Unnamed Heroines of Scripture: The Poor Widow Who Gave Her All

This passage is contained within the temple ministry of the Lord Jesus (Luk 19:45–21:38), given daily in the week before His death at Calvary. There are two principal lessons from the Lord’s observation of this unnamed poor widow who offered all her living to God.

The Evil of Hypocrisy

The immediate context is most relevant. At the close of Luke 20, the Lord Jesus speaks to His disciples, notably “in the audience of all the people” (Luk 20:45),[1] warning them of the evil of religious hypocrisy characteristic of the scribes who in every department of their lives desired to appear before men to be devout and pious Jews. In social spheres, they wanted to be greeted ostentatiously; in the religious sphere, they desired the preeminent places in the synagogue gatherings and at feasts, and for pretence made long prayers.

What was particularly evil about the behaviour of these religious rulers of Judaism was that they materially enriched themselves at the expense of the vulnerable and defenseless of society. The Lord says they “devour widows’ houses” (Luk 20:47); they should have been responsible for supporting those widows, not robbing them. The Lord solemnly states that they will ultimately be judged proportionate to their evil hypocrisy. We should all constantly consider our true motivation in all aspects of spiritual service. Anything that is done with the desire to be seen by men will count for nothing in the day of review, when motives for service will be assessed by the all-knowing Christ.

The Lord then significantly “looked up” (Luk 21:1) and observed a clear example of what He had just been condemning. Mark’s account adds a significant word: He “sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury” (Mar 12:41). The implication is that they were making a show of their giving before men, perhaps causing the weight of coinage to be heard loudly by all in proximity as they dispensed into the treasury. The Lord had previously condemned such hypocrisy in alms-giving (Mat 6:1-2). The quiet devotion and purity of heart of the poor widow woman shine all the brighter against the background of these sanctimonious religious hypocrites.

The Devotion of Giving to the Lord

The Lord takes particular notice of “a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites” (Luk 21:2). She was likely unnoticed by others, but the Lord sees every act of true devotion, and the sound made from giving her two mites surely echoed in heaven. The specific word used for “poor” indicates that this widow worked to support herself by her labour.[2] Though it was a meager sum, she had personally labored for those two mites, and she willingly cast them both into the treasury. She could have reasonably cast in one mite and kept the other for her own needs, far exceeding the tithe demanded by the law, but she kept back nothing for herself. Whatever material resources the Lord gives us, we have no right to claim any portion for ourselves on the grounds that we have labored to earn it. We can give of those resources back to Him as an act of devotion, and confessing Him as our Lord and Saviour means that He is worthy of our all.

This poor widow could have been influenced in her giving to God by the circumstances of her life, having been widowed and now in great poverty. But she held no grudges toward God, and “God loveth a cheerful giver” (2Co 9:7). She could also have been influenced by the sad spiritual condition in Israel at this time. She would have been more aware than most of the shameful way the religious rulers treated the widows, and she might have felt justified in withholding her meager resources, because of the hypocritical behaviour of those rulers in God’s house. But her giving was not governed by their spiritual or moral condition, and likewise our giving in the local assembly, which is characteristically “house of God” (1Ti 3:15), is to the Lord, regardless of the prevailing spiritual conditions.

The Lord further expands on the contrast of the widow’s giving compared to that of the rich men. “Of a truth I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all: For all these have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God: but she of her penury [extremity[3]] hath cast in all the living that she had” (Luk 21:3-4). Significantly, in the divine estimation, the poor widow’s giving of all her living amounted to more than the summation of all the gifts of the rich. We know that the Lord is still sitting over against the treasury, and His assessment takes account not just of how much we do give but of how much of our abundance is kept back for ourselves.

This measure of selfless devoted giving is similarly displayed by the believers of the Macedonian churches (see 2Co 8:2). The basis for their selfless giving was that they “first gave their own selves to the Lord” (v5). As our sovereign Lord, we belong to Him on the ground of redemption, and so all that we have in terms of resources belongs to Him who first gave His all for us at Calvary. Our responsibility is the stewardship of those resources, that they be used selflessly for the service and ultimate glory of our Lord.

There is no indication that this poor widow gave her whole living with an expectation that the Lord would reciprocally recompense her in a material way. We know that God is no man’s debtor, and He has said, “Them that honour Me I will honour” (1Sa 2:30). In OT times, material wealth was a measure of one’s spiritual condition before God. But in NT Scripture, our blessings from God are all spiritual, in the heavenlies, in Christ (Eph 1:3). The teaching that the more you give of your material resources to God, the more He will give you back in kind, has no scriptural basis. The apostle Paul taught that those who are willing now to communicate of their substance are “laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life” (1Ti 6:19). We give willingly to God now; the day of recompense is still future.

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV.

[2] See the Newberry Reference Bible.

[3] Ibid.