The Gospels
Comments 21

Encounters with Jesus: The Widow’s Mite… “Only Faith will enable us to give until we have nothing left.”

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Mark 12:41-44
41And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. 42And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. 43And 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: 44For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.

NOTES

  1. It’s not the size of our gift; it’s the size of our faith.
  2. It’s not how much we GIVE; it’s how much we KEEP

CHORDS

Jesus observes a poor widow putting money into the temple treasury and uses the opportunity to teach his disciples, and us, God’s perspective on giving. Jesus shows us that instead of how much we give, God looks at (a) the circumstances in which we give and (b) how much we keep for ourselves.

Riches profit not in the day of wrath: but righteousness delivereth from death. (Proverbs 11:4)

In teaching His disciples, Jesus first focused on the person giving, rather than the gift given (vs. 43). The gift giver was a poor widow. The significance of this would not be lost on the disciples, because most widows in those days were greatly disadvantaged.

“Under the Mosaic dispensation no legal provision was made for the maintenance of widows. They were left dependent partly on the affection of relations, more especially of the eldest son, whose birthright, or extra share of the property, imposed such a duty upon him…” (Smiths Bible Dictionary)

“…The loss of a husband in ancient Israel was normally a social and economic tragedy. In a generally patriarchal culture, the death of a husband usually meant a type of cultural death as well… Her crisis was aggravated if she had no able-bodied children to help her work the land of her dead spouse. To provide for her children, to maintain the estate, and to continue payments on debts accrued by her husband imposed severe burdens. Since she was in an extremely vulnerable economic position, she became the prime target of exploitation. The fact that she was classed with the landless stranger and Levite indicates that she was often unable to keep her husband’s land.” (Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary)

Jesus wanted them to realize was that the poor widow’s gift was a great value, because she gave even though she was in need herself. Paul echoes this principle in when he praised the generosity of the Macedonian churches, which though poor gave liberally.

“Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves; Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.” ~ 2 Corinthians 8:1-4

Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. (Luke 6:30)

The message to us is that we are never too poor to give. We are never too impoverished to help someone else. Even if, like another famous widow (1 Kings 17: 9-16), we have one morsel of food left to eat, we still can share.

The truth is that most of us will never face such dire need, though many of us do face financial difficulties of varying degree. But, the challenge is: Do we look at our circumstances and think we should give more or give less? When economic pressures threaten to smother us, do we close the purses/wallets tighter or do we open them wider?

Jesus, through the example of the poor widow, dares us to give. Give even when it hurts. It’s when we can least “afford” to give that God values our gift the most.

Everyone else (rich, poor and in-between), Jesus tells us, gave out of “their abundance” (vs. 44). And such gifts, no matter how much, had less value to God.

God is not concerned about the size of our gifts. God cares about the “size” of our faith.

Next, Jesus focuses on the poor widow’s gift. But notice His words (vs. 44b), “…she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living”. Of necessity, the Scripture tells us that the widow gave 2 mites (less than two-percent of a day’s wage). But pointedly Jesus addresses the fact that she had nothing left. God determines the value of a gift by what the giver keeps, not what the giver gives. This is counter-intuitive.

…I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20b;)

Most Christians consider tithing, giving ten-percent of one’s income, to be a virtue. However, it is clear that ten-percent is a bigger sacrifice for the person earning ten dollars a day, than the person earning one thousand dollars a day. It’s takes more faith to live on nine dollars a day, than on nine hundred dollars a day.

Jesus asserts that the widow’s gift was of greater value, not because of the amount she gave, but because of the amount she kept for herself, which was zero. Likewise, to understand how much we are really giving to God we must consider how much we keep for ourselves.

Finally, one theme that arises from this encounter with Jesus is the triumph of faith over rationality/logic/reason. The actions of the widow could not be supported by a rational argument. Indeed, if we knew her, many of us would have advised her to keep what she had for she didn’t have enough to give; “God would understand”.

Two mites were too small for her to give a tenth; they didn’t make any smaller money. Yet, she could have given one mite and kept the other. Instead the widow gave it all.

Her act could only have come from her faith in God to supply her needs. She believed that the same God that allowed her husband to die, the same God that watched as she became destitute, was still merciful. That same God would supply her needs; that same God was worthy of praise; that same God loved her and had a purpose for her life.

