Offering, Giving and Almsgiving: The Difference By A.

S Nhlapo 29 March 2008 Background and Introduction The notion of offering, giving and almsgiving is almost part of every religious institution. However, the use of these terms has always resulted in some of interchangeability. Users of these terms often use them to communicate one message to their audience. I have always been troubled by such tendency; I have really found it difficult to reconcile what some of these speakers are saying and what has actually been said in the context and meaning of the Holy Bible. I have however found myself guilty of ignorantly joining in the use of these terms. It was on the 28th March 2008 when I found myself questioning my own use of the term, after I was requested to present an offering message at His People Campus Ministry. One of the leaders called me that night to ask me if I can present such a message. I replied back telling him that I was going to get back to him the following day. I had my own reasons of not replying the same time or accepting the request at that moment. I felt that I was still new to stand in this big congregation to share on such a sensitive message. I found myself wondering what is it that I would say that has never been said in the past 9 months. I thought to myself that all the speakers that came before me have in fact said everything that I could possibly think of. I also thought that what difference would it make to repeat what has been said a thousand times. I had in my mind a very simple reply for my leader. I thought I would make some reasonable excuses; for example, “I don’t think it is a good idea, I need to settle and get used to the leadership and the congregation”; I felt it has been a long time since I spoke to such a big crowd; therefore I think I would be very anxious on that particular day”. All of these petty and futile reasons seemed sensible to me and I thought I would say one of them, and I would be off the hook. The following day, in the morning I thought about these reasons and felt that they were far from the truth. I felt that I would be lying to both God and my leader. I then started praying asking God for intervention; after praying, ideas started running in my mind, I felt that I was confident and that would speak to any crowd. Something strange though was that all the ideas about what I would say seemed to

contradict what I used to follow and believe. I felt that the new revelation was piercing through my heart. I opened the bible and noticed that the scriptures I was reading seem to saying something I have never thought of. As a result of these ideas, I thought I should write them down, read and present them to my audience. The bible uses at least 3 words that we usually find difficult to tease out and as a result we inject our own meaning so as to communicate what we want our audience to hear. These words include but not limited to offering, giving and almsgiving. First of all, before I explicate and try to distinguish the terms, I would like to present some kind of definitions contained in circular dictionary. When I finish defining the terms, I would then present a biblical perspective that would guide us in understanding the how best can we use them to communicate what God intended. Offering is defined as: o Money contributed to a religious organization (Word Web). o The act of contributing to the funds of a church or charity (Word Web). o Something offered in worship or devotion, as to a deity; an oblation or sacrifice (Dictionary.reference.com). o A contribution given to or through the church for a particular purpose, as at a religious service (Dictionary.reference.com). Giving is defined as: Disposing of property by voluntary transfer without receiving value in return (Word Web). To present voluntarily and without expecting compensation (Diction.reference.com). Almsgiving is defined as: Making voluntary contributions to aid the poor (Word Web & Dictionary.reference.com). Reflection

It is with no doubt that these dictionaries define these three words as having distinct properties and the message they communicate is different. Something surprising though for me is that the word offering is loaded with heavy words such as deity, church, religious organization and worship. These words have a particular and peculiar symbol they are representing. Biblical Perspective Let us now consider the biblical use of the notion of offering, giving and almsgiving. There are numerous scriptures that contain or give reference to these words; I would like to not focus on all of them, but extract a few scriptures that can represent the essence that these words have about themselves. The first few scriptures I would like use to look at are the following; they are focusing on what offering is and also to it is directed and what the meaning behind it is: Genesis 4: 3-4 “3 When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the Lord. 4 Abel also brought a gift—the best of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The Lord accepted Abel and his gift”. (New Living Translation) “3 And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD. 4 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering”. (King James Version)
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In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. 4 But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering”. (New International Version) Exodus 25: 1-2 “The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Tell the people of Israel to bring me their sacred offerings. Accept the contributions from all whose hearts are moved to offer them”. (New Living Translation) “1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 2 Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring me an offering: of every man that giveth it willingly with his heart ye shall take my offering”. (King James Version)

