Putting In Money Or Putting In More?

Putting In Money Or Putting In More?

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

TODAY’S ARTICLE IS REPRODUCED FROM YESTERDAY’S LEHMAN LEARNER. I EMAIL AN EXPOSITORY STUDY OF A SECTION OF A BIBLE BOOK EACH MORNING. YOU CAN SUBSCRIBE AT “LEHMANOFFICECOC@GMAIL.COM.”

S.J. Friesen, in a book edited by Susan R. Holman entitled Wealth and Poverty in Early Church and Society. Holy Cross Studies in Patristic Theology and History (2008), reveals at least seven categories or classes in imperial Rome. This would have certainly applied to Jesus’ day. From top to bottom, they were:

  • Imperial elites (0.04% of society)
  • Regional or provincial elites (1%)
  • Municipal elites (1.76%)
  • Moderate surplus resources (7% estimated)
  • Stable near subsistence level with reasonable hope of remaining above the minimum level to sustain life (22% estimated)
  • At subsistence level and often below minimum level to sustain life (40%)
  • Below subsistence level (28%) (p. 19-20)

In that lowest category were included beggars, the disabled, unskilled day laborers, prisoners, and unattached widows. 

So the woman we meet in Mark 12:41-44 was on the bottom rung of society. Typically, every day was a fight for survival and full of uncertainty about meeting the basic needs of life. She had no advocates, champions, and could have been the target of unscrupulous men if she had a house or anything her husband had left her. Just before Jesus calls attention to the widow in our text, He had condemned the scribes for at least five offenses. The fourth was that they “devour widows’ houses” (40), for which “they will receive the greater condemnation” (40). Was the widow in these verses one of their victims?

What we know is that she enters the alms area of the temple in the court of women carrying “two small copper coins, which make a penny” (42). He makes no judgment on the contributions made by the wealthy, but holds up the woman as a contrast to the scribes and any who practiced pretentious religion.

She gives unpretentiously. She does not draw attention to herself. She quietly slips in the two coins. It is because Jesus is omniscient and observant that He is aware of her gift. She did not make any announcements or ask for any prayer requests, that God help her since she was giving everything to God. It was an assuming moment in time that might have passed unnoticed but for Jesus. 

She gives sacrificially. Many rich people put in large sums (41), yet Jesus says they contributed out of their abundance (44). However much they gave, they could continue their lifestyle at the same rate and pace as before their gift. But she “put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (44). The Macedonians were great givers, who “according to their ability, and beyond their ability gave of their own accord” (2 Cor. 8:3). As incredible as that is, this poor widow gave more. Only Jesus could exceed her gift (cf. 2 Cor. 8:9). 

She gives abundantly. Jesus signifies this by saying she gave more than the rich that day (43). It was not a competition to her, a cause for swelling pride. We will suggest her motive in a moment, but the consequence of her gift was that it was unmatched generosity. Those whose giving cost them something know the fulness of heart and the favor of God this woman must have felt. What a challenge!

She gives trustingly. Mark does not tell us this. In fact, neither does Luke (21:1-4). But what other conclusion can we draw? She gave God all she had to live on. Do we suppose that she left the temple, curled up in a ball, and died of starvation and exposure? Is that how God has ever responded to those who give in faith? Has anyone ever out-given God? That does not mean that God moved her up a rung or two in society because of her gift. That is a very materialistic way to view this account. Instead, the way she gave was inseparably joined to the way she lived. She gave with reckless abandon, left only with a confidence that God would be her protector. Had she heard that day or at some point the words of the psalmist, “How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, Whose hope is in the Lord his God, Who made heaven and earth, The sea and all that is in them; Who keeps faith forever; Who executes justice for the oppressed; Who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free. The Lord opens the eyes of the blind; The Lord raises up those who are bowed down; The Lord loves the righteous; The Lord protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow, But He thwarts the way of the wicked” (146:5-9)? She seemed to know the source of her help and hope, her administrator of justice, provisions, and support. She gave accordingly.

Next Sunday, we will make an offering as part of our worship. Across 2,000 years, Jesus holds up this widow to challenge us. Will we give like her, unpretentiously, sacrificially, abundantly, and trustingly? If we do, will He cause us to suffer? That is the mental battleground upon which we all stand. May He help us successfully fight that battle. 

What Generous Giving Shows

What Generous Giving Shows

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

After praising the Corinthians in the midst of his second letter to them, Paul challenges their growth in a specific area of their Christianity. It is an area where several need to be challenged. Jesus urges us to have proper hearts by laying up treasure in heaven (Mat. 6:19-21) and Paul spends time showing what a proper heart looks like. Notice what he says on this subject in 2 Corinthians 8. 

