The righteous give generously. Psalm 37:21
One of the marks of the true Christian is generosity.
I heard it put once: “When God turns people upside down the money starts falling out of their pockets.” And it’s not just money, of course. It’s also time, and concern, and plain down to earth helpfulness.
The Bible is full of examples.
That good man Boaz ordered his servants to deliberately drop some of the harvest so that Ruth had something to pick up (Ruth 2:15-16). That unnamed widow gave her two tiny coins, though she could ill afford it (Luke 21:1-4). Barnabas “sold a field he owned (had he intended it for his pension, I wonder?) and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:36-37). The Christians of Philippi brought joy to Paul’s heart by helping him out in difficult times (Philippians 4:10-20). No doubt you can add your own examples.
All of us probably feel a bit guilty when we read passages like this, or hear about a Francis of Assisi, the young nobleman who literally gave up everything he had in order to become a monk; or a CT Studd, the aristocrat and brilliant cricketer who likewise gave up his fortune to follow Jesus as a missionary.
But we shouldn’t. We needn’t. Our giving is a deeply personal thing, to be worked out between us and God, and what is right for one person may not be right for another. The very idea of “generosity” is subjective, impossible to pin down with precision.
So I’m not talking about this in order to “guilt” us into greater generosity. Not at all. (Such generosity wouldn’t impress God anyway - doesn’t the Bible say that God loves a cheerful giver?)
No. What matters is that, however we might understand generosity, it should be at the heart of our whole attitude to life, something to call to mind at regular intervals with the simple question: Am I essentially a generous person?
It’s a good idea to ponder from time to time what Paul says of Jesus himself: “...though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Could you wish for a more perfect example of generosity?
Why is it that we sometimes forget the obligation (not to mention the joy) of generosity? There are probably plenty of reasons, but I suspect that they boil down to two basic things, and these can be summed up with two sadly negative words: greed, and fear.
Our world, especially the rich western world, is dominated by greed. We are measured and judged by how much we have - what sort of home do we live in, what sort of car do we drive, what sort of holidays do we go on? The in-word for this is “materialism”; once it might have been referred to as “keeping up with Joneses”. The people worshipped by millions of others are the “celebrities”, the rich and beautiful, with their extravagant life-styles.
And, Christians or not, it’s extremely difficult to remain uncontaminated by this kind of mentality.
My wife and I have just moved house from London to Nottingham and, as we knew to expect, there was quite a bit of stress involved. No doubt this is bound to be the case.
But I seriously wonder if much of the stress sprang from the sheer wealth of material goods we have accumulated over the years. The amount of stuff - some of it pretty good stuff - that we have either given or thrown away in the move is quite frightening. The words of Jesus - “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a person’s life does not consist in the abundance of their possessions” (Luke 12:15) - come uncomfortably to mind.
And fear. The plain fact, I suspect, is that though we may have a genuine faith in God, when push comes to shove we don’t quite trust him to provide our needs. So we like to save things up. We like to make sure that we have that little bit extra - you know, “just in case...”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating irresponsibility. We all have our obligations and commitments, and we should take them seriously and prayerfully. But I do just wonder how much we know about taking the occasional risk (if it really is a risk) for God - like the woman who poured the flask of perfume over Jesus’ head (Mark 14:1-11), or Zacchaeus, who gave away half his possessions as well as reimbursing four times over anyone he had fleeced (Luke 19:1-10)?
Do I have a generous heart? Do I have an open hand? Or do I have a tight fist, a cramped heart? Questions at least worth putting to ourselves...
Lord Jesus, please give me a generous heart and open hands. Amen.