The Generous Life

So many people have communicated their deep appreciation for the streaming of the services into their homes. What most of you are unaware of is how this all came about just prior to this time where we could not gather and hold services in our facility.

As a church leadership we had been discussing developing streaming as a part of our ministry outreach for a few years, and finally, we made an appeal to the congregation for funds to be designated so we could move forward in this area of ministry.

One of the individuals in our church family, of which I have no idea, explained to our bookkeeper they were contributing $6000.00 rather than use those monies for a personal expenditure. God had prompted them to give in order that we would be able to stream our services. This gift motivated our church board to move forward with the rest of the costs in order and immediately purchase the equipment to start streaming the services. We had just secured the equipment necessary and installed them two weeks before we had to suspend our church services.

That person’s obedience and generosity has brought spiritual and emotional blessings to so many since then. Generosity brings blessings to others, but also to those who are generous. “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed (Proverbs 11:25).”

Proverbs is a part of the Wisdom literature of the bible. To be wise and live wisely means that we are living in a right relationship with God, or as it is written we are living in ‘the fear of the Lord.’ There are a number of proverbs from chapter 11 dealing with the value of living generously. We can either respond to crisis out of fear or we can respond by trusting in God. In a time of uncertainty, what we discover is the true nature of our heart condition. Hoarding is a symptom of a selfish and fear-filled heart. In contrast to that spirit is one where a person knows that God is in control and therefore, they live unselfishly and are willing to bless others. People who live generously have confidence, hope and faith in a God who holds all of our tomorrow. People who are generous reflect the heart of the most generous person of all, namely God. What we are about to discover is that generosity does not diminish us, rather it enriches us, as well as those we bless. There are at least three reasons why we need to cultivate generosity in our lives.

The first and greatest reason why we need to be generous is that it brings honor to God.

We may wonder how we can be a blessing to God. The answer is simple: it is seen by how we treat others. “A kindhearted woman gains honor, but ruthless men gain only wealth (Proverbs 11:16).” Another proverb explaining the relationship between the means of honoring God is in the way we treat people is found in Proverbs 14:31: “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.”

Generosity is one expression of kindness and love. In the N.T. we read that the only way we can truly express our love to God, whom we don’t see is by loving those who God created, namely people, who we do see. We must remember that all human beings were made in the very image of God and we ought to show honor to God by showing each person value and dignity.

David Hubbard writes: “So seriously does biblical faith take the doctrine of God’s image in man as a gift of divine creation that acts done to a human being are as weighty as though done to God. Scarcely any idea has more power than this to change life radically.”[i]

            There is a need then to show kindness and love to our neighbors, and this is expressed in more than mere words, but in actions. Love is meeting people at their point of need. “Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you’- when you already have it with you (Proverbs 3:28).”

In other words when and where we can, we ought to help those who are struggling when it is in our power to do so. Hubbard continues to give us insight into what this means to us. “Most basic is the supply of staples in times of want, unemployment or famine. This is not construed as rewarding bad behavior by caring for the slothful, whose ways are constantly denounced.”[ii] In the wisdom literature we find a balance. We are to help those who cannot help themselves, not necessarily those who won’t help themselves.

What is also important is our attitude. It’s not just what we do, but also how and why we do our acts of generosity. Are we concerned about the dignity of the person we are blessing? ‘…Blessings called for mercy, not arrogance, for generosity, not miserliness. The giver’s attitude was as important as the goods.”[iii]       

In the N.T., the apostle Paul reminds us that we need to beginning our generosity with family, then the family of believers and then beyond. “But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:4, 8).”

So our expressions of generosity begin with our family, but then it moves outward to the most vulnerable in society; those whose families have been ravished by death.

James reminds us in James 1:27: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”             Jesus, also pointed out that when we minister to the least, we are in actuality ministering to Him- in a particular parable Jesus explains that by feeding, clothing, sharing our homes and visiting those who are unable to visit others, we are in reality doing that to him.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,

I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?

