GERALD COWAN’S PERSONAL PERIODICALS
Number 602 • January 10, 2021
THE WIDOW’S MIGHTY MITE
Putting in my two cents.
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard it: “I’ll just give the widow’s mite” – which means “I’m just giving a pittance, just a little bit.” Those who speak this way have decided that a penny or two counts with the Lord, so they’ll get credit as a giver, no matter what the amount actually is. If you ask for a scripture reference to prove the point most cannot tell you where to find it (can you?). There is one, in Mark 12:41-44, also stated in Luke 21:1-4. They also can’t tell you where it says attitude is more important than the gift itself, but they believe that if your heart is right the amount you give or how much you do is irrelevant – that God looks at the heart and not the gift itself. Can you give a scripture reference for this? Actually there is none that fits this.
Back in the days of Jesus when there was a public treasury depository at the temple – they apparently didn’t pass the plate to “take up the collection” or to “receive the contributions “ as we are now accustomed to. There was no paper money so coins made a noise when passing through the trumpet funnel or dropping into the box – larger coins made a louder noise while the smallest coins might make a smaller sound or no sound at all. Of course multiple coins would make more sounds that a single coin. The rich could pour in a contribution of many coins and could except a greater appreciative response from the hearers – some apparently did it to receive the praise of others who heard their gifts rattle into the box. You might think the poor or those giving lesser amounts would be embarrassed for others to take notice and would try to prevent others from knowing. That attitude is obvious in some places today. I know of places that pass a cloth bag to receive contributions. No one can tell if they are putting paper or metal coins, or how many and how large. “It’s nobody else’s business what anybody gives.” So the bag passes around and comes to the end of its way still nearly empty but nobody can guess who gave how much or who were giving and who were not. Non-givers would probably be able to forget that the only one who really matters knows not only what amount was given but the also the attitude of the heart of every giver and every non-giver. The gift is measured by what one has, not what one doesn’t have (2 Corinthians 8:12). Nothing can be kept secret from God who know every persons’s resources, what one has before and after giving. He sees every act and notices even the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12-13), and God knows what one has and does not have.
In the case of the poor widow mentioned in the gospel accounts Jesus, who also knew and knows the hearts of men, knew what she had before and after dropping her gift into the collection box. His disciples did not question his remarks – they had seen enough from him to know that he knew what he was talking about in any and every case. We can and must accept the veracity of their record of his acts and thoughts and judgments. In this case the widow came to the depository with two mites which together made a farthing – an inconsequential amount, but it was all she had. After she gave it what did she have? Nothing! Not even another mite. Now, in effect, she was completely dependent upon God and/or any others who would supply her needs – remember she is a widow so there was no wage-earning husband in the picture. She was at that moment destitute – she had nothing, her whole living resource was gone.
When anybody says to me that he or she “gave the widow’s mite” I tell them I’m reasonably sure it isn’t true. When they protest (because they think it means “gave a little bit) I tell them that one question will either make my case or prove me wrong. Are they willing to answer the question honestly? Yes? Then here’s the question: Do you have any money left in your pocket or wallet, or in the car, or at home, or in the bank, or buried in some remote hiding place? If they say they still have money, even in a checking or savings account or in some money hidden from others, I tell them they are disqualified – they haven’t given what the widow gave, everything she had, nothing left.. If they say they now have nothing – not one cent anywhere – I can say I admire them for giving the widow’s mite, but I don’t ask any further questions.
The observant Jesus said all others who gave that day still possessed something after giving. But this woman gave more than all others. Not in total amount but more relatively speaking, since she gave everything she had. A popular religious song by Frances R. Havergal makes mention (in verse 4 in many hymnals): “Take my silver and my gold (money in any and every form) not one mite would I withhold.” I’m not surprised that verse is omitted from many hymnals and is omitted from the singing even when it is in the book. It sound pious and saintly to offer one’s consecrated life, voice, love, abilities, and mind, but suggesting that one’s tangible assets are to be treated the same way is unreasonable – “now you’re meddling where you have no right to go; don’t go there.”
Giving of money is among the least welcome topics about which to preach or teach. What is the required amount, and how is it to be determined? Twice apostle Paul suggests how to determine the appropriate amount to be given (1 Corinthians 16:1-2, 2 Corinthians 9:6-7). It happens that both passages refer to a special need and request in behalf of poor and suffering Christians in Judea. Specific instructions for ordinary giving to the church are not stated succinctly under the New Covenant, or for occasional giving to an unusual need for which an unscheduled gift is requested, such as a neighbor in need, a mission is work struggling, or an unforeseen event has raised an emergency need, etc to which one can give if and as he wants to (Mark 14:7). Imposed taxes and political contributions are outside the purview of this essay – I am only concerned here with giving to the church or charity causes.
Paul says one should examine and evaluate his prosperity. What is one’s prosperity? It is not what he has left over after paying all his debts and bills, that is to say his recent receipts (from job, social security, welfare, charity, interest payment on bank accounts, savings plans, or gifts from others, etc minus his payments due on loans, mortgages, bills due, and estimated cost of groceries, etc. It is not correct to base one’s prosperity on his most recent paycheck or receipts from other income sources. Nothing received this week? Then prosperity is zero? None of that! Your prosperity is whatever you have, all of it. Your prosperity is what you have left after paying your debts and making gifts, including gifts to God. What you currently have, regardless of debts or prospective receipts – what you have and have access to at any time is your prosperity at that time. Having determined your prosperity the next step is to purpose how and where you will give or spend and your current status to use resources – in this case how much to give to God and how to give it to or through the church or by direct gift or payment. After determining what you have available to give and planning/purposing how much to give, the next step is to set it aside and keep it available for giving at the appropriate time. When the right time, or the appointed time arrives actually give what you have purposed from your prosperity.
All of this we have said so far does not determine the proper amount, does it? God doesn’t set the amount, nor do others set it for you. You must set it for yourself. Tithing (which means giving ten percent, a full tenth, whether money or goods – such as a farm crop or manufactured goods, etc) was imposed under the Old Covenant Law for the Jews but is not imposed under the New Covenant for either Jewish or Gentile Christians. Even if it were part of the current law for God’s people – but remember that it is not – people would question whether it should be one tenth of the gross income and prosperity or of the net, after all legal and allowable deductions. The percentage requirement would require accurate bookkeeping. But a set and stipulated percentage would actually be easier than the as-you-have-prospered-and-as-you-purpose-in-your-own-heart-and-mind. God’s present requirement puts you on your honor and reveals the importance of God in your thoughts and intentions and actions.
Here’s one last principle to aid in you in determining what your gift to God will be – notice we do not say what it must or should be, but what you decide it will be. It’s the principle of sowing and reaping (1 Corinthians 9:6-7). God says to remember this: If you give only a little you should not expect to receive a lot in return. You may hope for a great reward or receipt for a great gift or investment. You determine your future prosperity by your present action, your present giving.