Jesus, the apostles, and the early church often taught about and demonstrated how to live generously. It was a priority for them, because without it, the church could not and cannot carry out Christ’s mission and vision.
One day in the temple, “Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury” (Mark 12:41). Imagine that scene as Jesus positioned himself where he could inspect how much money each person dropped in the collection basket. He observed a line of rich people tossing in impressive sums of cash, and then a poor widow who opened her wrinkled hand to drop in a few cents.
Why did Jesus do this? What was the point? To teach his followers a lesson. He turned to his disciples—which include us—and revealed that the widow gave more than everyone else. Jesus wasn’t analyzing the givers’ percentage of giving based on their income. He wasn’t collecting data for a Barna report. Rather, he was analyzing their hearts. The well-off worshippers gave out of their wealth, while she gave out of everything she had to live on (vv. 43, 44).
Generosity—like most other spiritual virtues—starts with the heart. That’s no secret. “You must each decide in your heart how much to give,” said the apostle Paul. “And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. ‘For God loves a person who gives cheerfully’” (2 Corinthians 9:7, New Living Translation, emphasis added).
I believe most Christ followers want to be like the widow—they want to be generous, cheerful givers in every aspect of their lives—but how? I admit that giving, especially financially, has not always come naturally to me, but I’ve noticed that the more I grow in my faith, the more generous I become. Here’s what I am learning:
I give because I receive.
Paul bragged about the generosity of the Macedonian churches as they gave to help other struggling churches. Look at their similarities to the widow Jesus recognized:
In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us (2 Corinthians 8:2-5, NIV).
Why were these people so generous? Don’t miss this! “They gave themselves first to the Lord.” They bore fruit because they stayed connected to the vine (John 15:1-8). Their generosity, like their joy, simply overflowed out of them like a glass overflowing with living water.
This is what God does in all our lives when we abide in him. He gives life to the full—abundant life—which then overflows into the lives of people around us. It’s not about us; it’s not about working harder on our own to make an impact on other’s lives. We receive from God and then allow him to simply overflow his love, power, grace, and generosity into people around us.
The more time I spend with Jesus, the more generous I become. As Paul reminds us, “God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound [overflow] in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8). Make your relationship with Christ your top priority every day and let him overflow generously into other’s lives.
I give because I have received.
God is generous. He gave his only Son so you and I could have eternal life, and Jesus gave his life for us. God’s great generosity leads us to be thankful and then to be generous to others. We “overflow with thankfulness” (Colossians 2:7).
An attitude of gratitude leads to a reciprocity of generosity!
Take time regularly—at the Lord’s table and beyond—to remember what God has done for you and to be thankful.
I give because it’s not mine.
The more I grow, the more I understand the principles of stewardship. My life is not my own. I take care of whatever he has entrusted to me, but I don’t hang onto it as if it’s mine.
A generous life is the direct result of living a surrendered life. Generosity overflows from a new way of living that is surrendered to and in relationship with my Master. As God transforms me, giving generously becomes something I am willing and eager to do. In asking the Corinthian church to give sacrificially to help their fellow Christians, Paul said,
Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have (2 Corinthians 8:10-12, emphasis added).
Paul told them they had already excelled in various facets of discipleship—in faith, speech, knowledge, earnestness, and love. Now he was calling them (and us) to excel in this “grace of giving.” Becoming more generous is part of our growth as disciples of Jesus, which requires surrender. Like the widow, open your hands and heart to God, letting go of whatever you are still holding onto.
I give because I am growing in humility.
The most generous person who ever lived was our model of humility. When we, like Jesus, humbly put the needs of other people above our own, we become more generous people in all aspects of our lives.
Early in the life of the New Testament church, the believers lived with this Christlike, humble spirit, which led to great generosity: “No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. . . . And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them” (Acts 4:32-34).
Imagine living like that today! It’s possible. Be intentional about putting the needs of other people above your own.
I give because I love.
An attitude of humility, putting other people first, is the key that unlocks the door to loving people generously and sacrificially. Jesus calls us to love our neighbors, which includes those who don’t look like us, vote like us, or talk like us. I tend to be most generous to those I most love, and so I’m challenged to love others more.
Love gets to the heart of it all. Paul pointed out that if I gave everything I have to the poor, I could boast about that, but if I don’t love them, I gain nothing (1 Corinthians 13:3). Move beyond just giving; live by the Great Commandment to love others generously, unconditionally, tangibly, and sacrificially. (That takes guts!)
I love challenges, and God has one for me—and you. He told the Israelites to be generous through their tithes. “If you do,” he said, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!” (Malachi 3:10, NLT).
God desires to generously fill our lives to the brim and then keep pouring out the blessings so they overflow into the lives of others around us—like a glass overflowing with living water.
I echo Paul’s prayer, “that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13. NLT).
Michael Mack serves as editor of Christian Standard and contributing editor of The Lookout.