Financial statements are an important part of church life. We receive periodic reports keeping us up to date with how we are doing in meeting our budget and expenses. Did you know that just a few days before Jesus died on the cross, He also issued a financial statement? Jesus reported on the income of the temple treasury. However, Jesus said nothing about large contributions made by the rich. He reported on the receipt of “two small copper coins, which amount to a cent.”
In Mark 12:41-42 we read:
41 And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums.
42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent.
43 Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury;
44 for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.”
If you had been with Jesus that afternoon, would the large amounts of money offered by the rich distracted you from noticing the widow with the seemingly insignificant coins? It shouldn’t surprise you that Jesus’ attitude about an offering is different from the attitude of most of us. Just as Jesus watched the offering that day and called his disciples to a proper perspective on giving, Jesus watches our offerings today and calls us to view the offering from a right perspective.
There are three mistaken attitudes about giving which seem to be common within the church today. As I expose these wrong beliefs, it is my prayer that you will find that giving an offering is one of the rewarding experiences of the Christian life. The weekly collection is not a necessary evil; it is an exciting part of worship.
1. SOME THINK THE OFFERING IS OFFENSIVE
As people saved by faith, we understand that an offering is not for the purpose of acceptance before God. The offering is a means of demonstrating our love, faith and obedience to God. It is also a way of giving praise and glory to God.
A. The Master’s Teaching About the Offering
In the first few pages of the Bible (Genesis 4:3-7) we find Cain and Abel bringing a sacrificial offering to God.
3 So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground.
4 Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering;
5 but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell.
6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?
7 “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”
In that first offering, we see that God accepted Abel’s offering and rejected Cain’s. Why? God accepts or rejects our offering according to the attitude of our heart.
Noah made an offering when he could finally stand on dry ground after the flood. There are many examples of offerings being presented to God from the very first pages of the Bible, through the Law of Moses and the remainder of Old Testament history.
In the New Testament, we find that it is appropriate to present an offering to the Lord. The parents of infant Jesus brought the prescribed sacrifice for a firstborn son (Luke 2:24). When Jesus healed the leper in Luke 5, He instructed the healed man to offer the expected sacrifice. Jesus presented offerings to the Father. He even gave Himself as the ultimate sin offering.
The practice of giving an offering to God is practiced by the New Testament church, the Apostles and throughout church history. Virtually every reference in Scripture to an offering demonstrates that it is a positive expression of thanksgiving and commitment to God.
Just as Cain had the wrong idea about giving an offering, Jesus warns us about giving with wrong motives in Matthew 5:23-24, “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.
B. The Modern Thinking About the Offering
There is a disturbing trend within the church today that communicates that an offering is an uncomfortable necessity. It is declared in many ways, most often unintentionally, by what is said and the attitude with which it is presented.
In an attempt to make visitors at a worship service feel welcome, they will sometimes by told that they are not expected to participate in the offering. We invite them to share in every other aspect of the worship experience—sing the hymns and choruses, pray, listen to the sermon, and fellowship with others present. Yet, we are afraid that if they are are asked to worship by giving they will not return next Sunday.
At times, I have been guilty of emphasizing that the offering is for the members to support the ministry and program of the church. While it is true the church needs money to operate, the primary purpose of the offering portion of the service is worship! We give as an expression of praise and worship, not to pay the bills. When Christians understand the true nature of an offering, there will be a sufficient amount to meet the financial obligations of the church.
Remember, the most offensive thing that occurs in our worship service is not the offering, but the preaching of Christ. “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
The offering time of the worship service is one of the most visible expressions of worship. It not only declares our faith and appreciation to God, but it also serves as a testimony to those around us. When the heart is right, we can avoid the temptation of “Pharisee giving” to impress others (Matthew 6:1-2).
2. SOME THINK THAT TITHING IS OBSOLETE.
Some Christians believe that tithing is an Old Testament practice that is no longer valid for the Christian. They reason that it is part of the Law of Moses which was made obsolete with the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus. Therefore, according to their thinking, there are no guidelines about how much God asks His people to give to the offering.
Some point to the truth that Jesus demands a total commitment, so ultimately everything belongs to God. This idealistic position allows individual to make his own determination as to how much should actually be placed in the offering plate. It is somewhat reminiscent of the Pharisaical practice of “corban,” where money was dedicated to God but retained for personal use.
