Malachi Series: Becoming a Generous Giver (Mal 3:7-12)
Becoming a Generous Giver
From the days of your ancestors you have ignored my commandments and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “But you say, ‘How should we return?’ Can a person rob God? You indeed are robbing me, but you say, ‘How are we robbing you?’ In tithes and contributions! You are bound for judgment because you are robbing me—this whole nation is guilty. “Bring the entire tithe into the storehouse so that there may be food in my temple. Test me in this matter,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “to see if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out blessing for you until there is no room for it all. Then I will stop the plague from ruining your crops, and the vine will not lose its fruit before harvest,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “All nations will call you blessed, for you indeed will live in a delightful land,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
Malachi 3:7-12 (NET)
How can we give generously to God instead of robbing him?
In Malachi 3:7-12, God rebuked the Israelites for robbing him. They had ceased giving their tithes and offerings. To get a better picture of what was happening with the post-exilic Jews, it’s good to remember that Nehemiah was most likely Malachi’s contemporary. While Nehemiah was governor over Israel, he reinstituted the giving of tithes and offerings (Neh 10:34-39). However, in Nehemiah 13, after he left for Persia for a couple of years and then returned, Israel had already stopped giving, and consequently the priests and Levites returned to their farms (Neh 13:10). Because the priests and Levites were not being supported financially, they stopped doing ministry. This had tremendous consequences for the entire nation. If the children and parents were not getting religious education, then they would start to rebel against God and sin against one another in many ways. Therefore, they were not only robbing God but robbing themselves and bringing his discipline on their lives.
Though these events happened thousands of years ago, they still happen today because we have the same sin nature. Instead of giving our best to God whether in finances, time, or devotion, we tend to give the best to ourselves or others before God. When giving ourselves the best instead of God, we actually are robbing ourselves. Whenever we put God first in our lives, it always leads to blessing. In the context of Christ’s call for his disciples to not worry about what they would eat, drink, or wear, Christ said, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt 6:33 NIV). God promises to bless us and meet our needs if we put him first. Consequently, as was happening with the Israelites, many of us have impoverished ourselves spiritually, emotionally, socially, and financially by neglecting God in various ways, including with our finances.
In the Gospels, Christ spoke about finances more than heaven and hell which demonstrates that our use of our money is very important to God. In fact, how we use our money says a lot about our spiritual condition, including whether we are saved or not. Consider Christ’s response to the rich man who asked Christ about how to enter heaven. In Mark 10:21, Christ told him, “You lack one thing. Go, sell whatever you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” If someone came to our church today asking about how to get to heaven, we would simply teach him the Four Spiritual Laws or the Romans Road and possibly have them say the Sinner’s Prayer. However, Christ did not do that because he could see that the man already had a god and that was money. He had to be willing to give that god up to truly be saved. Money had control of his heart. In fact, Christ said this in Matthew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
Another example of how our relationship to money demonstrates our spiritual condition is in the story of Zacchaeus. In Luke 19:8-9, Zacchaeus said this to Jesus:
“Look, Lord, half of my possessions I now give to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone of anything, I am paying back four times as much!” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this household, because he too is a son of Abraham!
How Zacchaeus handled his money was proof to Christ that he had been born again. If these examples were not enough, we have the example of John the Baptist and his ministry of repentance. In Luke 3:7-9, he said this to the crowds, including the religious leaders:
You offspring of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Therefore produce fruit that proves your repentance, and don’t begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God can raise up children for Abraham from these stones! Even now the ax is laid at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
After he commanded them to produce fruit that proved they were saved, people approached him saying, “What should we do?” Luke 3:11-14 describes his dialogue with various people:
John answered them, “The person who has two tunics must share with the person who has none, and the person who has food must do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He told them, “Collect no more than you are required to.” Then some soldiers also asked him, “And as for us—what should we do?” He told them, “Take money from no one by violence or by false accusation, and be content with your pay.”
Each exhortation to the various demographics of that day—the rich, the commoner, the tax collectors, and the soldiers—had to do with the currency of that day, clothes, food, and money. How they handled their money was a reflection of their relationship with God—whether they were saved or not. This is also true for us. We can tell what a person really loves by looking at their receipts—how they use their money. For the post-exilic Israelites, they were either not giving to God at all or they were giving sparingly. In Malachi 1:13-14, God rebuked them for giving the blind and lame lambs instead of the healthy ones. They were keeping the best for themselves and robbing God of the best which he deserved.
