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Mark 12:41-44 and Luke 21:1-4

In this study, we look at a simple and very brief incident, but one that appears in two of the gospels. It concerns a poor widow who was coming, along with many others, to make her offering at the temple. Jesus had just been teaching there about the danger of following the example set by the religious leaders and teachers, who spent much time in the temple, parading their learning and basking in their reputations. (Mark 12:38-40; Luke 20:45-47) In particular, He warned the people about the teachers' practice of preying on widows and persuading these vulnerable women to support them financially.

The woman who comes with her offering is clearly very poor and puts "two very small copper coins" into the offertory box. It is in marked contrast to most of the other worshippers, who are putting in "large amounts". Jesus specifically calls over His disciples to point this out and to say: "They all gave out of their wealth, but she, out of her poverty, put in everything - all she had to live on." (Mark 12:44) Jesus was highlighting this woman’s action in order to instruct the disciples on how they should behave towards money.

Some teaching on money

So much is said in the Bible about money and Jesus certainly thought that it was a subject that should be talked about out in the open. Earlier in Luke's gospel, He tells the story of the "shrewd" manager who had been accused of wasting his master's possessions. Realising that he was about to lose his job, the manager reduces the bill for several of the master's clients in the expectation that the grateful clients would look out for him once his employment was terminated. The lesson is that those who are dishonest with a little will also be dishonest with much and those who cannot be trusted with other peoples' property will, likewise, be careless with their own. (Luke 16:1-12) Verse eleven, in particular, emphasises that those who cannot be trusted with money here and now cannot be trusted with true riches in the kingdom of God. (Luke 16:11)

Jesus says very clearly that we cannot serve both God and money. Where our heart is, there our treasure will also be. (Luke 12:34; Luke 16:13) If God has our heart, He should also have our finances. If we want to know where our hearts are, we can look to see where our money goes. How much do we spend on ourselves and how much on His kingdom?

Some biblical examples of giving

Here are some examples of how to give and also how not to give to God's work:

  • Keep your promises. Do not rob God by failing to give what you have promised. (Malachi 3:7-12)
  • Give 'til it hurts. Even those who are poor can be generous. (2 Corinthians 8:2-4)
  • Giving to God's work is an acceptable sacrifice. (Philippians 4:14-19)

God is a giver and He wants us to be like Him. He gave the best He had: His son, Jesus Christ! When we give on a regular basis to a church, a Christian ministry or individual Christians engaged in building His kingdom, we are giving directly to God's work and supporting His plans and purposes in the world. We live in a world where money represents power and many Christians have discovered that there are biblical principles that need to be learned when it comes to our use of money. (2 Corinthians 9:6-12; Luke 6:38) We must understand the unique relationship between giving and receiving, remembering that "it is more blessed to give than to receive". (Acts 20:35) We should also bear in mind that we cannot out-give God and giving to the work of God's kingdom is also a practical way of showing our love for Jesus. (1 Corinthians 13:3)

Firstly we are to give to God:

  1. With a cheerful heart, freely, abundantly; (2 Corinthians 9:6-8)
  2. In proportion to our income and regularly; (1 Corinthians 16:2; Philippians 4:15-16)
  3. Obediently; (2 Corinthians 9:13)
  4. With a willing heart, not under any compulsion; (1 Chronicles 29:3-9)
  5. Sacrificially; (Hebrews 13:16)

The biblical principle of giving is that we must give to God first. This widow knew this principle, so she was able to give her all, knowing He would not let her down.

Why give?

  • Giving will spread the good news about Jesus. (Romans 10:14-15; Proverbs 17:8)
  • Giving results in receiving. (Luke 6:38, Galatians 6:7-10)
  • Giving is a blessing from God with a large return. (Luke 6:3)
  • Giving will bring you before godly people. (Proverbs 18:16)
  • Giving will stop anger. (Proverbs 21:14)
  • Giving will provide friends. (Proverbs 19:6; Hebrews 13:16)
  • Giving opens the door for God to work. (Malachi 3:10)
  • Giving has an eternal reward. (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

Tithing

In the Old Testament, the principle adopted was for people to give a tenth (tithe) of their income. This was not a donation, but a recognition of what God had given to them. It was also an act of worship. Everything we have belongs to the Lord but He has entrusted us with ninety percent of what He gives us to use as we see fit. In the New Testament, this principle was readily accepted in the early church, but those who followed Christ ("Christians") believed that their giving should be seen in the light of Jesus' own giving. He has given everything for us. He offered up His life as a sacrifice to God for us.

