The Reading: Malachi 3:6-12
“How shall we return? How are we robbing thee?” (vv.7-8) RSV
This is perhaps the best known part of Malachi: tithing! But note its context. This passage is not primarily about raising money or making everyone feel guilty. It is about repentance and returning to intimacy with God. “How shall we return?” is the question on the lips of Israel. It should be constantly on ours, for too easily and too often we drift away from our Lord. But when Israel asked the question there was a note of arrogance about it. They felt they did not need to return for they did not think that they had wandered off. Perhaps they even felt that if anyone had moved away in the relationship it was God!
God is quick to point out that of course it was they who had moved away, and the reason was that they were “robbing” (v.8) him. The Israelites were offended that they should be accused of robbing God. But as ever it was not their sins of commission that God was on about, but their sins of omission. They had not stripped the Temple of gold and silver, nor had they robbed priests of their candlesticks (see Les Miserables). No, they had not done wrong, but they had failed to do right, that was their trouble. They had robbed God by failing to give back to him a portion of all that he had given to them. The first reason for giving is not to meet need (however great that need may be), but to express love and gratitude to our Lord and Saviour. Then, and only then do we give to meet need.
Giving is then not a chore nor even an obligation, but a joy and a privilege. St Paul speaks often about giving (as indeed does Jesus). He writes not about tithing (which incidentally is not mentioned in the New Testament), but about generous and proportional giving. Above all he states that “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). As we give God promises us much in return: “I will open the windows of heaven for you and pour down on you an overflowing blessing” (v.10). If we rob God, we rob ourselves.
Take my silver, take my gold. Not a mite would I withhold. All things come from you O Lord, and of thine own do I give thee. Amen.
1 Should our giving always go to the poor?
2 What example of generous giving did Jesus use?