II. The Danger of Small Gifts
The small gifts have their great glory. The smallest gifts will be honored to the Last Day wherever there is still a Holy Bible. For the Bible tells us that the “mite” of the widow, who cast a farthing into the treasury, was a greater gift than all the gifts of the rich: “For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (Mark 12:41–44).
Under certain circumstances, then, the smallest gift has the highest value. But woe if the “mite” is abused by such as are not poor widows, but are rich in this world’s goods, to strive after the smallest gifts possible and then to quiet their conscience with the “widow’s mite.” Through the devil’s trickery, the widow’s mite is, in many cases, used for a cloak of avarice. Let us note the dangers that in so many instances are connected with the small gifts.
[They Are] Against the Will of God.
Seeking after small and few gifts is contrary to the will of God. The Holy Scriptures warn against giving sparingly and admonish to liberal giving, when we read: “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6). And the apostle praises the congregations in Macedonia: “Their extreme poverty [has] overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part” (2 Corinthians 8:2).
[They] Spoil the Quality of the Gifts.
Small gifts in many cases spoil the quality of the gifts; that is, the small gifts are evidence of the fact that one does not give to the Savior and that the giving is not done willingly. Of course, there are unimportant things in which small gifts are entirely in place. However, when the great things of the kingdom of God are directly concerned—the preaching of the Gospel, missions, institutions of the Church, etc., those very things for the performance of which the Christians are still in this world (Matthew 24:14)—if, in these instances, we strive after the smallest gifts possible, then the danger is very near that we do not think of our Savior at all in this connection, that we do not sacrifice to Him, but merely give mechanically in order to keep the appearance of giving.
If we think of the Savior who has given Himself wholly for us and now desires that we out of gratitude should place ourselves into the service of the preaching of the Gospel—if we think of this, it cannot be otherwise but that we will strive not to give as little as possible, but as much as we possibly can. Seeking after small gifts in this case does not show a willingness to serve Christ in the beauty of holiness, but rather the very opposite, unwillingness and miserliness. And so the small gifts become worthless before God.
Even among Christians, self-delusion very easily insinuates itself because of the miserly flesh that still clings to us. It happens that a Christians feels he could and should do more for the Gospel than he actually does. He feels that the amount of his gifts is not at all in proportion to his means and the importance of the cause. But he nevertheless clings to small gifts and inwardly torments himself, trying to substitute the lack of quantity with quality, persuading himself that he is giving his little gift “right heartily.” To say “Little, but from the heart” is fully justified under certain circumstances, as when a person really has only a little. It is then that we come near to the glory of the widow’s “mite.” But if conscience reminds us that, considering our means and the importance of the cause, we could and should give more, then the “little, but right heartily” may easily hide a self-delusion. All inward stressing of quality will be futile and will not make amends for any lack in quantity. Here one had rather think of another proverb: “Quality goes with quantity.” May we then watch carefully the amount of our gifts! The Lord will gift us judgment in all things.
[They] Are Dangerous in View of the Reward.
Seeking after small gifts has its grave danger if we consider the reward. God has set up a reward for all gifts presented to Him, a glorious reward, a reward of grace. And in this we see so plainly the great grace and goodness of our God. Gratis, without any merit of works on our part, solely for the sake of Christ’s perfect merit, God gives us heaven and bliss. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9). God is truly gracious and kind beyond measure. If we serve Him without pay, that is, purely out of thankfulness for the grace shown us in Christ, then our service shall, nevertheless, not be “gratis,” inasmuch as He desires to crown all works done for Him with a glorious, eternal reward of grace.
In this light, the good works of the Christians become enormously valuable. Luther says they are worth more than the whole world. The world and everything in it will burn up on the Last Day; but the good works of the Christians will not burn up, but will follow them (Revelation 14:13). Therefore we should not seek after small but rather large gifts for Christ and His Gospel. The Holy Spirit reminds us of this when He says: “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6). We, then, are wise stewards of the earthly goods given us by God only when we give back to God again with full hands. There are many fools in the world. The entire unbelieving world is foolish. But the biggest fools are the Christians if they, having means, seek after the smallest and fewest gifts possible.
[They Are a] Constant Offense to the Christian Himself.
With his seeking after small gifts, the Christian gives constant offense to himself. For he thereby brings himself to doubt his own state of grace and the truth of the Christian religion. According to Scripture, good works should be performed also for this purpose, that we may have in them an outward testimony of our faith. We have the Holy Spirit’s inward testimony of our adoption as sons of God through our faith in the Gospel, which the Holy Spirit creates and preserves in us.
But the Holy Spirit, dwelling in our hearts by faith, now also spurs us on to good works: “You are a child of God, for you love the brothers; you love God’s Word; His Church on earth is most important to you,” etc. As surely as the works of the Christians flow not out of the flesh, but out of the Spirit, so we have in our works the outward testimony of the Spirit to our state of grace. In this sense, Scripture speaks of sanctification and good works: “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10).
What do we do, then, if we are generally lax in sanctification and good works, and show a miserly spirit in giving for the Gospel? Through our seeking after small gifts, we are continually giving ourselves the testimony “Your Christianity is in a bad way.” Doubts regarding our state of grace are, in many cases, the result also of our miserliness in giving for the kingdom of God.
– Continued from On Christian Stewardship: The Gifts of the Christians
By Francis Pieper
Translated by W. G. Polack