“How You ‘Mite Give’” (Mark 12:38-44)
Today I want to talk to you about how you give. Notice, I said “how you give,” rather than “how much you give.” There’s a difference. How you give is much more important than how much you give–although, how you give will almost assuredly affect how much you give. I’m talking here about what you give in the offering plate and how you do it. What sort of attitude and motivation do you have in your giving? From God’s perspective, that is what’s most important when you put that envelope into the offering plate.
A prime example of this is the story of the widow’s mite, which is our Gospel reading today. The Widow’s Mite–that’s the traditional name by which this story is known. The term “mite” is not a word we use anymore, and you don’t see it in the translation we use today. But in our text, where it says, “And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins,” in the old King James Version it says, “She threw in two mites.” And the term “mite” stuck, when referring to this story. A “mite” is a small copper coin, with the least monetary value that a coin could have. And this widow threw in two of them. It wasn’t very much.
But from Jesus’ perspective–which is to say, from God’s perspective–this widow’s offering was indeed very much. It was the biggest and best offering anyone put in that day. And that is because of how it was given. Jesus commends this woman’s offering, and it serves as an example for us, of how we should give with our offerings. And so that’s what we’ll talk about today. In other words, if you’ll forgive the pun, this is “How You ‘Mite Give.’”
This is how you “mite give,” that is, how you can give like this poor widow. First of all, though, let’s talk about how you should not give. First, you should not give in order to be seen by others, so as to impress others with what a big giver you are and what a righteous person you are. That was something that Jesus criticizes. In Matthew 6 he says: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them.” And he says that when you give, “sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others.” But he tells us, his disciples, that when we give, “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” In other words, don’t even brag to yourself about how much you give. Out of pride or for show is not the way to give.
Secondly, you should not give out of a selective obedience. Let me explain. By “selective obedience,” I mean obeying God in one part of your life, say, in the matter of giving a sizable offering, but not obeying God in other areas of your life. Jesus again criticizes the hypocrites for this very thing. The scribes and Pharisees were very meticulous about giving a tithe as their offering, a tithe being 10%, even down to measuring out exactly 10% of the spices on their shelf. But while they obeyed God in this matter, at least in a surface fashion, they were not obeying God at all in matters like faith in God and love for others. And so in Matthew 23, Jesus condemns them for this sort of “selective obedience”: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”
So those are a couple ways in which we should not give, namely, in order to be seen by others or out of a selective obedience. How about you? Do you ever do those things? Do you take pride in how much you give, thinking to yourself, at least: “Why, look at me! I’m such a big giver in this church. I bet I give more than most of the members here. What would the church do without me?” That’s pride, and God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble. Or what about selective obedience? Do you put in your offering envelope faithfully every week, and even make up for it when you miss a Sunday–you do that on Sunday morning, but what are you doing on Monday afternoon? Or on Friday night? Are you living consistently, obeying God in all areas of life? If not, then you are a hypocrite, a sinner, deserving only God’s judgment, no matter how much you put in the offering plate. I must confess, that’s me. My righteousness, my obedience, doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. It’s altogether inadequate and inconsistent. I need God’s mercy and forgiveness. I need his help to do better. How about you?
And so now let’s turn to this widow and her mite-giving. This will serve as an example for us, yes, but as we look a little deeper, we will also find the mercy and the forgiveness and the help we are looking for.
We read: “And [Jesus] sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’”
Three things here about this widow’s mite-giving: One, it was sacrificial. Two, she was giving to the Lord, for the work of his church. And three, she gave out of trust in the Lord to take care of her. Let’s look at these one at a time.
First, the widow’s giving was sacrificial. She felt it. She would notice it. It was not an insignificant amount. It may have seemed insignificant when compared to the large amounts that others were able to put in. But for her, this seemingly small offering loomed very large. A little becomes a lot when it consists of all you’ve got. And this was about all that this poor widow had. For her, it was a huge sacrifice. But she gave it, nevertheless. It was sacrificial giving, and she wanted to do it.
How about you? How much are you giving? Do you even know how much you are giving, not just in terms of raw dollars, but in terms of what that represents, the proportion that your yearly offering total represents in relation to your income and assets? Is it sacrificial, or just a trivial amount when compared to what you have? Do you spend more on entertainment, for example, or on dining out, than you do to support the work of the church? Then you may want to reexamine your giving. Sacrificial giving is the first thing we can learn from the widow’s mite.
Second, this poor widow was giving to the Lord and for the work of his church, which at that time meant giving to support the treasury of the temple. In our day, the work of the church starts with the Sunday offering plate. But you’re not just giving to a congregational budget. You are first of all giving your offering to the Lord. Indeed, you’re giving your whole self to the Lord. You know who your Lord is, the good and merciful God who showers you with all his many blessings from day to day. This is the God who has forgiven you all your sins for Christ’s sake. The God who strengthens and nourishes your faith through the ministry of this church. And this same God wants to bring this same saving gospel to others who need it, both here in our community and all around the world. This is our God, and that is the ministry of his church. This, then, is how you want to give your offerings: out of gratitude to our merciful Lord and to support the vital, life-giving ministry that only happens through the work of the church.
Sacrificial giving. Giving to the Lord and for the work of his church. And third, the third thing we can learn from the widow’s mite is that she was giving out of trust in the Lord. She was trusting in the Lord to take care of her, even as she was giving so much of what she had to live on. This is faith, this is faith in action. And this is what Jesus commends. The poor widow knew who her God was, and that he would take care of her, even if she did not know how, exactly, at the moment. As she threw those two small coins into the offering box, she was at the same time throwing herself on the merciful arms of her loving God.
And God never fails. “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you,” says our Lord. And you, dear friends, you have the same God taking care of you that this poor widow had. This is the God who looks after the widow and the fatherless. And he will take care of you, no matter what your situation.
How can you know that? Why should you trust in the Lord with all your heart? The ultimate proof is in this Jesus, who here commends the widow’s faith. Jesus, who just a few days after this, would give the greatest and most all-surpassing offering the world has ever seen. He gave himself. Yes, God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, would offer up his sinless body on the tree of the cross, as the perfect sacrifice for all our sin. This was sacrificial giving to the nth degree. And only this sacrifice, Christ’s holy blood, more precious than all the silver and gold in the world–only this sacrifice can suffice as the offering that makes all of our offerings acceptable to God. Christ’s obedience to the Father’s will is not selective; it is perfect and total. His righteousness avails for all. Jesus hung in shame on that cross, for all the world to see. Look to him and be saved.
Here is the mercy and the forgiveness you need and are looking for. It is found only in Christ. Here is the help you need to do better in your giving. It is in Christ. Knowing that your future, both your future in this life and your eternal future–knowing that your salvation is safe and secure because of Christ, and therefore that God will never leave you nor forsake you–knowing this, you can fully trust in God to take care of you, and that, in turn, will free up your ability and your willingness to give.
So you see, in the end, it isn’t a matter of how much you give. It’s a matter of how you give. And how you give–and then with it, how much you give–will be energized and renewed and refreshed by knowing how much God has given for you. This, then, is how you “mite give.”