all, I could expand my tent-making business instead.' How many of us are like Paul? The people in Malachi's day certainly were. They'd returned from exile. They thought God would make everything wonderful once they got home. But they found Jerusalem still in ruins. Things were not as good as they expected. So they became negative and doubted God's love. What about you? Are things going wrong for you? Have things not turned out as you expected? Well, be warned and encouraged by Malachi.

You see the great message of Malachi is that God is love even when it doesn't seem so. Malachi 1.2 says: "'I have loved you,' says the Lord." But the people didn't believe that. "How have you loved us?" And doubting God's love the people blocked the enjoyment of his love by their disobedience. They brought junk animals for the sacrifices; and called their worship "a burden" (Mal. 1.13). The priests had "caused many to stumble" by their false teaching (Mal. 2.8). There was marriage breakdown (Mal. 2.16). There was cheating and injustice (Mal. 3.5). And in our passage people were failing to give for God's work. How did God respond?

2. The Call to Repent (v7-10)

"Return to me, and I will return to you," says the LORD of hosts." (v7)

How do you repent or turn back to God? 'How shall we return to him?' Well, God's answer was to talk about money! Verses 8-10:

Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, 'How have we robbed you?' In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe 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.

Some people then as now probably responded: 'How unspiritual. This is like bribery. This is like a prosperity gospel. It's suggesting that if we give, God will bless. I'm not having any of that.' And so they further justified their greed and their refusal to give. But all that is to misunderstand what God wants. And people still misunderstand what God is wanting. So let me explain that this isn't a charlatan prosperity gospel. Giving to God, or anyone else can never make you right with God or give you eternal peace with God. It can never deal with that backlog of sin, and your future sins. Only faith in Christ, who alone paid the penalty for sin when he died on the Cross, will do that. If you've not yet trusted him and given yourself to him, never think you can buy your salvation, instead simply trust Christ.

But, God's saying that for his work in the world he wants our co-operation. He could've worked in other ways. He's all powerful. But he chose to work through our co-operation. So he wants you to pray. He wants you to witness. And he wants you to give time and money. If you have no money at all, then time. He works through your giving. God's saying that faith must be practical if it's real. Galatians 5.6:

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

It's not faith which is only words that counts. Of course, it's not love or doing good things that save you, they're simply evidence of genuine faith in Christ. God is totally trustworthy. So from day one when you trust Christ you can be sure of the outcome. But the evidence that you trust him is by doing what he says. So if you're serious with God, verse 9, you won't "rob him". This teaching here in Malachi on tithing doesn't mean legalism or a set of rules. Jesus had to say to his opponents, Matthew 23.23:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices--mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law--justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should've practised the latter, without neglecting the former.

The Pharisees were concentrating on giving a tenth of everything but ignoring "justice, mercy and faithfulness." Their tithing was legalistic. But Jesus didn't say 'don't tithe'. He said: "you should have practised the latter, without neglecting the former, giving a tenth." By itself, tithing won't get you anywhere. But within the context of the gospel God's plan is to bless you and others.

The importance of tithing is that it's 'percentage giving.' 1 Corinthians 16.2 says:

On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income.

Giving "in keeping with your income" is percentage giving. It's not giving without thought or giving a sum out of the blue. No! It's definite and regular. It's why we have a 'Giving Scheme'. But you ask, 'What percentage should I give? Isn't 10% just Old Testament? We're now in the age of the Spirit. Can't we do as we like?' Well, apart from Jesus mentioning 10%, the only percentages in the New Testament are higher. The poor widow gave 100%. Zacchaeus gave 50%. But many Christians have found 10% a helpful guideline, at least to start with. Some work up to it over time. A number give more. However: if you're going to 'repent' or rethink, don't pretend it won't affect your money. Giving is a powerful indicator of your relationship with God. John Wesley said: "The last part of a man to be converted is his wallet". Luther said: "Everyone needs two conversions: the first of his heart, the second of his wallet." And God said through Malachi: "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse."

3. The Results (v10-12)

First, there's the practical result that God's work can go forward when his people give. Wouldn't it be great to see more sites like St Joseph's, but low cost, spring up across this region? Verse 10:

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.

God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50.10) - everything. But God's chosen his dependence on his people to receive back what's rightfully his. That's why not giving is called "robbing God", which is serious. God owns everything in the world; but he'll have nothing unless his people give it back to him. That's the challenge. This church can only function as God's people give back to him.

The second result of giving is that the giver is blessed. Verses 10-12:

…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. 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. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the LORD of hosts.

So John Bunyan wrote: "There was a man, Some called him mad; The more he gave, The more he had." You can't out-give God. Now there's not always an immediate return. There are people who give, and find life hard. But many do experience God's material blessings. Because they're generous with what God gives them, God seems to allow them to have more. Why? Not to be greedy, but because they can then give greater support to God's work. And where there are no material blessings, there are spiritual blessings. Jesus said,

store up for yourselves treasures in heaven... For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:20-21).

In Philippians, Paul was chiefly concerned with how their giving would affect them spiritually. He sees their giving as an investment that would pay them rich spiritual dividends. It's a deposit in the bank of heaven that will multiply at compound interest to their advantage. The Lord keeps the books and will never fail to pay one spiritual dividend, unlike the fluctuating stock market. Also, giving helps to free you from greed.

In Malachi, God is teaching the spiritual principle of the harvest. Some of you know it – you've seen it happen – Holy Trinity Gateshead and St Joseph's. It's what Paul teaches in 2 Corinthians 9.6:

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully." [by the grace of God]
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