“Of a willing heart.” Exodus 35:5
Daily experience teaches us that privileges always involve obligations. It is therefore readily understood that he who attains the full communion of his church and the privilege of partaking of the holy supper is also called upon to share the financial burden of the church. The term financial burden must, however, be immediately suppressed and be translated into the Christian terms: a free-will offering. Your promise to contribute for this purpose is one of the important implications of your confession, and although few think of it on that occasion, it does represents one of the stipulations demanded of you.
Long ago the Lord God said: “Take ye from among you an offering unto the Lord; whosoever is of a willing heart, let him bring an offering of the Lord: gold, and silver, and copper.” From this it may be concluded that he who does not bring an offering has not a willing heart. One who is unwilling to serve the Lord with his goods may not come to make his public confession. By your confession you promise to love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. You certainly are not doing that when you refuse to lay an offering of your goods upon his altar.
One person is inseparably attached to his money; another transcends the miserliness of that. These two attitudes definitely manifest spiritual conditions. You can observe that this is true from the case of the rich young ruler. We might say that he also wished to make his confession. Jesus asked about his relationship to the law, and he replied that he thought he fulfilled the requirements. Then Jesus asked whether he was willing to sell his goods for the sake of the poor. That demand broke his resolve. He went away. He kept his money, but he lost his God.
It is obvious therefore that one’s readiness to offer freely is most surely a part of one’s confession. The church that neglects to examine those who come to her to make confession also in this matter does not do her full duty.
“Whosoever is of a willing heart, let him bring it.” That is what God said. The statement is a touchstone by which the quality of your spirituality can be tested. The implications of the statement are that you cannot by one gift absolve yourself of responsibility for giving. A special offering on the day of confession does not suffice. You should then declare yourself and ever after show yourself to be willing to serve your God by means of your goods.
Yes, you must both serve and honor him by means of these. To serve in this connection means that you must help to maintain what is necessary for the service of the Lord. To honor means that besides this you must periodically give special offerings. A child faithfully serves his father when his father needs his services. But when his father’s birthday comes, the child honors him by some token of regard, of esteem, and of love. It is in that way that you must both serve and honor your Lord with your gifts.
One practical difficulty perhaps militates against the fulfillment of this requirement in the case of those who are just beginning to attend the holy supper. Young men and women frequently have no independent income at this time. Those among the lower classes who work have funds of their own, and those among the higher classes who are granted legacies or allotments have them also; but the others, who are many, still live with their parents and have no independent income. Now it is remarkable that in the past the lower and higher classes gradually learned the art of giving, and that stinted giving is most characteristic of the many in the middle class of society. This phenomenon can be ascribed to the fact that those who earned independently were in a position to begin giving as soon as they had made their confession, and that the sons and daughters who live for a time with their parents after their confession missed this desirable discipline. For that reason it is important to emphasize that giving depends on a principle rather than upon the quantity of one’s earthly goods.
It frequently happens that sons and daughters do manage to honor their parents by an occasional gift, but that the urge, the desire, and the zeal to contribute to the Lord seldom stirs them. At collections taken in church they contribute what father or mother has put into their hands. In that way they themselves give nothing. Hence it is to be advised that children, small tots excepted, be urged to give from their own funds. There is more of true giving in one penny from their own bank than in ten simply conveyed from their pocket to the collection plate. He who makes his confession must give. He himself must give, even though he must earn what he gives.
“Whosoever is of a willing heart, let him bring it.” He must bring it because it is needful and because it blesses him. Yes, his offerings are needful. The church of God is expensive; it costs a great deal. Jesus said to the rich young ruler: “Sell all thy goods.” The service of the word and of the sacraments may not be allowed to suffer because of financial embarrassment. The ministers of these must be provided with the needful things. Of them the holy apostle says: “Who goeth a warfare at any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard and eateth not of the fruit thereof? Who feedeth a flock and eateth not of the milk of the flock?” And there are other needs within the church. The service of education and of mercy should flourish. The Heidelberg Catechism advises that in order to keep the Sabbath day truly, you must see that the ministry of the Gospel and the schools are maintained. That is the service of education. And the service of mercy, according to the Catechism, is “to contribute to the relief of the poor, as becomes a Christian.” Besides, the church of God is not an anthill that gathers up for itself only. Hence the gospel of the kingdom must be brought through the church to those outside of it who do not yet believe. Similarly, the mercies of God must be borne through the church to all the miserable without. Remember that there are two kinds of missions: that of the word and that of mercy. The more bountifully and flourishingly each of these can be carried on, the more gloriously is the name of the Lord praised. Indeed, a church is costly. Ideally the church should be much, much richer than she now is.
It is needful therefore to bring an offering and to bring that offering willingly. That must be done not only because the church needs it, but also because it blesses him who gives. God could have created a church that needed no money. The life of the church in the wilderness proves that. Hence the fact that he has now called into being a church that needs money, and that needs much money, has a spiritual significance. Our giving is a part of our sanctification. “The love of money is the root of all evil.” Anything therefore that restrains us from a love of money is a redeeming and sanctifying influence. Our giving must prove that we are Christians and must each year add to the genuineness of our Christianity. That fact does not suggest that we can earn our salvation by our gifts. Our gifts affect our salvation not at all. If we sold all our goods and gave the money to the poor, and had not love, we would be nothing. Our offerings bless us only when we give them willingly. If we give in order to get praise for ourselves, if we give stintingly, if we give in order to get an honorable place in heaven, our offerings avail us nothing. We must give because of love, and only because of love, for God and for our neighbor.
Such giving, however, does most certainly bless us. Our money seems to say to us, “Love me, and forget God and the poor.” God calls, “Give me your heart, and give it not to Mammon.” Hence he who is of a willing heart must bring his gifts, and he will bring them. His giving is far from making him poorer; it makes him much richer.
Bring gold, silver, and brass. These are three metals, and they are listed in the order of a descending scale of value. Accordingly the statement means that each must give in proportion to the amount of wealth it has pleased God to give him. A man says, “I have saved so large a surplus that I think I will retire from business.” But has that man frankly asked himself: “Have I perhaps saved what rightly belonged to God and to his service? Is my surplus really so large that I can live from it, and that I can also help the church to flourish?” Unless he asks and satisfactorily answers those questions, it is sinful for him to desire retirement. God’s demands in this matter of giving are as exacting as that.
The truth is that by nature we are inclined to say, “I and my family must live, must have food, clothing, and shelter; if anything remains after that, let it be given to the church.” However, he who thinks that way about it may not make his confession, for it is obvious that to him the service of God is still a secondary matter. The exact opposite would be far more appropriate: “I and my family need God and his service more than all things else; we will provide for that first, and afterwards for food, shelter, and clothing.” That would be applying Jesus’ rule: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.”
A tenth of our income should be the least we give. That is little, but it proves that God and his service figure in our lives. After all, giving is a matter of how important we think our bodies and souls, respectively. He who thinks most highly of his body will have little to sacrifice for his soul, for his God. Only he who can confess that his soul is much more important than his body will sacrifice more for it than he does for his body. He only has a willing heart; he only brings his offering.
If you rank among the well-to-do in society, bring gold, not silver or copper. If you rank among the financially poor in society, bring copper. And if your position is between these two, bring silver; bring a nickel or a dime, if you have little; give a dollar if you have been given much.
Place the kingdom first in your life, and give as you have been given. If you follow that rule, all your offerings will be pleasing and acceptable to God. Yes, then the widow’s mite is most acceptable to him.