Alexander the Great (356 BC–323 BC) is one of the great names in Western Civilization. One day, a beggar laid on the side of the road as Alexander the Great passed. The beggar asked the Emperor for money. He gave the man several gold coins. A courtier was astonished at his generosity and commented, “Sir, copper coins would adequately meet the beggar’s need. Why give him gold?” Alexander responded in royal fashion, “Cooper coins would suit the beggar’s need, but gold coins suit Alexander’s giving.” That is a story about generosity. That leads us to the question of the day. How generous are you?
We find ourselves today in the twenty-first chapter of Luke. It is important that you know it is late in Jesus’s earthly ministry. By this chapter, Jesus has already entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and cleansed the temple. It is Holy Wednesday. The events of Thursday and Friday are hours away. In other words, Jesus’s time is running out. Every word counts. Of all the things Jesus could have mentioned, he mentions money. Did you know Jesus spoke more about money than any other topic, including love, forgiveness and heaven? Did you know the topic of money is brought up 2,350 times in the Bible? That means money is important.
The story is a familiar one. Jesus is standing near the temple, as people gave their offering. In our time the offering plate is passed, and the offering is hidden in a white envelope. To ensure privacy, most envelopes are turned upside-down. In Jesus’s day, the offering was more public. There were thirteen large cone-shaped boxes in which to place your donation. Each box went to a different line item in the budget, one for the poor, one for temple maintenance, etc. There were no secrets. Everyone knew how much was given. In other places in the world and in another time in America, supporting the church was a public matter. That is not tolerated today. Our giving is a private matter. However, somethings don’t change. Every generation assumes, the rich give the largest amounts, the poorest give the smallest. That assumption is often wrong. Sometimes the rich are rich because they spend or give reluctantly. Through human eyes, the biggest givers give the most money. Through the eyes of God, the biggest givers are those who sacrifice the most. There is a world of difference between the two. That is the case of the woman in the text. Through the eyes of mankind, she gave next to nothing, two copper coins. It is a smaller amount than two pennies; it is more like two Russian rubles. Do you know what two Russian rubles are worth? It comes out to be three-tenths of a single cent. How many bills can you pay with three-tenths of a cent? The answer is, none. Through human eyes, she gave nothing. However, through the eyes of God, she gave the most because she gave all she had. In verse four, Jesus said she gave all she had. No one can question her devotion. This is the truth. That line fills me with shame; I always keep some for myself. How does this nameless woman make you feel?
There are three things you need to notice in this story. Each one makes us a little uncomfortable.
- Jesus watches what we do. The gospel of Mark tells the same story. It is found in Mark 12:41-44. Verse 41 says, “Jesus…watched the crowd.” The Greek word Mark uses for watch means to look with a discerning eye. God sees what you do. It is not just true of our personal finances. It is true of every activity in our lives. I have said it a million times. There has never been a moment in your life when you were ever orphaned. God has always been with you and He always be. It is impossible to hide some part of your life from God. Number one is Jesus watches what we do.
- Jesus knows what we give. In the story, it is a public offering. Some gave more than other. Some gave less. The widow gave next to nothing. It isn’t just true of the Bible story. It is also true for us. God knows what you give too. Is Jesus disappointed by the amount you give to the church, or is Jesus proud of the amount you give to the church? Number two is Jesus knows what we give.
- Jesus knows why we give. Some in the Bible story gave large amounts to impress their peers. Many still financially support the church for wrong reasons. Your financial support of the church should not be your way of expressing your approval or disapproval. Your financial support is your way of drawing near to God. It is your way of expressing your love for God. Number three is Jesus knows why we give.
Can I make a confession? I have never been comfortable handling my personal finances. It started at the very beginning. I was raised by a depression mentality person. That means I am not comfortable with debt and would like to pay for everything in cash. Even now, I often pay a bill off before it arrives. When I got out of school money was a challenge, because I owed so much in student loans. My total indebtedness doesn’t sound like much today, but it was in those days. My monthly payment sounds small today, but so was my income. It would be impossible to survive on that amount today. In addition, there were no government programs to help my generation. When Kathryn and I got married, I owned nothing. We never dreamed we would own our own home, so we bought a cottage in Lakeside. It seemed like a responsible thing to do at the time. We wanted to build equity in something. Then, life threw us a wonderful curve ball. We got to buy our own home here, so I paid two mortgages on a preacher’s salary for years. That was difficult. We kept the cottage for one reason. Someone in my family, not naming names, loved the cottage and Lakeside. I never caught the magic. As my children grew there was always a demand for more money. I paid a fortune in dance lessons. I paid a fortune in music lessons. I paid for braces. I bought a variety of homecoming dresses and prom dresses which were only worn once. For years, they hung proudly in my attic. Then came college tuition. Now, I am preparing to pay for a wedding. Did I mention all those mission trips to Eastern Europe? To be completely honest with you, I can’t tell you how I paid for all those things, but I paid for all those things. For years, I shouldered that responsibility alone. Then, I made a great discovery. It wasn’t me it was God. God has been taking care of me the whole time. Something always seemed to happen financially that kept me afloat. I know God has always taken care of us and I am confident He always will.
As I prepared for this message, I came across a sermon I wish I would have read years ago. It was written by a man named Rick Ezill (born 1963). He is he Senior Pastor of the Naperville Baptist Church in Naperville, Illinois. Like this message, his message was based on the story of the widow’s mite. He called his sermon The Heart of Generosity. In that message he challenges us to handle our money in a Godly way. He challenges us to remember three things as we handle our personal finances. The three spoke to me.
- Many are worried about leaving an inheritance. The reason people want to leave an inheritance is because they want to be remembered. Stop worrying about your inheritance and start worrying about your legacy. Why wait until you die? The woman in the Bible story left behind a legacy of generosity. How will you be remembered? Leave a legacy!
- Be a giver! From the beginning of time people have wanted something from God: His guidance, His grace, His peace, His mercy, His forgiveness. What do you want to from God? Why not give something to God? The woman in the story could have easily been a taker. He could have shown up at the temple looking for money. She could have gone to the temple looking for food. She could have gone to the temple looking for clothes. She could have done those things, but she didn’t. She showed up at the temple to give. She was a giver. Be a giver!
- Make a difference! People make a living by what they earn. People make a difference by what they give. The woman in the Bible story made a difference by giving those two copper coins. She modeled for generations to come the importance of sacrificial giver. Are you just making a living or are you making a difference? Make a difference!
Let me end with a simple question. Who is the most generous person in the world? According to Forbes, the two names who head the list are Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. In his lifetime, Bill Gates has given away $27 billion. In his lifetime, Warren Buffet has given away $21.5 billion. I am not being critical. You can’t question their generosity. However, Bill Gates may have given away $27 billion, but his next worth is $84 billion. That means Bill Gates saved $57 billion for himself. Warren Buffet kept $39.5 billion. Could you survive on $57 billion? Could you survive on $39.5 billion? Just like the rich at the temple on that day, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet’s giving is impressive, but there isn’t much sacrificial giving.
Who is the most generous person in the world? Jesus would have pointed to the poor widow at that the temple. She didn’t give out of her surplus. She gave sacrificially. Do you give out of your surplus, or do you give sacrificially? That leads us back to our question of the day. How generous are you? Andy Stanley (born 1958) is the Senior Pastor of the North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia. He once said, “Greed is not a financial issue. It’s an issue of the heart.” He couldn’t be more correct.