Acceptable and Unacceptable Offerings
There are plenty of indications in the Bible implying that the Lord evaluates, assesses, and rates our giving or its absence. The fact that He purposedly sat opposite to the treasury (Mark 12:41) and that He rated the poor widow’s offering (Mark 12:43) should tell us that even today, He is watching and assessing our giving patterns.
Another important truth is that some offerings are accepted and valued by Him, while others, irrespective of their amount, cannot be accepted and become even offensive to Him. What are some of the conditions for God to accept an offering?
1. When it is presented by a heart that is right with God. (Psalm 40:6–8; 51:16, 17; Isaiah 1:10–13; Hosea 6:6; Malachi 3:2–5; Matthew 9:13; Mark 12:33)
According to Malachi 3, God accepts those offerings that are brought “in righteousness” (verse 3), that is, by those who have allowed God to purify, to refine them (verses 2, 3) from sins such as sorcery, adultery, perjury, overreaching or oppressing hirelings in their wages, and oppression of the vulnerable and foreigners (verse 5), to mention a few. Only then will “the offerings . . . be acceptable to the Lord” (verse 4, NIV).
It becomes clear that the Lord evaluates the giver before the gift. The best and biggest offering will never be accepted if the one who brings it is not right with God. Thus, we need to bring a “heart offering” before we bring a “monetary offering.” We bring a “heart offering” when we regularly take time daily to allow the Holy Spirit to examine our thoughts and inclinations, comparing them with the Word of God. By confessing our sins and believing that Jesus’ death was sufficient to pay our debt, we receive the power to loathe ourselves because of our evil ways and deeds (Ezekiel 36:31), and then to receive a new heart, full of desire to do God’s will (Ezekiel 36:26, 27).
2. When it is brought by a heart that is right with men. (Matthew 5:23, 24; Hebrews 13:16)
Everyone who is right with God will strive to be right with other human beings. Those who bear a contentious spirit or are oblivious to the feelings, rights, or needs of others show that their religion is false. Therefore, their offerings cannot be accepted by God.
For this reason, Jesus says that if you are bringing your offering to the church (God’s storehouse) and “remember that your brother has something against you,” stop giving your offering “and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23, 24, NKJV). Have I done all I can to live peaceably with all men and women (Romans 12:18) and to help those in need around me? Without that sanctifying experience, our offerings cannot be accepted by God.
3. When it is presented by an obedient person. (1 Samuel 15:22; Psalm 40:6–8; Isaiah 66:2–4)
King Saul was eager to present offerings to the Lord, but only as a way to cover his willful disobedience to the Lord’s command. Instead of confessing his sin, he kept presenting excuses for doing what was against God’s will (1 Samuel 15). Some people today may also do the same when they work during the Sabbath hours, promising to bring that day’s wages as a kind of “compensation offering” for doing what is not right. But if a married man has an affair, will his wife accept a cake prepared by the other woman as compensation?
Therefore, Samuel said to Saul, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22, NKJV). God will never accept offerings as a replacement for loyalty to His commandments.
4. When the worshipper is seeking for heavenly, not an earthly, reward. (Matthew 6:1–4)
Some people may bring large offerings or make significant donations while compelled by less-than-ideal motivations. Some, for example, want to be recognized as philanthropists or benefactors, others have an eye on a position on the church’s committee, and still, others may give out of love for the pastor. Because those earthly motivations generally expect human recognition (a kind of reward), they cannot be accepted by God. Nevertheless, when I do not try to promote myself through my offerings, then what Jesus said may be accomplished in my life: “Your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:4, NIV).
5. When it represents an appropriate proportion of the income. (Deuteronomy 16:17; Mark 12:41–44; 1 Corinthians 16:1, 2)
Jesus once said that the person who gave the lesser amount gave more than all who gave far larger amounts (Mark 12:41–44). Instead of lacking math knowledge, the Creator of the universe indicated that His estimation of what we give is not based on the amount but on the proportion given. Six percent of the income given by the poorest person means the same as an offering of six percent of the income of the wealthiest one, even though the amounts will differ greatly.
By choosing the proportional system to decide when and how much to offer, we testify that we do not give to earn merit. Instead, we give as an answer to His giving because He is always the first to give. He will never expect us to give anything if He has not given us something (2 Corinthians 8:11, 12).
By not purposing a fixed percentage of their income to give as an offering (2 Corinthians 9:7), people may be leaving it to their own deceitful heart (Jeremiah 17:9) to decide when and how much to give. Conversely, by prayerfully choosing a proportion of their income to give as an offering, they put God in control of when and how much to give.
I give a fixed proportion of what He gave me, in answer to His giving. As we are partners in His business of saving souls, the more He blesses me financially, the bigger the amount that I will return to Him. And if He needs more to be invested in His business, He will give me more, for He knows that from every cent that He gives me, a fixed percentage will be invested back in forwarding His kingdom.
6. When it is given according to the specification. (Genesis 4:4, 5; Hebrews 11:4)
Cain and Abel’s story shows us that God cannot accept offerings that are not brought according to His specifications. Cain resolved to do it his way, and God “did not respect Cain and his offering” (Genesis 4:5, NKJV). Abel pleased the Lord by following His guidance and bringing “of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering” (Genesis 4:4, NKJV).
Space will not allow us to explore all the specifications found in the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy about acceptable offerings. But besides the items already covered above, we may add that regular offerings should also be brought to the Lord as firstfruits, respecting the God First principle (Matthew 6:33).
Firstfruits (or firstborn) offerings were regularly brought to God by His children in remembrance that He is the Provider and Sustainer of life. They are only accepted because Jesus, the Lamb of God, died as a ramson for our sins, opening the way for us to be accepted by the Father.
This kind of offering is “primarily triggered, not by good feelings, a specific need, a call, sympathy for a pastor or a religious leader, nor even a desire to provide for the temple or mission work. Instead, [it] should be triggered by God’s act of sending some form of an increase. They are a means to worship God, in addition to the tithe (Malachi 3:8–10), whenever there is an addition of income.”[*]
Before every act of worship through offerings, we are invited by God to assess our hearts to see if there is still an unconfessed sin that may prevent our offering from being accepted. But we must also evaluate our relationship with God and with others, the motivation that is leading us to offer, and the regularity and quality of the offering. Is it the best that we can bring? Is it expressing gratitude and allegiance to Him?
Let us take advantage of worship through offerings to get even closer to the One who not only ransomed us through His blood, but also sustains us!
[*] Marcos Faiock Bomfim, “God First: Biblical Narratives of Givers and Giving,” Inverse Sabbath School Quarterly first quarter, lesson 2 (2023).