In the midst of difficulties, trials, tribulations and all types of storms, faith is what allows the believer to keep going. Faith, NOT logic, NOT reason, NOT rationality, Faith will sustain believers to the end.

And I said, My strength and my hope is perished from the LORD:
Remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall.
My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me.
This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope.
It is of the LORD’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.
They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.

~ Lamentations 3:18-26

Only Faith will enable us to give when we have almost nothing left, and give until we have nothing left.

CODA

  • How much of God’s provision are you keeping for yourself?
  • As the economy gets harder, are you becoming more generous?
  • Is your faith as big as a poor widow’s?

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21 Comments

  1. One of those lurkers who’ve never spoken up until now, just enjoyed your content but never had much to say. Just wanted to come out and say thanks for the interesting posts, thanks for helping me focus on my faith, and I hope you continue to post frequently!

  2. You need to back up to get the whole story. You have given the traditional interpretation….however, upon closer examination we will find that our tradition has, as Jesus said, made void the commandments of God.
    CAUTION: DO NOT PROCEED BEYOND THIS POINT UNLESS YOU ARE WILLING TO PUT INTO PRACTICE WHAT YOU LEARNED IN YOUR GRAMMAR, ENGLISH AND LITERATURE CLASSES IN SCHOOL
    1. Jesus actually says NOTHING to commend the widow for what she did. Words of praise are ABSENT.
    NOTE: THERE ARE NO ADJECTIVES
    2. Jesus’ statement is one of RELATING FACTS as He observes (She gave more than they all because she cast in all her living)
    3. Jesus says NOTHING about how the widow FELT about what she gave.
    NOTE: THERE ARE NO ADVERBS.
    4. The warning to beware of the scribes “who devour widows’ houses” in vs. 40 parallels Jesus’ use of a widow as His example.
    5. Jesus gave no instruction that constitutes a separate lesson apart from “Beware of the Scribes”, i.e., He did not tell the disciples “Go thou and do likewise.”
    6. If this were a lesson on giving, Jesus could have just as easily chosen a “poor man” as His example – or simply a “poor woman”, but He was very specific in His choice of “a poor widow.” This ties it to His criticism of the Scribes who He said were “devouring widows’ houses in vs. 40.
    Scripture repeatedly reveals God’s care for the widow, the poor, the fatherless and the stranger, and also reveals His anger at those who deprive them of what they need to live. If we have read all of our Bible, the story of the widow’s mites, given in context of Jesus’ condemnation of the religious leaders, should make us cringe. The story reveals the repetition of their abuses and consequential inevitable judgment. If we continue to teach the story of the widow’s mites as an example of how to give, we are no better than the Scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day….and we will receive the same judgment.
    Most pastors take this story out of its context. It makes no sense that Jesus, who is in the middle of a warning to His disciples about the scribes devouring widows’ houses, would suddenly interrupt the lesson with a story on giving by poor widows. I believe that the story is part and parcel of His warning and an illustration of how the scribes were “devouring widows’ houses.”
    I have heard preachers and bible study teachers go so far as to say that the widow probably received more than she gave. This is patently ridiculous considering that the corrupt religious leaders were “devouring widow’s houses.”
    Additional food for thought: Jesus had just condemned the corrupt system of Judaism – if this is an example of how to give, and if we are to follow the widow’s example, we would be giving everything we have to corrupt, apostate religious institutions.
    It should be noted that the story, complete with Jesus’ warnings of the scribes, appears in Luke 20:46 – Luke 21:4 as well, but it is divided between two chapters. We need to keep in mind that the chapters and verses were not there in the original text and the divisions are not inspired; they weren’t added until much later.
    For a more thorough study on this issue please visit:
    Abusing the Poor, Part 1
    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6886225604464879344&ei=FSqsSs3-BaWaqALw06C1Aw&q=video+google+abusing+the+poor+part+2+john+macarthur&hl=en#docid=8536902274874544245
    Abusing the Poor, Part 2
    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6886225604464879344&ei=FSqsSs3-BaWaqALw06C1Aw&q=video+google+abusing+the+poor+part+2+john+macarthur&hl=en#
    Abusing the Poor, Transcript:
    http://www.gty.org/Resources/Transcripts/42-251
    The Truth About the Widow’s Gift, Part 1
    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-3288331606558152628#
    The Truth About the Widow’s Gift, Part 2
    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=386548514447207237#
    REFERENCE VERSES:
    Isaiah 1: 23, 24: “Your rulers are rebels, companions of thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow’s case does not come before them. Therefore the Lord, the LORD Almighty, the Mighty One of Israel, declares: “Ah, I will get relief from my foes and avenge myself on my enemies.”
    Isaiah 3:14-15: “The LORD enters into judgment against the elders and leaders of his people: ‘It is you who have ruined my vineyard; the plunder from the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?’declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty.”
    Isaiah 10:1-3: “’Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? To whom will you run for help? Where will you leave your riches?’”
    Ezekiel 22:6-7; 25, 27, 29, 31: “‘See how each of the princes of Israel who are in you uses his power to shed blood. In you they have treated father and mother with contempt; in you they have oppressed the alien and mistreated the fatherless and the widow….There is a conspiracy of her princes within her like a roaring lion tearing its prey; they devour people, take treasures and precious things and make many widows within her…The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the alien, denying them justice…So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done,’ declares the Sovereign LORD.”
    Amos 5:11: “You trample on the poor and force him to give you grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine.”
    Malachi 3:5: “’So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me,’ says the LORD Almighty”
    THE THEME CONTINUES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT:
    Matthew 23:14 “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.”
    Mark 7: 9-13 “And he said to them: You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban’ (that is, a gift devoted to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”
    Mark 12: 38-40: “And he said to them in his doctrine, beware of the scribes…which devour widows’ houses…these shall receive greater damnation.”
    Luke 20: 46-47: “Beware of the scribes…which devour widows’ houses…the same shall receive greater damnation.”

