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
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
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
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
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