The song "I traveled down a lonely road" contains the line, "I've sacrificed a lot of things to walk the narrow way." Sometimes this is our attitude; we look at all that we have given upmoney and time and pleasures of sinand feel a little pride in how sacrificial we have been. We may begin to count up just how much money (if we have given a lot) or just how great a percentage (if we don't have much to give) that we have sacrificed for the Lord. Then it comes as a shock to us when we look at the gospels and see just whom Jesus commended for giving.
One day not long before His death, Jesus stood by the temple treasury and watched people make their offerings to God. He was not impressed with the large amounts that the rich dropped in the coffers. They used copper coins to make the amount seem even larger. But there was a widow who dropped in a couple of copper coins that so impressed Him that He called His disciples over to see. He said, "Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For they all contributed our of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living" (Mark 12:43-44). She only gave two leptons, each worth 1/128th of a denarius, a day's wage; by today's inflated wage scale it would be like dropping in two quarters. But what impressed Jesus was that it was all that she had. We might have expected Him to rush over and give the money back to her; but He who knew how to give Himself did not rob her of the joy of giving all.
A rich young ruler, who had kept the law of Moses all his life, came to Jesus and asked what he lacked to inherit eternal life. Jesus replied, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me" (Mark 10:21). Sometimes Jesus's answer disturbs us; we rationalize that Jesus asked such a thing of this young man because his possessions owned him. Does the fact that the answer disturbs us mean that our possessions own us too? The young man was not willing to follow Jesus at this cost, but His disciples were. Peter said, "we have left everything and followed you" (Mark 10:28). To these Jesus promised a hundredfold in this life and in the age to come, eternal life (Mark 10:29-30).
But Jesus did not limit his commendations only to those who gave 100%. The tax collector Zacchaeus was so impressed by Jesus that he declared, "Behold, Lord, the half of my good I give to the poor" (Luke 19:8). And Jesus replied, "Today salvation has come to this house" (Luke 19:9). By way of contrast, Jesus criticized the Pharisees who were diligent about giving 10% of even their garden herbs, but who neglected the major things like justice, mercy, and faith. To them He said, "These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others" (Matt. 23:23). No commendation came for giving what the law commanded, just an admonition not to neglect it.
Perhaps we should not be surprised that Jesus saved His commendations for those who gave major portions of their living to God. He Himself is our example for this. As the song gives His reply: "I left the throne of glory and counted it but loss; my hands were nailed in anger upon a cruel cross." The One who gave His very life commended those who had found giving to be a way of life.
Copyright © 1993, Bruce Terry. All rights reserved. This article may be freely reprinted in bulletins and newsletters so long as no charge is made to the reader and this copyright notice is included.