Christians also took to heart Jesus' comment that "from everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded and from one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." (Luke 12:48) As we meditate on that thought, we can see that for us not to tithe (give a tenth of our income to God) is to rob God and to deprive ourselves of His blessing. (Malachi 3:8- 12; Proverbs 3:9-10)

Giving and receiving!

"Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion and, through us, your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God." (2 Corinthians 9:10-11)

God is saying that He gives us everything. He tells us what to do with it and He also gives us the return when we invest it in His kingdom. If we believe and accept this to be true, when He tells us to give something we should respond immediately and cheerfully, not bargaining with Him, or trying to reason with Him!

He is for us the source of all good things and we can always look to Him for all that we need. At the end of the day, even our salary and pension or benefit cheque is from Him and under His direction. We may receive kindness from family, friends or charities, but they are not the source of our provision. God is using them to care for us, even if they don’t realise it. We cannot take any of our earthly possessions or resources with us when we die. The widow at the temple was obviously well aware of this and willing to invest everything she had in the kingdom of God. Jesus has prepared our dream home in heaven already. (John 14:1-3) Let's get excited about that and spend our time in prayer and study to prepare for the future without worrying too much about cleaning our home or guarding our possessions and investments. (Matthew 6:20-21) Every spending decision is a spiritual decision. Our bank account reflects our priorities. As we have given God our heart, so we should have no trouble giving Him our money.

Sacrificial giving

The Macedonian Christians were recommended by Paul for their sacrificial giving: "For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will. They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem. They even did more than we had hoped, for their first action was to give themselves to the Lord and to us, just as God wanted them to do." (2 Corinthians 8:3-5)

This was why the church at Philippi proved to be so successful: they dealt with their money in God’s way. They were begging to give, even though they didn’t have a lot themselves. They completely understood the power of becoming partners in the work of sharing the good news about Jesus. (Philippians 4:10-20) They made sure that, however tough it was for them, their financial support to Paul was always there, so that he could continue to spread the truth of the good news worldwide and not be limited by a lack of funds. They also knew that, as they gave sacrificially to him, there was a partnership created in which they were joined with him in his work and that their account would be credited by God Himself. In the amplified version of the Bible, this is described as a "harvest of blessing". (Philippians 4:17 - Amplified version)

Paul promises that, following their generous and sacrificial giving, "my God will liberally supply [fill to the full] your every need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:19 - Amplified version) We shouldn't take this out of context by ignoring the first part of this passage. Nobody who is out preaching the good news should have to be begging for money. As Christians, we should be desperate to support them because we are working to God’s financial principles and know that we will never miss out. Just like the widow, we will receive a commendation from Jesus Himself if we give our all.

Uninhibited giving

We should give freely and without compulsion or feeling under pressure to do so. The underlying factor is that God knows our hearts and giving to God should always be a heart response. He is a good Father who is interested in every facet of our lives and knows what is best for us, but also knows our motives in giving. It is not a matter of giving for our own self-interest or gain or self-indulgence.

As women of faith, we are investing for God. If He directs us to invest our talents, time, money, resources, energy or even life itself, we will do just that. We need to believe the promises of God: that He will give back to us one hundred times whatever we give. (Mark 10:29-30) This is not to be our main motive, but our concern is for the increase of the kingdom of God here on earth. "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you". (Matthew 6:33) Jesus encourages us to ask our Father in heaven for the things that we require here on earth. (Luke 11:9-13) As we give generously, He will make sure that we are cared for and all that we need is supplied. Often this may be at the last minute, but even Jesus Himself was late paying His taxes! (Matthew 17:24-27) He is asking us to walk with Him on a journey of sacrificial giving and blessed receiving, which can be very exciting and become a great testimony to share with the world in these tough times.

The book of Proverbs in the Old Testament gives some practical instruction on the use of money, although sometimes it is advice that we would rather not hear. It can be more comfortable to continue in our habits than to learn to use money more wisely. The advice given there includes the following:

  • Advance the cause of righteousness with money; don't squander it. (Proverbs 10:16)
  • Be generous. (Proverbs 11:24-25; Proverbs 22:9)
  • Place people's needs ahead of our profits. (Proverbs 11:26)
  • Be cautious of acting as a guarantor for others. (Proverbs 17:18; Proverbs 11:15; Proverbs 22:26-27)
  • Don't accept bribes. (Proverbs 17:23; Proverbs 25:14)
  • Help the poor. (Proverbs 19:17; Proverbs 21:13; Proverbs 22:9)
  • Save for the future. (Proverbs 21:20)
  • Be careful about borrowing. (Proverbs 20:16; Proverbs 22:7)

Every time that God asks us to give, He is watching our obedience and our attitude. He measures our giving, not by how much we give, but by how much we keep.


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