From the earliest age, children ask “why?” This question is in our nature. It is part of us.
In my last post on generosity, I talked about the promise of generosity. Here, I would like to write about the purpose of generosity — the why.
For The Giver
As I wrote previously, generosity gives health to the giver. Life comes to us as we release our possessions to others and to God. Letting go, an open hand, allows us to receive the true riches. Passion, love, forgiveness — these elements flow as we become generous. As we give, the cold grip of materialism fades; we become more alive.
We also experience the blessing of God’s provision upon our lives. As we sow the seed, he supplies more of it (see 2 Corinthians 9:6-11). He demonstrates His power in our lives. Generosity becomes a modern way for us to walk on water, to extend ourselves in faith. Trust is developed as I give.
For The Church
In the book of Acts generosity flowed at various times and places. Some of it was weekly and regular. Some of it was extravagant and irregular.
Here is a brief overview, some examples of generosity within the early church era:
They lived communally at first (Acts 2:45). This may have gotten them into financial trouble, but it is worth noting their initial financial response to the gospel. God had been generous with them, so they became generous with one another.
They donated houses and lands to the work of the Lord (Acts 4:32-35). Not everyone was in a position to do so, but some were, and they went for it. They were filled with anticipation of Christ’s return, so they let go of their material possessions. They were all in on God’s kingdom.
Barnabas is one shining example of this type of generosity. He sold land, donated the money, and joined the ministry (Acts 4:36-37).
They gave partial proceeds of major transactions (Acts 5:1-11). Ananias and Saphira (husband and wife) sinned by pretending to give everything when they only gave part of the proceeds of a land sale. Their sin was pretending, hypocrisy. They didn’t have to give a thing, Peter told them. But they wanted to seem sacrificial. Still, this story shows us giving a portion of the proceeds of major transactions happened in the early church.
They distributed money daily to the widows in serious need (Acts 6:1-7). Without a strong social security system, many of the widows were in need. Perhaps they had lost some of their financial protections their families gave them once they came to Christ. The Jerusalem church helped support these women.
They had standout members known for their charitable deeds (Acts 9:36-43). Tabitha was one such woman. She gave her life to the body of Christ.
They gave to fellow believers during times of intense famine or emergency (Acts 11:27-30). Seeing the church suffer abroad, they organized collections to support the brethren.
They sent missionaries throughout the world to preach the gospel (Acts 13:1-3). Paul and Barnabas were sent by the church in Antioch. This included financial expense, both from the Antiochan church and other churches in other cities.
For The Mission
As the church developed, a new goal for financial generosity emerged: local church ministry. Paul often denied himself his right to payment, and this enabled him to operate as a standout voice for it. He had no conflict of interest when he taught it.
One of his strongest teachings on the subject is in 1 Corinthians 9. There, he claimed to have a right to eat and drink, take along a believing wife, and refrain from other work (2 Corinthians 9:4-6).
Paul then laid out an eight-point argument regarding financial support for local church work. Here are the points, condensed:
- Soldiers do not pay their own way in warfare (2 Corinthians 9:7).
- Farmers do not plant vineyards without eating the fruit (2 Corinthians 9:7).
- Shepherds do not tend the flock without drinking the milk (2 Corinthians 9:7).
- The Law of Moses taught it (2 Corinthians 9:8-10).
- To reap material things from spiritual work is not too much (2 Corinthians 9:11).
- Others had already taken this right (2 Corinthians 9:12).
- The Old Testament priesthood got their food from their work (2 Corinthians 9:13).
- Jesus commanded it (2 Corinthians 9:14).
I think Paul saw this as helpful to the advance of the word of God. This is why he writes, in 1 Timothy 5:17-18, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’” If pastors could not devote time to the labor of preaching and teaching, the church would flounder. Weak teaching and unsound doctrine would more readily flourish.
Elsewhere, Paul did receive financial aid from the church. The Philippian church was regularly involved in the financial support of Paul’s life’s work. The book of Philippians is essentially a ‘thank you’ letter to a church that monetarily helped him while in prison (see Philippians 4:14-19).
So one aim of our modern financial generosity is to do gospel-centered church work. How this looks varies from culture to culture, community to community. The gospel does not change, but the look and feel of a church will often reflect the culture it is in. Resources ought to be devoted to this work.
Another effect of our modern financial generosity will be the meeting of needs in the body of Christ. It is important to remember the limited social support systems found in the early church era. Social security, social programs, unemployment wages…these didn't exist for them. If we live in times and places that employ these means, we should use them.
That said, there are needs we can meet in the body of Christ. This we can all agree on: “Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do” (Galatians 2:10).
This type of generosity will sometimes take place within the structure of our physical family. Paul told believing men and women to provide for the widows in their family: “If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows.” (1 Timothy 5:16). He also told them to provide for their immediate family in this way — “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8).
This type of generosity will sometimes take place within the structure of our spiritual family. Needs will exist amongst our fellow believers. Much prayer and discernment are needed in this area of generosity. We don’t want to involve ourselves in the overspending and indebtedness of another, supporting them in their folly. But we do want to support genuine needs. Perhaps a camp scholarship, a load of groceries, some cash, will make a major difference. Perhaps the donation of a car, the payment of rent, or the giving of a home is more in order.
This type of generosity will sometimes take place within the structure of our community family. As we look around we might notice the needs of others in our community. Seeing disadvantaged people might stir the heart of an entire church, spurring them to join in working to meet a local need. This is grace. A church might, together, tackle a major social burden. This is good. As James wrote: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27).
All of this is optional. But all of this can be loving. Obviously, there is a temptation to be generous for reputation sake, like Ananias and Saphira (Acts 5:1-11). But pure-hearted generosity is often a simple expression of thanks to God for His generosity towards us in the gospel, and love for our various communities. We are called to love one another. Often money is involved in that process.
All of this stems from the love of God in Christ Jesus. He loved the world. He laid down His life. As believers, His love is now in us. We want to lay down our lives as He did.
“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 John 3:16–17).