Giving as an Expression of Worship
Is the Christian’s giving into the treasury of the church on the Lord’s day an expression of worship to God? This is a question of supreme importance.
In part, at least, worship may be described as an expression of awe, devotion, and love — from man, the creature, to his Creator. One aspect of this reverential disposition can entail the presentation of gifts.
First, though, this point must be made. Almighty God, being entirely self-sufficient, requires no gift from frail humanity to sustain him in any way. He is not “served by men’s hands, as though he needed anything” (Acts 17:25; cf. Psalm 50:10-12; Romans 11:35). He is pleased, however, when we, consistent with divine revelation, exhibit the spirit of generosity.
Second, it is a fact beyond dispute that the act of “giving” can be an overture of worship. Consider:
In the Old Testament, sacrifices to the Lord were designated as “gifts” (Numbers 18:11; cf. Hebrews 5:1).
When the wisemen from the east worshipped the baby Jesus, their devotion was manifested in the form of “gifts” (Matthew 2:11).
It is generally conceded that the “fellowship” mentioned in Acts 2:42 (in concert with other items of worship) embraces the act of “giving” (cf. Romans 15:26; 2 Corinthians 9:13).
When the Philippian saints gave their money for the support of Paul, God viewed it as “an odor of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18).
An inspired writer admonished: “But to do good and to communicate [be generous] forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Hebrews 13:16).
In view of the foregoing passages, it necessarily would follow that if the New Testament places upon the Christian the obligation to “give” of his means unto God, and when he neglects that responsibility, he has refused to worship his Maker, at least in that respect.
Another key element in this matter is the fundamental fact that the outpouring of worship, under the divine regime, is neither optional, nor arbitrary. Rather, it is obligatory and prescribed. By “prescribed” we mean that before one even begins to express his reverence to God, he must consult the documents wherein “it is written” as to how worship is to be rendered.
The Lord Jesus said: “God is spirit: and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Truth here has reference to the “content” of Christian revelation (see Arndt, p. 35). For a further consideration of this, see, “What IsTruth? …” (Jackson, pp. 21-23). It is certain, therefore, that deity must be worshipped — not according to our own inclinations (Colossians 2:23) — but in harmony with sacred revelation.
This means, in the context of our present discussion, that our giving must conform to God’s instruction; we are not left to our own subjective ingenuity to figure out the procedure. Yet many proceed on that basis.
We believe that any honest student of the Bible must concede that giving, as an act of worship, must be according to the guidelines set forth in the New Testament. Anything less than this results in serious error.
Why is it, though, that we appear to be so conscientious about other items of worship, and yet so nonchalant about our giving? Why is it that numerous members of the church are rather unconcerned with the specifics of New Testament instruction relative to God’s pattern of giving, when they would go “ballistic” if an instrument of music were introduced into the worship, or if the elements of the Lord’s supper were changed?
When the church becomes as conscientious about the former as it is the latter, wonderful changes in our ability to evangelize will be evident. Let us, therefore, give attention to the divine pattern relative to giving, as expressed both in explicit instruction and in principle.
A Primary Text
When Paul penned the epistle that is commonly called 1 Corinthians, he commenced the 16th chapter with: “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I gave order to the churches of Galatia, so also do ye.” There are several points here to be
The Sacred Obligation
First, there is the term diatasso, rendered “order.” The word is employed some sixteen times in the New Testament. It presupposes a subordinate relationship of one who is commanded to do something (cf. Acts 18:2; cf. Luke 17:7-10).
Second, the verb “do” reflects, in the original text, a command which rather summarizes the obligation of both the Galatian churches and the Corinthian congregation. The assertion, proposed by some, that the charge here imposed was but a temporal and local requirement is incorrect. While the immediate context pertained to a specific need (relief for the churches in Judaea), the text provides a precedent for determining how any and all churches are authorized to meet their financial needs.
The Specified Time
The Christian is not limited as to when he may give for the benefit of others. For example, the poor we have with us always, and when ever we will, we may do them good (Mark 14:7; cf. Galatians 6:10). Be that as it may, Paul’s injunction is that each Christian contribute upon “the first day of every week.”
The Greek expression is kata mian sabbatou, literally “every first [day] of the week” (cf. NASB, NIV). The preposition kata is used distributively, indicating a succession, e.g.. every city (Acts 15:21), every year (Luke 2:41), and, in the present instance, every first [day] of the week" (see Thayer, p. 328). The New English Bible has it simply: “Every Sunday.”
The element of worship is not the act of “dropping a check into the plate” (which a husband could do on behalf of himseIf and his wife, or vice versa); rather, it is the determination to set aside, for the Lord’s day, a portion of one’s income for the support of God’s work and the fulfillment of that resolution.
The responsibility to worship in giving rests upon every child of God. The apostle charges that “each of you” is to contribute to the Lord’s work. The husband and wife should decide together what they are willing to give. If there are two incomes, a portion from both is required. If the young Christian has a part-time job, he should contribute from that.
