November 2, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Is It a Burden to Bring It to God?
There’s an old story about a man on his deathbed who called his preacher, his doctor and his lawyer to visit him. “I have $30,000 left in the bank and I want to take it all with me when I die. So, I’m giving each of you an envelope with $10,000 cash in it. At my funeral, I want each of you to come and put your envelope in my coffin.” The man died, and each of the three did what he asked. Later in the week they met up with each other to talk about the experience. The preacher said, “I’m sure that if he’d thought about it more brother Smith would have wanted to help out with the new church organ. So I took $2,000 out of the envelope and put $8,000 in the coffin.” The doctor confessed, “Well, he complimented me on the care I provided him when he was ill and I knew he’d want to help fund my new clinic so I took $5,000 out and deposited $5,000 in the coffin.” The lawyer said, “I did better than both of you. I took the $8,000 you left preacher, and I took the $5,000 you left doctor. I also kept my $10,000. But to be fair I left behind in the coffin a check for the $30,000.”
John Piper in his book Desiring God writes, “money is the currency of the Kingdom of God. What you do with it—or desire to do with it—can make or break your happiness forever.”
One of the most important things we can gain from our worship together is the ability to grasp what the Bible has to say about stewardship and for us to begin to put a few simple, but important, principles to work in the way we look at and use our resources.
To that end we are investing the next four Sundays to the Old Testament prophet Malachi. This is the very last book in the Old Testament, and it was written, probably, around the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, also among the final books written in the Old Testament. We know almost nothing about Malachi, except that his name means “My messenger” or maybe “My angel”.
We just finished going through the Old Testament prophet Micah and saw how worthy God is of our worship. Malachi continues that theme, but his emphasis is on our responsibility to worship Him well.
A warning and a heads-up: This sermon will talk about money. For those who think that that’s all the church ever talks about – hang around for another month and you’ll see how wrong that assumption is; but the Bible does spend significant page-space on the topic of finances – so we are dedicating a few weeks there, too.
Hear the Word of God from Malachi 1:1-14…. —-
1 A prophecy [oracle, revelation, burden]: The word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi [My messenger]. 2 “I have loved you,” says the LORD. [Even with all of Israel’s unfaithfulness, infidelity, God still loves them.]
“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’
“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob, 3 but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.” [The words Malachi uses here are “covenant words”. What “loved” and “hated” mean here is that God freely chose Jacob, the younger brother, without Jacob doing anything to deserve it; and He did not choose Esau. We can ask “why?” but we won’t get a clear answer. The point of this “oracle” is that God loves His chosen people. We New Testament people get the same revelation when we read John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son …” – Why? Beyond our ability to comprehend, but it’s true!]
… 6 “A son honors his father, and a slave his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the LORD Almighty. “It is you priests who show contempt for my name. “But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’
7 “By offering defiled food on my altar. “But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’
“By saying that the LORD’s table is contemptible. 8 When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the LORD Almighty. [Did you catch the language used here? It sounds like the fifth Commandment – to “honor your father and you mother”. And while the opening verses are directed to all Israel – God loves you; these verses are directed at the priests – who do not properly “honor” God. I would submit that since we believe in the “priesthood of all believers”, this exhortation is directed at me, yes, but also at all who claim to follow Jesus. How have we not honored God appropriately? Verse 8 says, “you offer blind, lame, diseased animals” (read that as “sacrifices that are not ‘sacrifices’ at all”). If what we offer is anything other than our best – our best time, our best ability, our best tithe, our best attention – then it isn’t really a sacrifice; it’s just left-overs, extras. So Malachi brings it home, “Just try offering those ‘sacrifices’ to your governor! I dare you!”] …
[and then Malachi closes chapter 1 with the great proclamation that Paul made clear in Philippians – that at the right time, “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord”. Listen to Malachi:]
… 11 My name will be great among the nations, from where the sun rises to where it sets. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to me, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the LORD Almighty.
