Generosity

“Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” (I Tim. 6:18,19)

 I have recounted at another time when I earned a five dollar bill and spent it all on myself. I was maybe 9 or 10 years old and can in part attribute it to childishness. Except when none of my sisters (four) or Mother ever had any money to do with what I did, there is more to it than that. If that were not true, there would be no reminiscing accompanied with shame. The dynamics etiology are fairly complicated, but bottom line is, I was a selfish little twerp. Early foundational years have a tendency to hang on.

I used to go to an elderly doctor, since departed, who became talkative when I asked him not to prescribe for me a dollar-a-pill “exotic biotic.” He was a delightful gentleman who grew up during the depression, which according to him, he never got over. He told me that when his socks got holes in them his wife darned them. Then she would darn the darn. Finally they would make mops out of them. I’m not sure when that stopped, but it sounded current to me.

Ones background is a big influence on current ideas and behavior (surprise, surprise). Anyone with an upbringing of scarcity and want has trouble letting go of anything; it might be the last one. Anyway, as for the reason of my stinginess (young and selfish?), that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Surely it’s not our nature, is it?

Pat and I started out on opposite ends of the economic spectrum. It seemed to me that she would always spend her last ten dollars today even if it was owed tomorrow. After all, tomorrow wasn’t here yet. On the other hand, I would hang on to the ten forever just in case I needed it tomorrow, or the next day, or the next day, or…, that could go on forever. The husband of family friends once commented, “I keep trying to save money, and my wife keeps giving it away.” Over time we have both moved more towards the center to moderate each other. But yet I will have to say, even now Pat is one of the most giving people I know, sometimes, in my opinion, to a fault. Money, to her, is not primarily to keep for herself.

One of the most incredible passages on generosity is found in II Cor. 8:1ff where Paul is writing about the Christians in Macedonia. The occasion was a donation by the churches to the distressed Christians in Jerusalem. Verse 2 is the clincher, “Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.” How in the world, when you are under severe trials and experiencing extreme poverty, can you have overflowing joy and be richly generous? The answer is found in part of verse 5, “…they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us…” That is the key to Christian generosity. If I have the personal assurance that God will take care of me as He promises, then why would I not be joyful and generous regardless of the circumstances? I can’t always seem to do that.

However, God expects us to take care of our families before we give away the farm. If we don’t do so, the Bible declares us “worse than unbelievers.” I remember reading a story about James Dobson’s father, who as a traveling evangelist would sometimes come home from a week of revival meetings with no money because he found others whom he believed needed it more than did he. His wife always agreed. Sounds like he belonged to the Macedonian church.

As much as generosity is usually related to money or material things, I believe that most of our opportunities to be generous have nothing to do with either. The verse cited at the beginning in I Tim. also includes being “rich in good deeds.” While there may not be a correlation between the two, material and non-, it seems intuitive that the generous heart always finds a way to express itself.

How about being generous in our speaking as it relates to others? Nothing is more generous than complimenting someone in the presence of others ( ‘tho flattery is not good), or being generous when speaking of others not present. Ephesians 4:29 states; “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Notice that it is not only the recipient that is blessed, but those listening also. Everyone benefits from generous comments. Again, I can’t always seem to do that.

Being generous, when speaking of others, whether present or absent, is complimenting rather than criticizing; building up rather than tearing down. That goes back to the old, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” That really is Biblical. A quote of generous kindness by Mother Teresa: “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.” Once again (that’s three times), I can’t always seem to do that. That’s three times I seem to keep making excuses; I need to quit doing that.

As a former pastor once said: “Smiling is not necessarily an expression of how you feel at the moment, it’s simply a gift you give to another person.” Generosity comes in many forms both material and non-material. I will try harder, with God’s help, to be more generous in expression and deed.

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