Not All Curses Are Mystical
Not All Tithers Are Immune
In the very last book of the Old Testament, almost the last chapter of the book, Malachi makes an extraordinary statement. It contains a promise that is both positive and negative, good and bad news, and it focuses on one’s material well being.
On the one hand it promises a material blessing and on the other it guarantees a curse. No middle ground is mentioned.
Kind of like a cold sweat, this verse offers thrills and chills at the same time. Since God made the promise we need to study it carefully.
The promise is found in Malachi 3:8-10 and Malachi is quoting God.
Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed me. But you say, Wherein have we robbed You? In tithes and offerings.
9 Ye are cursed with a curse: for you have robbed me, even this whole nation.
10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in my house, and prove me now herewith, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.
Even though some think this applies only to Israel in the Old Testament it still deserves a look. The blessing mentioned here is repeated by Jesus in the New Testament and since it was originally attached to the tithe it makes sense to understand how it worked.
God Promises To Bless Tithing
Exactly what is tithing? Usually the word “tithe” is associated with money and money is involved but it is much more than finance. Tithing involves a relationship between the individual and God, and the arrangement is simple. The individual faithfully tithes and God, in turn, blesses materially and in other ways. The important thing to remember is that this isn’t just another good idea for raising ministry funds. Malachi was quoting God not expressing his personal opinions and he wasn’t making a “general” appeal for offerings.
The formula is not difficult to grasp. The only question is, exactly what constitutes a tithe? We need to answer that question because God promised to bless tithing specifically, not “generosity” or “giving” in general. This wasn’t a promise to respond in kind.
In a nutshell God said:
Tithe! I’ll bless you for it. You’re cursed anyway. You’re robbing me when you don’t.
This isn’t poetry. It’s a clear, concise statement of truth. Even though some think the “curse” and the apparent demand for a tithe seems harsh there are reasons to think differently.
Unlike salvation which is unconditional, tithing is contractual and conditional. It has two sides. We do our part and God does His part. Salvation is unconditionally guaranteed but God’s material blessing is not. God does the blessing only when you do the tithing. Doing whatever you feel you can, whenever you think possible is not the deal, so we need to understand how tithing worked, especially as it relates to blessing-cursing. This will give us a format to work with today.
Obviously, you can’t live up to the agreement unless you understand the specifics. Get it wrong in either direction – giving too much or too little – and we have no reason to believe the promise applies. You don’t hear much said about it and you’re certainly never allowed to think it but giving too much is just as irresponsible as giving too little is stingy.
Tithing Not The Same As Charity
It is also important to point out that this promise has nothing to do with altruism. Tithing helps the individual develop a partnership with God. It’s personal. Tithing does not transform you into the political, emotional, material, charitable savior of mankind.
But don’t get me wrong. It is good to care about others. We could all develop a little more compassion and when we do, we are being like God. Mimicking godlike qualities, however, can be done even if you don’t believe in God.
Since a portion of the tithe was allocated to charitable purposes, the tithe is distantly related to charity but they aren’t equal. Tithing is done to develop a relationship with God. Charity is done to help fellow humans.
Many atheists participate happily and effectively in charitable endeavors and charitable people often give a set portion of their income consistently – sometimes more then ten percent – but there is no guarantee their purpose has anything to do with God.
Why People Give More Than A Tithe
Therefore we need to ask several questions: Why would any Christian give more than a legitimate tithe? Is it wrong to give more than a tithe and, if not, must everyone give more than a tithe?
There could be more but I’ll only offer two reasons why some give more than a tithe. In the first case the blessing is moot and in the second it isn’t possible.
Some give more because it is their nature to do so. Generosity is what they live for. They neither look for nor require a material blessing. They enjoy living down and thrive on making meaningful contributions. They also don’t need or want the attention their sacrificial living brings. Even if this person isn’t a Christian, God could bless them with more because He knows exactly what he or she will do with it. Many of these generous givers also have an unusual ability to make money.
But even charity can be taken to an extreme. There is no end to charitable needs and some people, not gifted with this extraordinary gift, in an attempt to emulate others, will give so much they eventually become the needy. What’s the point?
If “generous” and “compassionate” describe you, bravo! If not, don’t worry about it. Be the person God made you to be and don’t try to emulate others. Humans are not cardboard cutouts. Trying to be someone else over glorifies the other person and insults God. Be you!
For those who are not naturally charitable, learning to give is a matter of character not appearances. Giving for the wrong reasons is still a bit wrong.
