Imagine receiving some marriage advice … from a single friend. Or being given tips on driving … from a buddy who doesn’t own a car. Or having generosity modeled for you … by a little old lady who just put two cents in the offering plate.
That last example actually comes out of yesterday’s Scripture Union Bible reading (Mark 4:41-44). Jesus and His Disciples were sitting in the temple’s “court of the women” (open to both genders), watching worshippers drop their offering into one of the 13 trumpet-shaped receptacles that were placed there for contributions. (It’s amazing how much historical context a reader can pick up from the footnotes in an NIV Study Bible.)
After seeing “many rich people (who) threw in large amounts” (v.41), Jesus and his buds noticed “a poor widow (who) came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.” (v.42) Jesus took advantage of this teachable moment to instruct his followers on the importance of generosity, using this widow as “Exhibit A.”
In my last several blogs I’ve lamented the fact that Scripture Union’s schedule sometimes breaks down Bible passages into portions that are simply too small. Yesterday’s story of the widow’s offering was only four verses long.
On the other hand, I’ve encouraged you to use the time you save in reading shorter texts to meditate longer on such passages. Read them four or five times. Note all four kinds of observations that I’ve coached you to look for: theme; repeating words or ideas; truths about God; something striking. (You’re looking for “treats” in God’s Word: TRTS.)
I took my own advice to meditate longer on this brief snippet of a story about a widow’s offering. And I was surprised at how much I learned. Here are three lessons on generosity that I took away from the reading and applied to my own life.
#1 Giving to “spiritual” causes is just as important as giving to “humanitarian” efforts. I did some background reading in a scholarly commentary on this story because I was curious about where the money went that was tossed into the temple treasury. The majority of it was used to support the priests who worked at the temple (i.e. the church budget).
Usually, when we feel moved to be generous it’s because we’ve been exposed to some desperate physical need. Just this past week, for example, the typhoon that hit the Philippines was portrayed in news story after news story. The devastation has been enormous. The loss of human life has been heartbreaking. Which is why Christ Community Church, like many churches around the country, will be taking a special relief offering this weekend. We’ll be supporting the work of Samaritan’s Purse in meeting the catastrophic needs created by this crisis.
But I must admit that I’m a bit concerned that our Philippines’ offering could tap out our givers just one week before we announce our annual, year-end giving project. We’ve been working for months to put this project together. It revolves around getting God’s Word into the hands of people who need Christ.
Locally, we hope to give away 6,000 Bibles to our friends. Globally, we plan to pay for the Bible to be translated into the languages of people who don’t yet have access to God’s Word.
This year-end Bible project will cost us several hundred thousand dollars to pull off! Will we be able to reach this goal if our givers donate large sums of money to the weekend’s Philippines relief effort? I know that we’re well-off enough to contribute generously to both campaigns. But will we put a higher value on the Philippines’ offering because of the gruesome pictures we’ve seen on the news? Or will we understand that the worldwide famine for God’s Word is every bit as important a need to address? Giving to “spiritual” causes is just as important as giving to “humanitarian” efforts.
#2 Giving grows our capacity to trust God. I frequently hear people reference this story of the widow’s offering in order to make the point: “The size of my financial contribution doesn’t matter to God. He’s just as pleased with my small gift as he is with others’ large gifts.” Is that what Jesus is teaching us here? I don’t think so.
The widow’s offering may have been just two cents—but that two cents, in her case, represented: “more … than all the others”; “everything”; and “all she had to live on.” (vv.43, 44) Yes, small gifts are important — if they’re as generous as we can be. But what if they’re just a token amount for us? What if our gift for the Philippines relief effort is far less than what we’ll spend to eat out at our favorite restaurant this next week? Is God really pleased by gifts that cost us practically nothing?
After the widow tossed her two cents into the temple treasury, she walked away with no idea where her next meal was going to come from. Remember, her offering consisted of “all she had to live on.” (v.44) I regularly talk to people who wrestle with this issue in regard to tithing. They know that God has asked them to give, minimally, the first 10 percent of every paycheck. But if they put that tithe in the offering, will they have enough money left over to pay for groceries, unexpected car repairs, upcoming Christmas gifts? Giving grows our capacity to trust God.
#3 Others are watching what we give. Another mistaken notion about our giving is that is should always be secretive. Yes, in one setting Jesus taught that our right hand shouldn’t know what our left hand is giving. But what was the context of that lesson? Jesus was rebuking those who give out of pride — who make a big show of their giving in order to be praised.
Here, in Mark 12, Jesus was able to easily observe a widow who gave — what was for her — an enormously generous gift. Jesus didn’t fault her for failing to hide her two-cents offering from bystanders. In fact, he used her as a role model for his disciples. Is our generosity role model material?
Our kids watch what we give — or don’t give (or spend on ourselves). Are those of us who are parents conscious of our example? Do we ever discuss with our families why we’re not going to make a certain purchase in order to be able to give more to the Lord’s work?
And what about those of us who lead small groups? Do we regularly bring up to the members of our group the importance of giving? Do those we’re discipling hear from us that we want to be as generous as possible with our contributions to weekly offerings, disaster relief efforts and year-end campaigns? Others are watching what we give.
The story of the widow’s offering was told in just four verses. But it had a huge impact on my life this week.