Thursday, July 23, 2009

An Acceptable Offering

I was reading a passage yesterday in my Bible that really struck my heart deeply. It led me to seek a clearer understanding of sacrifice, of what we should offer to God. I wanted to share it here. The background of the passage is that King David sinned by taking a census of the people during peacetime, so God punished Israel by sending a plague. The whole story can be found in 2 Samuel 24.

18 On that day Gad went to David and said to him, "Go up and build an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite." 19 So David went up, as the LORD had commanded through Gad. 20 When Araunah looked and saw the king and his men coming toward him, he went out and bowed down before the king with his face to the ground.
21 Araunah said, "Why has my lord the king come to his servant?" "To buy your threshing floor," David answered, "so I can build an altar to the LORD, that the plague on the people may be stopped." 22 Araunah said to David, "Let my lord the king take whatever pleases him and offer it up. Here are oxen for the burnt offering, and here are threshing sledges and ox yokes for the wood. 23 O king, Araunah gives all this to the king." Araunah also said to him, "May the LORD your God accept you." 24 But the king replied to Araunah, "No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing."

So often we give to the Lord out of our excess. We take care of our own needs and comforts first before seeing what we can spare for Christ. We pay the bills and write a check to the church for a reasonable amount of what's left... maybe $10 this month? Maybe $50? Maybe nothing? It depends on what's left over after everything else. This "me first" attitude is pervasive in our culture -- and persuasive, too.

It's also been a long problem.

All the way back in Genesis, Cain and Able make offerings to God (see the story in Genesis 4). One, Able, offers the choice piece of fat from his prized lambs -- the firstborn of his flock. His offering is accepted by God with pleasure. The other, Cain, brings "some" of the fruits of the soil. His offering is rejected. Now, I've never been to seminary or read a stack of commentaries, but I believe I can figure out why Cain's gift didn't make the cut. He responds by becoming "very angry, and his face was downcast" (v. 5). His attitude wasn't right; his heart wasn't in the gift. I always picture Cain as contemplating, "Now, if I do this for God, he'll do xxxx for me." His sacrifice didn't cost where it counts -- in the heart.

Selfish "gifts" were a problem in the New Testament, too. Ananias and his wife Saphirra try to lie about how much money they made for selling a piece of land so they could secretly withhold money for themselves (Acts 5). The Apostle Peter responds:

3Then Peter said, "Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God."

Once again, it's a heart problem. I don't see that the actual money is the problem. Rather, they make a show of giving a gift to the growing church while lying. They were not FORCED to sell the land. Again, I'm not a bible scholar, but I truly believe that if they had spoken truthfully that they wanted to keep some of the money for themselves, everything would have been fine. Because of their lies, they sacrifice their lives.

Through my study of these three passages, I believe that an acceptable offering needs three elements:

  1. To be done in the right attitude -- praise and thankfulness (Genesis)
  2. To be a true gift, not hiding an act of selfishness (Acts)
  3. To truly be a sacrifice -- to cost something meaningful (2 Samuel)

I also firmly believe that, although these passages all deal with material wealth, the ideas about offering can and should be extended to all things we give to God, such as our time. We can't buy God's favor and we can't trick Him. Rather, we should pour our hearts out to Him and offer our best -- the first of our money, the freshest of our time, all of our worship. I don't usually use The Message Bible paraphrase, but I love the way it states 2 Samuel 24:24 --

I'm not going to offer God, my God, sacrifices that are no sacrifice.


Amy said...

Wonderful post, Jenny. :)

Sarah Jane said...

What a great post! Jenny, I thank God for your gift of teaching and for all the spiritual posts you do - they speak to me so strongly. Have you ever thought about writing a book? Seriously. . .your posts have much more "meat" than the average Bible study or devotional book (and I have a ton!)

Hypocrisy seems to be such a huge problem. I am so glad for the example of the people in the Bible who did not give an acceptable offering - it is clear how much God detests that! A good and merciful warning for us.

I agree that giving to the Lord should be a #1 priority. After all, it is He who provides everything we have in the first place. Thank you for this excellent reminder!

Amy said...

Here, here, Sarah. I didn't know how to put it so eloquently, but those are my thoughts exactly. Jenny, I visit your blog often for the wonderful spiritual posts you write. They make me think. Women are to be teachers of women, and you do a wonderful job.

Jenny P. said...

Thank you both, so much. I didn't realize others got so much out of my scribbling -- most of it it writing to myself, about the areas of my life and faith that I'm currently struggling in. It means the world to me that others benefit, too.

Sarah, I have thought about writing something more like a book. I've dabbled a little but it gets pushed aside frequently. I'll be sharing on here when it gets a little closer to done.