Should Christians Tithe? Part 3

Malachi 3:8-12: “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. 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.”

At the end of the Old Testament is a strong word from God about the importance of tithing the full amount that is owed to God. But, this raises an important question about whether or not this command carries over to the New Covenant.

For starters, much of the Old Covenant was about law and what God demands of us and much of the New Covenant is about grace and what God does for us. Romans 6:14 is clear that today, “you are not under law but under grace”.

In the Old Covenant, believers were required to give of their first fruits meaning the first and best portion of your wealth went to God before anyone or anything else. Tithe literally means 10 percent and this was the amount to fund the ministry of the priests, which are the pastors in the Old Covenant (Numbers 18:21-29, 27:30). In addition to the 10 percent, there were various holiday festivals that needed to be funded, along with special offerings, and mercy ministry to the poor. Altogether, most scholars will estimate that 20-25 percent of one’s gross income was given back to the Lord.

In the New Covenant, the only real mention of tithing is on the lips of Jesus in Luke 11:42, “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”

Did you catch Jesus’ words? He rebuked them for only giving their wealth without giving their works to help those in need. Jesus said that they should keep tithing and add to it relational ministry for the poor and powerless.

In the longest section on New Covenant giving (2 Corinthians 8-9), there are four principles for generosity. One, giving should be cheerful from someone who loves God and loves to give back to the God who gives generously. Two, giving should be sacrificial meaning it varies according to income. Three, giving should be regular in that it is planned out and not just occasionally in response to an appeal. Four, giving should be proportional so that as God increases someone’s standard of living, they should increase their standard of giving.

The New Testament never commands a believer to tithe. But, the New Testament repeatedly calls New Covenant believers to a higher standard than Old Covenant believers. We who live in the wake of the resurrection with the fullness of the Holy Spirit are called to a higher lifestyle. This explains why, for example, the Old Covenant forbids adultery of the hands and the New Covenant also forbids adultery of the heart. Similarly, the Old Covenant forbids murder and the New Covenant forbids murdering someone’s reputation with the words we speak about them. Therefore, God wants each of His people to meet with Him, search our own heart, make our own budget, and give whatever we believe is right for us in the sight of God while using the Old Covenant as a floor and not a ceiling.

If you are not familiar with the ministry of Dave Ramsey on faithful financial planning, it would be good for you to do so.

Should Christians Tithe? Part 2

Malachi 3:8-12: “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. 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.”

Tucked away at the end of the Old Testament is the book of Malachi. Most Christians are likely only familiar with one section of the book – the part about giving money. This section of Scripture is sometimes treated like the password to unlock access to God’s bank account. Among prosperity teachers, this verse is beaten like a piñata on Cinco De Mayo.

For starters, context matters. Like any conversation, if you don’t know the people talking with one another and only pull a few statements out of the middle of their interaction, you can easily rush to wrong conclusions about what was said.

Throughout the book, God reveals Himself as a Father having a conversation with His rebellious kids. The context is a bit like a family meeting between an awesome dad and His awful kids. The people were frustrated with God because they felt like He should give them more money, make their lives easier, and make their problems go away. They were saying awful things about God, and protesting by failing to worship, pray, give, or serve. Making matters worse, the spiritual leaders were siding with the people and standing against the Lord. 

Jesus was clear that where our treasure is, our heart is (Matthew 6:21). Knowing the connection between our heart and our wallet, God is seeking to open both.

God does something unprecedented in asking His people to test Him. This is the only place I can find that God invites someone to test Him. Jesus said this is not something we should do, rebuking Satan by saying, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” in Luke 4:12.

Some things that happen in the Bible are one-time commands and some things are all-time commands. When Moses had a staff turn into a snake and turned river water into blood, that is not intended to be departments at a seminary, teaching others how to do the same with Snakes 101 and Blood 202 as classes. When Jesus spit on the ground and put mud in a guy’s eyes, for example, to heal his blindness, He did not command us to excel at spitting in the eyes of blind guys. So, the command from God to test Him seems to be most likely a one-time command to a group of people and not an all-time command to all people. Behind this, however, is a principle that giving is an act of faith as God wants to give through you and not just to you.

