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Posts Tagged ‘giving’

camelAccording to Jesus it is hard for those who have more than they need to receive God’s Kingdom salvation. Indeed, it’s impossible, like trying to get a camel through the eye of a sewing needle (Luke 18:24-25). It’s impossible because what God demands is so hard for us to do. Here is what Jesus and his apostles teach about what God demands.

1. Give up greed

Jesus said, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). Jesus warns us against every kind of greed. Wealth is so dangerous that we should not seek to have it (Mark 4:18-19; I Timothy 6:9). Why is this?

  • First, when we store up earthly treasures we are led to trust in them rather than God (Matthew 6:24).
  • And second, when we store up earthly treasures we are led to enjoy comforts while others suffer (Luke 16:19-31). In other words, seeking wealth leads us to hate God and our neighbor, the opposite of the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:36-40).

Rather than this we are to trust God for our provision (Matthew 6:25-34). We are to be content with what we have (Hebrews 13:5), simply praying for our daily bread (Matthew 6:11). We know that “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

2. Give up all you possess

Jesus said, “none of you can be my disciple who does not give up all his own possessions” (Luke 14:33). Here are some things to note about this command:

  • It applies to all who have possessions.
  • “Give up” can be translated “renounce.”
  • This covers “all” our possessions, not some.
  • This command primarily has a vertical focus. It has to do with our possessions and God.
  • This command is interpreted by Luke in Acts 4:32, “not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own.”

It means that we accept that our possessions are no longer ours. We renounce them. We give them up to God. They are God’s now. Jesus tells us why we must renounce our possessions. “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24).

3. Give to the needy

Jesus said, “sell your possessions and give to the needy” (Luke 12:33). Here are some things to note about this command:

  • It is addressed to all who are not themselves needy. (But sacrificial giving on the part of the needy is highly commended – Luke 21:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8:3).
  • This command has primarily a horizontal focus, giving our resources to the needy.
  • This has to do with our excess possessions, including our accumulated money, not necessarily all our possessions and money. In Luke 12 the context of this command is the farmer’s surplus crop. Jesus is not saying here “become needy” (2 Corinthians 8:13-14).
  • All such giving is to be done voluntarily and freely (2 Corinthians 9:7). Ananias could have kept what he pretended to give (Acts 5:4).
  • Sometimes an initial dispersion of wealth happened at conversion. Zacchaeus gave half of his possessions to the needy (Luke 19:8).
  • This giving is to be continuous, however. As Paul said, “each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn” for the purpose of meeting needs (I Corinthians 16:2). As long as there are needs we are to keep giving what we can.
  • This command is interpreted by Luke in Acts 2:44-45 and 4:34-35. When there was a need in the community of believers, those who had would give to those who had need.
  • The giving can be done one on one, or it can be given to the common fund of the church to be distributed to the needy (Matthew 6:2; Acts 4:35; 6:1-4).

4. Who are the needy?

There are three categories of the needy:

1) Those who are needy because of God – evangelists, missionaries, pastors and those who are persecuted. These have sold all they have (Luke 18:22), or left it behind (Luke 18:28-30), or have given up earning money (Luke 10:7; I Timothy 5:17-18) or have had their possessions taken from them (Hebrews 10:32-34) – all for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

2) Those who are needy among the people of God – the sick, the oppressed, widows, and orphans (James 1:27; Galatians 6:10). If we are not needy, our salvation depends upon giving to these two groups of the needy (Luke 16:19-31; 6:24). For we cannot love God and ignore a needy brother or sister (I John 3:16-17). When we do give, they will welcome us into the Kingdom of God (Luke 16:9).

3) We are also to give to those who are needy among the unbelievers (Luke 10:30-37; Galatians 6:10; Luke 6:33-36).

We are not to give to the idle, those who choose not to work. Rather we are to teach these to work hard, earn their own living and help others in need (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12; I Thessalonians 4:11-12).

5. How much should we give?

There is no set requirement of how much we are to give; no percentage is given. Those who give much, however, like Barnabas, are honored (Acts 4:36-37).

