Rev. Smit is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Doon, Iowa.
Both coins fell from a poor widow’s hand into the treasury of the temple in Jerusalem.
Jesus observed this action because, according to Mark 12:41, “Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how people cast money into the treasury….” Jesus saw the offerings of all the rich who cast in much, but He also saw the offering of a poor widow, who had come to worship Jehovah in His temple in true thanksgiving. Jesus took special note of the widow and her two mites (Mark 12:42). He sovereignly controlled and used this incident for the instruction of His disciples and us about spiritually abundant giving unto Him and into His treasury.
Faced with that duty and demand from the Lord Himself according to the example of the poor widow, will you give both coins?
According to Bible scholars, the Lord was sitting near the Beautiful Gate at the temple. From this vantage point, Jesus saw the trumpet-shaped chests of the temple treasury. Apparently, each of these receptacles was marked for a specific purpose or cause with respect to the temple. Some were for temple maintenance, others for sacrifices, and even some were for the support of the Levites according to the law of Moses. All who came to worship Jehovah in the temple had to walk past these offering chests and give their offerings unto Jehovah.
In Luke 21, these offering chests were called “the treasury of God.” The saints understood that when giving to these offering chests, they were giving to the Lord’s treasury. They viewed their offerings, not as their money on loan to God, but as, now, the Lord’s money for the maintenance of His temple and for the true worship of His holy name.
In Mark 12, we are told that Jesus purposely watched “how the people cast money into the treasury.” Jesus was interested in the manner in which the people gave. He was not so much interested in how much money they gave. Jesus was watching for two things. First, Jesus was observing whether the people actually gave as they were required by God according to His Word. Secondly, and more importantly, Jesus was observing the manner in which they gave. Jesus was seeking to find the answer to the question: “What was their attitude in their giving?” To answer that question, Jesus observed all the parts that made up that offering. He saw the monetary amount. He saw how the money was cast into the treasury boxes. Jesus also saw what no mere man could see—He saw into the hearts of men, and He observed how the hearts of those people gave their offerings into the treasury of God.
What did Jesus see? First, He saw the rich entering into the temple. He saw how the coins were dropped into the offering receptacles. He noticed what the hearts of those rich people were like when they finally let go of their coins. Then Jesus told His disciples what He saw. He noticed that they had given large sums of money out of the abundance of their earthly riches. When the rich gave their large sums, they did not alter their circumstance and comfortable life-style. In fact, from a financial viewpoint, their offerings were hardly noticed. Their abundance was still the same as before the offering. Nothing changed in their life or, sadly, in their hearts.
Secondly, there came the poor widow. Would she put anything in the treasury of God? She was poor. What could one expect of her? We could even perhaps understand if she did not give anything after she saw what the rich people put in the offering boxes. Yet, she would not use her poverty as an excuse to neglect her duty to give into the treasury of God. Rather, she reached down and found one little coin, a mite, and then found the other little coin, and cast them both into the treasury of God. Her offering hardly changed the amount of money in the treasury of God. In today’s terms, she cast in two coins worth only 1¢. This is the kind of coin you find abandoned in parking lots and on sidewalks. Even for most of us, it is too much of a bother to stoop and pick up a penny from the shopping center parking lot. Yet, this is what the poor widow gave to the Lord. She cast in her two mites: her two little, worthless coins.
Jesus said, “She of her want (i.e., her lack) did cast in all that she had, even all her living” (Mark 12:44). She came to the temple with only two pennies in her hand. In that poverty, she cast in both coins. As a result, she had nothing. Not one coin for her daily bread of the day, nor a coin to save for tomorrow’s bread. She had out of her necessity given all to the Lord. Jesus taught that her 1¢ offering was an abundance!
What Jesus teaches in Mark 12:41-44 applies to our giving in God’s fear. How does the Judge evaluate you at the offering plate? The Judge from heaven still watches today what is given by you and me into the treasury of God. He sees the total offering that you give. He sees how much you give in relationship to how much you have. He sees how your hand and heart give into the treasury of God. The Lord watches both the rich and the poor, and all those in between. What is of utmost importance to Him is how your heart gives when you give out of your abundance or necessity into the treasury of God.
