How Worship HappensErwin W. Lutzer | March 5, 2000
Selected highlights from this sermon
God weighed down His people with wealth as they escaped from Egypt. He was providing the means for their giving back to Him in the future. The Tabernacle needed to be built, and with a generous and willing spirit, they gave until they had to be told to stop. The Israelites did this as an act of worship.
In this message, Pastor Lutzer explains how and why our giving to God should be an act of worship.
This is the third in a series of messages titled Managing God’s Gifts. We’ve learned that we don’t own anything. Adam didn’t own anything, yet God said to him and to Eve that they were to rule over the fish of the sea, over the fowl of the air, and over everything that He would give them. They were to rule over God’s earth. But the earth would always remain God’s.
So we’ve been talking about this business of stewardship, managing what God has given us. But today we come to a very important component, and that is the connection between stewardship and worship because really, at the end of the day, God isn’t just interested in our stewardship for stewardship’s sake. He’s interested in our hearts. And in the Scriptures there is a connection between what we give and how we worship.
I want you to take your Bibles and turn to Exodus 35, and if I might paint the context, Moses and the children of Israel are in the desert. They’ve had an experience at Mount Sinai earlier on in the book and now they are looking forward to the future, and God gives them an assignment. He said, “I want you to build a tabernacle.” Now that word tabernacle really means a tent, but it is, of course, a very interesting tent with partitions and with tables and with altars. And if you include the outer sanctuary, it was quite an experience and quite a building that they were to construct out there in the desert.
Now God could have done it on His own. He could have spoken the Word and said, “I’m going to build this tent for you,” and then He could have created it in a moment of time. He could have gotten the angels to build it. God usually does not do those kinds of things in that way. What God does is He gives people the ability to do what He wants them to do, so what I’d like to do in the next few moments is to show you five principles of stewardship that really turn out to be, in effect, five principles of worship. I hope we never ever view it in the same way again. That’s the agenda and it shall last only for the next few moments.
I pick it up here at verse 4 of Exodus 35: “Moses said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, ‘This is the thing that the Lord has commanded. Take from among you a contribution to the Lord. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the Lord's contribution: gold, silver, and bronze; blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen; goats' hair, tanned rams' skins, and goatskins; acacia wood, oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, and onyx stones and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breast piece (breastplate).’” And it goes on to describe these things even in more detail and adds to the list.
What are the five principles when God wants to do a work and when He desires a place where He is worshipped?
Number one, you’ll notice it was a community project. I read verse 4. Moses said that God was saying to the whole Israelite community that this project is one in which all of you can participate. There are people who can do various things in that context. Some could work with linen. Some had wood to contribute. Some had gold and some had silver. But there was a place for everyone because God blesses unity. The Scripture says that a house that is divided against itself cannot stand. Only in heaven will we understand the blessing that has sometimes been withheld from churches because of division, because of criticism, because of factions. God blesses unity, because in the process of being unified we are of one mind and one heart. We have mutual respect and dependence one upon another. We realize that we really do need each other, and in the process God builds that strength, and into that strength He builds blessing. God says, “Be unified.” It’s for everyone.
There’s another reason, too, and that is that blessing was going to come as a result of this huge project of building this house for God. And God was saying, in effect, “Why shouldn’t everyone have a part of the blessing?” When the tabernacle was constructed, when it was finished, people would be able to say, “I contributed part of the curtains,” “I gave part of the wood,” or “I gave some of the brass that was being used.” And so it was a community project, and along with that project would come a community blessing. No one wanted to be left out. It was a community project.
Number two, I want you to notice that it was a volunteer project. I read it a moment ago. It says there in verse 5, “Let him bring the Lord's contribution: gold, silver, and bronze,” but it says, “whoever is of a generous heart.” Verse 20: “Then all the congregation of the people of Israel departed from the presence of Moses. And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the Lord's contribution to be used for the tent of meeting.” Verse 22: “So they came, both men and women. All who were of a willing heart brought brooches and earrings.” Shall I say it one more time? Verse 29: “All the men and women, the people of Israel, whose heart moved them to bring anything for the work that the Lord had commanded by Moses to be done brought it as a freewill offering to the Lord.”
