Toward a Theology of Giving
Something very interesting happened to the Evangelical Church in the 20th century, that seems to have no parallel in previous generations: The Re-definition of worship.
It wasn’t until the 20th century that Christians started to refer to the music portion of a service as the “worship” – alone. The inference being that the other parts of the service were not worship – and that worship resided almost exclusively in music.
The earliest detailed look we have of what worship consisted of in the early Church comes down to us from the pen of Justin Martyr around 150 AD.
He wrote: “On the day called Sunday there is a gathering together in the same place of all who live in a given city or rural district. The memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits. Then when the reader ceases, the president in a discourse admonishes and urges the imitation of these good things. Next we all rise together and send up prayers. When we cease from our prayer, bread is presented and wine and water. The president in the same manner sends up prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people sing out their assent, saying the “Amen.” distribution and participation of the elements for which thanks have been given is made to each person, and to those who are not present they are sent by the deacons.
[“We praise the Maker of the universe as much as we are able by the word of prayer and thanksgiving for all the things with which we are supplied.… Being thankful in word, we send up to him honors and hymns for our coming into existence, for all the means of health, for the various qualities of the different classes of things, and for the changes of the seasons, while making petitions for our coming into existence again in incorruption by reason of faith in him.”]
Those who have means and are willing, each according to his own choice, gives what he wills, and what is collected is deposited with the president. He provides for the orphans and widows, those who are in need on account of sickness or some other cause, those who are in bonds, strangers who are sojourning, and in a word he becomes the protector of all who are in need.
We all make our assembly in common on Sunday, since it is the first day, on which God changed the darkness and matter and made the world, and Jesus Christ our Savior arose from the dead on the same day. For they crucified him on the day before Saturn’s day, and on the day after (which is the day of the Sun) he appeared to his apostles and disciples and taught these things, which we have offered for your consideration.”
Martyr, Justin. 1993. How We Christians Worship. (Trans.) Everett Ferguson. Christian History Magazine-Issue 37: Worship in the Early Church. Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today.
Now certainly, this is indicative and not binding, but it is instructive. Hot on the heels of the ministry of the Apostles, this is how the Church most often conducted worship.
For them, it had 7 key elements that Justin noted:
- Gathering (public, not private)
- Reading of The Word
- Sermon – exposition and application of the Word read
- Common Prayers
- Prayers, thanksgiving, hymns
Music was one aspect of worship, but only one. And what I find interesting, and what is germane to our time together today, is that giving was considered a constituent part of that time of worship.
It is true that over time, some of these elements have taken more or less prominence in various times and places, but especially on the heels of the Reformation – this pattern was given great emphasis once again.
Even then, there were discussions about the details of each element.
For instance, in Calvin’s Geneva, they originally celebrated communion only once a year. Calvin argued for doing it every week. So after much debate, the compromise was struck to have it 4 times a year. Since the Bible does not require a specific number of times it MUST be done, this has been left to local discretion – but that it NEEDS to be done is without argument.
The thinking behind worship as they were seeking to recover it from Romanism in particular was: NOT, what makes worship enjoyable to me? But rather, what seems most pleasing to God? – especially given the way He structured worship in ancient Israel.
But for our consideration today, we want to ask why did giving take such a key role in the early Church so as to be considered an essential part of worship?
And the answer is really as old as Genesis 4.
For it is in Genesis 4 that we have our first recorded act of worship and the form it takes is most instructive.
Genesis 4:1–5 “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” 2 And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. 3 In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.”
What is useful to note here is, that the bringing of “offerings” to God, is as old as humanity itself.
This is worship as recorded in its most primitive state. And from the very get go, the idea of bringing to God, and offering up to Him part of what He has provided for us in the fruit of our labors is not only central – it is almost the entire thing!
Frankly, I was shocked to go back and consider this this way. But there it is.
And it does not stop there. For as the Bible unfolds, this pattern is not only demonstrated in all of the Patriarchs, but is then commanded by God Himself in the instituting of Worship among His people Israel.
As an example among the patriarchs, we have Abraham’s “tithe” in Genesis 14:18–20 “And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) 19 And he blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; 20 and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.”