12 “But you profane it by saying, ‘The Lord’s table is defiled,’ and, ‘Its food is contemptible.’ 13 And you say, ‘What a burden!’ and you sniff at it contemptuously,” says the LORD Almighty.
“When you bring injured, lame or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?” says the LORD. 14 “Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king,” says the LORD Almighty, “and my name is to be feared among the nations.
The question this Bible passage forces me to ask is, “Is it really a burden to bring my best to the Lord?” If it is such a burden, a hardship, how much do I really love God?
The scriptures teach us that excellence, our very best, always honors God. Colossians 3:23 reminds us, “Whatever you do, work it with all your heart.” This is the opposite of doing just enough to get by; mediocrity seldom honors anybody – it never honors God.
God considers “lukewarm” offerings, half-hearted service, service that demands credit, service with a grumbly spirit, as cheating Him!
We are a pretty creative lot, we Christians are. I’ll bet if I were to ask for reasonable excuses why we might not be willing to give God our best, we could come up with a pretty creative list. Here’s the list I came up with – see if you agree with any of these, or maybe your list is even better:
• Giving our “best” takes a real effort. I already take care of my family, or my job, or my hobby – giving to God would be a real burden, and since God is in the forgiveness-business, I’ll be alright.
• I already give more than the guy sitting down the pew from me. Compared to what she gives, I’m golden. So, yeah, I know God “gave His only begotten Son”, but I’m faithfully giving what’s readily available.
• I read that the average American church-goer gives between 2% and 3% of their total income to their church; I give almost 3-½%. That’s gotta be good enough!
• Do you realize how much 10% is?! Do you know that I’m saving for a new car? If God wants to bless me, maybe He’ll bless my lottery ticket this month! Then I’d up my giving! [Did you hear about the newly ordained pastor, preaching for his first stewardship drive, he challenged the congregation: “I upped my giving! Up yours!”]
Things haven’t really changed much. These are the same “creative excuses” given throughout time. The difference between Cain’s offering and Abel’s? Abel gave the best of his flock; Cain gave what was handy. Abel wanted to honor God, Cain wanted to appease God’s righteous wrath. Luke (9) tells the story of the rightful cost to be a follower of Jesus: 57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” 59 He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” 62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
Even more important than what we offer God is our heart, our attitude, when we bring our offering to God. Over and over in the Old Testament we hear God say that it is not sacrifices that are meaningful, it is the heart of the believer. In the New Testament Jesus points out the widow who gives a tidbit into the offering, and she is praised because her tidbit was everything she had, but the large sums of cash offered by the wealthy were condemned because they were giving of their leftovers, or to show off.
If it’s a “burden to bring to God” what He deserves, maybe our heart isn’t right, maybe our faith needs a realignment.
Have you heard the story about the very wealthy man who came to his pastor asking for prayer. He confessed that when he was poor he was a faithful tither; when he made enough to pay all his bills, he still tithed regularly; when his earnings surpassed his dreams, he still gave pretty generously; but now when his annual income was in the 100s of 1,000s, he was the largest giver in his community but it was only 2% of his income. He asked his pastor to pray for his soul. So the pastor held his hand and bowed his head and prayed, “Dear Lord, please make this man’s salary what it was when he used to be a faithful tither.”
Chuck Swindoll has said, “Excellence is a difficult concept to communicate because it can easily be misread
as neurotic perfectionism or snooty sophistication. But it is neither. On the contrary, it is the stuff of
which greatness is made. It is the difference between just getting by and soaring – that which sets
apart the significant from the superficial, the lasting from the temporary.”
II Timothy 2:15 – “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”
Today we come to the Table of the LORD – yes, to receive from Him the gift of Life through His Son’s death and resurrection – but also to offer Him our very best. God has offered His Son for our sakes – what are we offering Him today? Is it a burden to bring it to God? Or is it a privilege?
Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 496.
Smith, Ralph L.; Word Biblical Commentary 32; Word Books; Waco, TX; 1984; Pp. 296-317.