Now there are some things that we do because we have to do them. And even in the law God says, “I want you to do this,” and there are certain tithes that needed to be brought, and that was stipulated as to what they were to do. But when you get to a project like this God says, “Those who are willing to give, they are the ones who need to give.” The Bible is very clear that it is from that spontaneous heart that we should give, and it is the willingness of the heart, because to God delight is more precious than duty.
You know, if you give because you have to give, if you give because you are badgered into giving, if it is a real weight and a burden to you, then don’t give. This is for people who are willing, whose hearts, the Bible says, God has opened and He has made them willing. You know that as parents we all would rather have our children obey, not because they have to, not because the strap is hung at the back of the door, and under the strap is written the words I need Thee every hour. Some of us obeyed because that was the motivation at times, but how much more blessed to obey because you want to obey. You love your parents. You’re in a good mood. You are in fellowship with them, and when they ask you to do something, you do it because you want to give, you want to please them. That’s what’s happening here. Joy is a sure sign of the presence of God, and God says, “This is for those who are willing.”
Let me give you a third principle. We’ve learned that it’s a community project. Everyone can do something. We’ve learned that it’s a volunteer project. It is also a worshipful project. This was worship, folks. Notice in verse 22 it says, “All who were of a willing heart brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and armlets, all sorts of gold objects, every man dedicating an offering (a wave offering) of gold to the Lord.” That’s important to understand.
Now when you look at all of the different offerings of the Old Testament, it gets very complicated. At times I’ve studied them. I’ve read about them, and you discover that there are five or six different major offerings, but even under those offerings there are sub-categories of offerings. The wave offering was something that was brought, and the priest helped you wave it before the Lord – probably not vertically but horizontally. It was waved before the Lord, and in the process of doing that people were saying, “I am giving this gift to God. This is my worship.” The whole sacrificial system involved worship.
And in the Old Testament times, no one went into the temple without something to give to God. Nobody did. That was unheard of. I mean, if you are coming into God’s house, you bring God a gift, and because you bring God a gift, therefore you come with something. The idea of approaching God with an empty hand was unthinkable. I mean, you are coming into the presence where God dwells in the Old Testament sanctuary. You are coming where the cloud of glory has come, and you have nothing to bring to God? Unthinkable!
Now, of course, here at the church, as we mentioned a moment ago, we do not expect those who are visiting (or those who are our guests) to give. But for those who are a part of what God is doing, and Moody Church is your church home, I want you to know that giving is not only a privilege and an opportunity; it is an act of worship. It is me saying, “God, this is the gift that I present to You today.” In fact, I’ve preached in churches where always when the offering was taken, the ushers would come down the aisles and then they would lay the offering plates on the altar. Now we don’t do that here. It’s a little inconvenient given the number of offering plates, but symbolically in our minds, that’s what we should be doing.
What we are saying is, “God, this is my gift to You today. This is my worship to You today, and this is my heart to You today. Here it is.”
I read about a little church in East Texas where the ushers were taking the offering and there was a woman near the front, elegantly clothed, decked out in beautiful jewelry and finery, and the offering plate was passed by her and she gave nothing. So this deacon, being a little braver than most of us would be, passed it down the same aisle again and she didn’t give anything. And then he passed it down a third time, and she still didn’t give anything. And then he leaned over and whispered in her ear. He said, “Either put something in or else take something out because it’s for the heathen anyway.” (laughter) Well, that was putting it a little strongly, but what he was saying is, “You come to God and you have nothing to give, and obviously you are a people of means and you are coming empty handed?” So it was a worshipful project.
