No one likes to hear a sermon on giving.
But this sermon will be different than what you might be expecting.
When Malachi steps onto the scene a lot has happened over the last few centures: Israel has, due to widespread spiritual rebellion, exhausted God’s patience, suffered punishment in way of being conquered by neighboring nations, taken into decades-long exile, and finally been released to return to their homeland in and around Jerusalem.
In the book of Malachi, a century has passed since they were allowed to return home. Unbelievably, they were given permission to rebuild their destroyed temple. They started out in a blaze of glory. But, discouragement became complacency which became apathy which led down the proverbial rabbit hole of “Devotion to God is a complete waste of time. From now on, I’m looking our for No. 1.” As one scholar observed, their sin and rebellion against God was worse now than it ever was before they were taken into exile.
People seem to never learn.
Malachi’s job was, like all ancient prophets, an unpopular one. He was to call Israel to account, pointing out how arrogant and self-absorbed they’d become. They had become quite okay with telling God, in essence, to shove off – you’re just in the way. (This would be the same God who had, throughout history, saved them over and over again from their own idiocy, as well as from enemy nations.)
As God, through Malachi, began listing all the ways Israel had abandoned their devotion to him, all they could do was, like spoiled children, smart off back to the prophet.
The book of Malachi is a fitting ending, actually, to the age of the prophets. Following Malachi would be 400 years of seeming silence from God. The next prophet would be John the Baptist, the one who would prepare the way for the true king, Jesus Christ.
One of the indictments handed down to Israel was that they had been “robbing God” by withholding their best while offering to him their leftovers (“Maybe God won’t notice?”). The issue was not about “amount”, but rather “attitude.”
In the only time in scripture where God gives us permission to put him to the test, he says,
“Should people cheat [rob] God? Yet you have cheated [robbed] me! “But you ask, ‘What do you mean? When did we ever cheat you?’ You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me. 9 You are under a curse, for your whole nation has been cheating me. 10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord Almighty, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test! 11 Your crops will be abundant, for I will guard them from insects and disease. Your grapes will not fall from the vine before they are ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. (3:8-11)
Now, here’s the sermon you might not have been expecting.
There is a not-so-subtle heresy today commonly termed the Prosperity Gospel. It’s tenet can be summed up in the words of one of its modern champions:
In short: God’s will for your life? Wealth & health.
I have no interest in critiquing the man who is Joel Osteen, or others like him, in this blog – only their interpretation of scripture on what God says about giving. The Prosperity Gospel Preachers‘ understanding of basic biblical teaching on this particular doctrine is embarrassingly incomplete. It would behoove them and to preach the “whole counsel/will of God” and include the other side of this doctrine.
If the passage from Malachi (printed above) were the only passage God chose to give us regarding giving, Osteen and the like would be spot-on. But it’s not. The preachers of the Prosperity Gospel don’t insinuate – they boldly proclaim the following axiom:
Are you healthy, successful and financially prosperous? You’re giving God your best. Are you languishing in financial bondage? Barely living paycheck to paycheck? Something’s wrong and you are not giving God your best.
But, as with any half-truth being preached from a pulpit, anyone with a halfway intelligent understanding of the Bible immediately begins thinking in response: “This sounds sorta right, but not all right. Something’s wrong with this picture.”
Clearly, according to the Prosperity Gospel – the apostles, the early church fathers, persecuted Christians both ancient & modern (Sri Lanka) have done something wrong. For, if God wants us to prosper in health and wealth – and God never changes – then logic dictates that the followers of Christ, both ancient and modern, should enjoy happiness, health and affluence. But, nothing could be further from the truth:
Once again, Prosperity Preachers trumpet, “God’s will for you is happiness, health and financial prosperity!” So, how does that jive with actual scripture? Glad you asked 🙂
Job 1:8, 12 – The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant, Job?… everything he has is in your power.”
Isaiah 53:10 – “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush [Christ] and cause him to suffer.”
John 9:1-3 – As [Jesus] went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
2 Corinthians 12:7-9 – …in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
According the Prosperity Gospel, here are the implications of these passages:
- Job, whom God had just described, in vs 8, as the “most righteous man on earth” had apparently not given God his best. Why else would God give Satan, himself, permission to destroy Job’s life?
- Jesus, the subject of Isaiah’s prophecy, would suffer greatly as a result of God’s perfect will. Clearly, for God to make his own son suffer so greatly, Jesus must not have given God is best, right?
- The ancient misunderstanding was, “If a person was born blind or lame or deaf, etc., there must be great sin somewhere in his family.” Sound familiar? But, Jesus explained to the biblically myopic disciples that the man’s blindness had been given him by God to bring glory to God. I keep trying to find the verse in this passage where Jesus says, “The man had not been giving his best and was cursed with blindness.” Alas, it’s not there.
- Finally, Paul, writer of a full third of the New Testament was, like Job, tormented by Satan, himself. And, to make matters worse, when Paul begged God to remove his “thorn in the flesh”God said no. (No one knows what pain this was in Paul’s life but it was debilitating enough for Paul to beg God to remove it.) According to the Prosperity Gospel, Paul had not given his best.
And we haven’t even mentioned the pain and persecution threaded throughout the rest of both the Old and New Testaments.
- Make no mistake: God’s words through Malachi are certainly true, as are Jesus’ words in Luke 6:38. Giving God our best (whether its money, our time, our resources, etc.) will always, in return, receive a blessing. But, as you well know, the way God blesses is often different from how he thought he would bless us. (I asked God to make me a more patient driver, so he put me behind slow drivers 🙂 I asked God to help me be more compassionate to the hurting, so he hurt me deeply.) God’s blessing for us may well be new wisdom and discernment regarding the managing and stewardship of all with which God has entrusted us. (I always tell musicians/artists that their talent is merely on loan from the Lord.) It may be his peace that passes human understanding to help us get through a difficult time. Or, it may actually be material blessing. Regardless of how God blesses, it will be provide all that we need.
- Almost always, a financial windfall is not in the cards. This doesn’t mean that’s never part of the Lord’s will. But not usually. Think: the manna/bread provided for ancient Israel after the Exodus. Israel was never in want of what they needed. But God gave only enough for what they needed for the present time. In the most familiar psalm, David wrote, “I lack nothing.” God’s definition of “prosperity” for some may be living paycheck to paycheck, giving us opportunity to trust him in tenuous times. (“Consider it pure joy when you encounter various trials…”)
- And, finally, you may give your very best – and still return home to a busted water heater, or have your car’s alternator go out the following week. Does that mean you are somehow amiss in your giving? Not according to God, who is Yaweh Jireh – יְהֹוָה יִרְאֵה – our Provider.
Soli Deo Gloria, Nick