Is giving something to someone else always an act of generosity? What qualifies giving of our time, talent, or treasure as generosity. I have many times given some candy to my children to “calm” them down, to restore the peace, or to distract them. More recently, I volunteered to “serve”, but I was actually intending to expand my network of business contacts by giving of my time.
What is the difference in the stories of Barnabas, the Levite, from the island of Cyprus who sold a field he owned, and that of Ananias and his wife Sapphira who also sold some of their property? Why is one considered generous and the other not?
Researching the dictionary definition of generosity provides a clue:
Generosity is the virtue of being unattached to material possessions, often symbolized by the giving of gifts. Generosity is regarded as a virtue by most world religions, and it is often celebrated in cultural and religious ceremonies.
So, if generosity is being unattached to material possessions then the act of generosity may include the motivations and expressions of being unselfish, being charitable, and living in a state of hope regardless of our material well-being. The opposite of this or being “attached” to possessions can lead to hoarding, greed, or anxiety about tomorrow.
There was a time in my life where I gave away the entire profit of the sale of my car. In that moment of decision, I had two competing thoughts going on inside my mind. One thought was about how this will bless the ministry, and what joy it will bring to me and the people who benefit from the ministry. The other thought was “are you crazy”, you need to protect and save for the future, and what about that thing you really wanted to buy.
Generous Giving is a Matter of the Heart
“God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes on Him will not perish but have eternal life.” In this well-known verse we see love as the essential, supreme motivating force behind God’s act of giving. Love turns an act of giving into something of great value, a noble and honorable act.
Often as a Christian, we respond to God’s call to give out of fear or guilt. We have heard: “Give or face the consequences of disobedience”; “Give because you have so much and he or she has so little”. Do you feel the condemnation that arises out of fear and guilt? At other times we may give to get: “God will bless you if you give”; “You reap what you sow, so give more and get more”; “Give and we will name this building after you”. These are words we have all heard from the Prosperity Gospel, a twisted and evil play on God’s holy words to entice people to give out of selfish reasons such as greed, or pride and the desire to be honored by others.
God searches and knows our heart. We need to ask ourselves: Why are we giving and how do our actions align with pleasing Him, trusting in Him, being a steward of His provisions, and bringing Him praise and honor. All our actions should reflect these motivations, and this includes giving.
The story of the woman who poured an alabaster jar of perfume on the head and feet of Jesus is recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Jesus answers the critics, “She has done a beautiful thing to me”. Her act of giving is one of the best examples of generosity. Her heart full of love gave away sacrificially one of her most prized possessions to bless and worship Jesus.
Matthew 6:21; 2 Corinthians 9:6-15; Mark 14:1-9; 1Tim 6:18; 1 Chron 29:10-16
Generous Giving is Sacrificial
“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for only your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” These verses prepare the reader in understanding the mind, will, and love of Christ found in Philippians 2:6-11. Jesus humbled himself and died on a cross – he gave up His divine privileges and His life.
There are few times in my life that I have witnessed the love that results in such sacrifice, such giving of one self. I have seen this giving by a friend who stopped working and moved to another city to care full-time for a parent unable to care for themselves. This man gave up his standard of living, left behind his friends, sacrificed his savings, all to serve and care for his dad. This may not seem sacrificial or even unusual to some cultures, but in the context of a highly individualistic culture this is special.
I can think of many acts of giving that I have done, or I have seen others do. We often give to “second-hand” stores or we give to organizations that collect used stuff so that the poor can benefit. We give away old clothes and old furniture. We often pull out a few dollars or some coins to give to a stranger asking for something to eat, or some gas to put in their car. Much of our giving is money or stuff that we don’t want or really need. We readily give of our excess or abundance, but is this generosity? How often do we give away what we need, or how often do we give when it comes at great cost to us?
Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything…”
When we make sacrifices that cost us, that impact our plans and maybe our future, then we are being truly generous.
2 Samuel 24:24; 2 Corinthians 8:1-9; Mark 12:41-44,
Generous Giving is Global
We have all heard the news headlines of wealthy people giving large amounts of money to noble causes such as treatment and prevention of Malaria, Cancer, or provision of clean water. These large contributions can benefit society on a grand scale. These gifts can inspire others to give. This also occurs when the amounts of the gifts are smaller, like we often see on a Go Fund Me campaign. In some ways, I believe giving to people and causes that are not directly related to me – not my family, not my church, not to charity projects in my home town – can be some of the most inspirational.
What motivates a giver to give a gift to people living in places they do not know? Why is this type of giving more inspiring at times than say, “I gave my sister money to help pay her expenses and bills.” or, “I gave to my University that has provided me with a good education.” We should look after family, and we should support the institutions and organizations that have helped us along our life journey. These acts of giving are good, but often they are motivated by a sense of obligation or a sense of payback. There may even be cultural expectations that direct our giving.
When Jesus teaches on Kingdom minded giving, what story does He share?
In Luke 10:25-37, Jesus teaches about loving your neighbor as an answer to “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” In His teaching a Samaritan gives of his time and treasure to bless and care for a stranger – most likely a Jew. This Samaritan demonstrates love for his neighbor through his giving. Here we see that all of mankind is our neighbor. Anyone in need no matter how distant or how different in race, creed, or culture is owed the grace of our generosity.
Jesus goes even deeper and more demanding of what He expects of His followers. In Matthew 5:43-47, Jesus states: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy’. But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you..” In this passage, Jesus reminds us that God the Father provides to both the righteous and the unrighteous, and we are to do the same.
So where does this leave us as followers of Jesus when it relates to giving? We cannot look to the World for our guidance and clues about this kind of generosity. Think about it. God provides and gives to all people regardless of their current relationship with Him. He gives them what they need out of love and a compassion for their eternal destiny – while they are yet enemies.
For each of us, we must aim for God’s perspective on giving and generosity. For me personally, it helps to meditate on scripture like 2 Corinthians 9:11:
“You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”