Tithing can help you develop a level of compassion that is healthy, which is a good thing, but it isn’t primarily about charity. It’s about you and your relationship with God.
A second reason people give in excess of a tithe is they lose control of the budget and need an infusion of funds. The thought is, “I will give this much and God will bless with that much more!” The motive is wrong. It’s manipulative.
God is looking for people to partner with and it is difficult to partner with individuals who knee jerk their way through a relationship.
In fact, if your money management is sloppy and out of control you probably wouldn’t know when or if a blessing is provided anyway. Throwing additional money into a chaotic budget is like putting a patio umbrella up in a hurricane. It gets lost in the storm. God won’t bless that. Giving in excessive amounts is no solution for poor budget skills.
God won’t be arm twisted into doing what you want. Faithfully giving a tithe in obedience, along with managing the other 90% diligently, will result in an appropriate blessing.
So remember this, the blessing relates to tithing specifically, the first purpose of which is to develop a relationship with God personally on an individual level. If you want the blessing, learn to manage money and abide by the formula. Tithing is the issue not generosity and it brings fairness and balance to life.
What About The Curse
The same passage that promises a blessing for tithing offers a curse for not tithing. Sounds threatening so we need to ask what that means and how it works? It would be misleading to talk about the blessing and not mention the curse.
The curse is one part of the formula that is often invoked to convince people to tithe. No particular details are given, only “You will be cursed if you don’t.”
That idea is a little misleading. The truth is, we are already cursed. All of humanity since Adam and Eve have labored extra hard to make a living and make ends meet. Everyone faces the same set of difficulties whether they tithe or not.
So that makes the Malachi passage more a hand up than a hand down. God is promising to lift us out of the trouble we are already in if we tithe.
So what that means is, like the blessing, the curse is not absolute or instantaneous. People who don’t tithe won’t be immediately and irrevocably destroyed the first time they fail to tithe, which is kind of how it sounds coming from adamant proponents of tithing.
And remember, the curse spoken of here is material. It involves money and the material side of life. It isn’t about heaven or hell and there are all kinds of problems (curses) associated with money. Many of them are self-induced.
- Spending more than you make can bring financial collapse, a curse of sorts.
- Being regularly bailed out of financial troubles by parents and friends retards the development of financial sensibilities. A different kind of curse.
- Winning the lottery can be a curse. Participating in lotteries requires no budget skills and the winner’s bad habits are magnified by the extra funds making the curse greater.
- Developing no appreciation for money or skills to handle it, opens the door to all kinds of financial calamities. Curses all!
- Not learning to share (tithe) produces a miserly mindset. Always unattractive.
Tithers are not automatically immune to these problems.
Blessings Sometimes Look Like A Curse
God’s blessings, even relative to material things, help us develop character and skills for life. They make us better people and prepare us to be more influential but things that enable us to achieve this growth are not always desirable.
Joseph became one of the most powerful men in the world and he used his influence to implement a national food accumulation program that eventually saved the world from drought and hunger. He knew he was called for this purpose at a young age but he didn’t know the difficulties he would face getting there.
He was hated by his brothers, threatened with murder, sold as a slave, servant to an unbelieving master, vilified by his master’s wife, imprisoned for crimes he did not commit and forgotten by those he helped. None of these things were nice but all of them were blessings in a sense. Each event was a step in the right direction. They made him upwardly mobile and his example helps us appreciate an important truth about God’s promises.
The ultimate goal, the good part, may not materialize immediately and it may be preceded by many stepping stone blessings, the uncomfortable parts. In that sense, tithing is like long term investing. It takes time to accrue interest but you can learn a lot about God in the process as long as you are faithful.
Now, with the curse out of the way let’s explore the blessing.
Tithing Is The Only Area In Which We Are Allowed To Test God
Testing God is a sensitive matter. As a rule it isn’t allowed. Moses warned Israel not to do this (Deut. 6:16) and Jesus repeated that warning in His ministry (Matthew 4:7). But Malachi is making an exception. In fact, through Malachi, God is not only allowing us to test Him, He is commanding us to do so in this one instance.
But lets talk about testing for a moment. What exactly does it mean to test God? Well, it means doing something out of the ordinary, contrary to conventional wisdom, possibly even dangerous, which is intended to put God under pressure to respond. The person who does this is attempting to manipulate God into giving them what they want when they want it. They are in a hurry or lazy and would rather not follow conventional wisdom to obtain their desires.
Jumping off a cliff and expecting God or the angels to miraculously come to the rescue is a good example. Even if time is short you still need to find a safe way to climb down and if you approach the problem prayerfully is the best way to get God’s help.
