With Willing Heart: The Offering 9a

 Previous article in this series: September 15, 2014, p. 488.

And they came, every one whose heart stirred him up, and every one whom his spirit made willing, and they brought the Lord’s offering to the work of the tabernacle of the congregation, and for all his service, and for the holy garments. Exodus 35:21


Having worked through the principles of worship found in God’s Word, we are now engaged in a study of the elements of worship. In this article and the next we take up the element of the offertory, an element that has us replying to God with the worship of giving our resources to the Lord.

The approach of these two articles must be to address the subject with both law and gospel. The command to give must not be neglected, and the gospel of grace which primes the hearts of God’s people to let go of all other security and trust the good way of God’s law must be made plain. This is necessary because the giving of alms, as all aspects of worship, is a heart issue. Our depraved hearts tend to make us idolize and trust in money. And it is not until our hearts are captured by the sovereign grace of God that we worship God as He commands and our hands let go of our money.

The basic issue in this element of worship is not how much money we make or do not make. It is not how much we can give or cannot give at whatever stage of life we are in. The basic issue is the heart that knows the grace that God has given to His people, and therefore desires to honor the Lord with money. Grace alone will motivate us to follow God’s command and give with willing hearts in worship.

The Element

Offerings have been part of the worship of God since Old Testament times. We see that in the context of the passage of Scripture at the head of this article. God has taken the Israelites out of the bondage of Egypt, and they are now gathered at Mt Sinai. At the base of Mt. Sinai the Israelites receive two things: the law of God and the plans for the tabernacle. This is why God has taken them out of Egypt. He has brought them to Himself that He might rule them and that He might dwell among them in the tabernacle. And in our text the Israelites are going to build that tabernacle at the base of the mount before they carry on with their journey. But in order to build that beautiful building they need material. Hence, God directly commands Moses to take up a collection for the advance of the kingdom of God in the building of the tabernacle: “And Moses spake unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying, This is the thing which the Lord commanded, saying, Take ye from among you an offering unto the Lord” (Ex. 35:4, 5).

Throughout Old Testament history offerings were required of God and given for the support of the priests and the operation of the tabernacle and temple. Under King Josiah a chest was set in the temple in which people could put money for the purpose of the upkeep of the temple. Apparently, that remained a practice into the New Testament, for we find the same thing in the temple even in Jesus’ day, (Mark 12:41).1

God requires that offerings are to be part of our worship services in the New Testament as well. The New Testament itself shows us that when it says that offerings were the regular practice of the New Testament Christian worship services: “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him” (I Cor. 16:1-2). On the first day of the week, Sunday, when worship services were held in the New Testament church, the apostle Paul commands that the church in Corinth take collections for the saints, and then tells them he has commanded the same thing for the churches in Galatia. Collections were a part of the public corporate worship of the church. The Heidelberg Catechism is correct then, when in Lord’s Day 38 it lists along with the other elements demanded by the regulative principle the element of the offering. There is some freedom regarding how many offerings; there is some freedom in regards to specific causes; and there is freedom regarding when to take them in the service. But giving is part of biblical worship.

The Element Carried Out

There are basically two categories of offerings in worship. The first is for the support of the function and extension of the church of Jesus Christ in various ways and forms. The second is for the relief of the poor. There are examples of both in Scripture.

I have already given one example of collecting for financial support for the kingdom—Josiah’s chest in the temple, where money was given in support of the temple life. In the passage of Scripture highlighted at the top of this article, the giving is for the building and maintenance of the tabernacle, the house of Jehovah God. In Exodus 36:3 the Bible says the people bring their offerings “for the work of the service of the sanctuary,” that is, for the tabernacle and the running of the tabernacle. God had revealed to His people that His tent in the middle of their tribes would be His dwelling among them. The people were given the calling to support financially the building of the place where God would dwell.

The New Testament application of the support of the tabernacle is not specifically and directly to the building of our church buildings. God would dwell in the tabernacle among the people, and God dwells not in a specific building today, but He dwells in the hearts of His people. The application here is that giving must be for the work of the church that builds up God’s people in every form. Chiefly, it would apply to the maintaining of the pastor’s salary so that he can devote himself to the Word of God, for the way in which God will dwell among His people is by Word and Spirit. Included is the collecting of gifts for the financial support of seminary instruction that makes the preaching possible. The evangelism and mission efforts of the church must be a good portion of the purpose of these collections, since God’s church is gathered and preserved also through mission work. And more, since God’s people generally need a place in which to receive God’s Word and carry out public corporate worship, the support and maintenance of a building may be included here. God has tied the support of all spiritual interests to external means. Therefore collections are taken for the support of the kingdom of Christ.