Therefore, as we consider this text, we must ask ourselves, “What does our use of finances say about our hearts and ultimately our relationship with God?” Also, we must ask, “How can we give in a way that honors God and leads to blessing over our lives and families?” From Malachi’s rebuke of the post-exilic Israelites for robbing God, we learn principles about generous giving.
Big Question: In Malachi 3:7-12, what principles can we learn about giving generously to Lord?
To Give Generously, We Must Prioritize Our Relationship with God
From the days of your ancestors you have ignored my commandments and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “But you say, ‘How should we return?’
When God rebuked Israel, he called them to “return” to him. The word “return” can also be translated to “repent.” They needed to change their mind about their sin and change the direction they were going. However, God does not say return to following my command to give the tithe because the root of their sin was relational. Because they loved other things more than God, they were not giving. When we love going out to eat or watching the newest movies, we invest our money into those things. If we don’t invest our money in those things, it is because we don’t value them. Likewise, the problem with Israel was that they didn’t love God as they should and therefore were sinning against him in various ways, including neglecting their tithes. Therefore, the first thing they needed to do was repent of their idols, including the love of money and self, and turn back to loving God supremely.
We get a good picture of this in how the poor Macedonian churches (i.e. the Philippians and Thessalonians) gave generously to help the Jerusalem churches who were struggling through a severe famine (Acts 11:27-30). In 2 Corinthians 8:1-5, Paul said this:
Now we make known to you, brothers and sisters, the grace of God given to the churches of Macedonia, that during a severe ordeal of suffering, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in the wealth of their generosity. For I testify, they gave according to their means and beyond their means. They did so voluntarily, begging us with great earnestness for the blessing and fellowship of helping the saints. And they did this not just as we had hoped, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and to us by the will of God.
The reason these poor believers gave so generously to those who were suffering was because they first gave themselves to the Lord. Therefore, if we are going to fix our stingy hearts, we must first give ourselves to the Lord as well. This starts with recognizing that he is not our first priority and repenting of that and then pursuing Christ as our first priority. This may include things like spending extended time with God daily by studying his Word and praying, possibly in the morning and at night. It may include faithfully attending public worship services, including Sunday service and small group. Scripture says where people gather in Christ’s name, Christ is in the midst (Matt 18:20). As we sincerely seek God both privately and publicly, we’ll be more likely to give generously. However, if we rarely or inconsistently spend time with the Lord, we will rarely or sparingly give to him.
Are we seeking the Lord daily and prioritizing him? Or are we prioritizing sleep, food, friends, work, school, and entertainment more than God? If so, we’ll invest our money into those things instead of the things of God. If we’re going to be generous givers, me must turn away from other idols and prioritize God. We must return to the Lord as God said through Malachi.
Application Question: What does your spending/investing say about your priorities or passions? What are some ways for a person to prioritize God more and develop a greater love and passion for him? How is God calling you to return to him and make him your first love again (cf. Rev 2:4-5)?
To Give Generously, We Must Recognize that God Owns Everything and that We’re His Stewards
Can a person rob God? You indeed are robbing me, but you say, ‘How are we robbing you?’ In tithes and contributions!
When God declared that the post-exilic Jews were robbing him, he essentially declared that he owned not just their tithes and contributions but everything. This was a common concept for Israel. When God created the earth, he put Adam and Eve in leadership over it as vice-regents (Gen 1:28). They did not own the earth; they were stewards of the earth under God. This was clear by the fact that God put a tree in the middle of the garden that they could not eat. Their stewardship was under God, and they couldn’t just do what they wanted. In addition, other Scriptures teach God’s ownership of the earth and therefore our stewardship. Psalm 24:1 says, “The Lord owns the earth and all it contains, the world and all who live in it.” Everything is the Lord’s, and therefore, he has the right to tell us how to steward the earth, including how we should give. With Israel, God required them to give a tithe (or tenth) of both the fruit of their fields and their cattle. Leviticus 27:30 and 32 says,
Any tithe of the land, from the grain of the land or from the fruit of the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord… All the tithe of herd or flocks, everything which passes under the rod, the tenth one will be holy to the Lord.
