A few days ago, my daughter wanted to surprise me by buying me a bakery treat with her own money. As we were getting ready to go, she sat down, opened up her little change purse, and removed a dollar bill and some coins. My wife asked her what she was doing. My daughter’s response was, “I’m taking this money out so I don’t use it on accident. It’s for Bible class.”
We were both floored. We’ve let her put money in the contribution plate since she was very little. My wife used to just let our daughter choose some coins to put in out of her wallet, and that eventually transitioned to our girl choosing coins from her own change purse. She takes it very seriously too — carefully choosing the shiniest coins or crispest bills and then meticulously arranging them in the plate. I just didn’t know how much value she placed on giving.
It’s easy for any aspect of our Christian lives to go on the back burner when we aren’t physically in the church building. My daughter’s actions really brought home Colossians 3:17 that says we should do all in the name of the Lord and Romans 12:1, where Paul calls us to be living sacrifices. Passages like these remind us that we should be putting Christ first all of the time.
Contribution can seem like such an insignificant act of worship, but it’s still important. A child putting money in the plate from her little change purse may seem like a small act, but it makes a difference. In that moment of setting some of her own money aside for “Bible class,” she taught us volumes about spiritual priorities. She was a light. She wanted to do something nice for me with her money — that was selfless by itself — but then she took that next step. She remembered God first.
What do you think about when you hear the word liberal? I was raised to equate the word with all sorts of negative qualities, and I imagine many of you were too. It was a word that denoted an enemy of truth: “His views are too liberal.” It was a word to discredit political enemies: “Don’t vote for that liberal candidate.” It was a word to identify those congregations: “We can’t visit there. That’s a liberal church of Christ.”
When we use the word liberal, we create all sorts of negative imagery fostered by the past twenty or so years of political culture wars. But this post is not about politics or political philosophy. It is not about sound doctrine or church institutionalization. It’s not about church daycare or charities. It’s about individual Christians being liberal the way God is liberal.
Take a look at a portion of the Sabbath law in Deuteronomy 15:12-15 (NKJV):
If your brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and serves you six years, then in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. And when you send him away free from you, you shall not let him go away empty-handed; you shall supply him liberally from your flock, from your threshing floor, and from your winepress. From what the LORD has blessed you with, you shall give to him. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this thing today.
Under the Law of Moses, if I owed you a huge debt, I could indenture myself to you as payment. Then, every Sabbath year, those who owned these indentured servants were to let them go free, but it didn’t stop there. The masters were to liberally supply their former servants from their own blessings. The servants in no way earned this favor; their service was paying off a past debt. Instead, this was supposed to remind both servant and master of God’s blessings to His people. As God was generous to His servants, so His people should be generous too.
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
– James 1:2-5 (NKJV)
God is liberal with His gifts for us today as well. Not just in the knowledge of His word, but God is liberal in grace, in forgiveness, and in goodness. All good things are from Him, and He pours His grace and forgiveness on us when we cannot earn it or deserve it (see Romans 5). Like the servant in Deuteronomy, we are undeserving of the gifts He bestows upon us. We have a debt of sin we cannot possibly pay, but God liberally grants us grace and redemption in His Son. We should, therefore, be as liberal with our own gifts.
This means we forgive when we don’t feel the other party deserves it. This means we show kindness and goodness to all around us. This means we assume the best when someone is at their worst, and it means we give of our time and resources to benefit others. The first and easiest way we can practice God’s grace is to give — to individuals, to families, to churches, to charitable causes. We can give our money. We can donate food, books, clothes, and other blessings. We can donate our time. If we cannot liberally give of our physical blessings, how will we ever share our spiritual ones?
I’m a conservative Christian, and I seek to conservatively practice the faith brought by Jesus and practiced by His disciples, but we cannot allow conservatism to become a stumbling block. While we seek to conservatively preserve God’s way and prevent worldly influences from corrupting the gospel of hope, let’s also take note of the ways we should be liberal — in our giving, in forgiveness, with grace, with goodness.
Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; m he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; o he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.
And he looked up, and saw the rich men that were casting their gifts into the treasury. And he saw a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites.
And he said, “Of a truth I say unto you, This poor widow cast in more than they all: for all these did of their superfluity cast in unto the gifts; but she of her want did cast in all the living that she had” (Luke 21:1-4).
It is easy for us humans to be enraptured by numbers; it is less easy to get excited about proportions. We tend to put much more value on the numbers than on the proportions.
The treasury box was placed in the Temple so that Jews could leave their financial gifts to provide for the sacrifices, incense, and other such things for the Temple.
Most observers on that spring day in 30 CE would have appreciated all of the gifts of the rich. They were, no doubt, putting in plenty of shekels or denarii to keep the incense burning and the animals on the altar. A widow bringing a couple of lepta would be completely forgotten in the process. After all, what can approximately 23 cents (a rough approximation, in modern money, of the value of two lepta) buy?