Second, collections are taken for the relief of the poor. This need was the impetus for the office of deacon in the New Testament church. The Grecian widows were being neglected in the daily help for the poor, therefore the office of deacon was instituted to distribute the money collected for the poor (Acts 6:1-6). The relief of the poor along with the support of the kingdom has always been the calling of the church. In I Corinthians 16, where Paul commands collections be taken in the Sunday worship, those collections are both for the support of the church in Jerusalem and the assistance of the poor saints there.

Giving to the Lord

We must give. We must give in worship. And we must give in worship as an act of worship. This is important to remember. When we gather for worship, part of our worship is this consecration of our resources to God’s specific use. It is to be an act of specific and overt devotion to Him, of love and praise expressed. Giving in the worship service is different from giving in any other instance (although all giving should be generally unto the Lord). This is part of the public corporate worship of the church. We are meeting face to face with Jehovah God, and the offerings we bring, we bring directly to Him.

That is seen in the symbolism of the offertory in most Reformed and Presbyterian churches. The deacons collect the money, and after that they do not immediately bring the money to the bank, or to the contractor who fixed the door of the church building, or even to the council room to lay the money on the table. They lay the collected money on the table in front of the congregation. This represents the offering of this money to the service of Jehovah on behalf of the whole congregation. It is given to Him, and only later is it distributed to the specific causes. It is offered to the Lord as an act of worship.

The offering is part of the dialogue of worship. It is not in response to a specific element of worship, however; it is really a response to God’s grace that He bestows upon us in every way in worship and in our lives. It is a response to His gift of meeting with us in worship and to all the gifts of His grace. It is a very significant thing that happens when the collection plate passes in front of us in the service. It is worship of God in thanks for His mercies. If we don’t give anything to Him, but simply let the collection plate go by, we are not participating in one of the elements of worship. We are snubbing God before His face, since this worship is the covenantal meeting between Him and His people.

Since our giving is worship, our giving should be thoughtful and prepared giving. We ought to think at home before we come to church about what we are going to give. And if we give more to certain causes that we believe are more pressing, we ought to decide this prayerfully beforehand. We ought to prepare our children to give by giving them something to put into the collection plate, teaching them to be a part of this aspect of worship just as we teach them to sing with us and pray with us.

We ought to be truly giving from the heart when the collection plate comes around and we drop our offering in. It is easy to look at the offering as “half-time” of the worship service—time to take a breather or go to the bathroom or get a drink. But this is a low view of what is happening at this point in worship. We are to be meditating on what we are doing, and give from the heart. One way to do that is to pray privately before or as we place our offering in the plate. “Lord receive this from a willing heart that is thankful for all Thou hast done.” “Lord use this for the good of Thy kingdom that I love and serve for the great mercy shown to me a sinner.” It should be a time of meditation on the gifts God gives us, that our giving be performed with willing hearts.

This meditation on giving could be aided perhaps by the minister reading an appropriate passage during the offertory, or even by the congregational singing of a song having to do with giving. There is really an inconsistency in our worship when we have the piano playing during the offertory but no singing.2 I have already written on the distinction between elements and circumstances in worship. There we spoke about how the musical accompaniment is not an element but a circumstance, and how it is given to carry out the element, not to be an element itself. Musical accompaniment is not really necessary for the carrying out of the element of the offertory, and therefore is dangerously close to becoming its own element of worship. The suggestion may be made that it would be better that a passage of scripture on giving be read, or a song sung, or that we sit in silence and meditate on our giving to the Lord and pray.3 Our giving must not devolve into mere custom and habit, but must be an act of worship to the God who has given all things necessary for body and soul to us.

1 Matthew Henry in his commentary on Mark 12:41 says these treasuries were also for the relief of the poor.

2 The prelude is not subject to the same criticism because it is not part of the worship service.

3 Abraham Kuyper “wishes” that it was the practice of the Dutch Reformed to read a scripture passage during the offering. (See Abraham Kuyper, Our Worship. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009. 213.) Prof. Herman Hanko says that singing during the offering was the norm in the early years of PRC history. His sentiments are that a song would be too distracting unless it was a song about giving. A song about giving would indeed aid one in carrying out the element of the offering, and would itself be a commanded element of worship. Prof. Hanko does not comment on the concept of reading a passage of scripture during the offertory (Standard Bearer vol. 61, Issue 4, “Our Order of Worship”).