In what specific ways was God generous toward you in this past year?

Should Christians Tithe? Part 1

Malachi 3:8-12: “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. 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.”

Unlike any other time of year, the holidays are a season of generosity. This tradition of giving goes all the way back to the first Christmas when Jesus was born.

If you remember the story, three Magi (we don’t know exactly how many men) showed up to worship Jesus in part by giving Him three gifts. These men are mysterious as we know little about them, but it is commonly thought that they were pagan leaders in another religion, powerful, wealthy, and involved in astrology as they followed a star to find Jesus.

Their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh were peculiar and prophetic gifts for a child. Gold is for kings on a throne and reminds us that, though a poor baby, Jesus was and is in fact the universal King of Kings. Frankincense is for priests in a temple and reminds us that Jesus has come to stand between God and us to remove sin and restore relationship. Myrrh is for dead people in a grave, and reminds us that Jesus came to give His life on the cross in our place for our sins. Myrrh is basically an anesthetic used for those who are suffering and dying. Myrrh was offered to Jesus on the cross (Mark 15:23) and used to prepare Jesus’ body for burial (John 19:39). In summary, Jesus is the greatest gift ever given as John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son…”

Before God asks us to give some of our best (money), He asks us to give all of our worst (sin). Before God asks us to give some of our best, He gives us all of His best in the form of His Son.

Jesus taught a lot about giving so we would learn to worship God with our wealth instead of worshipping wealth as our God. Roughly 25 percent of Jesus’ teaching is on stewardship. Roughly 800 sections of the Old and New Testament in total talk about stewardship. The basic two premises of stewardship are these: One, God is the owner of all resources. Two, we are the manager of some of God’s resources.

This explains the language of “robbing” from God in Malachi. Just like if the bank, or your retirement plan manager, started spending your money on themselves rather than the way that you directed them, God sees us spending His money wrongly as thievery. To remind us, God even put on American currency, “In God we trust”. We usually don’t see things in this way, as we tend to be more unaware of financial sins than other sins. So, we are more aware that we have crossed a line when we sexually touch a person we should not touch than when we touch a dollar we should not touch.

In the final pages of the Old Testament, God in Malachi has a lot to say about stewardship, including tithing, which we will examine more fully in the next two daily devotionals.

What are your stewardship goals for the new year (e.g. giving to God, paying off debt, increasing savings, investing wisely, etc.?)

Malachi #6 – Learn to Change Your Heart

Is your heart tender toward God, family, and friends? Forever is a long time, and God invites us to change our hearts today so that we can prepare for the perfect, healthy, and loving relationships we will enjoy in eternity. As we study God’s final words before four-hundred years of silence that preceded the coming of Jesus at the first Christmas, you can experience the Father heart of God and share it with family and friends to experience healed relationships.

God Wins in the End

Malachi 3:1-5: “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.”

The Bible is the most honest and amazing book that will ever be written.

As the most honest book, the Old Testament ends with the report card for God’s people through the prophet Malachi. In the first two chapters, God honestly tells them that relationally their families are a mess, spiritually their churches are a mess, and politically their nation is a mess. The report card is basically straight “F’s”. On our own, we are hopeless.

As the most amazing book, the Old Testament ends with prophesy about the coming of Jesus. Roughly 25 percent of the Bible was prophetic when written, as the God who knows and rules the future tells us in advance what will happen. Prophecy is how God prepares His people for the future. In Jesus, hopeless people find hope.

In Malachi 2:17, the people who are frustrated with God and lacking faith in God ask, “Where is the God of justice?” God then tells them that His name is Jesus and He’s already booked a first-class ticket from heaven to earth.

