Our Heidelberg Catechism discusses in Lords Day XXXVIII what is implied in the keeping of the fourth commandment. Strikingly, it includes in our observance of the Lord’s Day our calling to contribute, through collections, to the causes of Christ’s kingdom. It says, “What doth God require in the fourth commandment? First, that the ministry of the gospel and the schools be maintained; and that I, especially on the sabbath, that is, on the day of rest . . . contribute to the relief of the poor, as becomes a Christian . . . .”
In our last article we noticed that Scripture very clearly puts collections into the worship service as a necessary part of worship. If all these things are true, therefore, it follows that giving for the collections is also an act of worship. In our giving we worship.
How is giving an act of worship? That is the question we face in this article.
Perhaps there is no single element in the worship service which is more a matter of “custom and habit” than the taking of the collections. It is, as often as not, a time to relax a bit from the demands of the worship of God from the heart; it is a time to look around to see who is in church and who is not; it is a time to let one’s mind wander here and there because there are no demands apparently placed upon us to concentrate on the worship; it is a time to pay some attention to the children, to see that they are sitting still and have their needs cared for. But little if any thought is given to the fact that this too is a matter of worship.
Along these same lines, giving itself easily becomes something mechanical. There is a certain definite amount which we give for the budget, for the poor, for the various causes of the kingdom for which collections are being taken. We have, prior to the service, made the necessary preparations for taking a definite amount of money along, some for ourselves, and some for the children. Years ago, just before the family left for church, several little piles were laid out on the table for each child: a couple of nickels and a few peppermints for each child. Now, with inflation making everything more expensive, the nickel has perhaps become a quarter, although the peppermints are usually still there. So all that is required in church is to take from one’s pocket what was placed there before the service, separate the coins from the peppermints and put the coins into the collection plate when it comes in front of us.
But all of this does not make our giving an act of worship. How, specifically, ought we to do this?
In the first place, it ought to be remembered, in general, that our worship is always adoration and praise to God for what He has done for us. In His great mercy and grace He has redeemed us through Jesus Christ, formed us into His own people, blessed us with all spiritual blessings, and prepared for us an inheritance in glory which presently we shall receive. He has done this out of grace alone, according to His own sovereign decree of election. It is not that we are better than others. There is nothing in us which makes us worthy of-such great benefits. It is all of His free grace in Jesus Christ.
All our worship ought to be in the awareness of these great blessings which God has given. We come together to express our thankfulness to Him and to praise and bless His name for such great blessings. All our worship is an expression of our gratitude—also our giving.
In the second place, and more specifically, our giving is a confession of the truth that all our material possessions are not really ours at all, but belong to God. All that we possess is not really ours, but His. “All that I am I owe to thee . . . .” This is true of our life, our health, our strength, but also our earthly goods. He gives all these things to us moment by moment until He takes us to glory. We can never say of even one small thing: “This is mine, to do with as I please.” It is not ours; it is God’s.
This all implies the principle of Christian stewardship. We are not owners of these earthly gifts; we are stewards over them. Although Jesus surely means more by His command to the citizens of His kingdom to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, He also means that this is our calling with our earthly possessions. We must use all that we have and are to promote His kingdom and His righteousness. If we do any less we are unfaithful stewards and thieves in the midst of God’s world.
In the worship of collections, we confess these things. We put our money in the collection plates as a confession of our faith and as an act of worship of our God. We confess that God has dealt graciously with us through Jesus Christ, that He has given us all that we have, that all that we are we owe to Him, that we need not fear but that all our needs will be provided for out of His Fatherly hand, that our calling in gratitude to Him is to seek His kingdom and the kingdom of His dear Son.
That part of the worship service which is devoted to collections is the time to ponder these things, to get our spiritual perspective about these things in harmony with the Scriptures, and to ponder the truths which Scripture makes so abundantly clear concerning our earthly and material possessions. We need this very much. We are of the earth, earthy; and we constantly forget these truths. That we devote a few moments in God’s house to ponder these things is important and necessary.
In II Corinthians 9:7, Scripture lays down for us the way this act of worship must be carried out. Paul writes: “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.”
