AGCC Sun. a.m. 1/6/2002
#6      (The "7 Questions of the Backslider" Series -- Malachi)

"HOW HAVE I ROBBED GOD?"

TEXT:  Mal. 3:8-12

INTRO:

There is one subject in preaching that some people really take offense to, and it isn't the subject of "sin" or of Jesus' 2nd coming or "Hell" it is money! More people have worshipped money than any other idol or god, and perhaps this is why it is strikes a nerve when this is the subject of a sermon. Plus, there is no other thing in life that touches every area of our life more than money except God Himself. It can be used for good or evil, it is necessity for life. Perhaps this is why Jesus spoke about stewardship or money issues in 17 out of the 36 parables He gave nearly half the total! It is one thing when the world has a bad attitude about money being given to God, you would kind of expect this, but many times it isn't the unsaved that get in a huff when the subject of giving is brought up it is people who know about God! ILLUS:A favorite story is of a man of substance approached to contribute to a major financial campaign. The urgent need and compelling case were stated, and the call was made for his support. The man responded: "I understand why you think I can give fifty thousand dollars. I am a man with my own business and, it is true, I have all the signs of affluence. But there are some things you don't know. Did you know that my mother is in an expensive nursing home?" Well, no, we didn't know. "Did you know also that my brother died, and left a family of five and had almost no insurance?" No, we didn't. "Did you know my son is deeply religious, has gone into social work, and makes less than the national poverty level to meet the needs of his family?" No, we hadn't realized. "Well, then, if I don't give any of them a penny, why do you think I'll give it to you?" -- Donald E. Messer -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) pp. 239-240. While in principle most Christians agree that we should do something for God there seems to be a power in money that as soon as we have more of it there is a greater degree of hesitation to let go of it to God or anyone else. ILLUS:My 14-year-old son, Joel Porter, has a job this year. He got his first, official paycheck. Boy, was he thrilled. He came home and showed me his paycheck. Then he marched into the room where Mom was and said, "You know, I've thought it over and I'm not sure I can afford to tithe." He has more money in his hand than he's ever had before, and what happens? All of a sudden we say, "I really need this money for something else." Out of the mouth of a 14-year-old boy, true to his human nature, comes this whole question, "Where do I put God?" Is he first? Is he second? Is he fifth? Is he twenty-third in my life? Where is God? -- John Maxwell, "God's Trust Test," Preaching Today, Tape No. 156. Our sinful nature has a hard time giving to God. This is an old story, Israel too discovered how hard it can be to give, and also how much harder it is NOT to give to the Lord! PROP. SENT:      The Bible teaches us that God takes seriously the use of money, that we cannot say we honor God with words but not with our wallet. Refusal to give to God is tantamount to robbing or stealing from God and thus removes us from under many of God's blessings. Worship INCLUDES the giving of our substance in recognition that God is the rightful owner of all things.

