Do Not Rob the Poor

Posted: November 21, 2011 in Uncategorized
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Do Not Rob the Poor

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.
“—Luke 21:1-4 (Similar text is Mark 12:41-44)

These verses normally are in reference to giving, how we should give, etc. This would be the normal Baptist preacher text on giving. In fact, I am more Baptist than not. As a matter of fact, I am going to argue that this text has little to do with giving. Bear with me, my fellow theologians.
The first thing we notice in the text is that Jesus looked up. What was he doing before? Jesus was looking down. Very good! Now, he looked up. Jesus looked up from looking down and saw the rich putting in big amounts into the offering plate. While looking up, He saw a very poor widow put in two copper coins, all that she had–All that this poor widow had to live on.

This is where most of my friends and preachers would spend their time explaining we need to give like the widow. Sadly, many do not understand the context of the text (which is why I wish all pastors would preach exegetically through a book of the Bible, and not a topical series—perhaps, this is for another time).
To understand the context, let’s look at the verses prior to this very popular text on giving. Remember, the original manuscripts had neither chapter divisions nor verses, those were added for our benefit to find the texts, or little paragraphs segment division.

And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
—Luke 20:45-47

Is it not interesting that the context right before Luke 21 is referring to the Scribes devouring widows? This is the context right before the great giving text. Let us not just end there though. What about after the giving text? Let’s take a look.

And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”And they asked him, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.
“—Luke 21:5-9

A few observations here: From the end of Luke 20 to Luke 21:9, it is talking about the Scribes who run the temple. It appears that many who hold the traditional view of the widow think the verses before are talking about the Scribes and warning us there, and then all of a sudden the story of the widow is given, and then back to the Scribes and the destruction of the temple. If we truly think about that, the context just does not fit. The temple will be destroyed. Why? The temple was taking advantage of the widows. Now, let’s look at the widow again.

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
—Luke 21:1-4

The traditional view on this is that the rich are in the wrong for giving out of their abundance. Is this not what some of the Church in Corinthians did? They gave according to their means (2 Corinthians 8), and yes, some beyond their means. Huge act of grace, so awesome! But is this what is being communicated about the widow? No, it is not. Jesus is not commanding nor commending the widow here. These verses are the verses that follow Luke 20 warning about the Scribes and then Jesus shares this account with us to prove the corruptness of the temple and the Scribes. Jesus never says that we are to give like the widow. Let me try to show you what I mean.

Some argue that we need to give like the widow. Yet, believe it or not the ones who teach this do not give all that they have (apparently, like the widow). Prosperity gospel (heresy) teachers say to give all we have to receive more money back. Though, some biblical scholars still say we need to give like the widow yet they do not give like this. The Disciples do not give like this. Jesus had stuff on earth. Yes, Jesus died and gave us everything we could have—Salvation! This alone should be motivation to give. Why? Because of what Christ have given to us. That is the gospel! This is the gospel!

Baptist preacher, John MacArthur explains a few different possible interpretations on the text.

One, Jesus is teaching that the measure of a gift is not how much you give but how much you have after you give. But that’s the measure of the gift. The measure is not the amount of the gift, but the amount left over. And that’s the lesson the Lord is trying to teach us and many have waxed eloquent on that lesson.

Another option, a second one is that the true measure is the self-denial involved, the cost to the individual which is a just another way to say the first one. But that the percentage given is really what the issue is relative to one’s expression of self-denial in that percentage. Obviously, the woman gave the highest percentage…everything. So it’s about the percentage you give.

Third possibility also related to the other two, is that the true measure of any gift is the attitude with which you give it. Is it selfless? Humble? Surrender? Expressing love for God, devotion to God and trust in God? The widow, we are told, had the least left behind, gave the highest percentage and must have had the best attitude.

Fourthly, and this is another option that some have suggested, that the gift that truly pleases God is when you give everything and take a vow of poverty. And all of these and combinations of all of these are defended by virtually all those who write on this text. Teachers have waxed eloquent on all of them

MacArthur continues to explain the problem with these interpretations.

Now at this point I will confess to you, in spite of the popularity of these views, in spite of the universality of these views, none of these explanations makes any sense to me….none. In fact, all of those interpretations are imposed on the text and you know how I feel about imposing things on the Bible text….not good. You say, “Why do you say they’re imposed?” Because Jesus never made any of those points. Jesus never said anything about what’s left behind, what percentage, what attitude, or do the same and give everything. He didn’t. Jesus never makes any of those points. He does not say the rich gave relatively too little, they had too much left over. He doesn’t say the rich gave too low a percent. He doesn’t say the widow gave the right amount. He doesn’t say the rich had a bad attitude and the widow had a good attitude, or good spirit. He doesn’t say that. In fact, He doesn’t say anything about their giving except that she gave more than everybody. He doesn’t say why or with what attitude, or whether she should have, or shouldn’t have, or they should have, or shouldn’t have. Her outward action is all that you see. It is no more or less good, bad, indifferent, humble, proud, selfish, unselfish than anybody else’s act. There is no judgment made on her act as to its true character. There is nothing said about her attitude or her spirit. She could be acting out a devotion. She could be acting out of love. She could be acting out of guilt. She could be acting out of fear. We don’t know because Jesus doesn’t say anything. Doesn’t say anything about the rich, doesn’t say anything about the widow, doesn’t draw any conclusions, doesn’t develop any principles, doesn’t command anything, doesn’t define anything. Why? Because none of that matters.

Jesus never commands us to give like the widow. If we are suppose to, I would expect Jesus to say, “Go and do likewise.” But He doesn’t, does he?

What is explained here is a false religious system. This is not true Christianity at all. This is also exactly what happened during the reformation. The Catholic Church was corrupt, like the Scribes, and stole from the poor and the needy. They had the widows buy indulgences, the indulgences were assurance that they would get into heaven. The lower class was taken advantage of. The religious system of the day was exactly like the Scribes who took advantage of the widow.

Think about it this way. How would you feel if a poor widow, who has only $2.75 to live on, and she attends your Church? The widow is in need. Yet, the Church said she has to give all she has to live on. How would you feel about the religious system taking advantage of a widow who needs help, yet sadly the Church takes all her money? She has nothing! Get that! Nothing! She can no longer buy Roman Noodles or Chicken Noodle soup. She has nothing left! If you are like me, you would say that Church is corrupt. Yet, while looking at the widow, many elevate her which is imposing on the text. This lady is victimized!

MacArthur later says that the giving of the widow angered Jesus. Yes, angered Him. Just like today, if a Church does not take care of a widow, it is not true Christianity like what James says true religion is (James 1:27). To see more of what MacArthur says on the text, you may read his sermon here: Abusing the Poor

MacArthur goes into more detail explaining the false religion.

The text is not about giving. It is about a victimized poor widow who is being taken advantage of by a false religious system.

Isn’t it amazing? Of all the little things…of all the little things that could have been the trigger to set off the destruction of the temple, it was one illustration of an abused widow… Father, we hear this message and we know that it’s consistent with Your heart because You care for the downcast and the poor. Jesus came and He fed the crowds. Jesus came and He healed the sick. Jesus came and He poured out love and grace to all who would come to Him and said His burden is light, His yoke is easy…a contrast to the wicked false religious systems that prey on people, especially the defenseless and the destitute and the desperate and the hurting and the needy. Lord, would You bring that to an end and would You exalt Your true church and the true Christian faith. This we ask only for Your glory. Amen (MacArthur)

-Justin M. Davito


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