Don’t Appear Empty
by Pam Dewey and Norman Edwards
It is the common custom in the Sabbatarian churches originally affiliated with the Worldwide Church of God (which observe the annual Holy Days) to take up an offering during each of the Holy Day seasons. Just before the offering is taken up during a church service, the following passage is usually read:
Three times in a year shall all thy males appear before the Lord thy God in the place which he shall choose; in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles: and they shall not appear before the Lord empty: Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord thy God which he hath given thee (Deut 16:16-17, KJV).
The phrase "they shall not appear before the Lord empty" is rendered in the NIV as "empty-handed". The clear implication is that one should "bring a gift" to these gatherings "before the Lord".
But what kind of "gift"? It is usually money. We see nothing wrong with collecting money to cover Feast expenses or to support various ministries, though we would not use Deuteronomy 16 to justify this practice. On the other hand, most of the corporate churches teach that these gifts should be money, and they regularly include "holy day offerings" as a significant part of their yearly budget. Without these offerings, they would have to greatly cut back their "work"—publishing magazines and booklets, sponsoring television programs, paying staff and their "ordained ministry". These groups frequently speak of such offerings as a "shot in the arm" to boost their flagging income. Some even have to borrow money before the spring and fall Feasts, then pay it back from holy day offerings at certain times in the year.
But is this the only "application" that could be made of the Old Testament principle of bringing tithes and offerings to the feasts to modern circumstances? The ancient offerings spoken of in Deuteronomy weren’t offerings of money in the first place—they were animals to be sacrificed at the temple. The meat was eaten by the family bringing the sacrifice, by the priests and Levites, and also shared with the poor. But we no longer kill bulls and goats and sheep at the Feast. Even in the Psalms there is a hint of a different kind of offering:
Accept, I beseech thee, the freewill offerings of my mouth, O Lord, and teach me thy judgments (Ps 119:108).
And this theme continues in the New Testament:
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise— the fruit of lips that confess His name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased (Heb 13:15-16).
The New Testament never speaks specifically of "how" to observe the Holy Days at all. But here is one passage that clearly speaks of meeting together, so perhaps it can also give us a hint of what sort of "gifts" are appropriate in our time:
Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another— and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb 10:22-25)..
How might one "spur others on" to love and good deeds?
So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church (1Cor 14:12).
I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith (Rom 1:11-12).
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good (1Cor 12:4-7).
The command in Deuteronomy 16 says we are to give in proportion to the "blessing"—the gifts—we have received from the Lord. In the New Testament that blessing, those "gifts" of God, are referred to as "spiritual gifts" which He distributes as He will among the brethren. And what are we to do with such a gift we share in our meeting together?
Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms (1 Pet 4:10)
In the past, have you experienced going to a feast where the only ones actually using personal, individual spiritual gifts were those on a "speaking schedule" or those appointed to offer "special music" during services? Have you assumed that the only "gift" you were to bring was some money to put in the offering plate as it passed?
No spiritual ability is required to go to a Feast of Tabernacles and contribute only money. If all that mattered were money, people could save money by keeping the Feast at home and just send it all in to their corporate headquarters.
But if you plan to "appear before the Lord" and do not want to be "empty", think about your spiritual gifts this year. The true value of bringing "your gifts" to the Feast is so that they may be used there to edify, build up, encourage and serve other brethren! Rather than just view the Feast as "a vacation with sermons", focus on the opportunities that will abound in a group setting to use your gifts. Listen to what Paul says on the matter:
We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality (Rom 12:6-13).
Does this sound like just so much theory? How does one put it into practice? We cannot give a formula, because everyone has different gifts and every situation is different. However, these points should help.
1) Pray for spiritual gifts. Pray for the Eternal to send you where you can use them, or to send people to you whom you can help.
2) Study your Bible often, especially at the Feast. This will give you something encouraging to say to others.
3) Be friendly and talk to others. There may be people sitting right next to you at the Feast who need some knowledge or wisdom that you have or whom you can physically help, but you may never know it unless you talk to them.
4) Do not be afraid to accept opportunities that "find you". If you are asked to pray for a sick person, take care of a handicapped person or do something else you have not done before, pray for the ability to do it, and "walk through the door".