There are many passages in the Bible that teach us about financial giving. One of the most famous is Malachi 3:10. It is a powerful, prophetic passage, especially when viewed through the lens of the gospel.
What is the background of this famous verse? And how do we apply it today?
Reading the Old Testament is like dusting off a family album and looking at pictures of our ancestors. We soon realize that their story is our story, too! With this in mind, there are treasures in the Old Testament.
Malachi was a prophet. Prophets often used descriptive language to prod people who had grown slack in their worship of God. He wrote around 500 B.C., when the people of God had returned from exile. They were going through tough financial times; they were discouraged and were neglecting important areas of faithfulness to God.
As modern Christians, we can learn three timeless truths from Malachi 3:
- A blind spot is revealed.
- A rhythm is to be renewed.
- A blessing is poured out.
1. A blind spot is revealed
Speaking through Malachi, God had a word of truth for the people.
It was a blind spot. Perhaps the priests had failed to instruct them. Perhaps they were fearful because of the economy.
Is it possible that we have a blind spot in the area of giving? In his book, Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller says that greed can be a blind spot in our hearts. The New Testament talks about how money can fasten its grip on us.
One of the best ways to break free from the grip of money is through generosity. That leads us to the second lesson.
2. A rhythm is to be renewed
Malachi encourages them to return to the time-tested rhythm of giving tithes and offerings.
Bring the full tithe into the storehouse… (Malachi 3:10)
What was the storehouse? It was a place in the temple where tithes and offerings were kept. From the storehouse, the priests and Levites were provided for; the temple was kept up, and the needs of the people were cared for.
This is the basis for the Christian practice of giving our “tithes and offerings.” Respected biblical pastors and scholars tend to view the tithe as a good rule of thumb, or a starting point. None would argue that we are called, in the New Testament, to something less than the tithe. One benefit of the tithe is a kind of equitable spread of responsibility, based upon capacity. People with lesser incomes are not shouldered with an excessive burden; those who have been blessed with great resources give larger amounts toward the work of God.
The gospel turns giving into a grace, an act of joy. The New Testament urges us to give generously, purposefully, and cheerfully. (See 2 Corinthians 9:6-7)
What about those among us who are experiencing economic hardship, and are unable to tithe? Jesus told a story, recorded in Luke 20:1-4, about a poor widow who could only put two copper coins into the temple treasury. He said that the widow put in more than all the others! The amount of our giving is not measured by how much we give, but by how much we have left after we give. A wise pastor once told me, “If you can’t give 10%, why not start with 3%, and trust God to grow that percentage over time?” I love the freedom in his counsel.
Should our church be the primary place of our giving? There is not necessarily a one-to-one correspondence between the local church and the storehouse of Malachi 3, but there are good reasons why many people make their church the primary place where they give. One practical principle, from Galatians 6:6, is giving to the place where we are being fed. When we think about it, who else is called to give to your local church, except for the people who worship at that church?
Like many people, our approach is to give a tithe (10%) to our local church, and then freely support other ministries with our offerings. At times we give additional year-end gifts to our church, since our church is also a mission and we have a high degree of confidence in how the money is being used.
But if we give generously, will God provide for our needs? That leads us to the third lesson.
3. A blessing is poured out
Whatever might have made Malachi’s readers cautious about giving, they could be assured of God’s promise to provide for them.
This promise has been mistakenly used by some who preach a “prosperity gospel.” They teach that the more you give, the more you will get. Giving is seen by this false gospel as a path to prosperity.
In God’s providence, he may lead us into times of abundance or deprivation that are unrelated to our obedience in financial giving. We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ, and we need to be careful about basing God’s blessing on works righteousness. Instead, we can learn from Paul who (from prison!) said:
Later in Philippians 4, we do see a wonderful promise that God will provide for those who invest financially in God’s kingdom work.
From a human perspective, we could add up the amount of a lifetime of giving and imagine what we could have bought—better cars, better homes, more expensive toys—but the rewards of generosity are much greater. Consider these words of Jesus:
The more we grasp the gospel, the more we want to practice “the grace of giving.” (2 Corinthians 8:7). Paul saw the grace of Christ as our inspiration for generosity:
Why not begin today to renew the grace of giving?
Mike Tilley is the senior pastor of Lake Baldwin Church, and has lived in Orlando since 1994. He and his wife, Molly, worked with a core group from the Baldwin Park community to plant Lake Baldwin Church in 2006. Mike loves teaching the Bible in a way that relates to real life. In his spare time, Mike enjoys good movies, long dinner with friends, snow skiing, hanging out with his kids and two granddaughters, and travel.