The music was quietly playing before the offertory when my brother Tom stepped up solemnly to the podium and uttered these words: “Don’t let God rob you.” There was a pause. Clearly he was in a hard place. He had misspoken, but he wasn’t one who liked to admit such blunders at such moments in those days. He had said it very deliberately. I know, you would have said, “Whoops! I meant, ‘Don’t rob God.” Not Tom. His strengths were in knowing what to say and carrying through to the end. Rather, Tom said, “You may wonder why I said, ‘Don’t let God rob you.”
This led to about five minutes of convoluted palaver. He ended with this famous sentence brought up from time to time in our family: “Don’t not give in such a way that God would have to rob you to get what belongs to him.”
The whole incident made the bloopers recording compiled by the observant (and a tad devious) audio-visual people covering the years he spent at Eastwood Baptist Church in Tulsa. No one can find that tape, strangely.
The correct famous quote is found in Malachi. Read this and see:
For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts.
But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.
Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 3:6-12 ESV)
Malachi was prophesying to a generation who had been in Persia and returned. Most believe his words applied to that generation in which a second temple was constructed and a wall was to be, or had been, re-built.
This much is obvious: Malachi (“the Messenger”) was chiding Israel for not bringing full tithes and offerings prescribed in the Law to the “storehouse,” that part of the temple where such things were kept until use. They brought some of that required amount, but not the full amount.
No doubt, Persian taxes and the re-establishing their jobs, and the building their houses and public environment had reduced their income. They cut back in their giving. God said that this was like robbery. As a matter of returning to God, getting this right was necessary. The choice therefore was theirs: cursing or blessing. To continue to rob from God of that portion he required, even though it all belonged to him in the first place, was a serious lifestyle error with consequences that were highly undesirable to people who desperately needed God’s blessing.
The blessing however, would be immense:
— There will be food in the Lord’s house (the Temple).
— The windows of heaven will open up and blessing will be poured down until there is no more need.
— The losses of “the devourer” will be rebuked so that it will not destroy the fruits of the soil, nor cause the vine in the field not to bear.
— All nations will call Israel blessed and they will become a land of delight.
There is a remarkable difference between the curse and the blessing. Which would you prefer? If you were an Israelite of those days, would you prefer it enough to take corrective action? I would hope that would be so. It doesn’t make much sense not to, when you look at the difference between curse and blessing, and cost verses benefit, not to mention that such actions of obedience speak of love between the people and their God who brought them back from Persia.
Can we claim this promise for ourselves? We can at least learn this: God is disposed to bless his people. We see earlier in the Scriptures that Abraham’s offspring who are of faith are promised huge blessings from God in their lives and especially in the coming Seed. The idea of the faithful people of God being under blessing is a strong current throughout the entire Bible. Peter said “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9). People like us were called by God for blessing. And it does not end on this earth, but is eternal.
So, perhaps the experience of Malachi’s words were specifically for the people of that day, but they reveal what is often repeated and is the disposition of God toward his people. He blesses us. But he cannot afford to bless our disobedience in this area or any other. We are like children whom his father and mother would love to pour out appropriate blessing after blessing yet must bless them in a different way by connecting in some fashion our trusting obedience to that blessing.
The lesson here is that we should ourselves apply the cure for returning to God by looking closely at our practice in giving . . . by not holding back on what we give, but joyfully giving as a sign that we get the idea that God is worth it all, owns it all, and can dispose of it all. It should be a happy thing.
In this way, I believe that the heart of this promise will be ours. He will pour out more. That has been my experience. As a norm, he will hold back the devourer and make our remaining amount go further. And, others will see and exclaim that God blesses his own.
I like this remedy and blessing.
Test the Lord and see!