Good morning church! We will be finishing our preaching series on the gospel of Mark today. It’s taken us a year and a half to complete the entire gospel and I know that the Spirit has enabled us to grow in our love and obedience to Christ as we’ve studied these passages.
We will end our series with a passage that we couldn’t cover earlier from Mark 12:41-44. It is a familiar passage on the story of the poor widow who gave two copper coins. We are going to learn about “Gracious Giving” as we look through this passage.
Should we talk about Finances at our church? That was the question that both Saju and I have contemplated for a while. Both Saju and I have seen a lot of abuse in our church experiences over money and finances. We’ve seen how churches have asked for money and donations so that they could spend it on beautifying their own church buildings and also seen church leaders use offerings to spend it on their own luxurious lifestyles.
We really didn’t want this to describe our church and our ministry and that’s why at this present time we both are bi-vocational and don’t take a salary from the church. That’s also probably one of the reasons why we’ve not preached a sermon on “finances or giving” in the last 4 years. However, as we thought about this and read it God’s Word & had conversations with other brothers, we were reminded again how God is deeply concerned about our hearts in relation to money.
What’s astonishing is that Jesus has spoken more number of times about money in the gospels than the subject of hell! If it is important to God, then we ought to preach and talk about this. We’ll today try to understand what “Gracious Giving” looks like and why does it need to be emphasized in the lives of believers through the story of the poor widow.
I believe this passage tells us 3 things about Gracious Giving:
- Gracious giving is Hidden
It needs to go unnoticed. Right before this passage in v38-40, Jesus condemns the actions of the scribes. They are the super-religious guys who love to show off, receive greetings from people in the marketplace, at the synagogues they have the best seats of honor and make long prayers to show that they are super-spiritual and religious. Not only was this bad enough, they also exploited widows who were one of the most weak and helpless people in the social structure of that time.
What we need to realize is that in biblical times, widows were in a very difficult position. Financially many of them would end up being in poverty in indebtedness because their husband who was the main source of economic support passed away. They had very little or no inheritance rights and after the death of their husband, the relationship between the husband’s family and the widow would be very shaky. They were so isolated and underprivileged in society that the early church actually had laid a special emphasis on helping and ministering to widows.
James 1:27 says Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
And we know from the Bible how God is a defender of the weak and the powerless. Right across the whole bible we’ll always see how widows have a special place in God’s heart.
Now where I’m I getting to. Think about this whole scenario of Jesus sitting in front of the treasury seeing people put their offerings in the collection box. The God of the whole universe is watching people “give” their offerings to Him. Rich people are putting large sums of money…others are giving their offerings but Jesus notices the poor widow who nobody noticed. She was poor, helpless and weak but she found her audience in the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! What a wonderful thing.
Now compare that with the religious folk who gave more than this lady. They were the ones who argued with Jesus, tried to trap Jesus, wanted to arrest him and even kill him. Right there we understand the truth that God is more interested in what goes on in your heart as you give. It’s not merely the “amount” or the “giving” but the motivation of your heart that matters to God.
I believe that’s the crux of the issue when Jesus says in Matt 6: 2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And if you think about it – it’s countercultural in the world and also sometimes in churches. Some places they honor and give out mementos to people who are like the top “donors” when in fact Christ actually tells us to give in private. It’s in the secrecy and the hiddenness of giving that pleases God. It’s not for the people around you to notice or to commend you for the amount that you’ve put in. Gracious giving is in fact hidden from other people. Gracious giving goes unnoticed in public. Gracious giving won’t receive any applause or praises from people but it pleases the heart of God.
But not only is gracious giving Hidden, but
- Gracious giving is also Sacrificial
You can imagine the jaws of the disciples drop when Jesus tells them that this poor widow put in more than all the other people. They were probably quite confused because if we compare the amounts, this widow had actually put in much lesser than all the others. The value of the two copper coins actually amounted to 1/64 of a denarii.
A denarii was the daily wage for a labor worker. What she put in was 1/64th the amount of that. Then Jesus explains to them that all the others contributed out of their abundance but she had contributed out of her poverty.
For the others it was merely a contribution, for her it was a sacrifice. It was going to cost her not just something but everything. It was going to seriously affect her livelihood. Now I don’t think we should oversimplify the application to be – the poor widow put in all her money in the offering box so all of us need to put in all our money in the offering box.
But I think what it is telling us is this: God sees and views our giving not on the basis of what we don’t have but on the basis of what we have! Which means that God is not comparing the amounts of our giving against each other but God desires us to sacrificially give on the basis of what He has given to us individually at this present time.
