The Offering
(February, 2003 POL)

Topic: Stewardship
Title: The Offering
Text: 1 Corinthians 16:1-4

I got a chuckle from a cartoon I saw a while back. It shows hundreds of people streaming out the doors of a large church sanctuary dressed only in their underclothing: men in their boxer shorts, women in their slips . . . One person turns to another and says, "That was the best stewardship sermon I ever heard."

Every Sunday morning, as part of our worship service, we take an offering.

Now when you think about it, taking an offering for God is a very strange thing. God doesn't need our money. God created the earth and the sun and the moon and the stars and the galaxies. God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, the Psalmist tells us. God's resources are infinite. Yet throughout the Bible, the primal act of worship by human beings is making an offering to God. In the beginning Cain and Abel made offerings to God. Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the kings and prophets of Israel all made offerings to God. In the New Testament, Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus went to the temple and made an offering to God. The Apostle Paul told the churches to take an offering every Sunday. A few minutes ago we took an offering in this sanctuary. And when I'm finished speaking, we are going to take the mother of all offerings: estimating our giving for the year 2003. Clearly, the Bible and the Christian Church say you are to make offerings to God. Why? If God doesn't need our money, it must be because you and I have a need to give.

In my years in the church I have noticed two prevailing schools of thought about the offering. The first is what I call the old realist approach. The old realist is usually some no nonsense businessperson who says, "Look, you have to pay the bills. You have to keep the ministers fed, the lights on and the building maintained. The missionaries have to be supported. And nobody's ever come up with a better way of getting it done than to call a 'time out' after the sermon and have the organist play something pretty while you pass the hat and ask everybody to dig down deep in their pockets and pitch in their fair share." The old realist sees the offering as a necessary evil.

Across the aisle from the old realist sits the young idealist. He or she sees the offering as an unnecessary evil: "Why don't we live like the lilies of the field in this church? Why don't we just have faith and trust God to make ends meet? Why don't we pray instead of having stewardship campaigns and pledge cards and fund appeals?"

Now I have to admit that in the early years of my ministry I tended toward the young idealist approach; I tried to show my faith in God's abundance by making nary a mention of money in worship. I considered that way of preaching to be more spiritual. And it may be spiritual, but folks, it's not Biblical.

In Paul's eyes, the offering is neither a necessary evil nor an unnecessary evil - it is a necessary good, so important that it must be an integral part of the worship service. Listen again to his words: "On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income..."

If you look at the New Testament in the original Greek, you get an even better idea of how important offerings are to Paul. Paul used nine different Greek words to denote the offering. By contrast, he used only four words for love. You may not have noticed before, but I ask you to consider how our entire Peachtree worship service climaxes with the offering. After the hymn, after the prayers, after the anthem, the music gets soft and then it starts to swell into a Jacuzzi of sound. Louder and louder it becomes, until, as if responding to a Pavlovian instinct, we leap to our feet and burst into song. Ushers parade down the aisle as we sing: "Praise God from whom all blessings flow / Praise him all creatures here below..."And one of our families comes forward to dedicate our offering to Almighty God. We make a big deal of the offering here at Peachtree. According to Paul, we are right to do so.