Charlie showed up for work that day out of uniform, if you could call it that. He and a half-dozen men were a well-drilling team, a difficult job that is always dirty and eventually turns muddy. Charlie had plans after he got off work, and since he would not have time to return home, he had come dressed for his date. So, while the other men were grappling with pipes and drills and generators and muck, Charlie stood back and did what he could while protecting his white shirt, pressed trousers, and silk tie. The men were aware of what he was doing, but no one said anything for a while. Then, up in the morning, one of the men decided to solve what he saw as “Charlie’s problem.” He walked over to a 5 gallon bucket of mud and slush, picked it up, and dumped the contents all over Charlie. “Charlie, my friend,” he said, “as my pastor likes to say, ‘A man can work better after he’s been baptized!'”
I thought of Charlie today when something came up about people who think of themselves as genuine Christians and still have problems with minor matters such as giving and tithing and stewardship and generosity. It’s a matter of first being “baptized,” that is, going under in total submersion of our live and possessions to the Lord Jesus.
People who have never given their all to the Lord will always be having turf wars with the Holy Spirit. “This is mine, that is yours, I’ll give you this, but I want to keep that.” It’s a miserable way to live the Christian life and certainly not what the Lord had in mind.
People who have never given their all to the Lord will forever be protective of their rights, guardians of their possessions, and defensive of their territory. They will get mad at the preacher for harping on money. Unable to control what the pastor says about money, frequently they volunteer to serve on church finance committees in order to try to staunch the outgo of funds and thus put a stop to the need for constant sermons on giving. “If people had their hearts right, they would give and the preacher would never need to preach on money,” they say. The fact that this is wrong and completely unbiblical never occurs to them. Stewardship promotions and budget planning times in the church threaten them, because the next step means someone is going to be asking them to give actual money right out of their private bank account, a choice more painful than death.
I love the brief story in Mark 12 about a widow who dropped two coins into the temple offering. Aside from the astounding things Jesus said about her, she illustrates for us the only way to solve forever these squabbles with the Holy Spirit and His representatives over money. The only solution is to give our all.
The story of the widow and her gift is not a tale about twenty cents. It’s a metaphor for our life. Let me make three points about this story for us.
1. JESUS WAS IMPRESSED THAT THE WOMAN GAVE.
She didn’t have to. Had she been looking for excuses to get out of giving anything, plenty were available. Try these:
–the rich are giving, no need for me to give my pittance.
–the budget will be met; my little bit will not matter one way or the other.
–the Lord knows how needy I am; He will understand.
–the people running the Temple are crooks (they were); so I should withhold my tithe.
–I don’t have an actual income, so a tithe of nothing equals nothing.
She gave anyway. Why? She didn’t say, but we probably know. She gave to the Lord because He had commanded it and her love demanded she do so. For her, it was a matter of obedience, not emotion or need or personal opinion or an impulse of the moment.
2. JESUS WAS IMPRESSED THAT THE WOMAN GAVE SO MUCH.
Exactly how much did she give that day? By modern calculations, she gave about twenty cents. To the people of that day, she gave maybe a couple of hours wages. To the woman, she put in everything she owned. And to the Lord Jesus–who was the only One whose assessment of her gift actually counts–she brought an incredible gift that day.
Here is a little secret: the way Heaven counts our offering is not by the numbers printed on the bills or written on the checks, but by what the offering means to us. If we tipped God a couple of bucks that meant absolutely nothing to us, when it arrived in Heaven, it meant absolutely nothing to Him. If it matters to us, it matters to Him. It’s that simple. In bringing an offering, the heart’s attitude is the most important aspect to the Heavenly Father.
This incidentally is the same way Heaven measures our prayers: by what they mean to us. A careless prayer recited by rote that we utter without a thought arrives in Heaven without notice. It is our heart’s love and concern, our faith, that gives the prayer significance before God. If the prayer matters to you, it’s important to Him.
We’ve all seen a loving mother or father stop what they were doing to comfort a child over some meaningless bruise or momentary pain. The parent knew how slight the matter was, but nurtured the child for the simple reason that this mattered to the little one. As Jesus said, “You, being evil, know how to do good things for your child; how much more will the Heavenly Father do good things (or give good things) to those who ask Him.”
3. JESUS WAS IMPRESSED THAT THE WOMAN GAVE THE MOST.
Using Heaven’s standards of measurement, the Lord pronounced that the woman had given more than any other contributor. Large sums of money had come into the Temple treasury that day, but by God’s scales, the widow had contributed the most.
In giving everything she had, this woman said volumes about her love for the Lord and her reliance on Him to meet her needs. Jesus felt this was quite a compliment to the Heavenly Father. In a similar fashion, the writer of Hebrews compliments the men and women of ancient times who served God so faithfully with so little to go on: “Wherefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God.” (Hebrews 11:16)
A couple of things in Luke 5 shed light on this for us. In verse 11, the fishermen Jesus called “left everything” and followed Him. Then, in verse 28, the tax collector Jesus called walked away from everything to follow HIm. Twice in that one chapter.
It puts into focus Luke 14:33 where our Lord actually established this as a condition of discipleship. “In the same way, therefore, every one of you who does not say good-bye to all his possessions cannot be my disciple.” What could be plainer?
Saying good-bye to your possessions means signing the title of ownership over to the Lord. From now on, they are His, to be used in whatever way He pleases. It does not necessarily mean we are to cash in all our property and hand it out indiscriminately on the street corner. It means Jesus is Lord of you, your possessions, your life. Your assignment for the rest of your earthly existence is to ask each day in each area of your life, “Lord, what would you have me to do?”
Far from being restrictive or sacrificial, this opens us up to being used of the Lord to accomplish far more than we would have in our own strength with our own small resources. We have become ambassadors for Christ in every sense of the term. (II Corinthians 5:20)
In a sense, it all begins with being baptized. Receiving Christ as Savior and going under the water, yes, but more than that, totally and forever immersing yourself–all that you are and all that you own–in the presence and will of Christ. In the words of the apostle, “For me, to live is Christ.” And again, “No longer I, but Christ liveth in me.” (Philippians 1:21 and Galatians 2:20)
That’s why the first order of the day when you arrive at the job site is to get your work clothes on. You don’t have to worry about protecting your pretty duds from the mud and grime, you don’t have to argue over whose job this is, and you can join hands with the rest of the team and get the job done.
In time, what you will have to show for your troubles is a well of water gushing up into everlasting life.