‘When they arrived at the house of the LORD in Jerusalem, some of the heads of the families gave freewill offerings towards the rebuilding of the house of God in its site. According to their ability they gave to the treasury for this work 61,000 drachmas of gold, 5,000 minas of silver and 100 priestly garments’ (Ezra 2:68-69).
herever there is willing and sacrificial giving for the work of the Lord, there is true heart religion. It is one thing to give in a formal manner out of a sense of obligation or duty but it is another thing entirely to give gladly.
Their giving was not miserly, half-hearted or begrudging. It was limited only by their ability to give. They contributed out of their resources because they had a true sense of the value of spiritual things.
It was an outward expression of inner faith. That is what giving to the work of the Lord is — an acknowledgement that all we have has come from his hand.
Those who understand the value of the work of God will give generously.
Liberal, cheerful and voluntary
God’s people should always be prepared to give liberally, voluntarily and cheerfully. Each of these qualities should feature in every gift to God.
We may volunteer to give, yet not be cheerful about it. Some give large amounts but do so from a sense of necessity. As far as Ezra’s people were concerned God was their vision, and in the light of that, everything else paled into insignificance.
The apostle Paul states clearly how God views giving: ‘Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver’ (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).
We are exhorted to open-handed giving. It is one thing to desire God’s work to be done and even to pray fervently to that end — but quite another thing to contribute financially to ensure that vision become a reality.
Ezra 2:69 says that they gave ‘to the treasury for this work’. It is the duty of all believers to support the work of the Lord.
However, a word of caution is needed here. The believer must pray, pay and play! In other words, making a financial contribution must not become a salve to our consciences.
In giving we may be excusing ourselves from ‘going’ — from playing our part in the work of God.
That would be a bit like the wealthy being exempt from conscription in time of war. That may have been the case in some democracies but it has no place in the divine plan.
Moving on, we read that they gave ‘according to their ability’ (v.69). In the church today some people have substantial resources while others have very little. It is possible, as we all know, for wealthy people to be either generous or mean with what they have.
On the other hand, we are not so naive as to believe that the less well off are invariably generous by nature. A person of limited means may be generous or have a miserly attitude (although meanness is probably less obvious in the case of the poorer person).
It is wrong to make a virtue out of either poverty or wealth. The people listed in the second chapter of Ezra gave in proportion to their ability, which meant equal sacrifice for all (see 2 Corinthians 8:13-15).
Superficial or sacrificial?
The Gospels of Luke and Markdraw attention to something important in relation to giving. In their parallel account of the ‘widow’s offering’, Jesus commends what some might condemn as foolish, namely, the fact that she gave all she possessed.
We might think that unless such a person develops a more sensible approach to money-management they will be trapped in poverty forever. But that is not what God says. Let us look at the passage.
‘As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “I tell you the truth”, he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on”’ (Luke 21:1-4).
Jesus always told the truth, but whenever he uses this phrase ‘I tell you the truth’ he is asking his disciples (then and now) to pay particular attention to the truth being taught.
What exactly is the truth being emphasised here? I believe that what Jesus wants us to get hold of is this — there is a vast difference between superficial and sacrificial giving.
This widow did not give from a surplus. There is nothing balanced or budgeted about her giving. It is not affordable. In fact one could say it appears reckless.
But it reflects an attitude of total love and deep faith. There was nothing shallow or partial in the way she gave.
Giving must never be tokenism dressed up as thanks. It is a sad fact of life that wealth is a serious obstacle to true spirituality. Whether wealth is amassed through honest or dishonest means, one often finds that making money is the chief aim of the wealthy person.
It is something to which he may have dedicated his life — a single-minded ambition, a number-one priority. Such self-made men are often proud and self-sufficient. They are confident in their own resources and, sadly, arrogant.
These people are often the chiefs and bosses of their own commercial empires. They find it difficult to be humble. In the church they sometimes find it difficult to follow, because they are not used to being led.
Of course the Holy Spirit can transform such people into what all of us should be — generous to those in need and willing and joyful supporters of the Lord’s work. A wealthy believer can make a significant contribution to the work of the local church.
But even in doing this there is a danger that he sees himself as the paymaster and expects ‘to call the shots’. But the idea that ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune’ has no place in the church of Christ.
It should be remembered that God does not need our money to accomplish his purposes. Rather, he desires our cheerful willingness to give sacrificially rather than superficially. This is the biblical perspective, which needs to be preached without fear or favour.
Sometimes those who can afford to contribute to a particular need say things like, ‘I don’t want to encourage idleness’ or ‘I wouldn’t like to create false expectations’.
In other words, we are prepared to argue that money won’t make any real difference and what is really required is better financial management and budgeting skills. On the face of it our reasoning makes sense because there is a good deal of truth in what we say.
But perhaps we need to be more compassionate than critical. Those who value money more than anything else are reluctant to part with it. We can rationalise our rationing — but God expects us to give generously.
In the temple, Jesus observed what people were giving — and he still does! He sees the motives, the excuses and the sacrifice.
God is generous
One very good reason for showing generosity is that God himself is generous by nature. If we desire to be truly like him, then we should not neglect to be generous. That generosity is most evident in his willingness to forgive our great debt of sin.
It is in the context of our own giving that Paul writes, ‘For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich’ (2 Corinthians 8:9).
The ledger has been balanced because he paid the price in full. Luke records the thinking of Jesus on this issue: ‘Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you’ (Luke 6:38). He pours a quart into a pint pot.
Paul prays that the Ephesians ‘may be filled to the measure of all the fulness of God’ (Ephesians.3:19). Inevitably, such filling will result in overflowing.
The rich young ruler had done everything required in the law, but he was unwilling to sell all that he had and give it to the poor (Matthew 19:16-22). Ultimately, money meant more to him than obedience to the Master. Jesus could read his heart and knew how to touch the central issue.
It has been suggested that Jesus’ demands were unreasonable and that few of us would be prepared to follow him on these terms. But unless we are prepared to do whatever Christ asks of us, we cannot count ourselves his disciples at all!