Did You Bring the Right Offering to Church?

Did you bring the right offering to your church? Perhaps pastors such as myself will be tempted to say “no.” That may be based on organizational number crunching for 2019 and a realization that red is not just a Christmas colour. As Christmas fades into the past, an event following that first Christmas will help us reflect on our offering.

Let us consider the Magi. We usually think of the Magi as being at the manger along with the shepherds on the first Christmas Day. However, based on Herod’s killing of Bethlehem’s 2-years-old-and-under infants (see Matt 2:16), they likely arrived later.

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2:11 (NIV)

Being non-Jewish, the Magi do not bring an offering according to any religious rule, but rather from of a spirit of generosity. It is an interesting exercise to read through the entire New Testament, taking note of how often religious rules for giving are promoted in contrast to how often generosity is taught and modelled, especially by Jesus.

It is an interesting exercise to also consider the difference between giving out of religious duty and a spirit of generosity. For example, it is possible to earn millions of dollars, tithe a tenth of all that is earned to a church, and yet be completely lacking in a generous spirit. We would be left with incredible wealth, yet could still be stingy to everyone and every need that crosses our paths. Even though we have given much to our church community, we can be Scrooge-like in sharing our gifts of time and talents. Are our offerings of time, talents, and treasures an expression of a growing and generous spirit, or merely an expression of how religious we are? Our offering is not just a matter of accounting and number crunching, but a matter of the heart.

Further, let us consider that the Magi bring their offering, not to the temple, but to a person. Are our offerings focused on Jesus? Are they focused on Jesus when they are given to an organization we call a church? It is more important that churches help people connect and walk with Jesus, than simply keep churchy and religious things happening. Since our offerings are part of personal devotion and worship, we would bring them as an act of worship, even if we were asked by God to be burn them on an altar.  But God has not asked for that. He has directed us to help people connect with Him.

Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 (NLT)

Do our offerings help people connect with God and walk with Jesus?

There is another offering for us to consider as we bid farewell to the Christmas season. Let us go back to the temple, to the moment Simeon held the infant Jesus in his arms and said to Mary:

“This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. 35 As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” Luke 2:34-35 (NLT)

sword would indeed pierce Mary’s soul when Jesus was opposed by his own people, who should have known better, and hung on a cross by the Romans, who should have done better. We are barely beyond Christmas and already we are hearing about Good Friday. While we think of the offerings of the Magi, the offering brought by God for outsiders like the Magi is the real news here. God’s generous spirit is on full display! Have you brought the right offering to church? Come to Jesus, see the gift he has for you. Then see where generosity leads you.

What Would Jesus Say About Our Offering?

small_304589198Have you ever thought you had privacy when you really have not? There is something about putting on a full-face motorcycle helmet that can make you think you have as much privacy as sitting in a car, and so I have heard at least one motorcyclist singing at the top of his lungs while waiting for a light to turn green! We take privacy seriously at Calvary and have all the policies and procedures in place to ensure people’s givings are kept confidential. I am not aware of what people give. But one thing we cannot do is ensure that giving is kept hidden from the Lord’s eyes. Let us consider one moment that Jesus was watching the offerings:

41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Mark 12:41-44 (NRSV)

A few questions may help us get into this passage:

1. Who is the example of generosity?

The rich put in a lot of money while the poor widow put in very little. Yet according to Jesus she is the example of generosity for she is making the greater sacrifice. Suppose I were to peach on tithing and everyone walked away convicted that they ought to give 10% of their income. Now suppose one such person earns a million a year, and therefore commits to giving $100,000 a year. We would certainly celebrate such generosity and the opportunities it would grant a small church like ours to increase in mission and ministry. Now suppose a single mom with children and rent earning $25,000 a year commits $2500. Who is more generous? I do not know this from experience but I would think you could live quite comfortably on $900,000 a year. I also do not know this from experience but I would think a family living on $25,000 per year would miss the $2500 very much.

Now we need to make a decision. By commending the generosity of the poor widow is Jesus commanding those of little means to give what little they have or is he challenging those with abundance to break through to greater generosity? For the rich, a 10% tithe may keep the religious police happy, but does it please the Lord? For the poor, a 10% tithe may keep the religious police happy, but does it further cripple people who are already financially beaten down? Which leads us to our next question.

2. Is Jesus celebrating or lamenting?

We tend to assume that Jesus is celebrating the generosity of the poor widow here. However some Biblical scholars think rather that Jesus is lamenting over what he sees. Consider what Jesus said immediately before this:

38 As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” Mark 12:38-40 (NRSV emphasis mine)

What we may have here is Jesus pointing to the poor widow as an example of someone who is “devoured” by the religious leaders. That she, “out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (v.44) may be something regrettable. It is worth noting that Jesus next speaks about the destruction of the temple. The poor widow has just given all she had to support something that will soon be under judgement.

Or perhaps we have both, that along with a condemnation of the scribes’ warped religiosity is a commendation of the widow’s generosity. The religious leaders are looking to take all the poor widow has to live on, and soon they will be looking to take the life of Jesus. But the poor widow’s heart is generous and she gives what she has to live on, pointing forward to the supreme example of generosity, Jesus, who gives His life.

We can tend to get pretty religious when it comes to financial support for the church. Jesus has a lot to say about money, yet he never directly commands or commends a tithe. Nor does it appear to be a theme within the early Church as we encounter it in the New Testament. But generosity is something that is very much commended by our Lord and the apostles. Generosity is a character trait the Holy Spirit develops within us as we yield our lives to the Lord. The question is not “are you tithing” but “are you being generous toward the Lord’s work?” What generosity looks like will be different for each person. 10% may be a good goal for a great many, but it may not be wise for some, and may not be generous for others. We do well to drive not deeper into religion, but deeper into our relationship with Christ to discern the answer to that question. Which leads us to our final question:

3. If we were the ones Jesus watched putting our offering into the treasury that day, what would He say?

This part is for you to write: ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

photo credit: Jay Morrison via photopin cc