I. CIRRHOSIS OF THE GIVER!     3:8-9

A. Called To Account     3:8 1. God begins this section with an indictment, Israel had attempted to "steal" from God! a. It is one thing to steal from man, but to rob God really takes guts! b. But this is exactly the language God used about their failure to give to Him! 2. Their response to God's charge is simply, "How have we robbed God?" a. At the same time they were angry with God for not blessing them they were resistant to giving to God their tithes and offerings. b. It was ironic that they didn't like God withholding His blessings but they were withholding their giving to Him and didn't see anything wrong with it! 3. The world sees giving to God as a crazy thing, if you need to give something only do as little as possible. ILLUS:For years we lived in a small town with one bank and three churches. Early one Monday morning, the bank called all three churches with the same request, "Could you bring in Sunday's collection right away? We're out of one-dollar bills." -- Clara Null, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Christian Reader, "Lite Fare." a. While the world may not expect much from our giving, God does! b. Why? (1. Because it shows our submission to God's ownership. (2. It makes us realize that all we have comes from His hand, not our own cleverness and skills. (3. Keeps us humble, we don't own everything! (4. It prevents us from worshipping "things." (5. When we learn to give of our material elements it is much easier to give our immaterial things to God, like our soul! B. Curse Activated!     3:9 1. Stinginess had put them under a curse God's choice of words, not mine! a. The Old Covenant had provisions of both "blessings" and "curses" -- Deut. 11:29 "When the LORD your God has brought you into the land you are entering to possess, you are to proclaim on Mount Gerizim the blessings, and on Mount Ebal the curses." b. Obedience brought the blessings, disobedience brought the curses. c. The choice and quality of their life was literally depending on the choices they made concerning whether to obey the covenant or not. 2. Because they had chosen to disobey the covenant made with God they were now experiencing the curses things could change however if they changed! 3. We blame God way too much for the troubles of our life, much of the kind of life we experience is up to us. 4. To "steal" from God was the worst choice they could make, they would gain nothing from keeping what belonged to God, in fact, they were actually losing out on God's blessings! a. This is a hard concept for some people to grasp giving to God won't leave you with less, in so many ways you gain! b. God is always faithful to help those who obey His ways, and giving is one of His ways! 5. Israel had discovered that by taking away from God they were declining, not gaining. ILLUS:In the Middle East of the Old Testament era it was not uncommon to see an eagle swoop down and steal your sacrifice right off the altar while it was being burned. But, the eagle that did this was in for a big surprise when it returned to its nest to share the stolen sacrifice with its young. Usually, the stolen sacrifice had several hot coals clinging to it when it was quickly taken off the altar, hot coals that were stuck into the flesh as it was burning. These hot embers would continue clinging to the sacrifice as the eagle soared away with it flaming the coals into an even hotter burn. When the mother eagle would drop the sacrifice into its nest to feed its young the hot coals would quickly ignite the flammable material of the nest and her young would quickly be killed by the flames, and the nest which took so long to build would go up in smoke making it necessary for the mother to have to start all over again building another home, and raising another brood. Stealing a sacrifice off God's altar that didn't belong to them cost the home and lives of its chicks, it was not theirs to take. -- Copied -- unknown source 6. It is ironic that they were mad at God for withholding blessings from them while they withheld their tithes and offerings from Him, how blind! II. CHALLENGE OF THE GIVER     3:10-12 A. Challenge Accepted     3:10 1. God offers them a solution in the form of a challenge, things can change for them. a. Notice clearly the challenge: "Bring the WHOLE TITHE into the storehouse TEST ME IN THIS, says the LORD Almighty, " b. The challenge was not about starting incrementally, it was to bring the WHOLE TITHE a step that required faith! c. Without faith it is impossible to please God! 2. What was at issue here is TRUST will they TRUST God to take care of them if they do their part in giving the WHOLE TITHE, not a part, but the whole! a. Tithing is really an issue of trust, not in money but in God! b. Who could you possibly trust more? ILLUS:A church member was having trouble with the concept of tithing. One day he revealed his doubts to his minister: "Pastor, I just don't see how I can give 10 percent of my income to the church when I can't even keep on top of our bills." The pastor replied, "John, if I promise to make up the difference in your bills if you should fall short, do you think you could try tithing for just one month?" After a moment's pause, John responded, "Sure, if you promise to make up any shortage, I guess I could try tithing for one month." "Now, what do you think of that," mused the pastor. "You say you'd be willing to put your trust in a mere man like myself' who possesses so little materially, but you couldn't trust your Heavenly Father who owns the whole universe!" The next Sunday, John gave his tithe, and has been doing so faithfully ever since. -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988), p. 461. 3. It is somewhat ironic that those who have more tend to have less trust in God than in their money while those who have little money have great trust in God! a. This has always been the case historically. b. The widow who gave her 2 mites, all she had gave evidence of this in Jesus' time while the rich often just threw in a few pennies. 4. Sometimes when there aren't so many things to distract us with lots of money it is easier to see God! ILLUS:A handful of our people went on a mission trip to Eastern Europe several weeks ago. When they came back, they told me they were really impressed with the dedication of the Christians in Rumania. Christians there don't have very much, but they believe they should tithe. They think that's God's standard. But the government of Rumania is repressive, and they are allowed to give only 2.5 percent of their income to charitable organizations. They're trying to minimize the opportunity for any anti-government organization. So Rumanians are searching for loopholes in the law, so that they'll be able to give 10 percent. The Rumanian Christians have less, and they're looking for a way to give 10 percent. We have more, and we're free to give as we please. In fact, we get a tax break by doing so, and we're looking for loopholes in the Scripture to avoid doing it. What an indictment. -- Bob Russell, "Take the Risk," Preaching Today, Tape No. 143. 