Could I say also, number four, it was a generous project – very generous. Here we look at chapter 36 and I pick it up at verse 3: “They received from Moses all the contribution that the people of Israel had brought for doing the work on the sanctuary. They still kept bringing him freewill offerings every morning.” That’s remarkable. They’d go home and they’d say, “Well, I’ve got something else to bring,” or “What shall I bring today? Well, they need more brass, or they need more linen. All right, what we’re going to do is we’re going to bring more linen. They need more wood. Well, we’re going to bring more wood.” Whatever it was, they kept doing it morning after morning.
“They still kept bringing him freewill offerings every morning, so that all the craftsmen who were doing every sort of task on the sanctuary came, each from the task that he was doing, and said to Moses, ‘The people bring much more than enough for doing the work that the Lord has commanded us to do.’ So Moses gave command, and word was proclaimed throughout the camp, ‘Let no man or woman do anything more for the contribution for the sanctuary.’ So the people were restrained from bringing, for the material they had was sufficient to do all the work, and more.”
Well, this past week I was reflecting on my ministerial career, shall I say? I was thinking of being the pastor of a Baptist Church for five years, and being at The Moody Church for 20. Just once in my career, I’d like to be able to say to the congregation, “Stop giving.” Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing? Maybe I’ll say that someday. “We have more than enough.”
Now why was it that the people were so generous? It’s because God opened their hearts. This was the spontaneity of joy, saying, “It came from God; we give it to God.” And there were people who were so committed. Now I need to tell you this. There’s a little nugget of truth in the thirty-eighth chapter. It talks about the laver that was made and it was made of brass. Now in those days they did not have glass so they didn’t have mirrors like we do today. And what the women would do is they would take brass and they would polish that brass so well that they could actually see themselves as in a mirror. Those were their mirrors.
Now listen to what the text says. “They made the bronze basin (that held many, many gallons of water, by the way) and its bronze stand from the mirrors of the women who served at the entrance of the tent of meeting.” Ah, I hope I can get by with this remark. I’ll try it and see later how I do. My dear friend, if you have women giving up their mirrors, this is a God thing (laughter), and they were willing to give that up because they were saying, “This is for God. This is my offering. This is my experience of worship.”
Well, we’ve learned that it was a community project, a volunteer project, a worshipful project, a generous project, but oh how glorious it was. Now those of you who are following along in your Bibles, turn to the last chapter of the book of Exodus. That’s Exodus 40. And I’m reading verse 34. This is after it’s finished now. It’s all done. In fact verse 33 says, “And he erected the court around the tabernacle and the altar, and set up the screen of the gate of the court. So Moses finished the work.” Now he had a lot of help. A lot of skilled people were involved. It says in verse 34: “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” Oh wonderful! “And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.”
What does that sign of glory mean? What God was saying is first, “I approve of what you’ve done. I am pleased.” If we, should we finish a project that we as a church have undertaken, is it possible that there is a more blessed thing for God to say than “I am pleased?” You say, “Well, why doesn’t the glory cloud still come like it did in the Old Testament?” The reason is because Jesus Christ has come. And because Christ has come it says, “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” That’s the tabernacle now. We sing at Christmastime, “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see.” The cloud of glory was veiled in Jesus Christ. It broke forth on the Mount of Transfiguration, so we don’t have that today because Christ has come. But I can imagine the same approval of God, the same blessing of God, the same leading of God, the same presence of God, as God says, “My glory is descended, and I am pleased with what you have done.”
What are some lessons we can learn from ancient Israel? We’ve given five principles, but now there are two concluding lessons that hopefully you and I shall not forget.