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The LORD said to Moses, 2 "Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from each man whose heart prompts him to give. (New International Version) Isaiah 19: 21 “The Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians. Yes, they will know the Lord and will give their sacrifices and offerings to him. They will make a vow to the Lord and will keep it”. (New Living Translation) “And the LORD shall be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians shall know the LORD in that day, and shall do sacrifice and oblation; yea, they shall vow a vow unto the LORD, and perform it”. (King James Version)
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So the LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians, and in that day they will acknowledge the LORD. They will worship with sacrifices and grain offerings; they will make vows to the LORD and keep them”. (New International Version) Reading the above scriptures, one is captured by three themes that seem to be part of what offering is all about. The first point I would to communicate is that, man is prompted in his heart to give thanks to God. Note that in Genesis 4: 3-4 we are told that the two brothers decided in their hearts to bring forth offerings; they were not commanded by God. This is confirmed by the later scriptures that came to form part of God’s commandment of the manner in which offerings should be given. In offering God still honour the heart of man that willingly decides to worship God through an offering. This is the reason why God felt that the preparation and the condition of the heart before an offering is presented forms basis of his acceptance. God decides to receive an offering based on the heart of man. But it should be noted that God does not coerce of force people to bring offerings. We as believers have to decide whether we want to give or not. The only place where we have no say is whether God receives our offerings or not pending the outcome of our heart’s condition. God set rules on what kind of heart makes him rejoice in an offering. So ours is to know what kind of heart pleases the Lord. If we know this, then it is easy for us to understand what an offering is; it should be emphasized that offering is not equivalent to being generous, there are rules and principles that governs generosity. As believers we need to be careful of how

we approach this, as many believers today believe that if you give more offering then you would be more blessed. There is no scripture that attest to this lie. There is no big or small offering; all dependants on man’s heart condition. This however does not suggest that there is no undesirable offering. For example Deuteronomy 15: 21 and Malachi 1:8-10. I shall not dwell on this, as the topic itself is inexhaustible. The second part of my topic included the idea of giving, in our definition, it was clear that giving also stems from the heart of man. One decides to give based on what his heart desires. In our definition, something unusual and that would not sit well with most charismatic Christians pertains giving without expecting anything in return. Such an idea will surely disturb a lot of Christians and some can even denounce their Christianity because they feel that they are losing in the process of giving. This perception and almost misconception almost fill the minds of believers. During offering messages believers want to hear words like “give and it be given back to you…they will also clap hands for you if you do not forget to mention measures, pressed and shaken and overflowing”. If you say anything that does not go along such lines, then you would have definitely stepped on someone’s toes. If you cannot read this scripture, they might forgive you if you tell them that “those that sow sparingly will reap sparingly and that those that sow bountifully will also reap bountifully”. One thing that such believers have ignored is the context in which these words were said. The first scripture which is found in Luke 6: 38 states that “Give, and [gifts] will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will they pour, into [the pouch formed by] the bosom [of your robe and used as a bag]. For with the measure you deal out [with the measure you use when you confer benefits on others], it will be measured back to you” (Amplified). The New Living Translation states that “Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back” (New Living Translation). Believers tend to misquote this verse in order to rid off their fear and anxieties of parting ways with their money. The context in which this verse was written is with no doubt in the context of “do to others as you would like them to do

unto you and that you are not to judge”. Interestingly enough, there is no where in the portion of that verse and the scripture in general are we promised to be given back by God. This scripture is clearly talking about giving in our relationships with other men. It seems to be a rational argument to make that Christ does not owe us even a cent. He blesses us according to his riches in glory not according to our offerings or how much we give. If God was blessing us according to how we give him then I don’t think we would be able to be where we are today. I fully believe that God blesses us because of the relationship we have with him and our fellow man. Offering and giving is therefore different in that offering is a service to God, it forms part of our worship and giving is part of our service to fellow men, irrespective of whether they are believers or not. Almsgiving thus becomes an extension of giving; almsgiving is different in that it is specific to those that are less fortunate. Conclusion In Matthew 6: 33 Jesus says that “But seek (aim at and strive after) first of all His kingdom and His righteousness (His way of doing and being right), and then all these things taken together will be given you besides” (Amplified Version). If we are to understand offering as a form of worship, therefore we can understand Jesus words in that they are referring to advancing the Kingdom of God. So we seek, we find and we advance. In today’s system of living, money is fundamental to doing almost everything. This simply means that as we bring our offerings (money) to God, we must not expect to be given back, pressed down, shaken and overflowing return; instead we must expect God’s kingdom to expand, advance and allow God’s will to be done in our lives and the lives of those who have not yet to come to know him.