Rev. Kleyn is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan. Previous article in this series: January 1, 2007, p. 161.
An important element of the church’s worship is the offertory. During this part of worship, the congregation has the opportunity to give money for the causes of God’s kingdom. They give to support the ministry of the gospel, the poor, and various other kingdom causes, such as the Christian schools, missions, evangelism, and so on.
Having an offertory in worship is biblical. The Scriptures make clear that the people of God have an obligation to give. “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him…” (I Cor. 16:2). “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (II Cor. 9:7). Giving is not an option, but a Christian duty.
Such giving is itself an act of worship. For that reason, it is a separate part in our order of worship. The offertory stands alone so that the people of God can worship Him through their giving. It is certainly appropriate, therefore, that the minister announce the collections in this way: “Let us worship God with our offerings.” And the members of the congregation should see to it that they do this. Giving should not simply be mechanical, something done without thought or meditation. It is to be a spiritual activity, done from the heart, and done in praise to God.
Giving is to be a private matter. We are not to give as the Pharisees did, namely, in order to be seen of men. Rather, “when thou doest thine alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth; that thine alms may be in secret” (Matt. 6:3, 4). We should never want anyone to know how much we give, not even those closest to us. Every effort should be made to keep our giving secret.
This means, as II Corinthians 9:7points out, that each person decides for himself how much to give. Each must give “according as he purposeth in his heart.” Determining how much to give is a personal decision. No one else tells you how much. You are to make up your own mind concerning this.
The child of God should give careful thought to this with regard to every different collection that is taken. We can so easily get into a rut, putting in a dollar or two regardless of the cause. Thus, no matter what the collection is for, roughly the same amount is collected. We ought, rather, to think and decide ahead of time how much to give. That decision should be based, not upon what we might have in our wallet as the collection plate approaches, but upon an informed knowledge of the needs that the different causes have. We need to look at the collection schedule ahead of time, understand what the different causes are, find out where the needs are, and give accordingly. Our giving should be done wisely.
That giving is to be private is not to deny that parents have a right to advise and help their children in this regard. It ought to be understood that children should also give to the collections. Parents ought to teach them to do so. This can be accomplished by parents giving money to their young children to put in the collection. Then, as the children get older and have their own money, they ought to be told to give. The children need parental guidance and help in all this. They need to be taught to give wisely. Then as they mature they can decide for themselves what is good and proper to give, and thus be able to keep their giving private.
One may ask in this connection, “Why then do our churches generally set a budgeted amount per family for the General Fund? Doesn’t that stand in opposition to the principle that our giving is to be private?”
To set a budget is, I believe, proper. It is necessary so that we can wisely and carefully take care of the financial needs of the church and denomination. Knowing the budgeted amount per family, the members of the congregation can be aware of how much is needed in order to cover the general expenses within a congregation (pastor’s salary, utilities, evangelism, etc.) as well as within the denomination (seminary, missions, emeritus, etc.).
Having said this, it seems to me that the biblical principle of giving being a private matter means that also in having a budget there must be a certain amount of freedom. Some may not be able to give the full amount. Others may be able to give more. Each should give as the Lord has prospered him. This is something that each member should decide for himself.
No one should view this, however, as a way to get out of giving. One may be tempted to think that because giving is private he may give very little, or even nothing at all. He therefore tries to get by with giving as little as possible so that he is able to have more money for himself.
Such a one forgets that God sees and knows everything we decide and do. The decision we make in the privacy of our hearts should be made, therefore, in the consciousness that God knows our heart. We stand before His face and can hide nothing from Him. He knows how much we give. He knows how much we are able to give. He knows why we decide to give as little or as much as we do. He knows all our thoughts. And we will have to answer to Him concerning our giving.
More important than the amount we give is how we give. The Scriptures admonish us that our giving should not be done grudgingly, or of necessity, but cheerfully (II Cor. 9:7).
We are commanded, first of all, not to give “grudgingly.” To give grudgingly means literally to give out of sorrow. It hurts to give. We would rather not do so.
Sometimes this is true of us. We give, but hesitantly. It grieves us to part with money that we would rather use for our own causes and purposes. We resent the financial demands of the kingdom on us. We count to the dollar (or cent) what we feel is required of us, and don’t give any more than we absolutely have to. We give, but afterwards wish we hadn’t given so much.
All such thoughts and actions are condemned. We may not give grudgingly.
Secondly, our giving must not be done “of necessity.” This refers to giving simply because we feel we should. We give, but only because God requires it, or because it is expected of us by others (e.g., the church, parents, fellow saints). We give simply because we feel compelled to do so. We give because we do not want God, or anyone else, to think we are stingy.
It is true that giving is a duty. But if the only reason we do so is because God requires it or men expect it, this is not proper giving. Giving out of necessity is also condemned.
Positively, our giving should be done cheerfully, “for God loveth a cheerful giver.” We should give joyfully. There should be gladness in our hearts. We should consider it a delight to give to the Lord. We should be happy to give to God’s cause and kingdom (to return to God) some of what God has given us.
This implies giving abundantly. We are at times inclined to give very little. We do so because we would rather keep the money, or because we do not trust our heavenly Father’s care and think we should take care of ourselves before giving to Him. But, considering that the Lord has prospered us, we should give much to Him. We ought to be very generous in giving. We should give bountifully. And we should do this with joy in our hearts.
In all this we must remember that we are only stewards of what we have. All our possessions and money are not really our own, but belong to God. We have what we do only because He gave it to us. He calls us to use it in order to seek first His kingdom. And when we do so, His promise is to take care of all our earthly needs. We have no reason to be anxious and worried, for “all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:32).
Be sure you give in the proper way. Not grudgingly or of necessity. But cheerfully.
Finally, we must understand and remember that our giving is an act of worship. Putting money in the collection plate is worship because of our motive in giving. That motive is gratitude to God.
God, as the Giver of every good and perfect gift, has showered gifts upon us. He has given us an abundance of earthly things. But, more importantly, He has given us countless spiritual and eternal gifts. Central in all these gifts, He has, with the love of His heart, given us His only begotten Son.
Just think about what characterizes God’s giving of His Son. He cheerfully gave to us His dearest possession, the Son of His love. He was not stingy in giving Him. Nor is He stingy in giving us the blessings of salvation that Christ attained for us on the cross. God gave us His Son with a cheerfulness and generosity that is beyond our ability to comprehend and describe.
Realizing this, we say with the apostle Paul, “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift” (II Cor. 9:15). The apostle says this in the same chapter as and thus in close connection with the admonition concerning our giving to God. This then is what moves us to give generously and willingly and cheerfully to God. Our giving is an expression of thanks and praise for all that God has given us, and thus is an act of worship.
This means, from a practical point of view, that we should strive actively to worship God during the offertory. It is not a time to relax in worship. It is not a time to look around, or to read the bulletin, or to focus upon our children. It is not a time to let our minds and thoughts wander to other things.
We ought, rather, to take the time to think about and ponder all that God has given us. We should be meditating upon God’s “unspeakable gift” to us. With hearts filled with gratitude for His giving, we will then gladly give to Him. And as we willingly and cheerfully give an offering of thanks and praise to God, He is worshiped and praised through our giving.
With such offerings the Lord is pleased. He loveth a cheerful giver. May we give in a way that pleases and honors our God.