Categories
Theology

Why Should I Be Generous?

Often during the Christmas season (we have been using the term “Advent” on this blog) people feel a genuine desire to give more. From a secular standpoint, the point of Christmas is to be kinder, gentler, peaceful, and, of course, more generous. In the same way, some Christians reduce Christmas to set of principles and morals to heed.

It is important to give. As Randy Alcorn has said, “The only antidote to materialism is giving.” If you want to avoid the plague of accumulation and the desire for stuff, give. Jesus even said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Christmas, however, is not about giving gifts (as good as that is). It’s about the ultimate Gift hanging on the cross to bring us to God.

But we still give at Christmas, and Christians are called to be generous people everyday. What is the motivation for giving? Is it to be a good example to your kids? Is it so you can be happy rather than a Scrooge? Is it because it is the “Christian thing” to do? Is it so you can get God in your debt?

When Paul wrote to the young, chaotic, pretentious, and selfish urbanites in Corinth, he did appeal to any pragmatic reasons for giving. He did not tell them to give because it will make them happy. He did not tell them to give because when they die they will be left without anything. Ultimately, Paul knew that these motivations were merely moralistic and have no heart-impact. So what did he say? He told them the example of the Macedonians and how he hopes they excel in generosity. Then appealed to the gospel and Jesus’ generosity to us:

I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich (2 Cor. 8:8-9).

The compelling motivation to give, for Paul, was that Christ, in his great riches, gave to people who did not deserve it. He gave the Corinthians (and us!) salvation and all the benefits that go with it (cf. Eph. 1:3). He gave us blessing in exchange for a devastating death on a cross (cf. 1 Cor. 5:21).

You will never be as generous as you should be. In fact, left to your own, you will probably be a miser if not for the occasional guilt trip from your conscience or loved one or pastor. But when you are changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ–really changed–when you taste and see what he has given to you, what he has accomplished on your behalf, what he has forsaken so that you might partake, you will not be able to keep yourself from worshiping God through generosity.

Categories
Life

Don’t Hide Behind Your Giving

In my last post, I talked about taking Jesus literally when he tells us to sell everything and give to the poor.  One frustration that I have with the Christian American Dream is that sometimes we are urged, albeit unknowingly, to “hide behind your giving.”

Let me explain: Some people think that giving lots of money excuses them from actively engaging in God’s mission.  I know that my heart can be susceptible to this. Americanized Christianity tells us that if we write a check every other week, then we are the senders, we are the givers, we are the ones who don’t have to get our hands dirty because we pay others to do it for us.

But what I see in Biblical Christianity is quite different. People who give are still called to get their hands dirty. People who give should still engage in God’s mission with their neighbors, their family and friends, their coworkers, and the pagan culture around them. If we trust in Jesus as Lord, then we are supposed to be on his mission, not ours. This doesn’t always mean going overseas of course. It means doing it in your city, your church, your workplace, your neighborhood, and your home.

In order to do this, we cannot accumulate money and possessions and call it “blessing.”  When we make money, we give it away. When we get stuff, we share with others and sometimes even give those things away. But we never seek to accumulate. And we never give so we can say, “I give; they are sent.”  Jesus said, “Go and make disciples” (Matt. 28:19), and Paul reminded us of Jesus’ words, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). This means everyone.

Let’s not hide behind our giving. We are all sent. And Christianity will never be biblical until we embrace that.

Categories
Life Theology

Where We’ve Been Swimming Lately

A week ago I emailed my wife at work after I read a passage from the book of Luke.  Here’s what I read:

Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (12:33-34).

And here’s what I wrote:

I don’t want to be one of those guys who meets Jesus face-to-face and says, “I thought that was a metaphor.”

Carly and I have been wrestling with what it means to live counter-culturally and be liberal givers.  We are thinking and praying about what it looks like to reject the Christian version of the American dream.  Things like a big house, nice clothes, luxury vacations, and retirement seem meaningless.  This is what America wants. And I’m sad to say that it’s what many Christians want too; they just do it with a spiritual wrinkle and make it seem and sound like everything is “a blessing from the Lord.”

Don’t get me wrong, we aren’t perfect, of course.  We wrestle.  It’s a battle.  Our sin nature tries to get the best of us. But our hearts’ desire is to live seriously, simply, minimally, and prepare to actually sell everything and give to the needy if and when God says, “Now’s the time.”

I know that I’ll hear Christians say, “There’s nothing wrong with having stuff and enjoying things.”  I get this, and I agree. But we draw a pretty thick line here in America.  Where does it stop?  At the end of the day, I always end up at this point: if life is purposeful, and if eternity lasts forever, and if Jesus really did die for our sin, and if hell is real and awful, how can I be content with living in Disneyland and accumulating stuff and comfort?  The answer is always: I can’t.

So that’s where we’ve been swimming lately. It’s a deep ocean and it’s hard to navigate sometimes. Great grace is needed, but great grace is provided.

Categories
Life Theology

Oh to be a Giver Like This

If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small.  There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charities expenditure excludes them…Sometimes our pride also hinders our charity; we are tempted to spend more than we ought on the showy forms of generosity (tipping, hospitality) and less than we ought on those who really need our help.

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity