Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:1). Does that seem backwards to you? It’s natural to spend our time and money on the things we already love. But Jesus flipped that around and said we’ll love most what we spend our time and money on. This implies we can retrain our hearts by choosing to be faithful and generous with our resources.
Let’s talk about generosity for a bit.
1. The Mandate of Generosity.
There’s no question Jesus requires his followers to give generously. The one place he spoke directly on tithing, he didn’t abolish or rescind the practice, as modern-day Christians assume; he validated it as a legitimate practice that shouldn’t be neglected (see Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42). “Give” is an imperative in Luke 6:38. And in Matthew 6, he twice said, “When you give . . .” When, not if.
When the apostles give timeless instructions to the Church, they say things like, “Each one must give” (2 Corinthians 9:7), and, “Be generous and ready to share” (1 Timothy 6). These aren’t suggestions, and they’re not commands for a special subset of elite Christians. They’re general expectations that people who follow a generous God will be generous.
Here’s a caution, though. Don’t give simply because you feel obligated to give. Don’t share your resources begrudgingly and with great frustration, thinking that God (or the Church) just wants your stuff. God isn’t after your money. It’s already his; you’re just a steward of it. God wants your heart – and God wants to work through you as a means of doing his work and supporting other people.
2. The Mindset of Generosity.
First, learn to give freely. Both in the Old Testament (Exodus 35:5, 21, 29; 1 Chronicles 29:6, 9; Ezra 3:5) and in the New (2 Corinthians 8:3-5), we have examples of believers giving willingly and freely to support the Lord’s work and the Lord’s people. This is the opposite of giving under compulsion or simply because you feel obligated to give; it’s giving because you want to.
Second, learn to give cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:7). We all love to spend our time and money somewhere, on something. But when it comes to spiritual and charitable causes, we tense up and get defensive. Why? Is it apathy – we just don’t care that much? Is it selfishness – my resources are for me? Is it worry – I’m anxious I won’t have enough if I share? Then lean into passion, self-forgetfulness, and trusting God as a means to discovering joy in generosity.
Third, give systematically (1 Corinthians 16:2). There’s nothing wrong with spontaneous generosity, but even that is hard to come by if we don’t build margin into our lives. If our budgets are strapped and our schedules are packed before we help anyone, how will we? It’s better to have routines and budgets that deliberately and thoughtfully create surplus to share with God and others.
Fourth, give discreetly. Jesus warned against practicing your generosity in order to draw attention to yourself (Matthew 6:1-4). There’s no place in the Christian life for boasting or virtue signaling. Give generously in ways that glorify God, not you.
3. The Model of Generosity.
The first model worth our attention is the Old Testament model of tithing. All the covenant people of God were required to tithe – meaning they were required to give the first 10% of their resources to support the Lord’s work (Leviticus 27:30-32; Deuteronomy 14:22-23). In reality, the Hebrews had not one, but three tithes, which added up to 21.7% of their income.
We can debate the merits of the Old Covenant tithe, and whether or not New Covenant believers have to practice such things. But it’s an odd argument to be made that, because we are under grace and not under the law, we shouldn’t have to be generous. That misses the point of the Gospel altogether, and fails to acknowledge the second model we have: the New Testament model of Jesus’ generosity.
See, as a law-abiding Jew, Jesus would’ve tithed. But he didn’t just give a percent of his resources to the local synagogue and the Temple; he gave his whole self. Rather than stockpiling resources of time, money, possessions, and emotional energy, Jesus gave them all away for the benefit of others.
So, without imposing some extrabiblical law, or even some sense of false/legalistic guilt, do our lives reflect and mimic the model of Jesus’ generosity? Can people tell we are apprentices to Jesus, based on the way we gladly share our resources?
4. The Metaphor of Generosity.
One reason generosity is hard is because we think of it as a zero-sum game. In order for someone else to gain, I have to lose. If I give away my time, money, and possessions, they’re just gone.
But they’re not just gone, because the Bible says generosity is sowing. It’s an investment in something that promises to bear more fruit. Yes, you have to sacrifice the one piece of fruit to plant it in the ground, but what is the result? An entirely new plant that bears that fruit ten, one hundred, or 1,000-fold!
Learn to give with this conviction in mind. Your gift is never wasted. It’s not lost. You are planting seeds in the work of the Lord that the Lord himself promises to bless. And that takes us to our final, but important point:
5. The Motivation of Generosity.
Why should a follower of Jesus be generous? Why should your time, money, and other resources be given away to support the mission of God, the ministries of the local church, your brothers and sisters in Christ, and other charitable causes? Yes, your obedience glorifies God, furthers his work, and encourages others. But do you know how the Bible itself motivates us to give?
God motivates us with the promise of a greater reward. Listen to all these superlatives promised to those who give: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. . . . You will be enriched in every way for all your generosity” (2 Corinthians 9:8, 11). That’s over the top! God is basically saying we’ll never come even close to out-giving him, because it’s his intention to give back more than we can imagine. If you don’t think that’s what this text is saying, check out a few others and draw your own conclusions: Proverbs 3:9-10; 11:24-25; Malachi 3:10; Luke 6:38; 16:11-13; 1 Timothy 6:18-19.
Remember the sowing and reaping principle in the previous point? Apparently, it’s true. You can bless yourself by hoarding resources or you can receive the blessing of God by sowing your resources into the things that are near and dear to his heart. And it’s clear which one Scripture commends, as we’re literally exhorted to pursue the greater reward through generous living.
But we’d be remiss if we didn’t note, also, that God motivates us with the grace of the Gospel. When the apostle Paul is urging the church to give generously, he reminds them, “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 Corinthians 8:9).
As Philippians 2 confirms, we are rescued from sin and death, and we are enriched with every imaginable gift of grace, because Jesus emptied and impoverished himself for us. Why should we be generous – and how can we be generous? Because we have a radically generous Savior who gave for us to the point of death on a cross. And because of his gift, we have an eternal, infinite, incorruptible inheritance.