The Perfect Gift

“All things come from You [God], and of Your own we have given You”

1 Chronicles 29:14

When we give a gift to another person we may experience a number of emotions including love, joy, happiness and self esteem. King David recognised that, in reality, everything he had, had its origin in God. With regard to the kingdom he knew that he was king because God chose Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and then Judah to himself to be of the royal line (28:4). He knew this would pass to Solomon (28:5) and eventually to The Son who would reign forever (28:7). Solomon would build an earthly temple but The Son would build a heavenly temple not made with human hands that would endure forever.

There are similarities in the development of both the earthly and heavenly temples. In Exodus thirty five, and again here, we read that the people first gave themselves to the Lord’s service (29:5) before any consideration of material things. The same is true of Jesus’ disciples (2 Corinthians 8:5). In these accounts the people were not motivated by what others thought of them, by duty or seeking God’s favour. They were motivated by God’s love, mercy and grace which they had already received. They gave themselves willingly and joyfully, not grudgingly.

The Lord is interested in our motivation for giving to Him and less interested in what we actually give. He is able to discern our motive (28:9). This was the difference between Cain and Able. The right heart motive cannot be artificially created or induced. It develops from a right understanding of who Jesus is, what He has done for us and a close intimate walk with Him. The right motivation comes from a genuine love for Jesus and thankfulness for all that He has given. Everything has its origin in Him.

None of us chose the time or place of our birth. Neither do we choose our parents and ethnicity. None of us chose our natural talents or the opportunities that present. None of us chose our sex, height, natural pigmentation of skin, hair and eyes.

All we are and have has its origin in God. We show our love and appreciation for His love and gifts by gifting all that we are and have into His hands. He has given you Himself, would you give Him less? Holding anything back is idolatry. We are His by right of creation and redemption. Let us rest in His love and sovereignty.

Giving Myself Away

“From everyone who gives it willingly with his heart you shall take My offering” Exodus 25:2

Contrary to the world’s conception of giving, the above is the biblical base for giving. The world’s conception of giving in the church is derived from people who falsely profess to be Christian and who reject teaching from the Bible for their own material gain.

The Apostle Paul affirms the Old Testament teaching in 2 Corinthians 8 in reference to the churches in Macedonia, “For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing” (v 3). The reason behind their willing giving is given by Paul, “They first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God” (v 5).

Key here is that they first gave themselves to the Lord. This is where we may fall short and fail the test of faith by placing limitations on how much we will give to the Lord. In my first year of learning to walk with the Lord I came across the following and I believe it depicts accurately what Christian giving really is. It was written in the front cover of the Bible of teenager Elizabeth Alden Scott on August 3, 1925.

“My Covenant

Lord, I give up my own purposes and plans, all my desires, hopes and ambitions (whether they be fleshly or soulish), and accept thy will for my life. I give myself, my life, my all, utterly to thee, to be thine forever.

I hand over to thy keeping all of my friendships, my love. All the people whom I love are to take second place in my heart.

Fill me and seal me with thy Holy Spirit. Work out thy whole will in my life, at any cost, now and forever.

‘To me to live is Christ and to die is gain’ Philippians 1:21

Why don’t you reread her covenant and pause to speak with the Lord Jesus. Tell him whether you will accept or reject this covenant as your own. Your carefully and prayerfully considered response from your heart will be a defining moment for now and eternity.

Of course, having made such a covenant you can expect the Lord Jesus to take you on a path to test your heart as to the genuineness of your desire. Then He will lead you to fulfilment. As for anyone walking with Jesus life will be anything other than what is expected. As He did with Israel (Exodus 24+), the Lord will deal with our heart relationship with Him first, not our behaviour. Behaviour is shaped by our heart, never the other way around.

Elizabeth (Betty) Scott Stam and husband, John, missionaries with China Inland Mission, were murdered in China by Communist revolutionary soldiers on 8th December 1934 when she was just 28 years old. Her baby girl was rescued. For more of her life story click the link below.

