Practicing the Promises of God
August 14th, 1983 @ 10:50 AM
PRACTICING THE PROMISES OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-14-83 10:50 a.m.
And God bless the great multitudes of you who on radio and television are sharing with us the grace, and the goodness, and the blessing of our Lord in the First Baptist Church of Dallas. This is the pastor delivering the message, the second one in the doctrinal series on economology. It is entitled Practicing The Promises Of God, and in our Bible, we turn to the last book of the Old Testament, to Malachi.
Malachi means "my messenger," and he is an evangelist of the first order: Malachi, Malachi, "My messenger," God’s messenger, God’s evangelist. He addresses himself to the day of apostasy. The people have drifted away, gone away from the Lord, and he describes that apostasy, that going away from God. In the first chapter of Malachi, verse 6, he says:
A son honoreth his father, and the servant his master:
if then I be your Father, where is Mine honor?
and if I be a master, where is My reverence?
In the second chapter of Malachi, verse 11, he describes that apostasy:
Judah hath dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah hath profaned the holiness of the Lord which He loved, and hath married the daughter of a strange god.
The apostasy, the going away from the Lord: not only that, but the messenger, the evangelist, the prophet of the Lord gives an illustration of the apostasy, the going away, of the people from God. In chapter 1, verse 8, he says:
If ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not an evil? and if ye offer the lame and the sick, is it not an evil? offer it unto thine governor; will he be pleased with thee?,saith the Lord of hosts.
Look at verse 13, Malachi chapter 1, verse 13, "You say," with regard to the worship of the Lord:
You say, Behold, what a weariness it is! and ye have sneered
– at the worship of God –
Ye brought that which was torn, and the lame, and the sick; thus ye brought an offering – to God.
Should I accept this of your hand? saith the Lord.
The apostasy, the going away of the people of God: They brought to the Lord; they gave to the Lord, the leftovers, the unwanted. they brought to God the sick, and the blind, and the lame, and the halt, and the cripple, and the torn from their flocks. And they kept for themselves all that was fine, and well, and strong; but they gave to God what they didn’t want. And the Lord said: "Is that right? Offer it to the governor of the land and see if he would rejoice in your largess" [Malachi 1:8].
That means that when we come before God, the offering we bring to Him, should represent something of a cost and of a sacrifice. When David came to Araunah on the top of Mt. Moriah – where later the temple was built – God had said to him to make an offering to the Lord to assuage the anger and wrath of God upon the sins of the people, and when the king approached Araunah, Araunah said:
My lord king, I give it to you. Here are my oxen for sacrifice, and here are my implements of farming for wood. And this is the threshing floor. It is yours. I give it to you.
And David replied: Nay, but I will buy it of thee at a price, for I will not offer to the Lord my God that which doth cost me nothing.
[2 Samuel 24: 22-24]
Any time I come before the Lord and bring my offering, it ought to be something of a cost and of a sacrifice.
So Malachi, the evangelist and messenger and prophet of God says to the people, "A sign and a type of your apostasy is that you offer Him the sick, and the lame, and the torn, and the unwanted, and the leftovers" [Malachi 1:8]. So the prophet and evangelist, calling the people back to God, he says, in chapter 3, verse 7: "Let us return to God! Let us return to God." And the people replied: "Yes, let us return to God. But how shall we return? Wherein shall we return?" And the reply is a thousand miles different from what I would ever have thought for. He replies to them, "God will bless us, and be with us, and open the windows of heaven, and pour out an abounding immeasurable blessing upon us, if – " and he answers:
Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed Me. But ye say: Wherein have we robbed Thee? In tithes and in offerings,
Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, 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.
[Malachi 3: 8,10]
"Your hearts are not big enough and your arms are not wide enough to receive the abounding blessings I will pour out upon you if you will return to Me with a sense of stewardship."
Well, I’m frank to say I’m surprised. I wasn’t looking for that. So I take it before the Lord, and I pray about it, and ask God to show me what it is He is saying to us. And the Lord speaks to us in our souls and minds through His blessed Word, and this is it. A sense of stewardship before God carries with it, inevitably, a moral and spiritual value, as I walk, and believe in, and trust in the Lord; they’re concomitants, they go together.
Now that is a marvelous thing from heaven itself. When I come before God, with a sense of stewardship, a partnership, it carries with it moral and spiritual values; as I trust in and have faith in the Lord. Otherwise, a tithe is nothing but a gimmick to get money out of a reluctant people, or it is a shrewd bargain we make with God. You see, if a man can convince himself, "If I tithe, I’ll get ten dollars for every one that I give, or I’ll get a hundred dollars for every ten that I offer," my brother, my friend, who wouldn’t trade a one dollar bill for a ten dollar bill, or a ten dollar bill for a one hundred dollar bill? The most avaricious man in Dallas would be the most avid tither.
