Why Giving Money to the Church is Important (Nehemiah 10:32-39)
I recently watched a talk by Sinclair Ferguson on three lessons from 42 years of ministry. He referenced his appreciation for William Still, whose book The Work of the Pastor has been an encouragement to me. Ferguson mentioned that every pastor should read the book every year, at least. So, I picked it up for only the third time and came across this quote where Still discusses church revival:
There will soon be evidence that God is at work—and the devil will rouse himself too! The first sign may be that believing folk who may have grown cold and worldly, will begin to loosen their purse strings out of thankfulness to God for His living Word, and the finances will improve. This is the least of the signs, but it is almost always the first to appear in the reviving of a church.
One sign of revival is generous giving.
Last week we mentioned “Why Church Membership is Important” (Nehemiah 10:1-31). I intended to pack this chapter into one sermon with the following outline:
- Church Membership Reveals Our Commitment to Adopt God’s Convictions (1-29)
- Church Membership Reveals Our Eagerness to Accept God’s Restrictions (30-31)
- Church Membership Reveals Our Willingness to Obey God’s Obligations (32-39)
But, as I began my study, I decided there are plenty of landmines to step on in this last section. So, it might help to walk through it slowly and carefully. We either tend to overemphasize money (in growing and shrinking churches), or we blissfully ignore it altogether.
Giving Reveals What We Value
When I was in the early stages of strategizing for this church plant, I briefly toyed with the idea of not taking an offering during the service to show visitors that money was not the driving motivation here. I know several churches who do that, and it seemed like a considerate thing to do. But, open the Bible at any point, and you won’t get very far before coming to the theme of money or possessions. Because it is such a frequent theme, we need to spend adequate time here.
I have called what was taking place in Israel under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah a revival. They rebuilt the temple, then followed that up with rebuilding the walls, and now they are experiencing reformation in their values and habits. The community elevated the Word of God in their minds and made worship central to their fellowship. Both of these principles contribute to their interest in giving money for temple worship.
We give money to the things that we most value, and oftentimes those things are temporary and fleeting. A typical budget reveals that we value our homes, transportation, and entertainment. What we give to the church is indicative of the longing we have for the glory of God.
Genuine spiritual revival typically occurs in conjunction with a generous increase in our giving.
Read Nehemiah 10:32-39
A Commitment to Give Money Regularly (32-34)
Everyone commits to giving a third part of a shekel annually for the work of the temple (32-33). It was the same amount for the rich and the poor. It does not appear to have been a massive sacrifice, but it was in addition to all of their other offerings. Still, this was a meaningful offering. They reflected God’s redemption of each member of the covenant community (Exodus 30:11-16). This “atonement money” was then used “for the service of the tent of meeting.” The decree of Darius provided funds for such purposes (Ezra 6:8-10), but the Israelites could not rely upon foreign kings to support their worship indefinitely.
One third is less than the one half shekel mentioned in Exod. 30:13. Some have used this discrepancy to suggest that the community was less committed to the centrality of worship. This could be that Nehemiah refers to an annual gift, while Exodus refers to a particular (1x) gift at the time of the census. The different obligation may also have to do with a different monetary system in Persia. According to this view, the change likely brought the gift in line with the Aramaic “zuz” which weighed roughly a third of the Israelite shekel. It could also imply that there was some flexibility with the percent of giving based upon the overall economic health of the community.
In addition, there was a regular wood offering to keep the altar well supplied (34). The fire was to burn continually (Lev. 6:12-13).
Give Time Regularly
Allotting responsibility ensured the work would get done. The wood offering was a sacrifice of time. Those who added their names to the pool were willing to give not only their financial support, but also their service. This might have given some families an opportunity to contribute who otherwise could not do so.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
The people understood that their priests would not be able to fulfill their duties without the wood, but this “wood offering” was not previously required. So, the annual offering for temple service was a potentially lighter obligation, but in this verse they voluntarily take up a new obligation. Clearly, the people are not growing negligent of their duties. It seems to reflect more flexibility than we oftentimes realize.
During the Israelite monarchy, there were enough Levites to collect the wood themselves. Joshua assigned this task to the Gibeonites, who had tricked Israel into making a treaty with them (Josh. 9:27). But, they remained significantly understaffed upon their return from exile. The community reveals a readiness to fill the need.
