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(Part 31)


January 15, 2018

Christians are destined for greatness. In order to become great in Christ, we must be walking in holiness, living out authentic discipleship and servanthood, embracing the cross, striving for Christian perfection. Now there is one more thing required, something much more mundane and profane, but just as needed to be able to attain to the greatness that God has destined us for.

It is money. Specifically, it is about financial stewardship. In fact, when we talk of holiness and discipleship, it is about giving all to God. Oftentimes, in the lives of Christians who have met Christ and are striving to live Christ, the last thing to be surrendered is money. One cannot be authentically holy or a true disciple if one withholds important areas of life from the lordship of Christ.

Indeed, as Jesus has emphasized, “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Mt 6:24). Too many Christians, while not openly professing it, have chosen mammon over God. Paul warns about “immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.” (Col 3:5b). Greed for mammon is idolatry. And mind you, mammon is a heartless taskmaster. The more you cling to it, the more enslaved you become.

How have Christians failed in the area of financial stewardship? They have not given God what is His due. Specifically, they have not given their tithes for the use of the Kingdom. A tithe by definition is 10% of one’s income.

This is what God tells His people through the prophet Malachi. “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse” (Mal 3:10a). Now some say this is Old Testament teaching and is no longer relevant today, that tithing is no longer required by God. But the teaching on tithing is in the New Testament. Jesus affirmed the tithe. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You pay tithes of mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity. But these you should have done, without neglecting the others.” (Mt 23:23). We are not to neglect tithing.

In fact, the tithe is the minimum. Perhaps it was no longer emphasized in the New Testament, because the requirements for financial stewardship became so much more. Jesus commended the poor widow for giving what little she had, all of her livelihood. She gave not 10% but 100%! Paul commended the churches of Macedonia as they gave financial aid to Jerusalem, “for in a severe test of affliction, the abundance of their joy and their profound poverty overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part” (2 Cor 8:2). They gave “beyond their means, spontaneously” (2 Cor 8:3b). In fact, “they begged us insistently for the favor of taking part in the service to the holy ones” (2 Cor 8:4). Amazing. They gave generously out of their poverty. Self-sacrificially. Joyfully. Spontaneously. Insistently.

What was the context of the prophetic word of Malachi? It was given to Israel, the people of God. Now we are the new Israel. So this word is for us also.

God loved Israel, His very own people. But they did not reciprocate His love. They were disobedient and rebellious. “Since the days of your ancestors you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them.” (Mal 3:7a). It is the same situation now as it was then. What were God’s people doing then?

  • There was divorce. “Did he not make them one, with flesh and spirit? And what does the One require? Godly offspring! You should be on guard, then, for your life, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel” (Mal 3:15-16a). Today there is widespread divorce, legal in practically all countries. There is also contraception, abortion and same-sex marriage, all intended not to beget children. And the few children being begotten are not being raised to be godly.
  • There were great sinners who exulted in their evildoing. “You have wearied the Lord with your words, yet you say, ‘How have we wearied him?’ By saying, ‘All evildoers are good in the sight of the Lord, and he is pleased with them,’ or ‘Where is the just God?’” (Mal 3:17). Today a tsunami of evil has overwhelmed the whole world. People no longer have a sense of sin. Those who are mindful of their sin look to the mercy of God [1] but not to His justice.[2]
  • There was social injustice. There were “those who deprive a laborer of wages, oppress a widow or an orphan, or turn aside a resident alien” (Mal 3:5b). Today there is massive poverty, and great oppression of the poor and weak.
  • The priests were remiss in their priestly duty. They profaned the Lord’s table, “offering defiled food on my altar!” (Mal 1:7a). “But you profane it by saying that the Lord’s table is defiled, and its food may be disdained.” (Mal 1:12). Today there are priests in the Western world that defile the altar by putting an LGBT banner on it, and violate the Eucharist by giving Communion to unrepentant sinners (like those living in adultery or in active same-sex unions).
  • The priests were not rightly educating and forming the people. “For a priest’s lips preserve knowledge, and instruction is to be sought from his mouth, because he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. But you have turned aside from the way, and have caused many to stumble by your instruction; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts.” (Mal 2:7-8). Today many priests have become politically correct, not wanting to offend people by telling them that their actions are sinful. They are practicing false mercy.
  • There was cynicism regarding God. “You have said, ‘It is useless to serve God; what do we gain by observing God’s requirements’” (Mal 3:14a)? Today there is mass apostasy. Christians have turned away from God in droves, and have embraced the zeitgeist.

Now all the above are terribly wrong. But there is one more. It is failing to give God what is His due, by way of our tithes.

