For many years, I thought I understood what was required of me as a believer when it comes to living generously and honouring God with my time, talents and money.
However, if living generously means the quality of being kind and generous as outlined in the dictionary, and is synonymous with words like lavishness, liberality, open-handedness, free-handedness, bounty, unselfishness—then, well, those concepts are not particularly synonymous with me.
Let’s take chocolate for example. I don’t share chocolate. No way. Chocolate is not for sharing. If you give me chocolate and think I’m going to open it and then share it with you—think again! Go get your own chocolate. If I have chocolate, the likelihood of me giving said chocolate away is extremely unlikely. Doesn’t sound much like open-handedness, now does it?
And if I’m a bit generous in some areas of my life, but not all areas, can I really call myself generous? What does it really mean to be generous? Does the Bible put a different spin on it to the dictionary definition given above, or to what our culture or society around us considers generosity to be? And what does generosity have to do with being a disciple of Jesus anyway? Do I have to give?
These are not comfortable questions, but important ones.
A biblical word study—which means looking into the original New Testament Greek to see if there’s anything that gets lost, literally, in translation to English—reveals that several different Greek words could be translated as ‘generous’ in English. Conversely, several different English words could be translated into more than one Greek word for generous. Crazy! But there is good news …
To my surprise, essentially, what we get in English are words like generous and bountiful, but also—and wow—words like sincere and simple. But here’s the rub: almost always, these words were used in Scripture within the context of money—tithes to the synagogue or the work of the early church or offerings to the poor, widows and orphans.
You can do your own word study, but what I concluded was this: a mature disciple of Jesus Christ lives a simple, sincere, generous lifestyle which spans all areas of our lives. I also discovered that time, talents and tithes are a three-for-one deal. We cannot leave our cold hard cash out of the generosity equation. Scripture simply doesn’t allow for this option.
I was shocked! I have always assumed (or maybe chosen to believe, because it’s more palatable) that my time, talents and tithe were more of an either/or-type situation. As an officer, I’ve given a lot of time serving, and my talents are tightly aligned with my role, so I confess there have been times when I’ve therefore justified hanging onto my precious coin.
But to my spiritual conviction, the use of my time and talents doesn’t let me off the hook when it comes to tithing regularly and being generous with my financial resources.
Okay, so it’s getting awkward now, but bear with me.
Jesus makes things plain in Matthew 6:21, ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’
Jesus wants our whole heart. Not just the parts that are easy to give him. In fact, he most wants the parts that are the hardest to give him. Why? Because he knows that what we withhold from his Lordship always hurts us in the long run. And on the flipside, he knows that when we do surrender our whole selves to him, there is greater freedom for his Spirit to work in and through us, and more scope for his blessing and love to pervade our lives.
Generous living is not optional. It’s not an additional extra. It’s right at the heart of discipleship.
Bill Hybels puts it like this—and this is helpful even though it’s hard to swallow—‘God can see the true nature of our hearts every time we express generosity.’
You see, God is a generous God. It’s part of his character. It’s who he is. And I don’t think it’s just a case of God wanting us to reflect his likeness, I believe God desires his people to be generous because it liberates us from the pain and pressure of having to be like the world us when it comes to money.
Our world is greedy. Money is power. And so often it is wielded selfishly. We know the love of money is behind so much evil in the world (1 Timothy 6:10).
But God wants something different for us as his people—not just for our own sake, but for the sake of those he wants to bless through our obedience, faithfulness, love and simple, sincere generosity.
The annual Self Denial Appeal is upon us. We have an opportunity to express our commitment to the generous lifestyle God calls each of his disciples to, and not only see lives transformed through God’s Kingdom economy, but our own hearts too.
by Jules Badger (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 10 August 2019 p20-21. You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.