(NOTE: Read the scripture AFTER the introduction. See below.)
In the letter of James, we read a warning to all people who would teach God’s Word.
James writes these words, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” (3.1)
That verse means that God holds me accountable for what I preach and teach.
Because God holds me accountable for what I teach and preach, I always spend many hours each week researching… and prayerfully pondering the passages I present.
Because today’s passage is especially challenging, I did especially extensive research. My comments today are a combination of my own prayerful thoughts, plus the thoughts of fourteen commentators.
Based on this copious research, I can confidently say that there are basically only four possible lessons that Jesus might want us to learn from the poor widow. Please listen carefully to these four possible lessons that Jesus might want us to learn from the poor widow. After we’ve heard the four possible lessons, we will listen to God’s Word together… and each of us can decide for ourselves which of the four possible lessons is correct.
The first possible lesson that Jesus might want us to learn from the poor widow is this:
“The TRUE gift is to give EVERYTHING one has.”
The second possible lesson is this:
“It’s not the AMOUNT of the gift that matters;
what matters is the SPIRIT and MOTIVES of the giver.”
The third possible lesson is this:
“All people should give according to their means.”
The fourth and final possible lesson that Jesus might want us to learn from the widow is this:
The TRUE measure of stewardship is NOT how much we GIVE to God;
the TRUE measure of stewardship is how much we KEEP for ourselves.
With those four possible lessons in mind, please hear the Word of the Lord, Mark 12:38-44.
(READ THE SCRIPTURE HERE)
Which of the four possible lessons did you hear?
When we examine our passage we discover that we can easily rule out two of the four possible lessons.
In this passage, we can rule out the possible lesson that, “All people should give according to their means.”
We can rule that out as a lesson of this passage because the poor widow clearly did NOT give according to her means. The widow gave WAY BEYOND her means; she gave ALL she had!
In this passage, we can also rule out the possible lesson that, “It’s not the AMOUNT of the gift that matters; what matters is the SPIRIT and MOTIVES of the giver.”
We can rule that out as a lesson of this passage because the passage says absolutely nothing about the SPIRIT or MOTIVES of the poor widow. We do not know her SPIRIT or MOTIVES because the text does not mention them.
Please understand, the two lessons that we just ruled out actually ARE Biblical Stewardship Principles. Listen to 2 Corinthians 8.12. Paul writes these words, “For if the WILLINGNESS is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.”
2 Corinthians 8.12 DOES teach that “It’s not the AMOUNT of the gift that matters; what matters is the SPIRIT and MOTIVES of the giver.”
And 2 Corinthians 8.12 DOES teach that “All people should give according to their means.”
Both of those points ARE true Biblical Stewardship Principles.
However, to understand what Jesus wants us to learn from the widow, we need to recognize
that neither of those two Principles is taught in today’s passage.
When it comes to possible lessons that Jesus wants us to learn from the widow, there are only two remaining possibilities.
The two possible lessons Jesus wants us to learn from the widow… are:
Number One, “The TRUE measure of stewardship is NOT how much we GIVE to God; the TRUE measure of stewardship is how much we KEEP for ourselves.
OR… number two, “The TRUE gift is to give EVERYTHING one has.”
Many a stewardship sermon has read the story of poor widow who gave her last two coins… and said to the congregation, “Go and do likewise.”
However, while God does demand our TOTAL COMMITMENT, I can confidently tell you we can also rule out the possible lesson that, “The TRUE gift is to give EVERYTHING one has.”
In the New Testament, Jesus commands only one person to give away ALL of his possessions. That one person was, “The Rich, Young Ruler.” Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell us about him. We talked about, “The Rich, Young Ruler,” last month. We saw that Jesus commanded that particular man to sell all his possessions, because the possessions of that man were preventing him from FOLLOWING JESUS.
And we noted that Jesus did have several wealthy followers… and Jesus did NOT command any of those wealthy people to sell all their possessions.
Jesus told the “The Rich, Young Ruler,” to sell all his possessions, because the possessions of that man were preventing that man from FOLLOWING JESUS.
This means that if YOUR and MY possessions are not preventing us from FOLLOWING JESUS, then Jesus probably will not call US to sell all of OUR possessions.
There is another important reason why I am convinced that the lesson of today’s passage is not, “The TRUE gift is to give EVERYTHING one has.”
When we consider the context of the story of the poor widow, it seems completely clear that Jesus is doing two very different things:
First, Jesus praises the SACRIFICIAL GENEROSITY of the poor widow…
and second, Jesus laments… and is disgusted by a corrupt religious system that would encourage a poor woman to put in her last two coins.
Here’s why I say that Jesus was disgusted by a corrupt religious system that would encourage a poor woman to put in her last two coins.
The story of this poor widow is recorded twice, once in Mark… and once in Luke.
And in both Mark and Luke, immediately before the account of the poor widow, Jesus condemns the Scribes for devouring widows’ houses.
Beginning in Mark 12.38, Jesus says,
“Watch out for the teachers of the law [the Scribes]…
They devour widows’ houses
and for a show make lengthy prayers.