It’s not that way. Nor is it a gimmick to squeeze money out of a reluctant, and unwilling, and unyielding congregation. It begins in a return to God; in a great revival of the Spirit and presence of the Lord; it begins in an experience with our Lord. That is the blessing!
All of the manipulation, and ingenuity, and scheming appeals that we can make are barren and fruitless without that coming to God; that returning to the Lord; that experience with Christ. It is that that opens the windows of heaven and makes it possible for God to bless us in our worship and in our offering.
When I was a youth, I was in Southern Seminary in Kentucky, when I was twenty-one years old. When I was in the seminary, the first executive secretary of our Southern Baptist Convention, Dr. Austin Crouch, came up there from Nashville, Tennessee. And he chose, he brought with him some of the leaders of our communion, of our association of churches. And they were having one-day stewardship convocations in the associations of Kentucky. And to my amazement he asked me, Dr. Crouch asked me to be a member of that little team. So I went with him and the other leaders of our denomination,holding stewardship convocations in the associations of Kentucky.
Now Dr. Austin Crouch was a pastor until he was invited to head our Southern Baptist denomination. And in his address, I remember so poignantly something that he described. In the church he was pastor, they were getting ready for a tremendous appeal. So in the congregation and on the fellowship of deacons was a most affluent man who didn’t give particularly to the church, but they needed his help and support. And they devised, said Dr. Crouch, an ingenious plan to get him to give.
They called a meeting of the fellowship of deacons and seated them around a very large conference table. And the pastor, Dr. Crouch, sat here; and to his left sat the chairman of the fellowship; and then the deacons around; and then last of all, and to the right of the pastor, sat this affluent man. So the pastor was to introduce the appeal and then the first man, the deacon here, was to reply what he was going to give; and then the next one, and the next one, and all around, and last of all this affluent deacon. And they thought by that time, by the time all those men had made their tremendous commitment, that he would be ashamed and he wouldn’t be reluctant to respond in kind. So they did it.
Dr. Crouch described that meeting. Here he is, then the chairman of the deacons made his commitment, large, gracious; and then the next one, and the next one, and on around, and then finally to him, to this affluent man. And then, Dr. Crouch said, the man stood up and he said, "My brethren, I’ve been praying about this. I’ve been talking to God about this. And the Lord has said to me," and he named an astonishing figure more than all of the rest of them put together! And Dr. Crouch said, "What we need is not manipulation and shrewd schemes and human ingenious devices; what we need is an experience with God!"
Well, that’s been so many years ago, but it stayed in my heart. Not schemes, and manipulations, and adroit, devious devices; what we need is a return to God! We need a great revival in our souls! We need the consecration, the devotion. And when we do, then our offering, our tithe, becomes a beautiful and marvelous experience with the Lord.
That is a remarkable thing: our circumstances, our seasons and times and however it is we are has nothing to do with that wonderful fellowship with God.
A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet of God,
O Lord, revive Thy work in the midst of the years,
in the midst of the years make it known,
Now let me read what that does:
Although the fig tree may not blossom, and the fruit not be on the vines; the labor of the olive fail, and the fields yield no fruit; the flock cut off from the fold and no herd in the stalls.
[Habakkuk 3:1-2, 17]
Can you imagine a picture of destitution and drought and loss like this? Nothing! Nothing! No fig tree; no fruit on the vine; no labor of the field yielding; the flock cut off; no herd in the stall – nothing! Let me read the next verse: "Yet will I rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation" [Habakkuk 3:18].
That’s God in our souls and in our lives. Nor does affluence have anything to do with it. Nothing at all! For the years past – years and years, every year – I used to go to the mission field to preach. Three times I went all the way around the world, preaching on our mission fields.
In West Africa, I went with one of our missionary doctors visiting his clan settlements. Every month he made that large arc. They were here, here, here, in a large arc. Lepers pushed out to die; and he gathered them together; and gathered them in this settlement, and in this one, and in this one; and he ministered to them. Little children have leprosy – did you know that? In those clan settlements would be little children, would be young people.
Well this one, large one, they had made a church out of mud. The whole thing was made out of mud: little choir loft was mud, made out of mud; the pulpit, the pulpit stand, the pews, all made out of mud. All of them lepers – I preached to them on the great Physician. Well, I thought of a church in Malaysia; four hundred members; every one of them a leper, and everyone a tither! No one made as much as twenty cents a week; but they paid their pastor; and they supported two missionaries; and they helped those who were less fortunate, even than they.
