The people of God bring offerings to the Lord because it is His loving will for them. Like tithe, offerings are to be brought to God as an act of respectful obedience. While tithe is primarily a moral duty (tithe belongs to God), offerings are primarily an expression of gratitude to God (Mal. 3:10). The Bible contains a significant amount of information about offerings that reveals a number of important and common themes. We will discuss and summarize only some of the most important ones.
Theologically the practice of bringing offerings to the Lord is related to several interrelated ideas that express aspects of God’s character as He relates with humans. The first is soteriology; that is, God’s constant and loving disposition to save humans from the power of sin; He is the Savior. Salvation is a revelation of God’s grace and reaches us as an undeserved gift to be accepted by faith in Christ (Rom. 3:21, 22). God’s self-revelation disclosed the unfathomable fact that He is the greatest giver in the universe in that He provides for everything needed to preserve life on the planet, and He gave His only Son for the salvation of the world (John 3:16). This glorious gift was prefigured in the Old Testament sacrificial system. Throughout the ancient Near East, offerings propitiated divine wrath and made the offerer acceptable to the gods. This was salvation by works.
In the Bible, the wrath of God, provoked by human sin, is also resolved through a sacrifice/an offering. The difference is that the biblical God knows that humans do not possess anything valuable enough to resolve the problem caused by human sinfulness and rebellion. Consequently, God provided the sacrifice capable of reconciling humans to Him, represented in the Old Testament by the expiatory sacrifices/offerings (Lev. 1-4). God gave to the Israelites the blood of sacrificial animals to make atonement for them on the altar (Lev. 17:11). Those sacrifices were in themselves ineffective in bringing a final resolution to the problem of human sin. The divine design pointed to and intended to show that the most important offering was going to be given by God to cleanse us from sin (Isa. 52:13-53:12; Heb. 10:14; Rom. 3:25). The Lord was to provide the Lamb (Gen. 22:8, 13), and the New Testament reveals that He indeed provided the Lamb (John 1:29). We now hear the voice of Jesus speaking to us: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son” (John 3:16). The lesson is clear, we should never bring an offering to the Lord seeking to obtain His favor or love, because these are ours through an offering that we could not provide, that He in fact brought forth for us. This divine offering of disinterested love displays the most important theological foundation for our giving: we give because God gave first, and, consequently, in our giving we reflect His character. Since God provided that most costly offering, we are now enabled and expected by God’s grace to bring to Him an acceptable offering (Mal. 3:10).
The second element in the theological foundation for true offerings is God’s faithfulness to His promises and the reliability of His word. His character is such that what He says is what He does (cf. Titus 1:2). He promised to bless His people, and He did it. When the Israelites brought the firstfruits of the land to the Lord as an offering, they affirmed God’s trustworthiness: “I declare this day to the Lord my God that I have entered the land which the Lord swore to our fathers to give us” (Deut. 26:3)—and expressed their gratitude. “I have brought the first of the produce of the ground which You, O Lord have given me” (verse 10). God also promised to dwell with humans, providing them with an identity and supplying their needs, and He fulfilled His promises (cf. John 1:14; Matt. 5:45; Acts 17:25). We can only give Him from what He “has given” us in fulfillment of His promises, therefore the blessing precedes bringing an offering (Deut. 16:17; 1 Chr. 29:14).
The third element in the theological foundation for offerings is God’s lordship. The God who saved us freely, and who is faithful to His promises, is also our Lord and deserves homage. He is our King, and we cannot come before Him empty-handed (Deut. 16:16). Malachi asked the priests, who were offering to the Lord defective offerings, “Why not offer it to your governor? Would he be pleased with you?” (Mal. 1:8). God is the ultimate Lord, and we show Him respect and honor through our offerings. The three kings identified Jesus as the King of kings and gave Him gifts of homage (Matt. 2:1-11; cf. Isa. 18:7). The psalmist announced, “Kings will bring gifts to You” (Ps. 68:29); they will recognize His lordship.
Motivation for Giving Offering
The three theological concepts listed above also provide the most important motivation for human giving, namely, gratitude on account of God’s grace and loving rule over us. First, there is God’s grace. Humans are called and challenged to give because God’s grace revealed itself in the free gift of salvation through Christ (Rom. 5:15). Christians are motivated to give because God, who keeps His promises, is constantly blessing and protecting His people (cf. 2 Cor. 8:1, 2). Divine grace can soften the human heart and make it benevolent (cf. 2 Cor. 8:9).