    • Hi;

      First let me thank you for stopping by. Second, thanks for your contribution. It has many points that need pondering. Therefore, AFTER prayerful consideration an attempt will be made to respond appropriately. In the meantime, please keep us in your payers and pray that the truth of God’s word will be revealed to His Glory.

      God Bless!!!

    • There is much to say about the above, but I will limit the my comments to the admonition to “back up to get the whole story”. It is clear to me that the warning to “beware of the scribes” comes as the conclusion to the battery of challenges that had just been given Jesus in an attempt to trap Him. Both the Mark and Luke passages show a break in the event. In both accounts, a transition is made in the flow of the narrative prior to the discussion of the widow. Had Jesus intended the widow’s actions to be applied to the “beware” warning, He would have given the warning at the end of His observation and comments about her.

      “Reflections” parses the narrative correctly. That Jesus brought attention to her actions (unknown to her) does in fact bring honor to her in addition to demonstrating true giving with hypocrisy.

  3. Thank you for your kind consideration, reflectionsinhisword.

    Brother Tim, Jesus wasn’t finished with His condemnation of the religious system; He continues pronouncing judgement in Chapter 13. (Again, keep in mind none of these chapter divisions existed in the original text) The whole context is judgement of the old system for repeating the errors of their ancestors.

    Jesus gave very clear instructions and commands in Chapter 12 – where is the instruction or command specifically stated regarding giving here?

    • I stand by my original point. The direct attacks of the adversaries ended with Jesus’ warning to His followers. The narrative following the observation of the widow changes in its topic away from the personal battle to the broader future.

      In chapter 12, the clear instructions and commands are two-fold. First, in response to the questions asked, and second, in drawing the attention of His followers: In verse 38 to 40, warning about the enemy, and in verse 43-44, contrasting the giving of the rich to that of the widow. It is a spoken observation (a form of instruction used by teachers) regarding giving.

  4. There is no command, express or implied, regarding the widow. Again, words of praise are absent – there are no adjectives. The subject stays the same: a corrupt religious system. I don’t think you comprehend the magnitude of the offense of the scribes and pharisees and Jesus’ fury at what they did which resulted in Him driving the money changers out of the temple. The Jewish religious leaders were repeating the same errors of their ancestors that God condemned in the OT. The contrast could just as easily be an example of who the scribes didn’t prey on. It most certainly was an example of how the poor are affected more by losing even a small amount when they have so little. Nowhere in Scripture do we find a second verse that shows that the poor are to give to those who have more; it’s always giving to those who have less.

