There are two kinds of giving taught in the Scriptures: one is compulsory or mandatory such as to the government in the form of taxes, while the other one is voluntary, such as when giving an offering to God.
To differentiate the two, we have to look closely at how the two concepts are expressed. In the Old Testament, we often read of the tithe in conjunction with the act of “bringing,” “taking,” “presenting,” or “paying.” All these imply bringing to God what is rightfully His, as He has commanded. The Israelites paid tithes as an act of obedience irrespective of their willingness to do so.
Giving, on the other hand is voluntary. Often, these gifts take the form of a thanksgiving offering and the act of giving is associated with joy or celebration, such as in a feast.
It is in this context that we read of the “freewill offerings” found in Leviticus 22:18-23, Numbers 15:3, Deuteronomy 12:6.
“And you present to the Lord food offerings from the herd or the flock, as an aroma pleasing to the Lord—whether burnt offerings or sacrifices, for special vows or freewill offerings or festival offerings”
This verse in Numbers 15:3 particularly says God delights in our freewill offering.
So how do freewill offerings differ from the tithe? The tithe was a debt repaid to God. A freewill offering on the other hand, is what may be considered as true giving—in the sense that one gave willingly and from the heart.
A freewill offering pleases God because it is a true indicator of the condition of the giver’s heart—one gives back out of love, respect and gratitude because of what the Lord has done for them.
Here are a few examples of freewill giving done by the Israelites in the Old Testament:
• Exodus 35:29—The children of Israel brought a freewill offering to the LORD, all the men and women whose hearts were willing to bring material for all kinds of work which the LORD, by the hand of Moses, had commanded to be done.
• Deuteronomy 16:10 (ESV), “Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God with the tribute of a freewill offering from your hand, which you shall give as the LORD your God blesses you.?
• Ezra 3:5 (NKJV), “Afterwards they offered the regular burnt offering, and those for New Moons and for all the appointed feasts of the LORD that were consecrated, and those of everyone who willingly offered a freewill offering to the LORD.?
Eason’s Commentary explains freewill offerings as follows:
Free-will offering—A spontaneous gift (Ex. 35:29), a voluntary sacrifice (Lev. 22:23; Ezra 3:5), as opposed to one in consequence of a vow, or in expiation of some offence.
It is pretty straightforward, really. Free will = given freely. An offering given to the Lord freely, spontaneously, willingly, voluntarily, abundantly and plentifully.
Even in the New Testament, Paul spoke highly of those who, though not wealthy, gave generously of their own free will to further his ministry.
“that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.” 2 Corinthians 8:2-4 (NKJV)
And then again in 2 Corinthians 9:6-7, we read:
“Now this I say, he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully. Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver.”
Here lies the beauty and benefit of giving to God. The measure that we use to give—for God and the ministry—is the measure He uses to give back to His people! Giving equals blessings, that is the bottom line.