(Feel free to listen to this sermon, preaching Sunday, March 13, 2011 during our morning service at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church, Lexington, KY.)
Whenever I stand up here to preach, my aim is to preach the Word of God so that His Word would be sent forth and applied by His Spirit. Whenever God’s Word is preached, we have confidence in knowing that it will go forth and accomplish all that He desires and will never return empty (Isaiah 55:11-12).
This morning, the majority of my aim of this sermon is to speak to our family here at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church. By this, I mean those who have surrendered to Jesus Christ as their Master and Savior, and have made a covenant with Boone’s Creek to join them in membership—seeking to make a visible difference and influence in this world for the cause of Jesus Christ through Boone’s Creek.
On the second Sunday of each month, we have a business meeting. Those sound like fun, don’t they? I attended a church one time when they were called “Family Conferences.” I like that better. We think as members that we don’t have a part in the business of God’s work, but as family members we do. He has bestowed a marvelous privilege on us. And if we miss out on this privilege, we miss out on being a part of something much bigger than ourselves!
Each business meeting, we discuss our financial position. While we are a spiritual body, we do live in the physical world. This is why Jesus discussed the issue of money so much, and why the book of Acts and Paul’s letters mention how thankful they were for God providing, and using the church to do so! Look at 2 Corinthians 8:1-5:
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us (2 Corinthians 8:1-5, ESV).
Paul, the greatest Christian who ever lived, had physical needs to meet in order to facilitate meeting the spiritual task God had given him into the world.
Our aim here at Boone’s Creek is to spread the glory of God from our neighbors to the nations. We are not here solely to meet and hear nice songs and listen to a nice sermon so we can go out and be nice people. We enter to worship, and exit into our mission field as missionaries of Jesus Christ.
While God has always provided for our needs, He has also provided His Word for us to obey. We have had opportunities open up to us with Trinidad, with Hazard, and now a ground swell is arising in our church to reach our neighbors for Jesus through our Easter Egg Hunt on the 23rd of April, backyard Bible schools along with Vacation Bible School. Our youth are focusing on service. Our adults have their eyes open to the concerns around them. If God can show His glory by feeding 20,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish, he can use a church that’s struggling financially.
In this passage of Scripture from Luke 20:45-21:4, we have before us two groups. One is represented by the “scribes,” the other is represented by a “poor widow” (Luke 21:3). One had money and influence and power, the other was in poverty, ignored, and powerless to her plight – to the point that the scribes were ones who “devour widows’ houses” (20:47a). As far as Jesus was concerned, one received condemnation, the other received commendation.
I think of a song written decades ago with the chorus:
Little is much when God is in it;
Labor not for wealth or fame.
There’s a crown and you can win it
If you go in Jesus’ name.
Thus, the title of this sermon: Little is much when God is in it; but much is little when God is not in it.
1. Much is little when God is not in it.
Look with me again at Luke 20:45-47:
And in the hearing of all the people Jesus 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).
Luke begins in 20:45 by saying that Jesus spoke to his disciples in “the hearing of all the people.” In a sense that is what I am doing this morning: speaking to the believers here at Boone’s Creek in the hearing of everyone else who is not a follower of Jesus. And in a sense, that’s what happens every Sunday morning when I preach from the Word. We are in a worship service—and that worship is directed to our Lord Jesus Christ. By virtue of that definition, these services are not primarily for those who are unbelievers. They cannot worship that which is not their Lord. But we are indeed glad that you who have not yet surrendered to Christ are here so that the Word may be planted by the Spirit in your hearts and you would surrender to Jesus Christ, forsaking all to follow Him.
The Scribes were personally comfortable in their religious position. Jesus brings out that they “walk around in long robes.” They wanted everyone to know who they were! They wanted everyone to know who they were by their outward appearance. Leon Morris noted that their long robbers “were a sign of distinction and marked the wearers as gentlemen leisure.” By their appearance, they wanted to show how God favored them through their success. These scribes have their descendants nowadays in TV and prosperity preachers who wear the fanciest clothes and drive the finest automobiles and million-dollar luxury places to show that God has blessed them and wishes to bless all who hold to their teaching. In Matthew 23, Jesus brought out other types of clothing and religious wear:
They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others (Matthew 23:5-6).
You see, the phylacteries and fringes were biblically ordained priestly wear, but they overdid it. In Deuteronomy 6:4-9, this passage known as the Shema was given as part of the greatest commandment. In elaborating on the importance of love Yahweh and him alone, He told Moses, “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes” (6:8).