    If you still believe she was an example of how to give, then you would also have to believe that we should be giving to corrupt religious systems like the one Jesus condemned in this passage.
    Peace –

  5. Friend, I fear that we are not going to come to a mutual understanding of this passage. It appears that your view of giving is much different than mine and the author of the original post. The widow gave to God, not to the scribes, or priests, or any other man. Jesus most assuredly saw her motives, else He would not have HONORED her giving by drawing attention to it. But I am beating the dead horse senseless.

  6. Perhaps you are right; we will not come to a mutual understanding of the passage – but I would hope we could certainly have a healthy discussion.

    We definitely differ in our views of giving, and we also differ then in taking. I do not expect poor widows to give what they need to live on; we are to give to them, not take from them (consider all the aforementioned OT verses that condemned the religious leaders for taking from the poor). Jesus did not reveal to us the widow’s motives and it is wrong to infer any emotional state from the text. It simply doesn’t allow us to draw any conclusion.

    Did you listen to Pastor MacArthur’s presentation? He reveals that the Jewish religious leaders had taught poor widows needed to do this in order to be blessed. Doesn’t that sound amazingly like the prosperity teachers of our day?

    I would submit to you that the contrast between the rich and the poor widow isn’t motive, but to show who the scribes were fleecing – as always, it was the most helpless and vulnerable that were the prey, just as in the OT.

    Also consider what giving to God is according to Scripture:
    “When you lend to the poor, you lend to the Lord.”

    Peace –

  7. I would like to thank both “trufaithalone” and “Brother Tim” for their healthy, civil, insightful and thought-provoking discussion.

    Christians are human, however, and as such we all “see through a glass, darkly”. I trust God that as we grow in Christ we will all also grow in our understanding of Scripture.

    Not surprisingly, I agree with “Brother Tim” and am grateful for both his support and the clarifying points he made. However, I am also sympathetic to the points made by “trufaithalone”, specifically in his/her most recent comment, re: false prophets (a.k.a. prosperity teachers) preying on the poor. But, i contend that “trufaithalone” is using the wrong Scripture (the story of the Widow’s Mite) to validate his/her points. To wit, the (other) Scriptures that “trufaithalone” mentioned (e.g., Matthew 23:14) are exactly the ones with which to make his/her points.

    To be clear, it IS an indisputable fact that the destitute and disadvantaged are to be taken care of by the Church. However, it does not mean that they can’t also demonstrate their faith in God by giving.

    Moreover, if we rigorously apply the approach tendered by “trufaithalone”, then Elijah must have sinned when he asked the Widow to share the last morsel of food she had with him FIRST (1 Kings 17:9-16). She, like the widow in the story of the Widow’s Mite, acted in faith and gave, depending completely on God to take care of her (and her son).

    Destitution, does not obviate tangible expressions of faith: even the poor must still actively depend wholeheartedly on God.

    Nevertheless, i hasten to state again that the concerns of “trufaithalone” are quite valid and it seems to me his/her heart in in the right place. We just have a disagreement on which Scriptures best teach the points that are so dear to “trufaithalone”; points that should be of great concern to ALL of Christendom.

    In closing, I would ask both “trufaithalone” and “Brother Tim” to please keep reflectionsintheword.org in your prayers. Please pray that the Ministry will glorify God and that His perfect truth will be communicated through The Holy Spirit to all who visit this site.

    May God richly bless you, my siblings in Christ.

  8. Respectfully, I don’t believe you can compare the two. Elijah was actually a man of God – he also had nothing; the Jewish religious leaders were corrupt and devouring widows’ houses; they “made widows their prey and robbed the fatherless.” They were “of their father, the devil.” As John MacArthur explained, she was poor, and when she was done giving, she was penniless – destitute.

    We really need to be discerning about this. As one person has said, we risk doing the very thing that Jesus warned about if we teach the widow’s mites as the way to give. It is not only the widows I am concerned about, but also the teachers, as God has said they will be judged according more harshly if they have taught error.

    I will be moving on from here now – I pray God grants wisdom and understanding to all.

