MESSAGE FOR SEPTEMBER 28, 2003

(First of four messages on stewardship)

            This week, we begin a four-week series of messages on how believers are to view, manage and give God’s money.  We want to look into God’s word and see what the bible teaches on this important topic.  The timing of this series is not accidental.  We are in the midst of the challenge phase of a capital campaign intended to raise the money to build, in a God-honoring way, a facility that will enable God’s ministry here to expand.  Though we certainly want the impact of the word of God to be felt as it relates to this capital campaign, it would be a gross mistake to think that this topic relates only to this particular ministry-expanding chapter of our church.  As we’ll see in the weeks to come in Sunday School and from the pulpit, there are few if any more accurate measures of our love and reverence for Christ than how we handle God’s resources whether it is time, energy, possessions or money.  And we live in an unprecedented materialistic, thing- worshipping culture that easily blinds us to our own idolatrous tendency to love of money and possessions.  So these next four weeks of concentrating on stewardship though, by God’s grace, should impact this campaign, they are not intended ONLY to raise cash for an ambitious project.  They are offered at this strategically important time so we can all do a significant heart check as it relates to our giving to the ministry expansion but also and more importantly, to see whether we are loving God and submitting to his Lordship as we should.

            We begin this stewardship emphasis in Malachi chapter one.  Before we look at that text, let’s look at its context.  The Jews Malachi preached to had returned to the Promised Land after their exile and had finally rebuilt the temple after years of apathetic and self-centered delays.  As we saw last week from the book of Haggai, they were not serving God wholeheartedly even after the tremendous grace he showed them in bringing them out of exile and in response to this lukewarmness, God refused to bless them.  They were not enjoying prosperity—the promise of returning to a land filled with milk and honey had not materialized.  Instead of allowing the discipline of the Lord through this poverty to bring them back to him, they chose to cut back on their giving to God.  The people refused to tithe and even the priests dishonored God and led the people astray by their neglect and gross violation of the laws regarding temple sacrifices.

This text provides a wonderful place for us to begin to think about financial stewardship for several reasons.  First, because this text addresses people who are making offerings to God and stewardship is fundamentally about offering ourselves--our hearts, our lives and our resources back to God who gave them to us in the first place.  The priests in many instances offered animals to God, we in many instances offer money.  Second, in this text God is speaking to priests and we who are in Christ are priests of God.  First Peter 2:9 says of Christ’s church, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”  Any Old Testament text on the priesthood has some form of application to us.  A third reason this text is a good starting place for us in this matter of stewardship is because it lays out with great power and clarity, what is to be the root motivation for our giving and we’ll see what that is in a few minutes.  Now, let’s read Malachi 1:6-14.

“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, 'How have we despised your name?'  7By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, 'How have we polluted you?' By saying that the Lord's table may be despised.  8When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts.  9And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? says the Lord of hosts.  10Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand. 

11For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.  12But you profane it when you say that the Lord's table is polluted, and its fruit, that is, its food may be despised.  13But you say, 'What a weariness this is,' and you snort at it, says the Lord of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the Lord.  14Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished. For I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.

I want to break this text up into three sections.  First, we want to look at the nature of the sin of these priests that brings this harsh word from God through Malachi.  Second, we will see God’s response to this sin and third we want to see the root causes for both God’s anger and the people’s rebellion.  Why did this anger God so and what was wrong in the priests’ hearts that would prompt them to so blatantly break the sacrificial laws and violate Yahweh?  First, let’s examine the nature of these priests’ sin.  As we said, times were tough for the Jews.  As a result they were refusing to give to the temple their best animals for sacrifice.  In Deuteronomy 15:21 the law instructs the priests about the animals offered for sacrifice, “But if it has any blemish, if it is lame or blind or has any serious blemish whatever, you shall not sacrifice it to the Lord.”  Notice the specificity of the statute, “if it has any blemish, if it is lame or blind or has any serious blemish whatever.  You can hear how seriously God takes this.  To offer anything less than the very best—the crème de la crème—the cream of the crop was an insult to him.  The law is clear in this and at least two other Old Testament texts that God would receive only the best—top-drawer offerings.  He considered anything less than that to be defilement—pollution.  We see an example of know how God views this in Malachi 2:3 where He promises retaliation against these priests when he says, “Behold, I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings, and you shall be taken away with it.”

