Let’s take a moment to praise generosity. It is a trait that is consistently enjoyed when observed in others, and it is a trait that we should greatly desire to be found in ourselves.
There is great virtue in generosity, and also great blessing. It is a habit of character greatly to be admired, and it is a practice to which God enjoins us, encouraging us, not just by decree, but also by example.
Again, and again, God, in His inspired word, speaks to us not only of the necessity of being generous, but reminding us of the joy, happiness and manifold rewards to be gained by those who give bountifully to others.
Note just a few instances of this.
“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (cf. Acts 20:35)
“Give as you have been prospered.” (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:1-3)
“Whoever brings blessings will be enriched, and the one who waters will himself be watered.” (Proverbs 11:25)
“Work with your hands that you might have something to give to the one who has needs.” (cf. Ephesians 4:28)
“God loves a cheerful giver.” (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:7)
Over and over again, we read the same thing throughout the Scriptures: God’s children, if they are to fulfill God’s expectations of them, must be a giving people. Indeed, it can be easily argued that godliness cannot be obtained apart from generosity, for one of the chief attributes of God Himself is His giving nature.
Jesus reminded us that God gave to us. He sends the rain and the sun for all men (cf. Matthew 5:45). He sends His Word out into the world in order to impart wisdom to men. (cf. Psalm 119:130; 1 Corinthians 2:13). He loved us so much as to give His own Son for our salvation. (cf. John 3:16) Therefore, says Jesus, “You must be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
The Bible asks us, in the context of God’s having given so richly to us through Christ, “if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 John 3:17) We can’t know God’s love if we ourselves can’t bring ourselves to give generously to others. Therefore, “let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:18)
There is no virtue in stinginess. There is no righteousness in refusing to help others. There is no godliness in begrudging others those things which God has cheerfully given to us. “Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8) Moreover, there is seldom any happiness to be found in refusing to do good.
Do we notice that God loves a “cheerful giver?” How often does a generous heart accompany a joyful heart? Do we not observe that most generous people are frequently cheerful and that those scrooges who pinch their pennies and begrudge anything that another might take from them are so often miserable and unhappy?
When Jesus says there is a blessing in giving (cf. Acts 20:35), we should realize that, in the context, the word “blessing” denotes joy and fulfillment. There is a joy to be found in giving that cannot otherwise be obtained.
This is one of those universal truths is which is generally recognized in the abstract, but which is, in the moment, so seldom applied. Anyone who has participated in giving gifts on birthdays, or holidays, knows the joy that comes from such endeavors. Yet, so frequently, when we have a chance, day to day, to do more of the same, we are reluctant and fearful, selfishly clinging to our material blessings, unwilling to use them to bless others.
For the Christian, such moments of decision are trials of our faith. Do we truly believe that God will continue to provide for us, if we give away those things He has already provided? He says He will. (cf. Matthew 6:33; Ephesians 6:8) How much do we trust God? How much do we want to be like our generous, giving God?
How wonderful this world would be if everyone shared in that giving spirit we read about in the early, apostolic church, wherein all shared what they had with any as those others had need. (cf. Acts 2:44-45, 4:34-35) How unhappy this world is when we each fail to be generous, in both word and deed, with those around us.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.