We live in an age where many worship money. It is their ultimate source of security, identity, and life purpose. Yet, in this same age, God invites His people to worship Him with their money. This means that as followers of Christ, we are not called to worship God with only our lips through singing, praying, and preaching. We are invited to worship God through material giving as well. Giving is not optional for the worshiper, because tithes and offerings are an essential element of the worship of God. Ellen White summarizes the basic tenet of Christian giving in corporate worship as follows:
We belong to God; we are His sons and daughters— His by creation, and His by the gift of His only-begotten Son for our redemption. “Ye are not your own; for ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” The mind, the heart, the will, and the affections belong to God; the money that we handle is the Lord’s. Every good that we receive and enjoy is the result of divine benevolence. God is the bountiful giver of all good, and He desires that there shall be an acknowledgment, on the part of the receiver, of these gifts that provide for every necessity of the body and the soul.1
Why should we worship God with our gifts? To what end do we give our tithes and offerings? What do we express through those gifts? Let’s briefly consider the incentive, purpose, and theology behind the act of giving in corporate worship with special reference to the writings of Ellen G. White.
What motivates us to give during the divine service? What is it about our relationship with God that results in our bringing our monetary gifts to Him every Sabbath?
First, our giving is a heartfelt response to God’s grace toward us. As worshipers, we are to constantly remind ourselves that we do not give merely to sustain the church organization. Christian giving must not be seen simply as a response to the financial needs of the church, but as an expression of worship to the Creator for His providential care. Giving is fundamentally an expression of our love and praise to God for His amazing grace. Through our tithes and offerings, we concretely express His undisputed sovereignty over our lives. Through our willing offerings, we express our love for the One who first loved us.
Second, by giving, we recognize God as the Giver and Forgiver. God is the Author of “every good and every perfect gift” (James 1:17, NKJV), and “gives to all liberally and without reproach” (vs. 5). To declare God as a giver is to consider His supreme gift, Jesus Christ, who in turn challenges His followers to give freely because they received freely (Matt. 10:8).
God is also the Forgiver. In Christ, God provides humanity with its only source of forgiveness and reconciliation. This means that giving cannot be seen as a way of manipulating God through which we can exchange money for His blessings. The act of giving, like any other part of Adventist worship, is prompted by God’s own self-giving. The supreme gift of God is the greatest incentive for us to give. By our giving, we demonstrate tangibly that we have been gripped by God’s marvelous grace and that we now belong to Him as His redeemed children.
Third, giving is a response to God’s blessings. Giving is an effective witness that God is the Source of all blessings. The tithes and offerings are given during the church service as an authoritative affirmation that God has been continually blessing His people. We give in appreciation of God’s bounties and in gratitude for His abundant blessings. By giving, we recognize that “the great and infinite God lives not unto Himself, but for the benefit and blessing of every being and every object of His creation.”2 God constantly gives and invites us also to respond in giving. In an article written in 1881, Ellen White puts this point across with irony: “When our Heavenly Benefactor forgets our returning wants; when God forgets to be gracious, and none of his gifts flow into our barns, our granaries, and our cellars,—then may we plead an excuse for withholding our offerings.”3 So our giving is a token of appreciation of God’s providential dealings with us. As such, we do not give in order to receive more in return from God; we give back to God because we have already received much from Him.
To what end do worshipers give during the worship service? What are the reasons behind the act of giving? It can be noted that worshipers give for the following reasons: (1) It is an act of worship. (2) It assists the mission of the church. (3) It is good stewardship.
First, giving is an act of worship. Ellen White is clear: “The system of tithes and offerings was intended to impress the minds of men with a great truth,—that God is the source of every blessing to his creatures, and that to him man’s gratitude is due for the good gifts of his providence.”4 Through giving, we give praise and thanks to God for His excellence and goodness. Giving is a tangible expression of love and commitment to God, a response to His generosity. It is the hear t’s joyful response to the goodness of God. It is the ritual return of a portion of what God has initially given.
Second, God’s people give to support the work of God, especially “to sustain the gospel laborers in their work.”5 As Adventists, we share the view that “God has made the proclamation of the gospel dependent upon the labors and the gifts of His people.”6 Each time we give, we must do so with the firm belief that we are concretely supporting the proclamation of the gospel and the advancing of the church’s mission to the world. However, as worshipers, we need to always keep in mind that our giving is not to the church but to God. This implies that church leaders are accountable to God and to Christ’s body on how they use God’s money. Hence, giving is not only a visible way of expressing our praise and thanksgiving; it is also a way of signaling tangibly our commitment to partner with God in His mission to save the lost.
