The True Nature of Giving and Generosity
"...For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us."
(2 Corinthians 8:3-5 ESV)
What is the nature of true generosity and giving? This question needs to be asked as we enter into the Christmas season, where giving and generosity has actually been embedded not just within the Christian church, but also in our secular culture. This annual December generosity often takes the form of Christmas presents, but it is not unusual to see local food pantrys get stocked for the year, or churches to have large end of the year tithes, or needy families receive help and more.
But what is true nature of generosity and giving, especially in our age of abundance? This is the primary question I want to visit. Biblically speaking, we hear from the Lord (Matthew 5:42) and in the early church patterns of giving that are intended to be instructive for us - therefore, giving and generosity, something commanded by the Lord, a biblical form that we must hear. It's simple, yet very challenging. (When I say giving, please don't hear the word "tithe" - it certainly does include tithing to the church, but it is much more comprehensive).
Paul, in describing the generosity of the Macedonians, says that they not only gave, but gave "beyond their means." This they didn't do compulsively, but rather they "begged" for the opportunity to give beyond their means. This, combined with Old Testament commandments about bringing "unblemished" sacrifices to the Lord (Deuteronomy 17:1), amongst many other passages concerning giving and generosity, always hold a common theme of the heart of the giver:
Biblical generosity is giving your best and most, and not the leftovers.
The Macedonians didn't give their left overs. They begged to be able to give what they even felt they could not afford to give. This speaks of a generosity that is not pragmatic, or a generosity that views their possessions as truly belonging only to them. This is a faith-based generosity, compelled by their love for God, as Paul explained to the Corinthians. They knew all things were his, and they had an opportunity to share what God had given them with others, having others in mind first before themselves.
In closing, this principle is best illustrated by a brief story one of my professors shared with me in bible school (I hope it ministers to you as it has to be all these years).
He shared about a family that served internationally as missionaries, who would take a yearly furlough back in the States in order to replinish supplies, like clothing and basic material needs that were unavailable where they were serving. There was a loft apartment at the church building where the family would stay. The church would have an annual month of giving, where the church members would all give and fill the apartment out of their own accord with the needed clothing and supplies.
The pastor did not take a look at the clothing and supplies donated to the international missioanries before they arrived, but was stunned when he sat to meet with them a few days after they had been settled in their apartment. He met with the father of the family, who was wearing a faded rainbow sweater that looked to be ten years old, something he knew was popular many years ago, but something most everyone would never want to wear today. It was stretched and well worn. His pants and shoes were of similar quality - worn and faded from age, filled with little holes and tears. The pastor was furious upon entering the family's temporary residence. He quickly saw that the congregation had furnished their apartment with their leftovers. Unwanted items. Items that may have cost a lot of money at one point, but were past their prime age and well used. These items were probably those items hanging back in the closet that they had forgotten about, but saw the opportunity to give to the interntional missionaries a chance to do some "spring-cleaning." It wasn't their actions he was so much angered by - it was the heart behind such giving.
The next Sunday the pastor stood before his congregation, and preached a sermon on the true nature of generosity. In it, he directed his church to the true heart of biblical giving:
"When someone needs a winter coat, you aren't to give them your old one. You're to give your best and favorite one. God didn't ask for Israel's defective animals that had no use on the farm. Rather, he asked for the most important and useful one. That giving hurts, but it shows the heart of the giver. The Macedonians didn't give their left overs, but rather from the heart, gave beyond what they could afford. If you see a need, ask yourself: why wouldn't I give them my favorite item? My favorite jacket or shirt, or a brand new pair of shoes that I would like to have, a gift so pricey that it may even cause me to have a less-nice pair of shoes? Are we not commanded to treat others the way we want to be treated? Does this principle not apply in our giving - give items and money that if we were to receive, we would be happy and blessed to receive? If you feel a resistance to doing so, analyze your heart and why you have the resistance.
Jesus promised to meet our needs in this life, and in doing so, has given us the joyful and wonderful freedom to give generously. So why wouldn't you give abundantly and trust you're needs will be met, even if you wind up less furnished and not as nicely dressed than the recepients of your gifts? This is the very heart of biblical generosity."
May we be generous to others and to the Lord this Christmas season.