Have you ever been to a restaurant where the food is exquisite but there is almost none of it on the plate? The meal arrives and there is a lot of white plate, an elegant arrangement, the finest cuisine, but it is disappointingly small. Personally, I prefer a meal that is little less exotic and a whole lot more generous. I love it when the food is not only good but plentiful.
A similar difference can be seen among people. Some people are a bit “tight”. They may be very gifted and capable, but they are tight with their time and with their money. They are slow to praise or compliment others, cautious with what they take on, and guarded in who they connect with. At home and at work they run a tight ship. There are rules, schedules, budgets, timelines and constraints, and they keep to them strictly.
Other people, even if they are a little less gifted, are far more generous, not just financially but in every way: with their time, their words and their attitude toward others.
Such generosity is actually a natural overflow of the gospel at work in our lives. While we need to be prudent in our use of time and resources, the gospel should make us generous in every way because the lavish generosity of Jesus Christ has transformed our lives.
In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul points the Corinthian church to the example of the Macedonian churches who, despite their poverty, had been incredibly generous. Why? Because they understood the gospel. Paul writes, “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 8:9). Jesus gave himself for us, freely and generously, making himself poor to make us rich. When we understand that deeply and realize how rich we are in Christ, we are freed to be generous to others. We feel inwardly compelled to be generous. As Jesus had said to his disciples, “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matt 10:8).
We tend to think most readily of financial generosity, but the gospel makes us generous in every way. Christ’s giving was not primarily financial; it was far more than that. He gave himself; he gave his life for us. Following his model of ministry, Paul could say to the Thessalonians, “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Thes 2:8).
Gospel generosity, therefore, includes money but it is about more than money. It is about giving freely to others because we sense how rich we are in Christ. Since we have such great treasure in the gospel, such vast eternal riches, and such unshakeable security in Christ, we can give freely to others.
Here, then, are some of the ways the gospel can make us more generous than we would otherwise be:
- The gospel makes us more generous with our time because it makes us less self-focused. Understanding how freely Christ gave himself to us, we will treasure opportunities to give of ourselves to others. We may sacrifice that sleep-in to be at the prayer meeting, forgo that free Saturday to be at the church working bee, or cut into the scheduled “me time” to care for someone with an urgent need. We more readily give a hand, even if it is just drying the dishes or helping stack the chairs. We come to church a bit earlier and stay a bit later to catch up with new people or to help out with what needs doing. We give time more generously to our wife or husband, to our children, to our friends. We make time to listen to someone, call someone, text someone, invite someone over. It’s not always convenient and yes, sometimes we do have to say no. But the gospel will often make us more time-generous than we would otherwise be.
- The gospel makes us more generous with our words. When we are secure in Christ and realise how much he loves us despite our failings, we learn to love others more as well. We more readily praise, thank and compliment people. We express appreciation for what they’ve done, even if it was imperfect. We notice their service, hard work and sacrifice, and thank them for it. We might more frequently send notes that encourage people who are struggling, express appreciation to our pastor, or speak positively when the conversation has become negative.
- The gospel makes us more generous with our homes. Generous hospitality is a wonderful way to express love to others. Flowing out of the love of Christ, we are exhorted to “practice hospitality” (Rom 12:13) and “not forget to entertain strangers” (Heb 13:2). Such hospitality is not only extended to our family and friends, but to new people at church, to people we sense are lonely, to neighbours, and maybe to groups of people as we open our home to a weekly home group or to young people.
- The gospel makes our prayers more generous. Many of us easily pray for ourselves and maybe our family, our church and our friends. But God is at work elsewhere as well and as we align with his work we can pray with a generous spirit. We may pray for other churches in our area, asking that they would grow and be richly blessed. As Principal of a theological college, I can pray for other colleges in Melbourne, that they would thrive and see many new students coming forward for training. We will more readily pray for mission workers, persecuted believers and new church plants. The gospel gives us a far bigger view of what matters to God and therefore enlarges our prayer life.
- The gospel makes our churches more generous with their people. Serious gospel work usually involves sacrifices when it comes to people. We may have to give away some of our best young leaders to plant a new church. We send a great couple off to another country for mission work. We urge a young person to train for ministry, sending them away to study and knowing they probably won’t come back to our church. Parents may become more generous with their children, surrendering the dreams they had of them living nearby, or getting married, or having a secure job, as the Lord calls them to serve him in a way they had never imagined.
- The gospel makes us more generous with our money. As noted above, this is the area we often think of first when it comes to generosity. The gospel loosens our purse strings. It moves us to give regularly and gladly to our local church, to Christian ministry and mission, and to the poor. Having treasure in heaven frees us to be more generous with our treasure on earth.
None of these areas of generosity mean that we have to burn ourselves out as we endlessly give to others. We are not called to give away all our time away or our money. Most of us can’t cope with having a constantly open home. That’s fine. Gospel generosity is not intended to wreck us, nor is it to be an onerous duty, done with resentment and frustration.
On the contrary, gospel generosity is the glad and free overflow of what we have in Christ. It is joyful giving, proportional to the time, energy, strength and resources God has given us. As we grow in Christ, we will almost inevitably grow in generosity not because we have to but because the generous love, grace, mercy, provisions and riches of Christ will make us less selfish, less tight. The largeness of God’s grace enlarges our hearts toward other people.
Having been on the receiving end of such generosity in all these ways, I have seen what a beautiful thing gospel generosity is. It is a beautiful way to respond to Christ and share his blessings with others.