The Importance of Routines
I enjoy reading books on productivity. One theme I come across over and over again is the importance of developing a routine. You should have a routine that triggers your focus. Some recommend really long and elaborate routines, but others have short methods that help them enter work mode. The problem is that most of us have also developed habits that don’t align with our goals.
The opportunity is that we can develop new abilities that eventually become instinctive. The danger is that we may develop routines that are counterproductive.1
We make routines to commit ourselves to do whatever it is that we value the most. Most of us are required to follow certain routines at work in order just to keep our jobs. When it comes to worship, our entire service follows a consistent pattern. An orderly liturgy is conducive to putting ourselves into a worshipful frame of mind and maintaining it throughout the service.
Some churches practice this concept by following the church calendar. While there is nothing sacred about the various seasons, focusing upon them regularly can serve to highlight the most important themes and events recorded in Scripture (i.e., Christmas, Lent, Good Friday, Resurrection Sunday, Pentecost, etc.).
The Routine of Giving
In the same way, we ought to prioritize our giving by following a routine. The portion of the service where we collect your gifts and offerings might serve as that routine for you. Another example might be that each time you get your paycheck, the first thing you do it make your contribution to the church. Others do this when they pay their bills. A growing number have made it automatic by giving online. That’s also fine, but I would encourage you to spend time in intentional prayer during the service as we thank God for His provision and ask for wisdom to steward His resources well. One method is not necessarily better than the other, as long as it helps you to give regularly.
Jesus was clear that we should “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” but he also said that we should give “to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21; Mk. 12:17; Lk. 20:25). Just as we pay our taxes right on schedule, so we should give money to the church regularly. Paul directed the churches of Galatia and Corinth to take up a collection on the first day of the week (1 Cor. 16:1-2). We continue in that routine here.
Of course, giving regularly is not the only thing that we should consider. We should also make…
A Commitment to Give Money Generously (35-37a)
When the people gathered their fruit, grain, dough, wine, and oil to make an offering—they were to ensure that they only offered the choicest pieces. They were to bring the best of the bunch. These are the perfectly ripened bananas, not the ones that are so green or brown as to be inedible anyway. All of these gifts ultimately sustained the priests and the Levites (Num. 18:12-13). God did not want the people to give their spiritual leaders mere leftovers.
The Israelites were also to give the firstborn of their sons, cattle, herds, and flocks (36). They were allowed to redeem their sons and some animals for a financial gift (Exod. 13:1-2, 11-13; Num. 18:14-15). Or they could give their child to the church for service (1 Samuel 1:11). This amounted to additional financial contributions for the Levites to live off.
A friend of mine serves as the pastor of a PCA in Manhattan, Kansas. His church has a rotation of families who make their communion bread fresh each week. That’s certainly not a requirement, but it is one example of a great application of this text. We might point to the Sunday Snacks as another example of allowing families to contribute in a variety of ways to the benefit of the church. In this case, generosity enriches our fellowship.
Becoming A Generous Giver
The Passover was the first feast of the year. They spent the week reflecting upon God’s redemption of Israel out of Egypt. It is interesting that the firstfruits of the harvest was to be waved on the day after the Sabbath. So, these firstfruit offerings played an important role during the first festival season. And they pointed forward to the firstfruits of Christ’s resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20).
According to Colossians 2:20-22, the sacrifices of the ceremonial law were shadows that pointed to Christ. After his first coming, there was no more need to make an offering for atonement. It would be idolatrous to go back to animal sacrifice. To assume that we are justified (made right with God) through an Old Testament law is to replace Christ with an expired command. Instead of trusting in Christ for our salvation, we must now trust in our works.
We’ve discussed that giving should be regular and generous. Next week we will consider the third point: A Commitment to Give Money Proportionally. We will focus on whether the tithe is a requirement under the New Covenant.
In The Book of Giving, Pierce Taylor Hibbs explains the why of giving:
God is the grand Giver. All of life, in a sense, is turning us to this truth and conforming us to it. Everything we experience draws us closer to God’s giving circle, where Giver, Gift, and Recipient dance and exchange, constantly giving, constantly receiving, constantly being a gift.2
God’s most generous gift: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). We become givers by receiving the greatest Gift of the Son and giving our lives to him with gratitude.