Does God measure our gifts by their fragrance?

There are three parties to every Christian’s giving. There’s the giver, the recipient, and the often-overlooked party – God. He gets something out of our gifts too.

We learn as early as Cain and Abel that God finds personal pleasure in our gifts. The Hebrew text suggests that God gazed at Abel and his gift. He fixed his eyes directly on Abel, taking pleasure (showing regard, favor, respect) in the transaction. Cain’s gift did not have this impact on God.

In the Law of Moses, the Israelites understood that acceptable animal offerings triggered a pleasing aroma, capturing God’s attention in unique ways. (In the Bible, the word translated “acceptable” can also mean “pleasing.”) When the fire from heaven consumed the acceptable sacrifices on the altar, the people knew God had noticed. And he was pleased.

Even the Apostle Paul wanted the Philippians to know their cash gifts to him not only met his needs (the recipient), and stored up treasures in heaven (for the giver), but that their gifts were a “fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18).

But it’s not always easy to view God in our giving. After all, we can’t see him. God is invisible. And he doesn’t drop fire from heaven to show his pleasure on our cash gifts. Sadly, that may be why giving today can become more focused on having an impact than about pleasing God.

When making giving decisions, we may wonder: Does the church leadership have a clear vision? Does the nonprofit have sound management? Are the funds really getting to the poor? How much of every dollar goes to administrative costs?

These are all good questions. We want our gifts to make a difference, right? After all, we have a God-given desire to change the world. And doing that makes us feel good.

But does that make our gifts acceptable to him? How do we know if our giving is pleasing God?

Sacrifice: God measures how our gift costs us

Consider two families with the same household incomes. Both give the same percentage of their gross incomes to their church. Digging deeper, we learn Family A receives free medical coverage through an employer and use of a company car. But Family B pays a significant portion of their healthcare premiums.

Family A also has parents who live nearby, providing regular dining opportunities, occasional vacations and on-call babysitting for the kids. Family B doesn’t have assistance from family and incurs significant costs to care for a special-needs child.

Though the percentages are identical, the giving costs more for Family B. This is not to undermine Family A’s generosity. (Their gifts can please God too.) But it is to recognize that God’s ability to measure the value of a gift is much deeper than ours. He knows what it costs us personally.

When a man offered to provide King David the land, animals, and materials to present sacrifices to God, David refused. He insisted that he pay full price, saying, “I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing,” (2 Samuel 24:24). The question for us is, “Does our giving cost us in a meaningful way?” Does it make us uncomfortable or pinch us a little? Does it take us giving something up or changing a habit to be able to make it?

Obedience: God measures the gift by our hearts

Here’s another way of looking at it. Giver A is viewed by his community as a “good person.” He attends church regularly as well as occasional Bible study classes. But he doesn’t seem bothered by behaviors such as cheating on his taxes, gossiping at home, cutting corners in the marketplace, or ongoing lust in his heart.

Giver B prays and reads the Bible faithfully. She tries to live a holy life and live out her faith through godly relationships, seeking forgiveness when she feels convicted to do so. Maintaining a pure heart is a serious priority to her.

What does God make of these two different givers and their gifts?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that if your brother has something against you, you should leave your gift at the altar and go reconcile. Only then should you come give your gift (Matthew 5:23-24).

So, we see that our gifts are an extension of our walk with God. If a seemingly generous giver is living a life of sin or conflict, the gift may be nothing more than Christian philanthropy (literally “love of man”). A gift might be effective at meeting needs but may not please God at all. Ananias and Sapphira learned this the hard way (Acts 5:1-11). They sold their land and gave part of the proceeds. But Peter says that they lied to the Holy Spirit (v. 3) about their gift. Maybe the gift would have been effective in meeting needs of the church. But it sure did not please God.

Remember that your gifts of money and possessions have great power. They can feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and spread the gospel. But (more importantly), like the gift from a child to a father, our gifts can delight the heart of our Heavenly Father. Those who make him their top priority in giving and seek him first often find that he shares his joy with them when they do (Matthew 25:23).

This text was originally part of Purposeful Living: Financial Wisdom for All of Life, compiled by Gary G. Hoag and Tim Macready and is used here with permission from the editor and author. Feel free to download your own copy of the e-book.

Photo: iStock

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