When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

The king will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

The apostle John reminds us that when we demonstrate God’s love to others it is a sign that God’s love is ruling our hearts. We are then living a Spirit filled life, which is the spirit of wisdom. “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us (1 John 4:11-12).”

David Hubbard reminds us that our world view deeply shapes our behavior. He writes: “People who believed that the whole earth and everything that filled it belonged to their Lord (Ps. 24:1) were not hard put to recognize that the giftedness of their own lives, which, no matter how hard they toiled and how judiciously they spent, was utterly dependent on God’s grace.”[iv]

Whenever we minister to the needy, we are in fact lending to the Lord. We need to see in that person we are helping that it is actually the Lord we are helping, and it transforms the entire experience.

Years ago, before the government stepped in, the churches in our city were ministering to those who were homeless. We opened our youth center for people to spend the night once a week and fed them a meal before they left in the morning. People from our church family had a chance to communicate and provide encouragement. One night I was there and had the opportunity to cook breakfast for those that were at the youth building, the thought occurred to me that I was actually fixing breakfast for Jesus. What a powerful moment that was, it affected my heart attitude towards the people. I felt a deep love for each and every one of them. Rather than feeling I was doing them a favor, I felt I was being allowed the privilege of ministering to Jesus.

How does God see this act of generosity and kindness to the needy? “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward them for what they have done (Proverbs 19:17).”

One of the rewards that generosity gives us is deliverance from the soul destructive element of covetousness. The trouble with covetousness is that we are never satisfied. No matter how much a person has when their hearts are covetous, they continue crave more- in other words they live in lack. Consider the works of the Psalmist when he writes, ‘The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing (Psalm 23:1). There is something freeing about simplicity and contentment. There is something exciting about knowing that God is our Shepherd and He is watching over us.

This is not saying that wealth is bad, but the desire for more and a lack of contentment is what is so tragic. What is fascinating is that these ancient writers who were certainly inspired by God as they observed how life worked, drew certain conclusions. “One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty (Proverbs 11:24). Here is one of the great paradoxes of life. The one who gives, receives and the one who withholds is impoverished. The term used here in the NIV is to give freely, and the Hebrew term mepazzer, and means to ‘scatter.’ Bruce Waltke points out: “‘Scatters’ here means distributing widely, generously, perhaps brashly, and paying little attention to where the beneficence goes.”[v] This is not an argument for an investment strategy but rather how we go about showing philanthropy- or how to go about giving to others.

The apostle Paul when discussing giving reinforces this truth. “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).”

The Second Reason that we need to be generous is that it blesses others. 

God will give us amazing opportunities to be a blessing to others. Have we ever considered what life is all about? The vision of our culture is toward self-sufficiency and having enough to live comfortably and enjoy our lives. The focus is on ourselves. Yet, living in self-dependency and trusting in what we possess ultimately doesn’t protect us completely. “Those who trust in their riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf (Proverbs 11:28).” Here is the challenge in a culture where money is the driving force in society, it will let us down. However, those who live for a higher purpose, which is to honor God with their lives will flourish.

So we need to ask ourselves the question: Why did God create us? Why did God create me? It’s not just about ourselves? So, where should our focus be? What is the epitome of a successful life? Isn’t it bringing honor to our Creator and Savior? Are we not here to bring glory to his name with the rest of creation?

How can we bring honor and glory to God? But loving and caring for what God loves and cares for? The greatest aspect of God’s creation is people. We are created in his image. When we love people, we are reflecting the heart of God. To love and serve others is one of the highest purposes for which we are to find meaning in life.

When we consider that the two greatest commandments are to love God and then love our neighbor as ourselves, the way to doing that is by living an unselfish life. Yet, we find people trying to manipulate and oppress others in order to enrich themselves, but the reality whenever we do that, we are diminishing not only others, but ourselves in the process. “People curse the one who hoards grain, but they pray God’s blessing on the one who is willing to sell (Proverbs 11:26).” The hoarders here are trying to create a shortage in order to drive the prices up. A simple law of economics, but a terrible strategy for loving others.

