I like to give gifts at random times, for no apparent reason. I think it’s fun to surprise someone with something they’ve wanted or needed, and I enjoy doing it. But I don’t like being expected to give a gift.
Have you ever felt pressured to give a gift? I’m not talking about the compulsion of the Holy Spirit. I’m talking about that time when social expectations or high-pressure tactics practically forced you to make a donation or give a gift. Call me coldhearted, but I strongly resist emotional pleas and guilt-ridden appeals.
If you’re bullied into giving, that’s not generosity.
The Corinthian churches had promised Paul they would give a sizable monetary gift to the Jerusalem Christians. Paul lays it on pretty thick there in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9—especially with his comparison to the Macedonians—but he didn’t want them to give just because they had said they would. He tells them,
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. –2 Corinthians 9:7
God loves a cheerful giver.
It’s one of those lines we memorize as children in Sunday School. Then we paste on a fake smile as we drop our quarter into the offering box. But what does it mean? Why is the attitude of our giving important?
The Macedonians’ joy made
their generosity possible.
Paul said the Macedonian believers had “overflowing joy,” which combined with their “extreme poverty” to produce “rich generosity” (2 Corinthians 8:2). Their joy made their generosity possible. (I wrote about the “extreme poverty” aspect a couple of months ago.)
The internal quality of joy appears on the outside as cheerfulness.
A happy heart makes the face cheerful. –Proverbs 15:13
Believers in whom joy has matured
can smile in the face of oppression,
trial, and everything else the
world throws at them.
Joy is part of the Fruit of the Spirit, that set of character qualities we’re given when the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our lives. (Galatians 5:22-23. Yes, they mature as we grow spiritually, but the buds of these qualities are already present.) Believers in whom joy has matured can smile in the face of oppression, trial, and everything else the world throws at them. You’ve seen it on TV or heard it from someone at church: despite his dire prognosis, he continues to laugh and enjoy life. That’s the visible manifestation of joy.
Generosity Reflects Our Joy
Like the smile on the face of a terminally-ill believer, our generosity—regardless of circumstances—demonstrates to the world that our source of satisfaction is outside ourselves and our circumstances. We’re not stressed-out at the prospect of giving beyond the reasonable because we are confident God will supply all our needs (Philippians 4:19).
When we are generous, we tangibly demonstrate our internal joy.
Generosity Reinvigorates Our Joy
Sometimes our joy fountain runs low. We lose our contentment and our confidence in God’s supply. What then?
After Too Much Navel-Gazing
Perhaps our joy has been replaced by navel-gazing (a term not original to me or my family): becoming so introspective, so wrapped up in our own thoughts and problems that we emotionally and spiritually fold inward, closing ourselves off from the world. We begin to hoard our time, thoughts, attention, and supplies. We become progressively more selfish. Thus, one of the very best antidotes for navel-gazing is an act of service. Choose to notice someone else’s needs, look them in the eye, and help. That small bit of generosity (time, money, attention, or something else) will uncork the fountain of any believer’s joy!
When selfishness has sucked
away our joy, generosity
quickly replenishes it.
The religious elite of Amos’ day made sacrifices for bragging rights, ignoring the poor and oppressed all around them. Their hearts weren’t cheerful and their so-called generosity was actually an expression of selfishness. God rejected both the givers and the gifts (Amos 4:1-5). Instead, He prefers givers like the widow with two coins (Mark 12:41-44) who gave out of her desire simply to bless the Lord. When selfishness has sucked away our joy, generosity—especially toward the Lord—quickly replenishes it.
God wants us to give because we want to give, not because we feel obligated or pressured to give. He led Paul to praise the Macedonians because they begged for the opportunity to give despite their own circumstances (2 Corinthians 8:3-4), and He acknowledged the generosity of the Philippian Christians as well (Philippians 4:14-19). He also called the Corinthians to give out of their abundance and joy (2 Corinthians 9:6-8).
When we give cheerfully, God is pleased and we are pumped-up with joy!
Have you known both kinds of giving—obligatory and voluntary? Have you sensed the pleasure of the Lord when you gave generously? I know you don’t want to brag, but we would all love to hear about how He’s blessed you in response to your giving. Share in the comments below!