Why give and not return offerings?
One of Lerato’s uncles passed by her place. His name was Uncle Mark. He visited Lerato and her mother on the country’s Independence Day. Lerato and her mother were home, since it was a national holiday.
“It’s been a long time since we last met,” said Uncle Mark to Lerato.
“Sure, and where is Auntie?”
“I left her picking up some items at the shopping mall. We are on our way to some friends of ours who stay about 100 kilometers out of town.”
Lerato’s mother joined in the discussion.
“Ah. Why did she remain there? She should have also come. It’s really been a long time since we last saw both of you.”
“There’s always the next time. Right now, we are in a hurry.”
Uncle Mark pulled out the car keys from his pocket, showing that he was just about to leave.
“Before you leave, Uncle. It’s my birthday this coming Sunday. I want you, Auntie, and Daisy to come. Please, Uncle?” pleaded Lerato.
“Yes, certainly. We will come, and by the way, here is three hundred dollars for you. Just spend it on anything you want. We will also bring our birthday presents on the day of the party.”
Lerato gave her uncle a sweet hug.
“Thank you, Uncle. I’ll keep it in my piggy bank.”
Lerato’s mother was also happy with the gift from Uncle Mark.
“You are a real father figure. Please express my thanks to your wife. I really appreciate your support,” said Lerato’s mother.
Uncle Mark drove off, leaving Lerato and her mother full of smiles, and plenty of happy goodbyes.
“So, what are you going to do with that money?” asked Lerato’s mother.
Lerato thought for a minute and then came up with an answer.
“I’ll first of all return thirty dollars to God as tithe.”
“And what about your offering?”
“I’ll give offering, eh. I don’t know how much it should be, Mum. Maybe I’ll return ten dollars.”
Her mother’s eyes opened wide.
“Ten dollars on top of the $30 for tithe! Isn’t it a bit too much for you to give away as an offering, my dear?”
“I don’t know. How much is enough, Mum?”
Lerato’s mother began to scratch her head in search of the right answer but looked clueless.
“I also don’t know. But I feel you are giving away far too much, more than is required. Well, I guess you should give anything that you feel is OK as long as you think it’s not very little. I know you love Jesus, and you don’t want to treat Him as a beggar. So give Him what your heart desires. I really don’t know what to tell you, my dear.”
“Don’t worry, Mum. I’ll call Auntie Liz or our pastor on the phone before I put my money in the piggy bank.”
“Great idea. Please, go ahead and do so now.”
So Lerato put a tithe of thirty dollars into a tithe-and-offering envelope. She did not seal it, because she still wanted to include her offering. She then picked up her mobile phone and called Elizabeth, the stewardship leader at their local church.
“Hello, Auntie. By the way, how much should I return as offering? My uncle gave me three hundred dollars to spend. I know my tithe is thirty dollars. But I have no idea how to calculate my offering.”
“Hi, baby sister. Good question. Will you give me five minutes? You caught me in the midst of doing something.”
After a short while, they resumed the talk.
“I’m happy to hear that you now know how to calculate your tithe. Unfortunately, you haven’t quite figured out how to determine your offerings. Right?”
“Will you please take your Bible? We want to get our answers from it.”
Lerato quickly ran to pick up her Bible.
“I’m back, Auntie.”
“Super. That was quick. By the way, did I hear you ask, ‘How much offering should I return?’ ”
“Return. Yes. That’s correct.”
“Um. I would like us to start from that word return. Maybe I should ask you this simple question.”
“What is the difference between returning and giving something to God, given the discussion we had on tithe the other day?”
Lerato remained quiet for a while. She pressed her mind to figure out the difference.
“Oh. I remember. We return tithe because it already belongs to God. It is His.”
“So, what about offering? Do we return it or give it?”
Lerato closed her eyes in deep thought again. She thought of this. She thought of that. But still she remained blank in her mind.
