Who is the most generous person in the world? To date, according to Forbes, Bill Gates gave $28 billion with a net worth of $66 billion. Warren Buffet gave $17.25 billion with a net worth of $46 billion. George Soros gave $8.5 billion with a net worth of $19 billion. Gordon Moore gave $5 billion with a net worth of $4.8 billion. Carlos Slim Helu gave $4 billion with a net worth of $69 billion.
Who is the most generous person at our church? To date, according to our financial secretary…Just kidding!
Who is the most generous person Jesus encountered? Would he rank Warren Buffet, Bill and Melinda Gates, and Carlos Slim Helu among them? You? Me?
The fact is, in Jesus’ way of thinking, the most generous are often those whose names don’t make headlines. In most cases, their identities never will be known on this side of eternity. They are the most unsuspecting and unlikely people. What impresses Jesus is not what one gives, but what one keeps after having given. He measures the magnitude of our generosity by what we have remaining. Here’s the principle: Generosity is not determined by the size of the gift but by the size of the sacrifice.
Case in point was a lady Jesus encountered at the temple courts. Jesus sat down in the outer courtyard between the Court of the Gentiles and the Court of the Women. No doubt feeling frustrated and fatigued after being questioned in heated debate with the religious leaders of His day, He came to rest, sitting opposite the place where the offerings were given.
The walls of the courtyard were lined with receptacles to receive offerings of the people. Thirteen trumpet-looking chests were labeled for the specific purpose for which the money was to be given: some for the poor, some for temple sacrifices, etc. It was completely voluntary, recognizing God’s ownership and their stewardship.
Jesus was people watching. He observed the crowd putting money in the treasury. The Warren Buffets and Bill and Melinda Gates of his day put in large sums of cash. In the world’s eyes, it was impressive, the kind that gets you a plaque on the wall or your name on a building. Then along came a poor person, a widow. She was a pauper. Her income was insufficient to meet her needs. She was living in abject poverty with little to no hope for a major reversal in her economic state. No government program or social ministry would bale her out of her pitiful state. No easy employment existed for some quick cash. She was destitute.
Let stop here for just a moment and paint a hypothetical scenario: Let’s suppose an elderly woman whose husband died a few years ago asks for your advice. She says, “I’m down to my last $2. I have no more money. The cupboards are bare. This $2 is all I have to live on, yet I feel as if God wants me to put them in the offering. What do you think?”
What would you tell her?
Likely you would say something such as, “That’s very generous of you, but God gave you common sense. He knows your heart—that you want to give—but He wants you to take care of yourself. He knows you need to eat. I’m sure God would have you keep your $2 and buy food for tomorrow. He wants your needs to be met. You can’t expect Him to send down food from heaven if you give up the little money He’s already provided, can you? God wants you to do the sensible thing.”
Let’s pick up the story of the poor widow at the temple. All she had were two very small copper coins; combined they would be worth about one-fourth of a cent. In our day, we walk over pennies on the ground, thinking they’re not worth the effort or time to reach down and pick them up. This woman gave less than a penny. It was all she had. She probably went hungry that night because of her gift.
In contrast to our counsel to the elderly lady wanting to give her last $2, Jesus did not question the poor widow’s wisdom or her actions. He did not say she should be more reasonable and sensible. Instead, He called His disciples together. This was a teachable moment.
He gave her a commendation: “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” (Mark 12:43-44, NIV).
Jesus’ statement revealed that our beliefs about money are not only radically different from God’s but diametrically opposed to them. The rich had given out of their abundance, but the poor widow gave all that she had. The rich had made a big contribution while the poor woman had made a big sacrifice. Jesus gave greater respect and honor to a lowly woman who gave very little by earthly standards than the high and mighty people giving large sums. Never devalue your gift, however small it is. Remember that in Jesus’ eyes, generosity is not determined by the size of the gift but by the size of the sacrifice.
Notice a few things from this passage.
First, Jesus watches what we do. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus was watching this woman? “Jesus…watched the crowd” (Mark 12:41, NIV). The word watched means to look with a discerning eye. It describes a deep, penetrating gaze that goes beyond just seeing the amount of money that a person gives, but also sees the motive.
Jesus is watching. Think about that. Jesus sees everything we do. We may be able to fool some people some of the time, but we never can fool Jesus.
We have a saying in our culture, “When the cat’s away the mice will play.” We usually use that statement regarding employees slacking off when their bosses are out of the office, of students looking at a fellow classmate’s paper during a test when the teacher is out of the classroom, or players not running full speed when coaches are looking the other way. Wouldn’t you agree that when the person in authority keeps watch over those under his charge they are more apt to do what is expected and required?Jesus is watching. What does He see when you give? Does it make Him take notice, or does it cause Him to wince? Just as we play for an audience of One and worship an audience of One, we give to an audience of One. Honor Him with your giving.
