When a well-known figure in organized crime died, the newspaper story on his death mentioned that during his life he had been quite generous in his gifts to his family’s church. He surely was not the first nor the last thief to salve his conscience by giving to a church or charity a small part of what he had stolen.
This conspicuous example of giving for bad reasons illustrates the folly of all attempts to please God with offerings by themselves. We may be shocked at a gangster’s attempt to sanctify his money by giving some of it away. But we should see that all who think God is pleased with mere material offerings are acting as if He were desperate for our gifts, as though He were dependent on us.
God once rebuked His people for this error. In Psalm 50 (verses 7-15) He took them to task about their offerings. The problem was not that they were failing to bring the offerings and sacrifices that were prescribed in the law. The Lord said: “I will not rebuke you for your sacrifices or your brunt offering, which are continually before Me.” The people were outwardly faithful in bringing the sacrifices that God had commanded. But their hearts were not right. It was not out of devotion to God, not out of love, that they brought their animals and their grain to Him. It was not in humility that they gave their offerings — but in pride, as though they were doing God a favor.
The Lord reminded them that He really did not need their bulls and goats. “Every beast of the forest is Mine,” He said, “And the cattle on a thousand hills.” In their minds they had reduced God to the level of the heathen idols, whose worshipers think that they need human offerings to sustain them. God invited His people to consider the absurdity of the idea that He, their Creator, needed what they had to offer Him. “Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?” He asked.
What God wanted from His people was not bulls and goats, first of all, but their hearts. “Offer to God thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High.” The offerings acceptable to God were the ones given by those who loved Him, knowing that everything they had was from Him.
God surely desires our offerings, but He wants our hearts first of all. The pastor of a church down the street from us boasted to me that the average annual pledge in his congregation is nearly $2,000. This is an impressive figure. But the man and his congregation are part of a church body that has long since ceased to bow to the Word of God in their doctrine and practice. High offerings are no substitute for the obedience of a thankful heart. We too ought not think that our gifts are pleasing to God just because we give a certain percentage of our income or because our congregation or synod meets its annual budget.
Good stewardship begins at the cross, where we remember that we have nothing to offer to God except what He has first given to us. We are sinners, unable to please God with our best efforts. We are beggars with nothing of our own. But God has made us rich. Christ has taken away our sins and covered us with His righteousness. Every day our heavenly Father provides for us, far beyond our needs. It is these thoughts that should fill our minds as we consider our offerings, as we humbly give back some of what our gracious God has generously given to us.
–Pastor John Klatt