7 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?’
8 Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions.
9 You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.
10 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.
11 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.
12 Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the LORD of hosts.
What an amazing passage. Rarely in Scripture do we get such an important question asked and answered in such a succinct fashion. How shall we return to God? The clear answer that should ring in our ears, is by living a generous life. Generosity is our response to God’s generosity towards us. Read the first verse of chapter 3 and see the promise of God to send not only John the Baptist, but His own Son.
“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.” – Malachi 3:1
Even more amazing is the fact that God’s response to them that He is going to send the Messiah they have been seeking, was born out of an accusation against Him. Let’s read the last verse of chapter 2.
You have wearied the LORD with your words. But you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?” – Malachi 2:17
The people of Israel say, “God you are not just”. God then responds, I am not just?, I will show you justice, I will send my Son to demonstrate justice for you, in life and in death.” God then says to the people “return to me and I will return to you.” The people respond, “it’s been a long time God, we lost our way Lord, show us how we shall we return.” Then God says, “quit robbing me, give, be generous, test me in this matter, see if I just want your money. If your heart is right before me then give, fill my house, and it will rebound back. I don’t need your stuff, but you need to not need it. The reason your in this shape (Israel is in bad shape see future essays), is because you love your stuff and don’t believe my Word.”
Until recently I always found the order of Matthew 6 very odd. In my early Christian life I put more emphasis on prayer and fasting than anything else. Yet before Jesus addresses prayer or fasting He addresses giving. One day I was trying to figure out this puzzle of why giving was first and how fasting was connected to it and prayer when I followed the trail over to Isaiah 58, and this is what is says there.
1 “Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins.
2 Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God.
3 ‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers.
4 Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD?
6 “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
9 Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.
11 And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.
12 And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in. -Isaiah 58:1-12
It was then I realized that all my fasting had been in vain. I had been fasting as a day to “humble” myself, I was bowing down my head like a reed”, and spreading “sackcloth and ashes under” me. Simply stated, I sat around fasting and moaning about how rotten I was, and God said very clearly to me, “Is this the fast that I choose?”, and the answer came back swiftly and clearly, shaking me to my core, “no, no it is not”. God said to me, “Jeremy, I want you to fast, and yes when you fail, fasting can be a good response. But, one thing you lack, take the resources that you would have used to feed yourself that day, and feed or cloth somebody else who needs it.” “Why God?” I asked, “Because my son, I have been so generous to you. Look at the Gospel, believe and live it out, with your words and your deeds. Go ahead son, test me in this thing and see what happens, I dare you. Best dare I ever took. I found out then, and continue to find out more and more, that God is more generous than I ever imagined, and that spurs me on to figure out how I can be more generous than others imagine that I can be too. The hardest time for me to be generous is when I find myself in a sinful mess of my own making, when my heart is hard, and generosity becomes difficult. Yet I have learned that serving others and acting out the Gospel, despite the way I feel at that time, is the key to turning the faucet of grace back on so that the water of life softens my hard unyielding heart, it renews and refreshes the soul like nothing else.
So if your life feels scorched and dry, if your heart is a withering garden, yet you still find that you have that deep-seeded Gospel desire to be a rebuilder of the ancient ruins and a repairer of the breaches you see in the Church and world. Respond to God’s generosity to you in the Gospel, shake off the funk of self-pity and spiritual pride, put all the stuff that is filling your hands down, pick up a trowel, believe the Gospel and get to work for King and Kingdom.