From the beginning of this world’s history, Cain’s and Abel’s offerings teach us that giving is vital to worship. They also show that the giver’s spiritual state is essential for the offering to be acceptable (Gen. 4:1-7). The offering was an indispensable part of public worship during Israel’s great feasts, where one was not to come before God “empty-handed” (Deut. 16:16). In those instances, the offering would be an acknowledgment of the blessings and not a means to acquire them; an expression of gratitude, not salvation through works.
Approximately two dozen different words are used in the Old Testament to describe the various types of offerings and their meanings. This shows that giving, so strongly present in the people’s vocabulary, was part of the way in which they perceived and lived their lives. Therefore, all offerings pointed to a general view that God is the owner of all things (Ps. 24:1).
In this article, we will limit our discussion to three aspects relating to the proportionality of offerings. The first deals with mandatory offerings; the second with freewill offerings; and the third addresses the qualitative aspect of giving. As we will see, these three aspects point to proportionality as a response to divine blessings, an indicator of the giver’s spiritual life and commitment to the church’s mission.
As a part of worship, mandatory offerings were previously determined and established by biblical instruction. However, as the following examples show, in spite of having been established in terms of the produce, animals, or amounts to be given, these offerings observed some type of proportion relative to the financial status of the giver. An example of these are sin offerings (Lev. 4-5), which were given in gratitude for healing (Lev. 12:1-33) and those given for the birth of a child and purification after birth (Lev. 14:10, 11, 21-31).
Thus, depending on the seriousness of the offense and the person’s status (a prince, a rich person, or a poor person), the sin offerings and other mandatory offerings varied from bulls and calves to rams, goats, lambs, doves, and pigeons. This way, there was always a correlation between each person’s ability to contribute and their offering. The offering or its proportional value had already been determined, and the worshipper had only to obey.
The fixed and mandatory proportion is also found in different circumstances during Israel’s history, showing God´s way of dealing with His people. Here are some examples.
- In the redemption of slaves and properties. In this case, a proportion was used according to time. The value of the redemption paid should be proportional to the proximity of the Jubilee, when a general amnesty of the debt would occur (Lev. 25:52). The farther away the Jubilee, the more valuable was the slave or the property.
- In the division of the inheritance among the tribes. This principle was applied once again because the tribes of Israel received land in proportion to their population (Num. 26:54).
- In the distribution of the cities to the Levites. The proportion concept was also used in this case. Each tribe made its donation of cities to the Levites in proportion to the number it possessed (Num. 35:8).
- In the tithe brought by the people for the priestly service (Lev. 27:30; Num. 18:21, 24; Mal. 3:8-10).
All that was brought to the Lord was an offering. Therefore, in spite of having a specific purpose to support the priesthood, the tithe should also be given as an “offering” (Num. 18:24).
In the above text, the word that identifies the giving of tithe as an offering (terumah) is the same used in Malachi (3:8) to distinguish between tithes (maaser) and offerings (terumah). Thus, the tithe is a fixed proportional offering, but not all offerings are tithe.
The tithe was not established by the Levites, but it was a mandatory fixed offering to support the ministry since ancient times. It is first mentioned in the Bible approximately 500 years before the Levitical priesthood, when Abraham gave his tithe to Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18-20).
Melchizedek’s ministry has no beginning or end. Therefore, his right to tithe also has no beginning or end. This right belongs to Jesus, who is alive and whom Melchizedek represents (Heb. 7:1-8).
Consequently, all the other mandatory and fixed offerings elapsed with the ancient context and the reliance on the typical ceremonial system, which was fulfilled in Jesus. However, the tithe is the only one that remains. Additionally, there is no text abolishing it in either the Old Testament or the New Testament; and its validity, different from other mandatory fixed offerings, is not dependent on the Levitical system.
Proportionality appears in various situations in the relationship between God and His people, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament. According to this principle, each one will be accepted according to what he has and not according to what he does not have (2 Cor. 8:12).
However, the purpose of all these mandatory offerings was not to acquire divine blessings, but to acknowledge God as the Owner and Creator, as well as to have communion with Him by the redemptive significance of each offering.
Let’s focus now on freewill offerings.
Under the quantitative aspect, freewill offerings are given this name because they should be voluntary. As we saw, God determines the percentage or amount of mandatory offerings, but the worshipper decides on the value of the freewill or voluntary offerings. The worshipper is faced with the decision of how much to give, which is not the case with fixed mandatory offerings. Therefore, the Bible describes these givers as anyone who “gives it willingly with his heart” in terms of how much to give (Exod. 25:2).
In addition to voluntary offerings, in freewill offerings “every man shall give as he is able” and “according to the blessing of the Lord your God which He has given you” (Deut. 16:17). This means that the voluntary offering should be (1) proportional “to the blessing” and (2) given “willingly with his heart” (Exod. 25:2), because the calculation is at the discretion of the giver. Mandatory fixed offerings were established on the basis of generosity, as can be seen in the animals required for sacrifice, in other offerings, and in tithe. This points to generosity being exercised also in the proportion of freewill offerings, according to these Bible examples (Exod. 25:1, 2; Ezek. 2:68, 69; Neh. 7:70-72; 10:32, 33; 1 Chron. 29:1-18).
