“Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, ‘Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’” Luke 21:1-4
A couple of Sundays ago, our pastor, Mike Priest, was preaching in James 5. His sermon has kept coming back to my mind, particularly on one topic. In this chapter, James gives a strong warning to those who are rich. Who are the rich? Well, if you live in America, you are probably rich.
I realize that every person’s circumstance is different. There are poor that live among us. With the economy the way it is, many have also been impacted. Some people are out of work. For others, financial obligations are pressing in hard. But how we respond to these situations demonstrate key aspects of our view of God and our relationship to Him.
For instance, take the widow in the passage in Luke. She probably had no source of income and, therefore, did not have any additional resources coming her way. This is indicated in Jesus statement that she gave “all she had to live on.” Why would someone do that? That seems crazy. That would be like me receiving my paycheck and, knowing that I had groceries to buy and bills to pay, giving all of it as an offering. What would I live on? Well, this is what the widow in the temple did, except without the promise of a future paycheck, like I have.
It is impossible to really know what the widow was thinking, but I think it is clear, since Jesus held her up as an example, that she probably had a deep faith in God. She trusted Him for her present and for her future. When she dropped those coins into the container, she knew that she had no resources left except God. She had probably been in this situation before, and God always came through. Her giving was worship because she was trusting in God alone. Her life reflected Jesus teaching on trusting God for our provision (Matthew 6:25-34).
It is difficult to be rich. The tentacles of prosperity weave their way into the very fabric of our heart and lives. It alters the way we think and the decisions we make. It changes our priorities. We trust in money’s ability to provide for us, both now and in the future. In reality, money becomes our god. That is why James warning is so strong. It is a warning against idolatry. That is why Jesus spoke of money so often and why He warned against storing up treasures on earth (Matthew 6:19-24). We cannot trust (or serve) both God and money.
In Pastor Mike’s message, he said that if our lives are caught up in materialism and the things of this world, there is reason to question whether we are truly followers of Christ. I think this is clear from James 5, the teachings of Jesus, and Scripture as a whole. If I cannot let go of temporary things such as money, possessions, and entertainment, then that is an indicator of the condition of my heart. Or, to put it another way, if this topic is irritating you, that may be another indication that your heart is not right with God.
Pastor Mike went on to say that, as a Christian, it is never okay to live the kind of lifestyle that we are capable of living, no matter how much we make. If we are not giving in a way that impacts the way we live, then, it is safe to say, that we are not giving enough. Our giving is not worship and we are not trusting God for our provision.
God is a giver. He is a sacrificial giver. Jesus Christ gave everything. He gave up the riches of heaven and took upon Himself our poverty to make us rich. He took upon Himself our sin so that He could give us His righteousness. He sacrificed to make us rich in the things above, the things of heaven, not the things of earth. As followers of Christ, our lives should reflect our Master. If He is a giver, our lives should reflect giving hearts.
There is often a lot of discussion around giving in the modern church. What is the amount we are supposed to give? Are we supposed to tithe? Do we give before or after taxes? In the Old Testament, Israel had tithes and other special offerings. Some people will say that tithing does not apply to the New Testament church. As for me, I do not focus on tithing, except as a place to begin. Tithing can become a legalistic practice, which can lead me to believe that I have fulfilled my obligation to God by giving Him 10% of my income. When Jesus mentions the tithe, He condemns the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. He says that they should have done these things (tithing), but at the same time, not neglected justice and the love of God (Luke 11:42-44; Matthew 23:23-24).
That is why I think tithing should be a standard only as it serves as a place to begin. I know there are those who will disagree with me. In the end, everyone needs to give how God leads them to give (2 Corinthians 9:7). However, when we get in extensive debates about how much we should give, I think it is very possible that we are just looking for justifications to not give as much. I think that New Testament giving goes far beyond tithing. There are numerous examples of believers selling possessions and even giving out of their extreme poverty in order to give to the work of the gospel and help those in need. The apostle Paul singles out the Macedonians, as example of to the Corinthian church, for their sacrificial giving, even though they were in need themselves (2 Corinthians 8:1-15).
As followers of Christ, our giving behavior should not be rational. It should be radical. It should reveal a radical trust in God for our provision. It should reveal hearts that delight in Christ and building His kingdom. It should reflect an attitude of not seeking treasure or reward in this life, but the desire to build up treasure in heaven, where no earthly person, thing, or circumstance can ever destroy it or take it away.
Giving is worship when it reflects the heart of the God we worship. It is worship when it demonstrates that we are trusting in God, not money or possessions. Giving is worship when I delight to be a part of what God is doing to build His kingdom, and not think of what else I could have done with the money. It is worship when I know that my gift will impact my life and my future, and that I need to trust God because only He can make up the difference. I pray that our lives will reflect our God, the true giver, Who has given us all things in Jesus Christ.
Together for His glory…