What is an Offering?
What is an offering? A lot of you probably think you already know the answer, “An offering is anything above and beyond the tithe.” Others of you disagree, “If someone gives less than the tithe then that constitutes an offering, since it is a gift that isn’t a tithe.” While I won't disagree with either of those definitions, I’m more interested in what God has to say about it.
Let me ask again so we’re all focused on the question: What is an offering? To begin with, because giving offerings originates as an Old Testament concept, we must also consider Jesus’ fulfillment of the Law to better understand the nature of offerings under the New Covenant and God’s expectation for Christians regarding the offering. That being said, while theologians offer several competing definitions for what constitutes an offering, there are some things we see in scripture that are common to all offerings. Offerings are different than the tithe, are given freely, are received freely, and are an expression of gratitude.
Offerings are Different than the Tithe
The first common characteristic of offerings is that they are not part of the tithe. Offerings differ from the tithe in amount, purpose, ownership, and requirement.
Tithe and Offerings Differ in Amount. Tithe means tenth, and the tithe is, by definition, 10% of your income. Any other amount, whether above or below 10%, is not the tithe (For the sake of clarity, if you give 15%, 10% is the tithe and the remaining 5% is an offering.). This is not the church’s idea or the pastor’s idea, it is God’s idea. In fact, unless your pastor is your sole source of income, he cannot tell by the amount of your gift whether it is a tithe or an offering. But do you know who can? God can. God knows your income and He knows the tithe on your income. Any other amount, whether beneath the tithe or beyond it, is an offering. God sees both your tithe and your offering. He knows your situation and the condition of your heart. You cannot deceive God, so it’s best to do things His way.
Tithe and Offerings Differ in Purpose. The tithe and offerings each have unique purposes associated with the giver and the recipient. Here is a brief synopsis:
For the giver, the tithe serves as a test of obedience to and trust in God.
The offering reflects the giver’s gratitude.
For the recipient, the tithe usually meets the operating costs of the ministry.
Recipients may use the offering on operating expenses or anything else. A common example of this is a church building fund. This falls outside the church’s operating expenses and many churches rely on offerings to fund these types of projects.
Tithes and Offerings Different in Ownership. God says in Leviticus 27:30 and 32 that the tithe is His and Malachi 3:8-9 says it is robbery to withhold God’s tithe from Him. This commandment was part of the Mosaic law, but Jesus upholds the practice of tithing in Matthew 23:23, so the tithe still belongs to God under the New Covenant. While God owns the tithe, the offering comes from the remaining 90% of our income which belongs to us. We can use that money to pay our bills, buy groceries, or give part of it as an offering. It’s our money, we own it, and we may spend it as we please.
Tithes and Offerings Differ in Requirement. While the tithe is required, offerings are not. We are commanded to give the tithe, but there is no New Testament commandment requiring an offering. Any offering you give is of your own free will, not because God commands it.
Offerings are Given Freely
Offerings are not only characterized by their differentiation from the tithe, but also by their being offered freely. If you look at the biblical examples of people giving offerings, most of them were given freely. The giver chose to give the offering, there was no expectation of a gift, and there was no expectation of an exchange which might entice the giver to act differently. Offerings were given freely. Genesis 4:3-4 tells of Cain and Abel freely bringing their offerings to the Lord and Noah freely offered a sacrifice to the Lord in Genesis 8:20. Offerings were commanded in some instances under the Mosaic law, but since Jesus fulfilled the need for these, there are no commanded offerings under the New Covenant.
Offerings are Received Freely
Another characteristic of offerings is that they may be accepted or rejected. We typically think of them as a gift that God always accepts, but this is not the case. In Genesis 4:4-5, God accepted Abel’s offering and rejected Cain’s. Furthermore, Romans 12:1 tells us to present our bodies as an acceptable sacrifice, indicating that there is such a thing as an unacceptable sacrifice. In the same way a suitor presents an offer of engagement which an eligible maiden may accept or reject, we present offerings to the Lord which He may accept or reject. We do not force our gifts upon God, we simply offer them and He chooses whether He will accept them. The act of offering our gifts is precisely what makes them offerings.
Offerings are an Expression of Gratitude
Generally speaking, Biblical offerings to God typically function either as an atonement offering to persuade God to forgive sin or as an expression of gratitude for His blessing and provision. Scripture alludes to God making the first atonement offering on behalf of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:21. Offerings for atonement were eventually codified as part of the Mosaic law and were ultimately rendered obsolete after Jesus fulfilled the need by becoming the final sin offering (Hebrews 10:14). There is no need for atonement offerings in the New Covenant, but gratitude offerings are very common throughout both testaments and remain prevalent in contemporary society. When we give today, we do so as an expression of our appreciation for God’s blessing.
Should You Give an Offering?
You have to answer that for yourself, but hopefully the above discussion will help point you in the right direction. Think about what an offering is and how that matches up with your situation.
Consider these points:
If you can only give exactly 10%, don’t give an offering.
If you are not thankful, don’t give an offering.
If you don’t support church projects beyond operational expenses, don’t give an offering.
If you only want to return to God what is already His, don’t give an offering.
If you want to keep everything He has blessed you with for yourself, don’t give an offering.
Put your treasure where your heart is. If your heart isn’t with God, don’t give an offering.
But also consider these:
If you are thankful Jesus saved you, you have a reason to give an offering!
If you were going to Hell, but now you’re headed to Heaven, you have a reason to give an offering!
If you have a testimony, you have a reason to give an offering!
If you have a reason to sing praises, you have a reason to give an offering!
If you have something to shout about, you have a reason to give an offering!
If God has been good to you, then you have a reason to give an offering!