I had several questions in response to my article on the Biblical priorities in giving. I’m thankful for the questions as they helped force me to fully think through the implications of what I wrote.
Most of the questions I received revolved around the concern that the priorities indicated I was teaching we shouldn’t give to God first. Some people disagreed with my conclusion, saying that we give God the first 10%, and then we can take care of the needs of our family and start down the list.
I do believe that we should seek to honor God above all things. However, I think that providing for the needs of our family is a way to honor God and put him first. Should we burden the poor with a legalistic requirement to give 10% when they are finding it difficult to feed their family? I think one can honor God by putting food on the table to care for their children and parents. That is a way to put God first.
Let’s say there is a man who has escaped a terrible political climate in his home country. He works now as a foreigner in another country, and what he makes is enough for his food and enough to send money back to his family for them to eat. The man does want to honor God and remember that God is the source of all he has so he gives $10 every week to the church. That $10 represents 3% of his income. How does God feel about this man?
Perhaps we could answer these questions by exploring the story of the widow’s offering.
The Widow’s Offering
There are two main ways people interpret the story of the widow’s offering.
Because I assume you know the story, I won’t retell it in detail. Here’s the Craig’s notes version: A poor woman puts two coins into the temple offering and Jesus says: “Truly I tell you, 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
The key interpretive challenge is to ask what Jesus meant by these words.
Is he saying:
- Hey guys, check this out. This amazing woman just gave her last two coins away. That’s fantastic. You guys should consider going and finding other widows and tell them to give everything they have.
- Check mate. Remember what I was just saying about how the teachers of the law devour the houses of widows? Look at that poor woman who just gave all she had. This poor misinformed woman has been taken advantage of by the religious elite.
So which interpretation is correct?
In Mark 12:40, I don’t think Jesus is praising the teachers of the law for “devouring widows’ houses”. I conclude that he thinks that is a bad thing. How, then, are they devouring widows’ houses?
In the Word Biblical Commentary, Craig Evans gives six interpretive options as to what the phrase could have meant:
- Scribes accepted payment for legal assistance, though such payment was forbidden.
- Acting in the capacity of lawyers, perhaps appointed to such office in the wills of the deceased husbands, the scribes cheated widows out of their estates.
- Scribes freeloaded on the hospitality of widows.
- Scribes mismanaged the estates entrusted to them.
- Scribes took money from credulous women in return for the supposed benefit of intercessory prayer (as perhaps implied by the next clause in v 40).
- Scribes took houses as pledges for debts that could not realistically be expected to be repaid.
What then should we teach people about giving?
- Teach people to be rich towards God. (Luke 12:21)
- Teach people to recognize the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus and how that impacts what we value. (Phil. 3:8)
- Teach people to love God and love others. (Mat. 22:37-38)
- Teach people to understand the great sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. (2 Cor. 8:9)
- Teach people to give themselves first to the Lord. (2 Cor. 8:5)
- Teach people to set aside money in keeping with their income. (1 Cor. 16:2)
- Teach people that it is better to give than to receive. (Acts 20:25)
- Teach people that giving is a grace, a blessing that God allows us to enjoy. (2 Cor. 8:7)