Love for God and our neighbor should control our giving. Those who give out of love are willing to give sacrificially for others in genuine need. They are not concerned about percentages, but helping the needy. Paul said, “each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). But remember this, “the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully (2 Corinthians 9:6). How much treasure do we want in heaven (Luke 12:33)?

6. Caring for family

None of this giving to the needy excludes us from our responsibilities to care for our family. It is evil to neglect this (Mark 7:8-13; I Timothy 5:3-8). Caring for family can involve storing up resources for our parents in old age (Mark 7:9-13), and for our children’s needs (2 Corinthians 12:14). Caring for family, however, should not be used as a pretext for greed so that we can live in indulgence.

7. Sharing all that we possess

Jesus said, “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (Luke 14:13). Whatever is not used to support family needs and to give to the needy is still God’s and must be used for God’s purposes. This means being hospitable and sharing what we own.This means blessing the needy with our resources. Philemon had a room for Paul to stay in when he traveled through his area (Philemon 1:22). Gaius allowed his large home to be the meeting place for the church in Corinth (Romans 16:23).

8. Doing the impossible

What God demands of us is impossible because we are evil. We store up treasures for ourselves because we do not believe that God will take care of us. We store up treasures for ourselves so that we can live in comfort while others suffer; because we think it’s alright if others suffer lack as long as we don’t.

But there is hope for us. Jesus tells us that with God all things are possible (Luke18:27). If we truly desire it, God can change our evil hearts. God can enable us to give up all our possessions and be generous with all that we have.

William S. Higgins – 2003

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Today is Palm Sunday, the day that Jesus entered into Jerusalem. And it marks the beginning of holy week.

We are going to look at a story from the Gospel of Mark, sometimes called the widow’s mite, or we can call it the widow’s offering. This story is a part of the holy week drama. It is Jesus’ last public appearance in Jerusalem as a free man, a few days before he’s killed. And this is a story that will challenge some common assumptions that we have about giving.

I would like to acknowledge the middle school Sunday school class who studied this passage with me for the last few weeks and helped me with this message.

Alright let’s break down the –

The Story

v. 41 – “And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box.”  The “he” is Jesus. And he is in the Temple complex.

“The treasury” probably refers to one of the 13 trumpet shaped chests that were used to collect offerings (not a building; see also John 8:20). The box would have a trumpet shaped opening to receive the offerings. (Something like an old gramophone?) It’s called “the offering box” later in our verse.

These offerings were most likely free will offerings given for sacrifices and the upkeep of the Temple.

This scene took place in the court of women, or the outer precinct of the Temple complex. Jesus was in this area sitting and watching. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I like to sit in the Mall and watch people. And like a mall, there would have been crowds in this place moving about, doing various things.

In v. 41 it says literally that the people were “throwing” their offerings in the box. And this would have made noise as the coins went into the metal trumpet shaped opening of the chest. Maybe like the sound when you throw change into a toll booth receptacle.

vs. 41-42 – “Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny.”

Jesus takes notice of the “rich” giving offerings. They were probably well dressed. And they put in a lot. He would have heard this by the sound made as they threw their coins in.

And then he notices “a poor widow.” Widows were typically poor. They relied on their children or charity for whatever they had. Her clothing would have reflected her poverty. She put in very little. Again, Jesus likely would have heard the slight sound of her offering.

How much did she give? The “two small copper coins” she gave were two Lepta. It was the smallest denomination of coins in Israel at this time.

  • Each Lepton = 1/64 of a denarius – or a day’s wage for a laborer.
  • Her two Lepta equaled one Roman penny.

Now admittedly it’s hard to do accurately, but to put it in our terms, based on the cost of bread then and now, if my math is right, she gave something like 8 US cents; eight of our pennies. In her day, she could have bought 1/3 of a loaf of bread. [A loaf of bread cost 8 Lepta. (1 loaf bread = 1 As; 4 quadrans = As; two Lepta = a quadrans). Today a loaf of bread is around $2.50.]

v. 43 – “And he called his disciples to him and said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.’”

The disciples were probably close, but Jesus is getting their attention. He wants them to take notice of the poor widow. She is an example to them.

