Sunday, August 18, 2019

THE WIDOW'S MITE - (It's not about the money)

I take this reading from Mark 12:41-44 (NAS). 

He (Jesus) sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the multitude were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums.  And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent.

And calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.”

This is all that we know about this woman. We know nothing about her background or situation, only that she was poor and that she was a widow. The only reason that two gospel writers, Mark and Luke (chapter 21), tell her story is because of this single act of hers and what Jesus said about her.

Usually when we read her story and when we hear a sermon on it, the focus is on sacrificial giving and how this poor widow believed so much in the work of the temple that her contributions went beyond merely giving out of her surplus. This is what most of the people were doing. The widow however, put in all that she owned.

But I do think that her sacrificial giving is actually the main point of the story. It is true that it is important, but I have often thought specifically about the fact that Jesus said that she put in “more” than all the contributors to the treasury, despite the fact that her amount was very small.

We may not have put it in the same way. We may have said that her devotion or her commitment was greater, since she gave all that she had. We may have said that her personal sacrifice was much greater than all the rest. However, we would say that the reality remained that the actual monetary amount of her contribution was very small—only about a penny.

But that is not what Jesus said. He called the amount of the contribution more. It was not only that it was the greater percentage of what she had, but Jesus also quantified it in comparison with the rest. He said that she had put in “more” than had all the contributors. This leads me to understand that the economy of God is different from what we see in the world today. 

Two Economies

When we are raising funds in the economy of the world today, we are given a dollar amount that must be gathered before the work can begin. If a company is undergoing an expansion for instance, and needs to build a new office or a factory building, one of the first steps is to hire an architect to come up with the plans. Once the plans are in place, the company works with contractors to make cost estimates, so that they know the total cost of the project. This is the money that they must raise in one way or another to complete the project.

It all makes sense, does it not? In a very similar way, we all go through the same steps in building a house or in making any large purchase. We look at the total cost, and then work to secure that much money so that we can buy it.

It is even that way in Christian work. All of us from time to time receive appeals for funds from someone to do one type of project or another. Many of these projects are indeed very good. The approach is usually the same. We are told the total amount that is needed and how much the project or work already has secured. It is most often that way when a church is going through a building project.

We should be able to relate to that quite well in our church. We are not looking to build a new church, but simply to preserve what we have. Our circumstances are unique. We have an historic building that is in need of some serious and quite costly maintenance. However, we are a small group of people without much to work with.

We do have a renovation fund, but as I told you shortly after I began here, it is not my way to start a big campaign to raise money for the fund. I will never make a big thermometer out of construction paper with the “goal” amount of money on the top and a red band going up the thermometer to show how far we have come.

And yet, see how far we have come in the past couple of years. I will not enumerate all that has been accomplished, but several aspects of our building and grounds have been transformed, and many of the historical aspects of the building preserved. Some of this we can see, but some of the most important work is unseen. It has all provided preservation for our historical building.

In relation to funding Christian works, I of course must also relate the latest work that the Lord has given to me and which, in fact, grew out of our own Log Church. This is The Log Church and Orphanage of Kisii, Kenya. The needs there are very great, and unlike doing a maintenance project on our church building, the need for funding does not go away. The orphans need to eat every day. School fees come again every term. Clothes wear out; shoes wear out.

Even though the needs are great, we have not made passionate appeals for funding. It is not that I am reticent about telling of the needs. I tell the story of the orphanage. But I would rather have God be the one who puts it in the hearts of his people to give. I would rather tell about how God is blessing.

And God has spoken to people. Through what the Lord has done, we have been able to help out in very significant ways. God has put it in the hearts of people to help. What we have been able to send falls far short of the entire needs of the orphanage, and there are still days of hunger and struggle.

And yet, for the past more than two years, there are 42 Kenyan children from the Kisii tribe who have been clothed, who on most days have eaten, and who have even been able to attend school. These are 42 children who would have by now otherwise been dead, or who would have been abandoned to survive on the streets by living off rubbish heaps, by theft or by sex trafficking.

It is true that it costs a lot of money to run an orphanage. Whatever work we do in this world costs money. And, in the economy of the world, that is where we would put our attention—on the money that is needed. However, it is interesting to me that this is not true to the same extent in the economy of God. This is the lesson of the widow with two coins. In the economy of God, the focus is not on the money, but on the person.

Let me share another personal experience to explain what I mean. 

God’s Economics 101

When Vivian and I were first going to Venezuela, we were going there under the auspices of a large mission organization. This organization understood very well the expected cost of the job that we were to do there. They had calculated not only our work expenses and daily living expense, but also the cost of visas, travel, medical, work expenses…and the list goes on. The total amount was the number of dollars that we were expected to raise in order to leave for Venezuela.

From the very beginning of this task of raising this money, I had to admit to some ambivalent thoughts about it. On the one hand, I knew that there were actual dollar costs for the mission that must be met. But on the other hand, it bothered me that the work of the Lord should be tied so closely to a dollar amount, as if we were purchasing an automobile.

At that time, the story of the widow’s mite taught me a great lesson. The widow with the two small copper coins wanted to contribute to something that she believed to be important and very worthwhile. So important was this to her that, according to the words of Jesus, she gave “all that she owned, all that she had to live on.”

Also according to the words of Jesus, this small amount, which amounted to a penny, was “more than all the contributors to the treasury.” Her two copper half-pennies had more value than all the perhaps hundreds of other dollars that was also in the collection box that day!

