When I was on holiday recently, we worshipped in another church; and the minister — in the course of the sermon — reminded his congregation of the need believers have for discernment. Believers need to be discerning. He added that this was one of his hobby-horses. You know what a hobby-horse is, don’t you? Having a hobby-horse means we’re pre-occupied with some topic and we’re always mentioning it and talking about it and we raise it at every opportunity we get. And, according to this minister, his own particular hobby-horse was the need for believers to have discernment. Far too often, he said, we accept things we hear and the people we meet at face value. We’re taken in by appearances.
However, if only we were more discerning, and if only we thought about things and compared what we heard and what this person says and does with what the Bible teaches, we’d realise that what we’re hearing and what this person is saying and doing is not actually biblical; and has very little to do with biblical Christianity. Someone mentions some great book they read or some great sermon they heard; and wasn’t it great? Or someone hears about some activity another person is doing in the name of the Lord; and isn’t it a great ministry? Well, perhaps it is. But perhaps, if we used a little more discernment, and thought about things a little more, we’d realise that this thing which we initially thought was great is not really great at all.
And in today’s passage, the Lord warned the people he was addressing that they need to be discerning. They need to be discerning about the teachers of the law. And so, the Lord said to the people:
Watch out for the teachers of the law.
Watch out for them. Be discerning about them. And then he went on to mention the rich people who were putting lots of money into the temple treasury; and then there was the poor widow who put into the treasury only two small copper coins. And, while it might seem to us that the rich people were putting in far, far more money than the poor widow, the Lord Jesus — with his perfect discernment — was able to say that no, in fact this poor widow with her two small copper coins put more into the treasury than all the others.
Verses 38 to 40
Look with me, first of all, at verses 38 to 40 where the Lord warned the people about the teachers of the law. Now remember: the teachers of the law were the experts in the law at that time. They knew the Scriptures inside and out and if you wanted to know anything about the law, or how to interpret it, you went to one of the teachers of the law for answers. They knew all about the law.
But though they knew all about the law, it’s clear from the Lord’s words that they knew very little about keeping the law; and they were really only doing this work for what they could get out of it. And, of course, sadly, the Lord’s warning is not out-of-date, but it’s still relevant to us today, because you’ll still find people in the church today who are only in it for what they can get out of it.
And therefore the Lord provides us with some signs to watch out for so that we’re not taken in by such people. And the first sign is that these people love to receive praise and instead of putting the spotlight on the Lord, they like the spotlight to be on themselves. And so, the Lord mentions how these teachers of the law liked to walk around in flowing robes. The commentators explain that the teachers of the law wore long white robes which reached down to their feet; and these long white robes were regarded as a mark of distinction. The ordinary people wore colourful robes, but only special people wore white robes. And when someone in a white robe passed by, the people would rise from their seats in respect. Well, it’s of course right that we should give people the respect they deserve. We’re to honour those who are over us. However, the Lord is complaining about those who like to walk around in these robes; they like to be seen; they like to be noticed.
And the Lord complained that they liked to be greeted in the market place. Well, it seems the people greeted the teachers with titles of respect:
Rabbi. Father. Master.
Again, it’s right that we should give everyone the honour they deserve. However, these teachers of the law liked to be greeted like this; they wanted people to bow before them and to praise them.
And they liked to have the most important seats in the synagogue. The seat of honour in the synagogue was right at the front and it faced the congregation. And so, if you were sitting on the seat of honour, everyone could see you. Many of us don’t like to be at the front, but these men loved it.
And they also loved the place of honour at banquets. Remember when you were a child and there was a family gathering and you had to sit at the children’s table? And you longed for the time when you would be allowed to sit with the adults? Well, sometimes we never grow up and if we’re at a wedding reception, we complain if we’re seated far away from the top table and we want to be moved up to a better table. Well, these teachers of the law wanted to be at the top table. They wanted to be in the post important position and to have people take note of them.
So, they liked to receive praise and to be noticed by everyone. But it gets worse, doesn’t it? Not only did the teachers of the law like to receive praise, but the Lord tells us that they also devoured widows’ houses. Widows were among the most vulnerable people in society in those days, because often they didn’t have anyone to look after them. And these teachers of the law were taking advantage of them. It’s not entirely clear how they devoured widows’ houses. One suggestion is that they served as lawyers and perhaps overcharged widows for their services. Or perhaps they just sponged on the widows and took advantage of their generosity.