To prepare the way, John the Baptizer would come as God’s messenger to preach the repentance of sin and get the people ready for Jesus. Then, “the Lord” Jesus would arrive at the Temple. Since the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D and no longer exists, this proves that Jesus has already come and anyone who is awaiting the coming of the Messiah, such as our Jewish friends, are waiting in vain because He has already arrived.

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, we do so at a privileged time in the history of the world. From the prophecy of Malachi, the people of God waited 400 years until it was fulfilled at the first Christmas. Today, we, by sight, look back at Jesus’ first coming and, by faith, look forward to Jesus’ second coming to fulfill the Bible’s remaining prophecies about Him.

What Reasons Does the Bible Give for Divorce?

In our six-week study of the Old Testament book of Malachi, the subject of divorce is the focus of chapter 2. Most anytime this subject arises, there are numerous questions that people have, including the reasons divorce is permitted according to the Bible. This subject is one of the most debated and complicated in all of Scripture, largely because of the complex nature of the marriage relationship and great emotions surrounding the family. Here are four scenarios, or grounds, for a possible divorce according to the Bible:

1. Death

Romans 7:2: “a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage”.
1 Corinthians 7:39: “A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.”

2. Abandonment

1 Corinthians 7:15: “if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved”.

3. Adultery and Sexual Immorality

Deuteronomy 22:22: “If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die.” (Old Covenant)
Matthew 5:32: “everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality…” (New Covenant)
Matthew 19:9: “whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery”. (New Covenant)

4. Hardness of heart

 Mark 10:5-9: “They said, ‘Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.’”
The categories are in order from easiest to the most difficult to evaluate. If someone is no longer alive, obviously the marriage has ended. If someone has abandoned the marriage (e.g. moved far away in an effort to disappear and not have any relationship or is serving a life sentence in prison) then it is impossible to have a marital relationship. Sexual immorality, including adultery, is sometimes obvious but often hidden and secret sin. Lastly, hardness of heart is admittedly a judgment call. But, people with an ongoing hard heart against God and their spouse do some very awful and painful things that make the relationship unhealthy, unsafe, and unlivable. After a few decades of ministry as a senior pastor, I have walked with people through the unimaginable and won’t repeat these things because they are unspeakable.

Admittedly, this subject is so important that it cannot be fully addressed in a brief daily devotion. But, as a pastor who loves folks, here are some practical recommendations:

Your heart is wrong if you are actively seeking to meet some criteria. If you are trying to figure out the grounds for divorce so that you can get your relationship to qualify, then you have a heart problem.
You do not have to divorce even if you have grounds to. Couples can and do forgive one another, work through a process of healing with a pastor or counselor, and some make it through from awful times to wonderful times.
You cannot make this decision in isolation. The issue of divorce is so complicated, especially where children are involved, that discreet wise counsel needs to be invited in. These people cannot be friends and family who take your side, but godly people seeking to help everyone involved find God’s side (such as professional counselors or godly pastors).
You cannot make this decision in haste. In anger or hurt, we can make a short-term decision that we later regret.
You cannot make this decision in lust. If you have an emotional and/or physical relationship with someone other than your spouse and your motivation for the divorce is to move on to another person, then your reasoning and motives are polluted, which will keep you from walking in God’s will.
It is unfair, unjust, and unhealthy to make only one person in the marriage obey biblical commands. Through the Bible, God repeatedly speaks to both husbands and wives about their roles and responsibilities. Subsequently, both husbands and wives should be lovingly encouraged to obey God and trust Him for the outcome of their relationship.

Divorce Thoughts from Dad

Malachi 2:15-17: “Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. ‘For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.’ You have wearied the Lord with your words. But you say, ‘How have we wearied him?’ By saying, ‘Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them.’ Or by asking, ‘Where is the God of justice?’”

