The Only Gift of Value: Mark 12:41-44

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After being challenged by the religious leaders, asking His own question to stump them, and challenging both the leaders and the crowd listening in about what they should pay attention to and focus on, it appears that before Jesus left the temple that day, He decided to take a strategic break to teach the disciples an object lesson.

Both Mark and Luke include this short event, and when we look at what happened and compare it with what Jesus taught, we discover some amazing principles. Our passage is found in Mark’s gospel, chapter 12, and we will read it from the New Century Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 41, Mark tells us that:

41 Jesus sat near the Temple money box and watched the people put in their money. Many rich people gave large sums of money. 42 Then a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which were only worth a few cents.

43 Calling his followers to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow gave more than all those rich people. 44 They gave only what they did not need. This woman is very poor, but she gave all she had; she gave all she had to live on.”

In these four short verses, Jesus attempts to shifts the disciples’ focus. When reading about this shift, I first wonder how affected the disciples were at this. Some of the disciples probably remembered this teaching later and realized it to be profound, while others, probably most notably Judas Iscariot, probably discounted it based on a greedy spirit. Looking at the time frame of events, we know that Mary had already poured the perfume on Jesus at this point, and Judas had challenged the extraordinary nature of this gift. John describes Judas Iscariot as not being truly interested in the poor, but being greedy and generous towards himself with the bag of money he was entrusted to keep.

This short object lesson is powerful when we look closely at it. When we look at what this teaches about giving and generosity, I don’t believe for a moment that God is challenging His followers to give away all their money. If that were the focus of this lesson, Jesus would have told the disciples that they should give like this poor widow.

However, no such command is given.

Instead, this teaching focuses on God’s perspective regarding giving, and it shows us several interesting angles regarding giving from God’s perspective.

First, Jesus describes the widow’s gift as giving all she had to live on, in contrast to the others who “gave only what they did not need”. This first angle teaches us that when giving to God, we should give to God first. Some people describe this as returning God’s tithes as His portion of what He has blessed us with. The term tithe simply means “tenth”, and this is where we get the meaning that a tithe is ten percent of our income, but when we look at this passage, nothing here is described as tithe or offering.

Instead, this widow gave everything she had to God because she trusted that He would supply her with everything she needed. This widow’s gift demonstrates a complete dependence on God and 100% trust in Him.

Mixed within this first angle of giving, we see the widow giving her heart to God with her money and her trust. Including her heart with her gift made the widow’s gift infinitely more valuable than other givers who simply gave money from their excess, which also means that their gifts would not include their hearts. A gift that includes the giver’s heart is always more valuable than a gift without a heart included.

Another angle of giving we can see described here is a percentage based giving. It’s possible that God looks more at what percentage we give of our income or our net worth when He calculates the value of our gift. Jesus describes this widow as giving everything she had, which would be like saying she gave 100%, and this contrasts a much lower percentage in those who gave only what they did not need.

This second angle is perhaps the more popular one, however I don’t think it fits the way God values giving as well as the first angle we focused on.

A third angle of giving flips the second angle around. Instead of focusing on percentages of what is given, the third angle focuses on what we keep in contrast to what we gave. We can see this perspective in Jesus’ framing of the first group of givers. These people give what they don’t need, which means that they keep what they needed to live on first. These givers focus on what they will keep first, and then give from the rest.

To contrast this, the widow doesn’t focus on what she will keep and instead gives everything. She is commended on giving more because she has nothing left after she gave which clearly contrasts the other people who have more than enough to live on after they have finished giving.

From both the second and third angle, we discover that the widow probably would have given more than everyone else even if she had only given one coin. It’s unlikely the other givers were giving more than 50% of their earnings or wealth, and they clearly had more left over after their giving than a single copper coin.

However, if the widow had only given one copper coin, it’s likely she would have failed the first angle of giving. If the widow had kept one coin back, it’s likely that her gift would not have included her heart, and without her heart included, her gift wouldn’t have been as valuable.

From looking at these few short verses and the object lesson Jesus pulls from them, we discover the amazing truth that God doesn’t value the number of coins we give. Instead, God values the percentage of our gift, God values gifts where the giving is enough to affect our lives because we gave first and enough for our hearts to take notice, and God values gifts that are large enough that they include our hearts with them. Giving that includes our hearts makes our gifts valuable in God’s eyes!

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Always place God first and when giving gifts to Him, be sure to give in a way that includes your heart.

Also, be sure to pray and study the Bible for yourself. While a pastor, podcaster, or speaker can give you ideas to think about, only through personal prayer and Bible study can you grow a personal relationship – and when giving is involved, only through personal giving can you grow the spirit of generosity that will include your heart.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, chicken out of, or wander away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year of the Cross – Episode 14: While sitting in the temple watching people give their gifts, Jesus sees something that amazes Him, and He teaches the disciples how a small gift might actual be bigger than a large one.

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