It has nothing to do with our economic status or our influence. It has to do with God. It depends upon our experience with the Lord. There are those who are much in the leadership of the city of Dallas, in its spiritual life, who don’t believe in bringing a tenth, a tithe, to the Lord. So they say to me when they talk to me, they say, "If you teach a man that one-tenth of what he has belongs to God, then you also teach him that nine-tenths doesn’t belong to God and he can use it in worldly ways."
That’s what he says. It is exactly as an experience I had when I preached one time here on the eternal security of the believer. "If I give my heart to Christ, He promises me He will write my name in the Book of Life, and He will save me forever." "I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish" [John 10:28].
Well, after I got through preaching, why, one of the visitors here in the congregation came up to me and said, "If I believed that, that I I was eternally secure in Christ, why, I would just go out here and sin all I wanted to. I’d never be lost. I would never fall from grace. I would just go out and sin all I wanted to."
Well, I asked him, "How much sin do you want to do?"
I’d do that – just go out here and sin all I want to. I’d cuss all I want to cuss; get drunk all I want to get drunk; steal all I want to steal; lie all I want to lie; be promiscuous as much as I want to be promiscuous. I’d do that! But when I got saved, when the Spirit of the Lord came into my life, I don’t want to get drunk; I don’t want to cuss; I don’t want to steal; I don’t want to lie; I don’t want to be promiscuous. I just don’t!
It’s the same way with the man as he comes before God with an offering and a tithe: "Lord, the other nine-tenths I’ll use pleasing to my Savior." It just carries with it – it’s the same.
Not only returning to God carries with it that moral and spiritual overtone of a walk in faith and trust with God, but it carries with it a wonderful acknowledgment, and a stated avowal, that God and I are partners. I am His steward. I don’t have any breath but that God gives it to me. Breath is a gift of God. There’s not any sunshine but God’s sunshine; there’s not any failing rain but God’s rain; there’s not any increase but God’s increase; there’s not any harvest but God’s harvest. All of it is a gift from God. And I offer my labor of love.
As Paul wrote in 1 Timothy [6:7], we brought nothing into this world and we shall certainly carry nothing out. I am a partner with God; and, as such, He is my first creditor. That’s why the first fruits belong to Him. And He says, "Honor Me with the first fruits of all thy substance; so shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses bursting out with new wine" [Proverbs 3: 9-10]. He and I are partners. This is God’s part: the breath, the life, the sun, the rain, the increase, that’s God’s. And my part is the labor and love of my hands; and when I honor God, God honors me.
I had the strangest experience this week. For years I had heard about a little tract and the story that followed it: "What We Owe and How to Pay It." Did you know this week, this last week, that tract fell into my hands. "What We Owe and How to Pay It;" I had never seen it before. I just heard this story about it. In a county-seat town, there was a young merchant man standing in front of his store, in the morning, in the sunlight, just standing there at the beginning of a new day. And down the street, came a country parson; tall, thin with age. And when he came up to the young man, he greeted him kindly and put in his hand a tract and sweetly said, "Son, read that," and walked on. And the young fellow looked at the tract and that was the name of it – I had never seen it until last week, "What We Owe and How to Pay It." Well, the young fellow took it into the store and he read it. It was a tract on partnership with God, tithing. He changed his whole outlook on his work and on his life. And God wonderfully blessed him.
He had a brother in another state, a merchant man facing bankruptcy, failure. He went to see him and brought with him that tract: "What We Owe and How to Pay It," and gave it into the hands of his brother. And his brother said: "But I can’t do that. I have debts to pay. I am going bankrupt!"
And the visiting brother said: "But oh, oh, try paying God first. Make Him your first creditor and ask His blessing on you." And the rest of the story is one that you would guess. Immediately, things turned in his heart, turned in his store, turned in his business, turned in his family. That’s God!
And that leads me to my last avowal about this returning to the Lord; it carries with it an incomparable blessing. When I read here: "I will open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing" [Malachi 3:10], I have heard that before: "The windows of heaven being opened." Where did I ever hear that before? Then I read in Genesis:
In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the same day were all the fountains of great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.
And the rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights.
That’s where I heard that, "The windows of heaven,I will open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there is not room enough to receive it." The text is that God is reaching for us that He might bless us. God wants us to return to Him that He might bless us. God wants us to be faithful in the sense of stewardship, that He might bless us. The purpose of the text is that He might bless us. God wants to bless us. We can’t be blessed when we rob God, and rob His missionaries, and rob His people, and rob His church. We can’t be blessed. We dry up in our souls, in our grasping selfishness.
