Something I never understood was why churches pass around collection plates. I understand the business reason. However, I don’t understand the religious reason.
Christians, if they are saved by Christ, are compelled to give their first fruits back to God out of love. After all, there is no greater privilege we have than to take our time, thoughts, and resources to preach the Gospel. However, the only criteria Paul ever gives is that “[e]ach one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7).
That means there is no cut and dry number. Anything given without the true desire to do so is not acceptable in the eyes of God, like the blood of rams and bulls from unrepentant sinners. As I was told during a Bible Study in Williamsport PA a few years back, “You can’t buy God off with His own money.”
I would say that “not buying God off with His own money” is actually a very Biblical way to put it. God has entrusted us with resources, they are a gift from Him. Being that He already gave them to us, He gains nothing from getting them back. We already know God took the whole penalty for our sin in His Son Jesus Christ, He doesn’t require anything back from us in the least bit.
So, we can derive two principles. First, because we live in full knowledge that God Himself is our righteousness we give knowing it does absolutely nothing to accrue merit for us in any way. Second, because we are grateful that Jesus Christ has paid the penalty for our sin that we could have never have paid on our own, we feel compelled to let others know of the God we worship and desire to do whatever we can to further the preaching of the Gospel.
Now, what percentage of your income does that mean in your life?
If you follow the Old Testament, it is anywhere between 10 to 23 percent of your income. The Bible is not explicit if this is before or after tax, though it is sad how all of the sudden churches become levitical legalists when it comes to insisting that you MUST given 10 percent of your pretax income. The only thing I know for sure is that the Old Covenant IS NOT our guideline for giving, because we are dead to the law (Gal 2:19), and to follow it on this point more than any other (not interbreeding animals, not mixing clothing materials, not eating pork, observing a list of holy days, etc.) to me is an inconsistent hermeneutic and must be discounted outright.
If you live in full knowledge of Christ’s sacrifice, the only logical answer is that you will give God as much as humanly possible. Jesus Christ is our example of sacrifice and in reference to this He says, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matt 16:24). Hopefully, that number if you can afford it is above 23 percent. If you are Warren Buffet, the figure can be 99.9 percent of your income. Yet, that number may be much lower if you are 19 year old stuck working as an auto mechanic for $10.50 an hour, and you already have a child and a stay-at-home mother at home, like one of my co-workers.
You need to honestly ask yourself the question: are you denying yourself? Or, do you indulge in what you want and give God the change? Our example of true giving is that of the widow at the temple:
And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them,“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 12:41-44)
You see, she gave out of her poverty and all she had. This is radical stuff. Do we give all we have?
This is when the Christian needs to use discernment. Do I need a smart phone or that new computer? If I do, do I have to get the one with all the bells and whistles? If your reason for getting it is, “No, but I want the nicer one because it is more fun,” do you honestly feel as if you are denying yourself? My opinion is that in such a situation, it is obviously apparent that you deem it better to amuse yourself than to use your resources to preach the Gospel.
Now the issue cuts deeper than that, because it is bigger than money. If you give God your first fruits in money, but in your spare time spend it on yourself and not on study, fellowship, or preaching, wouldn’t it be accurate to say you are not denying yourself on this point?
This exposes all of our selfishness. None of us does what we ought to be doing with our time or money. James White laments in a speech about Jehovah’s Witnesses, “They will do more for a lie than we will do for the truth.”
I look at my own sin and oftentimes, I will go on the computer and check this website before I pray. It cost me nothing and I could not even give God my first fruits of time in my day. Recently, I went to Hershey Park for three days and it cost me $125, which is dirt cheap for a whole vacation including gas, tickets, and food; but I did not even go to church. My heart is new, yet my flesh lingers on with it’s selfish idolatry.
May God increasingly conform us to the image of His Son Jesus Christ and may it be the desire of our own hearts to reject the things of this world more and more so that we may know Him more and more. Amen.