We've all been in this moment before. Someone is on the platform during a time of worship, and they're introducing the offering. You're sweating, because you forgot about this bit, or you don't have any money with you. They might say something like, 'If you haven't come prepared to give, you can write a little note and put it in the plate and you can give online later.'
I grew up in church, so giving money to the church has always been normal to me. It wasn't until later in life, once I'd been earning and giving my own money, that I actually started to ask myself why. Why do we give?
Giving, or perhaps more appropriately generosity, is an important part of discipleship. Everything we have comes from God; He is our great provider, so when we give we're really giving back out of what we ourselves have been given.
There are a couple of stories in Mark's Gospel which illustrate very helpfully the kind of attitude we ought to have towards giving. You can find them in chapter 12.
In the first story (Mark 12:13-17), Jesus is confronted by some Pharisees who ask him about paying taxes to Caesar. You're probably familiar with the story. The tax they were referring to was paid to the Romans, who were the hostile occupiers of Israel. It was one denarius - about an average day's wage.
Jesus is really clever. There's a tweetable quote for you! His response to this attempted trap leaves the Pharisees stunned. First, he asks them for a denarius. Isn't it interesting that they themselves are carrying the appropriate amount for the tax they're trying to suggest shouldn't be paid? Jesus looks at the coin, and says, 'Whose picture and title are stamped on it? Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.'
If mic drops were a thing in first century Israel, that would have been the ideal moment. I always assumed that Jesus was talking about money here. It's possible that he was partially, but that wasn't his whole point. James Edwards, who has written an excellent commentary on Mark's Gospel, says this:
'If coins bear Caesar's image, then they belong to Caesar. But humanity, which bears God's image, belongs to God!'
Jesus isn't talking about money - not really. He is calling us to give our whole beings to God. That's our starting point. If we are giving our whole selves to God, then it follows that everything we own therefore belongs to God as well. Let's jump down a few verses.
The Widow's Mite (Mark 12:41-44) is another of the most famous stories in the Gospels. Jesus and his disciples are sitting in the temple courts, watching people giving their tithes. They see many rich people giving large amounts - the implication being that they were not at all subtle about it either. Then, a poor widow comes along and drops in two small coins. Jesus praises her to his disciples, saying, 'This poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on.'
That widow's offering wouldn't have even registered on the budget lines of the temple. It was completely insignificant in terms of its amount, but the cost to her was so great that it is remembered thousands of years later.
God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10). He is not impressed by human wealth. We are impressed when rich people give large amounts of money, because we can't imagine having that amount of money ourselves. Imagine if one of the dragons from Dragons' Den decides, in a fit of altruism, to give you £10,000. No strings attached, they just want to bless you.
On the one hand, that's an amazing amount of money. As my father-in-law would say, 'It's better than a poke in the eye!' On the other hand, the wealth of each of the dragons is a matter of public record. A simple Google search will show you that they are each worth hundreds of millions of pounds. £10,000 is pocket change when you have that kind of wealth.
Most of us wouldn't think twice about spending the same amount as the widow's offering. We'd spend more on a single cup of coffee. Here's the key principle: God isn't concerned with the amount of our giving; He's concerned with the cost of our giving.
As disciples of Jesus, giving is part of our way of life. Why? Because we carry the image of God, and everything we are and have belongs to Him. As citizens of the Kingdom of God, we are under the authority of the King, and He is worthy of everything we have.
As disciples of Jesus, we give sacrificially. God is faithful to provide for our every need, and He calls us to also look after the needs of others. Our financial giving is just as much an act of worship as our singing. Therefore, we give gladly because our monetary offering is an offering of worship.
As disciples of Jesus, we give without fanfare. We understand that our giving is primarily about our hearts before God. We don't give to impress others, or to get any credit for ourselves. If your giving blesses someone, God gets the glory He absolutely deserves.
Are you currently giving regularly? A good starting point is the principle of tithing, by which we give the first 10 per cent of our earnings to the church. My personal approach is to give at least 10 per cent of my pre-tax income to the church, and to seek to sacrificially give over and above that to support other ministries as God leads.
If you're finding your way in all this, pray about it. Don't ask God, 'Should I give?' The Bible clearly answers that question. Instead ask, 'Lord, how can I best honour you with my money?'
Rev Jack Skett is associate pastor at Elim Church, Selly Oak. He is the author of 'A Better Kind of Intimacy: The Price of Porn and How to Overcome it', published by Instant Apostle. He also blogs on his website, jackskett.co.uk