In the first half of this year, we considered generosity, my #OneWord2018, by its source and relationship to other biblical concepts. For the latter half of this year, we’ll look at various types of generosity and related Bible instructions.
These days, we call it charity—the concept of sharing money or goods with those who need it. (In King James English, charity was a synonym for love. Check 1 Corinthians 13. I was so confused when I was a kid.) When we think of generosity, most of us start here.
The early church “shared everything they had” (Acts 4:32), but the concept certainly wasn’t new with them. When God established the nation of Israel, he commanded His people to be generous.
If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them.
There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land. –Deuteronomy 15:7, 11
One man takes out his wallet and, hiding it from everyone else, selects a bill. He pulls it out carefully, returns his wallet to his pocket, then hands the bill to the person in front of him.
Another man takes out his wallet and opens it wide, offering it to the other person, who sees everything inside. He invites the other person to take what he needs.
Even if both men release twenty dollars, only one of them is generous.
The one who gives with open hands
has already positioned those hands
to receive God’s blessings.
By the time Solomon collected the proverbs (writing many of them himself), God had demonstrated the reciprocity of generosity: those who were openhanded in their giving would receive blessing from Him.
A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. –Proverbs 11:25
The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor. –Proverbs 22:9
While reciprocity is a pattern, it’s not a promise. If you expect blessing, that is, you give in order to get, the opportunity for generosity is lost. Self-centered giving still helps the other person, but we’ll often lose out on the potential blessing.
God models openhanded generosity for us in verses like Malachi 3:10, where He promises He will respond to tithes and offerings:
See if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.
Throw open the floodgates.
He doesn’t set up a steady drip of blessing, like the food dispensers we put in our aquariums when we go on vacation. Instead, he opens the doors wide and allows the blessing to spew out, like the floodgates on TVA’s hydroelectric dams after a heavy rain.
Material Generosity Reflects Our Heart Condition
Like the two men in our comparison above, our financial generosity reflects the condition of our hearts, and this is why it’s important. In the Old Testament, God often rewarded those who gave with a pure heart (see Proverbs verses above.) When Jesus got here (in the New Testament), He tried to help people understand this.
On one occasion, a Pharisee invited Jesus to his home for dinner—a request I’m sure he promptly regretted because Jesus used his table to critique just about every aspect of Pharisee life! It began with the ritual handwashing that preceded meals. Jesus said getting the dirt off his hands wasn’t nearly as important as how he spent his money.
Be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you. –Luke 11:41
On another occasion, a rich man (who should have known better), asked Jesus how to get into Jesus’ Kingdom of God. Jesus told him,
Sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. –Luke 18:22
We know the rest of the story. The rich man walked away, head hanging, because he was very rich. Jesus had seen into his heart, and the man’s priority of possessions poisoned his heart, pushing aside generosity. (For more on this guy, read One Man’s Treasure.)
The rich man’s wealth
wasn’t his problem.
The rich man’s wealth wasn’t his problem. His faith in that wealth, the importance it played in his life, his prioritization of his possessions over his obedience—that was his challenge.
Later, Paul encouraged Timothy regarding the rich people in Timothy’s church. He said,
Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. –1 Timothy 6:18
Rich in good deeds.
We can all have that kind of wealth.
Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. –Matthew 6:21
Is our treasure in our wallets and bank accounts or in our relationship with Jesus? We can test ourselves. The easier it is to give with open hands (and open wallets), the more we value our relationship with Jesus.
Do you find it easy to open your wallet/purse and give to others? How has God helped you to grow in this area of spiritual maturity. I’d really like to know. Seriously. Please leave a comment for me and other readers.
For further reading on money and its place in our lives: Let’s Be Rich Toward God from Desiring God.