In addition to the tithe, the Jews were called to give various sacrifices at the seven different Jewish festivals that God instituted, including the Day of Atonement, Passover, and the Feast of Booths (Lev 23). They also had required sacrifices for when they sinned such as the sin offering and the trespass offering (Lev 4 and 5). When considering the required tithe and offerings, some have calculated that the Israelites were called to give around twenty-three percent of their yearly income. And this did not even include freewill offerings which were not required but were given simply out of the generosity of their hearts. It also did not include the fact that the Israelites, as an agricultural people, were commanded to not harvest the sides of their fields or go over their fields a second time after harvesting, so the poor could have something to eat (Lev 23:22). Amongst the nations, God wanted the Israelites to be extremely generous.
With that said, the reason that God could command them to give a tithe and other offerings and to leave parts of their fields unharvested for the poor was because God owned everything. Since he owned it all, the Israelites were just stewards of God’s wealth, and therefore, they had to use it the way God commanded.
Likewise, this is true for believers in the New Testament. God owns everything and has called us to be faithful stewards of everything he gives us, including our finances. Consequently, one day, we will need to give an account of our stewardship as we can see in both the Parable of the Minas and the Talents (cf. Lk 19:15, Matt 25:19-20). Though these parables probably represent our stewardship in general, they specifically include our finances, as the mina and talent were ancient forms of currency. The stewards who were faithful with the money God gave them, he rewarded, and those who were not, he judged. If we don’t accept this concept, we will not be faithful stewards of the money God has given us. We won’t give at all, or we’ll give sparingly, but we won’t give generously as God has called us to do with his finances.
Interpretation Question: Has God called believers in the New Testament to give their tithes like Israel, and if not, how are we called to practice giving?
Whether believers are commanded to give their tithes as required in the Mosaic law is a debate amongst Bible students. It must be noted that the giving of the tithe pre-dates the Mosaic law. Abraham gave a tithe to Melchizedek who was the priest of God (Gen 14:20). Also, Jacob promised to give God a tithe if God brought him back to the land of his father, Isaac (Gen 28:20-22). However, these tithes were voluntary and not required. It wasn’t until God gave Israel the law that the tithe was codified and therefore required by God’s people. However, Scripture clearly teaches that New Testament believers are no longer under the Mosaic law. Romans 10:4 says, “For Christ is the end of the law, with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes.” Also, Romans 6:14 says, “For sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not under law but under grace.” The Mosaic law was specifically given to the Israelites who were an agricultural people. Women under the New Covenant don’t need to offer animals at the temple every time they have a child (Lev 12:1-8). Also, we are not required to give the firstfruits of our yearly harvest (Lev 23:9-14). For most believers, these would have no direct applications since we don’t have farms with grain and animals. But, like the Israelites, God has called us to be generous with the finances he has given us, and if we are generous, he promises to bless us.
If believers in the New Testament are not required to give their tithes and other agricultural offerings, how are we required to give? Scripture gives us several principles on this:
1. New Testament believers should give in accordance with their income.
In 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, Paul said this:
With regard to the collection for the saints, please follow the directions that I gave to the churches of Galatia: On the first day of the week, each of you should set aside some income and save it to the extent that God has blessed you, so that a collection will not have to be made when I come.
When Paul says the Corinthians should save and give “to the extent that God” had “blessed” them, it can also be translated “in keeping with your income” (NIV). This means that believers should consider their overall finances, how God has provided for them, and give in accordance. This practically means that there will be seasons when we give more based on our income and needs and seasons when we give less. When a married couple does not have children, they will probably be able to give more generously. However, when they have three to five children, they will probably give less in proportion to their overall income. Then when they are empty nesters, they will probably be able to give more again. Individuals and families will need to wisely look at their income and prayerfully decide on how much to give.
2. New Testament believers should give purposefully.
This relates to the previous point. Second Corinthians 9:7 says, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give...” Paul said that believers should not randomly or haphazardly give. They should contemplate and prayerfully decide in their hearts what to give.
