Generosity is mistakenly referred to often as something that is practiced only by those who have the “gift of giving.” This notion finds its basis in Romans 12:6-8 where the Apostle Paul shares, “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in teaching; the one who exhorts, in exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” This passage does in fact speak to the unique callings and craftings of each individual believer; however, it does not serve to lift up the notion that only a certain people are to exercise and influence others in generosity. Many leaders when referring to those who have the “gift of giving” are too often only referring to those who might be giving large amounts or who find it so easy to give that it comes effortlessly. When we look at the entirety of the writings of Paul as well as the words of Jesus, however, we find that generosity is actually a spiritual discipline that we are ALL called to – a spiritual discipline that is actually a privilege, an honor. The fact that we ‘get’ to give – we don’t ‘have’ to give – is one of the great misunderstandings of the topic itself.
To understand the opportunity we have to grow in this spiritual discipline, let’s look at the context of giving in the local church as described by the Apostle Paul. One of Paul’s chief roles in his missionary journeys was to gather resources. He is seen multiple times throughout his letters to the early churches, communicating about an offering he was either getting ready to collect or had just collected. What is fascinating about these moments is that Paul didn’t merely collect funds for a particular ministry venture; rather, he almost always took these opportunities to teach these early believers about the giving they were about to do or about the giving they had just done. It is a powerful model for the way we as leaders should interact with discipling others in giving in our context today. Paul was reiterating that the heart we are giving from is just as important, if not more important, than the project or effort we are giving to.
Often we are tempted as givers to demand that we see an “ROI” (return on investment) in our giving. Most non-profits, parachurch organizations and sometimes even churches show those ROIs to us as we give, in hopes that it might motivate us to give more. The reasons they do this are understandable. They are merely demonstrating good stewardship of the funds they have been given, as they are seeking to advance the mission to which they have been called – whether that mission is alleviating poverty in Jesus’ name, feeding people in their city, helping people find and follow Jesus, or whatever their mission might be. However, as a giver in the context of God’s Church, we aren’t owed an ROI. That isn’t – and shouldn’t be – the primary reason why we give – and we often use it as an excuse NOT to give or not to give as much. As followers of Christ exercising generosity as a spiritual discipline, our giving comes from a deeper place than that. Our chief reason for giving should demonstrate a reflection of God’s grace, our increasing love for God, and our increased understanding of what He did for us through the gospel. Our generosity should be a declaration of who Christ is in my life and the priority He has in my heart. Yes, it does practically fuel more ministry to happen, and there’s no doubt about that. By the grace of God, He often gives us the privilege of seeing the fruit of our giving. But it’s not because we gave that this person or that person was baptized. That person was baptized because someone led them to the Lord. We didn’t buy that, but God is graciously allowing us to participate in the joy of it. What a great gift that is. (2 Corinthians 9:15)
Paul shares in his second letter to the early church at Corinth that when we give, accompanied by our confession of the gospel, it actually overflows in expressions of thanks to God – and other people see God because of it. (2 Corinthians 9:12-14, paraphrased). See, Paul is saying here that generosity doesn’t just fund the mission. It actually is the mission. Let that soak in a minute. Paul is emphasizing here that the WHY behind our giving is so important. It’s not just giving for philanthropys’ sake or giving for obligations’ sake. No, it is giving born out of our confession of the gospel. And I don’t know about you, but the more I fall in love with Jesus and understand what He did for me, the greater that compels me to give more and to share with others my WHY in giving as well.
So why do you give? Do you give out of a deep love for Jesus? Do you give out of a deep conviction for the gospels’ transformative power in your life? Do you give out of obligation or ritual or routine? The truth is that many of us give for multiple reasons if we are truly honest. While our love for Christ no doubt is very present in our lives, it may or may not drive how or why we give. And it also may or may not drive how much. If you’re like me, it is a constant question of challenge in my life to ask myself if the why behind my giving is truly gospel-driven in such a way that the Lord might use it to “overflow in many expressions of thanks to God.” This doesn’t mean that we go around touting our giving to others; it’s rather quite the opposite. It means that we live and give our lives in such a way that would be worthy of the gospel of Christ. You just never know when your life of giving might demonstrate to someone else the compelling love of God.
Julie Bullock, Generosity Coach and Lay Teaching Pastor