The Offertory and Offerings

What role do the Offertory and Offerings play in the Divine Service?

The congregation, having received the Word of God through the readings and the sermon, again raise their voices in humble supplication.  “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”  This sentence should bring each worshiper to look back and consider his sins.  This prayer is placed here in the service so that he will recall the readings of Scripture and the sermon and recognize some of the ways in which he has failed in his service to God.  More than that, it looks ahead, asking for God’s help to forget the sins of the past and focus on amending one’s sinful life.

This Offertory which we sing is taken mostly from Psalm 51.  In this Psalm, David says that “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”  He wrote this after the prophet Nathan had confronted him following his adultery with Bathsheba.  David, recognizing that his sins had placed a wedge between himself and God also recognized that he could not do anything to repair the damage.  He could only rely on God’s mercy and forgiveness.  Only God could create in him a clean heart.  Only God could restore unto him the joy of His salvation.  Without God’s intervention, David was only a lost, condemned sinner.  Even if we do not find ourselves quite in David’s predicament, when we are honest with ourselves, we still find ourselves separated from God by our sin.  In this canticle, we essentially offer to God our hearts (and all of us) for Him to do with as He wills.

Immediately following the Offertory, we collect the Offerings.  At that time, we offer to God not only who we are, but also what we have for His service.  It is tempting to consider ourselves generous when we give part of our hard-earned money to God.  When we hold it up against what God has given us, it is not so much.  In fact, anything we give to God was first given to us by Him.

One popular suggestion for giving is that a person should automatically give ten percent of her income.  This is based on Abraham’s gift to Melchizedek, king of Salem (Genesis 14) and the Levitical laws (Leviticus 27; Numbers 18).  This should not be considered a hard-and-fast rule.  We would be as well to base our giving on Jesus’ commendation of the widow who “gave out of her poverty” (Luke 21).  Remembering that all we have is a gift from God, we should give to Him of our firstfruits (Proverbs 3:9), then spend the rest on our own needs and wants.  That said, a tenth is a nice guideline.  If you are not yet giving that much, it is an admirable goal.  If you are already giving that much, it is good to try to give more.  Whatever we give, though, should be out of thanks, not an effort to look better in the eyes of God or men.  And what we give should be based on what God has given us, not on the church budget. The budget should be built around the generosity of the people.