Generosity

For My Kids on the Occasion of My 40th Birthday

For My Kids on the Occasion of My 40th Birthday

Tomorrow I turn 40. Lord willing, I’m about halfway done with this marathon we call life.

God has been so gracious to me. I have a godly wife who makes me laugh every day and two teenage children who grow daily in faith and wisdom. 25 and 27 years from now Camille and Soren will celebrate their 40th birthdays. This post is for them: it’s the hard-earned wisdom that I’ve accumulated over my years that I hope they can learn from. I hope it blesses you as well.

Here are the top ten truths I’ve learned in my 40 years:

1)     Seek wisdom

There is no end to foolishness in this world. Wisdom is a rare commodity. Run hard after it. Look to those whose character you admire. Listen to what they say and read what they write. When I was a kid, I was a sponge for sports trivia. I got a jolt in being able to know something someone else didn’t. In college I caught the bug for philosophical and theological knowledge. It took me until my later twenties and thirties to develop a stronger thirst for wisdom than knowledge. Accumulated wisdom is like the water of a river, it will smooth and shape the stones in its bed over time.

Paul's Strange Instructions for Opening the Giving Lock

Paul's Strange Instructions for Opening the Giving Lock

I worked for a few years in development and was trained in best practices for raising money. I was blessed to work for a Christian organization who was committed to raising money in a godly way, but the broader development industry doesn’t have many scruples in doing what they do best: separating people from their money. How does a development professional unlock the giving vault?

Secular Generosity

The secular handbook on getting people to give reveals a lot. There are three universal rules in development:[i]

1)      Appeal to donors’ emotions, not their minds: tell a story that will move them;

2)      Inflate their sense of importance and appeal to their interests;

3)      Create urgency: donors need to feel as though the need is immediate and significant.

Christian Generosity

The Christian generosity handbook is very different. Having delivered his four strange reasons for giving. Paul is now going to five equally strange instructions for giving in his letter to the Corinthian church. Paul’s instructions contradict the development professional’s handbook at almost every turn. Paul tells us we should give this way:

1)      Thoughtfully

2)      Not reluctantly

3)      Not under compulsion

4)      Cheerfully

5)      Through the power of Christ

Paul's Strange Reasons for Generosity: True Prosperity

Paul's Strange Reasons for Generosity: True Prosperity

The famous minister, Benny Hinn, is one of many who promises that if you are generous, God will reward you financially. “Divine prosperity is God’s will for every believer!” Hinn says, “All we must do to receive God’s blessings and abundance is to obey him.” How do we obey God? By giving. “Sow seed with great expectation of a powerful overflow in your life. Then get ready for it to be multiplied back to you abundantly. Yes, a seed may seem small in your hand, but when you sow seed in expectant faith, you release its God-given potential to produce a supernatural outpouring: ‘He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully’ (2 Corinthians 9:6).”[i]

The fourth reason Paul offers for giving is found here in 2 Corinthians 9:6, the promise that the one who “sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” That’s a pretty wild promise. Are Hinn and the other prosperity preachers correct in asserting that God promises financial reward for those who give?

Paul's Strange Reasons for Generosity: Show them God!

Paul's Strange Reasons for Generosity: Show them God!

Why do we give? The first hit when you Google “why should I be generous?” is this article which lays our four reasons:

1)      Giving frees you from the “burden of materialism”

2)      Giving helps you “to feel better about yourself”

3)      Giving makes you less self-centered

4)      Giving helps make people like you.

Do you find those reasons compelling? Two of them (1 &3) have echoes of biblical truth in them. But 2 & 4 are shockingly empty reasons.

Paul also has four reasons for giving: none of which overlap with this list. Here is Paul’s list:

1)      Give because giving is a grace

2)      Give because it proves your love of Jesus

3)      Give because Jesus first gave

4)      Give because you will be blessed.

Paul's Strange Reasons for Generosity: Proof

Paul's Strange Reasons for Generosity: Proof

No one argues against generosity. It is a value that is reinforced even in the most secular corners of our society. News reports gushed that over $258 billion was given to charity in 2014, the high water mark of charitable donations in the U.S. That’s a huge amount of money. But that number represents a mere 2% of the US’s GDP. “Two percent of GDP is a huge sum, particularly in comparison to other countries,”[i] praised some, but virtue isn’t graded on a curve.

Two percent is not a number to be proud of as Americans. What about Christians? Unfortunately, we do little better, giving approximately 3% of our income to charity. And fewer than 5% of Christians tithe.[ii] Generosity isn’t graded on a curve.

Most disappointingly is the self-deception of Christians. 17% of Christians report tithing despite the actual number of 5%. Worse still, 10% of those who claimed they tithe actually gave less than $200 to charity.[iii]

Paul’s Strange Reasons for Generosity: Giving as Grace

Paul’s Strange Reasons for Generosity: Giving as Grace

Our doorbell rang – an odd occasion –I got up from the dinner table and walked toward the door. My step hitched halfway to the door as I realized it was likely a child selling something… too late. I opened the door and a high schooler stood in front of me, fundraising for his baseball team.

Being asked for money makes me uncomfortable.

There is something reasonable about being uncomfortable when we’re asked for money. The pang might speak to whether we are giving thoughtfully. But the reality is that far too often that twinge of discomfort points not to the worth of the cause, but the grip our hearts have on our money.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul tells us that God doesn’t wasn’t uncomfortable givers, he wants cheerful givers. The way to cheerfulness isn’t by willing ourselves there, it’s by reshaping our affections. In this series we’re going to unpack four transformative reasons about generosity and then unpack Paul’s instructions for how we ought to give.