And they came, every one whose heart stirred him up, and every one whom his spirit made willing, and they brought the LORD’S offering to the work of the tabernacle of the congregation, and for all his service, and for the holy garments. And they came, both men and women, as many as were willing hearted. (Exodus 35:21-22a)
About three years ago, actually a little earlier than that, the First Baptist Church of Dallas embarked on a massive building campaign to completely renovate the entire campus in Downtown Dallas. The renovation included demolishing several outdated buildings with the exception of the historic landmark sanctuary, and building a new worship center and children’s education center at a cost of over $135 million. This in itself was a historic undertaking, in that no church in modern history had ever taken on such a challenge, and that was at a time when the economy was in “the tank.” The people of the First Baptist Church of Dallas contributed out of their abundance and out of their scarcity, but all from what God had provided; and together the funds were raised so that the project was completed in 2013 without any debt.
Of course, the detractors came out to criticize like Judas, “Why was that money wasted on building a fancy building rather than using it to feed the poor!” However, those same critics praised Jerry Jones for building a temple to the football gods in Arlington, Texas and imposing eminent domain to steal private property to do so. Meanwhile Jerry Jones charges outrageous admission prices to the football worshipers that attend his services, while admission is free to anyone at First Baptist Dallas. There is no comparison, but the God haters are blinded to the irony. The point is that the people of First Dallas gave willingly out of grateful hearts to God, not out of coercion.
Such was the case with the people of Israel. Not long after being freed from bondage in Egypt by the mighty hand of God, they were asked to contribute to the building of the Tabernacle. This followed after Moses’ second trip up to Mount Sinai to receive the Law from God. On his first trip, the children of Israel became tired of waiting and presumed him dead, so they asked Aaron to “make us gods, which shall go before us” (Exodus 32:1). Aaron complied and gathered gold from them and he “cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf” (Exodus 32:24). When Moses descended from the mountain and saw what the children of Israel had done, “his anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount” (Exodus 32:19b). After punishing the people severely (Exodus 32:26-28), Moses went before God and confessed the sin of the people, and then he did a most astonishing thing. He interceded for the people and asked God to forgive them, “and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written” (Exodus 32:32, emphasis mine). Here we see in Moses a preview of what God in Christ would ultimately do. He offered his own life for the sins of his people. I am sure God appreciated the gesture, but His message is clear, “Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book” (Exodus 32:33). Every individual is accountable to God for his own sin.
Once things settled down, Moses returned to receive the Law from God a second time. This time when he returned, things were much different. While he was up on the mountain, in addition to receiving the law for the second time, God gave Moses detailed instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle – the portable precursor to the Temple. Upon his return, the first item of business was the fabrication of the Tabernacle. The required materials came from the people. “And Moses spake unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying, This is the thing which the LORD commanded, saying,” (Exodus 35:4). The word “command” is a poor translation for the Hebrew word tsâvâh meaning to constitute, enjoin. It carries the sense of putting out an idea or a request and urging participation. This if further clarified in the verse that follows. “Take ye from among you an offering unto the LORD: whosoever is of a willing heart, let him bring it, an offering of the LORD” (Exodus 35:5, emphasis mine). The word “offering” is the Hebrew word tǝrûmâh, which means a present or a gift; and this should come from a “willing heart.” In other words, God did not compel them to give; they were encouraged to give out of a willing heart.
This they did until all the material required for the Tabernacle was given and more. The donations came in until Moses had to make them stop giving. “The children of Israel brought a willing offering unto the LORD, every man and woman, whose heart made them willing to bring for all manner of work, which the LORD had commanded to be made by the hand of Moses” (Exodus 35:29). “And Moses gave commandment, and they caused it to be proclaimed throughout the camp, saying, Let neither man nor woman make any more work for the offering of the sanctuary. So the people were restrained from bringing. For the stuff they had was sufficient for all the work to make it, and too much” (Exodus 36:6-7, emphasis mine). “Thus was all the work of the tabernacle of the tent of the congregation finished: and the children of Israel did according to all that the LORD commanded Moses, so did they” (Exodus 39:32).
The 80-20 rule is a well-established axiom that holds true in all areas of life. Twenty percent of the people do 80% of the work or give 80% resources. When the people of First Baptist Dallas took on the prodigious task of a $135 million campus make-over, no doubt 80% of the people stood by and just looked on, while 20% gave everything they could out of a willing heart, and God honored, and the task was accomplished with some to spare. As a result, downtown Dallas offers a showplace that honors God. Many are drawn to the church because of what they see on the outside, but the stay because of what they find on the inside – the many, many people that gave from a willing heart. Those 20% or so are also the ones that you will find working in a variety of ways, greeting, directing parking, ushering, teaching, and so on. If you ask them they will tell you that it is they who receive the blessing. “[R]emember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). It does not matter if one’s gift is money or labor, the blessing comes when the gift is from a willing heart.
Oh, and by the way, the First Baptist Church of Dallas continues to minister to the poor, the homeless, and the needy in the city and around the world. Jerry’s temple to the football gods only serves the want of those who can afford tickets to the events held at that venue. Do I hear any complaints about that? Chirp, chirp! Chirp, chirp! Chirp, chirp!