Thursday, 11 September 2014

Sacrificial giving or a religious burden?

[Note: this post has been edited for clarity.]

As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. ‘Truly I tell you,’ he said, ‘this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’ ~Luke 21:1-4

When you read this scripture, what are your first thoughts?

I know that mine always used to be that this was an encouragement for us to give sacrificially and also that God is not impressed with the amount you give (which I still believe to be true), but the sacrifice you make in giving to him; so that 1p is of more worth to God than £1,000 if that 1p was a huge sacrifice (which is true in some circumstances). And because of my church background, I thought that God likes us to give even if it means we have no money to buy food and other essentials (and that if I didn't give, because I was worried about finances, I was a terribly unfaithful person who didn't trust God). In other words, I reasoned that Jesus was pleased with what the widow did and that was the end of the matter.

But this has been rather blown out of the water in the past few days.  I had partly understood it, but had misapplied it.

First let me put the above scripture into context:

‘Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the market-places and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.’

As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. ‘Truly I tell you,’ he said, ‘this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’

Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, ‘As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.’ Luke 20:46-21:6

Let's look at how the story is framed:

First, Jesus criticises the teachers of the law for 'devouring widows' houses' - using their religion and influence to take advantage of these poor women - ruining their lives by eating up their livelihoods.

So how are the teachers of the law doing this? It sounds like they were encouraging 'sacrificial giving' with no thought to the effect this was having on the widows, because we then read that Jesus has spotted one of these poor widows giving a gift to the temple.  She gave all she had and thus had nothing left to live on.  Why did she give all she had?  The teachers of the law had used some kind of influence upon her to give - perhaps playing on her piety or love of God to take all her money, maybe they used fear tactics...who knows - these religious men 'tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them' (Matt 23:4). But Jesus saw and his heart went out to her.  He knew that the rich would receive benefits for their giving (even though that giving did not affect them negatively at all), they would receive honour, a special place at the banquet, a good seat at the temple perhaps.  But that woman, was quietly ruined and no-one would remember.

Except Jesus.  He always sees and His heart is for the oppressed.

The disciples are perhaps confused by this because they immediately point out all the beautiful stones the temple is decorated with by these gifts dedicated to God - perhaps they are trying to say to Jesus, "Look, I know that some people suffer and I know you aren't impressed by riches, but look at God's temple!  Isn't that worth something? Maybe this widow did suffer, but isn't God pleased with that? Even her small amount contributed to this beauty."  But Jesus replies that the whole thing is going to be razed to the ground.

A woman's life was ruined for a pile of stones.

Mercy and justice are lost in the clamour to be 'most honouring of God'.  A woman may well have starved to death - her house 'devoured' - because someone told her that her gifts honoured God.

In the end, God is sickened and the men who think God is impressed by money will be punished.

This reminded me of something that Gary, my hubby said, about those churches who preach that tithing is mandatory, a while ago. It's all very well the church claiming that God wants us to tithe a flat 10% for everyone, but for one person 10% means they go without food, for another 10% doesn't even make a dent.[** see my later note on tithing]. The church oppresses today and it markets it as 'sacrificial giving'.

I think that this story is a good example of how God loves people.  He is pleased when we honour Him with beautiful things, yes of course He is, but if the poor are stripped of what little they have in order to do this then we do not honour Him, we anger Him.  It is also a warning to preachers who place burdens upon their congregation to give way above their means. Jesus always approached people differently on this subject - being radical to the rich (give all you have to the poor and follow me) and radical to the poor (come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden).  And so should we, it is a lesson to the rich that they don't need to 'build bigger barns' to store up all their wealth - you're blessed? Be a blessing.  It is also a lesson to the poor, God sees and He cares.  It is a lesson to the wider church - we are all in this together.

God has been teaching us for centuries, that sacrifice is for us to give to the needy, not for us to encourage sacrifice in those who have nothing as part of some misplaced piety:

6“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousnessa will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail. ~Isaiah 58

With this in mind, the best way to approach money, I believe, is:

1. To remember that everything belongs to God - it isn't our money.  Whatever amount we give is His anyway - and we owe Him everthing! Everything.  However, despite the fact that we owe Him everything, He doesn't demand it, God is a giver of gifts out of grace and love. If you belong to Jesus your whole life belongs to Him anyway, and where you put your money reflects that, and it blesses God whether it's on the church plate, or warming your home, or feeding your children...or feeding someone else's children!  The fact that He doesn't want us to suffer like the poor widow is because He loves us and He cares for us as the best Father ever. So, if you can't give, don't worry, God allows some people to be rich so that they can give extra to make up for the fact that you can't give! We are family after all and if we don't need each other we're just individuals doing our own thing.  So if you can't give don't stress about it, just give all your burdens to God, He cares for you!

2. Churches don't run on air, if you have money that you do not need, give and give generously.  You drank a cup of coffee?  Give.  You enjoyed the great music and lights? Give.  You just used some loo roll? Give. You think the church needs to do more in the community? Give. You enjoyed that visiting preacher?  He fed you with the Word of God. Give. I mean you wouldn't walk out of a restaurant without paying would you?  But again, if you have no money church is free - or should be - because we operate as a family who gives gifts out of grace and love.

3. Finally and most importantly, give to the poor and needy.  Jesus recommends it heartily.  If you are poor and needy, I pray there is a church near you who can help you get back on your feet.

God prefers a healthy living temple [us!], built on mercy, justice, faithfulness and love, to a pile of old stones.

It's OK to fail!

-----------------------

**NB: I don't believe tithing is a New Testament principle, we are not under the law anymore, the New Testament speaks of giving “in keeping with income” (1 Corinthians 16:2) and that “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion [so if your church makes it mandatory this is NOT biblical] for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

However, if you believe in tithing as a principle, that's fine.  We all should give as we believe God is telling us to.  Generously, but without fear or guilt. My main concern is those who claim that tithing is mandatory to have a blessed Christian life.

I did have a paragraph here about  tithing, but I think it distracts from the main point of my post, which is that God loves us rich or poor and he doesn't want his children to suffer under a religious burden masquerading as 'sacrificial giving'.

5 comments:

  1. I loved your post Sarah, I agree wholeheartedly. I often felt that some churches would judge us by the amount we gave and I didn't like feeling that way because what I COULD give was all I had. Yes sometimes it meant giving even when we had nothing else left for us, but we did it anyway because we knew that God would provide, as He always did.

    Thank you for your sweet comment on my blog this morning, it means a lot and I really appreciate everyone's support :)

    Hugs and kisses,
    Sandra
    xoxoxo

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    1. Yes, giving should always be from the heart and not from pressure from others xxx

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  2. That certainly is food for thought Sarah. For many people, elderly and living only on a state pension, a tithe is almost too much. But many people give in different ways, in flower arranging, in cleaning the church, in serving as a welcomer. I don't think anyone should be judged by how much or little they give.

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    1. The tithe was an OT law not applicable for us under Grace. But of course if someone feels they can and it is right then they should do that. It is a shame that some churches do claim it is essential (my old church did that).

      As I tried to show, the old widow was coerced into giving and it may have ruined her, it's not God's way.

      Once I got over my fear about it, we haven't tithed for a while now, we give what we can. Xxx

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  3. Very good analysis, different from what I've always heard on this passage!

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