by Joe McKeever
When people bring their offerings to God, they're doing so by faith. We mean two important things when we say that:
1) It means there are great reasons to give-such as God's honor and His commands, God's people and their needs, our gratitude for His blessing, and the personal benefit we derive from giving. 2) It also means there are good reasons not to give (That's the nature of faith-there are reasons pro and con).
We pastors are always telling people the first ones-why to give-without telling them the second, that they can find good reasons not to give and what they are.
I know, I know. They don't need our help to find reasons not to give. They can find plenty on their own. Still, we may want to offer a few biblical insights on reasons not to give to the Lord's work.
Take the widow who gave her two mites, for example-a story found in several places in the Gospels, notably Mark 12.
The Lord and His disciples were standing to one side in the Temple watching as a line of contributors snaked through the worship center. One by one, the people dropped their offerings into the huge urns put there for collections. You can almost picture Jesus saying, "Watch this," nudging the disciples just as a little widow woman dropped her two small coins-the smallest denominations available in that day.
"Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on" (Mark 12:43-44).
I venture to say there's not a preacher worth his salt who hasn't preached that story a number of times. It's an inspiring and positive lesson on giving. But there is a negative lesson here, too. If ever a person had a good reason not to give, that woman did. I've thought of four, you may come up with others:
1) She didn't have much; 2) she needed what she had; 3) her gift would not make much of a difference-the counters cared little whether the offering that day was $10,000.20 or just $10,000; 4) but the greatest reason she had for not giving was that the temple was under the control of a bunch of crooks-Jesus called them a "den of thieves" (Mark 11:17). Surely God would not want us to fund such a gang, would He?
Let's camp out here for a moment. Have you ever heard anyone say things like this? "I don't like what they're doing down at the church, so I'm withholding my offering;" "I don't like the preacher, so I'm sending my tithe somewhere else;" or "I'll start giving my money again as soon as they make some changes."
I have-more than a few times. How easily we decide to punish the Lord's Church-the Bride of Christ, the Body of Christ, the Household of God-for something we don't like or someone we disagree with. How lightly we take our obligation to support the ministry of Jesus Christ through His Church! How quickly we back away from our duties when we find the first excuse for slacking off.
It's worth noting that Jesus was pleased with this woman who brought that offering, even if the Temple was being strangled by the shenanigans of the Sanhedrin.
This is probably the time to point out that "reasons not to give" only make sense only from a humanistic point of view, never from God's. In fact, I can't find in Scripture where the Lord ever told anyone something like, "Hey, look-you're having a hard time. Skip your offering."
Quite the opposite is true. Elijah told the starving widow and her son to take the small amount of flour and oil she had and "make a little bread cake from it first, and bring it out to me, and afterward you may make one for yourself and for your son" (I Kings 17:13). When she did as she was commanded, we read that the flour and oil never ran out for the duration of the drought. By giving the little she had, she blessed herself in the long run.
Paul commended the poorest Christians on the planet for their generosity. Referring to the church at Macedonia, he tells the believers in Corinth, "In a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality." Pretty impressive, but he wasn't finished bragging on the Macedonians, "For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability they gave of their own accord, begging us with much entreaty for the favor [privilege] of participation in the support of the saints." Still further, he says, "And this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God" (II Corinthians 8:1-5).
You get the impression the Lord is not particularly impressed either by our wealth or our poverty. In both cases, He expects His children to be faithful givers. The amount, and sometimes the nature, of our gifts will vary. When Mary and Joseph dedicated their Holy Firstborn to God, they were so poor their offering was only a couple of birds. Moses specified in the Old Testament that if parents were so poor as not to afford the lamb, a pigeon or dove would be acceptable (Leviticus 12:6-8).
Sure the poor aren't able to give in as much quantity as the wealthy, but they are still expected to be faithful. Are you or members of your church unemployed? Are things tough right now? Are you having trouble making ends meet? Don't forget to give!
Joe McKeever is a veteran Southern Baptist pastor.