Section Three: The Lifestyle Characteristics of a Godly Life.
Our current theme: Characteristic Three: Trusting God’s Provision.
Our reading for today: Malachi 3: 6-12 (MsgB)
“I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from My decrees and have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty. “But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’ Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob Me. But you ask, ‘How are we robbing You?’ In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing Me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house. Test Me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.
Over the years, I’ve heard so many preachers take our text for today (Malachi 3: 6-12) and use it prod God’s people to give more money to the church. And if I’m going to be truly honest with you, my dear blog reader, I must admit that throughout my 30+ years of pastoral ministry, I’ve probably opened my Bible up to this text as well to help remind the folks attending my church how God looks at our giving habits.
So please, don’t misunderstand. These words found in the Old Testament are very powerful. Words that the Spirit of God has used in every generation of Christianity to address the pitiful way we human beings so conveniently forget to give God our biggest and best.
But here’s the rub.
As I see it, the Old Testament does a great job of setting in place commands that are based on obeying God’s laws. But Jesus of Nazareth, who said that He came to not cancel the law but to fulfill it, speaks of those who can live freely, no longer restricted to hard-n-fast rules and regulations, but generous, Spirit-breathed lives which spread out far beyond anyone can ever hope for or imagine.
“I’ve come to give you life, and life to the full,” Jesus states in John 10: 10. One pastor puts it this way when it comes to comparing the powerful difference between the New Testament words of Jesus to the ancient command of tithing found in the Old Testament…
“In the Old Testament, we are taught that God requires 10% of our money and resources; but in the New Testament, Jesus comes proclaiming that God actually owns it all and is looking for those who will now give Him full access to 100% of everything we own!”
Now, that sounds very radical indeed, doesn’t it? Especially to a generation of Christians across America who are accustomed to giving God, on average, only 2% of our income!
So that’s why, when I teach others about the discipline of giving, I remind folks that yes, tithing is a wonderful goal to push toward, but then I also remind them that Jesus is actually looking more at our hearts when it comes to our giving than He is at the percentage sign we assign to our budget! God, you see, is looking to bring forth a generous people; faithful disciples who don’t “test” God with their giving but know that God is actually “testing” them, stretching us even further into what Pastor Chuck Swindoll once called Hilarious Generosity. I love that!
Let me close this section on Trusting God’s Provision with this challenging story about John Wesley, the great pastor/revivalist of the 18th century, and how God tested and stretched the generosity of this one man of God…
(In) 1731, (John) Wesley began to limit his expenses so that he would have more money to give to the poor. He records that one year his income was 30 pounds and his living expenses 28 pounds, so he had 2 pounds to give away. The next year his income doubled, but he still managed to live on 28 pounds, so he had 32 pounds to give to the poor. In the third year, his income jumped to 90 pounds. Instead of letting his expenses rise with his income, he kept them to 28 pounds and gave away 62 pounds. In the fourth year, he received 120 pounds. As before, his expenses were 28 pounds, so his giving rose to 92 pounds. Wesley felt that the Christian should not merely tithe but give away all extra income once the family and creditors were taken care of. He believed that with increasing income, what should rise is not the Christian’s standard of living but the standard of giving.
This practice, begun at Oxford, continued throughout his life. Even when his income rose into the thousands of pounds sterling, he lived simply, and he quickly gave away his surplus money. One year his income was a little over 1400 pounds. He lived on 30 pounds and gave away nearly 1400 pounds. Because he had no family to care for, he had no need for savings. He was afraid of laying up treasures on earth, so the money went out in charity as quickly as it came in. He reports that he never had 100 pounds at any one time. In 1744 Wesley had written, “[When I die] if I leave behind me ten pounds . . . you and all mankind [may] bear witness against me, that I have lived and died a thief and a robber.” When he died in 1791, the only money mentioned in his will was the miscellaneous coins to be found in his pockets and dresser drawers. www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/1987/winter/87l1027.html
May God raise up a few more men and women like John Wesley in our day and age.
My prayer: Jesus, God’s Word commands me to give my biggest and best back to God, and while tithing is a great goal in life, it’s obviously just the beginning, not the end. Holy Spirit, show me clearly the specifics of how God might be testing me and my willingness (or unwillingness) to give even more generously than I might ever imagine. Might I consider the giving plan of John Wesley and look for more opportunity for me to be a blessing to others. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: Have I been robbing God of my tithes and offerings? Have I shut off my heart of generous giving, thus shutting off God’s amazing power and ability to provide generously for me? What might it look like for me to take yet another step of faith toward Hilarious Generosity today?
So what is God speaking to you today as we attempt to live the Christ-centered life?
Over a thirty-six week period, you and I will take a deeper look into twelve key characteristics of a godly life. In other words, we’ll take A Journey into Christian Discipleship. In order to keep all the blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Journey home page for ease of use. ENJOY!
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