3. New Testament believers should give happily.
Verse 7 continues by saying our offerings should not be given “reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Believers should not give out of compulsion because they feel like they have to. They should not give reluctantly—meaning that they don’t really want to give. They must give happily. When we give an offering, God first looks at our hearts. If our hearts aren’t right, then he rejects it. In 1 Corinthians 13:3, Paul taught the same thing. If we give everything we own to the poor but lack love, we gain nothing. God will not approve of us or reward us. He wants us to have the right motive in our giving—love for God and others. Certainly, we understand this on a personal level. If someone gives us a gift but we can tell by their face and their actions that they really don’t want to give it, it spoils the gift. And with most of us, we’ll probably reject it. It’s the heart that matters most. That’s also true with God. We must not give reluctantly or under compulsion but happily because God loves a cheerful giver.
4. New Testament believers must give increasingly.
In 2 Corinthians 8:7 (NIV), Paul said this: “But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.” In the same way that the believers were aiming to grow in other godly characteristics like their faith in God and knowledge of God’s Word, they should always prayerfully seek to excel in giving. In considering the other principles mentioned, believers should consider their financial situation, their desire to honor God and help others, and aim to increase their giving. Certainly, at times this will take faith and sacrifice. Believers should prayerfully consider increasing their giving from 10% to 15%, from 15% to 20%, from 20% to 25%, and so on. It should be our goal to continually increase our giving so we can honor God and build his kingdom. With that said, as mentioned, certain seasons may not allow us to give as much as we would prefer. In those seasons, we should wisely decrease our giving with the hope to increase it again and, Lord willing, give even more.
When considering the original question of should New Testament believers give their tithe, the answer is they are not bound to do so because believers are not under the Mosaic law. However, the tithe is a great place to begin as we seek to excel in the grace of giving. The giving of the tithe predated the Mosaic law; however, previously it was voluntary and not mandatory.
If we are going to give generously, we must recognize that God owns all our money, and we are just stewards. In accordance with Scripture, we must aim to give according to our income, purposefully, happily, and increasingly as the Lord prospers us.
Application Question: Do you believe that the tithe continues today as a requirement for believers? Why and or why not? What principle about New Testament giving stood out most and why? How is God challenging you to excel in your giving?
To Give Generously, We Must Adopt God’s Priorities
Bring the entire tithe into the storehouse so that there may be food in my temple…
The reason that the Israelites were not giving was because they had different priorities than God. Many of their priorities were not bad in themselves, but they didn’t mirror God’s. It’s clear God was consumed with his temple and the ministry performed there, as he called the Israelites to bring their tithe into the storehouse (v. 10). The temple had a storehouse where money, grain, and produce were kept (cf. 1 Kgs 7:51, 2 Chr 31:11–12, Neh 13:12). As we consider God’s purposes specifically for the tithes and offerings, we can discern some of his abiding priorities for today.
Interpretation Question: What were some of God’s purposes for Israel’s tithes and offerings and how should these be reflected in the church?
1. The tithes were given as a form of worship to God.
Worship was the central purpose of the temple and the various tithes and offerings given there. The temple was the place of God’s presence on the earth where Israel and other nations would flock to worship. In Malachi 1:11, in the context of God’s rebuking Israel for their half-hearted sacrifices, God said, “For from the east to the west my name will be great among the nations. Incense and pure offerings will be offered in my name everywhere, for my name will be great among the nations.” As Israel worshiped the true God at the temple and faithfully followed him, nations would be inspired to worship God throughout the world. That was God’s priority as reflected by the temple and God’s call for Israel to faithfully give and participate in worship at the temple. In fact, part of the tithes was eaten by the offeror at the temple in the presence of God as a celebration of his goodness and provisions. Deuteronomy 14:22-23 says,
You must be certain to tithe all the produce of your seed that comes from the field year after year. In the presence of the Lord your God, in the place he chooses to locate his name, you must eat from the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your olive oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks, so that you may learn to revere the Lord your God always.
Likewise, we must give as a way to worship our Lord as well. It’s a way that we show our delight in him and thanksgiving for his provisions. It’s a way that we honor him. If worshiping God is not our priority, we will not give generously to him. We will invest our money into other priorities.