Giving to God less than the best sacrifices in the form of these blind, lame and blemished offerings dishonored him first, because it was in his eyes no different than offering him dung. Offerings made from right hearts and in agreement with his law were a “pleasing aroma” to God.  It was like offering God fine perfume.  By contrast, these offerings comprised of losers and leftovers were not perfume but were instead in God’s eyes, dung. They were stinking up God’s holy temple with dung and offering it to Him in a horribly twisted expression of worship.  The message this sent to God was loud and clear.  In verse seven God mocks these priests’ blindness to their sin and He says, “…But you [priests] say, `How have we polluted YOU?”  That’s how God sees this.  When priests offer God less than their best they are polluting Him.  It is, to borrow from chapter two, in some sense to throw dung at him.

A second way these offerings dishonored God is when the priests offered them to God they were giving God lower priority than fallen, human authorities.  In verse six He says, “A son honors his FATHER, and a servant his MASTER.  If I am a father where is my honor?  And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name…”  In the second half of verse eight he says of these offerings, “Present that to your GOVERNOR; will he accept you or show you favor? says the LORD of hosts.”  God sees the priests’ sin for what it is—a devaluing of Him that places him below human authorities like fathers, masters and state officials.  He’s saying to the priests, “You wouldn’t treat your fathers like this, you wouldn’t treat your employer like this and you sure wouldn’t treat the government authorities like this.  You wouldn’t think of polluting them but you have polluted me.  You clearly show me less honor, respect and reverence than you do your fallen human authorities.”

Another way these priests dishonored  God is in verse seven and again in verse 12, “But you profane it [the altar] when you say the Lord’s table is polluted, and its fruit, that is, its food may be despised.” The priests were so hardened that they knew the altar of God had been polluted and even said as much, but they had no problem with that.  They knew they weren’t giving their best—they knew these sacrifices were leftovers and would admit as much, but they offered them anyway.  This was not a sin born out of ignorance—they knew the word and they were openly rebelling against it, assumedly on the presumption that God would be all right with it since he knew they were strapped for cash.  A final way the priests dishonored God is in verse 13 and it has to do with the attitude of the priests offering the sacrifices.  But you say, “what a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the LORD of hosts.”  That word translated “weariness” means “hardship.”  These priests were coming to God with anything but cheerful hearts.  They disdained giving to God because even these leftover offerings were a hardship to their self-centered hearts.  These self-centered priests scorned giving even blemished offerings to God because after all, whatever they offered to God, they couldn’t keep for themselves. 

That’s the nature of the priests’ sin and it is scary how easily we New Testament priests can meet ourselves in this self-centered bunch.  When we offer something to God whether it is time or talent or energy or money—are we careful to offer our best to God—the cream off the top?  Or do we give him the leftovers?  As it relates to financial stewardship, do we live our lives the way we want to and then at the end of the week figure out what we can afford to give God?  POLLUTION!  DUNG!  God wants and deserves the cream off the top—the first fruits.  We are to give him the first part of our paychecks and relegate our other expenses to what we have left over after we have given to God.  In other words the biblical pattern is that WE get the leftovers, not God.  God and our worship of Him is first and we get what remains.  To reverse the order is to spiritually speaking, throw dung before God. We are to give our time and energy and money in a way that is a pleasing aroma to God. When we do otherwise, we are devaluing God. Try telling the IRS at tax time—“You know, I think I’ll pay what taxes I can afford after I have purchased everything I want.   Try telling your employer, “Yeah boss, I’ll be in to work just as soon as I come off the golf course and wax my car.”   What an absurd notion, but we do this to God when we, as New Covenant priests don’t exercise care in how we give to Him.  If our giving to God is carefully prayed over, sacrificial and from a cheerful, not begrudging heart, it will honor him and show him the respect and reverence he is due.  But if we are thoughtless, inconsistent and not sacrificial in our giving, then we defile God.

Next, let’s look at God’s response to these blemished offerings.  Verse nine says, “And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us.  With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? Says the Lord of hosts.”  The priests evidently didn’t understand the incredible irony of, on the one hand, giving to God defiled offerings and on the other, asking God for blessing and favor.  He corrects their wrong thinking.  God is saying, “It doesn’t matter how many times you  ask me to bless you and prosper you, I will not give you favor when you treat me like this—offering me your leftovers.”  God ties his blessing to the generous, cheerful giving of his people.  The point for us is not necessarily that God will not give us enough money to live on if we skimp on him.  Though it would certainly not be wrong of God to do that, that is not the main application for us here.  

