Lessons from a Certain Poor Widow
“And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.” (Mark 12:41-44)
Why do you go to work every day? What is your purpose in working? It does not matter what kind of work you do. We live in a society that honors and praises professionals, whose jobs require a college education. Doctors, lawyers, politicians and executives are usually the people who have influence in society, before whom others bow and scrape like groveling dogs. What a pity!
It is altogether proper that we give honor to whom honor is due; but we ought never to look upon one person with contempt and another with adulation, simply because of their different social status. It does not matter in the least where you work, or what kind of work you do. All honest labor is honorable labor. I do not care whether you work for minimum wages by the hour or whether you make a million dollars a week. If your labor is honest labor, it is honorable labor.
Motives for Work
My question has nothing to do with the kind of work you do. I want you to consider only one thing: — Why do you do it? What is your reason for working? In the Word of God, I find three things, and only three things, which should motivate believers in their labor. These three motives are very clear. There is nothing profound or mysterious about them. I hope you will be surprised by the fact that among these three motives for working, and working hard, there is not a word written about gaining riches, getting more stuff, or increasing our social rank. Are you interested in Bible motives for work? Here they are.
If we belong to Christ, if we are his servants, we ought to make the business of giving, open handed, open hearted, generous giving, a high priority in our lives. There are many, many great examples of this kind of giving in the Word of God (2 Samuel 24:24; Mark 14:3-9; 2 Corinthians 8 and 9; Philippians 4:15-19). I urge you to read those passages carefully before proceeding.
There are few events in the earthly life of Christ more commonly overlooked than the giving of this poor widow, described in Mark 12:41-44, and our Redeemer’s commendation of it. Few of the words of the Son of God are more commonly unnoticed than these.
Our Lord Jesus saw “many that were rich cast in much.” Without question, those who have more should give more. That is seldom the case; but it should be. Usually, the wealthiest people really give the least. And when they do give a little something somewhere, they have lots of strings attached and a bag of instructions!
Then, our Master spotted “a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.” I call your attention to four things in this story. May God the Holy Spirit graciously and effectually teach us the things here revealed in his Word.
“And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.” — The first thing evident in this passage is the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is no indication that our Master was informed by anyone about the wealth of the rich or the poverty of this woman. Yet, he who is the omniscient God knew everything about everyone before him. He knew how much each possessed, how much each gave, why they gave it and what the circumstances of their lives were. I stress this fact because I want us ever to remember that he who gave his all to redeem and save us is himself the almighty, omniscient God. He who is God gave himself for us!
“For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8).
That Man who loved us and gave himself for us is himself our God. — “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift!”
“He beheld how the people cast money into the treasury.” He did not merely observe the fact that they gave, he observed “how” they gave. He observed what they gave and why they gave it. We should ever be aware of this fact. Our God observes all things. He looks beyond what we do and observes why we do it. All things are naked and open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do. He weighs not what we give, but how we give.
“And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing” (vv. 41-42).
There are many in this world who are rich, very rich in material things, even rich in religious tradition, ceremony and activity, who are poor, utterly destitute before God. And there are many very poor people in this world who are rich, indescribably and eternally rich toward God, rich in Christ.
Learn what that means. Riches, luxury, ease of life and earthly exaltation are no indication of God’s favor; and poverty, afflictions and earthly sorrows are no indication of God’s disfavor (Psalm 73). Those who have Christ have all; and those who are without Christ have nothing. Without Christ, they are without God, without promise, without grace, without mercy, without hope!
In the temple worship of the Old Testament, in addition to the tithe required by the law, those who were so inclined brought their voluntary gifts (freewill offerings) and put them in an offering box, here called the treasury. These offerings were used in the maintenance of the temple and God’s appointed priests, and to supply the priests with those things necessary for the service of the temple and the worship of God. Though the worship of God had degenerated to nothing but religious ritualism, during the days of our Lord’s earthly ministry, it was customary for people, when they entered the temple, to put some money in the box. Many, we are told, who were rich cast in much. But our Savior calls our attention to a certain, poor widow. She had only two mites to her name. And those two mites is what she put into the collection box.
“And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living” (vv. 43-44).
Anyone who observed such an act as this, were this story not recorded upon the pages of Inspiration, would declare that it was an inexcusable act of misplaced zeal. It would be condemned by all as an unnecessary, useless act of presumption. It would appear that her gift was unnecessary, because God did not require it. It might be thought useless, because her two mites were materially insignificant. It might be considered presumptuous, because, when she had given all she had, she had not exercised any wisdom or prudence with regard to her future needs. But the Son of God not only approved of what she did, he called his disciples’ attention to her gift, and said, “Men, this is what the Bible calls giving!”
