Giving God Your Best
On a rainy afternoon, a little brother and sister were playing Noah and the Ark. They had an old shoe box that they were using for the ark and they found that the bathtub was a great place to have a flood. They gathered up their animals and marched them into their ark two by two and then turned on the faucet as the world flooded.
After what they thought would be 40 days and night they removed the plug and the waters went away. As they took the animals out of the ark it was time to make an offering to God. The boy said to his sister, give me one of your animals as a sacrifice. The little girl snapped back, Why can’t we use one of your animals instead! This conversation carried on for a little while until the little girl got up and ran to her room.
In a moment she came back caring a stuffed animal. It was dirty and tattered, missing an eye, and it’s tail had been ripped off. She gave the animal to her brother and said, Let’s use this, mom is just going to throw it away.
Stuffed animals, hot wheel cars, bicycles, and Barbie Dolls all have a way of making it to the throw away pile. Eventually the toy that once gave hours of joy and gratification, ends up discarded in some dark corner of the room gathering dust.
Adults aren’t much different. Our toys may be bigger and more expensive but eventually the new wears off and it begins to tarnish or wear out and we cast it aside for the next big thing. The tendency to devaluate things over time is a part of everyone of us. But our ability to lose interest in things is not restricted to material things; sometimes it carries over into our spiritual lives as well.
In the very last book of the Old Testament we find the story of Malachi. God calls Malachi to address His people after they have returned to the promised land after being in Babylonian slavery. The Temple has been rebuilt and the worship of God has been reestablished. But things are not easy. While outwardly everything looks OK, on the inside there is this sense of complacency that is eating away at their commitment. As God’s final spokesman in the Old Testament, Malachi comes on the scene to challenge them, and us, to give God our best.
God desires for us to know that He loves us, but one of the struggles that comes with heart disease is that we doubt. We doubt His love and often times we wonder if He really cares. That’s what I like so much about this little book tucked away at the end of the Old Testament. The Book of Malachi starts by talking about God’s love and then leads to a discussion about our lives. It reminds us that our heart disease keeps us from responding to God’s love and our spiritual lives begin to nose dive. The next thing we know our worship becomes just another ritual, relationships are non existent in the church, and all we have to offer is the things that we were going to throw away anyway.
This morning I want us to read our text and see if we can find three ways we can work on our heart disease. (Read Text)
First God wants us to embrace an authentic faith (6-7).
God deserves to be honored because He is holy. In the Old Testament the name Yahweh was too holy to be spoken. In fact, it was so sacred that it was only pronounced once a year on the Day of Atonement, and then only by the high priest in the most holy place of the Temple. If the name needed to be written, the scribes would take a bath before writing it and then destroy the pen afterward.
But something has happened because in verse 6 Malachi says that even the priests are showing contempt for God by despising His name. And while it may not be through what they say, God says they are showing contempt by what they are doing. In verse 7 we read: You place defiled food on my altar.
Their heart disease can be seen in the fact that they were just going through the motions and they have allowed the extraordinary to become ordinary. It’s a struggle that I believe many of us are all too familiar with. We have become so familiar with the holy that we have lost the wonder and awesomeness of God. I believe that Ravi Zacharias has a terrifying insight when he said: When man is bored with God even heaven does not have a better alternative. We need to understand that if God bores you, then nothing else in all of creation is going to satisfy you.
Think back for a moment to the story of Cain and Able found in Genesis 4. You have two brothers who come to God and make a sacrifice. Cain was a farmer and brought the first fruits of his harvest and Abel was a shepherd who brought the first of his flock as an offering. We can’t find anywhere that God demanded a sacrifice, or even suggested what was appropriate to sacrifice. We know from the book of Exodus that God required a blood sacrifice as well as a grain sacrifice. But here in Genesis 4, for some reason, God accepts Abel’s offering and rejects Cain’s.
For years I have struggled with why God would do this, but recently I discovered that it has nothing to do with the offering and everything to do with the attitude of the one making the offering. 1 John 3:12 we see that the reason Cain’s sacrifice was not accepted was that he had a heart full of evil. Hebrews 11:4 says that the reason Abel’s offering was accepted was that he had a heart of faith. God was more interested in the one worshiping than what they had to sacrifice. What God wanted was authentic adoration and not a sacrifice that was only for show and going through the motions.
If we want to give God our best we must do more than just go through the motions. There are too many christians that are trying to live on what Charles Swindoll calls, three dollars’ worth of God. He writes, Some of us would love to buy three dollars worth of God. Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine…I want ecstasy, not transformation. I want the warmth of the womb, not new birth. I want a pound of the eternal in a paper sack. I want three dollars worth of God, please.
Secondly, we must Give God priority over possessions (8-9).
Look at verse 8: When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you? says the LORD Almighty. The priests were allowing the people to offer God sick and lame sheep. The people were bringing the lambs that they were just going to throw away. It was a way to get rid of the trash by offering it to God.
Imagine the parade of diseased animals limping and stumbling blindly toward the Temple. Their oozing sores were covered with flies. Some of them probably collapsed even before they got there! The people should have known better. In Leviticus 22, God made it very clear that He was not interested in substandard sacrifices: Tell Aaron and his sons to treat with respect the sacred offerings the Israelites consecrate to me, so they will not profane my holy name. I am the LORD…you must present a male without defect from the cattle, sheep or goats in order that it may be accepted on your behalf. Do not bring anything with a defect, because it will not be accepted on your behalf.