2. The tithes were given to the priests and Levites so they could be supported financially and minister at the temple.
Numbers 18:20-21 says,
The Lord spoke to Aaron, “You will have no inheritance in their land, nor will you have any portion of property among them—I am your portion and your inheritance among the Israelites. See, I have given the Levites all the tithes in Israel for an inheritance, for their service that they perform—the service of the tent of meeting.
As mentioned, in Nehemiah 13:10-11, when the Israelites neglected giving their tithes and offerings, the priests and Levites struggled to provide for their families financially, and consequently, many left the ministry to support their families in other ways. Again, this was not just bad for the ministers, it was bad for the people. When there were no priests and Levites, the people lacked religious instruction, causing them to sin against God and one another and to miss God’s promises. Without faithful giving, the ministry of the Word and ordinances stagnated and at times even ceased.
Likewise, in the New Testament, one of the reasons we give our offerings is to financially support those God has called to do the work of ministry both locally in our churches and abroad on the mission field. In 1 Timothy 5:17-18, Paul said this:
Elders who provide effective leadership must be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard in speaking and teaching. For the scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and, “The worker deserves his pay.”
When he says, “double honor,” this refers to pastors deserving both respect and pay for the work they do. This is similar to how the term honorarium is used when paying visiting ministers. We honor them both by giving them respect and financial support. Paul then supports his argument that ministers deserve pay by the fact that even oxen were allowed to eat from the grain they treaded on according to the Mosaic law (Dt 25:4). Also, he quoted Luke 10:7, when Christ said that workers deserved to be paid in the context of him sending the seventy-two to minister in various towns and stay freely at the homes of families who were generous and supportive of their ministry.
Unfortunately, as with Israel, the church often neglects to faithfully and generously give to the church, and consequently, the ministers and ministries suffer. Some pastors are forced to work multiple jobs while pastoring the church, and because of that, many struggle to find time to study the Word deeply in order to feed and shepherd the congregation. While doing this, many burn out and hurt their families because of a lack of time and energy to do all their tasks. Certainly, some feel called to bi-vocational ministry, even as Paul did. At times, he rejected pay from the church and worked as a tentmaker (cf. 1 Cor 9:3-18, Acts 18:3). But many do it as a necessity because of a lack of finances. Not only does the local church often suffer from a lack of finances, but missions abroad suffer as well. Many missionaries are delayed from going to the mission field because of a lack of funds, some have to leave strategic mission fields, and some never get a chance to go. When God’s people don’t prioritize local church ministry and missions abroad with their bank accounts, ministers and ministries suffer.
If we are going to be generous, we must adopt God’s passion for the local church, missions, and those who do the ministry. If not, the ministry and ministers suffer.
3. The tithes and offerings were given to care for the poor.
At the end of every three years, the tithes were stored up in the villages to provide for the foreigners, orphans, and widows, as well as the priests. Deuteronomy 14:28-29 says:
At the end of every three years you must bring all the tithe of your produce, in that very year, and you must store it up in your villages. Then the Levites (because they have no allotment or inheritance with you), the resident foreigners, the orphans, and the widows of your villages may come and eat their fill so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work you do.
Since the orphans and the widows had lost their primary providers, they were vulnerable to poverty and abuse. Likewise, since the immigrants had left their families and friends in other countries, they lacked the social network and protection others had, therefore, making them vulnerable to poverty and attack. Instead of neglecting the poor, the Jews were called to store up their tithes to help them. As mentioned, God also commanded farmers to not fully harvest their fields so the poor could eat the leftovers. God wanted the Israelites to be extremely generous to the poor as a testimony to the world and to reflect God’s great love for the poor. God, in fact, is called the Father of the orphan and Protector of the widow (Ps 68:5).
Likewise, God has called the church to care for the poor both in the church and outside of it. James 1:27 says, “Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their adversity and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Also, in 1 Timothy 5, Paul gave instructions to the church on how to care for widows.
If we are going to be generous, we must adopt God’s priority of caring for the poor and vulnerable. Those who do so will be blessed. Proverbs 19:17 says, “The one who is gracious to the poor lends to the Lord, and the Lord will repay him for his good deed.”
