Has anyone ever called you generous? I have been called a lot of things in my day: smart, funny, funny-looking, snorky (look it up! It’s a word), rad, phat, fat, pretty fly for a white guy, ghetto, you get the idea. I have rarely been called generous. Being generous is not popular in the American culture. Oh, sure we want others to be generous with us, but when I am asked to be generous, I often give as long as it doesn’t hurt.
One woeful example of this happened as I was writing this blog. I was at Costco getting generous portions of frozen fruit and whatnot. As I stood in line, a young woman with two kids was anxiously awaiting the total. The cashier announced an amount that was not what she was hoping to hear. She picked up a large package of hotdogs and gave it to the cashier and said, “what is it now?” She did this two more times until she got it down to the total she could afford.
Looking back on things, I would like to say I pulled out a wad of cash I had saved for just such an occasion and gave her what she needed, but the truth is I talked myself out of being generous. I had many excuses: those hotdogs aren’t healthy, those snotty-nosed kids are misbehaving and don’t deserve help and will probably give me a cold, I need this money to pay down debt, this wallet is counterbalancing my oddly-shaped head and if I take too much money out I might fall over. You know, the usual excuses.The truth is I missed out on blessing someone else because I had not prepared my heart or my head for such an opportunity of grace.
Generosity is one of the fruits of the Spirit. Given how rare it is, perhaps we could even call it an exotic fruit. Some translations call it “goodness,” because the root word means “good,” but, given the context, a better interpretation of this fruit is “generous,” which is so worded in a few Bible versions including the New Revised Standard.
Interestingly, Paul lists this fruit along with the two previous fruits in the same order in 1 Corinthians 13:4. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy.” Generosity is thus the opposite of envy, one of the deeds of the flesh. Envy “regards one with ill-will because of what he has or is.” (Fung, NICNT, p.259) It is “the grudging spirit that cannot bear to contemplate someone else’s prosperity.The envious,” said Socrates, “are pained by their friends’ successes”(Xen. Mem. 3.9.8).” (F.F. Bruce, NIGTC, p.249)
Generosity is an expression of love by giving what one has to one who does not have enough. This can be anything including money, kindness, love, possessions, food, a kidney, a kidney bean, even time when it feels like they might be interrupting your day. The key to generosity is that it doesn’t just meet a need – it goes over and above it. It “is an attitude of generous kindliness to others, which is happy to do far more than is required by mere justice.” p. 134
Paul expounds on generosity in Second Corinthians 9.
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. (2 Corinthians 9:6)
Paul is not saying we reap what we sow; that is obvious. If I throw seed on the ground, I will get whatever kind of seed back which I have sown. If an apple tree appears in my yard, someone has sown apple seeds in my yard. If a corn stalk appears, I must have dropped some of my corn on the cob. And if candy corn begins to grow anywhere, water it with chocolate milk so it will get juicier.
Paul goes one step further. He says you reap how much you sow not just what you sow. If you want an apple, you will get back according to the amount you sow. If you plant one seed, hopefully one tree will grow as you take care of it. If you want an orchard, you have to sow everywhere. Sowing is not neatly planting a seed at a time. Just as Jesus describes in the Parable of the Sower, we should throw handfuls of seed everywhere – on good ground and bad – so God can cause it to grow. It is easier to give to loved ones and withhold from strangers, but just as God gives graciously to all though no one deserves it, we should do so as well.
I have seen this happen to others. A man’s wife became sick and he could no longer take care of his yard because he was taking care of her. Without even asking his neighbor starting mowing his lawn for free. Sure enough, that man had done the same for his neighbors when he was younger. If you think that is not a big deal, go ask your neighbor to mow your lawn for free this summer. You truly reap how much you sow.
So why is it so that we reap as much as we sow?
And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8) “The sense of the verse seems to be that if men are willing to give, God will always make it possible for them to give.” (p.237, CK Barrett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 1997.) This is not to say God will make you rich if you give to others, but God gives to you so you can give to others. So if you are worried about running out of money if you give too much, remember you cannot out-give God.
Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. (2 Corinthians 9:10-11) God gives us seed to give to others to harvest. As with any harvest it contains seed, but we may choose to consume it and waste it or use the seed to give to others. There are no strings attached. Even if you know someone will eat your peach and throw away the pit, be generous anyway.
Seed is worthless unless it is sown. In this context, it is to be sown to others again and again. He will supply the seed if we will continue to give it freely.
“The overflowing grace of God to them overflows from them to others. It is one thing for God’s power to provide amply what is needed to his servants, but perhaps a greater outpouring of divine power is needed to impel those servants to overflow in generosity to others, as witnessed by the resistance of the Corinthians to be open-handed to others. There are few evidences of God’s power so impelling as the transformation from tightfisted meanness to open-handed generosity.” (Barnett, NICNT, p.439)
Generosity can often be exploited and Paul makes it clear we are not to merely be on the receiving end of generosity. We should give as much as we take.
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. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” (2 Corinthians 8:13-15)
It is easy to see why there is still poverty in the world. Rather than compel the rich with laws or guilt and shame, Paul reminds us, Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (9:7) Generosity is rarely spontaneous; it must be intentional. Give what you have decided in your heart to give. You don’t have to give until it hurts either. Start small and you will find your heart wanting to give more as you start to see others’ needs in a new light. You can budget for it or keep a little “seed money” in your wallet so you are ready to help. Or volunteer a few hours a week for whoever may need a hand that week. Even if you plan for it, your opportunity could still come unexpectedly. As Steven Furtick tweeted once, “sometimes the interruption is the assignment.”
FYI: As I was finishing my blog, I parked at a coffee shop to do some paperwork. A young woman walked up to my window. I rolled it down. She asked for a dollar, telling me she was homeless and needed something to eat. I gave her two. #HeAin’tThruWithMeYet
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