There are several elements here which we ought to notice.
In the first place, every man must give as he purposeth in his own heart. Again, there are several truths implied in this. First of all, this matter of giving is a matter for every man to decide himself. There must be an individual aspect to this: each man must make up his own mind what he will give. No one else may tell him. It is true that we set definite amounts for certain aspects of giving: we set the amount of the budget and expect that everyone will give that amount. But this surely means that even here a certain amount of freedom must be allowed. If a person for one reason or another, cannot give the full amount, he must not be castigated for this. But if he is able to give more than the required amount, this he is obligated to do. Secondly, this matter of giving must be a conscious and deliberate choice. For every collection a man must decide what he ought to give to that particular cause. It is well that he discuss this with his family prior to the worship service. (We may note, in parentheses, that the causes for which collections are to be taken ought to be put on the bulletin a week ahead of time so that this is possible. Or, at least, if collections are always taken for the General Fund and Benevolent Fund in the morning, the bulletin ought to designate the particular causes of Christ’s kingdom for which collections are being taken in the evening service.) It is well that he discuss this both with his wife and his children, so that they may come to a conclusion concerning what they ought to give. In the third place, he must do this before the face of God. II Corinthians 9:7 says he must do this in his heart. That means that he must do this in the consciousness that he stands before God’s face and that God knows and sees what he does and why he does what he does.
Secondly, a man must, according to the apostle, give freely. This is emphasized in all Scripture where this subject is discussed. Especially was this emphasized when Israel was commanded to give for the building of the tabernacle (See Exodus 25:2, 35:4, 36:3-7). It is emphasized that God does not even want the offerings of those who give unwillingly. God does not need our offerings. We do not give them for His benefit. The cattle on a thousand hills are His. We give for our spiritual benefit. And we must, therefore, give freely.
It is for this reason that there can never be laws about giving in the church. The church has always insisted that we are not under the law, but under grace, that, therefore, tithing is no more the law. Nevertheless, the principle remains. And it is not too much to say that a tenth of our possessions is the bare minimum in giving. And this does not include tuition for the education of our children.
In the third place, the apostle says that we ought to give, not grudgingly or out of necessity, but cheerfully. The negative is also important. One gives grudgingly when he gives sorrowfully. We give this way when we give painfully, when it hurts us to give because we would rather keep what we have for ourselves and use our earthly possessions for our own personal enjoyment. We give out of necessity when we are compelled by law to give; when we give because we are watched by our fellow saints or by the deacons who are taking the collection; when we give because we do not want the minister or elder to mention our stingy giving on family visitation.
When, in a positive way, the apostle defines our giving as being cheerful giving, he uses a word which really means much more than our English word “cheerful” connotes. We could almost say that our giving ought to be joyous, gay, an expression of great happiness. There is here the idea of reckless abandon. Jesus too suggests this when He says that we must pay our alms in such a way that our left hand does not know what our right hand is doing. We must give in such a way that, by earthly standards, our giving is foolish. The widow, after all, gave all that she had. We ought not to worry about what we shall eat or what we shall drink or wherewithal we shall be clothed. These are things that the Gentiles seek after. We are citizens of the kingdom of heaven, given the great gift of Jesus Christ through free grace. Therefore we are to seek Christ’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all the rest will be added to us.
Our niggardly giving is often due to the fact that we really do not believe this. We are worried that we will not be able to pay our bills, provide what is necessary for our families, and have enough left over for our own earthly pleasures. We resent the heavy demands of the kingdom upon our financial resources, and we fail to give cheerfully, joyously, even recklessly—at least, if by that last word is meant, beyond what by earthly standards of reckoning would be appropriate and wise.
When we give in this way, then our giving is truly worship. It is an expression of our gratitude of God for what He has given to us; it is a doxology of praise to Him Who alone is worthy of all praise; it is a confession of our trust in Him Who is our Father to provide for all our needs; it is a testimony to the truth that we know we are pilgrims and strangers in the earth who have here no abiding city, but whose treasures are in heaven; and it is a humble acknowledgement of the fact that God is pleased to promote the cause of His kingdom in this world through the means which He provides for our use.