The devil asked Jesus to jump off the pinnacle of the Temple to prove He was the Son of God (Luke 4:9-10) and Jesus refused. There were other more effective ways to demonstrate His Sonship.
But this begs the question. If testing is generally disallowed why is tithing different? What is it that separates this test from others?
Well, the tithe test is a significant way to show you trust God without putting yourself on exhibition. A tithe is big enough to be felt personally but not so big as to make a scene. No one is featured in the headlines because they tithe. It is small enough for a responsible person to handle so you won’t receive accolades for it.
Jumping off a cliff when God hasn’t requested we do so, is an expression of pride, arrogance, impatience, selfishness or many other bad qualities. Children test parents to get what they want, now. It is a sign of immaturity. Testing God with your tithe, however, is not only a significant way to show you trust Him but also a great way to show you in turn can be trusted.
Tithing is legitimate not only because God commands it but it also runs contrary to your natural senses. The percentage we give to God could otherwise be used to feed our insecurities, our lusts or the personal goals we set for the future. Keeping your tithe is self-oriented. Giving it is others-oriented.
Tithing is out of the ordinary but not excessive. It is enough to be felt but is manageable. It encourages us to be disciplined and cautious with money. All of that means that tithing is a reasonable test. Those who advocate that everyone should give more than a tithe are looking for God’s approval not a partnership.
Jesus earned your approval. Trying to deserve it after the fact actually insults what Jesus did. You can’t do better than Jesus. Accept the approval He provided. Work on the partnership.
Tithing is also an act of worship, demonstrates cooperation, develops character and we have every reason to think it is still the primary way of accessing God’s material blessing. But there is a limit on the blessing part.
Abuse By Some Is No Reason To Dismiss The Promise
The blessing is viewed opportunistically by some but is an embarrassment for others. Some leaders, in an attempt to coerce offerings out of people, abuse the promise, overstating what people can expect for tithing. We refer to this as the “health and wealth Gospel.” Tithe and God will make you rich.
Anti-tithers use this as an argument against tithing. Tithers are embarrassed by it and avoid talking about the blessing at all.
But God promised the blessing. Abuse by unscrupulous souls shouldn’t scare us away. It shouldn’t be overplayed but it also shouldn’t be dismissed just because people abuse it. And, as I said, the New Testament restates this promise often.
The Blessing Was Limited By Situation And Life Skills
To avoid the confusion we need to think about how the blessing might work. According to the promise, tithing done properly results in a blessing we won’t be able to contain. Sounds immense but don’t spend the money just yet. You can stretch that promise only so far.
The question is if God isn’t going to make me independently wealthy shortly after tithing, what kind of blessing can I expect? How much will it be?
Well, it isn’t unreasonable to believe that the size of any person’s blessing will be determined by their financial skill set. God isn’t going to swamp anyone with more than they can handle and large sums of money can be hurtful. Many lottery winners have been destroyed. Many big money sports figures go bankrupt.
God will bless you with enough to stimulate growth not sink the ship. No more. No less.
The extent of the blessing, therefore, is largely determined by the size of your “container.” As the container grows the blessing grows. Don’t expect to win the lottery or become the newest millionaire on your block in the next thirty days. The size of the blessing will keep pace with your growth.
So, the understanding is, the amount of blessing you receive is determined by:
- Your ability to manage money.
- The number of people who rely on you for provision and how conscientious you are in disbursing the money.
- Your ability to keep monetary issues in balance.
If you tithe consistently, you can and should expect material increase but you mustn’t assume that God’s blessing, even a very large one, will enable you to make a one step leap from the lower class to the mega class. Under God’s blessings you will grow proportional to the increase in your abilities.
The skills to manage a little more are reachable. The skills to manage millions more must be developed in reasonably sized steps over time.
By the way, we have every reason to believe God would have us rise in material status. Some may choose not too but that is a choice they make not a biblical edict they follow. “Wealthy” is not the same as “sinful” and it can be evidence that you are growing in appropriate ways.
Where are you now? THINK!AboutIt.
In Tithing, Douglas Leblanc provides much more than a narrow discussion on a traditional issue. He doesn’t repeat the same worn out arguments the same boringly technical way.
Instead, and probably because he admits to being “no theologian or exegetical writer,” Douglas has found an intriguing way to cut to the real heart of the issue. He shares the experiences of eleven different couples and one lone Monsignor, all of whom practice tithing for a very similar reason: selflessness.