The main application and the far weightier matter for us is stated explicitly in the second half of verse ten, “…I have no pleasure in you…”  He is saying to these selfish priests, “I  take no delight in you.”  If that doesn’t make our blood run like ice water, then there is something cataclysmically wrong with us. Our selfishness, expressed through stingy giving to God, causes a wall to be built between God and us—our intimacy with him is decreased.  The blessing of the New Covenant is not material prosperity according to Jeremiah 31:34 but is rather that God’s people would “…Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD.  For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”  This speaks of a deep, intimate knowledge of God and when we pollute him by giving him our leftovers or what is not sacrificial then why wouldn’t that build a wall between us?  If you throw dung at anyone else, it would hinder THAT relationship wouldn’t it?  How much more, the Lord of the Universe?  Perhaps your relationship with God has diminished in its intimacy—your worship of him has grown cold.  If that is true of you, this text behooves us to ask, “have I through my stingy or cheerless giving brought on this icy chill to my relationship with God?”  God’s response is profoundly strong to this.  We must hear in this how much our giving to God matters to Him for reasons we will see in a moment.

He says in verse 10 through Malachi, “Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain!…”  God hates pretense.  He hates it when people are just going through the motions for the sake of ritual or to make us feel better.  When his people do this in the Bible, his message here in Malachi one and in other places like Isaiah chapter one and Revelation chapter three to the lukewarm church at Laodicea is consistently the same—JUST STOP IT!  In this case, “close the temple doors and put out the altar fire—your phony, fleshly pretense of worship is an insult to me.”  God doesn’t need our money and he doesn’t WANT our money if we are not giving it to him out of generous hearts filled with love.  It does not bless Him and he would rather we not give it.  He says in the second half of verse ten, “…I will not accept an offering from your hand.”  This is sobering.  Think about all the money we have over the years given to God thinking that one day in heaven we will see it all stacked up in God’s throne room.  Yet by implication God says here that when we get to heaven, not one penny of what we have given to him in an unworthy manner ever even makes it to his presence but is instead refused upon delivery and discarded onto the dung heap.  It would be hard to imagine how God’s response to our careless giving could be more negative.

Finally, we want to speak about the heart of this matter and that is: WHY God is so violent in his response to this kind of non-cheerful, non-prayerful, non-sacrificial giving and WHY do priests of God Old and New Testament offer to God polluted gifts.  I see two reasons in the text.  The first is implied in the larger context.  The book of Malachi begins with God answering a charge brought against him by these cash-strapped Jews.  Verse two says, “I have loved you, “ says the LORD.  But you say, “How have you loved us?”  “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD.  “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated…” The Edomites descended from Esau had not experienced God’s judgment and so the Jews, who were God’s people, looked at the more prosperous Edomites and said to God, “You don’t love us.”  The Jews had charged God with a breach in covenant love and the rest of the book is a turning of the tables when God repeatedly says to the Jews, “It’s not me who have failed to love you—it's you who do not love me.”  God hadn’t displayed a deficiency of love, but his people certainly had.

            Most of the book of Malachi is God building his case against the Jews, proving by overwhelming evidence that they have broken the covenant of love He established with them.  It was THEY who hadn’t loved God and exhibit “A” in his damning line of evidence is the fact that the priests were polluting him with their leftovers. What this means to us by application is quite simply if we have established a pattern of not giving to God out of generous hearts willing to sacrifice, we are not loving God.  We may think it strange that God would measure our love for him through our financial giving but Jesus reflects this in Matthew 6:21.  In a context of financial giving he says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Jesus says, “Your affections are inextricably tied to your treasure.”  If you place your treasure in the things of this world, then that is what you love but if you place your treasure in God and his kingdom then that is what you love and he goes on to say in verse 24—“You cannot serve both God and money.”  Your heart cannot be in two places at one time.  It’s either with God or with the treasures of this world. 

