Is Your Giving a Sacrifice?
A Balanced View of Contributions
AFTER teaching the people many things in the temple, Jesus “sat down with the treasury chests in view and began observing how the crowd was dropping money into the treasury chests.” (Mark 12:41) What followed was the well-known account of the widow’s mite. But why did Jesus sit there and watch the people make their offering? Did he not tell his disciples that they should not even let their left hand know what their right hand was doing when they made their gifts of mercy?—Matthew 6:3.
Earlier, Jesus had strongly denounced the religious leaders for using unscrupulous methods to devour “the houses of the widows.” He said that these religionists “will receive a heavier judgment.” (Mark 12:40) In order to teach a lesson, he then turned his attention to what the people were doing there at the treasury chests. Today, when we hear so much about the big money involved in church organizations, the misuse of such funds, and the lavish life-styles of those in charge, we would do well to listen closely to what Jesus had to say.—Please read Mark 12:41-44.
The Treasury Chests
The account relates that Jesus “sat down with the treasury chests in view.” This was evidently in the Court of Women, where a number of chests, or boxes, were placed along the walls for the people to drop in their offerings. Jewish tradition tells us that there were 13 boxes in all. In Hebrew they were called trumpets, because they had a small opening at the top in the shape of the bell of a trumpet. It is said that ‘no one entered the temple without putting something in.’
The French professor Edmond Stapfer, in his book Palestine in the Time of Christ (1885), gave a rather detailed description of these treasury chests. His account gives us some insight into the religious life of the people of the time, especially with respect to their contributions toward the services at the temple.
“Each chest was for a different object, indicated by an inscription in the Hebrew tongue. The first was inscribed: New shekels; that is, shekels set apart for the expenses of the current year. The second: Old shekels; that is, shekels dedicated to the expenses of the previous year. Third: Turtle doves and young pigeons; the money placed in this chest was the price to be paid by those who had to offer two turtle doves or two young pigeons, the one as a burnt offering, the other as a sacrifice for sin. Above the fourth chest was written: Burnt offerings; this money covered the expense of the other burnt offerings. The fifth had the inscription: Wood, and held the gifts of the faithful for the purchase of wood for the altar. The sixth: Incense (money for buying incense). The seventh: For the sanctuary (money for the mercy-seat). The six remaining chests bore the inscription: Freewill offerings.”
The designation on the first two chests had reference to the half-shekel (two drachmas in Grecian money) head tax each adult male was required by law to pay for the maintenance of the temple, the services performed there, and the daily sacrifices offered on behalf of the entire nation. This tax was often collected in local communities and then brought to the temple.—Matthew 17:24.
The people were also required by the Law to make various offerings on their own behalf. Some were for sins committed, others for ceremonial reasons, and still others out of their devotion and thanksgiving. The boxes marked “Turtle doves and young pigeons” and “Burnt offerings” would be for such purposes. “Into Trumpet III,” says the book The Temple, Its Ministry and Services, “those women who had to bring turtledoves for a burnt- and a sin-offering dropped their equivalent in money, which was daily taken out and a corresponding number of turtledoves offered.” Likely this was what the parents of the infant Jesus did.—See Luke 2:22-24; Leviticus 12:6-8.
Then there were offerings for the wood and incense used at the altar and for the voluntary offerings. Again, according to Professor Stapfer, “if any one gave money for wood or incense, there was a minimum fixed, and less than this might not be offered. It was necessary to give at least the price of a handful of incense, or two logs of wood a cubit long and large in proportion.”
What do we learn from all of this? It is quite evident that the Israelites had numerous responsibilities toward the maintenance of the tabernacle and later the temple in Jerusalem, the center of true worship. Sacrifices and offerings were an integral part of their worship. In fact, the Law commanded that “none should appear before Jehovah empty-handed.” (Deuteronomy 16:16) But what was their view of these obligations?
The Bible record shows that the people were most liberal and generous in the time of Moses and David and later during the reign of Jehoash and Josiah. (Exodus 36:3-7; 1 Chronicles 29:1-9; 2 Chronicles 24:4-14; 34:9, 10) They were happy to have a share in building the house of Jehovah and maintaining it as well as in advancing true worship. Their sentiment was well expressed by the words of David when he said: “I rejoiced when they were saying to me: ‘To the house of Jehovah let us go.’”—Psalm 122:1.
This generous spirit, however, was not shared by all. For instance, we read that in the days of Malachi, the priests were offering to Jehovah “something torn away, and the lame one, and the sick one.” Rather than rejoicing at their privilege of service, they said: “Look! What a weariness!”—Malachi 1:13.
