There’s a Thief in the Church
By Pastor Jim May
Today I want to speak to you about a matter that is not something that I have ever taught in this church since I have been pastor. I’ve never felt the need to do so and I really don’t feel the need right now, but I don’t know everything. I do know that I often take it for granted that people who have been in church for a while should know more than they do.
Having been raised in the church and hearing the Word taught as much as I have, it is easy for me to forget that many of you who come to church here did not have that kind of heritage. You were not as fortunate as I was to learn many of the precepts of God’s Word at an early age and therefore you have a lot of catching up to do.
I will confess that I struggled somewhat with this message because I know that for many of you it will not be anything new. You are already fulfilling your obligations to the Lord and to the church, and so to you I will say, Thank You. Thank you for being a faithful and obedient servant. Thank you for supporting the ministry. Thank you for being a member of this congregation. I think that today will serve only as a refresher or a reminder of what God requires of us all.
But I do know that there are some here who do not understand God’s requirement for the support of the ministry. Many of us come to the House of God on a weekly basis and we soak up the Word, worship the Lord and we desire to serve Him with all of our hearts. Yet there is something lacking and we just can’t seem to put our finger on it.
This message may well give you the answer you need if that is how you feel.
The key to this is that unless we are being obedient and faithful servants, fulfilling our duties and obligations and a Child of God, then God cannot bless us in the manner that He wants to. All of the blessings of God and the Promises of God are conditional upon our obedience to His Word.
If you have a child that is rowdy, disobedient and won’t listen, or refuses to do what you tell them to do, I doubt that you would feel like they deserved a reward. You wouldn’t run down to the store and buy a new bicycle for a child who is constantly running away down the street. All you would do is give him a vehicle so that he could run faster and further away than ever before. You wouldn’t go down and buy a cell phone for a child who won’t get off the phone and do her homework now. If you do then you can get ready for bad grades and expensive cell phone bills. You don’t make it easier for a child to do that which they should not be doing in the first place or you will only create a monster that you can’t control worse than the one you already can’t seem to control.
No, we don’t reward bad behavior or if we do will only teach the child that they can get away with it and still get what they want. Bad behavior should be rewarded all right, but it should be rewarded with a trip to the woodshed, or a few hours in the “time out” corner, or the removal of some privileges.
Disciple will build the right kind of character into our children, but if we let them do what they want and reward them in spite of their disobedience, then we will only create a self-centered, disobedient adult who will be a part of the problems that face our society and not a part of solution.
Our Father in Heaven can do no different with His children. If you want God’s best for your life then you have to be an obedient child. If you only want the bare necessities and you are willing to settle for less than the best, then just keep coming to church and trusting in the Lord to save you, but don’t try to be completely obedient. That way you may attain unto eternal life, but you will certainly miss out on so much that could have been yours. When you get to Heaven one day you will realize just how much more of God you could have had, and how much more God wanted to give to you, but He was limited by your own actions.
God was speaking to his own people in the Book of Malachi. This was his final message to Israel under the Old Testament Covenant of the Law of Moses. Israel had been given the privilege to know the Perfect Law of Liberty that taught them how to worship, how to pray and how to know their God, but they had failed to really learn much at all. No matter how much God did for them, they were never faithful and obedient to Him.
I wonder today just how much Israel has lost as a nation of God’s Chosen People because they just refused to hear and obey His Word? Israel today is a nation again, but for nearly 2000 years they were dispersed and scattered among the heathen nations of the earth for they disobedience. It is only by God’s mercy and grace that they even exist today.
What could Israel be today if only they had been faithful?
Could it be that they would have been the greatest nation on earth for all of those years? Could they have been the nation that would have spread the gospel to the whole world? Could Israel have been the nation that would send aid to America, to Canada and to Britain and to every nation on earth instead of being dependent so much on other nations for its survival?
Could it have been that Israel’s power would be so strong that no nation on earth would dare to attack them for fear of the God of Israel’s retribution and defense of his people? Could it be that they would have been the most blessed nation on earth instead of a nation that has to endure the wrath of God for so long?
