Bankers have a saying, “Show me the numbers. Hope is not an adequate business plan.” What they mean is don’t come to me with an idea and some trust in yourself, or in a gut feeling that things are just going to work out right. They want to see the hard facts – the financial statements, the income and expense estimates, the startup costs, etc. And all of that is good, I suppose.
But let me shift the scenario a little bit, suppose a poor person came to you with the following words, “I am planning to give everything I have in terms of my monetary worth to a missionary working among an unreached people. What do you think about that?” Now mind you, you know this person’s situation. They have been on food stamps; the church has been providing them monetary assistance to meet their rent and car bills. And so you ask them, “What about next month’s rent and gasoline for your car?” “Oh, I believe that God will provide for my needs. This is an act of worship I must present.” How are you feeling? What are you thinking? What would you say to them?
If you are like many people, myself included. You are probably thinking that this person is being irresponsible. You probably want to tell them, “Don’t do it. Don’t give your money away. You can’t afford it.” Or you may be thinking, “How dare they give money away when they haven’t worked for it. I just won’t help next time they have need.” And then just to push the point, the next time they come and express a need, you throw out, “Didn’t I tell you this would happen if you gave that money away. I am sorry, we can’t empower you to be irresponsible any more.” Truthfully, isn’t that what most of us are thinking?
Let me read you today’s Scripture from Mark 12:41-44: “Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. 43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything — all she had to live on.”
That is one challenging story isn’t it. There are a few details of the story I would like to elaborate on before we move to the main point – true Faith requires giving everything to God.
The first detail we meet in the story has to do with the way offerings were given in the temple. Unlike in the modern world where most giving is done very privately and inconspicuously, sometimes through automatic bank withdrawals or with checks folded up or money stuffed in an envelope and quickly slid in the offering plate the giving of gifts in the temple was a very public process. In the temple there were 13 shofar chests. The Mishnah tells us that these chests were designated for different types of offerings. Two chests were for the temple tax either this years or last years, if you were delinquent. There was a chest for purchasing wood for the sacrifices, another for frankincense for the offerings, there were chests for buying sacrificial birds, and a chest for buying gold to place over the mercy seat and there were 6 chests for free will offerings. Each chest was in a very public place and because of this, Jesus was able to turn a normal part of the temple ritual into a profound teaching moment for his disciples about how much a true worshipper of God gives.
This challenges our modern notion that giving is to be done in secret. We have taken Matthew 6:3, “When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” and applied it to all types of giving, but that wasn’t the intention. There are the gifts in the Bible that are to be offered for the advancement of the Kingdom, or in the Jewish context, for the maintenance of the temple and the worship of God, and there are the gifts that are to be given to the needy which were never to be funneled through the temple structure in the first place. It is only these gifts for the needy that are to be quietly and unobtrusively given so as not to draw attention to the giver or the recipient and so keep their honor in tact.
If all giving were done in total secrecy, then this story would never have been able to be observed as a teaching moment. Furthermore, it would be impossible to set an example for the brothers in terms of faithful generosity to the furtherance of the God’s mission, as 2Cor 8:7 says, “Excel in the grace of giving.” If all giving were to be secretive, then we wouldn’t have the inspirational stories of George Müller, or Jonathan Edwards or R.G. Letourneau. So the first way this story challenges us today is this: Quit being so dog gone secretive about your giving. Titus 2:7 declares, “In everything set them an example by doing what is good.” (1Tim 4:12) “…Set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” And the last time I checked, generously giving to support evangelistic missions is part of the ‘everything’ we are commanded to set an example in. Let others know, be an inspiration of your support for the preaching of the gospel at home and abroad.
The second detail I would like to draw you attention to is the fact that there is a poor widow present in the temple in the midst of all these rich people. This was not to be the case. The people of God had been commanded to provide for not only the Levites, but also the ‘alien, the fatherless and the widow” (Dt 26:12) within their borders. It strikes me as odd that the wealthy worshippers were bringing in gifts to purchase gold to cover the mercy seat, or to buy firewood, etcetera but they are blind to see the need of their own widows. In fact, immediately before this story begins, Jesus has just condemned the whole Jewish ritual system with these words, “Watch out for the teachers of the Law…They devour widow’s houses and for a show make lengthy prayers” (Mark 12:38,40). And here we have it. A living example of men who are blind to the needs of a poor widow who has giving everything away, less than a penny. God forbid that our faith in Christ would lead us to blindness like this towards the vulnerable young and old in our midst.
