In this article I wish to look at the principles that govern our financial support of the assembly. The habit of most assemblies is to have a weekly offering. Thus, on the Lord’s Day a box is left near the door of the hall. As the saints solemnly shake the hands of the elders at the door, they slip their offering into the box and make their way to their seat. Or perhaps after the breaking of bread has been completed, an elder will rise and produce a bag which is then circulated among the believers and their contributions are gathered.
These are perfectly sensible practices. But it should be recognised that Scripture does not lay down the mechanics of assembly giving. In the past there were animated debates about whether a box (2Ki 12:9-10; 2Ch 24:8-11) or a bag (Joh 12:6; 13:29) was more scriptural. If you look up these references, you will discover who won that debate! But the truth is that common sense and sound judgement dictate how assemblies gather their funds.
Scripture does, however, lay down principles that govern our giving.
Giving ought to be spiritual. We ought to think about giving in spiritual terms. Although our contributions are used for prosaic purposes (e.g., to paint the hall, to pay for public liability insurance, to offset speakers’ expenses, etc.), their underlying purpose is to support what the assembly represents. The assembly represents Christ. Its role on earth is to uplift Him (1Ti 3:15-16). When we give, we give to Him. That is why when we slip our handful of bills into the bag on Sunday morning, we are giving an “offering.” We give to God.
Most of us have an opportunity to look at the assembly’s annual accounts. A brief scrutiny of them will show roughly what percentage we have contributed to the total income of the assembly. But we must never make the mistake of assessing the value of our giving in purely monetary terms. God’s accounting principles are different. One day Jesus saw a widow drop two “mites” into the treasury (Mar 12:42). Her contribution to the temple’s takings that day was negligible. But Jesus said that she gave “more than they all” (Luk 21:3). That is why the schoolgirl who has a Saturday job in the local store should contribute on Sunday morning. Although she can only contribute a handful of coins, the value of her offering is not calculated in nickels and dimes. The divine assessor calculates her contribution in a different way. The wealthy businessman who gives more than anyone else in the assembly may still be “robbing God” (Mal 3:8)! God’s accounting principles are spiritual, not financial.
Giving ought to be discreet. Cash offerings remain the primary means of assembly giving. One great benefit is anonymity. No one knows who has given what when the box or bag is emptied! These days it can be tax efficient to give by other means. No doubt this may represent good stewardship. But it should be remembered that if giving by other means draws attention to yourself, then there is a risk that the spiritual purpose of the offering may be undermined (Mat 6:3). Complete anonymity is desirable but is not always possible. Thus, for example, Paul knew that the gifts he received from Epaphroditus came from Philippi (Php 4:18). The general principle, however, is that so far as possible, giving should not be for personal advantage. Today many celebrities and businessmen publicise their giving to charitable causes. It is difficult to resist the conclusion that they do so because it is good for their profile. God appreciates those who give discreetly. It is for His honour, not ours.
Giving ought to be regular. Paul discusses the practicalities of assembly giving on only one occasion (1Co 16:1-4). He directs the Corinthians to prepare a gift for the relief of the saints at Jerusalem. Although it was an exceptional offering, it exhibits some valuable general principles. He instructed the Corinthians to set aside money each Lord’s Day so that when he came to Corinth there would be a handsome sum ready to carry to Jerusalem. Paul well knew that regular giving is more productive than occasional giving. His instruction was designed to avoid the embarrassment of a last-minute effort. While Paul may have been encouraging the Christians to set aside a sum at home (16:2) rather than asking them to contribute to an assembly fund, the general point is clear. Systematic giving is a valuable exercise.
Giving ought to be generous. In my travels I have found the Christians to be generous people. I have noticed a very definite connection between spirituality and generosity. I have also found that giving is not always proportionate to wealth. This was Paul’s experience. The wealthy Corinthians were reluctant givers (1Co 9:3-11; 2Co 8:7). The poor Macedonians were generous givers (2Co 8:1,2).
One way of gauging whether your offering is “generous” is to compare it with other expenditures. What do you spend on your annual holiday? Is your annual giving to the assembly a greater or lesser figure? What do you spend on a meal out? Is your offering on a Lord’s Day morning a greater or lesser figure? What would you be willing to spend on an item of clothing? Would you give the same to the Lord? These comparisons can reveal our hierarchy of values. What really matters to us? Of course, the ultimate truth is that nothing we can give could rival the supreme self-giving of Christ (2Co 8:9).