Editor’s Note: Read our other articles in Sow Bountifully: Biblical Principles for a Life of Christ-Centered Giving below!
Sow Bountifully – A New Series on Giving
Live all Your Life in Light of God’s Mercy
Remember Your Provider
Give of Your Firstfruits
Should I Give to the Poor Man on the Street?
Give Faithfully (Or, Two Reasons to Give Regularly)
Along with Scripture’s exhortations to give of our firstfruits and to give cheerfully, wisely, and faithfully, Scripture also calls God’s people to give generously. Generosity reflects God’s own character and pattern of giving, and it has been God’s expectation for his people ever since he established Israel under the Mosaic covenant. Consider Moses’ instructions to Israel when he collected contributions for the tabernacle.
“Moses said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, ‘This is the thing that the LORD has commanded. Take from among you a contribution to the LORD. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the LORD’S contribution: gold, silver, and bronze; blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen; goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, and goatskins; acacia wood, oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, and onyx stones and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece.'”Exodus 35:4-8
Generosity wasn’t an optional motive for those giving to the tabernacle construction project. No, liberality was to be the underlying heart motivation for anyone who gave to this important work. Similar to Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians to be cheerful when they gave (2 Cor 9:7), Israel was to be generous when they gave.
Generosity: God’s Expectation for his People
This expectation for generosity continues throughout the Old Testament. In the Psalms and Proverbs, for example, generosity is a mark of genuine faith, while stinginess is a mark of unbelief.
The wicked borrows but does not pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives.Psalm 37:21
Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.Prov. 14:21
Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.Prov. 14:31
Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed.Prov. 19:17
This pattern continues into the New Testament. Timothy was to exhort those who were rich in his congregation to be generous with their financial resources and ready to share what they had (1 Tim 6:18). Generosity and a posture of readiness go hand in hand. It’s hard to be generous when you are not eager to share what you own with others.
The early church that gathered soon after Christ’s ascension was characterized by generous hearts (Acts 2:46). They expressed generosity in selling their possessions to provide for needy Christians (Acts 4:34). Paul instructs the one who possesses the spiritual gift of giving to give generously: “the one who contributes, in generosity” (Rom 12:8). Again, as we’ve noted in previous articles, Scripture never requires us to give according to a set amount under the New Covenant, and we should avoid setting a percentage for ourselves or others. Generosity for one person may look different than another person, and God will weigh our hearts (Prov 16:2; 21:2).
What is Generosity?
What does it mean to be generous? The English word “generous” is defined by the Oxford dictionary as, “showing a readiness to give more of something, as money or time, than is strictly necessary or expected.” That’s a helpful definition, and it accurately conveys the meaning of the Hebrew and Greek words translated as “generous” throughout Scripture. A generous giver is not an exacting giver. A generous person doesn’t just give to the minimum limit—they exceed the limit. They don’t aim at the lowest threshold—they give over and above. A generous giver considers how God gives, and they lavish others like God lavishes his creation.
This is one reason why set percentages are a bad idea: they can keep you from being generous. Percentages not only cause unnecessary difficulty for people who presently can’t afford that set percentage; they can also build into us a habit of merely meeting the expectation of a fixed proportion.
Growing in Generosity
So, how can we grow in our generosity? Like any other area of the Christian life, we are enabled to obey God’s commands through faith in God’s promises. God desires to be glorified as his people’s all-sufficient provider, so he makes faith the means by which we become generous people. In his exhortation to the Corinthian church to give financial aid to the Jerusalem saints, Paul roots his call to give in the promise of God’s provision.
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.2 Cor 9:10-11
In their giving, the Corinthians could be certain that God would not only provide them what they needed, but enough so they could be generous “in every way.” In this way, God would get glory for their generosity because he was the one supplying for their needs for the very purpose of enabling them to give generously! No Christian can ultimately take credit for his generous giving because it is God who provides for us so we can provide for others.
But God also gets glory when the recipients of our generosity thank God for his provision. When we are generous to others, this will “produce thanksgiving” in those who benefitted from our generosity. The call to give generously, therefore, is not an admonition to stir up our natural goodness, but to trust in God’s infinite goodness so that we might richly bless others.