Second, Jesus knows the amount. Jesus knew that the rich gave out of their abundance, money they did not need, from their leftovers. The widow gave out of her poverty. She gave all she had. She sacrificed her livelihood. The rich made a contribution. The woman made a sacrifice. She committed her very livelihood in trust to God. It wasn’t the size of her gift that stood out, but her sacrifice. It wasn’t the amount of her gift as much as the cost to her.
In our day, we would say the rich gave what they could spare. In other words, after they paid the bills, put some in savings, and spent some on themselves, then they gave. It came from their discretionary income. Her gift, on the other hand, had a kind of recklessness to it. She was willing to forgo security, pleasure, safety to give.
Today in our church culture, when it comes to giving, we have a Don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy. Jesus seemed to turn that on its head, didn’t He? My guess is that we don’t want others to ask, and we don’t want to tell what we give because we would be embarrassed. What if we all brought to church our 1040s, W-2s and Schedule A forms? What if we had a testimonial period, a sharing time, and announced God’s financial blessings as reported on Line 7 of the 1040 form, as well as our response to our blessing by the amount we gave to charity on Schedule A, line 19. Do you think the bringing-the-tax-forms-to-church Sunday would be a high attendance day at church?
Here’s my point: We don’t want others to know, but Jesus knows. We don’t want others to see, but Jesus sees. Jesus saw what the poor woman gave and knew that she gave sacrificially in comparison to the rich folks. Then Jesus did something of which we all should be mindful.
Third, Jesus elevated the woman. Jesus called His disciples together. He told them what He had just witnessed. He, in my opinion, was saying to them, “Do that! That’s how I want you to live. That’s how I want you to give.” He raised her up as an example to follow. He put her on a pedestal for others to emulate. He enshrined her for all ages in the Bible so that future generations might emulate her faith and sacrificial generosity.
This woman, who only gave a quarter of a penny, is the model, the pattern, of generosity for which Christianity is to be built. We are to emulate not the amount but the sacrifice. Remember, generosity is not determined by the size of the gift but by the size of the sacrifice. It’s not what she gave, but what she had left. Christianity has endured for centuries because men and women have followed this woman’s example.
What are the takeaways from this story? What is Jesus trying to teach us?
First, leave a legacy not just an inheritance. People are good about giving an inheritance when they die. (They will give it all then.) Why not begin that practice while you are alive?
What do you want to leave behind? The story of the poor widow teaches me that while leaving behind stuff is fine, well and good, leaving behind a legacy of giving is better. This poor widow left more than two coins in the receptacle—she left a legacy of giving.
Second, be a giver, not just a taker. People always are taking from God: His time, His power, His protection, His guidance, His grace, His peace, His mercy, His forgiveness. Why not give to God? He did, after all, give everything for you.
It would have been so easy for this woman to have lived a life as a taker—to be the one seeking money from churches, visiting the food pantry, showing up at the clothes closet—but she wasn’t. She was not a taker; she was a giver.
Like the poor widow, only in giving our lives away will we make lasting contributions. God wired the universe so we don’t find significance or happiness in getting. We find significance—and happiness comes as a by-product—when we give away ourselves.
Third, make a difference, not just a living. People make a living by what they earn. People make a difference by what they give. How will you make a difference?
I can imagine the impact the poor widow’s gift had on eternity. It started a chain reaction of generosity that continues to this day. Because she gave, the cause of Christianity continues to impact the world. From the vantage point of eternity, she made a powerful difference.
Two well-to-do Christians, a lawyer and a businessman, joined a tour that was going around the world. In Korea one day, they saw a field by the side of the road. In the field, a boy pulled a crude plow, while an old man held the plow handles and directed it through the rice paddy. The lawyer was amused and took a picture of the scene. “That’s a curious sight,” he said to the missionary, who was the interpreter and guide. “Yes,” was the reply, “that is the family of Chi Noui. When the church building was built, they were eager to give something, but they had no money, so they sold the only ox they had and gave the money to the church. This spring, they are pulling the plow themselves.”
The lawyer and the businessman were silent for a few moments, then the businessman said, “That must have been a real sacrifice.”
“They did not call it that,” said the missionary. “They thought it was fortunate they had an ox to sell.”
The two tourists did not have much to say after that, but when they reached home, the lawyer took the picture to his minister and told him of the incident. “I want to double my offering to the church,” he said, “and give me some plow work to do. I never have known what sacrifice for the Lord really means. I am ashamed to say I never have given anything to the Lord that really cost me something.”
The most generous in God’s viewpoint are not the Warren Buffets and the Bill and Melinda Gates, but the people such as the poor widow and the family of Chi Noui. The most generous are not determined by how much they give, but what’s left after they give, not by the size of the gift but the size of the sacrifice.
What will be left after you give? What will be the size of your sacrifice?
Rick Ezell is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Greer, South Carolina.