Similarly, in Jesus’ time some took advantage of the situation to advance their own interests. The notorious money changers at the temple, for example, were not there just to make change. Rather, they capitalized on the fact that only Hebrew shekels were acceptable as offerings, and all those with Roman or Greek money would have to exchange it. According to Alfred Edersheim, an authority on Jewish history, “the bankers were allowed to charge a silver meah, or about one-fourth of a denar [or denarius, a laborer’s wage for a day’s work] on every half-shekel.” If this is correct, it is not hard to see what a lucrative business this must have become and why the religious leaders were so incensed when Jesus drove out the money changers.
“Out of Her Want”
All of this only emphasizes Jesus’ illustration about the poor widow’s small contribution, which she no doubt dropped into one of the boxes marked “Freewill offerings.” As a widow, she was not required to give the head tax, and with limited means, she was probably not able to meet the minimum requirements for the burnt offerings or the wood or incense offerings. Yet, she wanted to do something to show her love for Jehovah. She did not want to be counted out or just leave it to those who could ‘afford it.’ Jesus said: “She, out of her want, dropped in all of what she had, her whole living.”—Mark 12:44.
There are many valuable lessons we can learn from this account. The most outstanding one, perhaps, is that while all of us have the privilege of lending support to true worship by means of our material possessions, what is truly precious in God’s sight is, not our giving what we can do without anyway, but our giving what is valuable to us. In other words, are we giving something we will not really miss? Or is our giving a real sacrifice?
Advancing True Worship Today
Today, Jehovah’s Witnesses advance true worship by zealously preaching “this good news of the kingdom . . . in all the inhabited earth.” (Matthew 24:14) To accomplish this global task involves not only dedicated effort, time, and energy but also considerable expense. The 1987 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses reports that “during 1986, a total of $23,545,801.70 was spent in financial support of . . . the 2,762 missionaries, 13,351 special pioneers, and overseers and their wives for the world’s 3,353 circuits and districts.” This was in addition to “much expense in purchasing, constructing, and renovating properties; in equipping factories and offices at headquarters and in the Society’s 93 branches; and in providing for the material needs of the 8,920 volunteers who serve in the Bethel families.”
‘Where do such funds come from?’ is an often-asked question. Unlike the churches of Christendom, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not take up collections or send out envelopes to solicit donations. Rather, contribution boxes—like the treasury chests of Biblical times—are set up at their Kingdom Halls. At times, other boxes may be set up for designated purposes, such as construction of Kingdom Halls or Assembly Halls or to assist missionaries to attend conventions in their homeland. Contributions may also be sent directly to the Watch Tower Society at 25 Columbia Heights, Brooklyn, New York 11201, or to the Society’s branch office in your country, for advancing the preaching work worldwide.
How do you view these many and varied ways contributions are made? Do you, like some in Malachi’s day, view them as a tiresome burden, perhaps saying in your heart: “Look! What a weariness!”? Or do you, like the “poor widow,” view them as opportunities to demonstrate your zeal and concern for true worship and your desire to honor Jehovah with your valuable things? Do not forget the pertinent question: Is your giving a sacrifice?
“‘Test me out, please, in this respect,’ Jehovah of armies has said, ‘whether I shall not open to you people the floodgates of the heavens and actually empty out upon you a blessing until there is no more want.’” (Malachi 3:10) The spiritual prosperity and the worldwide expansion among Jehovah’s people prove that Jehovah is already doing that. May we continue to give to Jehovah an offering that is truly a sacrifice.
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HOW SOME CONTRIBUTE TO THE KINGDOM WORK
□ GIFTS: Voluntary donations of money may be sent directly to the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 25 Columbia Heights, Brooklyn, New York 11201, or to the Society’s local branch office. Property such as real estate, as well as jewelry or other valuables, can also be donated. A brief letter stating that such is an outright donation should accompany these contributions.
□ CONDITIONAL-DONATION ARRANGEMENT: Money may be given to the Watch Tower Society to be held in trust, with the provision that in case of personal need, it will be returned to the donor.
□ INSURANCE: The Watch Tower Society may be named as the beneficiary of a life-insurance policy or in a retirement/pension plan. The Society should be informed of any such arrangements.
□ TRUSTS: Bank savings accounts can be placed in trust for the Society. If this is done, please inform the Society. Stocks, bonds, and property can also be donated under an arrangement to benefit the donor during his or her lifetime. This method eliminates the expense and uncertainties of probate of will, while ensuring that the Society receives the property in the event of death.
□ WILLS: Property or money may be bequeathed to the Watch Tower Society by means of a legally executed will. A copy should be sent to the Society.
For more information and advice regarding such matters, write to the Treasurer’s Office, Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 25 Columbia Heights, Brooklyn, New York 11201, or to the Society’s local branch office.