5. This is the only place in the Bible where we are invited to "TEST GOD IN THIS" and see if it is true and works! a. Many times in the Bible it says we are "not to put to the test the Lord" except here! b. It either works or it doesn't, and you have the right to "test God in this." c. They clearly wanted God to bless FIRST, then they might give, but it doesn't work this way. The truth is that IF God had blessed first they would have found so many reasons why they still couldn't tithe, that is why we must start FIRST! 6. There is a freedom and joy that comes when we simply trust God with taking care of us when we respond in faith to Him in this area of tithes and offerings. a. It actually helps our confidence and trust in God to grow when we are faithful in our giving. b. We learn to live out each week in trust when we tithe. ILLUS:There was a knock on the door of the hut occupied by a missionary in Africa. Answering, the missionary found one of the native boys holding a large fish in his hands. The boy said, "Reverend, you taught us what tithing is, so here--I've brought you my tithe." As the missionary gratefully took the fish, he questioned the young lad. "If this is your tithe, where are the other nine fish?" At this, the boy beamed and said, "Oh, they're still back in the river. I'm going back to catch them now. -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988), p. 458. 7. God was quite clear about what they could expect as a nation when they learned to be faithful in their giving the windows of Heaven would be open and His blessings would be poured out in greater measures than they could expect. a. This is almost like "insider trading" guaranteed results before the investment! b. How could they go wrong? By not giving!!!! c. There was really nothing to lose, only to gain! 8. Nothing has changed with God and tragically, with so many people today nothing has changed either in terms of their withholding from God their tithes and offerings. ILLUS:A man came to his pastor for counseling. He had felt convicted about not tithing anymore, he used to tithe faithfully when his weekly salary was only $250. Now however he made $1,000 a week and he confessed to the Pastor that he struggled with the idea of tithing on the larger salary, but that he had no problem tithing on $250 a week. He asked the Pastor to pray for him, here is what the Pastor's prayer was: "Father, please bring this man back to a $250 a week salary so he can get back into your will and give joyfully again." Not exactly what he had hoped for, but it made the point! -- copied, unknown source. B. Covenant Attested!     3:11-12 1. The results of their faithfulness in giving to God would not only be obvious to them, it would be to everyone else, even the other nations! a. God would honor His side of the covenant, to bless them and help their crops the sign of productivity. b. The other nations would be amazed at how God has blessed them. c. They would become the breadbasket of the world, a showroom of what can happen with God's help. 2. God's principles work, and the results are observable and testable in this area. a. Even the mood in the country would change, it would become a "delightful land." b. Joy is a byproduct of giving! ILLUS:The Presbyterian missionary I visited in Ghana told me an interesting thing about the Presbyterian church in Ghana. The Presbyterians are the largest Christian group in that country. The church was established over a hundred years ago by Scottish Presbyterians, and their worship service is very much like a Scottish Presbyterian service. Recently they have allowed the African traditional experience into the worship service at the offering. At the offering, they let the people dance. That's a part of African culture in religious, spiritual worship. They let the people dance as they bring their offerings forward. They really get down. The music is going, and they individually turn it into a production as they bring that offering to the offering plate. They take their time, too. The offering could go on for a long time because they are dancing all the way down the aisle. It's the only time in the service when they smile. I thought, How interesting. The only time in the service when they smile is when they're giving their money. -- Don McCullough, "Whom Do You Serve?" Preaching Today, Tape No. 110. 3. They could not lose in the process, their land would become a model of what happens with generous giving God blesses the nation that gives! a. This is still true even our own Country shows this! b. Generally speaking, givers are usually very happy people. 4. There is a wonderful sense of God's peace in our hearts when we know that we have been faithful to God in this area of our lives, for money represents just about everything we do in some way or another. a. How much better to trust God than in money itself. b. Even our currency says it best, "In God We Trust" may it ever be so! 5. God will always do a better job with blessing you than you can do in blessing you!!!! ILLUS:In the days of the country store, a little boy used to accompany his mother when she went shopping. The storekeeper always said, "Take a handful of candy, Son." But the boy never would. The storekeeper would reach into the box and give him a handful. One day his mother asked, "Why is it, when he asks you to take a handful, you never do?" The boy replied, "Because his hands are bigger than mine." -- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997). a. So why not let Him do the blessing? b. You're in good hands with GOD! 6. So, are you going to test God or not? God says, "TRY ME ON THIS ONE." CONCLUSION:    Why is God concerned about tithing? Doesn't He "own" everything already? Basically, giving is about 2 things:
(1. It demonstrates tangibly OUR recognition that God has ownership of all things;
(2. It involves our whole being in worship.
The truth is that he or she who won't commit to God the material parts of their lives are not likely to commit the immaterial part of their life to God either! If the law expected no less than 10% just think what love will do! God loves a cheerful giver, how cheerful are you?