Offerings of Gratitude
Our God is a giving God; this great truth is seen most powerfully in the sacrifice of Jesus. “ ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life’ ” (John 3:16, NKJV). Or in this verse: “ ‘If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!’ ” (Luke 11:13, NKJV).
God gives and gives; it’s His character. Thus, we who seek to reflect that character need to give, as well. It’s hard to imagine more of a contradiction in terms than that of “a selfish Christian.”
One way to give back what we have been given is through offerings. Our offerings present an opportunity to express gratitude and love. On the day that Jesus welcomes the redeemed into heaven, we will see those who accepted His grace, and realize that those acceptances were made possible by our sacrificial offerings.
This week, we will look at important aspects of offerings. Giving generously— whether from means, time, or talent—is a powerful way of living our faith and revealing the character of the God whom we serve.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, March 3.
“ ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ ” (Matt. 6:21, NKJV) is an appeal from Jesus. The full magnitude of this statement can be seen from the preceding two verses, which contrast storing our treasures on earth with storing them in heaven. Three words describe earth: moths, rust, and thieves (see Matt. 6:19), all of which imply just how temporal and transient our earthly treasure is. Who hasn’t learned just how quickly earthly things can vanish? “On earth everything is unstable, uncertain, and insecure; it is subject to decay, destruction, stealing, and loss. Heaven is the opposite: everything is eternal, durable, secure, and imperishable. In heaven there is no loss.”—C. Adelina Alexe, “Where Your Heart Belongs,” in Beyond Blessings, edited by Nikolaus Satelmajer (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 2013), p. 22.
Look at your possessions. Even if you have only a very few, sooner or later most of them will be thrown away. The exception might be an heirloom. But a wise steward should be concerned with putting treasures in heaven for safekeeping. There, unlike here, you don’t have to worry about recessions, thieves, or even plunderers.
Matthew 6:19–21 contains one of the most important concepts on stewardship. Your treasure pulls, tugs, coerces, draws, demands, allures, and desires to control your heart. In the material world your heart follows your treasure; so, where your treasure is remains vitally important. The more we focus on earthly needs and gains, the harder it is to think on heavenly matters.
Professing belief in God but keeping our treasure here on earth is hypocritical. Our actions must agree with our words. In other words, we see our treasures on earth by sight, but we must see our offerings as treasures in heaven by faith (2 Cor. 5:7). Although we, of course, need to be practical and provide for our needs (even retirement), it’s crucial always to keep the big picture, eternity, in mind.
Grace is “undeserved favor.” It is a gift you do not deserve. God has poured out His grace on this planet, and, if we would simply not reject it, His grace will reach down and transform our lives, now and for eternity. All the wealth and power of heaven is embodied in the gift of grace (2 Cor. 8:9). Even angels are amazed at this ultimate gift (1 Pet. 1:12).
No question: of all that God gives us, the grace given us in Jesus Christ is the most precious gift of all. Without grace, we would be without hope. Sin’s doleful impact on humanity is too great for humans ever to free themselves from it. Even obedience to God’s law couldn’t bring life to us. “Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law” (Gal. 3:21). After all, if any law could save us, it would be God’s law. But Paul says that even that can’t do it. If we are to be saved, it would have to be by grace.
Peter said that as we have received the gift of God’s grace, we are to be “stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet. 4:10) in return. That is, God has given us gifts; therefore, we need to give back from what we have been given. What we have received, by grace, is not just for pleasing and benefiting ourselves, but for the furtherance of the gospel. Freely we have been given (which is what grace is all about); freely, then, we need to give every way we can.
Mary entered the room and saw Jesus reclining at the table. She broke the alabaster box of expensive nard and poured it on Him. Some thought her act was improper, considering that the life she lived was illicit.
But Mary had been set free from demon possession (Luke 8:2). Then, after witnessing the resurrection of Lazarus, she became overwhelmed with gratitude. Her perfume was the most valuable possession she owned, and it was her way of showing thankfulness to Jesus.
This story captures what truly should be our motivation in the giving of our offerings: gratitude. After all, what other response should we have to the priceless gift of the grace of God? His generosity also prompts us to give, and when coupled with our gratitude, both make up the ingredients of meaningful offerings, including our time, talents, treasures, and bodies.