Furthermore, in his offerings campaign among the churches, the apostle asks that “each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come” (1 Cor. 16:2). Here, planning is added to proportionality, as David did when he gave offerings for the temple (1 Chron. 29:2).
According to the above, the proportion of all income determines the frequency of the offerings, since the offering occurs regularly with each gift received, “according to the blessing of the Lord” (Deut. 16:17). Thus, the frequency has a positive impact on the Christian experience, as it denotes a systematic personal commitment to worship and the church’s mission.
Therefore, the offerings remain valid today, following a principle of proportionality. Two types of proportional offerings also remain: fixed mandatory offerings (tithe) and freewill offerings (voluntary) given “willingly with his heart.” The giver’s spiritual experience and his/her commitment to the Lord’s work are emphasized in both.
Quality of the Offering
The harvest offerings should be “the first of your ripe produce and your juices” (Exod. 22:29), and “whoever offers a sacrifice of a peace offering to the Lord, to fulfill his vow, or a freewill offering from the cattle or the sheep, it must be perfect to be accepted; there shall be no defect in them” (Lev. 22:21).
According to the above, the offerings were predominantly farming produce and animals, and the quality of the offering was the quality of the animal or produce offered. However, the Bible teaches that the spirit with which the worshipper gives will determine if the offering will be “the best” and “without defect” or if it will be the result of a petty heart that brings to the altar that which is disposable or less valuable (Mal. 1).
Three Bible examples expand on the meaning of the excellence of the offering, which goes beyond the item offered and deals with the condition of the giver’s heart.
The first example is of the poor widow (Mark 12:41-44). Jesus taught that more than what is given, the quality of the offering is expressed by how the worshipper gives. The value of the offering is the proportion that requires sacrifice. The text is clear: the widow gave all that she had, and even though it was small in terms of quantity, this small amount was plenty, considering the proportion in relation to her possessions.
Though they gave much, the other givers gave what was left over, and there was no generosity or sacrifice in the amount of their offerings. Therefore, it is not enough for the offering to be proportional, it also has to be generous. That way, the widow’s offering was meaningful to Jesus, who praised her and set her as an example for all those who serve God.
The second example is found in David’s speech when he called for offerings to be brought for building the temple (1 Chr. 29:1-18). He said he gave “with all my might” (verse 2), moved by “my affection of the house of my God” (verse 3), and together with the people “rejoiced greatly” (verses 9, 17), acknowledging that “all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours” (verse 11), and that giving is to return because “all things come from You, and of Your own we have given You” (verse 14), on the conviction that He has “pleasure in uprightness” (verse 17). Once again the emphasis is on the virtues of the worshipper’s heart.
Finally, the third example comprises the instructions of the apostle Paul. In addition to proportionality “as he may prosper” (1 Cor. 16:2), he emphasizes that the offering shall be preceded by “your willingness” (2 Cor. 9:2), and “prepare your generous gift beforehand,” “as a matter of generosity” (verse 5), “as he purposes in his heart” (verse 7), by a “cheerful giver” whom God loves (verse 7).
Therefore, offerings given lovingly and cheerfully are pleasing to God (verse 7) because they are never meager.
It is important to remember once again that the proportionality and generosity of mandatory and freewill offerings are motivated by our love for God and mission to all peoples. Here are some examples.
- The offerings for the Temple meant that through the sanctuary, God’s name would reach all nations (1 Kings 8:60).
- By receiving Abraham’s tithe, Melchizedek kept his ministry in the crossroads of nations and became an example of Christ, the Priest who intercedes for all (Heb. 7:1-8).
- Jerusalem, where all tithes and offerings were sent to the storehouse (Mal. 3:8-10), had the task of gathering all peoples to the name of the Lord (Isa. 2:1-4; Jer. 3:17).
- And by being faithful tithers and givers, the Israelite nation would be blessed, in order to draw the attention of all nations (Mal. 3:12).
Today, fixed mandatory offerings (tithe) and freewill offerings (voluntary) are still a part of God’s plan to move the church and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19).
Finally, as we saw, proportionality is evident in the Scriptures in mandatory offerings, as well as freewill offerings, and both are acceptable according to the worshipper’s heart. These two types of offerings remain relevant today in worship through tithe and voluntary offerings.
The heart determines whether the offering is perfect because it establishes whether what is given is the best in terms of quantity and quality, in order to be acceptable to God. Therefore, proportionality and quality cannot be separated, just like love and generosity.
Giving is worshipping, as is praying. In prayer the heart is lifted to God, telling Him what He already knows. In the offering, we give of ourselves, returning what already belongs to Him, according to His will. And His will is a generous proportion, joyfully brought by the giver, expressing commitment to Christ and His work.
Today, all the saints are still invited to give proportional offerings with great joy. This is our privilege.
 All Bible texts are from the New King James Version. Copyright ã 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Demóstenes Neves da Silva, Teologia das ofertas e perguntas sobre dízimo, Cachoeira, BA, Brasil. Edição do Autor, 2013 (theology of offerings and questions on tithe).