Take My Faith...2

“Sorry, I cannot accept your Tithes and Offerings today.”

It’s worship hour, the tithes and offerings are collected as is custom. With the gentle melody of the organ playing, our reflective thoughts are steered toward heaven. We are waiting to hear a Word from the Lord. Soon, the collection is complete, and the offerings are brought to the front, and we hear the familiar words in prayer. “Lord, accept these tithes and offerings, for the furtherance of your work, Amen.” As we expect the Pastor to lead us on to the next stage of worship, there is a pause and an unexpected announcement; one made in a concerned, almost sorrowful tone of voice.

“I’m sorry, but it’s been revealed to me that I must return these tithes and offerings to you this morning, because they are not given with the right spirit. Will the Deacons please come forward again for this to be done? Yes, Deacon’s, please come forward… as this is what has to be done.” We sit in shock, amazement, embarrassment, outrage even! Who is the Pastor to judge our hearts?

Can’t really imagine this happening in our day, but Malachi comes close to this:

“I have no pleasure in you, says the LORD of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand.”
(Malachi 1:10)

There’s more to Malachi’s prophetic words than meets the eye. Most only ever get as far as “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse (3:10),” noting the request of the Lord to return an honest tithe. More often than not we use the text without any mention whatsoever of the context. Look a little further and it’s clear the Lord is not happy and has a huge problem with Israel.

The prophet cites 23 general complaints against Israel, who seem to have learned nothing from exile in Babylon. God, in his mercy, has brought them home and permitted a new temple to be built, so what more could they ask for? But the real fly in the ointment are the priests, nothing but a joke! They knew the Lord required a lamb ‘without spot or blemish’ as an acceptable offering, but instead they offered polluted food (1:7), sick, blind, and lame animals (1:8), some stolen violently for the purpose (1:13).

As we read Malachi, we almost need to do a double-take. Is he really talking about the ‘set-apart’ Levite priests? These priests offer a worship that is routine and disrespectful; “you have wearied me with your words” (3:13), causing the Lord’s reputation to be damaged. However, the situation is even deeper than that, with the Lord deeply hurt by their behaviour. Malachi points the finger at these priests who should have known better and their response is a cynical, ‘or what?’ Instead of putting their hands up and admitting their faults, they put God in the dock.

“You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.” (Leviticus 20:26)

What clearer mandate were they given? The one true God is holy, ‘set-apart.’ He is the author of sacred conversation (prayer), sacred funds (tithe), sacred people (church), sacred space (sanctuary), sacred text (scripture) and sacred time (sabbath). All these belong to Him but are for our benefit, and all invite us to connect with Him. What should have been an honour and a blessing, the priests corrupted and made a burden. Instead of offering true worship, they caused the people of Israel to go on a great adventure in missing the point, singing in effect the chorus, “we’ll do it our way.”

Could the deeper lesson from Malachi be, that we too have lost the difference between what is holy and what is not?

tithe offering

Reprinted by permission from TED Stewardship Ministries blog.

'First Things 1st' is the monthly blog of the Stewardship Ministries Department of the Trans-European Division. The purpose is to restore and strengthen the principles of biblical stewardship, leading to a strong, mature, and joyful faith in Christ for those we serve.Reprinted by permission from TED Stewardship Ministries.