GENEROUS GIVING REFLECTS THE GRACE OF THE LORD (1-2,9)

Paul holds up the impoverished churches of Macedonia and the Lord Jesus Christ as examples of grace for the Corinthians. The poor saints of Macedonia, in a great ordeal of affliction, had abundant joy and a wealth of liberality to give generously despite that poverty. Who does that look like? The Lord Jesus Christ, who, though rich, for our sakes became poor that we through His poverty might become rich. Do you want to look like Jesus? Give generously and abundantly.

GENEROUS GIVING REVEALS AN EAGER, SACRIFICIAL HEART (3-6)

What kind of hearts did the Macedonians have? They had willing hearts, which caused them to give “beyond their ability” (3). They had begging hearts, which considered being allowed to give a favor (4). They had giving hearts, which prompted a financial generosity out of their first giving themselves to God (5). How is my giving? Let me first ask how my heart is, when it comes to “my” money. Paul uses Macedonia’s example to spur on Corinth.

GENEROUS GIVING REINFORCES OTHER OTHER SPIRITUAL QUALITIES (7-8,24)

Paul credits Corinth for their faith, utterance, knowledge, earnestness, love, and sincerity. The first three seem to be alluding to their spiritual gifts (cf. 1 Cor. 12-14), necessary to grow the church. The last three are attitudes Christians must possess. Yet, Paul tosses generosity right onto that figurative pile. He calls for them to abound in this gracious work, too. It proved the sincerity of their love. Later, Paul urges them to “show them the proof of your love and of our reason for boasting about you” (24). It’s not generous giving or these other qualities, or vice versa. God wants all of us. 

GENEROUS GIVING READIES ONE FOR COMPLETION (10-15)

Paul calls for them to finish what they intended to do in this matter. Intentions, as great as they may be, cannot be spent or used to meet the various needs Paul is concerned about. The completion of it was as vital as the readiness to do it. God sees giving as the great equalizer between those with abundance and those with need. He’s not talking about redistribution of wealth. He’s talking about a healthy attitude toward one’s wealth that leads to God supplying all that’s needed through our generosity. Don’t just intend or desire to give. Do it!

GENEROUS GIVING RESULTS IN ACCOMPLISHING GOD’S WORK (16-24)

This is a matter of practicality. Real needs in spreading the gospel existed, requiring monetary aid to accomplish. Titus brought it to their attention. Paul is reminding them of it. As they participated in this gracious work, they were helping the church. 

Do you find it interesting that for the inspired Paul, the subject of giving was not off-limits whether he was talking about the rich or the poor or the weak or the strong? Giving is a fundamental aspect and expression of our faith. It is not a substitute for good works. It is a specific example, one of many good works. We need to excel in this gracious work also!

CHECK THOSE LOTTERY NUMBERS CLOSELY!

CHECK THOSE LOTTERY NUMBERS CLOSELY!

Neal Pollard

Today, we are finding out that three winning lottery tickets were sold in the record-setting Powerball jackpot, one in California, one in Florida, and one in Tennessee. Each ticket is worth $528.8 million dollars. That’s an attention-getting number.  Here are a few more.  $70.1 billion dollars, the amount Americans spend on lottery tickets every year (more than Americans spend on sports tickets, books, video games, movies, and music combined). $755. That’s the average per-capita spend on lottery tickets in South Dakota. $800. That’s the per-capita spend in Rhode Island, who holds the ignominious distinction of leading the nation in this category. $230. That’s the per-capita average spend of every man, woman, and child in the 43 states where the lottery is played. One-third and one-half.  The poorest third of households buy half of all lottery tickets (statistics via theatlantic.com, Derek Thompson, “Lotteries: America’s $70 Billion Shame”).

Newscasters often report on these jackpots and encourage viewers to “check the numbers.” Lottery commercials often vie with beer commercials as some of the more humorous, clever ones to be seen. In the media and public venues, lottery ticket purchasing is usually portrayed as a harmless, even exciting, diversion. Perhaps many have failed to look more closely at what these other numbers mean for a person’s ethics and morality.

John A. Hobson, in the January 1905 edition of International Journal of Ethics, examined “The Ethics Of Gambling.” In an examination of gambling, including lottery contests, Hobson observes:

Gambling involves the denial of all system in the appointment
of property: it plunges the mind in a world of anarchy where
things come upon one, and pass from one miraculously. It does
not so manifestly sin against the canons of justice as do other
bad modes of transfer, theft, fraud, sweating (sic.), for every one
is said to have an equal chance; but it inflicts a graver damage
on the intellect. Based as it is on an organised rejection of all
reason as a factor, it removes its devotees into a positive atmosphere
of miracles, and generates an emotional excitement that inhibits
those checks which reason more or less contrives to place upon
emotional extravagances. The essence of gambling consists in
an abandonment of reason, an inhibition of the factors of human
control (Vol. 15, No. 2, 138).