Though she gave only two mites, our Savior commends her gift as something both great and good. It was a great act, because it involved great sacrifice. And it was a good gift, because she gave as unto the Lord, for the glory of God, to the utmost stretch of her ability.
This poor woman’s gift in itself was small, insignificant, even contemptible in the eyes of men; but it was highly valued and esteemed by the Son of God! All that was given by the wealthy was given out of their abundance. It was just the overflow, the excess, what they had left over after buying all they wanted, throwing away all they wanted and saving all they wanted. They gave a portion, but only a portion of what they had. She gave all. They gave out of their wealth. She gave out of her poverty. They gave and had much remaining. She gave everything she had, all her daily sustenance. As John Gill observed…
“She did cast in all that she had, even all her living; her whole substance, all that she had in the world; what was to have bought her food, for that day. She left herself nothing, but gave away all, and trusted to providence for immediate supply.”
They gave out of a sense of duty. She gave because she wanted to give. They gave to be seen of men. She gave because she loved the Lord. They gave to get glory to themselves. She gave to the glory of God. They gave what they did not need. She gave what she very much needed. They gave their spare change. She gave everything. I have heard men and women speak with a pretended modesty of giving their “two mites;” but we have not given our “two mites” until, like this blessed woman, we have given our all.
We find the lesson of this story in 2 Corinthians 9:7. — “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.” God loves a cheerful giver.
Such giving as that which this poor widow exemplified arises from love, not law. Believers give, not by legal constraint, but by grace, not by force of law, but by the force of gratitude. Believers understand what the world can never understand. Why do believers give as they do? Because we recognize that Christ gave his all for us, and we understand that everything we have has been given to us (1 Corinthians 4:7). Believers love Christ, his gospel, and his people. Believers understand that it really is more blessed to give than to receive.
There is an abundance of instruction in the New Testament about Christian giving. All of 1st Corinthians 9, 2nd Corinthians 8, and 2nd Corinthians 9 are taken up with this subject. But there are no commands to the people of God anywhere in the New Testament about how much we are to give, when we are to give, or where we are to give. Tithing and all systems like it are things altogether foreign to the New Testament. Like all other acts of worship, giving is an act of grace. It must be free and voluntary. But there are some plain, simple guidelines laid down in the New Testament for us to follow.
1. Christian giving must be motivated by love and gratitude towards Christ (2 Corinthians 8:8-9). Love needs no law. It is a law unto itself. It is the most powerful and most generous of all motives.
2. Our gifts must arise from willing hearts (2 Corinthians 8:12). If that which we give arises from a willing heart, if it is given freely and cheerfully, it is accepted of God. The Lord is not concerned with the amount of our gifts, be it great or small; he looks to the motive behind them.
3. We should give to the work of the gospel in proportion to our blessings from the Lord (1 Corinthians 16:2). We are expected to give generously in accordance with our own ability.
4. All of God’s people should give (“everyone,” 1 Corinthians 16:2; “every man,” 2 Corinthians 9:7). Men and women, rich and poor, old and young — all who are saved by the grace of God are expected to give for the support of God’s church and kingdom.
5. We should be both liberal and sacrificial in our giving (2 Corinthians 9:5-6). We have not really given anything until we have taken that which we need, want and have use for and given it to the Lord.
6. Our gifts must be voluntary (2 Corinthians 9:7).
7. We are to give as unto the Lord (Matthew 6:1-5). We give, not to be seen of men, but for the honor of Christ, hoping for nothing in return.
8. This kind of giving is well-pleasing to God (Philippians 4:18; Hebrews 13:16).
This is the teaching of the New Testament about the matter of giving. First, give yourself to Christ. Give purposefully, in proportion as the Lord has prospered you. Give secretly, unto the Lord. Give cheerfully, with “a willing mind.” Give generously. Give regularly. And give for the glory of God, as unto the Lord. “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him.” As every ransomed sinner does so, every need of God’s church will be supplied by the free generosity of his people.
“What have we to cast into the Lord’s treasury?” Robert Hawker asked. Then he wrote, “Indeed, and in truth, nothing but what we have first received. We have two mites: soul and body; and these are both the Lord’s: Oh, for grace to give both these; and Jesus looking on; Jesus disposing to the act, and Jesus accepting all to his glory (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).”
“Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). It really is! May God the Holy Spirit graciously teach us all to abound in this grace also, for Christ’s sake.
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 The fact of Christ’s divinity assures us of the certain efficacy of his work. If he is God, he cannot fail. If he can fail, for any reason, to accomplish what he desires or tries to accomplish, then he is not God!