They made the tassels longer than necessary so everyone could see who they were and remark on how smart and powerful they were. He also mentioned in the Luke passage that they “for a pretense make long prayers” by “heap[ing] up empty words” (20:47; cf. Matthew 6:5-6). The place of honor at feasts and best seats in synagogue and greetings and even being called rabbi weren’t sinful in and of themselves. It was their ‘love’ and ‘pretense’ of these privileges. Their motive was wrong, their focus was self.
Yet, Jesus comes and levels the playing field.
“But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:8-12).
These scribes were also ones who gave an offering! Matthew 23:23 said that they tithed mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weighter matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. Jesus said, “These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” We can be externally obedient to the things of Scripture, and yet do them only for our own recognition. We can be absent in the silence of giving, but we love it when people brag about our new car or iPhone.
We joke in that in Trinidad one sees folks living in broken down houses, but they have cell phones and the latest American fashions. My Eastern Kentucky friends note that houses are broken down and children do without clothes and such, but most every house has a satellite dish. The truth is, we spend our money on that which is our priority. And if our hearts are not surrendered to Christ, they are enslaved to self and our money will show that.
Jesus said we should offer our offerings to the Lord as well as live a life of sacrifice in justice, mercy, and faithfulness. We do not give just to uplift our name. This is why here at Boone’s Creek nowadays, we shy away from putting up the name of who gave. When we were taking donations for the windows, we made a conscious decision not to put the name of the one who paid for each one because we did not want to give an opportunity for the flesh to gain a victory in the battle. More money may have come in and the windows may have been paid off more quickly. But what’s the issue? The issue is obedience. We don’t give to make ourselves feel better about ourselves. Nor do we simply give when there’s a need. Each of us are to give because we love the Lord who gave everything to us! Remember what Paul wrote to the Corinthian church about their generous giving out of their extreme poverty: “They gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.” When our hearts belong fully to the Lord, so will our wallets!
Little Is Much When God is In It
Now we come to the widow.
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).
Widows fell on hard times in biblical times. By virtue of being a widow, we see that they had lost their husbands who were the providers of the family. Even the religious leaders were condemned for being ones who “devour women’s houses.” Jesus brings out this truth frequently: you can tell what type of Christianity one has in how they deal with the poor. Whatever the outward apparel, their outward treatment of the most unfortunate and poor in that society (the widow) spoke volumes about their inward heart.
Scripture does not go into detail as to how they devoured them. The reason may be that in that time, no explanation was needed. Some possibilities came up. Maybe they were helping the widows manage their money, but taking a helper’s fee off the top. Maybe they were telling them to give more money so God would be pleased with their giving and help them more. Either way, they were taking advantage of the helpless rather than helping the disadvantaged.
The scene here is showing how the rich were putting gifts into one of 13 offering boxes called ‘trumpets,’ when the small end sticking up and the larger end resting on the ground to catch the money, one would put their offering into this and be on their way. Mark’s account says that “Many rich people put in large sums” (Mark 12:41-44).
So Jesus here is saying there are many ways to give. You can give the right amount with the wrong motive. You can give a relatively large amount with the wrong motive. Or, you can be like the Macedonians and the widow and give a relatively generous amount proportionally (based on what you have) with the right motive. It wasn’t the issue of giving in comparison to each other, but in proportion to what one had. Which is best?
Truth be told, this can be an upsetting passage to those who are rich, but consider: this culture and the American society is the richest to every walk the planet. Over 40% of the world’s population lives on less than $1 per day.
Motive over amount wins everytime. What’s the motive? The motive is the affect that the gospel grips our hearts. From our passage that I read to you at the very beginning of this service, take a look at what role the gospel plays in the heart, and thus making it overflow in this generosity:
[10 ] He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. [11 ] You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. [12 ] For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. [13 ] By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, [14 ] while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. [15 ] Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! (2 Corinthians 9:10-15 ESV)
First, you are to give confidently. The widow did not show confidence in her appearance. She did not rely on the latest fashions or place confidence in living in the nicest home. She did not rely on being popular. Her confidence was in the Lord. So she gave Him all she had.
Second, you are to give sacrificially. Are we more willing to sacrifice for things that won’t last? These scribes would not sacrifice their reputation. This widow would not sacrifice her convictions and her faith.
Fourthly, you are to give seriously. Giving is an act of worship. It is an act of trust. It’s an act of obedience. It’s not a casual matter in listening and obeying the Lord in this manner—it is of ultimate seriousness. You are saying, “Lord, you are worth me giving back to you that which you entrusted to me.”
Lastly, you are to give lovingly. When you give, you are not simply doing this for yourself. What you give has a ripple effect in helping others in the Gospel work.
 Leon Morris, The Gospel According to St. Luke: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 294. Quoted in Philip G. Ryken, Luke: Volume II: Chapters 13-24 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2009), 399.