Inundated by appeals for funds?


Va-Yakhel & Pekudei
For the week of March 14, 2015 / 23 Adar 5775
Torah: Shemot/Exodus 35:1 - 40:38; Bemidbar/Numbers 19:1-22
Haftarah: Ezekiel 36:16-38
Revised message, originally posted the week of February 28, 2009 / 4 Adar 5769

Voluntary Giving
Voluntary Giving

Take from among you a contribution to the LORD. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the LORD'S contribution: gold, silver, and bronze (Shemot/Exodus 35:5)

Through Moses God initiated a national building project. The Mishkan (English: Tabernacle), the precursor to the Temple, 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. Materials were to be collected from the people of Israel for the building of the Mishkan.

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, just that it 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's people respond so positively to something God initiates. I don't know what would have happened if the people would not have contributed as they did. Would Moses have made additional appeals? Would God have modified his original directive and obliged the people after all?

We don't know what would have happened, but I would guess that since God decided that this project was to be funded voluntarily he was well aware of the risk and would not change course. Now, being God he knew that the people would respond positively, but that brings up the issue of God's foreknowledge, which I'd rather not discuss right now.

What I do want to discuss now is our need to understand the difference between obligatory giving 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 voluntarily involved.

Caring for our families is obligatory (see Matthew 15:1-6; 1 Timothy 5:8). Providing for our leaders, both governmental and congregational, is also part of our God-given duty (see 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 even for the most worthy of causes (see 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 actual 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 those needs. But when congregational leadership take on significant projects (truly prompted by God or not), whether it be for buildings or other things, we would do well to follow God's own example: lay out the vision before the people, and let those whose hearts move them to give do so freely. If God hasn't obligated the people to give, who are we to oblige 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 importance of generosity. But the need to teach a right attitude towards giving should never be used as an excuse to extract 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.

Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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