Generosity is often thought of as a basic value of Christian life and something that is well understood. But what does it really mean to be generous? I would suggest that we seem to be in a culture that appearsto be generous, but when we dig deeper, is it really? The more I prayed and reflected on this, the more I realised that, as Christians, we are called to demonstrate generosity in a way that is radically different to what the world shows us.
The answer to the question “what is generosity” may seem obvious. When we read dictionary definitions we find that it means “showing a readiness to give more of something, especially money, than is strictly necessary or expected.” Another definition suggests, “The habit of giving freely without expecting anything in return.” I think, that as Christians, being generous is so much more than both of these definitions.
The first consideration that seems essential is to look at God. We know that God is generous. He is the ultimaterole model of generosity. God gave us the world we live in. He gave us this amazing creation to enjoy. He gave us each other for company and community. He gave us His Son Jesus. He gave us the Holy Spirit. He gives us gifts. He gives to us in our daily needs. He gives in provision of resources, of physical needs, of emotional needs, of spiritual needs. God gives and gives and gives.
In Romans 11:36 it says:“For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever!” So actually, I would suggest a good starting point for generosity is realising that everything we have comes from God. And therefore that we want to glorify God with everything we have. There is an intentionality behind generosity. It’s not just giving here and there randomly, but it implies a whole state of mind and heart. It is a state of considering all we have as from God and for God, in everything we do. This does include our money, but also are time, our gifts, and our skills.
In Luke chapter 10, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan – a man is left lying on the side of the road after being attacked by robbers and when the Samaritan walks past this happens:
“34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.”
The Samaritan gives of his financial resources (the oil and wine, the money he gives to the innkeeper), he gives of his time (to stop, bandage up the wounds, put the man on his donkey and bring him to an inn. Then the next day he’s still there giving the inn keeper money and says he’ll return), he gives of his skills and physical energy (to bandage the wounds, to out the man on his own donkey, to then have to walk beside the donkey and take the man to the inn). Generosity here is illustrated in many ways, and the Samaritan clearly intentionally decides to stop and give to this man.
So why does God give? John 3:16 says, “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.” The biggest illustration of God giving is Him giving His son Jesus to die on the cross. But why? What was His motivation? Because God soloved, He gave. God gives because He loves. He doesn’t get anything in return. He doesn’t give with lots of hidden, twisted motives. He gives because He loves. Full stop.
So what is our motivation in giving? I think an honest observation I have on our culture, and our Christian culture included - and something if I’m being completely honest I’m guilty of - is we give because there’s something in it for us. God, absolutely, blesses our giving, but we don’t give in order to get. If we’re modelling ourselves on Father God, we should give because we love. And we give because we recognise that all things are from Him and we want to give them back to Him to glorify Him. I think this is really the key difference between Christian giving and worldly giving.
One of the things that I struggle most with, if I’m honest, is being at Christian events and suddenly someone comes up to make an appeal or there’s a video played about the desperate need across the world, really pulling at the heart strings. It is good to raise awareness of needs, but I always feel that actually then everyone feels guilty and we think we better just put something in the basket when it goes round. Please don’t misunderstand me – that is still giving and that is good! But I’m suggesting that generosity implies a pure mind-set of giving, without guilt or ulterior motive, rather of planning and being intentional about giving. Not just being caught off guard and thinking “Ah, I better give now”. When we are truly generous, truly have that state of mind and heart and give because we love and because we want to glorify God, then we are able to have boundaries that won’t make us feel guilty and have to give on impulse to all these causes thrown at us. Because we have planned and prayed and asked God what to do with our various resources, we become able to say “no” to giving in certain situations.
So generosity – it’s the intentional set of mind and heart of giving out of love, with no ulterior motive to “look good” “get something in return.” And recognising that all we have (money, time, gifts, etc) is from God and therefore we want to give it back to glorifying Him (blessing His people, transforming His world to look more kingdom-like) and we do that through Him, through asking Him for guidance and wisdom in how to give the resources He gives us.
In John chapter 6, there is a story about a crowd of 5000 men (potentially plus women and children) that needs food. From verse 9 it reads:
“9Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.”
The boy gives the loaves and fishes, and Jesus then multiplies them and gives food to satisfy everyone’s hunger and there are twelve baskets leftover! Obviously, without Jesus this couldn’t have happened. Five small loaves and two small fish wouldn’t feed 5000 people and have leftovers! But the boy had the heart and mind-set to give, and Jesus then used his giving incredibly! Generosity requires us to give in a way that we don’t put limits on the fruits of our giving that stop at our ability. Rather we give with faith that God will do so much more than we can ever imagine. When we do things “through Him” as Romans 11 v 36 says, by seeking His guidance and discernment on how to give and faithfully given, God will use our generosity. When we truly give with faith, we must believe that everything we are generous with – that might seem big or small – can and will be used by God for His glory.
And sometimes that faith required can be scary! In Philippians chapter 4, Paul is thanking the church in Philippi for their gifts and He says:
“14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need.”
Not one church gave to Paul at that point in time, except the church in Philippi. Generosity and giving “through Him” sometimes means being obedient and giving to the things we feel led to, even if they’re not the obvious “in” things that everyone else is giving to. Even when they’re not the things seen in the great appeal videos, sometimes generosity and giving with faith requires being the first to give to a certain person, or a certain cause. Generosity isn’t always comfortable! Sometimes we feel God urging us to give to something that just doesn’t seem an obvious choice, that seems a bit awkward, that seems a bit counter-cultural perhaps, but we are called to give in faith. All things are from Him, through Him and for Him.
And one step further, generosity at times requires giving sacrificially. Our ultimate role model of generosity and giving, as we’ve said, is God. And the ultimate demonstration, as we’ve also said, is giving His Son Jesus. I don’t think that any of us can truly comprehend or imagine the sacrifice that was - to see His only Son live a perfect sinless life, to see Him betrayed, mocked, beaten, abused, carry a crown of thorns on His head and be killed hanging on a cross. I can’t understand, and struggle to even imagine the pain and suffering, and how horrific it must have been. Yet God made that sacrifice, His one and only Son, because He loves. So yes, when we give it will require sacrifice. But when we look at what God has done, doesn’t that seem obvious? As someone who’s been on the receiving end of generosity a lot, I think the sacrificial character of giving brings a whole new level of appreciation. Generosity, at times, requires us to give sacrificially, which may seem counter-cultural, but the result speaks so much louder. And how can we not grasp the inspiration of sacrificial giving when we look at Father God giving His Son Jesus for us?
When we realise all of this we see that generosity is a state of mind and heart of giving. Giving out of Love, giving because it first was given to us by God, giving in Faith, giving sacrificially. Generosity has nothing to do with the amount actually given – be it the amount of time, money, skills, resources.
In Luke 21 v1 we read this:
“As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3 “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
In this particular illustration the people who gave more probably had a lot more to give and their lives weren’t affected by giving in the same way – whereas the widow gave a much smaller amount but she gave sacrificially. She gave all she had to live on. That’s a generous gift.
How often do we hear the phrase “generous gift” in our culture? I use it a lot – “Wow that’s such a generous gift! Thank you so much!” when the amount we’re given seems big and significant. Would we use the phrase “Wow that’s such a generous gift! Thank you so much!” if we received two very small copper coins or the equivalent? Yet Jesus here illustrates that the sacrifice in giving is what makes it a generous gift – not the amount.
So take the challenge today, give in love, give with faith and give sacrificially. Give intentionally, knowing that everything comes from Him, so as we give back to Him we glorify Him.