Parents should teach their children the principles of giving from their earliest years. Youngsters should be instructed as to how to budget their income (be it an allowance, paper route income, etc.). Even the retired pensioner is not exempt from this act of worship. Every Christian with an income must express his devotion to God in the grace of giving (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:1, 4, 6-7).
The Church Treasury
Under the Mosaic system, there was a treasury in the temple, which was there according to the “pattern” given by God (1 Chronicles 28:1ff). The prophet Malachi admonished Israel: "Bring the tithes into the treasury, all of them … (3:10 NEB; cf. 1 Chronicles 9:26).
In Jesus’ day, the court of the women within the temple was also called the “treasury” (Mark 12:41ff; Luke 21:1ff; John 8:20), because it contained thirteen chests around the walls for Jewish contributions. Nine were for gifts required of the worshippers; the remaining four were to accommodate strictly voluntary gifts (Edersheim, p. 48).
As the antitype of the temple, the church also has a “treasury” to facilitate its financial operations. Paul says the Christian is to “lay by him (or by itself) in store.” The word thesaurizoon, rendered “in store” is literally, “put into the treasury” (McGarvey & Pendleton, p. 161). MacKnight translates the verse: “On the first day of every week let each of you lay somewhat by itself, according as he may have prospered, putting it into the treasury, that when I come there may then be no collections” (p. 208).
It is erroneous to suggest that Paul was merely urging his brethren to save something “at home,” or put it aside in a “special place,” as some translations have suggested. This would have defeated the apostle’s purpose in not wanting to have to contact each Christian individually when he came.
The notion that one may simply free-lance his contribution in doing good, with no obligation to the local church, is a myth contrived by the covetous. Wherever else the saint may give, his weekly contribution to the local congregation should be unwavering.
The Scriptures are eminently fair in imposing an obligation upon each saint to give into the treasury every Sunday. In connection with the amount, there are biblical principles to guide the conscientious child of God.
Giving, as an act of worship takes a certain priority in terms of one’s income.
Reflect upon the following precedents.
In the patriarchal period of history, when Abraham “paid tithes” to Melehizedek, God’s king and priest of Salem, the Hebrew leader offered the “chief spoils” (Hebrews 7:4). The Greek word, akrothinion literally means “the top of a heap,” hence denotes the choicest of the bounty (Vine, p. 761).
During the Mosaic economy, the Jews were to offer the “firstlings” of their crops and herds (Exodus 13:12-13; 23:19). In the days of the judges, the priestly sons of Eli were condemned, at least in part, because, in offering sacrifices to God, they: (a) took whatever portion of the meat they desired; (b) they took their share first (1 Samuel 2:13-15).
Does Jehovah take delight in left-overs? The Christian should set aside a reasonable portion of his income to God first, then adjust his living standard accordingly. Regrettably, most folks follow the reverse order.
Each Christian is to give “as he may prosper,” or “according to his ability’” (Acts 11:29). This is proportional giving. Amazingly, some in the early church gave even beyond their ability (2 Corinthians 8:3), and they were commended for it.
Those who have more should give more (both in amount and percentage). When the more prosperous generously give of their abundance, to compensate for the deficit of the poorer folk, the type of “equality” that God desires among his people will prevail (see 2 Corinthians 8:12-15).
While it is true that the New Testament sets no percentage (as in the case of the tithe under the Mosaic regime), surely those who flourish under the “better covenant” (Hebrews 7:22) will want to go beyond the standard of the inferior economy.
The least God ever stipulated for his people in the support of his work was 10% (cf. Genesis 14:20; 28:22; Numbers 18:21-24); the most he has accepted is 100% (Mark 12:41-44) — which, of course, is not required. But surely, somewhere between these two examples, the child of God can find his appropriate level of giving.
The Generous Disposition
N.B. Hardeman once said that the covetous person is the most un-Christ-like individual on earth — because he stands in such glaring contrast to the loving Savior who gave himself for our sins (Galatians 1:4). There is little doubt that the Lord expects his people to be generous in their giving.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul exhorts that those who give should do so with “liberality” (12:8 ASV). And to the Corinthians, in urging these saints to fulfill their commitment to needy brethren, the apostle promises that God would “enrich” them unto “all liberality” (2 Corinthians 9:11 ASV).
In both passages, the term rendered “liberality” is the Greek haplotes. This noun carries a variety of meanings. It is found seven times in Paul’s epistles. While it sometimes suggests the idea of “singleness” of purpose, or even “sincerity,” in certain texts it almost certainly means generous (see 2 Corinthians 8:2; 9:11,13; Romans 12:8). The adverb haplos is used to describe the generosity of God in the gifts he lavishes upon humanity (James 1:5).
In a passage that deals with how to evaluate the real treasures of life, Jesus provided the following admonition.
