Scripture Exodus 20:15, Malachi 3

(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg

Exodus 20:15 "You shall not steal." (NIV)

People of God:

Last Sunday morning, we took an introductory look at the 8th commandment - and like the commandments before it - we found that theft or stealing in any form is first of all a sin against God - a sin against God because the driving motive behind theft is unbelief that God will truly provide for us what we need. Rather than trusting God, the heart that takes manages its own future because it is not aware of the provision of God for the future and it does that often with a disregard for God's command to us - you shall not steal, and it does that because there is no fear of Godand his judgement in the heart.. As we looked at that heart condition, we found that the biblical cure to a heart that takes is placing our trust in the Lord, becoming consciously aware of his presence in our lives so that we, in our daily behaviors will not only do what he commands, we will also be trustingly aware of his provision for us. Theft is a religious sin, as Leviticus 6 tells us "If anyone sins and is unfaithful to the LORD by deceiving his neighbor.... or robbery..." and as Proverbs 30:9 tells us - by theft, we dishonour God.

In this morning's message, we will become more focused - this morning looking at theft of those more powerful than us, most specifically God, and then in two weeks, we will look at theft from those who are sometimes equal and less powerful than we are. One way that we are all aware of the temptation to take to ourselves, to steal from those more powerful is in the area of "taxes."

Most of us say that word with a sense of distaste in our mouth. We resent working till the middle of July for the government. We feel overtaxed. A visitor from Holland was jokingly explaining about the red, white and blue in the Netherlands flag. "Our flag symbolizes our taxes," he said. "We get red when we talk about them, white when we get our tax bill, and blue after we pay them." It seems this negativity toward taxes is part of our national ethnic heritage. Even our children know a cardinal rule about tax time. "Never ask for anything that costs more than $5 when your parents are doing taxes."

And for many of us, the temptation around tax time is to hide some of our money, to not report all our income, especially those small things that the government will never find out. Some of us might regard it as a justified dishonesty considering our tax rate, considering what everyone else does. We regard it as dishonesty. Scripture however regards it as theft. When the pharisees were trying to trap Jesus around issues of paying taxes - Jesus said "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's (what is due to Ceasar), and to God what is God's (what is due to God)."(Matthew 22:21) In saying those words - Jesus was making very clear that we have a duty to those in authority over us, we owe them what is due, to not pay what is due is theft.

In no passage does this become more clear than in Malachi chapter 3. (NIV) Let's turn to that and read it together.

"See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come," says the LORD Almighty.
But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years.
"So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me," says the LORD Almighty.
"I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your forefathers 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 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. 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 you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit," says the LORD Almighty. "Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land," says the LORD Almighty.
"You have said harsh things against me," says the LORD. "Yet you ask, 'What have we said against you?'
"You have said, 'It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty? But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly the evildoers prosper, and even those who challenge God escape.'"
Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name. "They will be mine," says the LORD Almighty, "in the day when I make up my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.

The Israelites were involved in a variety of forms of religious theft. One of the clear ways they were involved in theft was by gaining dishonestly so that they could look good in the temple. They would steal to avoid the cost of making a genuine sacrifice to the Lord. In Isaiah 61:8 and Malachi 1:13, we discover that some of the Israelites would steal from their neighbour - maybe a cow or some other choice animal for the offering - and then they would bring it to the temple for the sacrifice. They would certainly look good - and by the time the neighbour found out, the evidence had already gone up in smoke. It was an ideal religious theft - but God noticed, and he notice the victim who made the true sacrifice, the thief still had not paid God his due. Clearly, if we receive our income by dishonesty, it does not matter what we give to God, it is of no value to us or God.

But at the heart of this passage was the issue of what was due to God. You see, there is no other way we can rob God. After all, God is the one who created the entire universe, everything, including our own bodies and minds are his. If we were to steal something from God, who has absolutely no need outside of himself, it still would remain God's. After all, he is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega, it is all in him, through him and too him.