Second, the recognition of the lordship of God should motivate us in our giving. The fact that there is one Lord who rules the universe and owns everything in it lies at the root of benevolence (Ps. 24:1; 50:8-14). This most wonderful God allows us to assist Him as stewards of His creation (Gen. 1:28). This divine work assignment reveals the great value God’s grace has placed on us and provides a valid purpose for our existence. God wills us to be His stewards, and His will for us is always good in that is seeks to enrich and transform us.
A third motivation for giving is found in the recognition that God is working through His church for the salvation of humanity (Acts 1:8). He gave us a mission, and He has also given us the means to achieve that mission—it is in our pockets or purses or credit cards. Paul said to the Corinthians that God “will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase. . . . You will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God” (2 Cor. 9:10, 11). Offerings and the fulfillment of the mission of the church are inseparable. Nothing should be more important for believers than the proclamation of the gospel of grace; they should count it a privilege to be instruments of God in that task.
In summary, we could say that what motivates Christians to give offerings is their love for God, a selfless love whose focus of attention is God and fellow human beings. Giving should not be an attempt to obtain or gain God’s sympathy, love, or recognition. It is only through the sacrificial offering of Christ that we are accepted by God. Our giving is preceded by God’s saving grace and should always be a response of gratitude.
An Acceptable Offering
Our last comment leads us logically to a definition of an acceptable offering. First, an acceptable offering should be a self-offering; an expression of our willingness to give ourselves to God. It is a deeply religious experience because it is a token of a life wholly surrendered to the Lord. This is illustrated in the burnt offering (Lev. 1), which was totally burned on the altar. It stood as a symbol of a life totally dedicated to the Lord. In the New Testament, Jesus illustrated this concept with the experience of the widow’s offering (Luke 21:3, 4). An offering that comes from a heart filled with love is an expression of the surrendering of the whole person to Christ. In such cases, God has become first in our life.
Second, an acceptable offering is an expression of faith in God’s providential care for us. This is also illustrated by the widow who trusted that the Lord would provide for her, and so she brought her offering to Him. God asked the Israelites to trust Him and to bring their tithes and offerings (Mal. 3:8-10). Paul praised the Philippians for trusting in the Lord when giving their offerings: “For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord” (2 Cor. 8:3). They cautiously gave beyond what would appear to be financially feasible for them. Thus, Paul assured them that “my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). Faith in God helps us to overcome selfishness.
Third, and based on our previous discussions, we could suggest that an acceptable offering is the embodiment of the worshipper’s gratitude, thanksgiving, joy, and love. In the Bible, offerings are practically always expressions of gratitude, joy, and love. The burnt and peace offerings were brought to express gratitude and joy to the Lord for His many blessings. The Temple was a place of joy as the people came with their offerings to worship God (Deut. 27:7; Ps. 95:2). These are all responses to the experience of God’s redemptive and providential love.
There are probably different ways of expressing gratitude and love. Most often we use words, but they are not always enough. On the day of your wedding anniversary, words are not enough. You are expected to bring a special gift. The best way to express love and gratitude is not through words but through actions. A gift is the embodiment of an emotion or a positive attitude. Such things are deep inside us, and we exteriorize them by providing for them a visible body in the form of a gift. An offering is the embodiment, or concretization, of thanksgivings for a blessing we received from the Lord. The Lord receives that act of love and gratitude, and He uses it according to His own purpose. When my offering is received in some other part of the world, the recipients are in reality receiving an expression of my love and gratitude to God in a tangible way. An offering is indeed the concrete shape that our inner feelings and attitudes toward God’s love take in our act of worship.