God is a Father and His people are a family. Because He cares about His kids and grandkids in every generation, our Father has a lot to say about marriage and divorce. At the end of the Old Testament, we find the little book of Malachi which gives final instructions to the family of God. His instructions are insightful for single people, married couples, children of divorced families and divorcees.

For single people, the reality is that at some point you will most likely marry. Statistically, nine out of 10 people marry at some point in their life. Who you marry is the second most important decision you will ever make following who you will worship as your God. Who you marry in large part determines what your life will be like, what kind of home your children will grow up in, and what generations of your legacy will experience long after you are gone.

For married couples, the key to marriage is for both the husband and wife to have a healthy, loving, and growing relationship with the Lord. If that happens, God will give love, forgiveness, patience and more to each spouse to share with each other as gifts from the Lord. Long before a couple falls out of love, they fall out of the pattern of apologizing and forgiving when they are wronged. When this pattern is practiced, the marriage endures because the issues they face are never considered as important as the relationship they share. When issues are more important than the relationship, eventually an issue ruins the relationship. But, when the relationship is more important than the issues, issues are overcome for the sake of the relationship.

For children of divorced families, in Malachi we find the Father heart of God comforting and helping those who have endured what you have endured. The key is not to blame God for decisions that were contrary to God. Instead, we must have faith in God, forgive our folks, and find lessons we can learn to help us heal up and have healthier relationships in our future than our folks had in our past.

For those who are divorced, the verse in Malachi 2:16 is sometimes translated, “I hate divorce, says the Lord” (NASB). What this does not say is that God hates the divorcee, because He does not. But, God does hate the pain that divorce causes everyone involved, just like those involved hate the complex grief that it brings. Lastly, God will not divorce you. The God of the Bible will never give up on seeking a loving relationship with you, no matter what you do, or what is done by others to you. His is the one relationship that you can always count on.

Are you confident in God’s love and commitment to a relationship with you?

Contract Marriage vs. Covenant Marriage

Malachi 2:11b-14: “Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. May the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob any descendant of the man who does this, who brings an offering to the Lord of hosts! And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.”

In the final chapters of the Old Testament, to prepare His people for the coming of Jesus at the first Christmas, God the Father calls a family meeting of sorts and speaks to them about their marriages. We tend to think in very short timelines like weeks, months, or years. But God tends to think in very long timelines like decades, hundreds of years, or millennia. The problem in Malachi’s day that continues into our day is that men thought only about having a good time rather than leaving a good legacy. 

The result? Marriages were a mess. Some believing men married unbelieving women. Other believing men who were married to believing women ran off with unbelieving women. And still, other believing men married an unbelieving woman but were unhappy and wanted out of their marriage…perhaps because once children entered the picture, the men realized their kids would grow up to be unbelievers like their mothers.

Most problems start with pants. Once a man can get dominion over his drawers, a long list of cultural problems simply subsides. Knowing this, God reminds us that His intent for marriage is that it be covenantal and not contractual.

As a Father teaching His wayward sons in Malachi, a vital lesson can be learned. How you relate to your wife is not a business arrangement where she is an employee who gets fired if you think you can find someone else to do the job better. As men, we are to treat our wives as God treats us – with relational love, forgiveness, patience, and devotion.

Learn to Persevere

Malachi 2:10-11a: “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers? Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem.”

At some point, every relationship hits “that point”. This is the time where we decide to hang in or hang up. This is the perseverance test and by deciding to hang in the relationship, we are agreeing to press forward together.

Since the two most important relationships we have are with God and our spouse, it’s not surprising to see God turning His spotlight to those relationships.

God reminds us that He is our Maker and Father. As your Maker, you come from God, belong to God, and will give an account before God. As your Father, you are loved by a relational God who wants you to relate to Him like a child with a parent. This relationship is the most important relationship.

A relationship with God models for us what a healthy relationship is like. Since everyone except God is a sinner with faults and flaws, every relationship is, to some degree, unhealthy. Our relationship with our perfect Father sets the template for what a healthy relationship looks like and after which our other relationships are to be patterned.

