My wife likes to bake, and does a good job of it. During special times of the year, like Christmas, she will often prepare goodies for others. The best cookies, treats, and snacks that come out of the oven are reserved for the recipients of these gifts, to be neatly wrapped or put in a tin. However, as a family, we are allowed to snitch a few of the “imperfect” cases: cookies that are misshapen, a batch of cupcakes that got overdone, or pretzels that weren’t entirely covered with chocolate.
That is, we value our friends and family a lot, and want them to get the best. Sure, the rejected treats still taste pretty good, and we enjoy being able to snack on them. They aren’t bad, but they aren’t the best, so we don’t give them as gifts.
Take a look at this account of the earliest-recorded fight among siblings, recorded in the book of Genesis:
When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the LORD. Abel also brought a gift—the best portions of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The LORD accepted Abel and his gift, but he did not accept Cain and his gift. This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected.
Genesis 4:3-5 NLT
As we read this, we may wonder why Cain’s sacrifice was not recognized, like Abel’s was. It could be that the animal sacrifice was more appropriate than a sacrifice of crops, but the Mosaic Law included both animal sacrifices and plant offerings.
Inspecting this passage more closely, we find that Abel brought his best, while Cain offered “some” of what he had. This makes me wonder if Cain kept the best for himself, or maybe just grabbed some random produce from his harvest, making a sacrifice out of obligation or compulsion, rather than out of gratitude and respect.
Our offering might not be burned animals or plants, but how do we select what we give to God, out of gratitude?
- Do we give money to God (or to His church) that is “left over” on Sunday morning, after we have had our fun on Friday night and Saturday? I have found that pre-determining how much my family wants to give to God – ahead of time – is helpful. However, I still look at our offering sometimes and think about what we could be buying with it, selfishly. You can be better than me, though.
- Do we take the “good” time in our day when we are alert and ready to learn from the Bible? Or, do we try to spend time with God either when we aren’t awake in the morning, or exhausted at the end of our day? Don’t get me wrong, spending time with God is better than not spending time with God, but there are times that are probably better for each of us. For me, some mornings are better than others during my devotion time, but perhaps I should begin my caffeine intake earlier!
- Do our best skills go towards work, or our house, or do we invest them for God’s kingdom? To be clear, it is quite possible to invest in our work, our home, or other things for the glory of God. So, this isn’t an either/or proposition, but there is definitely a scenario where we give the hard work to one organization, and leave God with the leftovers. I know that this is a temptation for me.
- Do we invest our resources in our hobbies, luxuries, and comfort; or, do we invest them in human beings’ spiritual walk, to capture rewards that will last forever? 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 talks about our work that will survive judgement, and work that will be burned up. I don’t believe that this means we shouldn’t enjoy God’s blessings in life; but they must be kept in balance, and ultimately bring us – and others – closer to Him.
I don’t intend to condemn. As you can tell, I’m trying to figure out what this means myself, and we’re all in this together.
Still, when I consider this early account of two brothers and their sacrifices (including the verses that follow the one listed above, in Genesis 4:6-16), I need to remind myself that I should not only give my best to God, but that I should also not get angry with others whose work God is blessing – especially when I’m experiencing the penalty of living too much for myself! I hope that you can share what helps you out, as well.
Regardless, I think that the passage below defines my goal, whether on Sunday mornings when I drop an offering in the basket at church, or when I am investing time, money, emotions, or skills in God’s kingdom during the rest of the week:
You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.”
2 Corinthians 9:7 NLT
Let’s all strive to be cheerful givers, whose offering God can accept.