And then what else did they do? Well, they made lengthy prayers. Now, there’s nothing wrong with lengthy prayers. But the problem here is that they made lengthy prayers for show. They did it, not out of devotion to the Lord, but in order to impress people with their piety. When they should have been praying to the Lord and thinking about him and his glory, they were thinking about themselves and what people would think of them.
So, those are the signs to watch out for. We’re to be discerning and to watch out for those people in the church who like to get all the attention and who want to be treated as better and as superior to everyone else. We’re to watch out for those people who call attention to themselves more than they call attention to the Lord. And, of course, we’re all familiar with those preachers on TV who pretend to be serving the Lord, but it’s clear they’re only trying to make themselves rich. We’re to watch out for them so that we’re not taken in by them.
You’re to watch out for such people. But you’re to watch out that you don’t become like them, because the Lord’s people are to serve the Lord. Instead of seeking our own honour and glory, we’re to seek his honour and glory. We’re not to draw attention to ourselves, but we’re to draw attention to the Lord our God; and we’re to serve him humbly.
We’re to have the mind of Christ who did not come into the world to be served, but to serve and to give up his life for us and for our salvation. And he did not come to seek his own glory, but to glorify his Father in heaven. And he gives us his Spirit to enable us to die to self and to live our lives for God’s glory. He gives us his Spirit to give us the help we need everyday to turn the spotlight away from ourselves and on to the Lord God Almighty. Do you remember the Lord’s words in the Sermon on the Mount about letting our light shine? Well, the purpose of the light is not to illuminate us, but it’s to illuminate our Father in heaven. The Lord said:
Let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
By the good things we do, by our obedience to our Father in heaven — who has commanded us to live good lives — we bring glory and honour and praise to him. That’s what we’re to do.
Verses 41 to 44
But let’s move on now to think about the next part of today’s passage where we read that the Lord sat down opposite the place in the temple were the offerings were put; and he watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Apparently there were 13 trumpet-shaped collection boxes which were placed in the temple; and the people would come with their money and pour it into the opening of one of these boxes. Now, the Israelites were required to pay a temple tax, but from time to time they also brought to the temple freewill offerings as a way to demonstrate their gratitude to the Lord for his kindness to them. Of course, since they didn’t use credit cards in those days, or cheques or even paper money, but coins only, then everyone nearby would get a good idea of how much your offering was because of the sound of the coins being poured in. And Mark tells us in verse 41 that many rich people put in large amounts; and you can imagine them, standing at one of these collection boxes, pouring great piles of coins into the trumpet-like opening. And if you heard this stream of coins being poured in, you’d have thought to yourself:
Wow! He’s giving a lot today. She’s giving a lot today.
But then Mark tells us in verse 32 about a poor widow who came and put into the collection box two very small copper coins. They weren’t worth very much. In fact, they were worth only a fraction of a penny.
So who gave the most? Well, most observers would say that the rich people gave the most. They gave the most because they were able to pour into the collection boxes great piles of money. Nevertheless, the Lord tells us in verse 43 that the poor widow put more into the treasury than all the others. According to the way he did his accounting, her two small copper coins were worth more than all the rest.
But worth more to whom? That’s the question. To those who were responsible for maintaining the temple and paying all the bills associated with the temple, the money the rich people gave was worth more, because they could do more with it. But the widow’s two small copper coins were worth more to the Lord. They were worth more to him, because look at the Lord’s words in verse 44 where he explains how he does his accounting. He explained that the rich people gave out of their wealth. They had a lot of money to begin with; and even after they poured in their money, they still had a lot of money left over. You know, there are some people who are so wealthy, that it’s nothing to them to write a cheque for twenty or thirty or even a hundred thousand pounds. It’s nothing to them, because they have so much more in the bank. But this poor widow: well, she put in everything. Those two coins were all she had, all she had to live on. And, of course, since she had two coins, she could have put into the box only one of her two coins, and kept the other for herself. But no, she put both coins in the collection box; she gave the Lord everything, all that she had.
And it’s for that reason — it’s because those two small copper coins represented all she had — that the Lord was able to say that her gift was worth more than all the rest. It was worth more because it represented all she had.
And by commending the widow for giving her all, the Lord is teaching us that we too are to give our all to the Lord. Just as she held nothing back, so we too should hold nothing back, but we should devote all that we have to him. And we should devote all that we have to him, because all that we have is from him. Every good thing we have in this world has come to us from him. And he gives us these good gifts so that we will use them, not selfishly, but for his glory. Think again about the teachers of the law who were entirely selfish and self-centred; they thought only about themselves and their own glory. But those who love the Lord should use whatever he gives us for his glory.