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where thy treasure is, there will the heart be also. The lamp of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is the darkness! No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon (Matthew 6:19-24).
In the midst of this instructive message, the Savior speaks of the contrast between the eye that is “single,” and that which is “evil” (vv.22-23). The original term for “single” is the adjective haplous; the word for “evil” is poneros. William Barclay has shown that poneros is used in the Greek Old Testament of one who is stingy; it describes the person who gives only in a grudging fashion (cf. Deuteronomy 15:9; Proverbs 23:6; 28:22).
By inference, therefore, in this context one may conclude that the “single” eye, that which illuminates the entire person, is the generous, giving vision (1958, pp. 247-248).
It is not without significance, then, that Paul admonished the Corinthian brethren — who lagged behind in their giving — that they be not characterized by a “grudging” disposition, i.e., one marred by regret. Rather, they should nourish cheerful hearts (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:7).
The Stewardship Concept
The key to acceptable giving is to acknowledge the role that we sustain to God. A prime concept in our relationship to the Creator is that of “stewardship.” Some background information might prove helpful.
Many Jews who lived outside the borders of Palestine owned land within the country. It was common, therefore, to utilize a “steward” — be he a hired employee or a slave — in the management of one’s property. The Greek term for “steward” is the compound word, oikonomos, literally a “house ruler.” It denotes one who oversees or manages the property of a superior. Note this descriptive.
[The steward] was in charge of the whole administration of the house or the estate; he controlled the staff; he issued the supplies and the rations; he ran the whole household; but however much he controlled the household staff of slaves, he himself was still a slave where the master was concerned (Barclay, 1956, p. 4).
Now here are the facts of the case. God, as creator of the universe, is owner of this earth and all its contents. We are but managers of his resources. We do not have the right to boast: “What I make is mine. I will do with it as I please.”
When one fathoms the ennobling truth that God is sovereign; that we are his stewards, and that as such, we must be “faithful” (trustworthy) in this capacity (see 1 Corinthians 4:2), such a discovery will alter the entire course of his life.
In his magnificent book, This Grace Also, Mac Layton has a chapter titled, “Four Stewards In The Kingdom.” These are depicted as:
First, the one who possesses much, but with it he does but little. The rich fool, a character in one of Jesus’ parables, aptly illustrates this sort of irresponsible person (Luke 12:16ff).
Second, there is the steward who does much even though he has but a little. The poor widow whom Christ observed in the temple treasury, is a thrilling example of this type of steward (Mark 12:41ff).
Third, some folks have little, and with it they do little, laboring under the illusion that their want exempts them from the act of giving-worship. The one-talent villain, described as lazy and wicked, personifies such a faithless steward (Matthew 25:14ff).
Finally, there is the steward who, blessed with much, does much. Abraham was very rich (Genesis 13:2), yet he lived in a tent and walked with God daily (Hebrews 11:8ff). His life has been a blessing to millions spanning the centuries.
The Christian must rid himself of the notion that he takes a certain portion of his income, contributes it on the Lord’s day, because this is “God’s share” — while the rest is his to use as he pleases. Oh, no. The faithful child of God must exercise godly stewardship in every phase of his spending.
What have we learned in this survey, as we have reflected upon our giving as an act of devotion to Almighty God? The following facts are compelling:
As an act of affection and devotion, motivated by the love of Jesus himself, each Christian must contribute into the church treasury each Sunday.
Acknowledging that he is but a manager of vast blessings that God has placed at his disposal, the Lord’s disciple must contribute generously and cheerfully, confessing that he is the recipient of more than he can ever repay.
It is the responsibility of elders to counsel the flock of God in fundamental principles of biblical giving. Gospel preachers must never refrain from teaching on this vital theme, even though thoughtless people may accuse them of self-interest. Our prayer should be that the Lord will help us to grow in “this grace also” (2 Corinthians 8:6-7).
- Arndt, William & Gingrich, F.W. (1967), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago: University of Chicago).
- Barclay, William (1958), The Gospel of Matthew (Philadelphia: Westminster), Vol. I.
- Barclay, William (1956), The Letters to the Corinthians (Philadelphia: Westminster).
- Edersheim, Alfred (1975), The Temple — Its Ministry and Services (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).
- Jackson, Wayne (2000), Christian Courier, October.
- Layton, Mac (1964), This Grace Also (Dallas: Christian Publishing Co.).
- MacKnight, James (1954), Apostolical Epistles (Nashville: Gospel Advocate).
- McGarvey, J.W. & Pendleton, Philip (n.d.), Commentary on Thessalonians, Corinthians, Galatians and Romans (Cincinnati: Standard).
- MacKnight, James (1954), Apostolical Epistles (Nashville: Gospel Advocate).
- Thayer, J.H. (1958), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark).
- Vine, W.E. (1991), Amplified Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Iowa Falls: World).