For the week of February 28, 2009 / 4 Adar 5769
Torah: Shemot / Exodus 25:1 - 27:19
Haftarah: 1 Melachim / 1 Kings 5:26 - 6:13

Voluntary Giving

The LORD said to Moses, "Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me." (Shemot / Exodus 25:1,2; ESV)

Through Moses God initiated a national building project. By voluntary contributions materials were to be collected for the building of the mishkan (English: tabernacle). The mishkan was a large tent-like structure where the sacrifices were performed. It was to be the focal point for the entire nation and the place where, in some sense, God's presence was to reside.

Giving to this project was absolutely voluntary. This is in contrast to the great many obligations God laid upon the Israelites. We are not told why contributing to the mishkan was not compulsory, it just wasn't. What we do know is that this project was so successful, Moses had to tell the people to stop giving (See Shemot / Exodus 36:6).

It is a wonderful thing when God initiates something and his people respond so positively. I don't know what would have happened if the people would not have contributed as they did. Would Moses have given additional appeals? Would God, who originally called for voluntary contributions, oblige the people after all?

I tend to think that since God had determined that this project was to be funded voluntarily that he knew the risk and would not change course. Now, being God he knew how the people would respond, but that brings up the issue of God's foreknowledge, which I don't want to discuss at the moment.

What I do want to discuss is our need to know the difference between obligatory and voluntary giving. These two kinds of giving exist throughout the entire Bible. There are some things to which God obliges us and other things to which he invites us to be involved without obligation.

Caring for our families is obligatory (Matthew 15:1-6; 1 Timothy 5:8). Providing for our leaders both governmental and congregational is part of our God-given duty (Romans 13;6,7; 1 Timothy 5:17). But not all giving is obligatory. While the Bible encourages us to be generous toward those in need, it is wrong to oblige people or attempt to manipulate them in order to extract funds from them (1 Corinthians 9:7). If God's own building project was funded by voluntary contributions, how much more should our projects be?

I wish more congregations would be upfront with their real needs, especially when it comes to the welfare of those who legitimately serve its members. Active congregational members should be adequately informed about the needs of those who serve them and encouraged to do their duty as members to help meet their needs. But when congregational leadership have visions (perhaps from God) to attempt major projects, whether it be for buildings or other things, we would do well to follow God's example: lay out the vision before the people and let those give whose hearts move them in this way. If God hasn't obligated the people to give, who are we to so burden them? God loves a cheerful giver. Those who don't want to give should not give.

Don't get me wrong. As I have already mentioned, in situations when we are truly obliged to give, we must give. I also understand that people need to be taught the value of generosity. But that is not the same as extracting funds from unwilling hearts.

If you are on the receiving end of endless appeals for funds, I suggest you seek to discern if it is really God who is calling you to give. If it is, then you would do well to be generous. Otherwise don't be pressured.

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