The Offering As a Gift[1]

Offerings have a manifold nature; in other words, they are manifested in several ways and serve various purposes. Offerings are manifold because they are our response to God’s grace, which is also manifold (1 Peter 4:10).

Offerings are, first of all, gifts we give our Creator. The most used words in the Old Testament to refer to offerings are minchah and qorban, which mean “gift, tribute.” In the New Testament, the words are doron and prosfora, which mean “gift” and “something given voluntarily,” respectively. An offering is, therefore, a gift we give to God. It may seem absurd, we might consider it ridiculous, but that is the reality. Offerings are a gift that a completely dependent creature, who is unable to produce anything on its own, gives the Creator and Sovereign of the universe, who owns everything. Since it is given voluntarily, giving an offering, both the act in itself and the amount offered, becomes one of our most meaningful worship experiences. Additionally, offerings are perhaps indisputable evidence of the state of our relationship with the Lord.

There are several reasons why we give gifts, but their basic purpose is to show love or devotion and to also begin or strengthen an affable relationship with others.

Gifts have great symbolic value. A gift sometimes represents the giver. The purpose of this kind of gift is for those who receive it to remember the person who gave it to them. In that case, gifts are intimately related to offerers, their accomplishments, products, work, or an essential trait of the giver. These gifts may symbolize a person’s desire to offer him or herself as a gift.

A gift can also represent the giver’s knowledge of the one receiving the gift and their interest in them. Those gifts are very carefully chosen. They are the result of having carefully observed the receiver and his or her needs. Their purpose is to communicate not only affection and appreciation to the one receiving the gift, but to also stir up the personal interest of the person receiving it.

Finally, some gifts symbolize a special occasion. Their purpose is to bring to mind a meaningful event to be celebrated or remembered. Those gifts encourage reflection, celebration, or gratitude.

The highly symbolic value of gifts means that not all gifts are acceptable. In fact, some gifts are offensive. A gift chosen with lack of care communicates lack of interest. The absence of a gift may communicate a nonexistent relationship. A defective gift, or a gift given by obligation, communicates indifference and may even mean rejection or disdain.

Our offerings tell God what we feel for Him. Tithes express our acknowledgment that God is our Lord, the Owner and Creator of all things. On the other hand, offerings express our affection and devotion toward God as our Father, who deeply loves us, leads and protects us, and is personally interested in us. Tithes belong to the realm of duty; offerings, to the realm of love.

That is why God does not accept every offering. For instance, He rejected Cain’s offering (Genesis 4:1–7). Cain and Abel had been instructed regarding the meaning of sacrifices, and they knew that sacrificing a lamb meant acknowledging that they had sinned and accepting Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Genesis 3:15; Isaiah 53; John 1:29). When Cain decided to offer only the best fruits of the earth, he rejected his condition as a sinner and the promise of redemption through Jesus Christ. His offering was a subtle reproach against God for having driven his parents out of Eden.[2]

Likewise, when the children of Israel disregarded the Lord’s commandments, He rejected their offerings and considered them an abomination (Amos 5:22; Isaiah 1:13). When they brought defective offerings to God—in other words, sick, blind, or lame animals—He considered it an insult (Malachi 1:6–11). In the same way, when someone gives their offerings by obligation or grudgingly, they sadden and insult God (2 Corinthians 9:7).

How Should We Give?

If the offering is our gift to God, the purpose of a gift is to show love and devotion to the person we love. 2 Corinthians 9:7 states, “God loves a cheerful giver,” because cheerfulness in a giver’s heart is evidence of their sincerity. The opposite of cheerfulness is sadness or sorrow over having given.

The Bible mentions what our attitude should be when we give other people donations. Romans 12:8 says that those who give—whether it be food, part of their wealth, or part of their possessions to help others—should do so generously. The word “generously” translates from the Greek word japlotēs, whose basic meaning is sincerity. The passage also says that those who show mercy to others should do so with cheerfulness. The attitude God wants us to have when we give to others should be the attitude we display when giving our offerings to God.

Those who give cheerfully show the deep love and devotion they feel for their Creator. He owns everything, He does not need our offerings, but our expressions of love are very precious to Him. That is why Jesus told the widow who gave two mites to the treasury that she had given more than the rich, because the devotion and sacrifice that motivated her offering gave it a higher value in God’s sight (Luke 21:1–4). Mark 12:33 says that loving God “with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

[1] Taken from Félix H. Cortez, God Will Provide: Tithes, Offerings, and Our Spiritual Life (Doral, FL: IADPA, 2021), 83–86, 99, 100.

[2] Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1890), 71.

Félix H. Cortez

is professor of New Testament Literature at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University.