Certainly, the priorities of worship, ministry, and relieving poverty should be our priorities today, and when they are, we will give generously to the Lord’s work. With that said, all of our giving doesn’t necessarily have to go to the local church. God will often bring us neighbors, co-workers, friends, and family who are struggling whom he wants us to generously support and show love. In addition, many great Christian organizations are doing kingdom work that we should consider supporting. However, we must remember that just as the temple was central to God’s work in the Old Testament, the local church is today, as it is called God’s temple and God’s body (1 Cor 3:16, 12:27). Christ is building his church (Matt 16:18); he died and gave his life for her; he daily washes her with his Word (Eph 5:25-27). It is his body and the primary way in which God is equipping believers and reaching this world. We must prioritize the local church both in our commitment and giving even as Christ has. Galatians 6:10 says, “So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who belong to the family of faith.”
Application Question: How should believers faithfully balance the priority of giving to the church with the need of supporting other good organizations and people in need? In what ways is God calling you to practice the priorities of worship, ministry, and relieving poverty in your giving?
To Give Generously, We Must Understand God Disciplines Unfaithful Givers
You are bound for judgment because you are robbing me—this whole nation is guilty … Then I will stop the plague from ruining your crops, and the vine will not lose its fruit before harvest,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
Malachi 3:9, 11
When the NET says, “You are bound for judgment,” the ESV translates this, “You are cursed with a curse” (v. 9). They were not just bound for a future judgment because of their robbing God, they were already under God’s judgment. Their crops were failing (v. 11). They were going through economic hardship because of their unfaithfulness in giving. Now, this was part of God’s covenant with Israel. In Deuteronomy 28, God put before them both a blessing and a curse. As a nation, they would experience blessings when they obeyed God’s laws, which included commands to give their tithes and offerings. Deuteronomy 28:11-12 says,
The Lord will greatly multiply your children, the offspring of your livestock, and the produce of your soil in the land that he promised your ancestors he would give you. The Lord will open for you his good treasure house, the heavens, to give you rain for the land in its season and to bless all you do; you will lend to many nations but you will not borrow from any.
However, if they disobeyed God, he would judge them in various ways as well, including agriculturally. Deuteronomy 28:38-40 says:
You will take much seed to the field but gather little harvest, because locusts will consume it. You will plant vineyards and cultivate them, but you will not drink wine or gather in grapes, because worms will eat them. You will have olive trees throughout your territory, but you will not anoint yourself with olive oil, because the olives will drop off the trees while still unripe.
Apparently, Israel was already experiencing these curses for their lack of giving.
With that said, as mentioned, we are not under the Mosaic law as believers (Rom 6:14, 10:4); however, the law reflects God’s enduring character and righteousness. As a good Father, he rewards his children when they are doing righteousness and disciplines them when they are in sin. Hebrews 12:5-6 says: “My son, do not scorn the Lord’s discipline or give up when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son he accepts.” When it comes to discipline or the consequences for not giving generously, 2 Corinthians 9:6 says, “The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously.” Also, Proverbs 11:24 says this as a general principle for how people use their wealth: “One person is generous and yet grows more wealthy, but another withholds more than he should and comes to poverty.”
There is a reciprocal principle happening with our giving: the measure we sow comes back to us, including when we sow sparingly or cheaply. When we are robbing God by not being generous with the money he gives us, we rob ourselves. We hinder the blessings that God wants to give us, and the money we have doesn’t go as far. When we rob God, that money will commonly go to the auto-body shop when our car breaks down, the doctor when our health fails, the store when our clothes shrink or tear apart, and the government when our taxes increase. And the money we were planning to save up for ourselves, doesn’t go very far. However, when we faithfully give, God gives back to us. Remember in Matthew 6:33, Christ said this in the context of the disciples being worried about their food, drink, and clothing, “But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” We pursue or seek first his kingdom in part by giving generously to build it. However, when we are unfaithful with our giving, we will commonly experience lack even as the post-exilic Jews did.
Haggai prophesied to the post-exilic Jews prior to Malachi’s time. They were putting their money into building nice houses and yet had not rebuilt God’s temple upon their return from exile. In Haggai 1:4-6, the prophet said this:
Is it right for you to live in richly paneled houses while my temple is in ruins? Here then, this is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has said: ‘Think carefully about what you are doing. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but are never filled. You drink, but are still thirsty. You put on clothes, but are not warm. Those who earn wages end up with holes in their money bags.’
