What is the greatest gift that you have ever received? What is the most generous act that you have ever done for someone?
This time of year is an interesting time to consider the concept of generosity. After all, isn't giving someone a gift an act of generosity? And yet, we presume this generosity on others from whom we expect a gift every year. Do we even really understand what it means to be generous? And if we did, how might that affect our lives throughout the whole year?
What does it mean to be generous?
Let's start by setting aside our preconception that generosity has primarily to do with money or possessions. Certainly, these are indicators of a generous heart, but in truth, it is easy to look generous because you give something to someone occasionally rather than living your life sacrificially thinking of others at all times. After all, just because as a kid you got your dad a hammer or a neck tie every year for Christmas doesn't necessarily mean that you were being particularly generous, does it? Really, it was the easiest and cheapest thing you could find that fulfilled a perceived obligation to get him something.
When the Bible (and Jesus particularly) speaks of generosity, it is in relation to the status of your whole heart. In a recent interview, Dr. Kent Hughes shared the following quote, "Generosity is a sign of a regenerated heart." What that means is that when our hearts are truly gripped and changed by the gospel, we will see that manifest through a generous spirit. We see this throughout the Bible in stories such as Zaccheus, who gave up his immense wealth in order that he could follow Jesus, or in the woman who anointed Jesus with perfume worth more than she made in a year. God is more glorified by the peasant woman who gave two coins out of her regenerate, generous heart than by a millionaire who gives 10% regularly to get a tax break and maintain his reputation at church.
When you are hit by the truth of grace and you understand that you can't earn or buy more love from God, you look at things differently. Rather than hoarding as much money as you can for yourself, you want to find ways to share with others who don't have as much. When you hear the Great Commission to go and make disciples, you start to see your possessions as tools in your missionary arsenal rather than self-indulgent trophies. When you look at the few years that we have on this earth, you can give of your time more generously because your life is a living sacrifice.
Have you ever met a truly generous person? I guarantee that they didn't say to you, "Can we make this quick? I don't have a lot of time." They give of their whole self, not just their wallet. A generous person will be generous in their emotions, sharing their true feelings and being honest in their dealings. They will welcome you into their house, showing hospitality and care to their guest's needs and comfort. A generous person doesn't try to evaluate every gift they give or help they provide and wonder if it is a good investment or if it may somehow come back to them at some point. They would give the same gift even if they knew that the person receiving it would not appreciate it or make full use of it.
Why should I?
The reason that generosity is a sign of a regenerate heart is because only a heart that has been changed by Jesus can see that regeneration as a gift itself. We can give generously because God has given so much more generously to us. Jesus, who is infinitely rich, laid it all aside and made himself poor for us. He gave his whole life so that we could live. We can never out-give God and as such we only give of our time, possessions, or wealth out of thanks to him. He has asked us to give out of the overflow of what He has graciously given to us.
So it is grace to be able to be generous. We have received the grace of God that has changed us from cursed, hopeless sinners to adopted sons and daughters of the King. Our eternity has been set in place by the work of Jesus, and yet he is even more good to us and gives us a better life here on Earth. Most of you have likely received God's grace in providing for you with work, a home, a car, food, clothes. As Americans, many of us have also been blessed with so much more - a room full of books, toys, electronics, a second home, a guest room, a spare vehicle. He gives us these things not that we may hoard them up and say "Look at how much God loves me," but that we can share them with others and say "Look at how much God loves you."
So I don't want you to read this and feel bad about yourself thinking "Dang, I'm not a generous person." But rather, my hope and my prayer is that we can all take this opportunity to reflect on the grace that we have received from Jesus. And then having given thanks for the gifts of God, we need to pray for the Holy Spirit to stir our hearts to take those gifts and share in generosity to those God has placed in our lives.