Beckett: Pastoral Thoughts – When People Love God, They Give to His Church (Exodus 36:3-7)

And they received from Moses all the contribution that the people of Israel had brought for doing the work on the sanctuary. They still kept bringing him freewill offerings every morning, so that all the craftsmen who were doing every sort of task on the sanctuary came, each from the task that he was doing, and said to Moses, “The people bring much more than enough for doing the work that the LORD has commanded us to do.” So, Moses gave command, and word was proclaimed throughout the camp, “Let no man or woman do anything more for the contribution for the sanctuary.” So, the people were restrained from bringing, for the material they had was sufficient to do all the work, and more.

Exodus 36:3-7

In order to build the Tabernacle, the people of Israel had to go above and beyond their normal tithing (the freewill offering, v. 3) so the task could be completed, and they gave more than was necessary to construct the Tabernacle. They gave so much that Moses had to tell them to stop! Good thing, too, because they probably would’ve run out of these materials to use for themselves. For once, the people of Israel serve as an inspiring example for us. They loved God so much that they donated more than was necessary to construct the Tabernacle. We find a similar cheerful giving when the Temple was being constructed. It was described of them, “Then the people rejoiced because they had given willingly, for with a whole heart they had offered freely to the LORD. David the king also rejoiced greatly” (1 Chronicles 29:9). This should move us to do the same with our own freewill offerings, such as for a new organ, or a mission trip, supporting a missionary, or to support a new staff position at church (e.g., a music director).

I’ve experienced enormous generosity in the church when the people have given abundantly because of their love for the Lord. For example, at my vicarage congregation, somebody gave an immense donation to the church for the purpose of purchasing a new organ (to put this into perspective, a good, brand new pipe organ can cost a couple million dollars). When my wife and I started her Green Card process, a lot of people from the church donated very generously for us to afford the application and lawyer fees (we needed almost $5,000). I remember another time on vicarage when a married couple took in a homeless young woman to help her get back on her feet and teach her how to budget (she’s living on her own and doing quite well now). When people love the Lord, they do good works without thinking about whether it should be done or not. Out of their love for the Lord, they give to His church and His people who are in need. Thus, a couple things regarding good works need to be said.

To be clear, good works do not get us into heaven; they do not save us. Being a good person does not save you because no one is good (Romans 3:11-12; Psalm 14:1-3; 53:1-3). No matter how many good works we do, we always fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Because we teach this, some people mistakenly say that Lutherans don’t believe in good works. This is nothing new. It’s a common misinterpretation people have had about Lutherans for almost 500 years (see AC XX). We do not believe that good works inherit salvation since this is done by grace through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9). What we do teach is that we are created for good works (Ephesians 2:10) and that they “are performed when a person is reconciled with God through faith and renewed through the Holy Spirit” (FC SD IV, 7).

In other words, good works follow faith, not vice versa. “There is also no argument about how and why believers’ good works are pleasing and acceptable to God, even though they are impure and imperfect in this flesh. We agree that this is so for the sake of the Lord Christ through faith because the person is acceptable to God” (FC SD IV, 8). In other words, a Christian’s good works are acceptable to God because of his faith in Christ, that is, for the sake of Christ, not because of how “good” he or she might be or the so-called measure of their good work (e.g., how much money you give to the church or a non-profit charity).

As far as good works are concerned, “[Faith] does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is constantly doing them… This knowledge of and confidence in God’s grace makes people glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and with all creatures. And this is the work which the Holy Spirit performs in faith” (FC SD IV, 11-12). As I always explain it to my catechumens: Just as we cannot help but breathe because we are human, so we cannot help but do good works because we are Christian. This describes well the joy and boldness the people of Israel gave to the workers of the Tabernacle because of their love and devotion to the Lord. They didn’t think about whether they should do it; they just did it. They obeyed the Lord’s command. Thus, we do good works because they are God’s command—not as means to earn His favour since Christ has done that for us, but simply because it’s what His people do.

Similarly, when we consider tithing to the church, we shouldn’t consider whether we should do it but should simply do it; the only thing we should consider is how much we should give according to our income and financial situation. Not everyone has to give the same amount. Everyone’s 10% will look different because everyone’s income is different. And we go above and beyond our tithing in our freewill offerings as well as the giving of our time and talents. If 10% is simply not feasible because of your financial situation, then give 5%, or 2%, and use the remainder of that in your time and talents (but don’t stop volunteering if/when you’re able to give 10%).

It is a fact of life that we put money, time, and talent toward things we love and care about. We do this with our hobbies all the time, whether that be video games, woodworking, photography, hunting, reading, crafting, art, biking, writing, whatever it is. We put our money, time, and talent toward these things we love. If we love the Lord, we will also give our money, time, and talent to His church not because God needs it (a common misunderstanding) but because His people need it. Jesus doesn’t need our good works, because what could our meagre works possibly do that He hasn’t already done? Neither does He need our money, because what could He possibly need that He hasn’t already created? Our Lord lived poorly on earth and has the eternal riches of heaven on His throne. What could He possibly need? Rather, out of love and devotion to God, we love and devote ourselves to one another, especially when our neighbour is in need.

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