The passage asks - "Will a man rob God?"

The answer is yes - by not giving to God what is his due - in tithes and offerings. To understand that truth, we have to go back to one of the fundamental concepts of our relationship with God. That fundamental concept is the word Covenant - it starts from the very first pages of scripture - but for the sake of our study this morning, we will focus in on Abram. God called Abram to come out and be separate and special to him and go to a land of promise. And then God made a covenant with Abram - he said

"I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." In this covenant, God, the creator of all promised to Abram his focused and very special attention, his intimate care and blessing - a covenant relationship that had the condition of faith on Abram's part, and the flawless faithfulness of God on the other part. Now there is something very important in Genesis 12 - Abram obeys God, takes his family, sets out for the promised land - he arrives at the edge of the promised land, he doesn't yet possess a square inch of it, but what does Abram do - he gives to God an offering. Based on the promises alone - in faith - Abram built and altar and returned to God an offering before the possession was his. As Abram progresses in his walk with the Lord, he experiences the Lord's blessing in protecting him, in giving him strength to overcome enemies, and then in Genesis 14, he meets a king called Melchizedek, who also happens to be the priest of the Most High God. And the priest blesses Abram - in response, Abram gives a tenth of everything he has. Abram demonstrates right from the beginning that in coming into a relationship with God - where God promises his care, protection, provision, future blessing, Abram has a responsibility to give what is due, in faith offering back to God. This was before the law of God was written of tablets of stone. Abram was the father of faith.

When the law of the covenant was given to Israel through Moses, covenantal obligations of sacrifice and thank offerings were spelled out. Israel, in a thankful faith were called by God to bring in offering the first fruits of their crops and blessings to the Lord, recognizing that it all came from him in the first place. And as part of their covenant with God, if Israel kept its part in faith, they would be blessed in everything they did, if Israel failed to keep its part of the covenant, they would be cursed. That is the curse referred to in this passage. You are under a curse--the whole nation of you--because you are robbing me. Israel was not keeping the covenant by not giving to God what was due him. They had lost a conscious awareness of God's provision in their lives, as in the book of Haggi, they had taken care of themselves first, they lived in nice paneled houses while their dues to God were left unpaid. They were robbing God. Their covenantal unfaithfulness in their offerings and their giving was simply representative of a deeper issue, their lack of trusting in God, their lack of a conscious awareness of his presence in their lives. A lot of struggle resulted.

The call of this passage was to return to faith, to return to trusting in God, to return to dealing justly and honestly with their neighbour, to return to giving God what is due him. And when they did so, the blessings of the Lord would be poured out, the very clear blessing of the Lord would be given so that once again, people would be able to see by their well being that they belonged to God.

Now this morning, I do not have time to go further into the concept of tithing in scripture. You may be interested in that topic.

Let me though conclude with a challenge to us all. We come here to worship - to offer the sacrifice of praise because we acknowledge that the Lord is our salvation. He bought us with his precious blood, we belong to him, all that is ours belongs to him. Every good thing that is ours comes from him - for he is the giver of good gifts. We have homes, warm and attractive, we have jobs that give us reasonable incomes, many of us have the responsibility and the privilege of spouse, or families, or grand children, even great grand children. We have health. We have been given meaningful and purpose filled lives. And above all, through Christ, we have been given rebirth by the power of the Holy Spirit - we have become aware of God, his grace, his forgiveness, his love, his presence, his provision, his will. Blessing have been poured out on us in countless ways. They are measurable and visible. God has been wonderfully faithful to us, even through hard times.

The question that we must ask ourselves is this - are we giving to God what is due him

Are you giving to God what is due him? Are you bringing into God's storehouse, his kingdom causes, your part? Or are you so anxious about your future and unaware of God that you are a heart that takes to yourself first - and maybe God will get the left overs if he is lucky?

"Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. "But you ask, 'How do we rob you?' "In tithes and offerings. 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 you will not have room enough for it.

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(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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