Such men will be punished most severely.”
Immediately after Jesus said those words, He saw the poor widow come and contribute her last two coins.
When we read the story in context, the poor widow seems to be a tragic example of a widow who has had her house DEVOURED by corrupt Scribes!
I hope I’ve demonstrated why we can rule out the possible lesson that, “The TRUE gift is to give EVERYTHING one has.”
Do you see what that means? It means that you and I do not need to empty our bank accounts to please God!
At the beginning of this sermon, I said that after my own prayerful study and after reading the works of fourteen commentators, I am convinced that there are only four possible lessons that Jesus wants you and me to learn from the poor widow.
We have carefully ruled out three of those four possible lessons.
Here, my friends, is the lesson that I believe Jesus wants us to learn from the poor widow:
“The TRUE measure of stewardship is NOT how much we GIVE to God; the TRUE measure of stewardship is how much we KEEP for ourselves!”
In other words, God looks at what our giving actually COSTS us; God looks at the SACRIFICES we make for His Kingdom.
Let’s consider the SACRIFICE made by the widow.
We read that the widow was poor. Her total cash on hand was only two small copper coins. The fact that she had only two small copper coins implies two things. First, it implies that she had no family to help her. Second, it implies that she had a hard time just getting enough food to stay alive.
In that kind of poverty… she gave 100% of her cash; that’s a huge sacrifice. She gave two small copper coins… but modern translations might give us a wrong idea about the actual value of her gift. The NIV says that two copper coins given by the widow were, “worth only a fraction of a penny.” (12.42)
We might think, what could she buy with less than a penny? Sure, she gave all she had… but that less-than-a penny offering would not have bought her anything. We might think, since what she gave could not buy anything, she really did not sacrifice anything.
If we think along those lines, then we are very wrong. Depending on which currency conversions we use, the widow’s offering was between 91 cents and $1.81.
What is important to note is that the widow’s offering was NOT a WORTHLESS pair of coins that would have bought her nothing. Those two coins would have bought her A SMALL MEAL! And for that woman, food was hard to come by. The money she gave… would have put food in her growling stomach.
Today’s passage does not demand that we give ALL we have… but today’s passage DOES demand that we give… in ways that are truly SACRIFICIAL…
God’s Words demands that we give an amount of money that we will actually miss. For some people, including me and my family, giving a true, 10% TITHE is a sacrifice.
The New Testament does not explicitly command TITHING, and God might lead some of you to give less than 10 percent of your income.
And… God might want some of you to give MORE than 10 percent of your income. If giving 10 percent is not a SACRIFICE… then giving 10 percent is probably not ENOUGH.
As I see it… it is possible for wealthy people to give SACRIFICIALLY without giving themselves into poverty. For example, I believe that Nicodemus gave SACRIFICIALLY when he provided seventy-five pounds of expensive myrrh and aloes for the burial of Jesus… but even though that giving was SACRIFICIAL, I don’t think Nicodemus was begging for food the next day!
And this is an important point because compared to the vast majority of people who have ever lived and compared to the majority of people who are alive now, each of us in this room is rich.
If we have enough food and water, and a roof over our heads, then compared to MOST people, we are rich. ALL of us are rich people who will have to pass through “the eye of a needle,” by the grace of God!
Let’s think about how a VERY wealthy person can give SACRIFICIALLY. Suppose a VERY wealthy person really wants a chalet in the mountains… or a Ferrari. But instead of buying that chalet or Ferrari, the wealthy person gives his chalet or Ferrari money to the Church. As I see it, that wealthy person has given SACRIFICIALLY. Specifically, that person has sacrificed the chalet or Ferrari which he could have bought, if he had not given generously to God’s work.
For me… and maybe for you, SACRIFICIAL giving includes things like giving up a fancy dinner so that we can give more to God’s work.
For me… and maybe for you, SACRIFICIAL giving includes wearing old clothes and living with less… so that we can give more.
God calls ALL Christians to give SACRIFICIALLY… and our SACRIFICIAL giving shows God… how much God means to us.
The TRUE measure of stewardship is NOT how much we GIVE to God; the TRUE measure of stewardship is how much we KEEP for ourselves!
My dear friends… 2010 will probably be a lean, tight year for most of us. I know my family will need to make some cut backs in 2010.
Please listen very carefully… in 2010, some people may need to cut the amount of money that they give to God. But… if our giving to God is the only thing we cut, then we have a serious spiritual problem! If we cut what we give to God… but we do not also cut our vacations, then we have a serious spiritual problem. If we cut what we give to God… but we do not also cut what we spend on hobbies and entertainment, then we have a serious spiritual problem.
Christian Stewardship is a matter of the HEART, a matter of LOVE and COMMITMENT. If we LOVE God… then we can make SACRIFICES joyfully, joyful sacrifices of BOTH time… and money.
As you consider what you will give to God, please ask God to guide you… and remember, if you’re only giving what you will not miss, then according to God, YOU PROBABLY ARE NOT GIVING ENOUGH.
As you consider what you will give to God, please ask yourself these questions:
•Are the time and money I give to God an adequate expression of GRATITUDE for all that God gives to me?