God wants to bless us. And when I come to God in consecration and dedication and bring to Him my tithe and my offering out of the fullness of my heart, there are two things that happen. Number one: I step into the supernatural. Just immediately, my heart on the inside responds. When I do right, always there’s strength that comes to the soul. It shines in my face. You’ll never see a dour-faced, long-faced tither. Never! The life of God is in the soul. And when God’s in our souls, it shines in our faces: You’re a different kind of a person; you’re somebody else – God is in you.
Then the other: when I come before God in the fullness of my heart, with a tenth of my increase, and an offering beside, I bless somebody else. You see, giving to God is just another name for helping somebody else; preaching the gospel, saving the lost, teaching our children, assembling our families in praise and worship – it’s just another name for those. Jesus Himself said in Matthew 25:40: "Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, you have done it unto Me." And when I give to God, that is another name for ministry to somebody else. That’s all!
God says to Europe: "Nine potatoes for you and one potato for your brother." God says to Asia: "Nine grains of rice for you and for your rice field, and one grain of rice for your brother." God says to Africa: "Nine eggs for you and one egg for your brother." God says to America: "Nine ears of corn for you and your family, and one ear of corn for your brother." Nine for you and one for him!
In the preparation of this message from Malachi, I wanted to say something, but I thought: "O Lord, that’s blasphemous for me to compare myself to the great omnipotent God. I ought not to do that!" But there wasn’t any way that I could say it as I felt it, so I just said, "Lord, in humility, I’m going to make the comparison." When the Lord God made the starry firmament, He looked at it and said: "That’s good! Those planets and those shining suns in the chalice of the sky – that’s good," said God, "That’s good!"
So when the Lord made the beautiful and verdant earth, with its teeming herbs, and grasses, and trees, God looked upon it, and God said: "That’s good! That’s good." And when the Lord spoke to the air and it was filled with fowls and birds; and unto the sea and it was filled with the fish; and to the land mass and it was teeming with animals, God looked at it, and He said: "That’s good! That’s great" [Genesis 1:3-31].
Well, when I bring a tithe and an offering to the Lord, I’m like that, just like that, just like God in that. I go back here and I look at these children, and I say, "That’s good! I’m glad I had a part in it." And I look at our teenagers, guiding them in the way of the Lord, and I say: "That’s good! I’m glad I have a part in it." And I look at our young marrieds who are beginning to build their homes and families, and those young adults, and I say: "That’s great! I’m glad I have a part in it." And I look at our men and women in the prime of their womanhood and manhood, guiding them and encouraging them in the faith of the Lord, and I say, "That’s great! That’s good. I’m glad I have a part in it." And I look at our older people. When I got through preaching this morning, one of our members came to me with a little – here it is – with a little note in my hand, "One of our sweetest members is dying. Would you go see? Pray?" I’ll be right there! And I look upon the ministries of our church to our old, and I say, "That’s great! I’m glad to have a part in it." And I look upon the nineteen chapels of our church, in its ministering to the city; one of which you see once in a while, the Inner City Chapel. All the ministries of those chapels; feeding the hungry, gathering clothes for their naked backs, taking them to the doctor, winning them to Christ. I look upon it, and I say, "Lord, that’s great. That’s good. I’m glad I have a part in it."
And as I say, on the mission fields, world without end have I looked at that Christian doctor and that wonderful educator and those blessed, blessed witnesses for Jesus leaving home, and family, and people, and country, and language, and giving themselves that they might also know our Lord. I look upon it, and I say, "That’s good, that’s great! I’m glad I have a part in it." Now that is what God intends for us. It’s an experience, it’s a revival, it’s a returning to God, and that is the blessing.
O Lord, how thankful we ought to be that. He never gave the propagation, and the preaching, and the extension of His kingdom to the angels, He could have, but He gave it to us, and we share it with Him. We are God’s fellow workers; He and we. Now may we stand together?
Our Lord in heaven, our hearts overflow. They abound when we think of the goodness of God to us. And our Lord, to remember somebody else in that goodness pleases Thee, blesses them, encourages us in the faith; and to respond, Lord, is a privilege. Thank Thee for it.
And in this moment when our people pray and wait, a family you to give yourself to God, come. A couple you, a one somebody you, "Pastor, the Lord has spoken to my heart this day, and I am on the way." There is time and to spare. If you are in the balcony, down one of these stairways, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, "I have decided for God, pastor, and I am coming. I want to take Him as my Savior." Or, "I want to be baptized." Or, "I want to give my life in a special calling." Or, "I want to put my life with these dear people in this wonderful church." Come and a thousand times welcome.
And our Lord we praise Thy name for Thy abounding goodnesses to us and for this sweet harvest You send us, in Thy saving name and keeping and wonderful name, amen.
While we sing, welcome. Come.