Third, we give during corporate worship because we believe in Christian stewardship. We understand that God made the world for the enjoyment and care of people whom He created and redeemed. We acknowledge that, as God’s stewards, we are responsible to God for the use of the varied grace with which He has entrusted us. Recognizing God’s full ownership of our lives, we dedicate all we have to Him, including our tithes and offerings. This means that the act of giving is an act of dedication and worship. In giving, we affirm that all life is to be lived under the lordship of Christ. Such giving is an expression of our full commitment to God. Hence, giving is a weekly repositioning of life and possessions to the lordship of Christ. “The very act of giving expands the heart of the giver, and unites him more fully to the Redeemer of the world.”7 By giving, we draw closer to Christ8 and become more like God;9 we develop a character for heaven.10
As Adventists, we recognize the tithe as “holy to the Lord” (see Lev. 27:30, 32 NIV). It is returned to Him as His own. In addition, we see our offerings as an opportunity to express our gratitude and love to God for His constant care. The returning of tithes and the giving of offerings are not an afterthought within the context of Adventist worship. Worshipers are to prepare their giving at home and bring it with joyful hearts on Sabbath.
Explicit acknowledgment of God’s love and care permeates the act of giving. A fundamental assumption of that liturgical action is that God, the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of His people, deserves total worship. The basic reason for the offering, apart from the routine funding of the church’s personnel, activities, and mission, is to respond to God’s generosity in His creation, redemption, and providence.
Faithfulness in giving reflects the nature of our heavenly Father. God is faithful in providing for His people, and He manifested this supremely by fulfilling His promise in sending the Messiah. His faithfulness covers the entire realm of the Christian life. By giving, we acknowledge that God is a faithful Provider, for it is His nature to give. He is committed to blessing His people.
“Jesus is Lord” is a statement at the heart of Christian worship. Indeed, the act of giving flows from this central affirmation. Both creation and new creation in Christ are God’s gifts. Christ offered Himself as a sacrifice and invites His redeemed to offer themselves as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1, 2). His claim of God’s reign now is liturgically expressed in the offering where the church recognizes the vital connection that exists between its profession of faith and its concrete actions.
This crucial role of Jesus Christ in our act of giving is highlighted by Ellen White:
All blessings must come through a Mediator. Now every member of the human family is given wholly into the hands of Christ, and whatever we possess–whether it is the gift of money, of houses, of lands, of reasoning powers, of physical strength, of intellectual talents–in this present life, and the blessings of the future life, are placed in our possession as God’s treasures to be faithfully expended for the benefit of man. Every gift is stamped with the cross and bears the image and superscription of Jesus Christ. All things come of God. From the smallest benefits up to the largest blessing, all flow through the one Channel–a superhuman mediation sprinkled with the blood that is of value beyond estimate because it was the life of God in His Son.11
Within this perspective, God is involved from beginning to end. The offering is not a one-sided movement from the church to God. Rather, God always moves first before the church responds in worship through giving. Giving is a stewardship of divine grace.
Implicit in returning the tithe and giving the offerings during the worship service is that God actually receives those gifts. Yet, it is the church that uses the gifts to advance God’s kingdom. If it is God who receives and the church that uses the offerings, then there is an intimate connection between divine and human action in God’s salvific purpose for humanity. The church is the instrument for the extension of God’s kingdom on earth. The faithful and generous giving of tithe and offerings facilitates the proclamation and actualization of the kingdom of God set against the horizon of Christ’s ultimate and eschatological victory.
Giving is a demonstration of our Christianity and true worship of God. Because we are now reconciled with God, we place a high priority on the free and glad returning of our tithes and the giving of offerings.12 As we give with a grateful heart, God blesses us accordingly.13 Truly, worship is giving, and giving is worship. Christ demands our whole heart and undivided affections.14 He cannot accept our gifts unless they come from the heart.15 Giving expresses our total allegiance to God, which is at the core of true worship.
1 Ellen G. White, Counsels on Stewardship, p. 72.
2 White, Australasian Union Conference Record, June 1, 1900.
3 White, The Review and Herald, Jan. 4, 1881.
4 White, The Review and Herald, Sept. 10, 1889.
5 White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, p. 249.
6 White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 74.
7 White, The Review and Herald, Oct. 31, 1878.
8 White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3, p. 405.
9 White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, p. 255.
10 White, The Review and Herald, May 16, 1893.
11 White, Faith and Works, p. 22.
12 White, Manuscript 159, 1899; Counsels on Stewardship, p. 66; The Review and Herald, December 26, 1882; Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, p. 238.
13 White, Christian Service, pp. 90, 175; Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, pp. 267, 268; Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3, pp. 304, 305.
14 White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, p. 160.
15 White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, p. 169.