•Do the time and money I give to God accurately represent my LOVE for my Lord and Savior?
Please pray with me…
Appendix: What Is The Modern Equivalent of the Widow’s Offering?
Wessel (Expositor’s, Mk., p. 741), Garland (NIVAC, Mk., p. 481), and Brooks (NAC, Mk., p. 203) state that the lepton was the smallest coin used in the Palestine at the time and that 1 lepton = 1/64 of a denarius (a denarius was the effective minimum daily wage in 1st century Palestine; see Mt. 20.2). Thus, it would seem that 2 lepta = 1/32 of a laborer’s daily wage.
However, Nolland (WBC, Lk., p. 714) writes, “a lepton = half a quadrans and 1/128 of a denarius” (hence, 2 lepta = 1/64 of a denarius). Likewise, Hooker, (Black’s NTC, Mk., p. 296) writes, “the two lepta together were therefore worth 1/64 of the amount that a laborer might expect to earn in a day.” Vinson (Smyth & Helwys, Lk. p. 438) also agrees that 2 lepta would equal 1/64 of a denarius; he writes, “a lepton was
1/128th of a denarius.”
Bock (NIVAC, Lk., p. 526) says a lepton was worth “1/100 of a denarius (about 5 minutes of labor at minimum wage).” In a comment similar to Bock’s, Nolland, p. 980 writes, “The amount she gives would not buy a quarter of an hour (15 minutes) of a day laborer’s time.”
According to http://www.dol.gov/dol/topic/wages/minimumwage.htm, a link that comes from the USA’s Department of Labor’s website, “The federal minimum wage for covered nonexempt employees is $7.25 per hour effective July 24, 2009.”
With minimum wage at $7.25, a denarius would have a modern equivalent of $58.
•If 2 lepta = 1/32 of a denarius ($58), then the widow’s offering = $1.81.
•If 2 lepta = 1/64 of a denarius ($58), then the widow’s offering = $.91.
•If 2 lepta = 1/50 of a denarius ($58), then the widow’s offering = $1.16.
•If we figure based on Bock’s 10 minutes’ wages, the figure is $1.21.
In conclusion, scholars are divided on the exact value of the widow’s offering; however, in terms of modern monetary equivalent, the difference between 1/32 and 1/64 of a denarius is only 90 cents. What is important to recognize is that the widow’s offering was not a meaningless pair of coins that would have bought her nothing. For this woman food was hard to come by, and those 2 coins would have bought her a small meal!Her gift was genuine, sacrificial giving.
ODDS and ENDS:
Basic Principles of Christian Stewardship
See: 1 Cor. 16.1-4; 2 Cor. 8-9
•give because of gratitude and with joy
•give on a regular basis
•plan your giving
•give God first fruits, not leftovers
•In Mt. 6.21 // Lk. 12.34, Jesus teaches that the heart actually follows the money. Thus, giving can change our hearts!
Ultimately, each of us must ask God to tell us how much God wants us to give. And even after we’ve agreed to give what God asks, we still need to have open eyes and open hearts… and when our open eyes and our open hearts see a need, we then need to open our wallets to help.
Culpepper and Stein both see Jesus’ words as commendation (not lament). Like others, Stein says the main message is that God measures gifts based on what remains, i.e. it’s the size of the sacrifice, not the size of the gift that matters to God.
Hooker notes that the story shows that even the poorest of people can offer to God a gift that God approves as a worthy self-offering.
Eduard Schweizer (Mk.) notes that she had 2; could have kept 1, but gave both.
Craddock, Interpretation, Lk., p. 242, states, “[Jesus] weighed all the gifts not by sentiment but by a standard that was the same for all: How much does one have remaining after the offering is made? Thus measured, the widow’s gift was by far the greatest, because she had nothing left.”
Fitzmyer (AB, Lk., pp. 1320-1321)
similar stories are preserved in Buddhist tradition and in Gk. lit. from at least the 6th cen. BC.
Four Possible Messages (my paraphrases); included within the sermon.
Notes that all the explanations apart from the first have no basis in this passage!
Fitzmyer, p. 1321 (quoting A. G. Wright, p. 262, with whom Evans, WBC, Mk. also agrees) writes, “In the preceding episode Jesus was displeased with what the Scribes were doing to widows’ estates; here he is no more pleased with what he sees. He heaps no praise on the widow, but rather laments the tragedy of the day: ‘She has been taught and encouraged by religious leaders to donate as she does, and Jesus condemns the value system that motivates her action.’ In short, Jesus’ comment contains words of lament, not praise.” I think Wright, Fitzmyer, and Evans are partially correct, but that they overstate their case.
I think Jesus did commend the woman’s sacrificial giving, and He also condemned the religious establishment that caused people to believe that they had to give themselves into poverty. Jesus wants us to give all of ourselves, but we still need to eat!
Jesus does demand that we surrender our own wills and that we seek to do God’s will.
God does demand that we put God first! In Matthew 6, Jesus says, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”
Copyright 2010, Vaughan Smith. Used by permission.