“It is a sin to despise one’s neighbor but blessed is the one who is kind to the needy (Proverbs 14:21).” One of the problems of having much and despising those that have less is that it is an arrogant attitude. The idea is that we are show dignity to those we help. One of the best ways to help others is to do it in such a way that they can retain their dignity. Better to give a job, then just give money. Giving people the means to earn a living is a greater act of generosity than simply giving them something for the moment, or as some ministries do is to give a small loan or investment so they can start a small business.

The final reason that we need to be generous is that it enriches the giver.

Rather than seeing that we are giving something away, we need to see giving as an investment into the lives of other people. These are eternal investments. God is the one who is managing our spiritual portfolio. “One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed (Proverbs 11:24-25).”

We have in our church family a single mother who has been teaching her son some powerful lessons, one of which is to learn to be generous. One of the ways that this child has learned responsibility is that he earns a little money by helping on their small acreage. As a child, he learned the reality of Proverbs 11:25; and at seven or eight years old, he gave his first $100 of earnings from his little farm business to a special offering that the children’s ministry had to help others. The leader of that ministry was so taken back by the amount of this child wanted to donate, that she went to the mother to make sure that the mother was aware of this. Eventually someone heard about this amazing act of generosity and decided to give all of the Legos that her grown children were no longer using to this child. Later, as he and a friend were gathering toys to donate to needy children, his mother overheard him telling the friend, “I have to be careful how much I give, I can’t handle any more Legos”. Now a teen, he has continued his acts of generosity and God has continued to bless his life and little business.

We can be assured that giving not only blesses others, but ultimately it benefits us. “Those who are kind benefit themselves, but the cruel bring ruin on themselves (Proverbs 11:17).” One expression of kindness is in acts of generosity toward others. This generosity can be displayed beyond giving goods to the needy but also our time and words of encouragement. However, generosity is primarily expressed in helping people with their lack. “Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered (Proverbs 21:13).”

If God treats me the way I treat others, then I better evaluate how I’m treating others. We need to realize that Jesus taught this as a principle. We are forgiven to the degree that we forgive others. If we don’t like the way God is treating us, then we need to carefully consider how we are treating others.

One of the great aspects about being able to give is that we have the resources to do that. The apostle Paul in obeying the principle of generosity that Jesus taught shared with the Ephesian Elders in Acts 20:35. “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” We can only give what we have, so when we are able to give it is because of God’s generosity to us that we can give and not be in need.

Let us remember that giving isn’t just about money. It’s the unselfish giving of our time, our expertise, our understanding and words of grace and comfort.  We can be generous in so many areas of our lives. We can be generous with our words of affirmation and encouragement. We need to remind ourselves that what we are sowing, we will reap. “The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor (Proverbs 22:9).”

People who are generous are never friendless. “Many curry favor with a ruler, and everyone is the friend of one who gives gifts (Proverbs 19:6).” Some might argue that you may only have fair weathered friends, but the reality is when people help us in our hour of need, we discover who are friends really are.

Being a generous person becomes a way of life. You stop worrying about resources and you focus instead on how you can be a blessing to others. It is amazing how God can bring resources into the lives of generous people. He can trust us to use what He gives us to enrich not only the lives of others but be enriched in the process as we grow in this grace in our own lives.

The question that may be upon your heart and mind is how we can practice generosity? First of all, we need to pray for those who are currently struggling through this moment of time with these restrictions that have caused not only physical distancing, but also economic hardships. People have lost their means of securing resources. There are people around us who need our help. Ask God to show you who you can be generous with in giving your time, your encouragement and yes, even some financial assistance.

Let’s pray that God will help us all live the generous life and reflect His love to others.

[i] David A. Hubbard, Proverb, The Communicator’s Commentary, (Dallas, TX: Word Books, Publisher, 1989), 168-69.

[ii] Ibid, 163.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004), 507.

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