The Poor Widow: Faith that Gives

| Luke 23:13-21; 21:1-4

Week of June 30, 2019

The Point:  Your giving reflects your faith and trust in Christ.

 The Parable of the Rich Fool:  Luke 12:13-21.

[13] Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” [14] But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” [15] And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” [16] And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, [17] and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ [18] And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. [19] And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ [20] But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ [21] So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”  [ESV]

“A Fool and His Money [12:13-21].  The situation is all too familiar. A man had died, and two sons were squabbling over the money he had left behind. Both men wanted to get what they had coming to them. One of them was sure he was getting shortchanged, so he asked Jesus to adjudicate. That is not quite what the man was asking, however. He was not looking for an objective opinion about a fair distribution; he wanted Jesus to settle the estate in his favor. Remember the context. Jesus had been teaching people how to take a spiritual stand, fearlessly living for Christ against all opposition. But rather than listening to what Jesus was saying, the man was preoccupied with his own situation. He wanted his rights! Yet Jesus refused to get involved. In fact, He gave the man the apparent brush-off, saying, with obvious disapproval, Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you? [12:14]. Jesus was clear about His calling. One day He would stand in judgment over everyone for everything. But the day for judgment had not yet come, and in His earthly ministry, it was not His calling to resolve this dispute. Israel had a legal system for settling small claims; Jesus had come to seek and to save the lost. How important it is to know the difference between what we are and are not called to do. We are not called to do everything, including some things that we are asked and able to do. To know what things God truly wants us to do, we need to be clear about our calling, as Jesus was. In this case, it was not His place to decide who got what, but to challenge people about their ultimate priorities. Jesus did not give the man what he wanted, but what he needed. Instead of settling the estate, Jesus responded to the man’s selfish request by giving a sober warning [12:15]. Jesus loved to make this kind of editorial comment. He would take a conversation and turn it into a teaching opportunity. Here His warning was partly for the man who wanted to get more of His father’s inheritance. Jesus knew the man’s heart, and He could see that he was guilty of the great sin of coveting. The man wanted to take what belonged to his brother and grab it for himself. Jesus may also have been speaking to the man’s brother, because he seems to have been greedy too: he was keeping the whole inheritance for himself. It is possible that both men were coveting, one by refusing to divide the inheritance and the other by demanding to have it divided. This helps us see that the warning Jesus gave is really for all of us. Whether we are among the haves or the have-nots, we are all tempted by the consuming desire to have things that God has given to others rather than to us. The poor are tempted to want all the things they do not have, while the rich are tempted to want even more of what they have. So Jesus wants us all to be on our guard against all kinds of covetousness. The Greek word used here for coveting has to do with excess. It refers to the acquisitive attitude of always wanting more, beyond what we even need. The covetous heart is never satisfied. That is why Jesus tells us to be content with what we have, not coveting what God has not given. Rather than always wanting a higher standard of living, Jesus calls us to be satisfied with what we already have. This requires constant vigilance. Jesus is giving an emphatic imperative here. When He tells us to take care, He is telling us to watch out. Jesus is warning us that there is real danger here, and that we need to be wary. Take heed against greed! Even something we have never coveted in the past may become a temptation for us yet. Our wants may seem small, but little by little we get drawn into discontent. Possessions are always trying to possess us, until finally we give in to the carvings of a covetous heart. Jesus warns us that this is not what life is all about. Life does not consist in the abundance of our possessions. Here again the word He uses has to do with excess. Abundance in this sense means surplus, a superfluity of stuff. Having more than we need does not add anything to our lives. Even if we had all the things we could possibly want out of life, we would not have any more of life itself. How can we find life in things that we consume? Possessions do not add life to us. In fact, with all the demands they make on our time and effort they usually end up taking life away, as we work harder and harder to keep living in the manner to which we have become accustomed. Some people live for money, and for all the things that money can buy. It is how they keep score, how they find their sense of satisfaction. Their daily thoughts are driven by the debts they have to pay off. Or they are consumed with the financial goals they have set. The truth is that all life is found in God, not in us or anything in this world. The Bible says that Jesus is the life [John 14:6]. It says that true life is to know the only true God and His Son Jesus Christ [John 17:3]. It says that we do not live to ourselves, but to the Lord [Rom. 14:7-8]. It says that to live is Christ [Phil. 1:21]. So this is life: to know Jesus and to live for Him. The things of this world cannot make us live. In fact, to the extent that they pull us away from finding satisfaction in Christ, they only keep us from really living. The Miser’s Dilemma. To strengthen His warning about wanting more than we have, Jesus told His disciples a parable about a man who had too much [12:16-19]. The man had it made, he had everything this world has to offer. He had a lot of money. He had good food and fine wine, with plenty of time to enjoy them – or so he thought. His riches were getting richer. He had just harvested a bumper crop. In fact his biggest problem now was storage [12:17]. How ironic! The man kept accumulating more and more until finally he did not have enough space to keep it all. As we look over this man’s portfolio, and overhear his plans for retirement, the words we can use to describe his attitude toward life may also describe our own spiritual condition. The man was thankless. Verse 16 makes it clear that his prosperity did not come from his own hard work or his superior skill at