According to a worldly perspective, Jesus’ comment is truly laughable. This widow, with her 23 cents, put in more than all of the rich people with their hundreds of dollars? In what universe is 23 cents worth more than hundreds of dollars? If the ministers of the Temple depended on 23 cents as the greatest of contributions, how would they be able to keep up the incense and sacrifices? But Jesus is not speaking about numbers. His concern is far greater – He focuses on the proportion and the faith.
Jesus would not deny that, in numerical terms, the rich men were putting in more money. But the rich people would go back to their homes with plenty of resources. They would have a nice bed and a good meal and plenty else. They did not really miss the money that they put in the offering box. It was above and beyond their real need. It was not, in any meaningful definition of the word, a sacrifice for them.
The widow has an entirely different story. Those two mites are all that she has. She does not really have a home to which to return. She does not have good food to eat. There is nothing else. The two mites are all that she has. And she proves willing to give them in faith to God for incense and sacrifices. She, truly, has sacrificed!
Today we would entirely understand if someone who was in such deep poverty as this widow were to use his or her meager resources for themselves. But this widow was willing to really trust in God. She was willing to put everything she had on the line and trusted that God would provide for her needs. She truly put God first and foremost in her life in a way that very few of us would ever completely understand!
The odds are that most of us fall somewhere in between the rich people and the poor widow – we do not have a ton of money that we can give without suffering some kind of loss, but we are not on our last dollar, either. We should not conclude from this story that we must give every last penny to Jesus – instead, we are to gain from the story that while we humans may be more enamored with numbers than proportion, God is far more concerned with proportion than number. For some, $20 is a sacrifice. For others, $20 is a lot like the rich people and their gifts – not something that will be missed. But 20% for most anyone would be a significant loss, let alone 30, 40, or even 60%!
As believers we must give to God and those in need as God has bountifully given to us and with a cheerful heart (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:1-3, 2 Corinthians 9:6-11). When we give, let us consider the example of the poor widow and Jesus’ important lesson: we cannot fool God with numbers. He knows the heart, and He knows the proportion. As God has suffered the loss of so much for us, let us also be willing to sacrifice for God!
John 4:21 records Jesus answering a Samaritan woman regarding worship. She is inquiring about proper location, but he turns her attention away from the secular setting and toward the concept of worshiping in spirit and truth. It is the manner of worship that matters. Acts 2:42 records that, when Jesus’ spiritual kingdom of the church was growing, the saints would come together. One part of that worship was giving, and that’s the topic of this lesson.
Contribution As Worship
The question of contribution is not one of amount. It is one of attitude. Do we treat our offering to God as something we rush through? Do we see this part of worship as less important than other parts? We sometimes sing about Christ, “I gave, I gave my life for thee. What hast thou given for me?” Our contribution is an offering to our God who gave all for us. Are we as sacrificial as He?
In Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira lie when they bring their money to the apostles’ feet. They look for praise from man rather than God. Our offering is directed toward God, and there is no room for personal glory involved. Our personal benevolence and our contributions to God’s church are to God’s glory. As when we sing and when we pray, it is to and for God.
I Corinthians 16 provides a context for participating in this worship when we come together on the first day of the week. In this scenario, the collection is used for saints in need. Need is established, and they fulfill it. Examples like the famine coming in Acts 11 as well as several occasions in Paul’s journeys, the church fulfills those needs they see.
Offerings and the Old Testament
Romans 15:45 discusses the example set for us in the Old Testament, and the earliest offering we read of is by Cain and Abel. Abel’s sacrifice is of spirit and truth, and God respects his sacrifice. He gives unto God as God would have him give. This is prior than even than the law of Moses. When Abraham returns form battle in Genesis 14, he makes offering to God. Jacob offers God a tithe when fleeing from his brother Esau. These sacrifices are centered around worshiping God.
In the case of animal offerings, God expected the best from His people. The finest and healthiest of the livestock went to God. This was a valuable and costly resource to those making the offerings. These animals were an investment in the future of their families and businesses in a largely agricultural society. By the time we reach the writings of the prophets, people ceased giving as they should, leading to corruption in the priesthood’s work and teachings. Like the offering supported those serving God then, Paul writes about our contribution supporting our elders and preachers.
Exodus 35:4 and II Chronicles 24:8 both record offerings from the people in building and restoring the place of worship. In James 2:2, the word translated assembly is the same that is translated as synagogue in other places. It is a meeting place, set apart for the purpose of worship. Again, like the contributions of the Old Testament helped maintain the places of worship, so do ours today. Even the widow with nothing but two mites was giving for the support of the temple.
Application to Our Offerings
We are to give as we have been prospered, and II Corinthians 8:2-12 says our offering should be liberal, loving, and willing. The very next chapter tells us we should be cheerful in giving, and that we should determine our offering ahead of time. It is purposed in our hearts. Galatians 6:7-8 warns us that God is not mocked, reminding us to sow spiritual blessings. When we give to God, our priority is on God rather than ourselves. We are supporting His work and His workers. It is worship to Him, sacrificing for Him as He sacrifices for us.