Giving as Worship
In most Free Church congregations public worship begins before we even take our seats, when we drop our collection in the plate. No doubt those congregations that take up the offering during the service feel it to be a more integral part of their public worship, though in actual fact many now give through monthly or quarterly cheques or even by direct debit.
Whatever your method, do you feel your giving to the church is part of the worship you offer God? The Bible makes clear that you certainly should.
The Context of Our Giving
Paul specifies the day of worship as the day for regular Christian giving (1 Corinthians 16:2). It was in the place of worship that our Lord spoke so warmly of the poor widow whose love for God expressed itself in sacrificial giving (Mark 12:41). And repeatedly the Old Testament shows believers bringing their tithes, offerings and sacrifices to the tabernacle or temple. Some of what they gave was intended for the poor, some for the support of the priests, but it was all given to the Lord and viewed as worship. Don't then consider your collection given before, during or after the service as unconnected with the worship you are offering God, or as somehow inferior and unspiritual. Don't feel that an intimation announcing some special appeal for funds, or preaching that deals practically and specifically with biblical teaching on giving are out of place in a church service. Hear God speak in all these things, and resolve that your giving will always be a spiritual act.
The Motive for Our Giving
A circular comes out from the church offices informing us that some people give less to the Church than they spend on their daily newspaper or television licence. Another circular appeals for help in wiping out yet another deficit, and points out how wrong it is for the Church to be in debt. Congregational treasurers chivy members to give more and talk endlessly about Deeds of Covenant.
Should these things move us to examine our level of giving and perhaps increase it? They certainly should. Treasurers are God's servants, described by Paul as "the men you approve" and "chosen by the churches", their work being "service to the gospel" (1 Corinthians 16:3; 2 Corinthians 8:18-19). They are a vital part of the church's ministry and should figure regularly in the congregation's prayers.
But their appeals are not the motive for our giving. When Paul discusses with the Corinthians "the grace of giving" he insists, "I am not commanding you," and places the whole matter on the highest possible plane:
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.2 Corinthians 8:8-9
Our giving is in response to his giving. He has loved us to the uttermost, and we, to our uttermost, must love him in return, holding nothing back.
In every element of public worship we are brought face to face with God's great love. If we are moved as we should be, listening to a sermon, singing a psalm or by the sheer privilege of just being there, then "in view of God's mercy" we should need no further urging "to offer our bodies (and all we are and all we have) as living sacrifices," this being "our spiritual worship" (Romans 12:3). Even giving to the minister's stipend or pension should be seen in the same light, for if through him we receive any spiritual blessings, we owe in return material blessings (Romans 15:27). Public worship should be a powerful stimulus to us, though not the only one, to ensure that there is no shortfall in the church's Sustentation Fund.
The Measure of Our Giving
How much should you put in the plate? Nobody will tell you, and no ecclesiastical tax inspector will ever knock on your door claiming back payments. Your starting point must be that all you have is the Lord's, and though he doesn't need your offerings he gives you the honour of being a fellow-worker with himself. As a helpful guide you have the Old Testament tithe, which predates the giving of the Law. As was the case with the tithes, your giving should be regular and in keeping with your income (1 Corinthians 16:1). And if you have the love of Christ in your heart, you will certainly not want to give less than your less-privileged forefathers of Old Testament times.
Worship and giving go together. The more our worship is suffused with the presence of God, the more our hearts go out in love to the Lord Jesus, the more we shall want to give generously and gladly, the Macedonians were poor, but they gave themselves first to the Lord, and then "their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity" (2 Corinthians 8:2). When the spiritual temperature was high in Israel, and praise flowed spontaneously to God for his greatness and goodness, giving was also spontaneous, happy and wholehearted. The keynote then as now was struck by David when he said:
But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand. 1 Chronicles 29
In heaven we won't need pay packets or bank accounts, and we'll never miss them. But they're part and parcel of our life here on earth, maybe causing us many a headache. Isn't it a marvellous thing that they can be sanctified and serve to enrich our worship? So next Sunday don't put your collection in the plate as some kind of unfortunate necessity before getting down to real worship. Glorify God as you do it and enter into communion with him.