When I was a kid I joined my local church via confirmation when I was in Middle School. As I think back on them now, my membership vows were kind of hollow in a way. I said them, but did I really understand the true depth of what they meant? I don’t think so.
Unfortunately I think that this is the case in most of our members in most of our churches. We take our membership vows and don’t think a thing of it except in the since that we are now “members” of a church, and membership has come to mean very little in the context of what actually happens in the everyday life of the church. We say these vows and move on in our lives as if they mean nothing. When it comes to our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness we often think it will be the other person, someone else can do it.
However, these vows should have deep impact on the person who is making them. You are not only making a commitment to your local congregation to be an active participant, but you are making a commitment to God and all that God calls us to do through our local churches. When you join the church you should understand each of these vows and what they mean in terms of what you offer to the church.
Thus far we have discussed two of these promises in that we promise to participate in the ministries of our local church with our prayers and our presence. Now we will move to the next vow asking, “As members of this congregation, will you faithfully participate in its ministries by…your gifts…?” (umcdiscipleship.org)
The answer we often give is, “Yes I do support the church with my gifts. I give a few dollars here and a few dollars there.” However gifts are not just about money. Gifts, in the context of our local churches extends fair beyond monetary donations we give. They are about what we as individual Christians offer to the greater community surrounding us. One of the ways in which we offer is through monetary gifts that go to help support the church, but we can also offer spiritual gifts to help the church in other ways too.
On one website I read gave this thought provoking definition of gifts saying:
“Gifts challenge us to invest in something larger than ourselves; to take what we have, connect it to the giving of others, and create something that will honor and glorify God. We give to make manifest what we profess with our mouths — our gifts become outward and visible signs of our inward and spiritual faith” (http://doroteos2.com/2009/02/01/the-big-five/)
All of these vows are about what we offer to the church, but to give of your gifts represents a physical giving of time, talent, and even money. This is all about using what we have been given and blessed with in our lives and giving that to the church to help support it’s missions and ministries.
But what are gifts? I just gave you a nice vague definition about gifts, but what are they truly and deeply?
When we look and think about our gifts we must answer the question: “What do I offer to the church?” When we ask this question we allow ourselves to identify what we can give. At this point we don’t focus on how much of that gift we offer we focus on the gift itself. The primary gift we offer to the church is our monetary support. We offer money to help the church in it’s ministries. However, that is not it we offer much more. As we read in Romans 12 we read:
“We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.” (Romans 12:6-8)
We see that gifts extend far beyond our tunnel-visioned idea of money. The gifts that we offer can be these gifts of the spirit as well. Things that we receive as gifts are then offered to the church from our hearts out of wanting to further the mission of the church both in our community and around the world.
Gifts are something that we receive that we then give back to God to use through the church. Whether we think of that as money or the varying types of spiritual gifts possessed by people in the church. When we think of giving our gifts to the church we think of them in this way. We offer our spiritual gifts to help others in the church.
This idea of spiritual gifts connect us into our local church. As we try to function as a local congregation we cannot all do the same thing. For if we all had the same abilities we might not get something done. In the same manner Paul writes in our Romans text:
“For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” (Romans 12:4-5)
Therefore we all have gifts that we bring to the table and when we neglect to bring our gifts to the table we can hinder our community. We can hinder the growth, by possible neglecting them of the spiritual gift God has blessed you with. Don’t tell yourself you don’t have any gifts because you do, and if you want to help refine what those gifts are come speak to me. We all have gifts and none of us are excluded sometimes you just have to dig a little deeper.
You may also think well the church doesn’t need me they already have so-and-so who can do the same thing I can so I don’t need to do anything. However, we do still need that gift. Maybe you can work with the other person, or maybe you can start something different to offer a change of pace to what is currently happening. We offer our gifts because God seeks for us to use what we have been given.
The other end of this coin is our gift of money that we give to the church. That time where we give our tithes and our offerings. And you will notice when we have that time that we do not seek to give them to any one person or to give them even to the church, but we offer those gifts during that time to God.
Because it is money it is often one of the hardest things to talk about. In fact in the writing and delivering of this sermon know that I am very uncomfortable. Not because I am uncomfortable with money, but because it is difficult to talk about the biblical mandate that is offering our money to the church. We think about money being a very state or government controlled item, and the fact that money is quite often associated with greed. However, when we think about how the church functions it is very difficult for it to function without it. Therefore, we give of our money.
However, it is important to know the deeper reason behind giving and that is that we are giving to help God and to help God through the church in the mission God has for us. In giving these gifts, whether that be money or even our spiritual gifts, we are offering something that is so deeply a part of our lives to allow God to use to help change other people.
However, we have gotten away from our understanding of offering in this way and it has often become felt of as a burden in our lives, or even a way to show our support or disagreement with the church. It has become a leverage point to get things done, and I have even seen it used a blackmailing tool to make sure someone gets their way. We should not give for any reason other than we seek to give so that God can use.
We see this idea echoed in our stars as Mark writes:
“He [Jesus] sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44)
You see this woman had next to nothing, but she still gave. Why? Because she knew what God could do, even with a little bit. The others who were given Jesus says gave of their abundance. They gave of what they already didn’t need. They gave with no real care of what happened to the money. Maybe that week the rabbi gave a good message so they decided to toss a little more in. Maybe they appreciated something that happened during worship and so they gave a little more. Maybe they were just in a good mood so they added a little bit more than they normally would.
I think the point Jesus is try to get at in this text is that when we give we should do it with the understanding that we are giving so that God can work. We are not giving to glorify ourselves or out of our own ambition, but so that God can take that and work in through the ministries of that church.
That woman gave out of no ambition to herself. In our society today there is this concept called the Prosperity Gospel in which you give to God so that God will in turn bless you. Through your giving God will give you gifts and you will experience wealth. How backwards does that sound. We give so that God will bless us. However, what if we gave so we could bless others…That is the true spirit of giving. The woman in that story gives her gift so that God can work. She gave all she had. She probably had no idea if she was going to get any money to replace what she put in, but she knew the immense and great things that God could do with her offering.
These gifts that we give are for God. They are not used to help us, but use to help God. We should give all we can, because we know that God will work wonders with what God receives. Whether we are talking our physical gifts or our spiritual ones we cannot take giving of our gifts for granted because of the outcome that can come from giving of them.
Steve Prefontaine, who is a famous runner, once said: “To give anything less than your best, is to sacrifice the gift.” (brainyquote.com) He was talking about running, but I think there is truth in that term that extends to the church as well. To give anything less than all you have to offer is to sacrifice the true nature of the gift that you have to give to God.
So yes I tell you give. It doesn’t matter whether you thought this was a good sermon or not. It doesn’t matter whether you disagree with something in the church. It doesn’t matter what you personally gain from it. What matters is that we give because we know that God can work amazing things with the gifts that we offer, and if we never offer them how is God going to work?
Bible verses referenced from New Revised Standard Version