Mark 12: 38-44
Learning to Give Generously
President John F. Kennedy in his inaugural address said: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
In the spiritual realm we might say to every Christian: “Ask not what God can give to you, but what you can give to God.”
I was recently rather taken aback with a University of Chicago study, which showed that secular children gave more generously than their religious counterparts (Nonreligious children are more generous), asking myself “what are we teaching our children in Church and at home?”.
The new research, done with children in six countries (Canada, China, Jordan, Turkey, South Africa, and the United States), included 510 Muslim, 280 Christian, and 323 nonreligious children. The study focused on one facet of moral behavior: altruism, or the willingness to give someone else a benefit that also comes with a personal cost.
The test revolved around that ubiquitous childhood currency, stickers. Children ages 5 to 12 met individually with adults who let them choose 10 of their favorite stickers. The children were then told that the adults didn’t have time to distribute the rest of their stickers to other kids in a fictive class. But each child was told they could put some of their 10 stickers in an envelope to be shared with other kids, who were described as being from the same school and ethnic group. The scientists used the number of stickers left in the envelope as a measure of altruism.
The children from nonreligious households left 4.1 stickers on average, a statistically significant difference from Christian children (3.3) and Muslim ones (3.2). Also, the more religious the household, based on a survey of parents, the less altruistic the child. In older children, the split was most stark, with religious youth increasingly unlikely to share.
The most stunning finding, for me, was that some of it was based on “who will know” – i.e. whether or not anyone would know which child gave how much. The secular children were found to be more consistent in their acts – irrespective of whether someone would know or not that they were the one that gave – they would do good whether or not someone is watching. As Christians, have we really taught our children to act and behave in a particular way because they think they are being watched, because they think they have to, because it makes them look good and others see them in a good light?
If you’re helping someone and expecting something in return, you’re doing business, not kindness.
Our reading today from Mark shows a stark contrast between those who simply do good for the perceived benefit that they will receive and those who quietly go about doing good in the background. Jesus was harsh against the scribes, as teachers of the religious law – because they should know better!
Jesus talks about the practices of the teachers of the law. These were the professional interpreters of the religious laws. They were responsible for copying, editing and studying the sacred texts and explaining them to the people. They were learned men, some of the few in society who could read and write. Having these skills gave them power over others. They paraded about in flowing robes and were waiting to receive respectful greetings as they walked about. They looked for the seats of honor and to be seated at the head tables in banquets. They pretended to be pious by making long prayers in public, because they were paid by the length of the prayers: they learned the art of making long prayers, because longer the prayer, the more money they received.
Jesus gives quite a damning indictment of the actions and words of the teachers of the law. In fact it’s probably one of the sternest remarks that Jesus ever gave. What would Jesus criticize of the pastors and teachers of today? We may not wear long flowing robes, or prayer shawls, but I wonder if, in the church we are at times like the teachers, with a religion of show, a religion is is about the outward appearance and not living out the faith in daily life.
And yet, all the while, a poor widow caught Jesus’ eye, for her two pennies – giving everything she had to live on, and putting her trust and faith completely in God to supply her needs. Keep in mind, that the word poor used in Jesus’ time meant pauper, destitute, in deep poverty. No doubt her poor dress and appearance showed her desperate plight. What she gave was a real sacrifice! What the others gave was not a sacrifice! It did not cost them nor hurt them – they gave only what they could spare!
How many times are we giving God the crumbs of the leftovers? How many times do you find yourself talking from a place of scarcity? I don’t have enough time, I don’t have enough money, there aren’t enough hours in the day, I’m out of energy, I’m too tired? What about your important relationships? Are they getting the best of you, or just the rest of you? I would really like to, but I just can’t fit it in…
The law of the harvest, the law of sowing and reaping is seen in our giving and in our failure to give. Where are you sowing your time and energy? If Jesus spent a day watching you, what would he say about how you are spending your time, your talents and your material wealth?
2 Corinthians 9, verses 10-11 reminds us:
For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you. Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous…
Giving is an evidence of God’s providence – We are able to give because we believe that God provides.
Before this, 2 Corinthians 9, verses 6 to 8 stated:
Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.”And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.
Our generosity is measured not by what others give but what you are capable and willing to give. So if you want to know if you are generous, then evaluate your capability and willingness to give. And this doesn’t just apply to your money – it applies to your time and your talents, to how you are investing every asset (material or otherwise) in your life.
This passage teaches us how much God really wants from us. This goes beyond money. The main example in this passage is money, but it extends into all aspects of our life. This relates to time, abilities, responsibilities, and money.
John Wimber says:
Show me where you spend your time, money and energy, and I’ll tell you what you worship.
If someone wrote your biography on the basis of your checkbook and your appointment diary, what might it say about you, your loyalties, your focus, and about whom you serve?
This morning I pray that when Jesus looks at us as we give – not just this morning but always – I pray that he will find cheerful, extravagant givers, who have discovered that God is able to make all grace abound to us, so that in all things at all times, we will have all that we need, abounding in every good work. Abounding in time, abounding in energy, abounding in patience and grace, abounding in love, and abounding in generosity.