The phrase, “Truly, I say to you,” or it can be translated, “Amen, I say to you,” is unique to Jesus. He uses it 13 times in Mark.

First of all, no other Jewish teacher used “amen” like this. When it was used, it was used the way we use it. The “Amen” came at the end of statements or prayers. It means “yes,” “that’s right,” “so be it” or “truly.” You are making the statement or the prayer your own when you say “amen.”

The whole phrase “truly, I say to you” means something like, this is really important! It’s a way of invoking divine authority. It’s like in the Old Testament when the prophet said, ‘Thus says the Lord,’ but it’s more direct and powerful.

And then Jesus says something that is quite amazing. He tells us that she put in more than all the others combined. How much did all the rich people put in? Thousands and thousands of dollars? She only put in 8 cents. But it was more than the thousands and thousands. How can this be? Jesus tells us in –

v. 44 – “’For they (the rich) all contributed out of their abundance, but she (the widow) out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’”

The contrast is clear. The rich gave out of their abundance. They gave much more in total, but it involved no sacrifice to them. They still had lots more left over. More for food. More for clothes. More for shelter. And good food, clothing and shelter at that.

She gave all she had. The repetition makes the point clear, “everything she had, all she had to live on.” Once she gave, she had nothing left for food, clothing or shelter; even lousy food, clothing or shelter.

[How does he know that this was “all she had to live on”? Not sure. He knew her; he asked her; supernatural knowledge; perhaps the attending priest asked her, “Is that all you have?” and Jesus heard this.]

Jesus teaches an important lesson here. It’s not how much you give that matters. It’s how much you keep that matters; how much you have left over after you give, that you keep for yourself.

The widow gave more because she gave sacrificially. In fact, she gave everything. She held nothing back from God. The others did not give sacrificially.

Now this widow is not just an example to the 12; she is an example to us. So let’s look at –

Some lessons for us

1. Our assumptions about giving are often wrong. In this story we have yet another example of how God’s ways are different than our ways. And how the coming of the kingdom turns things upside down from the way we naturally think.

When giving to the Lord, we think it’s all about how much you give. And we are quite impressed with people who give large gifts. We honor them and we name buildings after them. We say, wow, they gave more than anybody else!

But as we learned in this story it’s not how much you give, it’s whether you gave sacrificially. So when the person gives thousands of dollars to the church  out of their abundance – that’s great, don’t get me wrong – but the poor person who gives very little money, but gives sacrificially, has given more.

And, in contrast to our way of thinking, it is this one that Jesus takes special notice of and honors, just as in our story.

Connected to this we can ask 2. How generous are we? And what is your standard that you measure this by? Is it tithing or giving 10%?

Now there isn’t anything wrong with using the tithe as a guide. But if that is all we use we are missing the true Christian standard. We should measure our generosity by how much it costs us.

The problem is that most Christians don’t even tithe. Churchgoers give under 2.5% of their income (CT 2/11). So to tithe would be an act of faith for most.

But we can’t conform the teaching of Scripture to our failings; so that we lower the standard. We need to conform our behavior to God’s truth. The true test of generosity is giving sacrificially.

3. We can give sacrificially in other ways. Rightly understood, this woman foreshadows Jesus on the cross, a few days later. Just as she gave sacrificially, Jesus will give “everything he has.” He will do what this widow has done with his life.

This shows that this principle of giving sacrificially goes beyond just giving money. We can give sacrificially in many ways: our time, our homes in terms of hospitality, sharing other things we own, and our lives – serving God and possibly persecution or death.

Here are some examples mentioned in our Sunday School class:

  • Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son in obedience to God. Even the son of promise. He held nothing back from God.
  • Steve Kimes, who has a ministry to the homeless and mentally ill, and who invites them to live with him. He and his family have given up much to minister to them – time, privacy, their home, their lives.
  • Gary and Denise Williamson, who have given six years of their lives to go and live in Africa in a different climate, and culture and without most of what we take for granted in our country. They left family and friends behind. And it has been hard at times.

Finally, is God calling you to give sacrificially to him? Your money, your time, your possessions, your life? What might God be calling you to?

William S. Higgins

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