How do we develop a heart of generosity, and how do we encourage others to live generous lives, when we live in a world that so often sends such loud messages that it’s wiser to keep resources for ourselves and for those closest to us? Our minds race with thoughts such as, “What if we will need that money or those resources later? Surely difficult days will arise in the future, if we are not in the midst of them now. Isn’t it smarter to keep that money, land or resource for ourselves and those we love?”
True heartfelt generosity can be quite counter cultural. Some people give but it’s with the intent of selfishly laying claim to more in the future. They give gifts to tie others into unwritten relational contracts of obligation. Accepting the gift becomes the way the giver can later come and make a claim upon that person’s wealth or resources. Whether stated or not the processes goes something like this – “How can you not help me? Don’t you remember that gift I gave to you?”
Our True Model Of Generosity
But we see a different model of generosity in our Lord, and the Christmas season is a yearly reminder to turn our eyes towards the One who’s very being is generosity. Matthew 1:23 says, “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a Son, and they will call Him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). God gave out of genuine love, even knowing that people would abuse His profound gift and ultimately kill Jesus. But God lavished His generosity upon us for our own good. John 3:16-17 states: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Different Human Responses
As we see in the Christmas story, God’s lavish gift quickly began to spawn profound generosity in those who understood and valued it, but the heart of someone else was wicked and He despised God’s gift. Matthew 2:7-12 explains:
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child. As soon as you find Him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship Him.”
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the Child with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
Though Herod was threatened by God’s generosity, the Magi were moved to deep sacrifice and extravagant giving as they captured a glimpse of God’s profound gift.
God’s Giving Shapes Us
In generosity we mirror God’s nature. Imago Dei is the theological term that explains that human beings are made in the image of God. Genesis 1:26-27 states:
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
An essential piece of Christian discipleship is transformation from a selfish to a generous heart. Sin has marred our ability to reflect God’s image in the world, but in our journey with Him we mature and grow more and more into His image.
The Joy Of Giving
Perhaps no season captures the joy of giving quite like Christmas. Whether old or young, rich or poor, the season often stirs in us a hope to give gifts that will bring others joy. In trying to achieve that goal, we find our own hearts lightened and filled, especially as we seek to give to others through the leading and guidance of God’s Spirit.
A friend of mine taught me an important lesson recently. He gave me a truly extravagant gift, something I thought I would never own in my lifetime. Everyone who heard about it marveled at his generosity. But he told me that years earlier someone had given it to him. He and his family used it, but now they wanted to pass it on so he gave it to me.
He told me of all kinds of amazing gifts people have given to him over the years; but, then he said something that has stayed with me ever since. He explained, “If someone gives me something, I experience the joy of receiving and using it. But, if I then give it away, I get to experience double joy as I watch how excited others are to receive those gifts!”
It’s such a beautiful picture of the Gospel we proclaim. We receive with unimaginable levels of joy gifts such as salvation, forgiveness, right standing before God, and a relationship with God because of Jesus’ sacrificial work on the cross. Then we get to experience joy as we live into these gifts; yet, it doesn’t stop there. We get to experience joy again as we share that amazing Gospel with others.
Might you and all close to you experience God’s amazing generosity this Christmas season, and may it shape all of us to be more like Him and to be ever more generous with all God has entrusted to us!