business, but from the natural bounty of his land. It should have been obvious, therefore, that everything he had was a gift from God, who sends rain from heaven to water the crops that grow. Yet the man was so ungrateful that he did not praise God, or bring Him an offering. The man was also selfish. He did not give his neighbor any more thought than he gave to God. Rather than giving his extra grain to the poor, he was going to keep it all for himself. Instead of seizing the opportunity to share, he decided to build himself some bigger barns. The man was so in love with himself that he was seemingly incapable of thinking about anything or anyone else. Another word we can use to describe the man in this parable is anxious – anxious about how to look after all his possessions. He was also possessive. Rather than thinking of what he owned as belonging to God, and therefore to be used for His glory, he thought of it all as belonging to himself, to be used for his own pleasure. Another term to describe this miserly man is self-indulgent. As he looked ahead to the golden years of his retirement, he anticipated spending them in the pursuit of idle pleasure. We could also call him presumptuous because he assumed that he would live indefinitely. He thought his money was his security for the future. In short, the man was doing exactly what Jesus warned His disciples not to do: he was making his money his life. The Miser’s Folly. All of these words are accurate descriptors, but Jesus had a much simpler way of saying it. He called the rich man a fool. The first part of the parable shows the man’s own worldview. In verse 17 he identifies his dilemma; in verse 18 he comes up with his solution; in verse 19 he charts his course for the future. Only then does Jesus give us God’s perspective in verse 20. These words are chilling in their irony. When God tells the man that his soul will be required, He uses the same terminology a banker would use to call in a loan. God is telling the man that his loan is now due – the loan of his mortal existence. His life has always belonged to God, and now God is coming to claim it. But that is not the only irony. How ironic that a man who has been having his own private monologue has been overheard by God. How ironic that a man who thinks he will live for many years is down to his last few hours on earth! How ironic that a man who wants to keep it all for himself will have to leave it all behind. And how ironic that a man who gives not one thought to God must still answer to God for his very soul. How ironic, how tragic, and according to Jesus, how foolish! In all his financial planning, in all his efforts to take control of his future, he never counted on his own untimely demise. Yet death was already outside the door. This man was going to die before he had the chance to enjoy even one single day of his retirement. How foolish to make all those plans for a day that would never come! How foolish also to worry so much about so many things that he could not keep! Jesus asks the man a rhetorical question: the things you have prepared, whose will they be? [20]. The answer is that whomever they will belong to, they will not belong to him, which is all he really cares about. However rich we may be, we will die poor, leaving everything behind for someone else. The farmer was a fool for this reason as well: he thought that life consisted in the abundance of things – the very attitude that Jesus warned against. He thought that life was all about getting more and more for himself. What a fool he was, to think that money and pleasure are the most important things in the world! But the man was mainly a fool for this reason: he did not know God. This is what the Bible usually means when it describes someone as a fool. The fool is the man who says in his heart, ‘There is no God’ [Ps. 14:1]. He does not believe in the existence of God at all, or if he does, he does not acknowledge His presence in daily life. The rich man in the parable was like that. The man thought he had a storage problem, but what he really had was a spiritual problem. Rich Toward God. The practical point of this parable is very simple. Don’t be a fool! Don’t be the kind of fool who lives for this world and gives no thought to God. Instead, be wise to thank God for every blessing, knowing that everything comes from Him. Be wise to pray about practical problems, asking God what to do. Be wise to offer the best of your abilities for whatever God needs to be done, even in retirement. Be wise to know that life is short, that any day may be your last, and therefore that your future belongs to God. Be ready to meet God for judgment, trusting Him to save you from your sins through Jesus Christ. Here is how Jesus applied the parable of the rich fool: So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God [21]. This command is for everyone, for rich and poor alike. Nothing is said here about what we have or how much we make. Having or not having treasure is not the issue. The issue is our attitude about what we have – our heart motivation for what we do with it. Some people lay up treasure for themselves. Like the fool in the parable, they live for money and all the things that money can buy. Their goal is getting things for themselves. If that is what they want, it is all they will ever get. They will never gain the pleasures that come from knowing God, or the treasures of eternal life. Jesus calls us away from such poverty of soul to be rich toward the God who has been so rich toward us. God has lavished us with the gifts of His good creation. More than that, he has lavished us with the gifts of His saving grace. Now we have a choice to make: will we lay up more treasure for ourselves, or will we be rich toward God? What does it mean to be rich toward God? I am rich toward God when His glory is my highest goal, when His worship is my deepest joy, and when His fellowship is my greatest satisfaction. I am rich toward God when I offer all my abilities for His work, without reserve. I am rich toward God when I take the time to serve people in need and give the first portion of everything I get to Christian ministry. I am rich toward God when I make the needs of the poor a priority in my financial giving and embrace a simple lifestyle that gives me more freedom for ministry. I am rich toward God when I decide there are some things I can live without so that I will have more to give to people who do not even have the gospel. I am rich toward God when I give and give until all I am and all I have is dedicated to His glory. The issue is not how much you have, or do not have, but your attitude about what you do not have, and your generosity with what you do have. Jesus is calling you to give more to God, to the point of costly personal sacrifice. You would be a fool not to give everything you are, and everything you have.” [Ryken, pp. 656-667].