Such is the economy of heaven, and so it was that when we began to raise money for our mission work, I came to realize that the dollar amount was not the principle goal. It remained true that our work cost actual legal tender that, if we did not have, we would not be able to proceed. However, in God’s economy, the amount of money needed is almost incidental. The most important aspect of giving is not the gift or the amount of the gift. The most important aspect is the giver.
God's economy is not an economy built of dollars and cents. Interest rates and stock market movements do not affect it. God's economy is an economy built on Jesus Christ, and its currency, the assets that make it work, are the people whom he has called.

This was a revolutionary thought to me. We all have seen posters of fund-raising campaigns that feature those large pictures of the aforementioned thermometer with increments of dollar amounts—the top amount being the goal. As the campaign progresses, we watch the red of the thermometer climb slowly higher and higher. All eyes are set on the quantity of dollars needed. 

The Lesson of the Widow

But this is not the economy of heaven. In the economy of heaven, eyes are set not principally on the amount of money, but on the people. We are not looking to the gift as the blessing, but instead it is the one who gives who is the blessing.

When we think about this in terms of eternity, this should not be surprising to us. After all, it is only the giver who has lasting value. The money is temporal, but the giver will endure forever.

This is what this widow taught me, and so it was when Vivian and I began our “deputation work,” as it is called, we decided that instead of our goal being to try and “raise the funds,” as we were told to do, we would instead see what we could do to bring blessing and encouragement to the churches that we visited. To the best of our ability, we tried to put our attention on the people of the churches, not on our own need.

The result of what we had learned from the widow’s mite was that we enjoyed our time of visiting churches talking about the work we were to enter. We enjoyed it because as much as we were able to maintain our focus, we had as our main objective to bring encouragement to the people of the churches in any way that we were able. We tried to learn of their needs as well, and we tried to get to know them.

We were, of course, also conscious of the financial requirements put onto us in order to be able to leave for Venezuela. Nevertheless, I also came to realize that the quantity of the gift was more dependent upon the quality of the giver than was the actual dollar amount. It was in the giver that we saw the true blessing of the Lord, not in the money that we raised. 

Economic Lessons to the Churches

The apostle Paul was once instructing one of the churches that he started about the principle of contributing. Like the lesson of the widow, he tried to explain to the people that it is not the best to be focused so much on the amount needed. He does not mention any percentage of wealth in giving or anything such as that. However, he does say “If the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have” (2 Corinthians 8:12).

And he also says, “He who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully.”

Our giving should is not to be motivated by coercion, but by what God has told each one of us that we should do. Then we are to give “cheerfully,” for this is what God loves (2 Corinthians 9:6, 7).

What is the reaping that he is talking about? What should we expect to harvest? If you listen to many televangelists (as they are called), what you should expect is even greater riches for yourself. If you send “his ministry” (in other words, send to him) a hundred dollars, he tells you that, “God will reward you ten-fold. You will receive one thousand dollars! Praise the Lord!”

Is this what Paul is talking about? Truthfully, God does supply our needs. Paul wrote to another church, “My God shall supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory” (Philippians 4:19). This is a promise that we have. But Paul is not telling us to give with a motivation to become wealthy or in order to personally benefit in any way. Again, if our focus is on the amounts of money, then our focus is misplaced. We must put our attention onto the people. The people are what will endure. Money burns pretty easily, and it will all eventually burn.

In the same passage that Paul talks about sowing bountifully and reaping bountifully (2 Corinthians 9:6-15), he also does talk about becoming rich, but listen to the type of riches that he mentions:

“God is able to make all grace abound to you.”
“You may abound in every good work.”
“He will … increase the harvest of your righteousness.”
“You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.” 

The Rich Widow

We are not told what later happened to the poor widow who put her two-half pennies into the collection, but something tells me that she did not later become a wealthy woman, at least wealthy in terms of this world. Nevertheless, I also say with great confidence that I believe that God supplied the needs of this widow.

However, I would guess that the widow did become rich in the ways that truly mattered. She was enriched with the grace of God, with greater faith, with generosity and with thanksgiving. As Paul instructed his young protégé Timothy to teach the people, “Tell them to be rich in good works” (2 Timothy 6:18).

The act of the exchange of money is almost incidental. In fact I will say that it is incidental. The widow’s gift of two half-pennies was greater than the combined gifts of all who gave that day. 

Increase in Riches

And what of the ministry needs that come our way, such as those of our church or those of our orphanage in Kenya? We probably all have different perspectives on this, but I could tell you personal stories from my past where I was confronted with large monetary obstacles in ministry that I had no way to overcome. Nevertheless, somehow these works were able to be completed. Sometimes I could see how it happened. Sometimes I saw funds suddenly come in for it at just the right moment. It was nice to see that in those times.

But do you know what was even better? Sometimes I had no idea how God had supplied the money. I even did the math to try to reconcile the income with the expenses, and they did not add up! I am not a math major, but I think that I can add and subtract, and according to my calculations, more money had gone out than had come in.

My only explanation was like the multiplication of the bread and the fish at the feeding of the 5000, God had multiplied my funds.

So instead of making a thermometer to show how our reconstruction funds are reaching our goal, perhaps we should each see within ourselves if we can grow in our own walk with God. We love our little log church building, and it is an historical church. We should try to preserve and maintain it. But in the end, it will not last. It is a structure that is bound by time.

But you are not. You have been made by God to last for eternity. You will endure. Does it not make more sense to put effort into our own lives so that there will be an increase in the harvest of our righteousness? This is where our wealth truly lies.

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