A Lesson on Giving - Section 1 (series: General Sermons)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

A Lesson on Giving
Mark 12:41-44(Focal Passage), Luke 21:1-4, (Lev. 27:30)

Mark 12:41-44
41 Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much.
42 Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans.
43 So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury;
44 for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.”

Before this, Jesus was teaching the people about the hypocrisy of the scribes. He described them as lusting for recognition, seeking the best positions, and stealing from the helpless, while pretending to be religious. Listen as I read Mark 12:38–40.

Then He said to them in His teaching, “Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces,the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation.” (Mark 12:38-40, NKJV)

The story within our text is also found in Luke’s gospel. It is recorded twice, to teach us two important lessons concerning giving:
First: That showing charity to the poor is a fundamental feature of the Christian religion. Our Lord Jesus used many occasions to commend it and recommend it. He had just mentioned the heartlessness of the scribes, who swindle poor widows out of their homes, and perhaps this story is designed to show the charity of one such poor widow.
Second: That Jesus Christ has his eye on us because He wants to know what we give to the poor, and what we contribute to works of goodness and charity. Although Christ was absorbed in his preaching, He looked up, to see what gifts were cast into the treasury.

This passage is Christ’s commendation of the poor widow who cast two mites into the treasury, which our Savior, busy as he was in preaching, found the time to take notice of her gift.

41 Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much.

Paraphrase: Now, Jesus “sat down” opposite the treasury, which consisted of thirteen trumpet-shaped containers called trumpets, due to their shape. He watched attentively as many people voluntarily contributed or paid a yearly tax used for the upkeep of the Temple and to provide for the poor. The common people came with the money they could afford to give without creating a hardship for them. Also present was the wealthy religious leaders and Jerusalem’s leading men who made a show of giving large amounts of money.

The Temple maintained a public fund for charity, out of which money was available for helping the poor. People would bring their gift and place it in one of the thirteen trumpet-shaped containers. Each was labeled for a specific use, and donations were made accordingly. They were similar to what we call “poor boxes.” The Temple was full of the loud clanging sound of metal on metal made by coins as they were cast into one of the containers. The Temple was the best place for contributing to help the poor because works of charity and religious acts go well together. Where God is honored by our worship, it is fitting that He should be honored by the relief of His poor; and we often find prayers and alms together, as in Acts 10:2, 4—“a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, “What is it, lord?” So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God.” It is good that there are organizations like the Salvation Army, United Way, and Goodwill that help the poor. In addition, most churches have budgeted money for giving to the poor. It is good for those whom God has blessed financially to give to the poor, as God has prospered them—“On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper…” (1 Co. 16:2).Here Paul recommends that they have something ready to give when an object of charity offers itself.

Jesus Christ had an eye on those who were giving. He sat near the treasury and watched the people cast money into it. Note: Our Lord Jesus takes notice of what we contribute for religious and charitable uses; whether we give liberally or sparingly; whether cheerfully or with reluctance. He looks at the heart; He knows our reasons for giving; whether we do it as unto the Lord, or only to be seen of men. Nothing escapes the notice of the God from whom no secrete is hid.

It seems reasonable to infer that after Jesus had delivered his fifth great discourse, The Seven Woes (Matthew 23), he would take a brief rest. It was during that rest that, looking up from the bench on which He was probably setting, he saw the rich dropping their gifts into the temple treasury.

He saw many that were rich cast in much. Note: Those that are rich ought to give richly. If God gives abundantly to us, he expects that we would give abundantly to the poor. It is wrong for those that are rich, to say, that they give more than others do, since the “others” may have much less to give than they have. Instead, they must give in proportion to their assets, and if objects of charity do not present themselves, they ought to seek them out.

42 Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans.
Paraphrase: Then a destitute widow came and tossed in two small brass coins, worth about one-fortieth of a penny.

Sitting in the women’s court where the offering receptacles were located, Jesus used one woman as an example. Widowhood was one of the most vulnerable positions of the time. This is confirmed by what Jesus said of the scribes, “who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation” (Mark 12:40). A widow had less capacity for earning than slaves; and unless she had family or friends to protect and help her, she was most likely penniless and perhaps even homeless, and reduced to begging. She was desperately poor and fit to be a recipient of charity than a donor. Unless she found someone to help her, she would most likely die.

This particular widow was down to her last two mites (worth a fraction of a penny), which was the smallest offering accepted. Since it was such a small amount and this was all she had, it is amazing that she did not keep one of the coins for herself. This poor widow stands in stark contrast to the scribes with their proud arrogance. This widow’s mite does not stand for the least we can give, but the most, our very all. When we sing, “Take my silver and my gold, not a mite will I withhold,” we are telling God that everything we have is His.

43 So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury;
Paraphrase: As soon as Jesus observed this poor widow’s faithfulness in giving all she had to the poor, He summoned His disciples, pointed her out, and then He said to them, “This poor widow has given more to the treasury than any of the others.”

It was an act deserving of praise, for this poor widow to sell their possessions in order that the needs of the poor might be met. One young man asked Jesus what he must do to be saved—“Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Mt. 19:21). The poor, indeed, give a perpetual opportunity to Christians to imitate their Master by doing good—“For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good…” (Mk. 14:7), and for those who actually do it, there is a sure reward at “the resurrection of the just.” Jesus said, “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, And you will be blessed because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Lk. 14:13-14).

The Lord values the gifts of the poor, however meager, and Christians are to treat them with respect even when they bring no gift at all—“For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts?” (James 2:2–6).

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