Did you ever think you were stealing from God when you did not give him His 10%? Maybe not. Well, think again. “Can anyone rob God? But you are robbing me! And you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ Of tithes and contributions!” (Mal 3:8). We are robbing God because everything we have belongs to Him, and we are mere stewards. Now if God expects us to return 10% of His money to Him, and we do not, then what does that make us?

Be mindful of the evil that is stealing. It is one of the Ten Commandments: “You shall not steal.” (Ex 20:15). Paul says that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God. The unjust or unrighteous include thieves, the greedy, and robbers (1 Cor 6:9-10). We are told by Paul not even to associate with such people. “But I now write to you not to associate with anyone named a brother, if he is immoral, greedy, an idolater, a slanderer, a drunkard, or a robber, not even to eat with such a person.” (1 Cor 5:11). Greed and robbery are lumped together with such evils as immorality, idolatry, slander and drunkenness.

Unfortunately, many Christians today, especially Catholics, are thieves. Even upon learning about the tithe that is to be returned to God, they would say, “Why should we return?” (Mal 3:7c). When told about theft of God’s money, they would say, “How have we robbed you?” (Mal 3:8b).

But how is all this related to greatness? Christians today are unaware of the reciprocal ways of God. Consider what Jesus teaches about forgiveness. “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” (Mt 6:14-15). Clear enough, isn’t it? Consider what the prophet Azariah said to King Asa: “if you abandon him, he will abandon you.” (2 Chr 15:2c). Consider what God said through Moses about the angel He was sending to guard His people Israel: “If you obey him and carry out all I tell you, I will be an enemy to your enemies and a foe to your foes.” (Ex 23:22). God is saying to His people: if you do this, then I will do this.

Now we apply the principle to money. God says: “Return to me, that I may return to you, says the Lord of hosts.” (Mal 3:7b). Now just like forgiveness, where God forgives our much greater debt than what we forgive others,[3] what God will return to us is incomparable to what we give Him. Here is God’s promise, or challenge if you will. “Put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, and see if I do not open the floodgates of heaven for you, and pour down upon you blessing without measure!” (Mal 3:10c). Open up the floodgates of heaven! Pour down blessing without measure! Now that is abundance. That is great blessing.

That abundance is needed for the Church to be able to do her massive evangelistic and missionary work, which takes a lot of money to do. There are workers to be hired and paid, mission trips to be funded, structures to be built, those in need to be helped out. All that money comes from God’s people.

Unfortunately, we hold back, reluctant to part with more money for God. It is pathetic that we only look at what we give to God and not see what we would get in return.[4] We only see what goes out, not what could have come in. “I will rebuke the locust for you so that it will not destroy your crops, and the vine in the field will not be barren, says the Lord of hosts.” (Mal 3:11). If we had given our tithe, we could have been protected from economic calamity, or could have had a much bigger harvest. The return to us would be so much bigger than the return to God. God is never outdone in generosity. Unfortunately we are “penny wise and pound foolish.”[5]

And in fact, we are accursed. “You are indeed accursed, for you, the whole nation, rob me.” (Mal 3:9). To be accursed is the opposite of greatness in Christ.

So what do we need to do? “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse” (Mal 3:10a). For what purpose? “That there may be food in my house.” (Mal 3:10b). Food is life-giving. The tithe is used by the Church to provide formation, care and services that bring the very life of Christ into the lives of people.

The tithes fund the mission of the Church. The Church is evangelistic and missionary, and is to proclaim the good news of salvation to the whole world. She is to make disciples of all the nations, which will look to the people of God as the blessing that they have become to them. “All the nations will call you blessed, for you will be a delightful land, says the Lord of hosts.” (Mal 3:12).

God destined Israel for greatness, to witness to the whole world about Him as the one, true God. Today, God wants the new Israel, Christians, to soar to greatness as well, for His very same purposes. “For I, the Lord, do not change” (Mal 3:6a).

You are destined for greatness. Do not let “your” money stand in your way.

* * *

For personal reflection and household discussion:

1) Do you honor God with generous financial giving? If you have any disagreement with what I have written above, I encourage you to email me your point of view so I can explain things to you ( I just want you to be on the right side of God when it comes to finances and stewardship.
2) Our community has many opportunities to expand God’s work greatly. One big obstacle is the lack of funds. Can you commit to give money to CFC-FFL each and every month? The tithe can be an ideal, but you will have to get into the habit of actually giving, even starting with smaller amounts.

[1] Of course God is merciful, but He requires repentance for the forgiveness of sin.
[2] Those who persist in serious and unrepented wrongdoing will be meted punishment as they deserve.
[3] See parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:21-35.
[4] We of course do not give to God simply because we will get more in return. We give because we are obedient to God’s commands, and we want to help do His work.
[5] We keep our tithe and end up forgoing a much bigger return.

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