ABC Extra – The Joy of Giving

October 18, 2010 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The other night, we had a friend and his daughter staying with us.  We enjoyed some lively evening conversation and then went off to bed.  My buddy’s daughter was getting over an illness, so she was not feeling well and, apparently, she did not sleep well that night.  I say, “Apparently, she did not sleep well that night” because, for the most part, I was oblivious to her whines, her cries, and general restlessness that night.  My wife, however, who is a light sleeper, was not.  “Did you hear her?” she asked me the next morning.  “I felt so bad for her.”  “I heard her one time…I think,” I stammered.

Being oblivious is nothing new for me.  I am well known for overlooking and under-observing things and situations.  My wife says it is because I am a guy.  And this much I’ll grant her:  guys don’t always pay as much attention as they should.

Although the prophet Malachi may have been simply speaking to a nation full of oblivious guys, I highly doubt that was the case.  The year is 430 BC.  Over one hundred years have passed since a decree went out from the Persian king Cyrus that the Israelites could return to their homeland from their deportation in Babylonia.  But few have returned.  And those who have returned are spiritually oblivious.  Israel’s worship is in a state of despair.  There are reports that the Israelites, rather than offering the best (cf.  Exodus 23:19) and the first (cf. Exodus 34:19) of their resources to the Lord in worship, are offering animals which are “blind…lame or sick” (Malachi 1:8).  And what’s worse, the Israelites seem completely oblivious to their state of spiritual anemia.  In fact, one of the most striking rhetorical features of the book of Malachi its use of divine declarations.   Throughout the book, God makes a series of lofty declarations, meant point out the complete oblivion of the Israelites to their state of spiritual peril:

  • “I have loved you,” says the LORD.  But you say, “How have you loved us?” (Malachi 1:2).
  • “You, O priests, despise My name.” But you say, “How have we despised Your name?” (Malachi 1:6)
  • “You have wearied the LORD with your words.” But you say, “How have we wearied Him?” (Malachi 2:17)
  • “Will a man rob God?  Yet you are robbing Me.” But you say, “How have we robbed You?” (Malachi 3:8)

Again and again, the Israelites prove themselves oblivious to God’s love and faithfulness and to their sin and wickedness.  Indeed, in Malachi 3, God says that the Israelites even try to rob Him.  How?   “In your tithes and contributions.  You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you” (Malachi 3:8-9).  The Israelites have been selfishly keeping for themselves what they should have been sharing with God.  And they didn’t even know it.  They were oblivious.

I often wonder if the vast majority of people are completely oblivious to their responsibility to give to God.  I quoted these statistics in ABC this past weekend:

  • More than one in four Americans give away $0 annually.
  • The median annual giving for a Christian is $200, just over half a percent of their annual after-tax income.
  • Among Protestants, 10% of evangelicals. 28% of mainline denominational members, 33% of fundamentalists, and 40% of liberal Protestants give away nothing.

Clearly, God’s command to give goes widely unheeded.  Yet are we even aware of how much we neglect His statute?  Or have we simply lulled ourselves into a state of oblivion, forever content to rehearse the same old chorus of all the reasons and excuses we can’t be generous?

God invites us to give to His work – not because He wants to take from us what we cannot afford, but because He wants to give to us what we do not yet have:

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, [and see] if I will not open the window of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. (Malachi 3:8-10)

At the core of His being, our God is a giver.  He loves to give!  As Martin Luther so eloquently reminds us:

God has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my limbs, my reason, and all my senses, and still preserves them. In addition, He gives clothing and shoes, meat and drink, house and homestead, wife and children, fields, cattle, and all my goods.  He provides me richly and daily with all that I need to support this body and life, protects me from all danger, and guards me and preserves me from all evil, all out of pure, fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. (Martin Luther, Small Catechism, First Article of the Apostles’ Creed)

What wonderful and bountiful gifts our Lord has given us!  And now, He invites us to share in His joy of giving by giving as well – to God’s Church and His people.  Will you joyfully receive God’s invitation to give?

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