Fourth, an acceptable offering is a freewill offering and not one brought to the Lord under compulsion or reluctantly. The Lord does not force us to bring Him offerings, but He expects us to give offerings. God told Moses, “Tell the sons of Israel to raise a contribution [terûmāh, a gift dedicated to God] for Me; from every man whose heart moves [nādab, “urge, give voluntarily”] him you shall raise My contribution” (Exod. 25:2; see Ezra 1:6). Paul says about the Philippians that they “gave of their own accord” (2 Cor. 8:3), meaning on their own; that is to say, willingly and voluntarily. Giving comes from the heart because it is there that the decision is made: “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart” (2 Cor. 9:7). Paul then explains what he means: “Not grudgingly [lupē, “hurting, painfully”] or under compulsion [under the control or influence of someone or something other than one’s own volition] for God loves a cheerful giver.” Instead, Paul says, give joyfully!
Fifth, an acceptable offering is one that comes from a heart at peace with God and others. The act of worship presupposes that religion and ethics are not to be compartmentalized or separated from each other. Dealing properly with others is as much a religious duty as bringing an offering to God. Here Jesus was very clear: “If you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering” (Matt. 5:23, 24). Of course, one could give seeking self-recognition and not because there is peace in the heart, but Jesus condemned such an attitude (Matt. 6:1-4).
Sixth, an acceptable offering, although spontaneous, is at the same time systematic. We are expected to plan our giving based on our income. This means that giving should not be controlled by your emotions but, rather, based on a decision you made to give to the Lord a certain amount, a percentage, on a regular basis (Deut. 16:17). Paul also says that you should give according to your means (2 Cor. 8:11). We should recall that in the Old Testament, offerings were graded on the basis of the economic condition of the Israelite. A wealthy person was expected to bring a young bull, but others, depending of their financial condition, could bring a sheep, a goat, or even a bird (Lev. 1:3, 10, 14). God does not require from us more than we can do. This implies that we should not press church members to give beyond their capacity to give.
Collection and Management of Offerings
Our previous point raises the question of the logistics in the biblical system of offerings. The Bible provides certain guidelines in the collection and management of offerings. The offering is to be set apart at home, based on the blessings received from the Lord (1 Cor. 16:2; “each one of you,” that is to say, privately at home). This is an act of dedication, or consecration, of the offering to the Lord. God and the church appointed specific instruments to receive the offerings. These were recognized by the community of believers as being worthy of receiving and administering them (2 Cor. 8:9, 17-23; 9:3). In Israel, the Levites collected the offerings and made sure that they reached God’s intended purpose. Offerings should not be given to anyone who is simply claiming to be a servant of God but who operates outside the organized church of Christ; offerings belong to the Lord (Mal. 3:10). The place to bring them was the Temple or the church where people gathered for collective worship to the Lord (Mal. 3:10). There is some evidence indicating that proper records were kept and that the offerings were used for the assigned purposes (see 1 Cor. 16:3; Phil. 4:18).
Specific Purposes for Offerings
The Bible mentions several specific purposes for bringing an offering, such as providing for the needs of the sanctuary or the church. Thus, we find offerings for the building and reparation of the sanctuary temple (Exod. 25:2; Ezra 8:25), offerings for the poor (Rom. 15:25-28; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8, 9), and offerings for the support of the sanctuary services and the gospel ministry (Matt. 10:10). Offerings serve to strengthen the unity of the church (Rom. 15:27). Through their offerings, believers showed themselves to be one in spirit, message, and purpose. By supporting a local project, the world church finds an occasion to express the unity that keeps them together. Offerings create financial equality within the church. Churches that had much, shared with those who had little (2 Cor. 8:13-15). Finally, one of the most important purposes of offerings was to motivate people to praise God. Through them the spirit of gratitude is nurtured within the community of believers, and God is praised for the benevolence of His instruments (2 Cor. 9:12).
By way of conclusion we should ask about God’s intentions for asking us to bring offerings to Him; He certainly does not personally need them. We have already identified some of them. First, the Bible suggests that God used the system of offerings to teach His people how to express their love and gratitude to Him. In this way, selfishness would be defeated in their lives. Another reason God required offerings was for His people to express loyalty to Him by rejecting idolatry. Bringing their offerings to Him reminded them that Yahweh was the true Owner of everything and that it was He who blessed them. The land did not belong to Baal, and it was not Baal who made it fruitful; it was the Lord Yahweh. Finally, God required offerings from His people in order to strengthen their relationship with Him. Each offering provided for the people of God an opportunity to re-consecrate themselves to Him. The relationship established with Him through His glorious act of redemption was renewed, and the bond of love was strengthened in an act of personal devotion.
1 Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.