In the eighth chapter of John's gospel, where Jesus is verbally jousting with the Pharisees in the Temple court, a seeming throwaway comment about the location of this verbal scuffle tells us something important: "He spoke these words while teaching in the temple area near the place where the offerings were put..." Both Luke and Mark tell us of another time when Jesus sat there during the giving of offerings. Taking note of a widow giving two fractional coins, together amounting to less than half a penny in our currency, Jesus stunningly declared that the woman had given more than all the others.
Apparently Jesus regularly sat near the place where offerings were taken. Even today he observes the offerings in my church. He observes the amount we give to missions, as well as other necessary and supporting causes—a sobering reminder to Southern Baptists at this moment in our history. Jesus is watching. When tempted to argue over the allocation of funds, we need to remember He who sees our hearts is still watching. Jesus sits near the place where the offerings are made, and he knows when what we give demands greater trust. He also knows how flippant and boastful I can be in my giving.
I am all about percentages in giving, since the tithe is a percentage. Our Cooperative Program giving is a percentage, too. Yet we have not begun to give as we ought. The unnamed widow whom Jesus observed gave out of her extreme poverty and need, which forced her into a greater dependence upon the Lord. What am I giving that reflects such a sacrifice? When smugness washes over me, I tend to relax the tension of my giving and forget that Jesus’ favorite seat is near the place where the offering is taken. I forget that those piercing eyes are fixed upon my heart. I forget that giving matters more than anything else I do, because it indicates my heart condition like nothing else. The question that haunts me is, does my giving hurt? Does it threaten my security? It’s not a sacrifice if it costs me nothing.
C.S. Lewis believed in the tithe, but he also questioned the settled feeling that comes to those who live by percentages. “I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare." Southern Baptists have missionaries ready to go on the field but cannot send them because of the limitation of resources; something in me says we cannot, in the face of Great Commission opportunity, be satisfied with merely giving what we can spare.
On a personal note Lewis adds, “There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.” We need to give, sacrificially give, and not stop giving until it hurts. Why should those we send to the nations be in want of resources while we stay in our nation and smugly leave the offering plate, satisfied that we’ve done enough?