There is no telling of the greatness that Israel could be today had they only been faithful to God. You can look at America, a nation that was founded on Christian principles, and who has taken for its motto, “In God We Trust”, and has spread the gospel around the world and who has chosen to be a blessing to Israel and you can see how that God has blessed us so much. In spite of our failures; in spite of many of our leaders trying to kick God out of our society; and in spite of our sin, we are still a blessed nation. I fear that we may find ourselves in worse shape than Israel before long at the rate we are running from God, but for now God is still blessing us.
If a gentile nation, coming into existence only a few hundred years ago, can be blessed by God and accomplish so much and be so great among the nations of the world, then how much more could Israel be great if they had been faithful for 4000 years or more since the call of Abraham?
If you want God’s blessings, then you have to be an obedient servant, and that means being obedient in every way possible, even when it doesn’t seem to make sense that God’s promises can possibly be right.
God’s economy doesn’t work like ours does. In God’s economy everything is hinged upon obedience and what is said in His Word that cannot fail. His ways and means of bringing His promises to pass are hard for us to understand, and sometimes we can’t understand at all, we just have to stand upon His Word and trust Him to do what He says He will do when we are obedient.
As God was speaking to Israel in the Book of Malachi, he was telling them of a coming “messenger”; one who preaches repentance and would prepare the way of the coming of Christ to his temple. This was supposed to be the greatest news that Israel could hope for. They had prayed for many, many years for their Messiah to come. Finally one would come to heal their land, turn their hearts toward God, and bring them into the place of their inheritance in God that they longed for. The Messiah would bring honesty and integrity back into the Levites, the priests of Israel, and finally the nation would be on track to be blessed by God again. But it all hinged again on obedience. As you know, none of that happened for Israel because they wouldn’t hear the messenger and they rejected the Messiah, so God had to punish them and send the blessings upon the Gentile nations who would receive it.
Then God says something to Israel that we need to hear.
Malachi 3:8, “Will a man rob God?” This is meant to get an answer that is emphatically NO! God is God. He sits upon a Holy, Righteous and Eternally Secure Throne in Heaven. He has all power, all knowledge and all wisdom and He is present every where at once. How could a thief possibly sneak into Heaven and steal from God - it’s just an impossibility – OR IS IT? The Israelites would have quickly said, “NO, no one can rob God.” And we today would think, “NO, how could anyone rob God.”
But look at what God says next.
Malachi 3:8, "… Yet ye have robbed me.” Israel, you might not think it was possible but you have been a thief. You have stolen from God. Even though you might not think it was possible, you have found a way to do it. It’s just one more sin in a long list of sins, born out of a heart of rebellion against God’s Law. It starts with your pride thinking that you deserve it for yourself, and you refuse to give to God that which belongs to Him. It’s that same pride that caused man to fall in the Garden and is still causing you to be a thief of that which belongs to God.
I want you to know that there are some thieves that come to this church. There are thieves in every church. You don’t know who they are. (Look at your neighbor and ask them if they are a thief.) Of course none of us will want to admit it, but still there are thieves among us. Who are they? You may never know. But God will know, and there will probably be someone in the church who will know but they won’t tell because they don’t want to make anyone angry.
God knows whether you are stealing from Him or not. You can’t fool him. He knows when you steal from Him and He knows when you don’t. Who is it in the church that could also know; it’s the church Treasurer and sometimes the pastor. I really don’t want to know who the thieves are because I don’t want that knowledge to sway my messages. But whether I know or not doesn’t matter, because God knows the thieves and He will withhold many of your blessings until you learn to quit stealing from Him.
Now if God, or someone in the church were to point to those who are thieve and tell them that they are stealing from God, most would probably say, “No, I’m no thief. I’m good, honest and sincere. I wouldn’t steal from anyone.” And most of us would probably think that they are telling the truth and just pass over it. But God doesn’t forget and He knows the real truth.