Are we putting our affairs first before God’s? Are we using our money to build our kingdom instead of his? Then, God will commonly hinder or destroy our hopes and priorities until we focus on his.
If we are going to give generously, we must understand that God commonly disciplines unfaithful givers. Proverbs 9:10 says, “The beginning of wisdom is to fear the Lord.” As we begin to fear God’s displeasure and discipline, it will often lead us into wise living and, in this case, generous giving instead of stingy giving or no giving at all.
Do we have a healthy fear of God’s discipline? The fear of God will keep us from robbing God and encourage us to generously giving to his kingdom.
Application Question: What is the difference between a healthy fear of God and an unhealthy fear of him? Why is a healthy fear of God important to have? In what ways do you believe you have at times experienced God’s discipline for unfaithfulness in prioritizing him, especially in the area of giving?
To Give Generously, We Must Understand God Rewards Faithful Givers
“Bring the entire tithe into the storehouse so that there may be food in my temple. Test me in this matter,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “to see if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out blessing for you until there is no room for it all. Then I will stop the plague from ruining your crops, and the vine will not lose its fruit before harvest,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “All nations will call you blessed, for you indeed will live in a delightful land,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
Finally, God challenges the Israelites to test him in this manner by beginning to give their tithes and offerings. He said to give “the entire tithe” (v. 10), which again meant that some were giving but insufficiently by holding back the best for themselves (cf. Mal 1:13). If they gave generously, God would give them such a blessing that they would not have enough room to receive it.
In general, testing God is not a good thing. When Satan tempted Jesus to jump off the temple and allow God to send angels to save him, Christ quoted Deuteronomy 6:16 and said, “You are not to put the Lord your God to the test” (Matt 4:7). However, when God calls us to test him, meaning to see if he is faithful to his promises, then to not do it would be sin. In Isaiah 7:10-13, God rebuked King Ahaz for not asking for a sign after God had commanded him to. We should also not consider this challenge as optional. We should test God’s promise by faithfully giving our offerings, and even more, we should try to outgive God, so we can see him abundantly bless us and build our faith.
God promised Israel that if they returned to faithfully giving their tithes and offerings, he would abundantly bless them. He would stop the plague that was already devouring their crops (v. 11), and the nations would call them “blessed” and say they lived in a “delightful land” (v. 12). Israel would become effective again in their witness to the outside nations. While they were in exile from the land for sinning against God and still under God’s judgment after their return, they were ineffective witnesses to the nations, though God had originally planned for Israel to be a blessing to the nations (cf. Gen 12:3, 22:18).
With all that said, as mentioned, God blessing the Israelites because of their obedience, including in the area of finances, was part of God’s covenant with Israel as outlined in Deuteronomy 28. However, as also mentioned, the covenant represents God’s enduring, unchanging character. He is a Father who blesses obedience, and he specifically blesses us when we are generous givers. In the New Testament, Christ said it this way in Luke 6:38, “Give, and it will be given to you: A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure you use will be the measure you receive.”
Interpretation Question: In what ways does God promise to reward believers when we generously give?
Second Corinthians 9:7-11 (NIV) gives us a great summary of the blessings of being a generous giver. It says:
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.” Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
1. When we give generously, we give God great pleasure.
In 2 Corinthians 9:7, Paul says, “God loves a cheerful giver.” When pleasing God is our heart’s desire, this is a great reward indeed, if not, the greatest reward. Therefore, if we want to give God pleasure, we should aim to be like him in being generous. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son (John 3:16). Likewise, when we sacrificially give to build the kingdom and help others, we look like our Father and bring him great pleasure. Zephaniah 3:17 says this about Israel in the end times when they return to God, “The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” Certainly, God delights in and sings over us as well when we delight in him and demonstrate that through radical obedience, including generous giving.
2. When we give generously, God will bless us abundantly so that we have no financial lack.
In 2 Corinthians 9:8, Paul says, “And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need.” If this were not clear, Paul reemphasizes how God abundantly supplies our financial needs when giving in verse 10: “Now God who provides seed for the sower and bread for food will provide and multiply your supply of seed…” And then in verse 11, he says, “You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”
As Matthew 6:33 says when we faithfully seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, when we prioritize the things of God including with our finances, God will meet our needs. Paul said the same thing to the Philippians who had generously supported him on his mission trips and while he was in prison. In Philippians 4:19, he said, “And my God will supply your every need according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” As we faithfully give, God will meet all our needs. Certainly, this probably refers to more than our financial needs. If we are generous, God will meet our financial needs but also our social, emotional, and spiritual needs as well. He loves to bless a generous giver.
