Many years ago, a Bible college friend told me that he thought one true mark of spiritual maturity was the ability to do something for someone and never tell anyone. While this marker is not found in Scripture, it does fight against our common thinking and our human desire to gain something from the good we do. Taking this marker as a challenge, I performed an anonymous act of kindness for a coworker; but now I fear I’ve exposed my lack of spiritual maturity by revealing it to you.
Why do we give, serve, and sacrifice as part of our relationship with Jesus? Is it to get something? Is it to tip the scales in our favor in God’s eyes? An affirmative answer to the last two questions may point to a misunderstanding in our theology. Let’s look at an example in the Gospels of someone who sacrificed and gave without expecting something in return.
The Widow’s Story
Mark 12:41-44 tells us that Jesus sat down with his disciples near the temple treasury. He was people watching. There Jesus noticed a poor widow. How did he know she was poor and widowed? Of course he is God and he knows everything, but was there something in her appearance and in her being alone that indicated to Jesus that she was a poor widow? Maybe Jesus had met this woman before. Either way, Jesus pointed her out to his disciples. He was close enough to her to see that she put two small copper coins into the temple treasury. It wasn’t much, that’s for sure. In fact, this is often referred to as the story of the widow’s mite. It was a meager donation by any measure.
Jesus held her up as a model. She gave out of her poverty, everything she had to live on. To Jesus, the amount of the offering was not important. What mattered was the sacrifice involved. She gave all she had. Her story has been preached throughout church history and it offers a significant challenge. At our church we use the phrase, “not equal gifts, but equal sacrifice.” This woman demonstrated this principle as she sacrificed all even though it was a small gift.
I wish we had the rest of the story. Did Jesus approach her after this? Did he miraculously provide additional money to reward her for her generous offering? Did God bless her life in some way? What happened to her? We’ll have to wait until eternity to learn the rest of her story. She sacrificed what she had to God. Period. That’s it. And the Gospel writer found Jesus’ commendation of her worthy of being recorded for all time.
We have no record in the Gospels that this widow received any reward, extra merit, or added blessing for her gift. None. Knowing the character of our God, we want to think that he blessed her richly for this, but we do not know. She gave because she wanted to give a generous gift to the work of God. We do not know her motivation; all we know is what she did. She gave to the work of God and gave all she had.
That’s the challenge—to give and sacrifice to the work of God simply for the pleasure of giving. Yet even in the church we tend to expect an ROI (return on investment) from our giving. What would it look like for us to give and sacrifice, even out of our poverty, to the work of God simply because we wanted to and had the opportunity? No fanfare, no applause, no special events for “high-capacity givers.” Just the knowledge that we contributed what we could to the work of God, knowing that God is pleased with that.
Maybe my friend from Bible college was on to something. Maybe one mark of spiritual maturity is our ability to give and sacrifice to others and to the work of God without anyone noticing. Of course, we believe that God notices and he is able to reward when and how he wants to. I believe Jesus was teaching that giving and sacrificing simply because we love God, we want to honor him, and we have the opportunity is commendable in his eyes.
Modern day examples of this type of unnoticed sacrifice are abundant in the church. Let me share a few.
- a wealthy businessman who sponsors the cost of a short-term mission trip
- families who faithfully deliver meals to homeless folks
- a single mom or dad who, though tired from working two jobs, commits to being in church each week with their kids
- a successful couple nearing retirement now choosing to adopt three children from their community
- a restaurant owner who donates food each week to prostitutes in his city
On and on the list could go. These examples come from real people in my church. None of these people sacrificed for any fanfare or extra blessing; they did it out of love for God, love for other people, and a desire to honor God.
Simply sacrifice. This is the example of the poor widow at the temple in Jerusalem. Will it be your legacy as well? Will people who are watching your life notice that you give simply to give? What challenging questions! Why not try it out? This week give something or sacrifice something for the work of God. And don’t tell anyone about it. But rest assured that God will notice because he is always people watching.
James Hansee is associate minister at Whitewater Crossing Christian Church in Cleves, Ohio and an adjunct professor at Cincinnati Christian University.