“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
What exactly was Israel doing? How were they robbing God? In verse 10 the LORD commands: “Bring the whole tithe into My storehouse.” One implication of this, is that the people hadn’t given up on religious things altogether. They were throwing a few coins into the coffer. As we saw in chapter 1, they were still bringing animals to be offered to the LORD, but instead of bringing the first and the best – they were bringing animals that were blind, lame, or otherwise blemished. They practiced their little bit of religion – after all, they were Jews – but the fire of their true devotion had all but gone out. Let us not kid ourselves that this isn’t a problem in our own day. A large swath of American church goers have essentially a consumeristic religion – where they want the church to make them feel good about themselves – and where they can do just enough of that religious stuff – so that they can go on imagining that they are good people or to feel nostalgic about the church of their youth..
Wilbur Reese captures this problem in a few short, but rather pointed lines. He writes:
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please. Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don’t want enough of God to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant. I want ecstasy, not transformation. I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
Beloved, if we need a reminder of what Almighty God thinks about this, let us hear once again the words that Jesus sends to the Church in Laodicea. Jesus solemnly declares:
“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”
Almighty God is not pleased with those who occasionally give a slight nod in His direction. The Jews in Malachi’s day, like so many in our own, seem to be forgetting the first and greatest of the commandments: “You shall love the LORD with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”
Sadly, we so easily drift away from this high calling. But thanks be to God, while the LORD may allow those who hate Him to continue down this path – He loves His people far too much to let us keep treating Him like a bit of comfort food. And so, He calls us to return to Him, with the promise that if we return to Him, He will return to us.
The LORD is seeking those who will worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. So He gives the lukewarm worshippers of Malachi’s day a very concrete step that they should take on their path to repentance: “Stop robbing Me, and bring the whole tithe into My storehouse!”
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 54
Q. 54. What is required in the third commandment?
A. The third commandment requireth the holy and reverent use of God’s names, titles, attributes, ordinances, word and works.