Now, that doesn’t mean you have to give all your pay or all your pension or all your pocket-money to the church and that you’re to live in poverty for the rest of your life. It doesn’t mean that. How do we know that it doesn’t mean that? Well, think of Zacchaeus: when he was converted, he gave away lots of his money; but he didn’t give away all of his money. Or then there’s 1 Timothy 6 where Paul is writing to rich believers about how to live their lives; but one thing he didn’t tell them to do was to give all their money away. That’s not what this passage means. However, it does mean that we’re to use all that we have in ways that honour the Lord, because we’re to love him with all our heart and soul and mind and strength; and we’re to be devoted to him in all things.
In some churches, you’ll find items of furniture which had plaques on them, saying:
Dedicated to the glory of God.
This table dedicated to the glory of God.
This window dedicated to the glory of God.
This organ dedicated to the glory of God.
Imagine that there’s a sign like that over your bank account:
This money dedicated to the glory of God.
And so, you’ve got bills to pay and taxes to pay and other financial responsibilities which need to be met, including your freewill offering to the church which goes to pay the bills of the churches. Churches need money to function. And it’s important that you meet all your responsibilities and pay all your bills and debts in a timely manner. That pleases the Lord and it honours the Lord when believers pay their debts in a timely manner. But then, what about the money that’s left over: our disposable income which is ours to spend on whatever we want. Well, whatever is left over is to be used, not selfishly, but it’s to be used in a way that will honour the Lord.
And, of course, this applies not only to our money, but to other things as well. Think about your time, for instance. Imagine a sign over your calendar, saying:
Dedicated to the glory of God.
And so, however you use your time, you’re to use it in a way that pleases the Lord and honours him. Think of the young people who did Fresh last week. Think of how they gave up their time and energy for this work. And they did a great job and ought to be commended for it and for how they sought to honour the Lord and to glorify him. But what about this coming week? No one can think:
I’ve now done my bit; and now I can do whatever I please.
We can’t think like that, because, like the poor widow, we’re to give our all to the Lord; and we’re to seek to honour him in all things and on all occasions.
Now, as soon as we hear that, part of us says:
Part of us says:
No. I’m happy to use some of my money for the Lord, but not all of it. I’m happy to use some of time for the Lord, but not all of it.
There’s part of us that says:
And we say ‘no’ like that, because, of course, we’re sinners; and though we know he made us and he placed us on the earth so that we might glorify him in all we do and say, nevertheless — because we’re sinners — part of us is unwilling to give up control to him.
And that’s why we need to trust in the Saviour. We need to trust in the Saviour for the forgiveness of our sins. By his blood, shed on the cross, the stain of our sin is washed away and we have peace with God, who pardons us for our sin and rebellion and for all those times when we have said ‘no’ to him.
We need to trust in the Saviour for forgiveness. And we need to trust in the Saviour for the help we need to say ‘no’ to self and to live more and more for his glory. The Lord Jesus is the one who held nothing back, but who obeyed his Father in heaven in everything. And he’s the one who gave up everything, including his life, for us and for our salvation. And he’s able to give you his Spirit to enable you to die to self more and more and to live for his glory more and more. And so, everyone needs to trust in the Saviour for forgiveness and peace with God. And everyone needs to trust in the Saviour for the help we need to live our lives for God’s glory.
Years ago, when I studied psychology at Queen’s. And because in those days it was a fairly unusual subject to study, some of the members of my church were concerned that it might undermine my faith. And so from time to time they’d ask me how I was getting on. And I would explain to them that I was fine, because psychology was just something I studied at university; and it had nothing to do with real life. Well, think of those teachers of the law who studied the Scriptures, so that they knew God’s law inside and out. But it seems from what the Lord said about them, that they were just like me:
This is just something I study; and it’s got nothing to do with real life.
But God’s word has everything to do with real life. The reason we study these things week by week is so that it will make a difference to our everyday lives. And so, today, here’s the Saviour who gave up his life for you and for your salvation. And he’s saying to you today that he wants you to give him your all, so that in what you do with your money and in what you do with your time, in what you do and say each day, you’ll do it all for his glory.
And maybe you think you don’t have much to give. But learn the lesson of the widow: you may not have much, but so long as you give your all to him, then he’ll be pleased with that.