First of all, God gives people the ability and the resources to do His work. He gives them the resources. I mentioned at the beginning of this message that God could have just created it for them, but He gives them the resources. Where did all this stuff come from? Here they are in the middle of the desert and they have all these personal items. If we took time to read about the jewelry and the linen and the silver and the gold, and yes the mirrors, and everything else thrown in, where did they get it? Well, you know there is an interesting text in the book of Exodus, chapter 12, and I shall just read it to you. It says this: “As they were leaving (we’re talking about Passover night) the Israelites did as Moses instructed and asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and for clothing, and the Lord made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people and they gave them what they asked for.” So they plundered the Egyptians. Let’s just imagine it. It’s Passover night. You go into the home of an Egyptian, and an Egyptian comes and says, “Here’s some silver and here’s some gold, and here’s some linen.” And you say, “Well, why were they doing this?” Well, first of all, it was because God put it in the heart of the Egyptians to do that, but part of it was they were so anxious to see Israel go, they said, “We’ll just pay you if you leave.”
And number two, this was payment for the 400 years of slavery where the people obviously were horrendously underpaid, and God was making up for that. And now what I want you to do is to visualize that you are one of those Israelites. It’s Passover night, and the Egyptians are giving you all of these articles that are very, very valuable, even in those days, and you’ve got more than you can carry, and you’re putting it in your tent, and you know that you are going to have to move, and you are carrying it with you as best you can. What are you thinking? Well, you’re thinking to yourself, “You know, this is really wonderful.” I mean, it was the ancient equivalent to winning the lottery. You’re saying, “This is really unbelievable that we’re getting all this stuff. And they are giving it to us, and we are actually plundering them.” That’s what the Israelites were thinking.
Let me ask you a question. What was God thinking? God was saying, “You’re thinking that this is for yourself, but I have a tabernacle in mind. In fact I already know its dimensions. I know how big it’s going to be. I know how much gold it’s going to need. I know how much silver; I know how much brass, and how many linens it’s going to have.” And so what God was doing, you see, was while they were thinking this was just for personal enrichment, God was saying, “I have a tabernacle in mind.”
You know, as I think about this, perhaps I speak to people today whom 20 years ago you made an investment. Some of you perhaps 20 years ago (or 30 years ago or 10 years ago) had a business in which you took some risks, and it turned out well for you, and you said to yourself, “How fortunate it is that God has given me all of these resources,” and what you didn’t know was that down the line God was saying, “Moody Church, I have a building in mind. I’m thinking about that building,” and you didn’t know that those resources, generously given to you by God, were for this moment, for this hour, for this project in this wonderful city. God gives people the ability to do His work.
Let me give you a second lesson, and that is the connection that there is between willing givers and willing worshipers. You see, in the Old Testament, there was a tight connection between worship and giving. That’s why in the Psalms you read things like this: “Worship the Lord; bring an offering.” We think those are two separate things. We say, “Well, you know, we worship the Lord when we sing, and then we also bring an offering – maybe.” In the Bible, that was the way you worshiped. We already mentioned that you did not go into God’s presence empty-handed. And consequently, what we have in the Scriptures is a recognition that you bring something to God – not just the praise of your lips, which is also worship. But you also bring part of yourself; part of what God has given you the privilege of earning, part of your resources. That also is an act of worship in the sight of God, an indispensable act.
You say, “Well, is there that kind of a connection, too, in the New Testament?” We can see it clearly in the Old, but is there that connection in the New? The Apostle Paul is thanking the people of Philippi for gifts, and he says this. He says: “Nobody else helped me except you folks, not that I am looking for a gift. But I am looking for what may be credited to your account.” He’s saying, “I don’t really need the money, but I’m sure glad you are giving it because of what the giving is going to do for you, and the pleasure that God is going to have in your giving it.” He says, “I have received full payment and even more. I am amply supplied now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent.” Now notice this: “They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.” You have all the imagery of the Old Testament offering system where God was pleased with what people were giving. And the offerings were a sweet savor to God. He enjoyed it and He was pleased. Paul said to the people at Philippi – New Testament – that you when you gave, your sacrifice was this aroma of blessing and worship in the sight of God. Yes, of course, there is a connection between worship and giving.