            A second reason why God responds so violently is found in verse 11.  God has just told the priests he will not accept their sacrifices and in verse 11 he says, “For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name and a pure offering.  For my name will be great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts.”  Did you catch the reference to the nations here?  God in effect asks these pretentious, penny-pinching priests, “Do you have any idea who I am?  Have you the foggiest notion whom it is you are polluting with your leftovers?  Do you realize that I am not simply some tribal god for you Jews to worship in that one temple in Jerusalem?  One day, in my timing my name will be magnified to all the nations and the incense of their pure, undefiled worship will ascend to me from everywhere.”

 God is prophetically looking ahead to the global kingdom of priests that will be established through the preaching of the gospel to all nations and he tells these priests—“I’m just not the property of the Hebrews—I’m not some sort of local or regional deity.  I am not a lightweight god you can carelessly throw dung on.  I am the great, mighty God!”  We see the exact same point made in verse 14. God says, “Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished. FOR I AM A GREAT KING, says the LORD of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.” 

            The point is this—the reason these priests felt the freedom to do what they were doing is because in their hearts they believed Yahweh to be a much smaller God than He was.  When they were giving God leftovers, they were communicating that they had no clue how strong and mighty God is.  They had no fear of this awesome God.  They were denying that he is the GREAT KING over all the earth.  We see this same emphasis on God’s power and worth through Malachi’s near incessant use of a very powerful designation for God in this text (and in fact the entire book of Malachi).  Notice that seven times in this text God invokes his name, the “Lord of Hosts.”  Some translations use the “LORD Almighty.”  That fear-inducing title, perhaps as much as any other in the bible points to the fearful, awesome omnipotence of God.

            This is God’s warrior name.  We see this title in places like First Samuel 17:45 when a young David invokes it in his confrontation with Goliath.  “Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of [Jehovah Sabaoth] the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted.”  We know from Genesis 2:1 “the hosts” refer not only to human armies like Israel’s but also the heavenly angelic armies.  God has indescribable, unimaginable power at his disposal as the LORD of hosts.  Psalm 2 tells us that as the nations combine their military power to stand against the Lord and against his anointed, God’s response is {verse four} “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the LORD holds them in derision.”   In Isaiah 13:13 God says, “Therefore I shall make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken from its place.  At the fury of the LORD of hosts in the day of His burning anger.” You don’t mess with this God and you most certainly don’t throw dung before Him!

            Luther, as he was fighting the popes and demons of the reformation invoked this title  for God in his battle cry of the Reformation.  Verse two of “A Mighty Fortress” says, “Did we in our own strength confide, Our striving would be losing, Were not the right man on our side, The man of God’s own choosing:  Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He; Lord Sabaoth  (the LORD OF HOSTS) his name, From age to age the same, And he must win the battle.”  He must win the battle because as the Lord of Hosts he can do nothing else!  He is an awesome, Almighty wrecking machine when He chooses to be and he commands the most intimidating and powerful army imaginable.

            The implicit point God is making by using this title of himself seven times in 14 verses is this—“When you offer me leftovers and cast offs and things that cost you nothing, your polluted, unworthy sacrifices betray who I am as the LORD of Hosts.  Your puny, convenient—what’s-left-over giving to me tells the world that I am a puny, easily pacified God and I am NOT!  I am worthy of everything you could ever possibly imagine giving to me.”  Don’t miss this.  When our giving to the Lord is not sacrificial and generous and cheerful, we are, through our polluted offerings, denying who God is—we are implicitly trying to shrink him down to a size that will fit inside our stingy, self-centered hearts.

            Now, we could never give enough to rightly reflect his infinite worth—all the banks in the world don’t have enough for even a down payment on that.  But when we give thoughtlessly and sparingly and grudgingly and non-sacrificially, we are not only polluting God, we are telling the world and all the heavenly hosts that God is just not worthy of our best and that denies his glory as the LORD of Hosts.  We must never do that.  The root motivation for our giving should be our love for God and  our fear of God.  The priests in Malachi had neither and that was reflected in their comfortable level of giving.  The truth is if we are not willing to give biblically to God, then we are neither loving God nor fearing God.  As we’ll see again and again, giving to God isn’t about money—it’s about our hearts—whether we love God and fear God through the cheerful, sacrificial giving of our time, energy and money.  May God give us the grace to repent of our lovelessness and our lack of reverence for the LORD of Hosts and to be restored in our fellowship with Him.

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