Heart disease caused the people to be more concerned with keeping what they had than they were in giving God their best. Their hearts were not engaged in worship. I mean, they were still coming to church but it was just a meaningless ritual to them. They had accepted a hollow and empty existence.
God doesn’t pull any punches, He tells them to try and offer their throwaways to the governor and see if he would accept them. The bottom line is they thought God didn’t care what they did. After all, they had worked hard and they had high taxes, bills to pay, had to rotate the legs on their camel, and they didn’t have a lot of extra cash. But God makes it very clear what He wants, and there are at least three standards for sacrifices in Scripture.
Give the best. Israel had been taught to look through the flocks and find the one animal without defect or blemish to sacrifice. This wasn’t easy to do because this animal was the cream of the crop, the most expensive, the one used for breeding, but it was what God demanded.
Do you remember the story of Mary of Bethany found in John 12. She loved Jesus so much that she looked for a gift she could give as a expression of her devotion. She had been forgiven and so she wanted to give greatly. As she went through her possessions, she found an alabaster jar of expensive perfume, which was worth almost a year’s salary. She went to Jesus with the jar, broke it, and poured out its contents on His feet. She was remembered and blessed because she gave the best she had.
Give to God first. I love what we read in Exodus 36, They said to Moses, "The people are bringing more than we need to do the work the LORD commanded." Then Moses sent this command throughout the camp:"No man or woman should make anything else as a gift for the Holy Tent." So the people were kept from giving more, because what they had was already more than enough to do all the work
The Israelites were learning what it meant to be in a relationship with God. In this new relationship, the people began to bring offerings so they they could build a tabernacle. They gave so much that they had to be restrained from giving. They were not content to give God what was left over. When the Israelites gave to God it helped them to recognize that everything they had was a gift from Him.
According to the latest figures released from the IRS, those who make the least amount of money contribute a greater percent of their income to charitable causes. It seems that when we don’t have much we realize that what we do have is a gift and we want to give out of gratefulness. When we have more we think we deserve it and thought of giving to God is either absurd, or absent from our minds altogether. And yet, God calls us to give to Him first, no matter how difficult that may be.
Giving should cost something. Israel had been taught that giving should be sacrificial. In 2 Samuel 24, David realizes that his own sin had led Israel astray, and he was drawn to offer a sacrifice to God. He went to a place owned by a man named Araunah and told him that he wanted to buy his threshing floor so that he could build an altar to the Lord. Araunah generously offered to give the oxen for the offering and the wood for the fire, kind of a “turn-key” sacrifice. All David had to do was sit in the pew and everything would be taken care of for him.
But David would not take the shortcut, instead he makes this great statement in verse 24: “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” David knew that unless it cost us something it’s not a sacrifice.
Are you giving God the best? Are you striving to give Him the first? And does your giving cost you something? One of the best ways to check your heart is to take a look at how you are giving your time, talents, and treasures. Are you leaving God your leftovers, or are you giving Him priority?
Finally we must grasp the greatness of God (10-14).
Verse 10 should grab your attention in a hurry. God says He would much rather have us shut down the church than to come to Him with pathetic leftovers: Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you, says the LORD Almighty, and I will accept no offering from your hands. How would you feel today if when you came, the doors were closed and the locks were changed so that you couldn’t get in the building?
What we must understand is that God does not need our sacrifices. He would rather us shut everything down than to have us just go through the motions. If you’re not prepared to give God every inch of your life, then you can’t play church because He will close the doors. God says no worship at all is better than halfhearted sacrifice; He doesn’t need us to give Him anything.
This passage gives us the purpose behind offerings. Listen to these verses and see if you can detect a pattern: Verse 11: “My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations, says the LORD Almighty.”
Verse 14: “Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king, says the LORD Almighty, and my name is to be feared among the nations.”
Did you catch it? Every time God mentions sacrifice, He follows it with the phrase, I will be great or I will be feared. Sacrifice is directly linked to the greatness of God. That’s why when we give Him our best we are grasping the greatness of God. And the opposite is also true, when we offer Him whats left over, we are really saying that God doesn’t matter much to us. When we fail to celebrate God’s greatness by giving Him our best we become bored with God and excited about the world.
That’s what happened in verse 13. Instead of counting it a privilege to minister on God’s behalf, they exclaimed, What a burden! It was more trouble than it was worth in their minds. They even sniffed at it contemptuously, which means they acted like a teenager who is rolling their eyes at their parents. I imagine God looking at us and wondering why we get so bored with Him. God actually put this into a question in Micah 6:3: My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me.
This morning you sang, Take my life and let it be, consecrated, Lord to Thee, take my hands and let them move. At the impulse of Thy love. But is that really what you meant or where you just going through the motions? You promised to be a living sacrifice, but now you’re trying to crawl off the altar.
God is calling you to step it up! Are you giving God your best with your time, with your talents, and with your treasures? Or are you giving Him what is left over? If we’re going to give Him our best, we must first grasp His greatness and embrace an authentic faith. It all comes down to this. If you ever get a glimpse of the greatness of God, and what Jesus has done for you, you’ll never play church again and you’ll give God your best for the rest of your life.