Now, of course, people can give and not worship. We have that all the time. In fact, in the Old Testament God was displeased because there were some people who said, “Well, you know we’re giving and therefore we are worshiping,” and God said, “No, you aren’t because you give me things, but your heart isn’t in it.” And so that becomes an important point. People were sacrificing lambs and so forth, but they’d always go to the lamb that had a broken leg. They’d say, “Well, this one has a broken leg. Let’s have this for God.” And what they were doing was always giving God the leftovers. And God said, “I’m not pleased with that because you don’t really love Me.” And that’s where that willingness comes in. You have to love Him, and when you love Him, you become generous with Him. But everyone can worship in bringing a gift. Everyone!
Now, I was brought up in a very small church out in southern Saskatchewan, Canada. If we ever had 60 people show up, we’d have to bring in extra chairs. In fact, I remember times when we had a rally and maybe had 70 or 80 people, and they were sitting out on the back lobby or the back porch, as we called it. And the pastor, bless him, every Sunday, before the offering he used to pray this. He’d say, “Now, Lord, we pray that you will bless those who can give, and bless those who cannot give.” Some of you have heard prayers like that.
Have you ever noticed that I don’t pray that? I don’t pray for those who cannot give, because everybody can give something. In fact, in the Old Testament, what you find is that God didn’t say, “The only thing that I’ll accept is a lamb.” There were some people who didn’t have a lamb. Therefore, God says to the poor, “You bring some pigeons or you bring some turtledoves.” That’s what the parents of Jesus did when they brought Him into the Temple. They didn’t go into the Temple empty-handed, but they were so poor that they just had these birds that flew around everywhere. They were very plentiful and God said, “Hey, if you’re poor you just bring that, but bring something.” Every one of us can give something – some more than others, but we can all come, and we can say, “Lord.” If we had time I’d go through the text and show you how often it says in the passage that we read, “They did it for the Lord (an offering for the Lord).”
If you give to a project, you are going to be disappointed because you are going to say, “Well, it didn’t turn out the way I wanted it,” or “They didn’t do what I think should have been done with it.” Then don’t give. You give to the Lord and you say, “Lord, this is my offering. This is my act of worship. This is a token of the way I really do love you.”
Frederick Wilheim, one of the Prussian kings in 1813, was in debt. He was fighting many different wars. If you know anything about Prussia, you know that it was a very militaristic state. But he needed money, and he didn’t know where he could get the money so he challenged the women of Prussia and said, “Look, would you bring me all of your jewelry? Bring me your gold and your silver because we can use this. This is like good money so that we can continue our projects and win our wars. And in exchange I’ll give you some iron, and on that iron will be inscribed, “I exchanged gold for iron in 1813.” So you had thousands of women who responded. They took their personal items just like they did in Old Testament times, and they brought them, and they gave them to the king and to his enterprises. And as a result of that you have The Order of the Iron Cross. And many women in Prussia proudly refused to wear any jewelry at all because they had given it to the king, and they just simply wore the iron cross that said, “I gave to the king of Prussia in 1813.”
Do you know what we really need, not just at Moody Church, but around the world? We need a whole army of people who say to themselves that sacrifice for me is a way of life. I have given up that which I could have, not for the king of Prussia, not for the President of the United States, not for me, not for the leadership of any organization or any church, but for the King of kings, and the Lord of lords. (applause) And I have the order of His cross – the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, before which we humbly bow, and before which we receive the eternal life that makes us children of God, and therefore, delightful children because we delight to give. God makes a connection between what we give, who we are, and how we worship.
Will you join me now as we pray together? Our Father, our hearts are so gratified and so pleased that in Your sovereign grace, You put it in the hearts of people thousands of years ago to be generous, and we thank You for all those thousands of willing givers. We pray that You might do the same in My heart, the hearts of the staff, the leadership and the executive committee, all, Father, who are connected. Help us to ask only one question: What will You, oh Lord, have me to do? And with that gift, let us worship You in spirit and in truth we ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.