I recently heard about a preacher from a predominantly white church who was invited to speak at a predominantly black church. Usually, the worship styles of these two groups are not the same. On this particular Sunday, the Lord's Supper was served as the elements were passed down the aisles and across the pews. However, when the contribution was collected, the process went in reverse. Collection plates were not passed, the people on each row stood, and formed a single-file line down the center aisle. They literally brought their tithes and offerings before the Lord. Now, to be clear, no one was forced to give, but no one could escape the opportunity, either.
The Text Message:
“I the Lord do not change...“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ “In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. 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 there will not be room enough to store it." (Malachi 3:6-12 NIV)
The message begins with, "I the Lord do not change." God does not change. He stands in contrast with money, which is always on the move. In Hebrews, God encourages us to keep our lives free from the love of money. In the same breath, he adds, "I will never leave you. I will never forsake you" (13:5). Now, money may leave you, but God will never leave you. Money may forsake you, but God will never forsake you. God does not change. However, we might be called to change in our relationship to money.
Next, God asks a question, "Will a mere mortal rob God?" His people respond to His question with a question of their own, "How are we robbing you?" God answers, "In tithes and offerings." Before looking at tithing, look first at the principle underneath--stewardship. Just after God made man and woman, he tells them to, "...fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground. (Gen. 1:28)" His first instruction to mankind was to steward the earth that he had placed in their care.
We might not all agree on the issue of climate change, but we should agree that care for the environment is a stewardship issue. We might not all agree on Global Warming, but we should agree that purposeful degradation of the earth is poor stewardship. Stewardship is both spiritual and practical--nobody wants to live on an earth with nasty air and water. And yet, there is more to stewardship than the earth. Stewardship is wisely using every gift that God has given to you--time, health, energy and financial resources.
Now, addressing the stewardship of finances, consider tithing. In Bethany, Mary gives Jesus a very expensive gift. She anoints his feet with a bottle of perfume. The perfume was equal to a man's annual salary. What do you own that is equal to your annual salary? Precious little? Can you imagine pouring it out, never to get it back? That is what Mary did. She gave God something equal to all of an annual salary (John 12).
Tithing is not all of your annual income, but just as it sounds, a tenth of your annual income. Question, "why do I have to give God 10% of my money?" Better question, "why does God allow us to keep 90% of his money?" Cute, but true. Perspective, God asks less of us than our government does. Objection, "yes, but tithing is an Old Testament principle." Very true.
So, let's consider some New Testament principles. Paul, the preacher says, "On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. (1 Cor. 16:2)" Perhaps no one verse in the New Testament tells us more about giving. Allen Webster, the preacher says, "it tells us When--on the first day of every week. It tells us Who--each one of you should." It tells us How much--"set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up." It tells us Why--"so that when I come no collections will have to be made." Jesus, the preacher says, "You cannot serve both God and money. (Matt. 6:24)" We must define the relationship we have with our money, or our money will define the relationship we have with our God.
Finally, God asks us to test him in regards to our giving, and to watch him, to see if he will not open the floodgates of heaven with blessing. The first time the term, "floodgates" is used in the Bible, is in the story of Noah's flood (Gen. 7:11). There, God opens the floodgates of heaven and sends his judgment upon the earth. However, here, God's promise is to open the floodgates of heaven and send his blessing upon the earth. This is an act of God that is rewarding, not tragic. Open your fists and I'll open my floodgates. Open your heart, and I will bless you until you cry, "uncle".
Speaking of blessed people, the American businessman, Warren Buffet, was once valued at $65 billion. Several years ago, he announced that he was going to give away 99% of that fortune. He was going to live on 1% of his money, which he claimed, would not change his quality of life. Amazing. To us, we think of that kind of fortune like we do a unicorn. We have heard about it, but we have never seen it. And we don't believe we ever will!
So, I would encourage you to steward well the fortune you will see in life--the fortune that will pass through your hands as the years go by. I encourage you to realize that your faith is evidenced in what you do with your finances. I would challenge you to tithe, not because you are forced to, but why would you want to escape such an opportunity.