We’ve all heard the phrase “It’s better to give than receive.” and many of us would agree. Who doesn’t love the look on someone else’s face when you give them something that delights or moves them? It’s vastly satisfying. Intoxicating even. The best parts of the Christmas holidays are not the moments of unwrapping our own presents but the anticipation of finally giving someone that one thing we know they will enjoy.
But what about when there’s no receiving? For all too often we understand those wise words with the expectation that receiving something back is not far behind our own giving. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Think of the widow and her offering in Mark 12. In this story, Jesus and his disciples are watching people give their offerings in the temple. The vast majority are giving in loud, showy ways that let everyone around them know their wealth. It’s a complete show.
Then into the din comes a poor widow. She walks in unassumingly and gives just two coins. Two little plinks in a big metal bowl. Hardly anything worth noticing, but Jesus immediately points her out to his disciples as the one who actually gave the most, saying that while the others gave out of their excess, she gave out of what little she had to live on. Everyone around her was making offerings from their disposable income. They had the option to go home with no real change in their economic status. None of them had to go home and explain to their family why dinner was going to be a little leaner that night or why last year’s warm clothes would have to do. In short, it was easy for them to give.
Contrarily, Jesus wasn’t mincing his words when he pointed out just how much the widow gave. It’s easy to look at this story with a modern lens on status, but it’s important to remember what widowhood in that time would have actually meant. This was not a career woman encountering personal tragedy but having means to fall back on. There was no return to her old nine to five, no joint savings account, no life insurance policy. Besides being a partner in life, this woman’s husband was her means of economic survival. So the two coins were not just her meager means, they were the last remnants of her entire source of security. And she gave them anyway. No wonder Jesus pointed her out.
Here’s the thing, though. We don’t know what happened to the widow after she made her offering. We don’t know. We know that she was praised by Jesus for her deed, but we don’t even know if she heard him. For all we know, she went home to a life that was more uncertain than ever.
If that was the case, was God still good? Was her faith misplaced or wasted? Was she right to trust in God? Or should she have held onto those coins a little tighter until God gave her some sort of guarantee of a better tomorrow?
Frugality would say she was wrong, faith says she is right. Even if the widow’s life got worse after that day, she was still wise and faithful to trust God with her meager means. It was still a good decision.
We absolutely have to understand that a giving heart is not a guarantee of prosperity. It is fully possible that your giving will bring about no giving to you in return. That doesn’t alter our need to do it and that most certainly doesn’t change the goodness of God.
If you live life looking for reward here on earth you will become bitter and jaded out of ever giving again because the vast majority of our earthly giving will go unrewarded. Sometimes even unthanked or unseen. But if you give looking to a future beyond this life, you live with a hope that nothing you do is unseen or unknown
It is entirely possible that God may call on you to give in big ways that you are never rewarded for this side of the grass. If your faith is built on reward, that disappointment will end your confidence in God. Your faith will crash down around you and you will feel as though God has completely abandoned you after you seemingly did everything for him.
If, however, your faith is more focused on what comes after your brief stay on earth you will find yourself needing no reward or recognition for your giving deeds. Your confidence in God will not be shaken because you have that much more of an understanding and expectation for how he works. You know your time is coming. You will understand that your giving is not about you and is one piece in a far greater picture. What’s more, your faith is a far better testimony than any earthly economic prosperity. People will listen to what you say about God when you’re following him in prosperity, but they will make decisions about him based on how you follow him when you have nothing.
Yes, we don’t know what happened to the widow after her offering, but you know what else we don’t know? How many others saw her and re-evaluated their own faith. How many people might have challenged themselves to trust God a little deeper with their means. If the widow had held onto her coins instead of trusting them to offer she would have been saying something very loud indeed about what she thought God was capable of. Clearly, she wasn’t interested in sending that message. The widow’s legacy doesn’t lie in her unknown future, but in her steadfast faith. Her faith may have been the deciding factor in someone else’s. By that measure, she gave far more than just two coins. Who knows what you might be able to give.
So give without expectation of receiving and know that, like the widow, you are playing a role in a story so much broader than you ever could have dreamed. We may not have known what happened to the widow during the rest of her time here on earth, but I have very few doubts as to how she’s doing now. God does not call us into faith and then abandon us. He will not abandon you in your giving.
Let’s find some joy,