Biography: Elisabeth (Betty) Alden Scott Stam

Fit to Give

“Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king” 1 Samuel 15:23

Saul became king of Israel because the people wanted a king like those of the surrounding nations. The Lord was Israel’s King but they rejected Him and sought one that fitted their desire (1 Samuel 8:7). Not surprisingly, the king of the people’s desire would be like them and also reject the Lord.

King Saul was given the task, under delegated authority from the Lord, to utterly destroy the Amalekites (15:3). This was not a difficult instruction to understand but Saul did what many of us do; he interpreted the instruction to suit his desire rather than take it literally. Consequently he expressed his own initiative by sparing Agag and keeping the best of the flocks and herds.

He may genuinely have believed that he had obeyed the Lord when he stated, “I have performed the commandment of the Lord” (v 13) when in fact he had not fully obeyed. His excuse is also one that is used to this day. He claimed it was to honour God with a better sacrifice (v 15). This was how he and we often justify disobedience. We think we can please God by offering something that we think is better than He has asked.

Saul did not understand his error and insisted that he had performed what the Lord had commanded, “But I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, and gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me, and brought back Agag king of Amalek; I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites” (v 20). He did not obey. He brought back Agag. He had not followed the command of the Lord literally but interpreted it in a way that would give him the praise of men.

Can you see that sin subtly captivated his mind so that he really believed that he was obeying the Lord when in fact he was not? We live in a period of church history that must grieve the Holy Spirit greatly. People who claim to belong to Jesus Christ are not taking His word literally but interpreting it such that it gives man at least some of the glory due to the Lord.

Sacrifice of material things has its place but it is never a substitute for obeying the Lord’s will. If the Lord sends us to a task then we must perform it, not pay someone else to do it.  No amount of giving to the church or missions or any other enterprise related to the kingdom of God will substitute for obeying the Lord when sent by Him.

Because King Saul did not take the Lord at His word and perform it he lost the kingdom. If we make the same error we will lose fellowship with Jesus Christ and become ineffectual in His kingdom. “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice” (v 22). The sacrifice that Lord desires is “a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart” (Psalm 51:17) and that we “present our bodies a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1). Paul commended the Christians in Macedonia that they “first gave themselves to the lord” (2 Corinthians 8:5) and then they were fit to give material things.

Give Yourself

“From everyone who gives it willingly with his heart you shall take my offering” Exodus 25:2

From time to time we hear someone say that the church is only after our money. There are religious organisations and even some churches that seem to have this mindset but it is not God’s way.

Some church leaders manipulate people to give by appealing to their need or greed. People in extreme poverty may respond to the false doctrine that says that if you give materially to God He will give materially more back. I have witnessed church leaders who are financially well off fleecing their poverty stricken flock with this lie. Greedy people may also be taken in by this false teaching.

The context of the above verse is Israel’s recent deliverance from slavery in Egypt. God demanded nothing of Israel for their deliverance. God initiated it and He performed all the miracles without any requirement from Israel. At the time of departure the Lord put it in the hearts of the Egyptians to give of their possessions to Israel. So the slaves who had very little became materially rich by God’s gracious gift.

When it came time to create a place where God could dwell among His people as a place of worship He asked the people to be involved. Several points need to be clear:

  1. No offering was asked for Israel’s salvation. The blood of the Lamb pictured Christ offering Himself to redeem Israel.
  2. This offering was only to provide a place of worship and communion not for salvation.
  3. The offering came from the resources that God had given Israel through the Egyptians.
  4. The offering was to come only from those with a willing heart. No pressure was to be applied and no promise attached to the giving other than a place to commune with God.

Only those who give out of a willing heart are able to worship Him. When we give our offerings thinking it is our duty or that God needs them, there is the potential for pride to arise in the heart (cf. Luke 18:9-14). That might make us feel good but it does not please God.

The churches in Macedonia exemplified this attitude to giving and Paul records it in 2 Corinthians 8:1-7. Out of their poverty these Christians gave beyond what they could afford out of free will. They were already saved from sin and death by God’s free gift in Christ Jesus. As an act of worship they freely gave all they could muster. Paul summed this up when he wrote, “They first gave themselves to the Lord” (v 5). God wants our hearts.