    Peace –

    • 2 Corinthians 8:1-5

      1 Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia;

      2 How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.

      3 For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves;

      4 Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.

      5 And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.

  9. Dear ones, the churches in Macedonia, though poverty stricken, still had more than those they were helping out, so they shared what little they did have. The direction of the giving was to those with less.

    I get the distinct impression you believe I am against giving, when I am all for helping the poor.

    Proverbs 22:9 “He that has a bountiful eye shall be blessed; for he gives of his bread to the poor.”
    Luke 3:11 “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.”

    Again, I am not against giving; I am against giving “upwards” – i.e. to those who have more. Proverbs 22:16 “Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth and he who gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.”

  10. “I am not against giving; I am against giving “upwards” – i.e. to those who have more.”

    Giving to God … Not only giving “upwards” but also to one who has more.

    And lest you say again that this does not apply, is there evidence (besides MacArthur) that the widow was not giving to God, but to the rulers?

    ThruFaithAlone, do you not believe that is it a responsibility and duty of the believer to give to his/her local church? Does that apply only if the church is poorer than you?

  11. Hi, I just read this discussion, 2 yrs later. My, what a discussion! But I find it interesting that as soon as the question was asked if one should give to their local church, the discussion ended! Hmm, I think that the original poster and the 2 responders all made very good and valid points. I think that if a person somehow doesn’t feel that they have the grace or faith to give to their local church for whatever reasons, than they should find a Christian ministry that evangelizes and gives to help the poor, destitute, downtrodden and less fortunate of the earth, just like God says throughout the Bible. God always says that we can show our faith by giving tithes and offerings. In Isaiah, He talks about true fasting, and he talks about giving your bread to the poor and needy, and clothing and taking care of the less fortunate, specifically widows and orphans. Because in society back then those were the ones on the bottom. I think that there were really good valid points. I was very encourage by the original poster who wrote the article. I was looking for a specific teaching on tithing and I didn’t just want to lean on the old T. teachings only, because we live in the dispensation of grace through Christ, and not under the law. I value the law of course, but I just wanted to hear some of Christs teachings from NT. I found the teaching and the discussion that followed very, very helpful.
    Specifically, I was feeling bad because there is this old homeless vetren that begs on the corner where I live, and he has a sign that says God Bless you and describes his situation. Well, I always feel blessed when I give to him, and usually like to give him 5 to even 20.00 if I can. Today, I felt like I could only afford to give him 1 dollar, because I was feeling poor.
    Well, when I got home, I decided that I was going to go to the Chinese restaurant by my house, cause someone else I live with decided they were gonna go, so I go along and buy something for 5.00. But when I get home, the food wasn’t even good cause it was the special and had sat around and I couldn’t even make myself eat it cause it was so yuck!! Well, I really did have the money to give to the nice, sweet man on the corner that I usually like to give to, except somehow I thought that I couldn’t and ended up just wasting the money anyway, when I should have and could have blessed a poor war vetren in need.
    I feel that after people have served our nation, and then they are messed up because of it, it is important to take care of them. I think it is the most tragic thing to see a ex soldier who is hurt and homeless because of his service to our country.
    So, what I learned from this discussion, is that it is important to take care of the poor and to give even when we feel that we may be poor ourselves.
    Thank you for your ministry, I feel very blessed to have found this website and read this post and discussion that followed. God Bless you!!!!

    • Hi Blue_Violet_Indigo (my favorite part of the visible spectrum :)),

      Thanks for adding your insightful thoughts to the discussion and for your encouragement. You are indeed correct, sometimes we hold back from giving not because we are truly unable, but just because we don’t “feel” able. Thanks for reminding us. Despite writing the article, it is still easy to fall into the temptation of holding on to God’s blessings rather than sharing, especially in the moments that life “feels” particularly difficult.

      May God continue to work through you to bless the man you mentioned and others. And may we all follow your good example.

      Thanks again for sharing and may God richly bless you!!

  12. Is it proper Christian behavior to enjoy to benefits of attending a local church without supporting that church financially based on your ability? If the church you attend does not use its resources in a manner that you see as honoring God’s work, then should you be there anyhow?
    As a Christian, I should give to my local church as being a useful part of that body, and I should give to those that God brings across my path who have needs that I can meet.

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