Welcome to Wednesday. Just . . . Wednesday. For the past five days we have witnessed and/or participated in the ever expanding binge and purge of a peculiar American ritual. Finally after Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday, it’s just Wednesday.
We imagine ourselves generous, buying gifts for our loved ones all weekend (at such great deals!), then donating a little at the end. But really, after spending all that money, who has anything left to give?! Our favorite charities are surely left to beg for the crumbs.
We often calculate our giving to the Lord in a similar fashion. But this is the perspective of Cain. In Genesis 4 we read that “Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell” (Genesis 4:3-5). We are left to imagine exactly what was wrong with Cain’s offering, but one thing jumps out. Cain brought an offering “of the fruit,” while Abel’s offering was “of the firstborn.” Cain brought something, Able brought the first and best thing he had.
I get the idea that Cain made sure he had enough to eat, perhaps a little saved for a rainy day. Maybe he grabbed a few lottery tickets on the way home, put something aside for his kids’ college education, paid the cable bill, paid his taxes of course, and then was pleased that he still had something left over for God. Able gave of his firstborn, and the best portions. Maybe he didn’t know if there would be a second born, or enough left over for him to eat. He gave to God out of a thankful heart, knowing that God is the One who provides.
We are like Cain. We think of giving to God last. But when God brought the Israelites into the Promised Land, he told them to think of him first. The Feasts of Firstfruits and of Weeks, later known as Pentecost, were visual reminders of this. The Israelites were to bring of the first of their harvest as an offering to the Lord (see Leviticus 23), the One who had given the harvest.
Reading the Bible is not like reading Goofus and Gallant (Highlights magazine anyone?). The message is not just to be more like Abel. The message of the Bible is that God gave us his firstborn, Jesus, who died for our sins. Because he is that good, we owe him more than we can ever repay, and we can trust him with our very best.
If you give to the Lord with a grudging heart, the solution is not just to reevaluate your budget, but to remind yourself of the Gospel. Giving your offering to the Lord shouldn’t be like paying your bills, or like Giving Tuesday. Your debt has been paid, on Good Friday in fact, freeing you to give to the Lord first out of a thankful heart. Now that’s a good deal.