What Shall I Render To the Lord?

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

What shall I render to the LORD For all His benefits toward me? (PSA 116:12)

One of the ironies of life is that although God created us to live to eternity as spirits, we must first live in the world of nature to fix and establish those loves and truths that will form our eternal character. The same kind of thing is true of the Lord’s church on earth. On the one hand, it is pure spiritual truth from the Divine serving to bring God’s own truth to all people, yet it is forever tied to bricks and mortar and the efforts of good men and women.

The church exists in the world to serve, to help the Lord in His work of leading men to heaven, and this it does in many different ways. One way in which the church functions to lead us to heaven is by requiring us to freely sacrifice what is valuable to ourselves for the sake of the Lord. We can see this principle at work in the parts of the Word that speak of the Jewish Church, for most of that portion of the Word is dedicated to all the rules of when, how, and what the Jews were to sacrifice to Jehovah. It is also true that their worship was purely external, consisting only of sacrifices while their hearts remained evil, and that the Lord expects more of us, that our external should exist only to reflect our genuine internal worship – but the fact that we may or may not be more interior than the ancient Jews is irrelevant, because even the angels in the highest heaven have rituals of worship and sacrifice because these things correspond to and support their genuine internal worship.

It is our custom in the New Church to play down the offertory. We do not, like many churches do, pass through the church collecting money during the service. Instead, for doctrinal reasons to be discussed in a moment, we prefer to arrange for an unobtrusive opportunity to make a free will offering as each person enters the church.

There are several reasons for making the offertory the first act of worship. One is that it corresponds, like the sacrifices of the Jewish Church, to a humbling of the loves of self and the world, a necessary preparation for a proper approach to the Lord. Giving a gift upon entering has its roots in the gifts given to judges and kings in the ancient days, and symbolizes our willingness to submit to the Lord’s government.  By giving an offering, we are symbolically admitting that the Lord is superior to ourselves, and therefore putting ourselves in a mood to listen to His truths and obey.

A second reason is that when a gift is freely given, it is from the person himself, that is, it is a representation of his true character. This is because freedom comes from the heart, and only those things that are done in freedom truly express the heart, thus the essential character of the person.[1]

We read a few of the many passages from the Word which teach this important point:

Ÿ  Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring Me an offering. From everyone who gives it willingly with his heart you shall take My offering. (EXO 25:2)

Ÿ  Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. (MAT 10:8)

Ÿ  And let them take for Me a collection, signifies the interior things of worship that were to be represented, and that are the things required; from every man whom his heart hath moved willingly, signifies that all things should be from love and thus from freedom; ye shall take My collection, signifies the things required for worship. (AC 9456)

Ÿ  All freedom that is from the Lord is freedom indeed, but that which is from hell, and in man therefrom, is bondage. It is known from the Lord’s Word that worship from freedom is truly worship, and that spontaneity is pleasing to the Lord; therefore it is said in David: – I will freely sacrifice unto God (Ps. 54:6). Therefore there were free will offerings among the children of Israel; their sacred worship consisted chiefly of sacrifices, and because of God’s pleasure in what is spontaneous, it was commanded: – That every man whose heart impelled him, and every one whose willing spirit moved him, should bring an offering to the Lord. (Ex. 35:5, 21, 29). (TCR 495)

A third reason is that the Heavenly Doctrines teach that because of the two reasons just mentioned, a person should give a present to the Lord on approaching Him,[2] and so we place an offering bowl so that the very first thing we do upon entering the church is to freely make a symbolic sacrifice, recognizing the Lord as our king and admitting our need to obey His Word. And this leads us to the next point, which is that in order for this offering to truly be a sacrifice of spiritual value, it must be seen that it is a gift to the Lord, not to some earthly organization, although it is the church which receives those gifts in His name.

