Giving from Willing Hearts

Is it true that churches talk about money all the time? Unfortunately, that is sometimes true. But the Bible does have some important things to say about giving (and it does not involve dunning people for money), as Exodus 35:29 makes clear.

Giving flows out of fellowship with your God. The giving in Exodus was for a place for God to live in the midst of his people. The generous giving described flows out of realization that God’s people are forgiven. They have received grace. They deserved the destruction that was threatened for worshiping the golden calf, but now Moses has interceded for them, and for his sake, but especially because of the intercession of One greater than Moses, God is still willing to dwell in their midst. Gratitude is the motive for giving, both here at Sinai, for the Corinthian church, and for you. This Tabernacle that they were building was the Lord’s house. It was not a house for them and God, but rather, it was God’s house. Yes, they could be invited guests, and, as the priests were representatives of the people, they entered it. But the house belonged to him. “The tabernacle, then, represented not merely symbolically the indwelling of God among Israel, but actually contained it. . . . [T]he holy place, no less than the holy of holies, is the place which Jehovah owns alone. At the same time, it must be maintained that the people are received into God’s house as his guests. . . . In the ideal covenant-fellowship, here portrayed, the divine factor is the all-controlling one. Man appears as admitted into, adjusted to, subordinated to, the life of God. Biblical piety is God-centered.” (Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology, pp. 170-171). You and I cannot build a house for God, because the time when he was present in the Tabernacle, or later the Temple, has passed. He has a far better temple today, one made of living stones, you his church. A basic reason for the Thank Offering, which will be received in OPC churches next month, is so that this living house of God can be expanded, so that his name will be glorified by many more coming to worship him in Spirit and in truth.

Fellowship with God involves sharing with his people. As Paul writes to the church at Corinth about giving, see 2 Corinthians 8, he is not asking for funds for a building project. Rather, there is what we would call a diaconal need. The church in Judea has suffered from both famine and persecution. Paul, as the apostle to the Gentiles, is encouraging the churches he planted to share in their need. They, through Paul and others, had shared the gospel. Now, Paul suggests, it would be appropriate for the Gentiles to share in support for a suffering mother church. Yet that giving will help to build up the body of Christ. Giving, whether support of those proclaiming the gospel, or helping believers and others in need, is ultimately giving to God. And that giving, no less than the gifts for the Tabernacle, rejoices in the presence of God among his people. You also share in diaconal giving and service to those suffering from hurricanes and fires.

Willing giving is part of your worship of God. Giving is connected with sabbath rest. The sabbath rest required in the Fourth Commandment looks back to the pattern God set at creation. He created in six days, and on the seventh he rested—not because he was weary, but he entered his rest with the purpose of mankind joining him in that. Sin, of course, interrupted. But, as Hebrews 3 and 4 remind you, as we are redeemed in Christ, there still remains a sabbath resting for God’s people. The Tabernacle, and later Solomon’s Temple, reflected imagery of the Garden of Eden, that first place where God met with his people, made in his image. So there is something very appropriate about this reminder given in Exodus 35:1-3, just before the people are invited to give and work on the construction of the tent that would be the house of God. As Paul calls the Corinthian church to give, he ties the offering in with the first day of the week worship of God, 1 Corinthians 16.

Give willingly! No wonder that the people gave generously. They had come to an understanding of how gracious God had been to them, and they responded by working on the Tabernacle and by bringing gifts that were needed. In fact, the giving was so generous that Moses had to put a stop to it—more than enough had been given. Offerings in the church are never a tax. They are something given willingly. Notice that Paul, though he has all the authority of an apostle, and had the right to order giving, instead simply encourages it. As Paul encourages proportional giving in 2 Corinthians 8:15, he quotes from the giving of manna in Exodus 16. He has this background in mind as he urges you to give willingly.

Give because of what you have been given. Give because God has blessed you. Where did the Israelites, who had been slaves in Egypt, get the gold and other expensive material needed for the Tabernacle? Remember that God had told them that they would plunder the Egyptians. He worked the plagues and controlled Pharaoh’s heart hardening so that when the last plague came and the first-born were struck dead except in the houses protected by the blood of the Passover lamb, the terrified Egyptians plied them with wealth and begged them to leave Egypt. What Israel gave, it had first received from the Lord. The same is true for you—all that you have comes from God and you give him back what he has first given you. When God asks something of you, he first provides you with what he requires. “Through their offerings, the people would show their desire to have God dwell in their midst and their longing for the still more wonderful and intimate fellowship that God would bestow upon them when the promised Redeemer came. The people brought their offerings willingly, moved by the Spirit of the Lord. They wanted their offerings to show that they had finished with the sin they had just committed. The Lord was pleased to dwell in their midst—not in the form of a golden calf but in the tabernacle.” (S. G. DeGraaf, Promise and Deliverance, Vol. 1, p. 312).

Give because Christ became poor for your sake. As Paul encourages the Corinthian church (and you) to give sacrificially, he points you to Christ, 2 Corinthians 8:9. Christ’s becoming poor involves all of his humiliation, culminating in his death on the cross. It results in riches of salvation for you. Christ is the one who fulfills all that the Tabernacle and its sacrifices point to. And because he is your Savior, his is also your example. Following him who willingly gave himself motivates you to give willingly in his service.

Give, not mechanically, not selfishly (as is sometimes true of those proclaiming a health and wealth gospel), but look at what God has given you in Christ—and then willingly give yourself to him.

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.

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