SACRED SPACES: THE OFFERING PLATE

God does not need your money.

“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” (Acts 17:24-25)

I confess that, too often, I think God is somehow grateful for what I give. I know the church needs material contributions to keep things going. And, even though I don’t consciously think it, I often have this “you’re welcome” feeling stirred up when I drop my check into the offering plate. It’s the same kind of feeling I get when I round up my purchase at the grocery store for a charity or give some change to someone on the street. My sin is that I reverse the roles of who is dependent on whom. I think of my giving as a transaction, just like any other transaction I make in the world, and the one who receives my money should be grateful for it.

Giving to the church is a good, biblical, and – when done in faith in Christ – a righteous act. But if you give out of compulsion (2 Corinthians 9:7), or give out of the need for praise (Matthew 6:2-4), or because you think God needs it – this is not Christian giving! “‘What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?’ says the LORD” (Isaiah 1:11). This is why the Bible, and especially the New Testament, is so concerned with the attitude of the giver: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (1 Corinthians 9:7).

If these were proper Christian attitudes of giving, the church should not make a point to pass around an offering plate in worship! In 2017, there are more efficient ways of collecting money. In a culture that looks with great suspicion on any pastor with a new car or on any church with a “Christian Life Center,” there are more discreet, less provocative ways of asking for money. The offering plate, especially in worship, especially when passed around in the middle of worship, is extremely presumptuous if we think about Christian giving in worldly, transactional terms.

No, we pass the offering plate in worship because it is our reminder that everything we have, everything we are, everything we give, and everything we take belongs to God already. There is no distinction. The tithes are God’s. The offerings are God’s. The giver is God’s – “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20). The offering plate is a worshipful reminder of what is God’s, not what is ours. Like the cross, like the table, it is the reminder that your old self has died with Christ and your new self belongs to him completely.

We give freely because in Christ we have been given freely. Amen.

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