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Robbing God

By Justin Borger
with assistance from Generous Giving staff

Whether it’s cheating on our taxes or ignoring an I.O.U., keeping what we owe is no better than robbing a bank. Ultimately, of course, it is impossible to take things away from the God who is all-powerful and ever-present. Yet it is entirely possible to rob God by refusing to part with the things that he calls us to give.

The prophet Malachi spoke to a entire generation of Israelites who had incriminated themselves by doing nothing. The Lord had expressly commanded in the law to give a tenth of all their income and possessions to him (Leviticus 27:30). Similarly, he had required offerings that would provide for the needs of the priests who labored as God’s special servants (Exodus 29:27, 28; Leviticus 7:32; Numbers 5:9). But the people sat on their hands, and when Malachi’s message came around, they pretended that they didn’t know what he was talking about:
    “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me ...” (Malachi 3:8-9).
How do we rob God today? Certainly, we rob him in the same ways that Israelites did—“in tithes and offerings” (Malachi 3:8). Most American evangelicals don’t even come close to giving 10 percent of their incomes to local churches even though the New Testament amplifies the requirement, calling us to give sacrificially. As Christians who have been given God’s Holy Spirit, it is trivial to appeal to the Old Testament law as the ultimate standard for giving because today our ultimate standard is the generosity of Christ (2 Corinthians 8:9). The giving levels commanded in the New Testament are much more radical than the Old Testament tithe. John the Baptist raised the bar to 50 percent (Luke 3:11), and the Lord Jesus raised it to 100 percent (Luke 21:1-4). Further, the apostle Paul called Christians “to offer your bodies as living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1). Because New Testament believers have been given a more complete revelation of God’s generosity in the person of Jesus (2 Corinthians 8:9; Hebrews 1:1-2) and a greater share in the Holy Spirit (Acts 2) than the Old Testament believers, God reasonably requires more of us. Still, this does not mean that the Law and the Prophets are irrelevant. Old Testament standards are a very useful place to begin, but we must not forget that they are only a starting place.

Are there other ways that we rob God today? Do we cheat God out of our time? “Time is money,” and in our hypersonic culture our prayers and devotions tend to be lickety-split. When we fail to offer a choice portion of our time as representative of the whole, we rob God. We rob him of our efforts as well. How often are our energies absorbed by God’s purposes “on earth as it is in heaven”? Already exhausted by the things we really care about, do we offer up the dregs of our existence? Like the sacrifices of the Israelites (Malachi 1:7-14), are the efforts we give to God lame and blind? We promise the best but give the worst and are shocked when the Father seems far off. But this is what the God who sent his only begotten Son says: “I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed ... Return to me, and I will return to you” (Malachi 3:6-7). “Returning” means giving back to God the things that belong to him, and for Christians who live in light of Christ’s new day (Malachi 4:2), this means nothing less than submitting the totality of our lives and livelihoods to God. For we are not our own, but were bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

Related Passages: Haggai 1:1-11; Malachi 1:6-14; 3:8-12; Acts 5:1-11

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