“Sorry, Auntie. I don’t know the right answer. Like you said about tithe, I guess anything we give to God we are returning to Him because He owns everything. Yeah, I really don’t know.”
“Everything belongs to God, including the money that remains with us after returning the tithe. But there’s a reason why we use ‘return’ for tithe and ‘give’ for other things. Let’s rewind our memories and go back to the three beggars you and your mum met while shopping for camp meeting the last time.”
“When you dropped those coins into their hands, what were you doing? Returning their money?”
“No. We gave them our money.”
“Beautiful. Do you see that we give what belongs to us, but return what belongs to others?”
Lerato nodded to show some understanding.
“Oh. So when I return tithe, I’m not giving anything to God?”
“I see. So we give offerings from the 90 percent that remains after returning God’s tithe? Although this 90 percent is still God’s money, He allows me nonetheless to treat it as my very own, to use responsibly as I want.”
“Quite right. Please excuse me again for a minute. I want to switch off my stove. Something is burning.”
‘Oh, sorry about that.”
Lerato remained holding on the phone while waiting for Elizabeth to return.
“Are you still there, Lerato?”
“Now let’s answer the most important question you asked. ‘How much offering is enough to give to Jesus?’ ”
“That’s exactly why I phoned.”
“I don’t have answers of my own, but the Bible does.”
Elizabeth flipped through her Bible to pick some verses that could help answer Lerato’s question.
“Please turn with me to 2 Corinthians 9:6-8.”
Lerato opened her Bible to the exact verses mentioned by Elizabeth.
“Fine. Please go ahead and read them aloud.”
“The Bible says, ‘Remember that the person who plants few seeds will have a small crop; the one who plants many seeds will have a large crop. You should each give, then, as you have decided, not with regret or out of a sense of duty; for God loves the one who gives gladly. And God is able to give you more than you need, so that you will always have all you need for yourselves and more than enough for every good cause.’ ”
“What lessons did you get as you were reading?” Elizabeth asked.
“Many. Like, the more we give, the more blessings we receive. And we should give from the heart.”
“What do you mean, from the heart?”
“No one should force me to give, and I should be happy to give because God wants us to give cheerfully. The other thing is that the amount of what to give as offering is determined by me. There’s no fixed percentage like with tithe,” Lerato said.
“One more lesson, Auntie.”
“Please, go ahead.”
“God will always make sure we have something to give, if we make giving a way of life. It’s like He gives us to us in order for us to give.”
“Hallelujah! You are on track, my baby sister. You make me proud. Now, let’s also see if there are any other giving lessons from Matthew 28:18-20. Please go ahead and read them aloud.”
Lerato flipped through the pages of her Bible and began to read.
“It says, ‘Jesus drew near and said to them, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always, to the end of the age.” ’ ”
“Thanks for the reading. So what lesson or lessons do you get from these verses?”
“Jesus wants us to reach all the people around the world, and make them His disciples,” Lerato said.
“Correct. Did you know that there’s a lot required in order to reach people around the world to make them disciples of Christ?”
“Yeah. You need schools, publishing houses, book distribution centers, hospitals, wellness centers, church planting, church buildings, Christian TV and radio stations, Bible correspondence schools, community development and welfare services, and many more other ministries? There are really too, too many to list over the phone.”
Lerato stood amazed. “Does our church do all that?” she asked.
“For sure. We are not a small church,” Elizabeth said.
“Hmm. I guess all these things need money. Otherwise, how would the church manage to do all these things without our offerings?”
“Exactly the point! Our offerings support God’s work around the world. We call that world mission. What I mean is that some of the offerings we give go to support God’s work in other places or countries apart from our local church.”
“Yeah. And do you see how clean and lovely our local church looks?”
“Yes, Auntie. I really love the garden plants. The sound system in the church and the interior décor make me feel proud.”
“Me too. And think of the children’s Sabbath School classrooms. All that comes from our offerings.”
