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The Truth About the Widow's Gift

For some of you, this will turn your world upside down.  You will come to a new understanding of the reason for the poor widow's gift.  Contrary to popular belief, the widow's story is NOT an example that believers are to follow. This same story is also recorded in Luke 20:45 - 21:4.  Both accounts read the basically the same.  I will make reference to the recording in the book of Mark.

Mark 12:41-44
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. 

43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything-all she had to live on." NIV

This is an interesting story but this is not the place to start to really understand what Jesus way saying.  In order to get a better understanding, we need to first read what the scriptures taught about widows. Following are some examples:

Ex 22:22
22 "Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan.  NIV

Verse 22 above gives a very clear general guideline on how to treat widows and orphans.  

Deut 14:28-29
28 At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year's produce and store it in your towns, 29 so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. NIV

There were provisions made to take care of the ones that needed help.  God promised to bless the Israelites as a result of their obedience.  

Deut 24:19
19 When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, ..... NIV

The Israelite farmers were instructed basically NOT to harvest every single sheaf  but instead to leave some in the field and allow widows and other poor folks to harvest the food for themselves.

The disadvantaged deserve special treatment as outlined above.  God has harsh judgment in store for those who take advantage of the oppressed, the poor, the widows and the fatherless.  The following scriptures are just two examples of what God thinks about those who mistreat these special groups.

Isa 10:1-2
Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees, 
2 to deprive the poor of their rights 
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey 
and robbing the fatherless. NIV

Mal 3:5
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. NIV

Above are just a few of the scriptures that tell us how widows should be treated.  A casual reading of all of these scriptures should make you understand that widows are really special to the Lord and that he will punish those who take advantage of them.  The same is true today.  

After reading the above scriptures, now let's go back to the first verse I started with in the book of Mark with just one change.  This time I want you to read it starting a few verses earlier.

Mark 12:38-40
38 As he taught, Jesus said, "Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely." NIV

Jesus is an excellent teacher.  He first told the disciples what the teachers of the law were doing 'They devour widows' houses'.  To demonstrate how these teachers were doing it, Jesus then sat down where he could observe the offerings.  Along comes a poor widow and she puts in everything she had to live on.  Why on earth would a poor widow do that?  Jesus was demonstrating exactly how the teachers of the law were plundering the poor widows.  God didn't tell that woman to give that offering.  That was what she was taught to do by the church leaders and she believed them even though she gave up all she had left.

Rather than being an example of of type of giving that pleases God, it is really an example of the kind of exploitation of poor widows that displeases God. 

Yes, Jesus did say that the poor widow '... put more into the treasury than all the others ...' but she is NOT the model for poor people to imitate.  As believers we are NOT supposed to have the secret boast 'I put in more than the rich folks'.  Am I clear yet?  Don't do what the poor widow did unless God talks to you personally and tells you to do it.  God wants to speak to you directly about what to do with your money and everything else about your life.  When you understand what God wants you to do, you will notice a couple of things:

  1. You won't feel guilty about the amount you give.
  2. You won't feel guilty about the amount you are not able to give.
  3. You won't feel like you are more special to God because you can 'tithe'.
  4. You won't feel less special to God because you can't 'tithe'.
  5. You won't try to make up for not 'tithing' your money by 'tithing' your time, making knitted socks, singing in the choir, driving the church bus, shoveling snow or anything else.

Unfortunately, this same plundering of the poor and oppressed goes on every Sunday in thousands of churches.  People are incorrectly taught that it is a good thing to give up all they have to their local church institution - supposedly just like the widow in the Bible.  Supposedly this 'sacrificial' giving that believers are often encouraged to do is supposed to somehow show that the giver 'really loves the Lord'.  It does not show that at all.  What it does show is that millions of Christians are victims of the same plundering that the poor widow was victim of too.  

Have you been a victim? Stop being a victim.  First, you need to forgive those that taught you that it's good to do as the widow did. Many of the people that taught you are victims themselves.  (More on that another time). After all, as Christians we are told in the Bible to

Luke 6:27-28
27 "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. NIV

If you have been a victim then you have been mistreated and therefore you need to pray for those who mistreated you.  For some of you, you will really need a lot of help from the Lord to get through this situation.  Ask the Lord and he will show you the way to forgive those who took advantage of you and your friends. 

May God richly bless you.