The local congregation of the Church is not a club. There is no membership fee. It is an earthly organization created by people to help each other in their individual approach to the Lord. All are welcome to participate in any and all of the sacraments and rituals of the church without charge. However, the doctrines do teach that there can be no genuine worship without sacrifice of some kind, without giving up something that you value, whether it is your time, your money, or your sin. So why should you make an offering to the church when in your heart it is the Lord to whom you are really giving the offering? Because the Lord is present by correspondence in the church, just as He was present with the Jewish Church through the rituals performed by the priests, and through prophets, judges, and kings who also received gifts in His name.

Ÿ  That they gave presents to kings and priests on approaching them, is evident from many passages in the Word; and that the presents given to priests and kings were as if given to Jehovah, is evident from other places in the Word.   (AC 4262:3 emphasis added)

Over the years, from the time of the Most Ancient Church to our own time, there has been an incredible variety of churches with corresponding rituals and customs. But while the people and the traditions may change from time to time and place to place, the principles of doctrine do not. Another one of the principles regarding the importance of sacrifice has to do with the importance of privacy in such matters. The Lord taught in the Gospel of Matthew, but when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing (MAT 6:3), and in many other places He criticized the leaders of the Jewish Church for their public prayers and devotions, saying that they were like unwashed dishes, for although they appeared outwardly to be pious and generous, their interiors seethed with hidden evils.[3] Our offerings are not to be ostentatious. They are not to be openly revealed or discussed, for they are an entirely private matter between each of us and our God. The nature and degree of our sacrifice are to be as private as our prayers confessing our sins to the Lord.

Once we have accepted that the Word teaches how important it is for us to begin worship with a freewill offering to the Lord through the church, the obvious next step is to search the Word for an indication of how great that sacrifice needs to be to have a spiritual benefit. Many passages in the Word, particularly in the Old Testament, suggest that one tenth of one’s produce was the minimum required:  We read first what Jacob promised to give to Jehovah in return for His blessings and leadership:

Ÿ  And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.   (GEN 28:22)

And later the Lord instructed the people through Moses:

Ÿ  And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s. It is holy to the LORD.   (LEV 27:30)

A “tithe” or “one tenth” was chosen because the number 10 corresponded to “Remains.”

Ÿ  [Remains] are all the states of love and charity, and consequently all the states of innocence and peace, with which a man is gifted. These states are given to man from infancy, but less by degrees as the man advances into adult age. But when a man is being regenerated, he then receives new remains also, besides the former, thus new life. (AC 1738)

We therefore interpret the Lord’s command to give one tenth to be symbolic rather than literal, that it is not the actual amount given that matters spiritually, but the impact that it has on your life, a doctrine that is supported by the following teachings:

Ÿ  And he shall offer one of the turtledoves or young pigeons, such as he can afford.  (LEV 14:30)

Ÿ  Then He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. So He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty has put in all the livelihood that she had.”   (LUK 21:1-4)

The Writings are relatively silent on the matter of contributions to the church, in part because in those days there were state religions which were supported by taxes. Therefore, one’s taxes were used in part to build churches and support the priesthood, and the Writings to speak quite clearly to that point, as we see from these two passages from the True Christian Religion:

Ÿ  Since man was born for eternal life, and is introduced into it by the church, the church is to be loved as the neighbor in a higher degree, because it teaches the means which lead to eternal life and introduces man into it, leading to it by the truths of doctrine and introducing into it by goods of life. (TCR 415)

Ÿ  The public duties of charity are especially the payment of tribute and taxes. Those who are spiritual pay these with one disposition of heart, and those who are merely natural with another. The spiritual pay them from good will, because they are collected for the preservation of their country, and for its protection and the protection of the church, also for the administration of government by officials and governors, to whom salaries and stipends must be paid from the public treasury. Those, therefore, to whom their country and also the church are the neighbor, pay their taxes willingly and cheerfully, and regard it as iniquitous to deceive or defraud. But those to whom their country and the church are not the neighbor pay them unwillingly and with resistance; and at every opportunity defraud and withhold; for to such their own household and their own flesh are the neighbor. (TCR 430)

