The Motivation of Christian Stewardship
- Friday, November 07, 2003
I once heard a story about a strong man in a circus show. He had very powerful hands, and would use his muscles to squeeze every bit of juice out of an orange. He would then challenge anyone in the audience to squeeze even one more drop of juice out of that orange. Big men would come down from the audience and try to get one more drop out, but no one could. Then one day, a skinny, little man came down and squeezed that orange, and to everyone's surprise a drop of juice dripped to the floor. The strong man was astonished and asked, "How did you do that?" The skinny man answered, "Oh, it was easy. I'm the treasurer at the local church. If I can squeeze money out of that stingy congregation, I can sure do this!"
It's unfortunate that so many churches feel they must squeeze money out of people in the name of stewardship. Churches think they must beg and plead and hit folks over the head to get their offering. They offer chicken dinners and fashion shows in order to squeeze out the last drop. They can barely break even because their congregation is so reluctant to give. This shows that something is drastically wrong in the heart. Something is wrong when we don't give money, time, or service to the God who has been so good to us.
In my ministry, I have committed to teach and preach about stewardship, not squeeze money out of people. But the reality is that unless the church members understand they are stewards of God's kingdom, the ministry of the kingdom greatly suffers. Stewardship is a matter of the heart. Jesus drives this point home in Mark 12 when He discusses the motivation behind stewardship.
Mark 12:41 says Jesus went to church with His disciples, "and He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury." Jesus' watch was very intimate. He intentionally went to where the offering was taken. He knew that how the people gave their money said something about their hearts. It's important to note that God is not interested in your money, but He is interested in how you use your money because that is a clear indicator of where your heart is.
The temple Jesus visited in this passage, Herod's temple, was quite impressive. Approximately 15,000 people could pack themselves into the temple court, and it was truly an amazing place. Even the disciples were astounded by this majestic place: "One of Jesus' disciples said to Him, 'Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!' " (Mark 13:1). It was a place to behold.
Jesus was in the midst of all these people, watching them give their offerings. In this plush place, the rich were obvious. Verse 41 says: "Many rich people were putting in large sums." Jesus was so close to the offering receptacle He could tell the amount the people were contributing.
Not only were the rich obvious, there was a woman there who was obvious to Jesus. "A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent" (v. 42). This widow had no human means of support. Her husband was gone and she was alone. She put in two small coins, lepta, that made a little "ting, ting" sound as they hit the bottom. A lepta was less than one of our pennies, and we all know you can't do much with a penny. A lepta was the smallest currency in Palestine at the time. And Jesus watched her put two lepta in the offering. He must have been pretty close to see those tiny coins! He sits opposite the treasury and watches this take place, and it tells Him volumes about this woman's heart.
Jesus saw what everyone gave, and how they gave, and He analyzed what He saw. He watched critically, going beyond the obvious and looking into the heart of each giver. He wanted to know what was behind what they gave. Then, "calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, 'Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury' " (v. 43). Jesus was so taken by the widow's actions, He called the disciples over for a life lesson. He didn't want His disciples to miss what had taken place.
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