Wait, what? Isn’t generosity supposed to bring us joy? How can acts of generosity rob us of joy? Well, stay tuned.

I need to be careful with definitions if I am to make my point clearly. First, consider the definition of ‘generous’. One common dictionary offers this, “(of a person) showing a readiness to give more of something, as money or time, than is strictly necessary or expected.” Webster likes, “liberal in giving.” Still another, “the trait of being willing to give your money or time.”

Pretty clear. To be generous is to give more (liberally) than expected of your money and time. So, what’s wrong with this definition? How can the practice of this kind of giving actually rob us of our joy? Let’s consider three traps we fall into with a wrong view of generosity, and why they steal our joy.

First, we are taught to seek the wrong emotion, and herein lies a great deception we have allowed to seep into the church regarding money and giving. It goes like this.

  • God has given you more than enough to meet your needs.
  • You should give up to 10% of that back to God’s work.
  • Since almost no one actually gives 10%, anything close to that makes you a very generous person, certainly more generous than most people in the pews around you.
  • Once you’ve given your generous portion (be it 3% or 5% or even 7%), God leaves you alone to do what you want with the rest.

Following this line of teaching, the questions around giving always turn to, ‘how much is enough?’ Enough for what, you ask? Usually enough to make me feel like a generous person. The flip side of the coin of this kind of generosity is assuaging guilt. What we are really asking is, “how little do I need to give in order not to feel guilty”? That is the emotional response we want, no guilt; no guilt in how much we give and no guilt in what we do with what is left. We pay God off with our ‘generous’ tithe and expect him to leave us alone when it comes to the rest. When the avoidance of guilt is our definition of generosity, we will never understand the linkage between giving and joy.

Second, we fall into the trap of commingling our generosity with our pride. If the first trap was seeking to assuage guilt by our giving, the second one is how we use giving to prop up our pride. When we find it important to promote a persona of generosity by how we give, we will lose all sense of true joy in the process. In its place, we will measure our giving against others, use our giving in exchange for favors, power or a place in the spotlight, and evaluate our giving on a ‘return on investment’ basis, with the ‘return’ measured in coinage that feeds our self-worth. This is always joyless giving. It may feed our pride, but it robs our soul. This may sound rather harsh, but watch yourself, it creeps in so subtly we all must confess that it impacts our attitudes toward generosity.

Finally, so much of our generosity is undercut from the outset because we fall into the trap of believing that what we have is really ours. We know in our heads this is not true. We would affirm that everything belongs to God, including every penny of the funds entrusted to us and every second of the day placed under our stewardship. If this is true, then how can we be generous with what doesn’t belong to us? Why should we be commended when we move God’s money which He richly supplies, into God’s work as He commands us to do? How can we ‘give more (liberally) than expected of our money and time’ when the One who is the creator of money and time gives it without limits and expects us to surrender it all back to Him? When we have an ownership view of money, we will find no joy in giving it away.

If God owns everything, then generosity can only have one definition for us; it is our participation in God’s lavish generosity for the world. We are generous when and only when our giving is our way of emulating the giving of the Father, when we bear the image of Christ in the spirit in which we give, and when the Holy Spirit is the sole motivator for how and how much we give. This is ‘triune’ giving, and when generosity becomes participation with our triune God, the joy in that generosity is unbounded.

In this mindset of generosity as participation, read again these well-known verses and see if they don’t carry a deeper message for you:

Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ Acts 20:35

You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. 2 Corinthians 9:11

A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. Proverbs 11:25

May all of our giving be an act of participation in God’s great, never-ending, lavish giving for us. For God so loved the world that He gave…

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