Our best offerings may seem insufficient in our eyes, but they are significant in God’s. Giving God the best shows that we put Him first in our lives. We don’t give offerings in order to receive favors; instead, we give what we have out of gratitude for what we have been given in Christ Jesus.
“Entire devotion and benevolence, prompted by grateful love, will impart to the smallest offering, the willing sacrifice, a divine fragrance, making the gift of priceless value. But, after willingly yielding to our Redeemer all that we can bestow, be it ever so valuable to us, if we view our debt of gratitude to God as it really is, all that we may have offered will seem to us very insufficient and meager. But angels take these offerings, which to us seem poor, and present them as a fragrant offering before the throne, and they are accepted.”—Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3, p. 397.
In an earlier lesson, we noted the story of the widow’s generous offering. Although minuscule in comparison to other offerings, it was generous because it showed the true nature of her character and heart, prompting Jesus to say, “ ‘This poor widow has put in more than all’ ” (Luke 21:3, NKJV).
God alone (James 4:12) knows our true motives (Prov. 16:2; see also 1 Cor. 4:5). It is possible to have the right actions with the wrong motives. To give out of abundance does not require much faith, but to give sacrificially for the good of others can indeed say something very powerful about our hearts.
Whatever your motive for giving may be, it is on a continuum that ranges from ego to altruism. The fight on this continuum between selfishness and giving is fought more frequently than any other spiritual fight. Selfishness will chill a heart that was once on fire for God. The problem comes when we let selfishness into our Christian experience. That is, we find ways to justify our selfishness and do it in the name of Christ.
The bottom line comes down to one word: love. And love cannot be manifested without self-denial, a willingness to give of oneself, even sacrificially, for the good of others.
Unless God’s love is reflected in our lives, our giving will not reflect God’s love. A selfish heart tends to love only itself. We must ask the Lord to “ ‘circumcise the foreskin of [our] heart’ ” (Deut. 10:16, NKJV) so that we can learn to love as we have been loved.
Love is the basis of all true beneficence, and it captures the sum of all Christian benevolence. God’s love directed toward us inspires us to love in return, and it is truly the supreme motive for giving.
If Christ came to reveal to us the character of God, one thing should be clear by now: God loves us, and He wants only the best for us. He asks us to do only what would be for our own benefit, never to our detriment. This would include, too, His call for us to be generous and cheerful givers of what we have been given. The freewill and generous offerings we give are as much a benefit to ourselves, the giver, as they can be to those who receive them. Only those who give this way can know for themselves just how much more blessed it is to give than to receive.
Giving a generous offering can and should be a very personal, spiritual act. It is a work of faith, an expression of gratitude for what we have been given in Christ.
And, as with any act of faith, giving only increases faith, for “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20). And there is no better way to increase faith than to live out our faith, which means doing things that grow out of our faith, that spring from it. As we give, freely and generously, we are reflecting in our own way the character of Christ. We are learning more about what God is like by experiencing Him in our own acts. Thus, giving like this only builds trust in God and the opportunity to “taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him!” (Ps. 34:8, NKJV).
“It will be seen that the glory shining in the face of Jesus is the glory of self-sacrificing love. In the light from Calvary it will be seen that the law of self-renouncing love is the law of life for earth and heaven; that the love which ‘seeketh not her own’ has its source in the heart of God; and that in the meek and lowly One is manifested the character of Him who dwelleth in the light which no man can approach unto.”—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 20.
Further Thought: “The spirit of liberality is the spirit of Heaven. The spirit of selfishness is the spirit of Satan. Christ’s self-sacrificing love is revealed upon the cross. He gave all that he had, and then gave himself, that man might be saved. The cross of Christ appeals to the benevolence of every follower of the blessed Saviour. The principle illustrated there is to give, give. This carried out in actual benevolence and good works is the true fruit of the Christian life. The principle of worldlings is to get, get, and thus they expect to secure happiness; but carried out in all its bearings, the fruit is misery and death.”—Ellen G. White, in Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Oct. 17, 1882.