“What about the pastors’ salaries?”
“That comes from the tithe we return. A local church is not allowed to use tithe. That’s why none of it remains at local churches. It is meant to support church workers and God’s work, outside of our day-to-day running of local churches.”
“I see. So, if we don’t give enough offerings, our local churches will struggle to meet their needs?”
“Yes, but not only that. God’s church around the world will also suffer.”
“We should not allow that to happen.”
“If everybody knew that, we would be giving more offerings than we do with the tithe, especially since only 50 percent of our offerings remain at local churches. I also know some divisions that allow 60 percent to remain at local churches. All the tithes go to conferences and higher organizations as we discussed during our tithe lesson.”
Lerato remained glued to the phone. She was happy with what Elizabeth was saying.
“So besides our local church and world mission, is there anything else that needs to be supported by our offerings, Auntie?”
“Good question. Let me read Matthew 25:34–40. I want you to figure out what else requires our support through offerings.”
Elizabeth opened the text and started to read.
“Here we go. Matthew 25:34-40 says, ‘Then the King will say to the people on his right, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father! Come and possess the kingdom which has been prepared for you ever since the creation of the world. I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.” The righteous will then answer him, “When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we ever see you a stranger and welcome you in our homes, or naked and clothe you? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?” The King will reply, “I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these followers of mine, you did it for me!” ’ Hey! It’s a long passage to read over the phone. But thanks for your patience.”
“It’s OK, Auntie. I’m not rushing anywhere.”
“That’s nice to hear. Well, in just one line, what did you learn from this passage?”
“We should support people going through difficult times as individuals, and I guess as a church as well. I think of victims of war, epidemics, drought, floods. You name it. All these people need a caring church.”
“Exactly. The church doesn’t live for itself. We also have a duty to help people outside the church, even if some of them don’t know or don’t want to believe in Jesus. We must still help them.”
“Now, with all these things you are saying, Auntie, how much, then, is enough offering? Is there a particular percentage we should give?”
Elizabeth moved to a chair nearby. She had been speaking standing up, so she got a bit tired and wanted to sit down.
“God has left that to each one of us to decide, as you said earlier on. Offerings are not like the tithe, where God specifically says, ‘Ten percent, no more and no less.’ For instance, people in Old Testament times would sometimes give more than they returned as the tithe. They were happy to give more and more. Of course, there were times when they gave very little or nothing at all, and God would be unhappy, especially after blessing them with plenty of things.
“Hmm,” said Lerato.
Yeah. Remember, we give from what God gives us. In the New Testament, they would also give and give. Some even sold their lands to support God’s church. Their giving was beyond any percentage you may think of. Actually, offerings should be given in proportion to the blessings God gives you as Deuteronomy 16:17 and 1 Corinthians 16:2 state. That is, the more blessings He gives you, the more offerings He expects from you. Look, offerings aren’t just about the amount of money. They are about our expression of thankfulness for God’s providence. So how can you give little when you are blessed with much?”
“Oh, I see. Please may you also give me the other verses that talk of giving more and more beyond tithe. I would like to share them with my mum,” Lerato said.
“Good idea. Off the top of my head, I think of Exodus 36:1-7 and Acts 4:33-37.”
“You really mean people can give more than tithe?”
“Yes. There’s no limit to giving. There’s a widow in the Bible who gave everything she had as an offering. It’s recorded in Mark 12:41-44. Do you remember that story?”
“I do, but the amount of money she gave was very little.”
“It wasn’t about the amount, but the percentage, Lerato. She gave every bit of cash she had, 100 percent. I mean, everything. No wonder Jesus took notice of her sacrificial giving. However, God does not demand us to do the same. You can start with a percentage that you are comfortable with, and then grow from there to any level of giving.”
