God doesn’t generally look at how much we give, He is more concerned with how much we keep (Mk 12:41-44).

In the seventies, there was more cash transferred than checks, and credit cards where unheard of in our neighborhood, so it was not unusual to see my mother paying bills by putting cash in various piles on the kitchen table.

My mother worked hard, she was a cashier in a grocery store.  There was a time when she had three teenagers living at home and needed to take on a second job. Delivering newspapers in the wee hours of the morning worked well with her schedule at the grocery store.  Even with these two jobs, she barely made enough to get by.  She paid the rent, the utility bill, bought some groceries and put gas in the car, there usually wasn’t a lot of cash left over.

Every once in a while, I would sit with her while she paid her bills.  She would stack money in a pile and tell me it was for rent, another stack would be for the electric bill, and so on.  Once all the money was distributed in piles she would move some of the money around.  She would take a little from the rent pile and put on the grocery pile.  She would then take a little from the utility pile and put it on the gas pile.  She would kind of smile, shake her head and say, “I feel like, I’m always robbing Peter to pay Paul.”  During my first decade of life, I guess I didn’t really understand what that meant, except that there just was not enough money to go around.

I remember, when I was very young, one day she was paying bills and the familiar piles were placed on the table, she was moving small bills from one pile to another just like every other month, however, this time there was an extra pile, a very small pile with just a few small bills in it.  I watched her for a few minutes and finally asked what the extra pile was for.  She told me about a woman that she worked with, I can’t remember her name, I didn’t know her at the time. But the story was that this woman lost everything she owned in an apartment fire and escaped with only her three young children and the clothes on their backs.  My mother was putting money aside to give to this family. As I said, I was very young, which does not excuse my behavior, but maybe it explains why the words that my mother said that day have stuck with me for so long.

When I heard that mom was giving money away to someone else, when all we had in the fridge was bologna and mustard, and at that point, as far as I knew, I was sentenced to wear my brother’s hand-me-downs for the rest of my life, I voiced my opinion. I was disappointment that she would take money away from us, when in fact we should be on the receiving end of somebody else’s charity. My mother did not stop what she was doing, I’m not sure that she even looked at me, she just responded.

My mom was simple.  She did not try to make profound points, she did not try to teach lessons or leave impressions on people, including her own children, even on this particular day with her selfish daughter.  What she did do was live her life, and if you were paying attention, thankfully I was that day, and looked very closely, you would have seen selflessness.  Someone who, without pomp and circumstance thought about other people, and always wanted to help.

That day I learned a lesson, she responded to me with these words, “Jackie, listen to me, no matter how bad you think you have it, somebody, somewhere always has it worse than you. Everyone has enough to give to someone with less.” She went on to remind me that although there was only bologna in the fridge, it was enough to fill me up and keep me from going hungry.  She continued by letting me know that even though, every so often, I did have to wear something that my brother had outgrown, at least I had choices.

She continued to rob Peter that day, and pay Paul in a selfless act of giving to a family that was indeed worse off than we were.

This story reminds me of the widow’s offering (Mk 12:41-44).  Jesus watched as people gave.  Many wealthy people gave large amounts of money. However, there was a poor widow who gave two very small coins, worth almost nothing.  This is who Jesus noticed, she gave out of her poverty, she gave everything she had, literally, “all she had to live on” (v. 44).  The wealthy would go back home and eat, drink and live comfortably with no worries.  She, on the other hand, had to rely on faith.  When she gave that money, she had to believe that God would take care of her, that He would feed her, shelter her, and sustain her.

My mom lived by a simple kind of faith.  She would not have described it like this, because all she did was live her life quietly, humbly.  She always put herself third.  She wasn’t spiritual, but she did love others as herself (Mt 22:39), and always gave in selflessness (Mt 25:35-40). She didn’t have to hold anything back for herself because God did provide.  Looking at her life you might not have seen His provisions, at least not in the way we call ourselves “blessed” today, but we always had what we needed, when we needed it. Personally, she was given strength, and hope in all the difficulties that she faced and she faced a lot. When you put yourself third, behind God, and others whose suffering is greater than yours, your reward will be great. Throughout all those years of robbing Peter to pay Paul, she always managed.  We always had food. We always had clothes, a place to live, Christmas, and birthday presents.  We might have had to get by with less but we never went without.

We come into this world completely selfish, as babies we put ourselves first.  We grow, and as toddlers are taught how to share, we become teenagers and are taught to think a little bit about others and different perspectives.  We mature and we find someone to love and to love us. We build a life, a career, a family, and we say we are second behind our family and behind Jesus, but that only puts us first in front of everything and everyone else.  At some point, and this point is different for everyone, we must become third.  Just like we mature physically, we must mature spiritually. We should reach a certain point in our spirituality that we start to shed our selfish desires and foolishness (1 Pet 2-3), and realize that putting ourselves third is what God has been preparing for us, since we came to know Him.  To remain second leaves us in a state of immaturity, adding biological years to our lives, but not spiritual wisdom.

This is also true in how God has designed us for relationship and our communication process. When asked what is the greatest commandment Jesus replied to love God first and others second, I’ve paraphased a bit, from Matt 22:37-39. Our relationships thrive when we follow this rule for life and how we should be communicating. For those of us that love Him, it is easy to put ourselves second, it is much harder to put ourselves 3rd.

Spiritual maturity is not memorizing scripture or church attendance, it is following the sacrificial example of Jesus (Mt 26:39). It is becoming 3rd, increasing our interest in others and suspending our interest in ourselves. It is knowing that someone somewhere has it worse than we do, and this means material need but also emotinal need. It’s no longer wishing something could be done, but giving thoughtful attention to others after seeking God’s help and guidance through prayer. To reach full spiritual maturity is to press on (Ph 3:14), to continually strive and to search out the needs of others while sacrificing to meet those needs. We have been given gifts, and we must endure trials, which ultimately produce perseverance, which leads to wisdom, which gives us faith. Our faith becomes stronger when we are no longer acting in selfishness, but reach full maturity and use the gifts that were given to us, in selfless acts in service to others (Eph 4:12-16; Col 1:28; Js 1:2-4). Many times that service is giving an ear to hear, a shoulder to lean one, and a heart that leads to compassion.

The question is once we put others first, how will our needs/wants be met?  What will keep others from taking advantage of us. That is faith. That is the widow and the coins, and that is my mom robbing Peter to pay Paul. Both of these women gave, not in their comfort, but in their own struggle, knowing that their own needs would somehow be met. We must trust that our emotional needs will be met also if we sacrifice for our relationship partners as well. Our sacrifices may not be counted as much by others looking on, but as with these two women it is given in love, obedience, and faith. God has asked us to love Him first and to love others as ourselves (Matt 22:37-39). The order is simple, Jesus, others, self.

To B3rd is spiritual maturity, it is putting God first, increasing our interest in others, while decreasing our interest in ourselves. It is giving what we can, when we see the need, materially, and emotionally.

To Be3rd is to give for the Glory of God and the benefits of others, which gives hope to a hurting world. Sending the message that God’s love is great and His grace is enough, illustrated through His greatest gift to us, His own son (Jn 3:16).

B3rd. God first, others second. Do this for the glory of God, and for the benefit of others.

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.

(Phil 4:19)