What Did Jesus Teach about Giving Generously?

This article is part of the What Did Jesus Teach? series.

Sacrifice Is the Measure of a Gift’s Size

The more sacrificially generous you are on earth, the greater will be your enjoyment of heaven. Therefore, since Jesus loves us and summons us to maximize our eternal joy in heaven, he demands radical freedom from the love of money and radical generosity, especially toward the poor.

The reason I say, “the more sacrificially generous you are” is because of what Jesus said about the widow’s offering. Here’s the story:

[Jesus] sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 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)

All That Jesus Commanded

John Piper

In this repackaged edition of What Jesus Demands from the World, John Piper walks through Jesus’s commands, explaining their context and meaning to help readers understand Christ’s vision of the Christian life and what he still requires today.

The point here is that the value of a gift is not measured by its size but by its sacrifice. She put in “more” than all, Jesus said. Not more in quantity but more in sacrifice. The reason is that sacrifice is a better measure of where your heart is. If you are rich and give much, you have so much left over that your heart may easily rest in the remainder. But if you sacrifice for Jesus and have little left, then the heart has less to rest in. The heart is more likely to be resting in the hope of heaven. It is more likely to be depending on Jesus than on money.

Why Such a Huge Concern with Our Money and Possessions?

It is astonishing how much Jesus deals with money and what we do with it. Randy Alcorn reckons that “15 percent of everything Christ said relates to this topic—more than his teachings on heaven and hell combined.”1 Consider just a sampling of the kinds of things Jesus says about money and related lifestyle issues:

You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me. (Mark 10:21)

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. . . . But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. (Luke 6:20, 24)

Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:33)

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. (Luke 18:25)

One’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. (Luke 12:15)

Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matt. 6:33)

Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old. (Luke 12:33)

Zacchaeus . . . said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor.” . . . And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house.” (Luke 19:8–9)

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Matt. 13:44)

Jesus . . . 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.” (Luke 21:1–3)

But God said to [the man who built even bigger barns], “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God. (Luke 12:20–21)

Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. . . . Follow me. (Luke 9:58–59)

Why does Jesus express such a remarkable concern with what we do with our money? The reason for this, it seems, is the basic principle that Jesus laid down: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21; Luke 12:34). In other words, the reason money is so crucial is that what we do with it signals where our heart is. “Where our heart is” means where our worship is. When the heart is set on something, it values it, cherishes it, treasures it. That is what worship means.

The reason money is so crucial is that what we do with it signals where our heart is.

You Cannot Serve Two Masters: God and Money

You can see this in Jesus’s warning that “no one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matt. 6:24). The idea of “serving” here is peculiar. It relates more to worshiping than to providing a service. Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and money.” How do we serve money?

The answer is not: Provide a service for money. Or, provide help to money, or meet money’s needs. Just the opposite: Serving money means looking to money to provide you a service and to provide your help and meet your needs. Serving money means planning and dreaming and strategizing and maneuvering to be in a position to maximize our wealth and what money can provide for us. Money is the giver and the benefactor in this servant-master relationship. You don’t do any good for money. You look to money to do good for you.

Now Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and money.” The meaning of “serve” would, presumably, be the same in these two relationships. So what Jesus is saying is that we should serve God not in the sense of providing a service or giving him help, but the opposite: we look to God to be our helper, benefactor, and treasure. To serve him would be to plan and dream and strategize and maneuver to be in a position to maximize our enjoyment of God and what he alone promises to be for us. God then, not money, becomes the giver and the benefactor in this servant-master relationship. You don’t meet God’s needs (he has none!). You look to God to meet yours.

So the reason money is so crucial for Jesus is that across all cultures and all ages it represents the alternative to God as the treasure of our hearts, and therefore the object of our worship. It becomes the great threat to our obedience to the first and last of the Ten Commandments: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod. 20:3), and “You shall not covet” (Exod. 20:17). Money represents all the other material things and securities and pleasures that it can buy. Therefore, it represents the great alternative to God in our hearts. This is why what we do with our money is so crucial to Jesus.


  1. Randy Alcorn, The Treasure Principle (Sisters, Ore.: Multnomah, 2001), 8. I highly recommend this small book as a way to help people live out the radical call of Jesus concerning money.

This article is adapted from All That Jesus Commanded: The Christian Life according to the Gospels by John Piper.

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