And then we have God’s specific instructions to Israel throughout the Pentateuch: Exodus 23:14–19a “Three times in the year you shall keep a feast to me. 15 You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. As I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. None shall appear before me empty-handed. 16 You shall keep the Feast of Harvest, of the firstfruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field. You shall keep the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor. 17 Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord God. 18 “You shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice with anything leavened, or let the fat of my feast remain until the morning. 19 “The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the Lord your God. Also – Ex 34:20
In Exodus 25:1–2 When they were building the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, “The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me.”
And then in Exodus 30:11–16 “The Lord said to Moses, 12 “When you take the census of the people of Israel, then each shall give a ransom for his life to the Lord when you number them, that there be no plague among them when you number them. 13 Each one who is numbered in the census shall give this: half a shekel…half a shekel as an offering to the Lord. 14 Everyone who is numbered in the census, from twenty years old and upward, shall give the Lord’s offering. 15 The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less, than the half shekel, when you give the Lord’s offering to make atonement for your lives. 16 You shall take the atonement money from the people of Israel and shall give it for the service of the tent of meeting, that it may bring the people of Israel to remembrance before the Lord, so as to make atonement for your lives.”
Now we could multiply examples like this easily into the dozens in the OT, all to show how it is that tithes, offerings and sacrifices were absolutely central to the life, and especially the Worship of God’s people.
Sadly – and in some ways justifiably, due to the wretched abuses of money-mongers and opportunists in our day, the topic of giving has become a sore spot with many in the Church. Understandably.
But just as with the abuse of any other legitimate thing, we do not abandon or deny the legitimate – BECAUSE there are abuses.
I’ve yet to see or hear it argued that because modern society abuses sex, therefore Christians ought to reject all marital obligations and privileges.
And because there are those who criminally extract money from people under the guise of religion, is no argument to ignore the God instituted aspect of the giving of our means in worship!
Indeed, as a central part of true and Biblical worship.
But almost as soon as any Church or Church leader addresses the issue of giving, you can almost be certain someone will raise an objection, based upon the abuses of others.
Having established that giving – offerings is a Biblically centralized part of worship – let’s think through why it is so and how that might look to us in our current setting – whether you are in this particular church, or any other.
Going back to our first example in Cain and Abel, we see that before anything else, giving as part of corporate worship was:
1 An act of Recognition. Because God is Lord, and gives all to us, and deserves all – we honor Him in our offerings.
It is the root of the word worship itself: WORSHIP. ‘Worship’ (Old English ‘weorthscipe’=‘worth-ship’) originally referred to the action of human beings in expressing homage to God because he is worthy of it.
- H. Marshall, “Worship,” ed. D. R. W. Wood et al., New Bible Dictionary (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 1250.
Note, God does not actually gain by anything we give.
We enter into something greater in our giving, He doesn’t.
But this is also why giving is never to be perfunctory or looked at like an ecclesiastical tax or a mere duty.
The giving of our offerings is meant to be a spiritual act of recognizing God AS God, and paying homage to Him as is due His name. And what is more fitting than, that by those things which we consider valuable? It demonstrates that count Him more valuable, than even our money.
2 An act of Thanksgiving. – Having reflected on God’s goodness and provision. Psalm 56:12–13 “I must perform my vows to you, O God; I will render thank offerings to you. 13 For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.”
It appears that this is what was behind Abram’s tithe to Melchizedek in Gen. 14. After being given the ability to defeat the 5 kings and recover those who had been kidnapped – Abram wanted to make a gesture of his deep gratitude for the success of the mission.
Once again this is a pattern repeated throughout the Bible.
It is NOT repayment – any more than a thank you note is repayment for a gift. But it IS a fitting acknowledgement.
Have you thanked your God today for His gifts, provisions and blessings?
3 An act of Imitation. – God so loved He gave / Alms especially
We note how in John 3:16, the Holy Spirit marks out the chief means whereby God has demonstrated His love to us – it is in the giving of what is most precious to Him – on our behalf.
And as we are being conformed to the image of Christ, so we seek to have the same spirit of generosity.
When Paul was addressing the Ephesian leadership in Acts 20 he reminds them Acts 20:35 “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
And this especially as we give to the local Church and put funds into the hands of the Deacons to minister to those who may be in need among us.
4 An act of Participation. – Providing for the declaration of His Word and the public worship of His name in the world / Local assembly, preaching and teaching, missions / How your giving impacts others both here and around the world.