A relationship with God also meets our deepest relational needs. Only God is always present, never fails, cannot be wearied, and does not need us. If at any point we seek to have our deepest relational needs met by anyone other than God, we set up the relationship for ruin. Simply put, no one can be God for us and we cannot be God for anyone else.

Is there anyone you have in God’s place in your life? Is there anyone who has you in God’s place in their life?

Malachi #5 – Learn to Give

Are you a generous person with your words, works, and wealth? The key to a healthy relationship with God is to understand that He has generously given you His only Son as the greatest gift that could possibly be given. As you grow to appreciate that God is a generous giver, you will be freed up to be a more generous giver to God, family, and friends. Learning this lesson will improve all of your relationships and bring joy to your soul.

The Way To Prepare For Christmas

This time of year, our energy is all about getting ready for Christmas. Knowing Jesus was coming, in the final book of the Old Testament, God gives final instructions to prepare the family of God for the first Christmas with the last book of the Bible.

If you’ve ever gotten lost and needed to ask for directions, then you understand where the people of God were when God was speaking to them. In Malachi 2:8, it says “you have turned aside from the way”. The good news is that we have a Father with a home for us to enjoy forever. The bad news is that we have gotten lost and need to find the way home.

The primary purpose of the book of Malachi was to prepare people for the coming of Jesus as the first Christmas. Once Jesus arrives on the scene, He says something about “the way home”. In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way…”. Jesus’ words are historically remarkable. Various religious and spiritual leaders have, throughout history, said that they could teach us about or point us to the way. But Jesus said what others do not say – that He is the only way to our home in heaven. His words negate any possibility that there are many ways, which means that any and every other possible way is not the way.

After dying for our sins and rising for our salvation, Jesus returned to Heaven. Going before us, He is the only way through death and to our forever Home. This concept of Jesus being the only way was so central to the early Christian church that Christianity was referred to as “the Way” (e.g. Acts 19:9, 23).

In Malachi and the time that followed, they were waiting hundreds of years for Jesus to come the first time and were instructed to walk in the way of Jesus until He arrived the first time. In Acts and into our own day, we are instructed to keep walking in the way of Jesus until He arrives for the last time.

Are you walking in the way of Jesus? Is there any big misstep you need to correct? What is your next step to walk with Jesus?

Walking in Blessing

Malachi 2:4-9: “So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may stand, says the LORD of hosts. My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him. It was a covenant of fear, and he feared me. He stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts. But you have turned aside from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the LORD of hosts, and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you do not keep my ways but show partiality in your instruction.”

Do you remember playing the kids game “follow the leader”? The premise of the game was an important life lesson – someone needs to be the leader and everyone else needs to follow them.

Starting with a man named Levi (Exodus 28-29) in the Old Covenant, the leader was the priest who was a lot like a modern-day pastor. They would help people learn the Scriptures, learn how to pray, and help them with their relationships with God and others.

Since everything rises and falls with leadership, God begins to create change among His people by starting with the leaders. Think of it like a big extended family; if the family is going the wrong direction the key is to get the parents straightened out first.

Throughout the Bible, our relationship with God is referred to as a “walk”. The imagery brings to mind a relationship of doing life together continually and making progress headed home to the Kingdom. The simple summary of what God is saying to leaders (e.g. parents, pastors, coaches, bosses, teachers, etc.) is threefold:

1) Walk away from wrong. When going the wrong direction, straying from the Lord or walking away from the Lord, turn around and get back on course. Is there anyone or anything in your life that you need to walk away from?

2) Walk with the Lord. The easiest way to stay out of sin is to stick with the Lord. Those who walk with the Lord are given His presence and provision so that they are blessed. What next step can you take to improve your relationship with the Lord?

3) Never forget who is following you. Sometimes, we walk away from the Lord and walk into trouble, forgetting that others are following us. Who is following you and where are you leading them?