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. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything ... all she had to live on.” Mark 12:41-44
The widow in the story in Mark demonstrated more faithfulness than all the others. She did not give out of abundance with much left to spare, she gave all that she had. Two thousand years later, we aren’t telling stories about what was purchased or done with any of the offerings collected that day, we are telling stories of the widow’s unwavering faithfulness. God uses the faithful to accomplish his will. And I fully believe that God can use a faithful $5 contribution just like he can use a faithful $500 contribution. We learn in this story that it is the measure of our faith, not our bank account, which God observes and uses. What a beautiful truth that is for all of us, especially those of us who don’t have large bank accounts!
This idea that the poor widow put in “more” than all the others has always captured my attention. Jesus is in no way condemning wealth in this teaching, but he is saying something very important we need to make sure we understand.
In our society, power is normally held in the hands of those who have the most of something. The largest military allows you to have the highest advantage in war; massive political donations are made to curry favor with those in government; the celebrity with the largest Twitter following has the ability to significantly influence social norms.
But Jesus, watching the widow give what would really only amount to pennies, told his disciples that she gave “more” than all the others, many of whom were making large and very generous contributions. God is telling us very clearly that his economy works very differently than our economy, his Kingdom works differently than our fallen world.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.” – Isaiah 55:8-9
His idea of power is much different than ours. God can use anything to accomplish his will. What he chooses to use, all throughout the Bible, is not the size of our money, the size of our military, or the size of our name recognition. What God rejoices in using to accomplish his purposes is the size of our faithfulness. Only in Christ can a poor widow yield more power than mighty Kings!
Can you imagine what it would be like to see faithfulness as a currency instead of dollars?
We can learn so much from this story, and when it comes to giving, the widow teaches us a few principles of what a faithful gift looks like:
- Giving faithfully is sacrificial. The size of the gift wasn’t the question here; it was the sacrifice required. This is a good test for all of us. Are we giving at a level that requires us to sacrifice or not? What are you giving up that hurts in order to give back to God? So often I have told myself that I just couldn’t afford to tithe. It wasn’t until I started making hard decisions about what in my life I could stop doing or consuming that I found that I can always afford it. My question is: would I be willing to give up things that I thought I couldn’t lose in order to be faithful?
- Giving faithfully will make you very uncomfortable. In fact, you will no longer be in control. The widow gave all she had. This is an extreme example for us, but notice she didn’t know how she was going to eat the next day, she kept nothing back for herself. Letting go of control of my finances is the hardest thing for me to do, even today. I am terrified of not being able to support my family. I am terrified of not having what we need to get by. But if you truly trust in God, you have to be willing to be uncomfortable. He calls upon us to trust in him alone. He promises us many times in the Bible to trust him with this aspect of our lives–he even says to test him with it!
- God cares about your finances and he does pay attention to our level of faithfulness. Jesus was sitting there watching people put their money in the offering bins. In our day today, for the most part, only God will know what you are giving. Nobody at church on Sunday will know if you gave a lot, a little, or none at all. Your pastor is not going to call you and ask if you’ve been faithful with your giving. Your Sunday School class won’t know, your small group won’t know, your family won’t know. At Crossings, nobody gets public recognition for any giving–by design! Whether or not we will be faithful in our giving is something that is truly between us and God. It is an incredible test of faith for all of us. It is a great opportunity for us to demonstrate to God that we are here for him and because of him. We trust in him, even when nobody's looking, even when we don’t get recognized. We give freely and joyfully to him!
With all of this being said, I know this is such a difficult aspect of our faith journey, and even as the Finance Director of the church, this isn’t easy for me or my family. So, let me provide some practical answers to questions I receive all the time:
How much are we supposed to give? 10%?
Our word “tithe” comes from the idea of a tenth, or 10%. This goes all the way back to the Old Testament teachings of how to give back to God what he entrusts to us. Giving 10% is a great benchmark. But I would encourage you to ask yourself the questions above. Am I giving in a way where it is clearly sacrificial to me? Does it require me to give something up and demonstrate my reliance on God? Am I uncomfortable or am I giving out of abundance, even at 10%? Giving 10% for someone who is very well off is normally much easier than for someone who lives on minimum wage. But remember, God judges our faithfulness, not the dollar amount itself.
Okay, is that pre-tax or post-tax?
Well, the current US taxation system was not explicitly detailed in the Bible. However, we see Jesus teach us to “give to Caesar what is Caesar's and give to God what is God’s.” So, my personal interpretation is that I set my benchmark at 10%, pre-tax. I give to the IRS what is due to the IRS and I give to God what is due to God.
I want to give, I really do, but I just can’t afford it. What do I do?
You are not alone. At Crossings, we offer a Financial Peace class that is fantastic and uses biblical principles to help you manage your finances. I would encourage you to keep taking steps in the right direction. Look for things in your life that you spend money on that you can sacrifice. I was amazed that when I sacrificed my ESPN subscription, not only did I save a lot of money but I replaced the time I used to watch SportsCenter with Bible reading and it was amazing how God used that time! Cut expenses and immediately give it to God. If you get a raise, give it to God. Keep up that discipline and just watch how God uses that faith over the timeframe of a couple of years.
Crossings is such a big church. Does the church really need my gift?
Yes! Remember, God works through the faithful, he uses our faith, and he delights in it. Our church is not made up of a lot of rich people who give significant sums. Our church is made up of rich and poor and everything in between, we are all one in Christ. We get small gifts and big gifts. It all adds up to what God requires from our church. Some of my favorite moments are seeing the checks come in that are for small dollars and are so specific that they go to the decimal point. I know this person is giving in a way that is sacrificial, it is hard, it is faithful. And I am so very appreciative to get to be the person who helps steward your faithful gifts.
What should I do next?
If you have read this and feel convicted, I would encourage you to pray intentionally. Ask for his wisdom. If you are married, begin a conversation with your spouse. Commit to pray together about this. Don’t be surprised if you have a disagreement! Pray as a couple together and make this decision together. Whether you are married or not, ask for wisdom and be prepared to act when God grants you that wisdom. If you feel like you lack discipline to give, set up a recurring giving schedule here. I know giving automatically each month was a great way for me to keep myself accountable.
Don’t underestimate the freedom that you will feel and experience daily when you are being obedient in this aspect of your life. What a loving and faithful God we get the privilege to serve!
"Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it." Malachi 3:10