Monday, July 10, 2006

Let's Talk about Giving

Text: Mark 12:41–44
       Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.

        Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything--all she had to live on."

Introduction

This passage in the gospels commonly known as the “widow’s offering” illustrate the importance of giving. In the gospel of Mark, the account follows the account of Jesus teaching of the Great Commandment: love God and love your neighbours, answering the question about David’s son and the denouncing of the scribes. Jesus was using this incident to teach His disciples about true offering or giving to the Lord.

From the passage (v.41-44) we can derive 6 principles of giving.

1.     Our giving matters to God.

It is interesting to note that Jesus actually sat Himself opposite the treasury so that He can observe what each person is putting into the treasury as offerings to the Lord. This is an unusual place to sit and obviously Jesus wanted to teach His disciples an object lesson about offering.

The act of our giving matters to God. It is not because God needs our giving. Everything in the universe belongs to Him. It is the fact that we make the effort to give pleases Him and gives Him pleasure. The fact that we are obeying Him and giving to Him means that we are not so self centered.

There was a story about Abba Isaac. He was one of the Desert fathers in the desert of Egypt in the 2nd Century. In the desert, the nights are very cold and because of his frail condition, his followers gave him a piece of old blanket. Abba Isaac was pleased but he felt that Abba John needed the blanket more than him. So he gave it to Abba John. Abba John in turn felt that Abba Abraham needed the blanket more than him. So he gave it to Abba Abraham who in turn gave it to someone else. One day, someone presented Abba Isaac with the same blanket! I am sure God is pleased that His people are so concerned about each other and less about themselves. This is the basis of true giving. A love for God and a love for our neighbours.

Our giving does matter to God. God is observing us and watching to see how we are handling all the great blessings he has given us. God has blessed us with financial wealth, talents and gifts, skills and health. He is good to us. And He watches to see how we respond to this. Our giving does matter to God.

  1. The amount of our giving matters to God.

Where Jesus was sitting, He can see exactly what has been placed in the treasury as offerings. He saw the rich who deposited large amount of money but He was not impressed because they gave out of their abundance. God has blessed them but the amount they gave, even though it was much did not affect them at all. There was no prick of uneasiness, no hesitancy or worry about security. They gave out of their abundance. They have much more in reserve. Jesus was not impressed. Then along came a poor widow. She deposited her only two copper coins and Jesus was impressed. The widow did not have much and she gave it all to the Lord. The amount of our giving matters to God.

One of the spiritual lessons we learn as we deepen our spiritual walk with the Lord is that our detachment to worldly things and the need for security lessens. God becomes our all in all. I have a very good friend who is a Christian and a successful businessman. He built a very large furniture business. One day he suffered a heart attack. After he has recovered from his bypass surgery, he changed his lifestyle. He told me that he realized that a lot of things are not essential. He sold off his big bungalow and moved into a smaller house. He sold off his BMW and Mercedes and bought a smaller car. He adopted a simpler lifestyle so that he has more to give away. He found that as he deepens his prayer life and his relationship with God, he found that he needed less and less the false security of things. He became less attached to them. He found it is easier to give things away including large amount of money. The amount of money we can give away is inversely proportional to the depth of our spiritual life.


3.     The love for God makes giving a pleasure rather than a chore.

No one forced this widow to make this offering. It was completely voluntary. She wanted to give her everything. Even though it must have hurt, she must have felt joy. There was no compulsion.

Recently, the father of one of my friends passed away. He ran a mini market. With this business he has sent seven of his children for college education in the United States. They have all graduated and now hold responsible positions. To earn enough money, this man has literally worked himself to death. He refused to close the shop for holidays. His shop is open for business 24/7. When he was dying from cancer, his daughter asked him whether he regretted working hard. No, he said, He loved his children. He felt that his children are a great gift for him. Hence it was a joy to work for their future. What a powerful testimony of a father’s love.

God showed His love for us by giving us His Son. God has given us so much. Hence it should be a joy for us to give something back to Him. Giving should be joyful. Here is an opportunity to give something back to God who has given us so much. It should not be regarded as a duty. We should not be reluctant to give back to God.

If we are reluctant to give, then we should review our spiritual life. There must be some reason why we are unwilling to give.

4.     Anyone can give much.

Jesus teaches that generous giving can be given by anyone. He is not impressed by the amount but by the sacrifice in the giving. In God's sight, the poorest person in the world can be the most generous giver in the world!

