The Generous Life: A Pathway for Christians – Part 1

 In Jason Bunger

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (I Timothy 6:17-19)

Spiritual Malpractice

Earlier this week I had to go to the doctor for a routine physical. The practitioner thought I was being rude to her because she asked me, “Would you like to get on the scale?” And I answered her honestly, “No, I would not like to do that.”  I was not trying to be impolite; I just didn’t want to see what the scale had to say. The point of going to the doctor is to evaluate my health and to determine a plan to live better and longer.

It would be malpractice for the doctor to withhold information – good or painful – that would be beneficial to my health and happiness. Ethically, the doctor needs to tell me what I need to hear, not want I want to hear. To withhold information for my benefit because he/she doesn’t want to talk about it would be malpractice.

Many times, pastors practice “spiritual malpractice” in the area of teaching about giving. I am not simply talking about the preachers who only preach about giving, but I am also talking about those who won’t teach about giving. They are denying people opportunities to live life with more joy, purpose and contentment because they understandably find it uncomfortable to talk about money. I get it. 

Generosity is about what I want for you, rather than what I want from you. I want you to love God more. I want you to have more security; to move beyond living from check-to-check. I want you to invest in things that are far greater than yourself. The goal is not to get your money. But to get you change your long-term mindset about money, and what is really important. 

The pathway for the generous is a road that no one has ever regretted taking, or become poor for doing so.  It is a pathway to worship, joy and impact. I want to invite you on this journey with us. In fact, it would be malpractice not to do so. 

What is The Generous Life?

The Generous Life is about God and not us

The source of Christian generosity is a response to what God has done for us and not what we can do for others. When we reflect on the grace that was demonstrated in the sacrifice of Christ, we are changed into generous people.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a] who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,[b] but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[c] being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)

We desire to be generous not only because of the effects of the gospel but because it is the right thing to do. This subtle difference is described as “gospel behavior changed” behavior as opposed to what Chris Dolson calls “moralist appeals.”  Dolson writes that people can be giving to the right cause, but for the wrong reasons.  e describes the dangers of this moralistic appeal as such: 

“People who are taught to act morally so that they might feel better about themselves are subtly putting themselves above God. They are not loving God and putting Him first; they are putting themselves first. Giving is motivated and reinforced by how people will feel about themselves.  People are doing ‘good’ not for God’s sake but for their own sake. Their behavior is being changed by the power of their own self-interest.”

The Generous Life is an Appropriate Response to the Gospel

It has been said, “a teacher learns what his teacher knows, but a disciple becomes who his master is.”  We serve a God that sacrificed immensely to purchase our salvation.  This unconditional sacrifice prompts us as His disciples to be generous as well.  This is not to earn our salvation, but rather as an expression of this salvation. 

Probably the most familiar verse in the Bible is John 3:16.  It begins with, “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son…” First we notice, that the love of God was demonstrated through the act of giving. God loved, so God gave. Further, it recently occurred to me that giving His only Son may have been the only way that Father really could have sacrificed.  After all, God can make anything out of nothing at anytime. It would have cost God nothing to make a universe full of gold simply by speaking it forth. God can create infinite amounts of anything instantly. Yet, He did not give us something that He made. He gave himself as someone that He is. The eternal Father gave us His eternal Son because He loves us that much.

Furthermore, Jesus was not only given by the Father, He gave up his privileges of deity in order to redeem us from our sin. Paul writes to the Corinthians,

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9) 

And to the Philippians, he writes, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a] who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,[b] but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[c] being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)

When we live generously, we are responding to how God expressed His grace towards us.

The Generous Life is led by people who recognize that everything that we have ultimately belongs to God

Deuteronomy was written by Moses while Israel was in the wilderness preparing to go into the Promised Land. This was a generation that had been in slavery in Egypt, and God wanted to remind His people that He brought them out of slavery and was leading them into a land they will inherit, not earn. God warned them that if they were not careful, they would be tempted to think that they have earned, or become entitled to, everything they will possess. They must remember that everything they had ultimately was from the hand of God. 

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey,  a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.  “Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. (Deuteronomy 8:7-18)

This is one of the lessons that is often realized the most when one becomes a parent. The majority of children have toys that they “own.”  The toys are bought by parents as a gesture of love or affection. If the children are responsible and appreciative, the parents will probably buy them more. If the children are not responsible, become greedy or selfish, the parent may take away the toy permanently or for a time. Even children that “earned” the money to buy their own toys do so by doing chores provided by parents and receive money given by parents in return.  Wise children know that everything a child “owns” really belongs to the parent. In the same way, everything that we “own” really belongs to God.

The Generous Life is a response of love and not guilt

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7) 

As followers of Christ, we have the privilege of giving deliberately, cheerfully and from our heart.  We are told not to give reluctantly our through manipulative guilt. Often, we see advertisements in the media promoting people to give out of guilt. Guilt and fear are great going motivators, so why do we refuse to use guilt to “inspire” giving.     

First of all, we are commanded to not give reluctantly but to give joyful. We cannot be motivated by guilt and joy at the same time. When we do give out of guilt, we give only until the feelings of shame are no longer felt. At its core, this is a very selfish motivation. There has been no permanent change in the giver. This brings no glory to God and no long-term relief to others.       

Secondly, guilt-inspired giving eventually leaves the giver indifferent. This is because the needs attached to that our guilt will never cease.   

As Christians, we are to care for the marginalized. Paul writes that he was to  … to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” (Galatians 2:10)  James, the half-bother of Jesus writes that “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.  (James 1:27)

But Jesus warns us “you will always have the poor among you.”  (Matthew 26:11)  As Christians, we should help those in need. However if our only motivation for giving is only to cure an ill, and not a joyful response of faith, we will eventually find ourselves depleted in every way. 

For example, if our only purpose in giving is to eliminate world hunger, we will fail in our attempts and become impatient with those that don’t participate at the same level of sacrifice.  We will see it as their fault that hunger exists and we will become judgmental. 

Furthermore, we may potentially see the very ones we are trying to help as the reason we are becoming emotionally and financially depleted. We can be tempted to make demands on the recipients of the generosity. 

Being generous only because of evident needs and not out of devotion to Christ will you deplete and frustrate you.  Haddon Robinson describes this cycle as attempting to drain the Atlantic Ocean with a tablespoon,  “At the end of the day…” says Robinson, “…you will have a puddle at your feet and the Atlantic in front of you.”

However, if we give to the same amount as an act of worship, we begin to be renewed. So when we give, we see it as a life-giving expression of worship to God. This act of generosity is invigorating and not depleting.

Paul thanks the Philippians for their gift by saying.  “…I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.”  (Philippians 4:18) 

The joy of generosity is ultimately rooted in the motivation for generosity. We can give with joy as we become more convinced that giving is not about us. It is an approbate response to the gospel. It is to be done out of love. And it is an admission that all that we have belongs to God.    

When we can answer the “whys” of generosity, the “hows” work themselves out.


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