“Yes. Proverbs 11:24, 25 also says, ‘Some people spend their money freely and still grow richer. Others are cautious, and yet grow poorer. Be generous, and you will be prosperous. Help others, and you will be helped.’ ”
“That sounds really great, Auntie. But shouldn’t we just give for the sake of giving and not do it for blessings? I didn’t like what used to happen at our previous church before we became Adventists. The pastor would preach blessings, and then people, including my mum, would pour out their pockets, only to make him a millionaire. It was like the church was a place for him to make money. All the offerings enriched the pastor. We didn’t have schools, welfare projects, and all the things you listed earlier. Instead, he bought mansions and the latest cars for himself and his family. Of course, we were worshipping in a magnificent church building. That’s all.”
Elizabeth shook her head in disbelief.
“I can’t believe that was happening. Well, the Adventist system of managing offerings is different. Tithe and offerings belong to the church. No one person owns the church. It is owned by all the members, and as a body of members worldwide and locally, we have rules of how offerings and tithe are shared from local churches to the highest office on earth, including community work. Our pastors earn salaries no matter how much we collect every Sabbath. It is no wonder we can build universities, schools, hospitals, clinics, and do many other things. We give for mission, not for blessings. Fortunately, God can’t help but bless those who give even though they may not be hunting for blessings through giving. Am I making myself clear?”
“Yes, Auntie. We learn every day.”
“That’s fine. Let me take you back to tithing. We have discovered that one of the reasons the church receives more tithe than offerings is that people know the percentage to give as tithe, unlike offerings. Most of the members give anything that comes from their pockets as offering when they get to church. They don’t have a clear plan of giving.”
“What do you mean?”
“Some people come to church not knowing exactly how much they will give as offering. It’s a very sorrowful state for angels to behold, seeing what goes on at church every Sabbath. But God wants us to plan in advance as 2 Corinthians 9:7 says. So you should decide what percentage to give as offering each time you get money. I admire the commitment children are encouraged to make by the Stewardship Ministries of our church at the General Conference.”
Lerato became keen on knowing more about how other children commit themselves to giving offerings to Jesus.
“How do they do it, Auntie?”
Elizabeth sent Lerato a phone text of an image of a card she had at the back of her Bible.
“Please just have a look at this card. It’s the yearly pledge children make between them and God in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Each child decides what percentage to give as offering for each year, but still keeps the card privately to themselves. However, there is no sin should you choose to let people you trust, like your mum, know your promise to God so that they may support your pledge in their prayers. Remember, my young sister, the motivation in giving is to give your best to Jesus, and you can keep going higher and higher each year.
“I’d really like to also make a promise to God, Auntie. My mum and I have had problems in the area of offerings as well as returning the tithe, as she revealed to you. We start hunting for money in her bag when it’s time to give offerings in church. We never plan in advance. I’m sure things will change from now on. Anything more you would like to say? My time is almost up. I now need to help Mum in the kitchen.”
“We are almost done. One of the most important things for you to know is that giving should be out of love, even though it may call for some sacrifice at times. And the best example of giving is God Himself, as John 3:16 says. He gave the best Gift to us because of His love for us. Just imagine how many people would stand to accept Jesus if we all were to exercise planned giving so that the church finds itself with enough resources to share God’s message of love to all people groups everywhere.”
“Many. So, Auntie. Is it OK if I started with 10 percent as my offering? I will see how it goes as I grow to know Jesus better.”
“Wow! This is a great decision you have made. I’ll pray that God gives you the strength to keep it that way. Even if you had started with five or any other percentage, it would still be OK. The most important point is to start somewhere.”
“No! Ten percentage is fine with me. I want to give it a try.”
“Don’t try. Just do it, and God will see you through.”
“Sorry, Auntie. Mum is calling. I have to go. Thanks for everything.”
“Me too. Thanks for asking. Have a good day. Bye.”
Later that day, Lerato took another thirty dollars, put it into the tithe and offering envelope, and sealed it in preparation to take it to church. She dropped the rest of the money into her piggy bank as her savings.
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