Salvation is free to us because Jesus paid the ransom price to redeem us. However, when we give ourselves to the Lord part of our worship will be by giving to Him. Not out of necessity but out of a willing heart that worships the Lord. Giving of ourselves, skills and our possessions is our response when we have received God’s gracious Gift, namely Jesus Christ. Part of our worship is our freewill offering. If it is not freewill it has not been offered to God and it is therefore not worship.

Giving in Faith

“I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.” (1 Kings 17:12)

By the time Elijah had come to this widow he had trusted the Lord to feed him by ravens and experienced their twice daily provision for some time. When the Brook Cherith dried up the Lord sent him to this destitute widow. Her state is adequately described in the verse above.

Instead of Elijah providing for the widow and her son he asked her to prepare her last food and give it to him. Humanly speaking we would ask, “Who in their right mind would do such a thing?” Common sense says don’t give away the last of your food. However, the widow was moved to a measure of faith in Elijah when he told her she could make some more for herself afterward. From where would this man produce more flour and oil?

The woman gave all that she had based solely on the word of Elijah. The result was that she saw the hand of the Lord provide for all three of them for a lengthy time. Then she knew that the God of Elijah was truly the God of all creation and she then put her faith in Him. (v 24).

We do not place our faith in a man but in One infinitely greater. Jesus Christ is the bread of life but do we really believe it?

Our actions with material things, including money, demonstrate our faith in Jesus Christ. If we are stingy it shows that we think He is stingy; if we are generous it shows we believe He is generous. If we give it all into His hands it shows that we understand He gave all for us and will not leave us forsaken.

Another widow hundreds of years later also gave all that she had (Luke 21:1-4). In contrast to the amounts the more wealthy people gave it was very little, even insignificant, yet Jesus says she gave more than all.

This should be a clue to us that Jesus is not impressed with amounts we give but rather the faith in the heart of the one giving. What we do with money and material things is evidence of where our heart is. As Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34).

It is not for us to measure others because we do not know what is in their heart and rarely what they actually give to the Lord. Only the Lord knows that. It is always time for a stock take on your treasure. Is it in heaven (Jesus Christ) or on earth (material things)? One is eternal and the other destined to be destroyed.

Emulate the faith of these widows who trusted Him for their daily bread.

In His Presence

“From everyone who gives it willingly with his heart you shall take My offering” (Exodus 25:2)

From the beginning to the end of the Bible we notice that God wants to dwell with the crown of His creation – man. At Christmas time we readily quote and sing one particular name of the Lord Jesus Christ and its meaning: Emmanuel, God with us. The purpose of the incarnation was to open the way for God to dwell with man. At Easter we remember how this was accomplished and directs our attention forward to the day when it will be an absolute reality.

Israel had a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night as witness of God’s presence. The next step was to have Israel build a portable sanctuary where God would dwell with the people as they travelled in the wilderness.

One can only wonder at what Moses thought of the Lord’s directive to obtain all the materials, including much gold and silver, from the people of Israel. They were a tribe of slaves who had left Egypt kicking, screaming and complaining at every obstacle. Would they have the materials and, if they did, could they be extracted from their hands? Also, the materials could only be received from those who give it willingly with their heart. Moses was not to use guilt or duty to provoke giving and people were not to give for self-esteem or the praise of men.

What would provoke the people of Israel to willingly give their gold, silver and other materials for the sanctuary? The answer is given in verse eight; “Let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. Only the people who valued the Lord being physically present with them would be moved to give willingly from the heart. Anyone who preferred gold and silver could keep it but they would not have a sense of God’s presence.

We should remember that Israel had these materials because they were given to them by the Egyptians as they left Egypt. The Egyptians gave the materials to them because of the fear of the Lord that came upon them. God gave them the materials and now He asks for a portion so that He may have a physical presence with them.

No one has given anything to the Lord unless they understand that all they have has been given to them by Him. Their response is to give as He directs with a glad and willing heart. If the motive is anything else then it will not result in a sense of God’s presence. A sense of duty performed or self-satisfaction is no substitute for giving with a willing heart and it will not have the desired outcome of God’s presence.

Paul writes that the churches of Macedonia gave “according to their ability, yes and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we should receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God” (2 Corinthians 8:3-5).

