Give to everyone who begs from you,
and from one who takes away your goods
do not demand them back.
Several years ago there lived a tax agent. As with many of the tax professionals at that time he was dishonest and corrupt. His life was about collecting money for his government and for himself, until one day he met another man. This man not only saw the tax agent as human being (not something most other people would do) but also saw through the man into his heart. On this particular day, this tax agent heard the gospel and responded in belief. How do we know he believed? We know because a certain doctor included it in his story of a man named Jesus, “And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house (Luke 19:9).'” The effect of the gospel on this man was instantaneous as he repented of his greed and corruption and allow the gospel to work itself out in his life through an immediate act of generosity: “And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold (Luke 19:8).” I don’t know if Jesus taught Zacchaeus the importance of generosity or if Zacchaeus naturally learned as he felt the weight of his own sin, but Zacchaeus immediately realized the gospel calls for a radical generosity.
Randy Alcorn estimates that about 15% of all of Jesus teaching deals with money (The Treasure Principle, 2001). Whether or not Alcorn’s estimate is accurate, Jesus did spend much of his time teaching on money and possessions because Jesus knew “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:21).” Jesus also taught that we cannot serve both God and money (Matthew 6:24). John Piper explains further that, “the reason money is so crucial is that what we do with it signals where our heart is (What Jesus Demands from the World, 2006).” In other words a heart that is following Jesus will view and use money and possessions one way and a heart that is not following Jesus will view and use money another way.
The mark of the follower of Christ is the mark of generosity. The one who follows Christ is one who does not view money and possessions as something to be spent on themselves but something to freely share with others.
Christ calls us to be radically generous towards others.
What does this generosity look like in the life of the follower of Christ. I believe as we look through Scripture we see four defining characteristics of the generous follower of Jesus.
Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:1-4)
The issue of radical generosity is not how much is given, but rather the attitude in which it is given. Jesus calls for a sacrificial attitude. No doubt the rich were placing much more into the offering box, but also equally without-a-doubt they could have placed much more. The widow, on the other hand, gave more than she was able and Jesus found her offering acceptable. The lesson of sacrificial generosity is that true generosity must hurt a little.
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part…I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. (2 Corinthians 8:1-8)
The Apostle Paul challenges the church in Corinth to give as the churches in Macedonia. The giving of the Macedonians was mark by sacrifice (they gave out of their poverty) but also marked by love. If we truly love our neighbors as ourselves then just as we would meet our own needs, we must meet the needs of others. The lesson of loving generosity is that true generosity cares for others.
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)
The Apostle Paul continues to challenge the attitude of the Corinthian church in giving by stating that God desires those who willingly give. If God gives to bless us then we are to give to bless others. The lesson of joyful generosity is that true generosity freely gives.
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. (2 Corinthians 9:10-11)
Generosity is a matter of faith. If we have faith that God is going to provide for our needs tomorrow then we do not need to hoard wealth today. When we fail to practice generosity, we demonstrate our lack of faith in God’s provision. The lesson of faithful giving is that true generosity trusts in the Lord to provide all necessities.
But What About…
My guess is that as you have been reading this blog, you thought to yourself, “Yes, but Jesus does not really call us to radical generosity, just regular old be generous when you can generosity.” Chances are you have come up with exceptions and excuses for why you don’t have to be radically generous. I’ll be honest, as I write this blog, I have been coming up with excuses and exceptions about why I don’t have to be radically generous.
But the reality is that Scripture only gives us one out for practice generosity.
Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. . . . For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat (2 Thessalonians 3:6-10).
The one exception Jesus gives is that of laziness. God created us to actively work for our needs and not to passively receive our needs. Even before the fall God called man to work and to keep the garden (Genesis 2:15). When we give to those who could work we are assisting them to reject one of God’s calls upon their lives. Therefore, while we practice loving-kindness toward them, we do not generously give to them because our giving would further enable their sin of laziness. But, we must be careful to not use this lone exception as an excuse, as if everyone in need is simply lazy.
I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.
Christ calls us to follow Him through radical generosity towards others. A generosity marked by sacrifice, love, joy, and faith. A generosity that sees people and meets people where they are, but does not empower people in their rejection of Jesus Christ through laziness and sin. May God grant us the grace to practice radical generosity.