A. The Reality of the Tithe
The tithe definitely belongs to God. Leviticus 27:30 says, “Thus all the tithe of the land, of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s; it is holy to the Lord.”
God lays claim to ten percent of what we have from the very beginning. For those who think that the tithe is no longer expected by God because it was part of the Law of Moses, I want to show you two facts.
First, the tithe predates Mosaic Law. In Genesis 14:20, Abraham offered the tithe.
Second, Jesus commanded the tithe to be given. Notice what Jesus said in Matthew 23:23, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.”
Jesus criticized the Pharisees for not practicing the qualities of justice, mercy and faithfulness; but He also commanded them not to ignore the tithe. The fact that the Pharisees did not accuse Jesus of neglecting the tithe seems to indicate that Jesus also tithed.
There is no reference in the New Testament writings which questions the continuing practice of the tithe. Other Old Testament laws, such as eating regulations and sacrifices, were clearly set aside by the writers of the New Testament. However, the tithe is not nullified.
B. The Reward of the Tithe
God teaches the tithe is the most basic component of His economic system. To fail with the tithe is to not only miss the blessings of God, but it also brings about difficulties. Most studies indicate that most Christians only give 2.5% of their income to the church. In other words, most Christians only give ¼ of what God asks with the tithe. Listen to Malachi 3:8-12,
8 “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings.
9 “You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you!
10 “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.
11 “Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of the ground; nor will your vine in the field cast its grapes,” says the Lord of hosts.
12 “All the nations will call you blessed, for you shall be a delightful land,” says the Lord of hosts.
God established the tithe for your benefit, not for His. God does not need your money. Tithing teaches you to master your money instead letting your money master you. There is actually a difference between a tithe and an offering. The tithe (10%) was what God expected. The offering (anything above the tithe) was what God encouraged. Don’t shoot the messenger, but if you aren’t faithful with the tithe, then you have never actually given an offering to God!
Did you notice that God said they were running short of their personal budget because they were greedy (v. 9)?
Did you see God’s promise to bless you for faithful tithing (vv. 10b-11)?
Did you see God’s promise to bless our church when members tithe faithfully (v. 10)?
3. SOME THINK THAT SACRIFICE IS OBSCENE.
There was a pastor who stood before his congregation on a Sunday morning to encourage them to give to a special offering. The pastor exposed the discomfort of the situation by reassuring everyone that no one would be asked to make a significant sacrifice. He said it had been calculated that if everyone would simply gather up the spare change from their pockets and purses each week and bring it to the church, the goal would be met in several months. His final words were, “You’ll not even miss the money!”
Are we moving toward the ultimate offertory experience—one that does not cost us anything? There is a movement to make the offering as painless and unnoticed as possible. Have we become uncomfortable with the idea of sacrifice when it comes to giving an offering? The idea of offering without sacrifice is foreign to the teaching of the Bible.
A. Sacrifice Was Expected in the Old Testament
The word “sacrifice” is used more than 140 times in the Old Testament. It was always expected of God’s people. When King David was presented with the opportunity to give an offering to God which would not cost anything, he replied with these words in 2 Samuel 24:24, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing.” David refused to present an offering to God that did not cost him something.
It would be difficult to explain to Abraham that God did not require sacrifice as he stood over his son, Isaac, ready to plunge a knife through Isaac’s heart. God is not afraid to ask for our best and most significant possession.
B. Sacrifice Is Exemplified in the New Testament
Jesus commended several people who gave offerings. In each instance, the offering was characterized by sacrifice. Think of some of these examples.
There was the boy who gave five small barley loaves and two small fish to feed the multitude. Barley was the grain of the poor and from this we know the boy was from a poor family. His meager lunch was a very sacrificial gift to Jesus.
And then there was the widow who gave two insignificant coins. Her great sacrifice has been remembered for 2,000 years. She certainly sacrificed because she could have kept one coin and still have given 50%. Instead, she willingly gave everything. The wealthy, who put in large sums of money, were not praised by Jesus because they did not sacrifice.
Giving that is not costly sounds more like the world than the Christian faith. We must be careful that we don’t present the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a “good bargain.” Jesus spoke of taking up our cross. I don’t think Jesus would encourage us to give only our loose change because we would never miss it.
Remember, just as Jesus sat and watched the offering on that day recorded in Mark 12, He watches as we give every Lord’s day. Jesus is not concerned so much with how much we give. Jesus looks at our hearts to see why we give and how we give.