Believers ask this question sincerely, and it deserves a sincere answer. While the sinful nature in us wants us to view our financial church offerings as a “touchy subject”, our faith in Christ overrules that faulty notion and instead looks at our offerings as a tangible way to honor the Lord and support his work. But, how much should I give? A second question is related, which we’ll address next week: how are my offerings used and how does that affect my giving? For today, however, we’ll look at the question of “how much?”.
The reason it’s a question is that God doesn’t give us a precise answer. He leaves it to our Christian freedom. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (II Corinthians 9:7) In the Old Testament times before Jesus came, our Lord had specific commands regarding the offerings of his believers, as he used a variety of ceremonies designed to keep his people focused on the promise of the coming Savior. In the New Testament times in which we live, now that Christ has come, those commands are no longer in place. But, the invitation and expectation of joyful offerings of thanks in support of the spread of the Gospel remain. And while it’s true that he now leaves the amount to our Christian freedom, he does not leave us without guidance in both the Old and New Testaments as we seek to honor him with our wealth.
The first guidance addresses our motivation. Why do we want to give offerings in the first place? It’s not to earn our salvation, of course. It’s not to fulfill some obligation that will place us in good stead with our Maker. No, it’s thankfulness! That’s what moves us. We want to “praise God from whom all blessings flow” as the old hymn says. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (II Corinthians 8:9) Sinners like us are freely cleansed and forgiven by the sacrifice of Jesus in our place. Thanksgiving for his grace moves us to dedicate ourselves to him in return, and that includes our wealth. “Take my life and let it be, consecrated Lord to thee”, as another old hymn so aptly confesses.
“But Pastor, be more specific. I want to consecrate myself to the Lord in thanksgiving, with my offerings too. But give me more direction as to how much.” Well, again, the Lord leaves it up to us. At the same time, we can learn something from the Old Testament Law, even though it is no longer demanded of us. For those people before Christ, it was the “tithe” – 10%. And the 10% was from the best, not the left-overs or from part of the crop or flock that was the weakest. Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the Lord our God. (Exodus 23:19) Is that helpful to our planning today? Paul talks to New Testament Christians when he wrote, On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income … (I Corinthians 16:2) It doesn’t have to be 10%. Maybe you choose higher. Maybe, because of other obligations the Lord gives you in taking care of your family needs, you choose a little lower. But, a regular percentage of your income, prayerfully considered and planned, allows your offerings to go up or down as the Lord allows your wealth to go up or down.
So, back to the question of “how much?”. Perhaps it’s best just to review some of the guidance God gives, and then leave it to each of us to prayerfully consider and plan how much of our income we want to return to the Lord in thanksgiving, for his work of sharing the Gospel. His guidance is this:
· Cheerfully – in other words, motivated by thanksgiving for his blessings, not by guilt
· Regularly – remember Paul’s direction to set aside an amount on the first day of every week
· Percentage – as Paul urged and as the old tithe illustrated, in keeping with your income
· Firstfruits – the Lord is first in our hearts, not receiving what might be left over at the end
Christians do ask the question sincerely. Yet, “how much?” is less of the question than “why?” and “how?” Prayerfully consider those questions, and the Lord will be well pleased with the “how much?” that you bring, whatever that amount may be.
Next week, we’ll address part 2 of the question: how are my offerings used?