Hobson was looking at the underlying psyche of those so eager to gain as much as possible while exerting as little effort as possible. But he decries more than laziness. He puts his finger on the most dangerous aspect of things like playing the lottery—the Bible calls it “covetousness.” It is an irrational, often compulsive, attempt to obtain wealth.

The BDAG lexicon defines the covetous person as “one who desires to have more than is due, a greedy person, whose ways are judged to be extremely sinful by Christians and many others. In Hellenic society this was a violation of the basic principle of proportion and contrary to the idea of beneficent concern for the citizenry” (Arndt, William, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature 2000 : n. pag. Print.). Greed is not confined to practices like playing the lottery, but it is legitimate for one to ask what motivates their play?

What is clear is what Scripture says about covetousness: it prevents one’s inheriting the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:10), it is idolatry which again prevents inheriting this kingdom (Eph. 5:5), it is a failure to love one’s neighbor (Rom. 13:9), and it is a defilement of the heart (Mark 7:22). Let’s make sure that greed and covetousness do not “have our number.”

1st_california_lottery_tickets1

PINPOINTING THE PROBLEM

PINPOINTING THE PROBLEM

Neal Pollard

Terrorist madmen shoot up a school in Pakistan and kill over 100 people, mostly children.  A politically correct society is close to forbidding biblical teaching on matters that violates its bombastic code.  Pluralism (all religious paths are equally valid) and syncretism (blending two or more religious belief systems into a new system) seem to grow more popular in the religious philosophy of a great many.  An erosion of morality and ethics seems to daily redefine acceptable norms and boundaries so that things not long ago thought outrageous are now not just tolerated but celebrated.  The culture of unbelief and agnosticism spreads while the spirit of humble dependency upon God seems to shrink.  When we pause to consider all of this, our head can spin and we can begin to question how this happened and so quickly.

Paul often writes that we are engaged in spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:10-13; 2 Cor. 10:3-5; 1 Tim. 1:18; 1 Tim. 6:12). While we will witness violence, hatred, gross immorality, an anything goes mentality, and the like, lost sinners are not the enemy.  They embrace the thinking and values of the enemy, but Paul says such people are ensnared and held captive by the enemy (1 Tim. 6:9; 2 Tim. 2:26), “caught” (Gal. 6:1), and “subject to slavery” (Heb. 2:15).  New Testament writers pinpoint the source of this enormous problem as:

  • The ruler of this world (John 12:31; 16:11).
  • The god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4).
  • The prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2).
  • World forces and spiritual forces (Eph. 6:12).
  • The whole world lies in the power of the evil one (1 Jn. 5:19).

Peter simply calls him our adversary (1 Pet. 5:8).  In the gospel, Jesus often alludes to him as the enemy.  From Christ’s temptations in Matthew 4, we learn that he has been given the power over “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” (8).  They are his to dispense and disperse (9).  New Testament writers pinpoint this domain with its unrighteous thinking simply as “the world” (Jas. 4:4; 1 John 2:15-17).  All who submit to living according to the thinking and values of this world are submitting to this ruler, god, prince, force, and evil one. They are pledging allegiance to his way and being guided by his leadership.

We can see the devastating effect this is having on the peace and the practice of the masses.  Yet, we must resist it in our individual lives.  Perhaps Paul said it most concisely when he wrote, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). Many of the spiritual problems in our lives can be pinpointed to our following the wrong leader.  May God give us the wisdom and discernment to see through his destructive schemes!

Happiness (POEM)

Happiness (POEM)

Photo by Ying Prinyanut

Neal Pollard

What do I need to make for joy?
To beat those troubles that annoy?
Can it be bought or taken from others?
What would I get if I had my druthers?
Would I find it in possessions, investments, land?
A car that’s new or a house that’s grand?
That perfect someone to make me satisfied?
A high position to feed my pride?
When I have seen some with hardly a possession
Who know nothing of materialistic obsession
Anonymous to paparazzi and heads of state
Facing perils and diseases with no way to abate
Living contentedly, day after day
Trusting God gladly to provide them a way
Loving their neighbors and spiritual siblings
All without virtue of a bevy of things
That tells me something, I’d better take notice
Of something the apostle Paul long ago wrote us,
“Whether you have or don’t, or you spend or are spent,
Whatever you face, in life be content.”