I have been spending the days after Easter working on a new program that will help churches with their stewardship programs. (I know, exciting stuff.) Every preacher who has ever tried to keep her or his church financially solvent has preached on or quoted Malachi 3:9-10:
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”
It is, of course, the clearest passage about the Hebrew principle of tithing, or giving 10 percent back to God. What fascinates me about this passage is how God almost taunts the listener. We are invited to “test” God on this matter, something that is strictly forbidden in other passages.
The principle behind tithing is proportional giving. That is a healthy principle by which to live. It is not a law or rule that Christians must follow, but, like our need for Sabbath rest, it is a teaching we ignore at our own peril. Perhaps that is the “test me” point. Like the breakdown that inevitably results from working seven days a week without rest and spiritual renewal, God is warning that our failure to learn generosity comes at a cost. Consumerism, environmental abuse, greedy politicians, warped values all are manifestations of financial narcissism.
This text isn’t a club to be used by the church to raise money. That misses the point as badly as the old Blue Laws that prohibited stores from being open on Sundays. No, Jesus said that we were not made for the Sabbath, but rather the Sabbath was made for us. It is a principle of health and life that we shouldn’t spend our entire life working, but spend at least 1/7th of it in rest and renewal, which, as we now know, makes us much healthier and more productive with the other 6/7ths.
Tithing is the same thing. Test God and see if giving away 10 percent of what you make to help the world and the poor doesn’t make the 90 percent that you still have feel more life enriching. There are all kinds of blessings that God longs to pour out on those who renounce greed and resist becoming a consumer rather than a person. Test God, and see if proportional generosity isn’t an antidote from heaven. (Don’t worry; I’m not about to take up an offering.)