The Adult Bible Study Guide moves on from the tithe discussion to address offerings. This is defined as generosity, whereas tithing is treated with the language of return and requirement to God through the denomination. These freewill “offerings for Jesus,” as the Sabbath title begins the week’s study, come from the leftover 90 percent of one’s income.
The lesson details motivations for this generosity including:
– sin offerings;
– thank offerings;
– offerings for the poor;
– offerings to build and maintain a church.
It adds, “It is up to us to determine what amount we give and what entity receives our gifts. But bringing an offering to the Lord is a Christian duty with spiritual and moral implications. To neglect this is to do spiritual damage to ourselves, perhaps more than we realize too.” Additionally, it notes that giving is a part of the worship experience, like singing or prayer.
While much of the language in the lesson rubs me the wrong way, I do find the act of giving as part of the congregational experience very meaningful. I really do like putting money in the offering plate at church. Maybe it’s because I have good memories of being a junior deacon in my local church as a kid. I felt part of the community, acting like the adults, holding the wooden handle of the red velvet bag and carefully passing it down each row of pews. One Sabbath, a wise adult friend put in a large bill. Learning later that she always brought and gave an astounding amount of cash—to my youthful eyes—still makes me cheerful about giving at church. I don’t remember her mentioning any special reason. She didn’t give me a list of prooftexts. It was just a duty, a way to express commitment to her local Adventist community. That cheerful motivation of commitment lingers for me today.
Things on offerings get a little technical through the rest of the lesson. There’s something about liquid assets that seems less than spiritual. And the Teacher Comments section aims to define terms like voluntary, optional, essential, and freewill:
In general, the Bible tells us that voluntary offerings in worship, proportional to the blessings or possessions received, were essential for worship. Thus, because of their essential nature, voluntary offerings were not optional—except if the person made the decision not to serve the Lord.
A voluntary offering, however, isn’t necessarily pleasing to God. It is possible that even freewill offerings can be based on wrong motives. People may develop gifts, give all to the poor, and even “voluntarily” give their bodies to be burned, yet have no love (1 Cor. 13:1–3).
On the other hand, the word “optional” generally means something elective, something that you are free to do or not to do. In the context of worship, vows were an example of optional acts. But offerings were part of the atonement, forgiveness, gratitude, and dedicatory aspects of worship. Spontaneous, offerings, therefore, cannot be optional in worship. Thus, “freewill” offerings refer to offerings that originate from a heart that is filled with love and joy in obeying the Lord and in giving Him the most and best of what one possesses.
While essential, the giving of offering also is voluntary. Yet, to stop giving could have serious spiritual consequences. Therefore, the word “offering” was used for spiritual life’s nonnegotiable duties in ancient Israel.
That might make for an interesting Sabbath school discussion. Or maybe just cheerfully take up a quick offering and then talk about something else.
Alexander Carpenter is the executive editor of Spectrum.
Title illustration by Spectrum.
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