The third Commandment is that we are to keep the Sabbath; that we are to put aside some time each week for the worship of the Lord, to spend some time to reflect on the truth that all the gifts that we receive are not really from man’s ingenuity, but are actually the Lord’s blessings. We should approach the worship experience in appreciation for all the Lord does for us. The Psalmist said, Bless the LORD, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits (PSA 103:2). And when we reflect on all our benefits from the Lord, if we are in the sphere of humility and worship, we must then be drawn to consider what are our obligations to God in return for His loving eternal care? Again, from the Psalms, What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits towards me? (PSA 116:12) What does the Lord want in return for His gifts? What does He require of us? The prophet Micah tells us, He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? (MIC 6:8) To “walk humbly” is to put away the loves of self and the world. To “love mercy” is to earn the Lord’s forgiveness by forgiving others, and to “do justly” is to perform the works of charity, to sacrifice that which is of value to you for the sake of something higher.

The Lord Himself taught in Luke that by giving generously we are preparing ourselves for the life of heaven. He said, “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” (LUK 6:38) AMEN

 

First Lesson:  PSA 103

Bless the LORD, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name! {2} Bless the LORD, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits: {3} Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, {4} Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, {5} Who satisfies your mouth with good things, So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. {6} The LORD executes righteousness And justice for all who are oppressed. {7} He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel. {8} The LORD is merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. {9} He will not always strive with us, Nor will He keep His anger forever. {10} He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor punished us according to our iniquities. {11} For as the heavens are high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; {12} As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us. {13} As a father pities his children, So the LORD pities those who fear Him. {14} For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. {15} As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. {16} For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, And its place remembers it no more. {17} But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting On those who fear Him, And His righteousness to children’s children, {18} To such as keep His covenant, And to those who remember His commandments to do them. {19} The LORD has established His throne in heaven, And His kingdom rules over all. {20} Bless the LORD, you His angels, Who excel in strength, who do His word, Heeding the voice of His word. {21} Bless the LORD, all you His hosts, You ministers of His, who do His pleasure. {22} Bless the LORD, all His works, In all places of His dominion. Bless the LORD, O my soul!

Second Lesson:  LUK 21:1-4

And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, {2} and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. {3} So He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; {4} “for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.”

Third Lesson:  TCR 425.

We must distinguish between the obligations of charity and its benefactions. By the obligations of charity those exercises of it that proceed directly from charity itself are meant. These relate primarily to one’s occupation. But benefactions mean such acts of assistance as are given apart from these obligations. These are called benefactions because doing them is a matter of free choice and pleasure; and when done they are regarded by the recipient simply as benefactions, and are bestowed according to the reasons and intentions that the benefactor has in mind. In common belief charity is nothing else than giving to the poor, relieving the needy, caring for widows and orphans, contributing to the building of hospitals, infirmaries, asylums, orphans’ homes, and especially of churches, and to their decorations and income. But most of these things are not properly matters of charity, but extraneous to it. Those who make charity itself to consist in such benefactions must needs claim merit for these works; and although they may profess with their lips that they do not wish them to be considered meritorious, still a belief in their merit lurks within. This is clearly evident from the conduct of such after death, when they recount their works, and demand salvation as a reward. But the origin of their works and the resulting quality of them is then inquired into, and if it is found that they proceeded from pride or a striving for reputation, or from bare generosity, or friendship, or merely natural inclination, or hypocrisy, from that origin the works are judged, for the quality of the origin is within the works. But genuine charity proceeds from those who are imbued with charity because of the justice and judgment in the works, and they do the works apart from any remuneration as an end, according to the Lord’s words in Luke, Then He also said to him who invited Him, “When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor your rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (xiv. 12-14).

 

(Preached Sunday, November 4, 2001 in the Washington Society, Mitchellville, MD.)

[1]See AC 1947:4

[2]AC 5619

[3]MAT 23:25-26, LUK 11:39-40

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