The people of Israel did this, even giving more than required, and the sanctuary was built and God dwelt among them. When we give from the heart desiring God Himself He will manifest Himself to us and we shall know His presence now and be confident of His physical presence in the resurrection when He creates all things new.

Relational Faith

“In what way have we despised Your Name?” (Malachi 1:6)

An enduring plague of humanity is our failure to recognise our true condition and this applies to Christians as well. The verse quoted above has been thought or said by multitudes through history when challenged regarding their walk with the Lord. It spills over our lips because we are in the dark regarding the holy ways of our Lord and our own fallen state.

Israel was going through all the outward evidences of a true relationship with God but their heart was not in it. Their heart was not in their worship of the Lord and this led to lying to and robbing the Lord. They thought He would not notice that they were robbing Him of true worship. Counterfeit worship does not measure up or please the Lord.

They were despising the name of the Lord by giving Him less than the best. The animal sacrifices that were supposed to picture the sinless Christ were blind, lame or sick (1:8). The corruption of the image revealed that their worship was also corrupt and unacceptable. If we spend time with the Lord or give time to ministry to others only if we have spare time and there is nothing else to do, and we only give money if there is anything left over after we have spent on ourselves, are we not also despising His name?

Among other revelations of Israel’s falling short in Malachi is that they did not trust the Lord to provide for them (3:8-10). In order to ensure sufficient for their future Israel did not give the tithe to the Lord and short changed Him in their offerings and sacrifices. God says they were robbing Him (v 8) but also robbing themselves (v 10).

The matter of giving of time and money is closely related to faith and trust in the Lord. Giving is not a legalistic requirement, it is relational. Paul records that some believers had given “according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing … but they first gave themselves to the Lord” (2 Corinthians 8:3, 5). They did this because of the relationship they had with Jesus Christ not because of some religious requirement. They trusted their tomorrow in His hands.

When we withhold giving in the various ways we have opportunity we are in effect saying that the Lord is untrustworthy and unreliable. Clearly there is a relational problem that needs attention. If we do not trust Him to provide for our brief earthly future how can we honestly declare that we trust Him for salvation and eternity? Our children and the world will see through that hypocrisy in a moment.

No believer sets out to despise the name of the Lord or to rob Him but we may easily fall into the trap of doing so. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Jesus is our treasure. Everything else is fleeting, just for a moment.

My Next Meal

“Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all.” (Luke 21:3)

To the wealthy and religious leaders of the time this would have been a most unwelcome and repugnant statement.

The rich were the ones who put the most money into the treasury and sustained the religious system. The widow’s monetarily insignificant offering would make no difference to the treasury of the temple. It could have been lost in the dust on the ground for all the financial difference it would make.

Jesus is commenting not on the amount of money given but the kind and amount of faith behind the offering. Giving to the Lord in monetary terms has nothing to do with God needing money. What purpose would God have for gold since He is able to create it out of nothing?

The widow gave all that she had. We might rationalise that she ought to have kept it for her next meal and given when she was better able. However, she preferred to give it and trust God for her next meal.

The better off people who put in much more in monetary terms still had ample left over for many meals and had no need to trust God for the next meal.

Giving is an expression of faith in God. The expression of that faith may be by obedience to His command to provide for the ministry of His church, to missions or in compassion on one in need but first and foremost it is an expression of faith and therefore it is also worship.

Jesus says that giving should not be related to whether we will have enough for our next meal or not.

The fact is that Jesus does not want our money, He wants us. Our money without ourselves is like the rich who put in out of their abundance. When you first give yourself (2 Corinthians 8:5) you give in faith in Jesus Christ who first gave Himself to and for you. You know that you are no longer your own and that you and all you have is His for His disposal. This is the kind of faith for which the widow woman was commended. It isn’t wrong or ungodly to be well off materially unless it becomes the object of our faith in place of Jesus Christ. It has then become our god and idol.

It is God’s pleasure that we enact the dependence that in actuality we have in Him. The better off we are materially, the more difficult that becomes. The temptation is to trust in our own ability or wealth instead of the Lord’s faithfulness. It is quite clear that the widow woman’s trust was wholly in the Lord.