There is a story about a village in the mountain in France during the German occupation in the Second World War. A woman from a rich noble family brought a bowl of porridge for a poor family in the village. The poor family received the porridge gratefully. It was a large family and the porridge would not be enough for all. The rich lady noticed that the poor woman was pouring some of the porridge into another small bowl. When asked why she did this, she said it is for her neighbours and their children who are also starving. Even the poorest and starving can give.

I am active in an online discussion group. Someone posted that he is earning $1,300 a month. After debt repayment and money for his parents, he has only $300 to live on for the whole month. “Does God expect him to give 10% or $130?” My response post was that God does not expect him to do that. I reminded him that giving is not only about money. We can give of our time, our skills, our talents and our commitments.

5.      The love for God will increase our desire to give more.

In the same post, I challenged his idea of tithing. Where do we get the idea that tithe is 10% of our earnings?
  • Gen.14:18-20 Abraham gave one tenth of the spoils of war to Melchizedek, the priest-king of Salem. The writer of Hebrews (Hebs.7:4, 9) implied that there is a priesthood greater than that of Aaron.

  • Gen. 28:22 Jacob promised to bring a tenth of his earning to God if he returns safely home.

  • Exodus require giving only first-fruits (23:16)

  • Tithes were given to Levites for their priestly service and they in turn are required to give one-tenth.(Num. 18:19-21,26)

  • If a person does not want to give a tenth of what he produced, he can give 120% of its value.

  • Tithes were required to be brought to the temple. If it is too far, can be sold and money brought to the temple.

  • Every third year, the tithe remains in the hometown and the tithe given to the Levite, widows, poor or aliens.

  • Withholding tithes is likened to robbing God (Mal.3:8-12)

  • How often do they pay their tithes? Once a year.

10% is a requirement under the Law. In fact, some people like the Pharisees do give more. But it does not apply to us because we are under the New Covenant- the Covenant of Grace. There is no requirement that we must give 10% of our income. This idea of 10% is a carry over from the Old Testament. In fact, I think this 10% level is bondage on our thinking. Most of us think that if we give 10%, we have done our duty and God is happy. I am not too sure of that. Instead of religiously checking our annual income and calculate 10%, why not give more? This year you give 10% of your income. Next year, maybe 15%, then 20% or more.

In the United States where 93 million people profess to be Christian, George Barna, A Christian pollster recorded that the average giving of a Christian is 3%! And I feel it is the same here. We are not even reaching the 10% mark.

6.     The Love for God may cause us to occasionally make an offering that is risky or impractical.

This woman gave everything she had to live on. This was not practical. If God did not provide for her in a special way, she would go hungry for a period of time. Yet I think that the widow is not stupid. She knew the risk, but she also knew her God. In all relationships, love and trust are completely intertwined. Love is trust, and trust is love. She loves her God and she trust in her God. God may provide for her needs for the next few days or she may starve. Either way, she love and trusted her God. That is the lesson Jesus would have us learn.

Francis of Assisi comes to mind when we talk of sacrificial giving. Son of a prosperous cloth, he had everything. Yet he gave away everything so that he can be free. He trusted the Lord to take care of him as He has taken care of the birds in the field and lilies in the valley. Anytime, a well wisher gave him something, he would give it away to the next beggar or poor man or woman he met.

Please note that sacrificial giving isn't something you have to do to be a Christian or to prove you love God or to gain God's favor. In fact, you do not have to give at all and God still loves you the same.

Rather, sacrificial giving is something you want to do. You see it as an opportunity to express your feelings for God. The giver trusts God with whatever God allows to happen.

Conclusion

The widow's relationship with God was based on trust and dependence, not her offering.
So it is with any of us. Our relationship with God is based not on what we give to God but on what he gives to us. The 6 principles of giving are:

  1. Our giving matters to God.

  2. The amount of our giving matters to God.

  3. The love for God makes giving a pleasure rather than a chore.

  4. Anyone can give much.

  5. The love for God will increase our desire to give more.

  6. The Love for God may cause us to occasionally will make an offering that is risky or impractical.

Let us rethink our giving to the Lord. It should be done with joy. It should also challenge us. Rethink the figure of 10%. Why not give more? Why not give until it hurts?

                                                                                                                     Soli Deo Gloria

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