As someone who is effectively a fundraiser (among other things), I commonly hear the comment ‘generosity isn’t just about money.’
This is true, of course, but I don’t think those using the phrase always consider the outworking of this logic. Sometimes it’s used to unburden the speaker from giving financially, but I think it should represent a far greater burden than simple financial giving. Generosity may not be just about money, but that shouldn’t unburden us, it should scare us.
Undefined generosity is scary
It should scare us, first of all, because undefined generosity is scary. God calls us to give generously, but He doesn’t always make clear what form such generosity should take.
Deuteronomy chapter 15 verse 10, for example, simply exhorts us to give generously to the poor, but does not stipulate how we ought to do this, be it through the giving of money, food, clothing, shelter, or time.
Instead of stipulating a figure we should give, 2 Corinthians chapter 9 verse 7a simply says “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give.”
We have the freedom to give in any way, and to give away any amount. However, these commands speak not of a freedom to excuse ourselves from financial giving, but of a far deeper concept than simply prying open our wallets or writing down our bank details. They speak of being generous people - having a generosity which is personal, and all encompassing.
The personal nature of giving is scary
The personal nature of such a call should scare us as well. God will call each of us to give something (time, money, belongings etc.), but the ‘something’ that he calls us to give won’t be the easy thing. Instead, it will be the hardest thing we could be called to give, the thing in which we have placed our trust.
1 Timothy chapter 6 verse 17 says:
17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.
Whilst this passage speaks of ‘wealth’ specifically, the concept is applicable in a general way: giving of all things generously reminds us that those things (whatever they may be) are not the basis of our certainty, God is. As such, God will call us personally to give whatever it is we are trusting in over him. This is not a concept that should unburden us, this is scary!
However, as scary as undefined, personal giving is, we should remember that God calls us to this generosity for our good. It reminds us that we should not put our hope in wealth (or things), which are so uncertain, rather we should put our hope in God, who is eminently trustworthy.
Two versions of the same command
Two biblical examples can make this point clear for us. First, Matthew chapter 8 verses 19 to 22, which says,
19 Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”
20 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
21 Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
22 But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
In both stories, each man is asked to give something up, the first the security of a fixed address, and the second the comfort of familial obligation.
Whilst both these things are not bad in and of themselves, I suspect that for these men, they were things in which they had unhealthily placed their trust. So God says, “give them away.”
In the second passage, Matthew chapter 19 verse 21, Jesus says to a rich young ruler who, in his mind, believes he is doing all that is required to be a follower of Christ:
"If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
This man’s security is housed in the wealth that he has accrued. And to this man, Jesus also says, “give it away.”
In both these cases, while the mechanism is different, the commandment is the same: whatever you trust in more than God, give that away.
Generosity is the cure for misplaced trust
And this, I think, is the heart of God’s command for us to be generous people. Personal, undefined giving is the instrument God uses to remind us that ‘things’ are not the basis of our certainty, God is.
As such, God can (and I would argue will) ask us to give those things away. Because this sort of generosity is a sure-fire cure for misplaced trust.
Generosity isn’t just about money, but that should scare us. Because true undefined, personal generosity will require that we take all the things that we trust more than God and give them away.
Nevertheless, while this is scary in the short-term, the long-term benefit of being generous people is that we will truly experience life, and life to the full. Life truly reliant on, and given over to, God.
Brent Van Mourik is the Queensland Church Relationship Manager for Baptist World Aid Australia and is a registered pastor with the Baptist Union of Queensland. He completed a Bachelor of Theology with honours in New Testament through Malyon College in Brisbane, where he now lives with his wife, Jane, and his young son, Joshua. In his down time, he enjoys making and drinking good coffee, and developing his theology of disappointment, whilst putting into practice Ephesians chapter 4 verse 26 (“In your anger do not sin”) on the golf course.
Brent Van Mourik’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/brent-van-mourik.html