You see, I don’t believe that there are thieves in this church that will take anything that doesn’t belong to them. You don’t have to worry about them taking things from your purse, or stealing your Bible, or taking your umbrella or robbing you of anything. We have a lot of trustworthy people in our church and we have never had anything missing from the church unless it was picked up by accident and returned quickly. We have never had that problem and I hope we never will. But in spite of the honesty of everyone here, some of us are still thieves.
How can that be? It’s very simple. Being a thief doesn’t only mean that you have to take something that doesn’t belong to you. A thief is also someone who doesn’t return what has been loaned to him, or who doesn’t give to God what God requires of him.
Have you ever loaned anything to anyone and never received it back? Many of us have done that. I loaned a tiller to someone many years ago. The person I loaned it to was very honest and would have returned it but he went home to be with Jesus suddenly and couldn’t give it back. But those who had it later knew it was on loan but never returned it. They found an excuse to keep it and I never saw it again.
Many years have passed since that day and I know it will never come back. At first I was a little upset about the whole deal and I looked upon those who kept my property as thieves. No, they didn’t come to my house and steal it out of my yard, but they stole it just the same. Even though I gave it to them to use, that didn’t make it their property to keep. Now I have long since just written it off, but every once in while I remember it again. If I can’t seem to forget, even if want to, then how much more does God remember those who “borrow” from Him and never return what belongs to him?
And so, the answer that the Israelites had for God’s accusation against them, found in Malachi 3:8-11, was this, "… But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith 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. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the LORD of hosts."
Israel was nation of thieves. Because they had failed to obey the Laws of God and give back to God that which was His to begin with, they were considered thieves.
Way back, in the Book of Leviticus 27:30, we can read where God had given them a commandment that they were to obey. "And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD’S: it is holy unto the LORD."
What is God saying here? He is saying that a part of everything that Israel received as an increase into their land, their nation, their pocketbooks, their flocks and their family belonged to God, not to them, and they were to give it to God for the support of his Kingdom in the earth.
God doesn’t need anything from us. But we need to feel a part of what He is doing. We have a need inside of us to feel as though we are contributing to His family or else we will never really feel like we belong to Him. He requires us to give to Him for our sakes more than His and when we do God counts our giving as worship and faithfulness and then rewards us accordingly, just as we would do for our own children.
What is this tithe? The tithe is a tenth of all that we earn as an increase. This percentage was established by God long ago. It was established as the standard of what is owed to God in return for what He has given into our hands as good stewards.
Leviticus 27:32, "And concerning the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, even of whatsoever passeth under the rod, the tenth shall be holy unto the LORD."
Secondly, there is a purpose in the tithe. It is not just given to be stored for some unknown purpose, but it is given to support the church in the fulfillment of its obligations to spread the gospel and teach the Word of God, as well as the support of those who work in the church as ministers.
Numbers 18:21, "And, behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel for an inheritance, for their service which they serve, even the service of the tabernacle of the congregation."
In God’s economy, 1/10th of your income and increase are all that it takes to fully support the Work of the Lord in the earth in supporting the church and the ministry. I only wish that man’s economy only required 1/10th of my income in taxes. There are a lot of people who pay much more than 10%. I have spoken to business people who pay as high as 80% of every dollar they make in the form of taxes; sales tax, import and export taxes, income taxes and you can include fees and licenses, and occupational taxes, social security taxes, and on it goes. I think that just giving God 10% and watching Him bless it and multiply it is a real bargain especially when we are making investment into something that is eternally rewarding as well as a blessing right now.
Just in case you might think to yourself that tithing was only meant for Old Testament times, let me say that Jesus confirmed the Law of Tithing when he spoke of it in both Matthew and Luke. Tithing didn’t go out with the coming of Christ who fulfilled the Law for us.
So are their thieves in the church? You bet there are. Some give only a little bit, nothing near their 10%. Others give more, but still not 10%. And many look for loopholes, or conveniently overlook anything other than their normal 10% when they get a little extra blessing from an unexpected source. Remember, God is the one who gives the blessing. And without His blessing you wouldn’t receive anything good.