3. When we give generously, God will bless us abundantly so that we abound in righteousness in this age and the coming one.
Second Corinthians 9:8 says, “And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” Not only does God promise to meet our financial needs when we faithfully give, but he also promises to open the door for us to excel in “every good work”—evangelism, discipleship, understanding his Word, hospitality, parenting, marriage, career, etc. God abundantly pours out blessings on us when we abundantly give. He makes us excel in righteousness. Again, Paul reemphasizes God’s abundant financial and spiritual blessings in 2 Corinthians 9:10: “Now God who provides seed for the sower and bread for food will provide and multiply your supply of seed and will cause the harvest of your righteousness to grow.”
This implies those who are stingy and unfaithful in their financial sowing in the kingdom will also reap sparing. They will find it hard to unlock the truths of God’s Word in their studying and teaching of it. They will find their discipleship of others and evangelism unfruitful. They will find their leadership produces little results. However, for the abundant giver, God gives them a harvest of righteousness in their own lives (love, joy, peace, self-control, perseverance; Gal 5:22-23) and in the lives of others.
Abounding in Righteousness in the Coming Kingdom
Certainly, God making us “abound in every good work” (v. 8) should not only be applied to the present age but also the coming kingdom. In Matthew 19:21, Christ told the rich man if he sold all he had and gave to the poor he would have riches in heaven. Riches in heaven seem to refer, at least in part, to our capacity to serve him in the future. In the Parable of the Minas, those who were faithful with investing God’s money were blessed with opportunities to oversee cities in the coming kingdom. In Luke 19:17, with the person who turned one mina into ten minas, God said to him: “Well done, good slave! Because you have been faithful in a very small matter, you will have authority over ten cities.” In addition, in Luke 16:10-12, Christ taught that our faithfulness in using our money to build the kingdom and win souls will demonstrate our capacity for greater responsibilities. He said:
The one who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and the one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you haven’t been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will entrust you with the true riches? And if you haven’t been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you your own
The “little” refers to our money and the “true riches” refers to greater responsibilities here including caring for souls, handling God’s Word, and also probably riches and service in the kingdom. Our money is God’s property, but if we are faithful with it, he will give us our property in the coming kingdom—opportunities to serve him in a greater capacity. Will we be faithful with God’s money now? If so, God will bless us in many ways including in the coming kingdom.
Will we test God in this? If we generously give, God will generously give to us in many ways. We’ll give him great pleasure. He will make sure that we never have any financial lack so we can continue to be generous, and he will reward us with great righteousness in this life and the next. Will we test God by generously giving—starting out with possibly 10% of what we receive, then moving to 15%, 20%, 25%, 30%, and more? If we try to out-give God, he will always out-give us.
Application Question: Which aspect of God’s reward for faithfully giving stood out most and why? Is it wrong to give to get as a motivation? Why or why not?
How can we become generous givers who please God instead of robbing God?
1. To Give Generously, We Must Prioritize Our Relationship with God
2. To Give Generously, We Must Recognize that God Owns Everything and that We’re His Stewards
3. To Give Generously, We Must Adopt God’s Priorities
4. To Give Generously, We Must Understand God Disciplines Unfaithful Givers
5. To Give Generously, We Must Understand God Rewards Faithful Givers
Application Question: Which principle about giving generously stood out most and why? How will you apply these principles to your life?
• Pray for God to give us grace to return to him by turning away from all sin, including a selfish, materialistic heart, pursuing intimacy with him, and building his kingdom on the earth.
• Pray for God to give us his heart and priorities—desires to see the lost saved, the church equipped, the poor cared for, and righteousness spread throughout the world.
• Pray for God to give us grace to abundantly give to meet people’s needs, build up our local church, and spread God’s kingdom throughout the world.
• Pray for God to use us, our church, and the Church to be a blessing to this world, as we look and act more like Christ.