Sometimes we hear people say things like “If God were to give me more money, then I’ll be able to give more to the church and to the poor”. Not necessarily. We know that with more money there’s in fact greater temptation to spend more on ourselves. That’s why God isn’t asking you to give on the basis of what you will have a few years later. He desires our obedience on the basis of what He has given right now.
The important key here is the word sacrifice! The word by definition implies a cost & surrender– it’s going to cost us something & we’ll need to surrender something. Now when was the last time we gave an offering where it actually costed us something? When was the last time we had to surrender something in order to give an offering?
Now I know that not all generous people in the world are believers. But shouldn’t all true followers of Christ be generous? Because we have understood God’s mercy and sacrifice firsthand! We were “impoverished” in our sin. We were helpless and wretched and broken in our sinful state. But God being “rich in mercy” sent His one and only Son Jesus Christ to “empty” Himself by taking the form of man and then dying for you and for me.
He rose again on the third Day defeating sin, Satan and death so that we can receive the richness and wealth and privilege of a close intimate relationship with God. (2 Cor 8:9) God wasn’t stingy when it came to showing you grace. Shouldn’t people who have experienced this amazing eternal grace of God be overflowing with generosity?
Brothers and sisters, my aim is not to guilt people but rather to challenge us to think differently about giving. Sometimes we view giving as comfortable contributions but gracious giving involves sacrifice and generosity. Please don’t get me wrong…I’m not saying that we should never spend a penny on ourselves.
But what I’m saying that as believers we should be defined not by our spending but our giving. What’s the world’s notion on money and salary? Spend it within the first week of receiving it and then live as a miser till the end of the month. As believers the gospel changes the way we utilize our money. We give radically so that the gospel advances in places where there’s no gospel presence. We give radically to empower the weakest and poorest in the community around us and when they ask us why we do it – we point them back to Jesus who is the source of grace!
- Gracious giving is Willing
The poor widow delighted the heart of Jesus because she willingly put everything that she had to live on! Not reluctantly but willingly she gave everything. The passage doesn’t give too much of a description about this widow but her actions certainly tell a lot about her faith.
- She believed that God owns everything in her life so he deserves everything as well. By her one action she displayed whole-hearted surrender.
- She also trusted God to sustain her even though she gave everything that she had to live on.
I really believe these two things impact the willingness to give to the Lord.
- Ownership: Do we believe that God is truly the Giver, Owner and Master of our whole lives including our money? Or do we think we are the owners of our own lives?
- Security: Do we trust God enough to know that He will continue to provide for all our needs even if we give sacrificially? Or do we think that our giving will ultimately result in us being needy all the time?
I hope we don’t miss the point how our “giving” goes much deeper than just an external act of obedience. Our giving actually points to who sits on the throne seat of our hearts! Our giving actually tells a lot about who we believe is our Provider. In whom we believe keeps us secure! Is it Jesus Christ or is it us?
2 Corinthian 8 tells us of a wonderful story about gracious giving. Paul and his companions were raising funds to help the poor & suffering believers in the Jerusalem church. Paul informed all the churches in his network about this need. Now the churches in Macedonia actually had their own set of problems – it says they were going through severe test of affliction and extreme poverty. But the moment they heard this need, they begged earnestly telling that they really wanted to join in to help the saints. And they went over and above their means to help out. (v1-5)
This is how 2 Cor 8:5 puts it: 5 And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.
Their commitment to God overflowed in an expression of giving willingly! One tough question I had to ask myself is that when needs come up suddenly, do I get impatient & frustrated? Or do I eagerly and willingly desire to help in whichever way I can? Is it reluctance or eagerness?
7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Cor 9:7) I might be giving “sacrificially” but if it is done in reluctance then it doesn’t honor God. We might as well not give it than to dishonor God by giving our offerings unwillingly. It doesn’t show God to be most valuable. He is not seen as worthy of glory!
Brothers and sisters, if we are truly honest, I think we would admit that we would need to grow in these areas of gracious giving – be it hidden, sacrificial and willingness. What I hope we’ve realized that our giving is not just tied to our pockets but our hearts in a way that’s much deeper than what we think. We need renewal and we need God’s grace.
It’s a question of Ownership and Security. If God has convicted our hearts, we must turn away from all those areas where we see clear patterns of sin and greed and convenience. Let’s turn back to Jesus Christ who is our Owner and our Provider and ask him to change our hearts and our lives so that we can be “Gracious Givers” just like Him.