Introduction: In Mark 8, Jesus performed his most unusual miracle of healing, because it was done in two stages. He took the blind man of Bethsaida, put spittle in his eyes, and asked him if he saw anything. The man said he saw people, but they were like trees walking around. Jesus touched his eyes again, and this time the may saw everything clearly. We know Jesus could have healed the man instantaneously, so we assume he had a reason for this two-stage process. In the very next paragraph, Jesus took the disciples to Caesarea Philippi and asked them, “Who do you think I am?” They answered correctly; they understood. Then he told them he was going to Jerusalem to be killed and to rise again. This they could not see. Their vision of Jesus—his person and work—came in stages. This tells us something about Bible study. We don’t understand our Bibles perfect the first time we read them. Our understanding of God’s Word is progressive and cumulative. I’m at the point in our studies in Malachi in which I feel I can map the book in a way that reasonably reflects the outline and objectives of Malachi as he preached and assembled these sermons. It’s taken me a while to get here; and I’ve reworked my own outline several times and am reasonably comfortable charting it out for you. At the end of the Old Testament era, God’s people grew stagnant, endangering the spirit that made them distinct from everyone else on earth. Malachi (“My Messenger”) diagnosed and dispelled the lethargy in seven unique counseling sessions. As we study this book, it helps restore us from spiritual weariness and tedium. According to Malachi, personal stagnation happens:
- When we doubt God’s love (Malachi 1:1-5). The answer is looking around for evidence of his live.
- When we dishonor God’s name (Malachi 1:6-14). The answer comes when we determine to give Him our best.
- When we disrespect God’s word (Malachi 2:1-9). The answer comes when His workers teach with knowledge.
- When we diminish God’s family (Malachi 2:10-16). The answer is to guard our marriages and homes.
- When we dispute God’s justice (Malachi 2:17-3:5). The answer comes when we contemplate His coming.
- When we deprive God’s work (Malachi 3:6-12). The answer is tithing.
- When we demoralize God’s workers (Malachi 3:13-4:6). The answer is encouraging one another.
Last week we looked at point 5. The people of Malachi’s day were questioning God’s sense of justice. Behind this there seems to have been disappointment. When the tabernacle was constructed in the book of Exodus, the glory of the Lord burst into the place with such visual power it provided dramatic evidence of the presence of the Lord among them (see the last paragraph of the book of Exodus). When Solomon built the temple, the same thing happened (2 Chronicles 7:1-3). But years later when the nation became apostate and the temple was corrupted, the glory of the Lord departed. The prophet Ezekiel described this in chapter 8-11 of his book. Now in the post-exilic era, a remnant of the Jews had returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the temple. But there were no fireworks, no dramatic displays of His glory. There was no repeat of the intense moment when the glory of the Lord had entered the temple. The people were questioning God’s judgment and his ways (Malachi 2:17). Malachi said: “The answer is in the coming of the Lord. I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire will come,” says the Lord Almighty.
Now tonight I want to look at point 6. Because the people had fallen into tedium and discouragement, they had stopped being faithful in their tithes. The people had gotten discouraged with the temple as we see in the prior paragraph, and they had slacked off on tithing. The purpose of the tithe was to support the Levites and the upkeep and work of the temple. When people brought their grain or wine or money, it was kept in storerooms in the temple until needed.
Scripture with annotation: Malachi 3:6-12
Conclusion: R. T. Kendall, longtime minister at Westminster Chapel, London, wrote that shortly after he and his wife were married they found themselves hopelessly in debt. Tithing seemed utterly impossible to them. Some of the bills could not be helped, and others were the consequence of imprudence. Kendall was engaged in secular work at the time, and one day he came home very, very discouraged. He fell on his knees in a sense of desperation, hoping that God would give him a ray of light that would help him through. There on the dining room table lay the large, white Bible his grandmother had given to him. He picked it up and opened it at random. Instantly his eyes fell on these words: “Will a man rob God?” He didn’t like what he found one bit, so he closed his Bible and sat down to watch the television (which he still owed for). But he was perfectly miserable. He knew that God wanted him to begin tithing, but he postponed it for a while longer; and in the meantime things went from bad to worse. “Although my wife and I were both working it seemed that paying our bills was like dipping a cup into the ocean of debt.” Then one day they made a turn. They took 10 percent of their income right off the top, making tithing the number one priority. He paid their bills with the remaining 90 percent. “We were not out of debt in weeks but we were completely out of debt in less than two years, and those days became the happiest we have known.”[i]
In his book Proving God, Al Taylor tells the story of Arlie Rogers of Selma, California, who came to be known as the “Sweet Potato King” because of his vast farming operations in the San Joaquin Valley. Arlie and his brother first arrived to California with little money. By scraping and saving, they finally managed to purchase a farm. At that time, the money crop was cotton, so the two brothers invested every penny they could get in sowing cotton. When the cotton plants were just out of the ground, a great sandstorm blew through the valley, destroying everyone’s crops. The Rogers brothers were disconsolate. Arlie called the church and asked their pastor to visit. As Pastor Burnham walked across the devastated fields, the brothers poured out their troubles. “Everything we had was in that crop. We don’t have any money or credit left to replant. We are completely ruined. Now we will lose everything.” Pastor Burnham knew these brothers as dedicated Christians, active in their church, and faithful in giving their tithes to the Lord. Squinting at them, he replied, “No, fellows, it’s really not that bad. The God we serve raised His own Son from the dead after three days. I know he can raise cotton.” With that, the pastor sank to his knees in the dirt and prayed a simple little prayer. “Father,” he said, “these men are tithers. You said You would rebuke the devourer for a tither. I am asking You to manifest the power of Your Word and fulfill that promise right here in this cotton field. Bring this cotton back and give these men a good crop in Jesus’ name. Amen.” He rose, brushed the dust from his knees, and said, “That ought to take care of it.” It did. A few days later the Rogers brothers called him back. There before his eyes a good crop was rising form the ground. God had rebuked the devourer.[ii]
[i] R. T. Kendall, Tithing: A Call to Serious, Biblical Stewardship (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), p. 25.
[ii] Adapted from Al Taylor, Proving God (Cleveland, Tennessee: Pathway Press, 1991), pp. 102-103.