The third detail we must note is that the size of the gift, strictly speaking, is not what matters. This woman gave the two smallest coins in existence in the known world at that time and ever since. If a denarius was one day’s wage, it took 128 of these little copper coins to make a denarius. She only had 2 of these coins. Now compare that to the bags of coinage likely being brought in by the wealthy. It is like the child putting in his shiny penny and the businessman dropping in his $10,000 check. In terms of pure value, the businessmen wins, but in terms of completeness, the child has topped him. The child has nothing else to his name; he gives it all, while the businessman has multiples of his $10,000 checks. In the Kingdom of God and in the eyes of the Lord, what matters most isn’t the sheer size of the gift, but the totality of it, the completeness of it.
And that brings us to the main point of the story. To offer God everything requires faith. It requires great faith, in fact. More faith than the businessman seeking a loan based on hope and a gut feeling. More faith than a gambler rolling the dice for his snake eyes. No in order to offer a gift of the size of the widow requires a complete dependence upon God to be the one who will meet all our needs. And only one who has faith can offer such a gift. That was a lesson the Israelites never seemed to learn as a nation. They were unwilling to bring their best animals and the first fruits of their fields. They struggled to give over their fields in the seventh year or to cancel the debts in the Jubilee. They always wanted to gather more manna in the desert than they were supposed to or they refused to gather enough, not believing the words of God. They had no faith that God would meet their needs.
You see, faith requires a willingness to risk and give everything in dependence upon God. As the author of Hebrews 11:1 wrote, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” And that kind of faith requires a radical trust in God to catch you and sustain you when there is nothing else left. In fact that is the whole point of Hebrews 11, the trust of the heroes of the faith in God’s power to sustain and carry them. And that is only possible when there is love. As I look at this part of Mark’s Gospel, I see a story of a woman of great faith and great love. She loved God so much that she was willing to give everything in order to worship. She could have kept one of the coins and given the other. She could have not given anything, and the Law wouldn’t have looked down upon her, but instead she gave everything to God because she knew that God would provide for her and protect her. As the song says,
“My God will provide all your needs,
according to his riches in glory,
he will give his angels charge over thee,
Jehovah Jireh cares for me.”
Now it would be easy to think this sermon is really only about money. And we can certainly apply it to our financial dealings. Are we the rich who are giving out of our wealth but who really don’t find ourselves in dependence upon God as a result of our giving? Are we the one who gives, but not so much that we must trust in God for our next meal? Or are we like the widow, giving everything we have, living in utter dependence upon God to meet our needs? But if that is the only way we apply this passage, we have missed a great opportunity for growing in our faith walk with God. There may be other places, not just in terms of money where God is inviting us to exercise a great faith that depends upon his love to carry us through? Throughout the prophets God says he wants a people who are undivided in heart. In fact, as he describes the new covenant people he says, (Jer. 32:39) “I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them.” (Ezek. 11:19) “I will give them an undivided heart…”
An undivided heart is a heart where nothing else gets in the way and where all of our life is given over to God in complete surrender. George Müller’s life is an example of this. In his life, he was called to give everything to God, trusting him to raise up an orphan ministry that rivals anything that has ever existed. He was called to wait upon God to provide daily bread for the children. He was called to trust in God to change the weather when the boiler went one winter and in faith they scheduled the work and prayed and the night the work began God answered his prayer so that the children were not cold while the heat was off and repaired. In faith he trusted God to provide for his needs and to bring forth provisions for the missionaries he supported – Hudson Taylor, and others like him. In faith, he prayed for the fog to lift on one sea going voyage, completely trusting his very itinerary to the Lord who wanted the story of God’s faithfulness proclaimed to the world. Müller was willing to risk everything in order to depend upon his Lord, and God rewarded him handsomely for it.
The story of the widow’s mite calls us to radical faith in God and dependence upon him. It calls us to deny ourselves, to take up our cross and to follow him wherever he leads. It calls us to risk everything in order to preach the good news of Christ to our friends, neighbors and even our enemies. It calls us to give up our children to the trusting arms of God, waiting on him for their redemption. It calls us to give up security in order to gain true safety and rest. It calls us to give up everything we value, in order to gain everything God values. So where is God calling you? And what have you been holding back which he is asking for you to freely give him today? The beauty of this story is that to make a law of this by requiring any of you to do a certain act would be to miss the point that such a gift to the Lord can only be made voluntarily and in love.
And isn’t that the gospel? The story of the Son of God who loved his Father so much and who loved you and I so much that he was willing to risk it all, even entering into death, trusting that the Father had a plan and a character worth relying upon. The life of Jesus was a life of giving everything to God, holding nothing back. And he gave it all because he knew the Love of God was wide and deep, strong and immovable. He knew the love of God was able to sustain his chosen people, to raise the Dead, to redeem sinners and to fashion a people wholly dedicated to the ways of the Lord. He knew the Love of God and he loved God in return, giving even himself. Let us follow in the footsteps of our Savior who gave God Everything, and gained what could never be lost.