In most cases when you hear a sermon on the topic of money, the message is about giving, which which tends to focus on the 10%. The tithe (10%) was part of the law in the OT, and there is even a reference to it before the law.
Probably the most quoted portion of scripture for this topic is from Malachi 3:7-10 where the instruction is clear: “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse …(vs.10)” A closer examination of what comes before and after this verse reveals more than I had previously considered.
7Ever since the days of your ancestors, you have scorned my decrees and failed to obey them. Now return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.“
But you ask, ‘How can we return when we have never gone away?’
8“Should people cheat God? Yet you have cheated me! “
But you ask, ‘What do you mean? When did we ever cheat you?’
“You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me.Malachi 3:7-8 NLT
9You are suffering under a curse, yet you — the whole nation — are still robbing me.
10Bring the full tenth into the storehouse so that there may be food in my house. Test me in this way,” says the Lord of Armies. “See if I will not open the floodgates of heaven and pour out a blessing for you without measure.
11I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not ruin the produce of your land and your vine in your field will not fail to produce fruit,” says the Lord of Armies.
12“Then all the nations will consider you fortunate, for you will be a delightful land,” says the Lord of Armies.Malachi 3:9-12 CSB
What Comes Before:
The context of this verse is about drifting away from God without even recognizing that we have done so. The “drift away” is demonstrated in finances. The question is posed: “Will a man rob God?” and immediately answered: “Yet you have cheated me!” Then a more specific question follows: “How have you robbed me?” We know God owns everything so if we believe this to be true, how exactly can we rob God? The answer seems clear enough: “By not making the payments of the tenth and the contributions” (Mal. 3:8 CSB). However, we need to consider more fully what is being robbed from God.
What Comes After:
What follows the return and “bringing the tithe” is the promise of
- Heaven being opened
- The rebuke of the devourer
- Your fields will not fail to produce
- Every nation will talk about how God has blessed you and about your wonderful land.
Why would these things happen? The results are directly connected to our returning to God and more importantly, His return to us. It seems our drifting away, as evidenced by our lack of giving, keeps God from returning to us. This reminds me of the parable Jesus shared about the prodigal son. The father was waiting for the son’s return and was unable to bless the son until he returned.
How We Rob God
God is describing how he desires to bless his people and is saying that his people are robbing him of that opportunity. We put the emphasis of these verses on the giving of 10% (we rob God by withholding the 10%). In fact, the robbery is actually more about the 90% (or better still, the blessing of 100%). When we give we are learning to trust God, so these verses are about the whole of our financial well-being.
Another word for rob is to defraud which means “to take something illegally from a person or to prevent someone from having something that is legally theirs by deceiving them.” Is it possible that our financial decisions are legally preventing God from opening heaven? Without the 10%, God and heaven are being hindered from acting on our behalf and therefore, God is robbed. The robbery then, is not only of the finances that we may choose to keep for ourselves (10%) but of how God might be prevented to “pour out a blessing for you without measure.”
Where Jesus focused – How did Jesus talk about money?
Jesus seems to confirm the importance of the 10% but clearly rebukes the religious leaders because they have neglected some of the more important matters of this life.
23“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You pay a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, and yet you have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy, and faithfulness. These things should have been done without neglecting the others.Jesus – Matthew 23:23 CSB
Considering the matter of faithfulness and finances, it is required that a steward be found faithful in their management of all.
Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.Paul – 2 Corinthians 4:2 NIV
Two Parables About Money
Jesus told many parables and at least a third of them involved money. Money played a significant role in the story of the prodigal son, but not 10% only. The parable that follows (in Luke 16) is the about the dishonest manager who is being fired for his mismanagement of the owner’s assets, not 10% only, but 100% of what he managed. The word “squander” is used in both these parables. The son wanted ownership so he could make his own decisions. The manager did not have ownership but was empowered to make financial decisions. Upon the shock of being fired, the realization hits the manager that the financial books are now going to be audited and he is losing his respectable job.
Maybe the foundational principle to understand is simply that we are “managers or stewards” rather than owners. We must treat everything that we receive as a sacred trust, but the sad reality is that it is far too easy to “squander” what comes into our hands (as both parables illustrate). When it comes to our finances, the starting point for the Christ-follower should be this: God owns it all.
It’s easy to focus on the 10% as an obligation, feeling guilt if we do not give to that level, rather than seeing giving as an opportunity to act in the interest of the owner of the 100% that has been entrusted to us. When we act in the interest of the owner, the owner is then positioned to act in the interest of the steward.
Here is the lesson for our lives: one day our management of the resources entrusted to us will come to an end and the books will be audited. What we do with the 10% is important but when the books are audited, it is the 100% that will be reviewed. Will we hear this statement? “Well Done …“