Numbers 18:8–12 “Then the Lord spoke to Aaron, “Behold, I have given you charge of the contributions made to me, all the consecrated things of the people of Israel. I have given them to you as a portion and to your sons as a perpetual due. 9 This shall be yours of the most holy things, reserved from the fire: every offering of theirs, every grain offering of theirs and every sin offering of theirs and every guilt offering of theirs, which they render to me, shall be most holy to you and to your sons. 10 In a most holy place shall you eat it. Every male may eat it; it is holy to you. 11 This also is yours: the contribution of their gift, all the wave offerings of the people of Israel. I have given them to you, and to your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual due. Everyone who is clean in your house may eat it. 12 All the best of the oil and all the best of the wine and of the grain, the firstfruits of what they give to the Lord, I give to you.”
5 An act of Sanctification. – In combating materialism and greed. How can we forget Paul’s words of carefulness to Timothy?: 1 Timothy 6:10 “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”
And in our materialistic society of affluence, how the love of money wends its way into our hearts and minds without our even being aware of it often.
So one practical way we have of combatting this sinful tendency, is to be regular, generous and cheerful givers.
6 An act of Devotion. – Your heart and treasure. Matthew 6:19–21 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
What is true is this, if I will not give freely of my money to the Lord and His cause in the earth, neither have I given Him much of my heart.
These 2 correspond with frightening clarity.
7 An act of Faith. – Believing God will provide, when I willingly give of my own things. The Lukan version of what we just cited in Matthew teases that out just scooch more: Luke 12:32–34 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
NOTE: NOT TO THE NEGLECT OF OBLIGATIONS. Our creditors are not called to walk by faith, WE are! When we have obliged ourselves to others in debt, it is most honoring to God to be sure they are paid in a timely fashion.
If we foolishly done so, so as to negatively impact our ability to worship God freely in our giving, then we are under an obligation to discharge that debt as quickly as possible so that we CAN get back to honoring God freely in our giving.
And I want to remind you all here that under the New Covenant, we are not bound to the tithe or 10% requirement of Jewish economy. That said, we are not bound either to come up to 10%, nor to drop down to 10%. We are to pray about this and think hard about how to best manage our money in ways that accomplish God’s will and purposes in it – thoughtfully making provision accordingly.
Before we close – let us very quickly address some FALSE REASONS for GIVING, or what I might call – “anti-giving”.
We do not give as unto the Lord when we give:
- To get more or other
- To get God to do what we want Him to
- To be seen by others as righteous or generous
- Out of pure obligation – as appears to be part of the issue with Cain & Abel
- Begrudgingly – under guilt or duress
- Stingily – Poor, defective or leftovers – merely out of our excess. Cain (the Hebrew implies) just brought “some” of the fruit of the field, where as Abel brought from the firstborn and the fat of his flock.
God complains to Israel in Malachi 1:6–8 “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?’ 7 By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we polluted you?’ By saying that the LORD’s table may be despised. 8 When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the LORD of hosts.”
In other words, giving God our leftovers.
7. Purely out of excess. Never costly. When David sought to buy the threshing floor of Araunah to offer a sacrifice to stop the pestilence God sent upon Israel for David’s numbering them contrary to God’s will – Araunah offered to give him the land free of charge.
The account reads: 2 Samuel 24:20–24 “And when Araunah looked down, he saw the king and his servants coming on toward him. And Araunah went out and paid homage to the king with his face to the ground. 21 And Araunah said, “Why has my lord the king come to his servant?” David said, “To buy the threshing floor from you, in order to build an altar to the LORD, that the plague may be averted from the people.” 22 Then Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take and offer up what seems good to him. Here are the oxen for the burnt offering and the threshing sledges and the yokes of the oxen for the wood. 23 All this, O king, Araunah gives to the king.” And Araunah said to the king, “May the LORD your God accept you.” 24 But the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing.”
I wonder how much if ever, our giving to the Lord crosses over into being something that actually “costs” us something?
Now 2 things seem evident here, and with these I’ll close.
- It is important for each of us as individual Christians to think and pray through how it is we will intentionally worship God in our giving.
- It will be important for the leadership here at ECF, to examine how we should, in practical ways make giving a true and integral part of our corporate worship, and not treat it like the ugly step-child it so often is.
May we worship Him rightly, with all that we have, and all that we are. He IS worthy!
The next time you think about you own habits of worship – and pass by the offering box, or someone passes the plate – or whatever form giving to the cause of Christ in this present world takes its shape – let the feeling in our hearts, and the words on our lips as we give be: 2 Corinthians 9:15 “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!”