Robbing God? How is This Possible?
By: Tyler S. Ramey
The idea of robbing God is an issue most often heard during stewardship sermons. The idea is drawn from Malachi 3:8-9, and is often misapplied. Let's back up a few verses, starting with verse 5, in order to help with the context of the passage. This will help us in applying it to our own lives. It reads:
"So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me," says the Lord Almighty.
"I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you," says the Lord Almighty.
"But you ask, 'How are we to return?'
"Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me.
"But you ask, 'How do we rob you?'
"In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse-the whole nation of you-because you are robbing me.
Many are unaware of the historical context of this passage and its proper application. The context of the passage is that the Jewish people, having returned to the Promised Land from Babylonian captivity, had failed to maintain the order and reforms implemented by Nehemiah, a contemporary of Malachi. This is vital to understanding how one robs God.
Nehemiah played a crucial role in overseeing the rebuild of Jerusalem as well as the Temple upon the return of the former captives. One of several reforms implemented was that of helping the poor (Ne. 5:2-13). The poor were being abused during that time through usury and other such things. Nehemiah insisted that the abuses cease. The book of Malachi was likely written after the city's rebuild, Nehemiah's return to royal service in Persia, and his subsequent return to Jerusalem. Upon his return, after a thirteen-year absence, he discovered the numerous failings of the people (Ne. 7:13-31). It was the sins of the Jewish people that were encountered by Nehemiah and which were addressed by Malachi.
A careful reading of the "robbing God" passage reveals that God was intimately concerned about the indifference of his people and their lack of care for those in need, i.e., widows, the fatherless, aliens, etc., (v. 5); the poor and others in need were being neglected. God attempted to correct the people through Malachi for failing to bless them with necessary care.
Failure to care for the needs of the Temple priests was also an issue. Those in the Temple service weren't being cared for through the required tithes. They were, therefore, forced into the fields (Ne. 13:10). This had an effect upon the people in that they were continually not being trained in religious matters. The priests were focused on their own survival and neglected their vocation to instruct the people (Mal. 2:1-9). The ignorance of the people's reply in verse eight when they said: "How do we rob you?" seems supportive of the neglect in their religious training. The people appeared unaware of their transgressions and sincere in their ignorance; they didn't know they were robbing God (v. 8).
Take notice of the connection between Malachi 3:5 and 3:8. We notice in verse five that certain people are found to be quite contemptible to the Lord, and if we heed our Lord's advocacy for the poor in Matthew 25:35-40 we should be more able to appreciate exactly how it is possible to truly "rob God" today.
Usually based on a failure to consider historical context, incorrect applications suggesting a person robs God by failing to pay tithes is a frequent occurrence. There is, however, a clear way that a believer can fall under the judgment of Malachi 3:8, but the judgment must complement what Malachi and, therefore, God, meant when he conveyed the words "Will a man rob God?"
God chastised the Jews for failing to bring their tithes (God's welfare system) to the storehouse (the place where provisions were stored) in order that there would be "food in his house," the Temple (Mal. 3:10) to distribute to those who needed it, i.e., the priests, widows, the fatherless, aliens, etc. This complements God's concern noted in Malachi 3:5 for which the historical context of the prophet's message is clear. And, it also establishes God's advocacy for the poor, and also those he has entrusted to instruct people in religious matters, when he essentially says that if you refrain from providing care to those in need, you might as well steal from him (God).
So in answer to the question of how it is possible to rob God, God suggests through Malachi's words, and within the context of his and Nehemiah's day, that we rob him when we fail to provide for those in need. Robbing God is simply a failure to extend our hands of blessing to those in need. [See in-depth article on Tithing].
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By: Tyler S. Ramey
Last year I had a conversation with a friend and fellow believer regarding a matter over which we disagreed. It was a cordial discussion that was met with friendly jabs and plenty of joking around, yet we were both quite serious about our opinions, each trying to convince the other to change his perspective. We became distracted from the issue we were batting around when my friend responded to something I said with "Who are you to judge?" Well, this introduced a whole new subject which simply couldn't go unaddressed. "Ah, the ever popular 'Who are you to judge?' or 'Judge not' defense," I replied.
These famous silencing tactics are frequently used by people-Christian and non-Christian alike-who wish to quiet those with whom they disagree. Usually, the one using such an approach is unable to legitimately defend his views, and simply resorts to this indirect name-calling. "Who are you to judge? or "Judge not" is often little more than name-calling since it's implied that being a "judger" is a terrible thing. Sometimes this is true, sometimes not. Let's check out the scriptures.
