GIVING AS AN OFFERING
“Six days before the Passover ceremonies began; Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus – the man he had raised from the dead. A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honour. Martha served, and Lazarus sat at the table with him. Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with fragrance. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples – the one who would betray him – said, “that perfume was worth a small fortune. It should have been sold and the money give to the poor.” “Nor that he cared for the poor – he was a thief who was in charge of the disciples’ funds, and he often took some for his own use. Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. She did it in preparation for my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but I will not be here with you much longer.” (John 12:1-8)
Undoubtedly the greatest demonstration of God’s love for man is the gift of His Son as clearly expressed in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” It becomes the climax even above the first statement of giving that we read about in scripture as recorded in Genesis 1:29;2:16, “Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food… you are free to eat from any tree in the garden.”
The high point of that story is the creation of Eve to make Adam complete. The gift of life to all, and the gift of the woman all combine to paint a picture – so to say – of “This Bounteous God” (as the hymn writer, Matin Rinkart puts it) right from the opening chapters of the Holy Spirit. If therefore we are to “be imitators of God as dearly loved children, and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God…” (Eph.5:1,2), then we cannot but respond to the image of God in us by being generous as he has been to us.
Often, we see giving as that which takes our treasure away from us rather than seeing it as a response of worship and obedience to our God who deserves our very best and as a means of our great fulfillment. Giving as an act of worship is such a priviledge and honour granted to us by the God from who all blessings flow and who actually says, “I have no need of a bull from your stalls or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine and the cattle on a thousand hills” (Ps.50:9,10).
Our passage above is the familiar story of the Bethany home – most likely Christ’s last visit to that home before His journey to the Cross. We see not only an invitation to dinner held in His honour where Martha must have had her great opportunity of serving (which is a great way of giving of our time and resources to the Lord); we also see Mary; the more contemplative personality lavishing her treasure on the master to such an extent that even Judas, the treasurer of the group of Christ and His disciples, was alarmed at such ‘reckless’ giving! In what is considered the parallel passage to this, the account opens up the protest, “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor”. (Matt. 26:8, 9).
One must concede that Christian giving has been bastardized in recent times by some preachers who have presented it as a business negotiation with God, while at some other point people who do not know the blessing of giving have been tightfisted even towards God. Christian giving must flow from a worshipping heart. That is what we see from Mary’s cat of giving here. And when giving comes from such a heart, there is no such thing as counting the cost or defining the limits.
Hundreds of years earlier, Father Abraham demonstrated this aspect of boundless giving. God had said to him, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” As he embarked on this heart-wrenching journey, he said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” For a man who was going to offer the child of promise was this not a wonderful definition of worship: total surrender to God in obedience, holding nothing anything back from god? Indeed as the Lord responded to this great act of worship, he said, “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in eth sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me” (Gen.22:2, 5, 16-18). It is right to observe that when we do not hold back from god, God also will not hold back His blessings from us either (see also Prov.11:24-25).
Christian giving brings us into partnership with God and His purposes in our world. It is an expression not only of worship but of surrender. It is our way of saying, whatever we have that is worthy to be used to honour the Lord we will gladly commit to that purpose.
When we see all the various spiritual gifts that are lavished on the Church from one age and continent to another, we cannot but marvel at the generosity of our God who gives all that is required for the blessing and edification of His Church. When we come to that point of giving our tithes and freewill offerings in the context of divine worship, we must always realize that we are actually receiving from god far more that we may ever be giving to His work. Those whose giving promotes the work of mission in various ways are honouring the name of the Lord and making the gospel accessible to others by opening the gate of heaven to all who will enter. This includes support for missionaries, evangelists, and other ministers of the gospel, sponsorship of media programmes, provision of relief for the needy and provision of items to enrich our worship life and get the work of the ministry going.
There are those who have withheld their giving because they are unable to trust the discretion of the people whose responsibility it is to disburse funds for the right priorities or as budgeted. We must pray as we give, that the resources of God’s church will be rightly applied to further the work of salvation of souls for which Christ died.
Paul spent some time to teach the Corinthian Christians about this grace of giving.
“And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian Churches. Out of the most severe trials, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their won, they urgently pleaded with us for the priviledge of sharing in this service to the saints. And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with the will of God.” (2 Cor.8:1-5).
He further taught them the right attitude to giving: “remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly; and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor.9:6-7). It was Paul, who is in his teaching, rescued this wonderful saying of Christ which, though not found in the gospels, is so true as all true givers have proved: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
To be able to give, Christians must work hard. Laziness had never been a Christian virtue. The New Testament teaches us to work hard with our hands that we might give to those in need. Christian giving begins from a worshipping heart. And it goes beyond silver and hold. It covers everything we can give after our lives have been given to God.
“We lose what on ourselves we spend
We have as treasure without end
Whatever, Lord, to Thee we lend
Giver of all.
To Thee, from whom we all derive
Our life, our gifts, our power to give:
O may we ever with Thee live,
Who givest all!