by The Rev. Frank B. Reeves
Rector Emeritus, St. Martin-in-the-Fields
Church offertory plates often contain lots of one dollar bills. We don’t think of this kind of meager giving as being sinful, or as cheating the Lord. Mostly this sort of giving simply reflects a longtime pattern of giving a token, not really an offering of one’s life.
The pattern of giving a few dollars on Sunday needs to be rethought if we are going to fulfill what God desires of us. But then, we need to be willing to ask what God desires.
Our Scriptures emphasize giving a gift that reflects that God is first in our lives. The people of the Old Testament were instructed to make an offering of what came first. The first fruits of your grain, your wine, and your oil, as well as the first of the fleece of your sheep, you shall give him. (Deuteronomy 18:4). The first of these items was not necessarily the most valuable. The point was that by thinking first of what one could offer to God, one was placing God first in one’s life and this priority made the gift worthy of God.
God’s Word consistently teaches us that the gifts given to the Lord are really a return of part of His blessings to us. This realization is at the heart of Christian stewardship. Jacob, for example, made this vow to God,and this stone, which I have set up as a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that you give me I will give one-tenth to you (Genesis 28:22). Such commitment is surely pleasing to God. The faithful steward thinks of one’s offering gift as a faithful return of part of God’s blessings received.
As important as realizing that our offertory gift is meant to be a worthy return to our Lord, our God, is the spirit in which we present our gifts. Nobody is pleased to receive a gift given resentfully, and a gift which costs the giver as little as possible is a kind of insult. But a gift given joyfully, out of love, is always cherished. The Psalmist proclaims, I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy. (Psalm 27:6).
Saint Paul reminded the early Christians that this spirit of joy should shine through all that they do. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
Giving thanks to God in all circumstances is a great test of our faith and a proof of our love for God. Our gifts to God, however great or humble, should be given with a sincere sense of joyful thanksgiving. We live within a covenant of love with God. Nothing will separate us from His love, so nothing should keep us from joyful thanksgiving to Him. Saint Paul asked the Christians of Rome, Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35, 38-39).
The Scriptures also provide us with a touching testimony of joyful thanksgiving to God even in times of great stress. Though the fig tree does blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation (Habakkuk 3:17B18).
Placing God first in our lives and returning to Him a worthy sacrifice in a spirit of joy and thanksgiving are goals of our Faith which we may not have connected with something as commonplace as passing the offertory plate. Yet what we give to the Lord reflects our priorities, the intentions in our hearts.
Faithfulness brings with it blessings. May we be blessed in our giving.