Matthew 7:1 and Luke 6:37 are the source verses for "Who are you to judge?" and "Judge not." Frequently, however, it's assumed that Christ's words in these verses are the only thing he had to say about the matter. If we carefully read the passages containing Matthew 7:1 and Luke 6:37, along with the broad teaching of related scriptures, we find that judging is something not always condemned by God's Word. In fact, if we read our Lord's words in Matthew 7:1-5 (cf., Luke 6:37-42), we discover that Jesus condemns a certain type of judgment, not all judgment. He says, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. . . . You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."
Jesus, clearly opposed to hypocritical judgment, tells the believer to first take the plank out his own eye, then remove the speck from a brother's eye. Often the assumption of those who say "Who are you to judge?" or "Judge not" is that Jesus condemned any and all judging, but such is not the case. Again, Jesus clearly seems to indicate first taking care of oneself, then worring about someone else; hypocritical judgment is the focus of Christ's condemnation, not all judgments. Incidentally, the underlying thought behind the non-judging trend within the Church is the culture of tolerance where no one is easily permitted to make moral judgments (public or otherwise) on anyone or anything.
Further supporting the notion that Christians are to judge some things are numerous scriptures where judging is encouraged, even commanded. While it is not the place for Christians to attempt to judge eternal matters of the soul-an actual impossibility anyway-several scriptures advocate judging.
Matthew 18:15-20 advocates judging a brother in the context of orderly discipline; I Corinthians 5:12 commands us to "judge those inside" the church; Titus 3:10 implores us to have nothing to do with a divisive person; I John 4:1 says to "test the spirits to see whether they are from God"; II John 10 warns us to be on guard against false teachers, a matter accomplished only through godly judgment; and, III John 9-12 gives an example of exposing the malicious deeds of a certain troublemaker.
So, the next time you feel silenced by someone calling you one of those dreaded judgmental types, first ask him if he is being judgmental about your judging, then follow the Apostle Paul's example as he follows Christ's (I Cor. 11:1). Biblically assess whether the matter at hand is one that requires a righteous judgment based on Scripture, and proceed accordingly. "Watch your life and doctrine closely." (I Tim. 4:16) (Also See Judge Not)
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On "Binding Satan"
by Ray C. Stedman
After pastoring for forty years I can state unequivocally that the most common cause of spiritual weakness in a Christian (or a church) is a failure to recognize the flesh in its disguise of religious zeal. Like Peter flashing a sword in Gethsemane the fleshly Christian thinks he is doing God's will and fighting God's battles for him.
Perhaps one of the commonest expressions of this misguided zeal is the practice of "binding Satan" before Christian ministry is attempted. The Word of God gives no justification for this practice. None of the apostles utilized this approach and no Scripture commands Christians to practice it. It is an exta-biblical performance, arising from the desire of the flesh to look committed and powerful in the service of God. Christians are told to "resist the devil" but never to bind him. Resisting the devil is done by putting on the whole armor of God, as Paul describes it in Ephesians 6. The "binding and loosing" mentioned in Matthew 18:18 refers to the agreement in prayer of believers in line with the promises of God revealed in his Word.
Another form of this same error is to ascribe the manifestations of the flesh to the work of demons, which then are ostensibly "cast out" of an individual through a "deliverance ministry." But Galatians 5:19-21 clearly tell us that lust, hatred, discord, jealousy, rage, envy, sexual orgies, and the like are not the work of demons but of the flesh. It is impossible to "cast out" the flesh during this lifetime, rather it is to be subdued by recognizing its evil character, refusing to yield mind or body to its impulses, and turning immediately to Jesus for the supply of his strength and purity, as Romans 6:13 so clearly outlines.
It is plainly the work of pastors and teachers to help Christians identify the flesh in themselves, by means of the Word of God, and to follow the pattern the Word describes to keep the flesh in subjection to the spirit and the individual free to live as the Lord has already made provision to do.
Footnote: See more about ‘Binding Satan’ in the next section. Immediately below.
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What does it mean when Jesus said "where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them"?
By: Tyler S. Ramey
(Original concept formulated from a discussion with Rick L. Walston, 1996)
Matthew 18:20 is an often misinterpreted passage of Scripture. In fact, there are a couple of aspects to Christ's words in the immediate context of the passage that are worthy of comment since they are frequently misapplied.
A frequent part of group prayer is a "reminder" to God that "where two or three come together in my name" there Jesus is in the midst of them. This phrase has become an accepted and often expected formula for reinforcing the idea that agreement among two or three believers will better "seal a deal" with God. But when we look carefully at the scriptures, we fail to find justification for such a concept. We find the Scripture reference for this idea in Matthew 18:20. It says, "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." But what about a closer look? Let's "back pedal" a few verses to verse fifteen in order to gain some clarity, then we'll read through to verse twenty. It says:
If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that "every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses." If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
‘I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”
It's unfortunate to note that this passage has been used to justify everything from "binding demons" and "loosing the power of God" (v. 18) to securing material possessions (v. 19). But a careful reading reveals something different.