Deuteronomy 8:18, "But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day."
Before we leave these verses in Malachi I want to point something else out to you as well. Notice that God says that Israel had robbed Him in the giving of their “tithes and offerings”. According to this, not only does God expect us to pay the tithe, 10% of what he has given to us, but He also expects us to give more in the form of offerings. These are more than the tithe and they are given out of a heart of worship and can be whatever you feel is right and whatever the Holy Spirit is telling you to give.
I’ve heard of people who decide to tithe 20% or more of their income. That part above 10% is considered their offering. Some folks can’t give that much but God honors their worship and their faithfulness and their obedience, not the amount.
Over in the Book of Mark, Jesus is standing there, watching people as they put their offerings into the temple collection. He is watching them one by one as they come, both the rich who give a lot and the poor who give what they can. He knows the heart of each one of them, but one little lady really catches His eye and her true heart of worship is recognized immediately.
Mark 12:42-44, "And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living."
So God expects us to give not only the tithe, but to give more as an offering as the Spirit enables us to do so. If we refuse to give the offerings that the Holy Spirit is asking us to give, then we are still thieves in the sight of God.
Now let’s look at giving to the Lord another way so that you can understand what the New Testament really teaches about giving.
In Paul’s writings to the Corinthian church, he had a lot to say about giving to the Lord in support of the church and its ministries.
2 Corinthians 9:6-8, "But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work:"
Paul has put giving in its proper perspective here. Do you want God’s best in your life? If so then give your best to God. Not just the best you can in finances of tithes and offerings, but your best in your service, in your worship, in your praise and in your walk with the Lord in every way. The more you give to God, the more He will bless you.
On the other side of the coin is another promise. If we give sparingly, only what we have to or feel forced to, then we won’t receive the best that God has for us either. God’s rewards are based upon two things: how much we give and with what attitude we have when we give.
If we give it cheerfully, God will bless it. If we give us grudgingly, then don’t expect a blessing in return.
The problem that many people have is that they will give in offerings and pay their tithe until it seems that they make more money and then they don’t want to give that much anymore. When we make $200 a week we don’t mind too much giving $20 even though it is hard at first. But when we make $2000 a week, then giving $200 or more seems like too much to give. We quickly ration that we can’t afford to give that much anymore and forget that is it God who gave us the $2000 to begin with and He still expects his portion in return.
But we must give it willingly or it won’t do us much good. The church can always use it, but God won’t count it as a cheerful gift if we give only because we are forced to. God won’t force you anyway, and no one else can either. It’s yours to give.
Don’t forget the case of Ananias and Sapphira who died before the altar right in the temple when they lied to the Holy Ghost. Don’t say that you are paying your tithe or giving the offering that God asks of you if you really aren’t. That’s being a thief and only God’s mercy keeps you from facing the same fate as they did.
Do we have any thieves here this morning? I hope not, but I expect that we do. If we want to be counted as faithful servants and experience God’s best, then let’s be cheerful givers and give to God our tithes and offerings as the Lord enables us.
Don’t think about how much you are giving, but think about how much God is blessing you in return. Don’t think about the bills that are due or the things that you need to buy. God will multiply what you have left to meet you need and even more.
Along with the command to tithe and give in offerings, Malachi gives a great promise to those who will give with a right spirit.
Malachi 3:10-12, "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith 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. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the LORD of hosts. And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the LORD of hosts."
Do you believe that God is faithful to fulfill His promises? If so, then you can’t help but want to put Him to the test like He asks you to do.
Giving to God will only bring greater blessings and more fruit into your life than you can imagine. Not only will he pour out more upon you than you have given, but he will keep that which you already have from being devoured by the devil. Now that’s what I call money in the Bank.
If you want to be called blessed, and if you want to be a delight to the Lord, then be a cheerful giver. Be careful not to begin to think, and act, like a thief in the pew.