Why do you give?

Much of the money that finds its way into the church could be called a collection rather than an offering. Possibly this is because needs are emphasized rather than the privilege of expressing love and gratitude to God.

One does not read in the Bible, “Let us go up to the tabernacle to hear Samuel preach—I hear he is very good,” but rather, “Let us go up to the house of the Lord to offer sacrifice.” It appears that the major reason for attendance at both the tabernacle and the temple was to personally offer sacrifices as an indication of the love and gratitude of the giver.

While singing, prayer, and study are vital to Christian growth, the offering is an individual’s personal expression of love, an exercise in benevolence which makes all other expressions efficient.

One man expressed his misunderstanding regarding the offering system when he said, “I wish I could find a church where they had inspiring sermons, beautiful music, and fervent prayers—and forget all this talk about money.”

“I have great news for you,” I replied. “I attended just such a service last week.”

“Oh, where was it?”

“It was a funeral!”

While most of us might hesitate to express this thought, it is too common to be ignored. Anything as important as the church requires vast resources, and we should thank God for the opportunity to help meet the needs. This is what an offering is: an opportunity to express the love in our hearts.

The question arises: would it be better to raise money for an objective; or would it be better to match the objective to the funds given willingly from the heart? This, of course, could create an additional problem which would call for divine guidance.

On the one hand, we need to have an aggressive program, and must not be content with a minimum of effort; while on the other, we must not allow the need for funds to take precedence over the spiritual requirement of the need of the giver to give from proper motivation.

It is said that the best way to motivate a donkey is to hold a carrot in front of him—and use a stick behind. This method certainly should not be necessary for the Christian steward; however, too often this carrot (reward) or stick (penalty) approach is used.

Proper motivation is essential to every action. Huge sums of money are spent around the world to get people to do things; to buy things; to believe things. And, unfortunately, the methods are: the “carrot” of the desire for pay, advancement, reward, security, or the “stick” of discipline, compulsion, or insecurity. These are low-level motivators, and at best produce low-level results.

Motivation is an elusive thing—mysterious—for time, place, culture, and emotions all affect it. One expert in management science once stated, “We know nothing about motivation. All we do is write books about it.” Because of this mystery, no method has ever been found that will guarantee a positive response in every situation. We do know people respond to various stimuli, such as comfort, security, social instincts, ego satisfaction, self-image, etc.

Genuine, positive motivation comes not from external stimuli, but from within. Some activating force propels the individual beyond his basic needs. His desire to accomplish something, conquer something, or find something can be so strong that it will dwarf all considerations of personal comfort. An individual, so motivated, will sacrifice comfort, sleep, and even food to satisfy it. We have the history of inventors, scientists, and explorers who risked their lives in their search.

Yet motivation is a result rather than a method. It is an inner desire or dedication to someone or something which is so intense that it overrides every other consideration. This is the mystery of Christian motivation.

Jesus was the perfect example. He never manipulated anyone, but He was the master motivator: to Peter and Andrew, He said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19); to the Samaritan woman, He offered “living water” (John 4:10); to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again” (John 3:3). Peter left the security of his fishing business; the woman at the well stirred up her entire village; Nicodemus gave his entire fortune for the support of the early church.

True motivation is the result of a power, of the influence of the Holy Spirit in one’s life. It is a force that penetrates the heart and takes possession. In fact, self is set aside; this force controls every thought and action. The apostle Paul recognized this. He was externally motivated when he was zealously hunting Christians with only one thought in mind—their extermination. But then he saw Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, and every other consideration faded away. He expressed it this way: “For the love of Christ constraineth [controls, urges, and impels] us” (2 Corinthians 5:14). This inner force took over his entire life. In fact, it was so powerful that is cost him his life. This is true motivation.

With this thought in mind, it can be seen that proper motivation is not an external method, but the implanting of God’s spirit in the heart. When this is done, the senses and emotions will be Spirit-inspired, and appropriate actions will follow. No longer will the selfish heart require the bombardment of external stimuli for it will respond to the leading of God’s spirit. The results will always be satisfactory for they will be in accordance with His will.

The only acceptable offering is one generated by the pure motive of love—anything else is unacceptable. If we try to stimulate giving without this love-motivated principle, are we not encouraging people to replace God with things, or objectives? Is not this a subtle form of idolatry? A principle is involved: One can give without loving, but it is impossible to love without giving.

The pure offering is motivated by love and expects no other reward than the joy of giving. The pure offering seeks nothing, it expects nothing: it is as outward response to an inward feeling.

Speaking of the Macedonian church, Paul gave the proper sequence for giving. “And they did not do and we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will” (2 Corinthians 8:5, NIV).

Giving is such a sensitive area (indicative of a person’s relationship to God), that it must not be influenced by any man-made idea or plan. It must not be tampered with, for it is a vital link in man’s relationship to God. Anything we do to upset the balance in the God-loves-man, man-loves-God connection interferes with this divine communication.

How, then, do we protect this relationship and still provide the financial support for the many phases of God’s work?

First, we continually uphold God’s love, His sacrifice, His gift. Then, we can present the needs of God’s work as opportunities to express our love and gratitude. By following this sequence, men and women will be trained to first give to God, then distribute to things. Needs will only make it convenient to allocate the money which has already been dedicated to God. He will be the real recipient of every offering. The requirements of His great master plan will be seen as opportunities to exercise our partnership with Him in the salvation of souls.

Only in this way can offerings retain their divine design—a pure expression of a pure love.


Adapted from Biblical Principles for Giving and Living by Mel Rees.

Copyright 1995 by The Ministerial Association, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Used by permission.