In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus is specifically talking about the Christian who commits an offense against another Christian. His instructions are very clear; confusion enters where many have taken Christ's words from their context and applied them as a "wherever two or three come together" prayer formula. Since Jesus' words in verses 18-20 are specific to the question being addressed, let's examine them carefully to see what he has actually said.
Remember, Jesus is specifically talking about the Christian who has offended another brother. He continues with that message and says, "I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (v. 18). Now, what is it that will be bound? What will be loosed?
Jesus, after laying down the instructions for dealing with an offending brother, confirms the earthly judgment of the individuals, the one, then the two or three, then the church by saying, "whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (emphasis added). Basically, Jesus is saying that the discipline of the offending brother will be affirmed (bound and/or loosed) in heaven as it is on earth, that is, when his instructions have been followed in dealing with the offender.
Remember, Jesus is still specifically talking about the Christian who has offended another brother when he says, "Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven" (v. 19). Now, what is it that happens when two on earth agree about anything (in the context of disciplining an offending brother)?
Jesus reinforced his instructions in dealing with an offending brother by telling us that as long as we have followed those instructions we can expect God the Father's divine approval and response. If "two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven." The Father will respond favorably to the discipline executed by believers upon an offending brother as long as the discipline is just and has followed the divine order laid down by Jesus. But wait, there's another portion of this passage of Scripture. It's the famous "formula" verse!
Verse twenty says, "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." Now, why is Jesus interested in being with two or three who have come together in his name (in the context of disciplining an offending brother)?
Far from being a formula to secure God's attention to our prayers, Jesus is simply informing us that when two or three come together in his name to discipline an offending brother, there He is, as another witness to the discipline being applied.
"Stay true to the Word as one who "correctly handles the Word of truth" Paul (II Tim. 2:15)
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Q. I've been told if a certain teaching is not of God it will die out and that if it is of God, it won't be stopped. Is this a Biblical perspective? And, what would be a biblical approach to confronting false teaching?
A. The idea that "if a certain teaching is not of God it will die out and if it is of God, it won't be stopped originally comes from the mouth of a Pharisee named Gamaliel. In Acts 5:35, Gamaliel addresses the Jewish religious leaders concerning the apostles whom they arrested. He said, ". . . in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God."
Now, this idea is clearly preposterous, for if the same reasoning is used to measure divine approval or condemnation upon teachings based on success or failure, that is, then one would have to conclude that the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses operate by divine approval. Such an idea is obviously unbiblical as well as ridiculous. Well, then, what would be a biblical approach to handling false teaching since "riding out a storm" (as in Gamaliel's approach) is not a scriptural option?
The scriptural pattern of confronting false teaching is very confrontive. Since false teaching is a public issue, confronting it will likewise be a public matter. Consider the public confrontation by the apostle Paul to Peter in Galatians 2:11-14 regarding what is known today as the "Galatian heresy." Verse fourteen says: "When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I [Paul] said to Peter in front of them all . . ." (emphasis added).
Additional examples could be cited to show that it is impeccably clear from Scripture that confronting false doctrine is a matter that quite often must be handled publicly in a firm and uncompromising way. This is the loving and scriptural approach as exemplified by Jesus and the apostles. By: Tyler S. Ramey
Note: Gamaliel was not a Christian and neglected to mention the third possible source of activity.. satan!
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Q. Did Jesus Actually Create an Alcoholic Beverage at the Wedding of Cana?
By: Tyler S. Ramey
A. Many an argument has been offered in an attempt to make Jesus a "prohibitionist." However, the facts yielded from careful Bible interpretation in lieu of personal problems with alcohol (past or present), show a Jesus who clearly partook of alcoholic beverages and, in fact, created the choicest of alcoholic wines at the wedding of Cana (John 2:1-11). Let's take a look at the most revealing portion of the scriptural account.
After Jesus had performed His first earthly miracle, "the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine . . . Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, 'Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now'" (John 2:9-10).
Typically, the strongest (or choice) wine would be served to guests first and then the cheaper, watered-down wine would be served when the guests "didn't care" so to speak or, at least couldn't tell a poor quality wine from a good one because of their over indulgence. Those who had drank enough to "be happy" or "feel no pain" could no longer tell they weren't being graced with strong wine, which was considered best, and were then given the cheaper, watered-down drink.
The master of the banquet upon tasting the wine Jesus created was amazed at the apparent generosity of the bridegroom when he, the master of the banquet, specifically commented on the quality of the wine by saying, "Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now." The master of the banquet tasted and immediately identified the stronger wine which was considered the best.
Clearly, then, Jesus created the very best alcoholic wine at the wedding at Cana of Galilee. No amount of emotionally charged argumentation, wishful thinking, or poor Bible study is going to alter the revealed facts contained in Scripture. [See Related Article... The Bible and Alcohol]
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