Why and How to be more Generous – John 11:46-12:11, Part 5

Does the Bible tell us the goal of generosity to the poor?  It does.  In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul taught something that is not mentioned enough.  One of the subplots of Paul’s missionary journeys is that he was asking the churches across the Roman Empire to give money to help the mother church in Jerusalem.  Generally speaking, the Christians in Jerusalem were struggling with poverty, and the Christians throughout the Roman Empire had wealth.  In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul is asking the Corinthian Christians to give to this fundraising effort.  In his ask, Paul says that the Corinthian Christians should be like the Macedonia Christians located to their north.  Listen to how Paul describes the Macedonian Christians:

“Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.”

In other words, just like Mary in our blog series this week, the Macedonian Christians, were extravagantly generous!  To the point of sacrifice.  So what is the purpose of this generosity?  Paul goes on to say this.

“Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality.”

Equality is the goal.  Rich Christians are to give generously to impoverished Christians so that there might be financial equality.  And if you’re like me, the question on your mind is: “How much should I impoverish my life in order to lift up those who are currently impoverished?”  Paul clearly says that the principle we should adhere to is equality.  There should be financial equality among Christians.   

To further support this principle, in the next chapter, 2 Corinthians 9, Paul writes “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and…your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”

We should be extravagantly generous so that there might equality.  If you are good at earning money, if you’ve made wise investment choices, if you have received a large inheritance, or even if you worked really hard and lived very simply to build a bank account or investment account, see it as God’s gift to you so that you can be generous to others.  It is a good thing for Christians to build wealth, but only if we love God more and are willing to part with our money in order to serve God’s Kingdom.  To nurture that heart for God and not for money, it will almost certainly mean that nearly all of us, if we want to follow biblical teaching, will need to change our style of living. 

American evangelical Christianity in the late 20th century and now in the early 21st century has very, very few examples of how to have a proper heart about money.

That brings us back to Mary’s extravagant generosity.  Jesus affirmed Mary because her heart was in the right place, loving him, worshiping him.

So let’s remember that heart motivation is the foundation of this entire story and thus what we need to apply to our lives, as we think about our relationship with money.  We do not want to be like Judas who had a heart of control over the money because he really wanted to use it for himself.  We must examine our hearts when it comes to money.

Frankly, I do not believe that we should assume that we can trust ourselves to examine our hearts, especially given how much access and ability nearly all of us have for generating wealth.  If left to ourselves, we will almost always assume that we are capable of managing our money, including giving generously.  Yet, American Christians on average give only 2.5% of their income.  By way of comparison, during the Great Depression, Christians gave 3.3%.

My guess is that hardly any of us would publicly admit that our hearts are stingy to God’s Kingdom, stingy to the poor, and that we are extravagantly generous to ourselves.  We almost certainly believe that we have generous hearts toward God.  I’m suggesting that there is a self-perception problem among many American Christians when it comes to our hearts.  How many of us think we are generous, when actually we are not?

That’s why I suggest that we are not the people who should be evaluating our generosity.  Don’t believe me?  Think about how you reacted earlier in the story in this post. Did you agree with Judas’ logic that Mary was wasteful, that the perfume could have been sold and given to the poor? Perhaps that’s a telltale sign that maybe you should be cautious about your ability to evaluate your heart and your practice of generosity. 

Instead, I encourage you to take what might seem like a radical step and submit your entire financial data to an unbiased third party. It’s financial accountability. Someone or a group that can help you be more generous.  Seek out someone who already has a proven track record of a heart of love for God, and who is extravagantly generous, and submit your life to them. 

Yes, that means your life will almost certainly be different.  Your property, hobbies, collections, vacations, purchases, and entertainment might need to change so that you can stop using God’s money extravagantly on yourself, thus freeing it up to give extravagantly so that the poor might have equality. 

But does this apply to everyone?  What about the people who don’t have the means to give extravagantly?  Let me be clear.  If you have to choose between paying your electric bill and giving to the Kingdom of God, pay your electric bill.  It’s not ethical, in my opinion, to give to God, and let your bills go past due unpaid. 

For most of us, though, it is already possible, right now, to live more simply, more frugally, so that we can faithfully pay our bills, and give with extravagant generosity to the Kingdom of Jesus. 

How we treat people in poverty speaks volumes about our faith.  In other words, we can evaluate the quality of our faith by examining how extravagantly we give to those in poverty.

Go to Jesus asking his Spirit to examine your heart.  What does a heart of extravagant generosity and love for Jesus look like when someone asks you for money?  I’ll admit that I can have a hard time with this.  I can struggle when people or organizations ask me to consider giving money.  I should take this to the Lord, because that’s a heart issue for me. 

Volunteer your time to work with those who are in poverty or in difficult situations.  So often we think we know about poverty, but we don’t.  Participate in a poverty simulation, like this one.

Learn. Do not assume that you already know the best way to help people. When Helping Hurts and The Poor Will Be Glad are two excellent books.. Read them!

Ask God to give you a heart like his heart, like Mary’s heart, a heart of extravagant generosity. Let’s ask Jesus to help us evaluate this.  May we be more like Mary.  May we be more in love with Jesus, who gave himself extravagantly to us.

Photo by Nina Strehl on Unsplash

Published by joelkime

I love my wife, Michelle, and our four kids and two daughters-in-law. I serve at Faith Church and love our church family. I teach a course online from time to time, and in my free time I love to read and exercise, especially running,

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