The Widow’s Offering:  Luke 21:1-4.

[1] Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, [2] and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. [3] And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. [4] For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”  [ESV]

“The Widow’s Mites [21:1-4]. If anyone seemed weak and unworthy, it was the woman Jesus and His disciples saw putting her two cents into the offering box at the temple. Yet Luke is giving us another one of his brilliant contrasts. The widow’s piety provides the perfect counterexample to the hypocrisy of the scribes. The scribes wanted to seem religious, but they did not want to make any sacrifices for the kingdom of God. Then along came a poor widow who gave more to God than all of them put together. It was the week of Passover, and pilgrims had come to Jerusalem from all over Israel in order to pay their vows to God. In those days there were thirteen collection boxes at the temple, each with a narrow opening at the top. People simply walked up at any time to put their money in the box. While Jesus was there with his disciples, rich people were coming up to give their offerings. Presumably it was obvious they were rich from the way that they dressed, and also because it took them so long to make their contributions. We get the impression that some of them may have been doing this for show, but it was still appropriate for them to give their money to God. They were doing what they should have done. Naturally some people were very impressed with how much these rich people were giving. But Jesus was unimpressed. What He noticed instead was a poor old woman who put in two little pennies. What the widow gave was hardly big enough to clink as it fell into the treasure. But as far as Jesus was concerned, her contribution was worth more than everything the rich people gave [21:3-4]. Jesus said this because rather than comparing what one person gave to what another person gave, He compared what each person gave to what each person had. The rich people were giving a lot, but then they had a lot to give. The widow gave everything she had. The word (poverty) that Jesus uses to describe her financial situation indicates extreme poverty. The woman had hardly anything to call her own. She was destitute. Yet she gave all the money she had. The Bible does not tell us why the woman did this. Yet she had to believe that God was glorious, because she was giving Him all her earthly treasure. She had to believe that God was gracious, because she was responding with the kind of costly generosity that only grace compels. She had to believe that God was provident, because once she had nothing left to live on, she would have to depend on Him for absolutely everything. To her everlasting credit, here was a woman who offered God unconditional faith, undying gratitude, and unrestrained praise. Jesus said, Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also [Matt. 6:21]. By that standard, when this woman gave her two little coins she was really putting her heart into the box, offering her whole self to God. How different she was from the scribes! They were all about what was on the outside, but she was living for God on the inside, so what came out of her was really there. This is what God wants from us: not just our money, but ourselves, from the inside all the way out. Thus the point of this story is to have a heart for God and a heart for giving.” [Ryken, pp. 404-409].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. According to 12:13-21, what should and shouldn’t we be afraid of? What message does 12:15-21 offer to a person who thinks they have been cheated? To a person who has abundant material goods? To you?
  2. What does Jesus teach in this parable concerning our ultimate priorities? What are your ultimate priorities? How do you use them in deciding how to live in this life?
  3. In the parable, what was the man’s worldview; his dilemma; his folly? What does Jesus mean by rich toward God [21]? How can you live your life so that you are rich toward God?
  4. What lesson are we to learn from the poor widow? How did the poor widow give more than the rich? How does the poor widow illustrate the point of Jesus’ teaching in the parable of the rich fool? How can we follow the poor widow’s example in our own giving?

References:

Luke 9:51 – 24:53, Darrell Bock, BENT, Baker.

The Gospel According to Luke, James Edwards, Eerdmans.

Luke, David Garland, Zondervan (ebook).

Luke, vol. 1 and 2, Philip Ryken, REC, P & R Publishers.