Lent is a season of repentant joy. There is joy in repentance because in repentance, God, through His Word, turns us away from our sins — our failures of thought, word, and deed — to believe in the forgiveness and new life He has accomplished for us in the death and resurrection of His Son. For our God is our Father, and fathers discipline their children. He loves us enough to point out when and where we have erred, so that we are not weighed down by false belief, despair, and other great shame or vice.
Thus we do well to listen to God’s Word, His own teaching, about giving. St. Paul exhorts: “Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor” (Gal 6:6). This means that the local congregation is primary. In other words, everything else that we might give to during the year — laudable and worthy charities — are to be on top of what we give to our local congregation. For the local congregation is the place that serves us with the gifts of Christ’s death and resurrection. The local congregation is where our spiritual needs are met when Christ’s atonement is preached, when the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed, when we were baptized into the name of the Triune God, and when we partake of the body and blood of the risen and living Lamb of God.
But how much are we to give to this local congregation? His instructions are these: to give regularly (1 Cor 6:1–2), proportionally (1 Cor 16:1–2; 2 Cor 8:12), and generously (2 Cor 8:20) of our first fruits (Gen 4:4; Prov 3:9; Lev 27:30) with a spirit of eagerness (2 Cor 9:2), earnestness (2 Cor 8:7), cheerfulness (2 Cor 9:7), and love (2 Cor 8:23).
Thus, giving to the church is not to be an afterthought, given after everything else is spent. In this way, it is deliberate. We give it regularly, whenever we have income. We set it aside beforehand, before anything else is spent. From those first fruits, we set aside a proportionate and generous amount. Ten percent was the standard for the Israelites. Tithing was a command for them. St. Paul never mentions a tithe. Since a tithe was the bare minimum for the people of Israel in the Old Testament, perhaps St. Paul had more in mind. That aside, however, ten percent is an easy way to figure out an amount. You simply move your weekly, bi-weekly, bi-monthly, monthly, or yearly income one decimal point to the left. And that’s it. That’s what you put in the offering plate to support your local congregation so that you may continue to be a hearer of God’s word by sharing all good things with those who teach it to you.
And how are we to give it? We give it with eagerness and earnestness. We give it cheerfully and with love, not out of compulsion. For through the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments, God has made us His children, forgiven us all our sins, given us grace upon grace, promised us life everlasting with Him in His kingdom, and filled us with His own Spirit, the Holy Spirit. This makes giving a joy. For it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35).
In repentant joy, then, do we hear God’s Word on giving, and we let that Word dwell in us richly. We let that word wash over our ears and seep into our hearts, to turn us away from our own selfish desires and turned toward Him in faith and love. We love the Lord and His Word. And we desire to do it. And when we have failed, that Word reproves and corrects, forgives and consoles. It calls us back to Him who is our God, our Savior, our Father.