How do you give? Do you give the puny sum of the large offering of the Pharisee? Or do you give the abundant gift of the 1¢ offering of the poor widow?
It is rather startling that the Lord teaches that the poor widow had given the most that day with her 1¢ offering. From a natural viewpoint, we would argue that the Lord’s mathematics was seriously flawed. Nevertheless, the Lord’s mathematics is perfectly wise, because the Lord calculated the entire offering and its entire worth. Jesus calculated the poor widows 1¢ offering as more than the other offerings for several reasons.
First, the poor widow gave in the fear of the Lord. It is evident that she gave in true love to Jehovah. It is obvious that her love was not conditional. She did not say in her heart, “I will love Jehovah in His temple only if He loves me the way I want Him to love me. I will love Jehovah only when things go well for me, and when I am rich.” Even in her poverty, she loved Jehovah. In that love, she refused to rob the treasury of God and refused to rob God of a thankful heart in her giving. In true love and thanks, she gave both coins!
Secondly, the poor widow gave freely. Her giving was not of the Pharisaic sort. Nor was she giving as a last resort, to get the praise of men, or to have her name etched on a stone in the temple somewhere as a memorial to her gift. She did not give because she was being forced to do so by the oppressive Pharisees. She did not give the first coin, and then debate in her heart about giving the second. Nobody had to pry the first or the second coin from her hand. Rather, she freely and willingly gave both coins.
Thirdly, she gave as the Lord had prospered her. What? Had the Lord prospered her? The answer to that question depends, of course, on one’s definition of prosperity. The fact of the matter is that the Lord had prospered her. The Lord had given her two coins, health, strength to walk to God’s temple, the privilege to worship Him, the company of the saints in His house, and His Word and promises. Out of that prosperity, she gave all of her prosperity in thanksgiving.
Finally, she gave all. The rich had given only some. Doing the spiritual math, we find that they had given large sums of money, but from the perspective of their hearts they had given nothing. As a result, the equation of their giving was: something times nothing, which equals nothing. There was no true offering before the Lord. It amounted to “0.” In contrast, the widow had given all. Doing the spiritual math again, we find that the equation of her giving was: a penny’s worth of coins to the Lord times a thankful heart to the Lord. That minuscule offering times that thankful heart equalled “all.” That was the abundant offering!
How do we measure up to that example before the treasury of God each Lord’s Day? Are you willing to give to the extent that you must give from the savings of tomorrow and from the necessity of today for the sake of the Lord’s treasury? Would you be willing to part with both coins? Or do you keep back in your heart the other coin?
The Lord demands both coins: the abundant gift and the heart that gives thankfully and cheerfully in His fear.
As we fulfil that duty, we must always remember two fundamental principles of true giving. First, we must remember in our giving that what we put into the treasury of God is already owned by God. The Lord entrusts to us many earthly things, including our money, time, possessions, health, strength, and various abilities. Though we may properly say that we own a house, a car, or a retirement fund, yet God is still the owner of it all. In relationship to others, we have our individual possessions. In relationship to God, however, you and I have no possession which is not His. The car you own is really His. The house you own is really His. He owns the entire earth and all the creatures He has created. Therefore, when you stand before the treasury of God with coin and bills in hand, you cannot say before the Lord concerning that money that it is not His, but yours. That offering is always the Lord’s! Even that which remains in your wallet belongs to the Lord.
Because it is His, He has the right to tell you what to do with His money. By nature, we hate having the Lord tell us what to do with our money. But, since it is His, He can and does tell us what to do with it. He has the right to demand of us, whether rich, poor, or in the middle, to give to Him. God allows no exceptions to His rule. God has the right to tell us that we must give to His treasury in support of the preaching of the gospel and the poor, which both summarize succinctly all the offerings on our annual collection schedules. God also has the right to tell us how to give what is already His. When we understand that principle, then it is no longer a question of whether I will give to the Lord what is His or not, it is a question of how will I as His servant give properly what rightfully belongs to Him already.
In the next article, the Lord willing, we will consider the second principle of true giving, as well as some problems that hinder proper giving.