How Can I Be Generous in Uncertain Times?
The needy are increasing every day as the coronavirus continues to disrupt everyday life.. I’d like some guidelines on what the Bible says about generosity. Can you help? Many people are getting tight on money. They have bills to pay, children to raise, groceries to secure, and mortgages to pay—and their money supply is rapidly dwindling. I believe there are a lot of good people in America who will be willing to share to help others. What are the biblical guidelines for generosity?
Let me see if I can postulate with these eight helpful, biblical principles.
1. The Bible Says a Lot about Generosity
2 Corinthians: 8:2
In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.
1 Timothy 6:18
Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.
A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.
1 Chronicles 29:14
But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.
The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.
2. Generosity Takes Many Forms
My wife, Julie, has severe lung problems. So, during this coronavirus crisis we’ve been very careful to avoid the virus. We’ve been to no stores, had all of our groceries delivered, and sprayed everything with Lysol.
Yesterday, a young lady came to our front door pulling a red wagon filled with our groceries. I offered to help unload; she said “No.” I offered again. Again, she said “No.”
“Well, I really appreciate it! Is bringing people’s wagons full of their groceries your full-time job?” I asked.
“No,” she replied, “I’m a flight attendant and I wanted to do what I could help. So I volunteered.”
Generosity often means giving more than just money.
Maybe it’s giving a generous dose of your time to help one who’s lonely. Maybe it’s mowing your neighbor’s lawn when he/she can’t do it his/herself.
Maybe you’re a plumber called upon by a financially struggling family to fix their broken water heater. Money during this crisis is financially touch-and-go for them. Why don’t you fix their water heater for free? Or, better yet, give them a new one if you can afford it?
Generosity may look like driving a cancer patient who has no other way to the oncology clinic for their regularly scheduled radiation treatment.
What gifts do you have? Time? Teaching? Encouragement? Comforting? Service? Prayer? Spirituality?
Trade them for use in the Christian community.
3. Generosity Is Often Determined by a Socioeconomic Ladder
American society is often divided into 10 socioeconomic strata, with 0 being extreme poverty and 10 being extreme wealth. We might say that levels 1 through 3 are poor. Levels 4 through 8 are middle-class. Levels 9 through 10 are rich.
By the way, the strata are not just about money. Most people congregate over no more than 2½ to 3 levels.
We can illustrate this at the football stadium. Levels 1 through 3 can’t afford to buy a ticket.
Levels 4 through 7 can buy seats in the stadium—some seats better than others. Levels 8-10 watch the game from the skyboxes.
Some Christians say, “Our church is open to everyone.” However, that’s just not true! If most of the members are 7s, then most may be levels 6, 7 and 8—but not 4s.
Why is this information important? Because statistically we know that the poor are much more likely to give generously to those in need because they are farther down the ladder than those who are rich. The rich people are much less likely to see the needs of the poor because they’re not around them.
The most generous givers are on levels 1 through 3.
People on lower levels give approximately 18% of their income to charity. The 9s, and10s give less than 1.5 % to charity. In other words: “When it comes to giving, some people stop at nothing.”
The problem is that we tend to look up the ladder and compare ourselves with those above. We look up the ladder and say, “I’m not rich enough to give! He’s rich!”
If only we would look down the ladder and see how many are below us. We would see how rich we really are. But it is hard to look down the ladder once we’ve climbed up.
4. Be Like Jesus: Don’t Just Look Down the Ladder, Climb Down
At the Jewish Feast of Purim there is a regulation which says that, however poor a man is, he must find someone poorer than himself and give him a gift.
Make every day the Feast of Purim: Find someone who is less fortunate and help him or her. Be like Jesus: climb down the ladder.
5. Consider Your Gift an Act of Worship to the Lord Jesus
(To Cornelius) The angel answered, ‘your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God…’
As the lady with the red wagon was unloading our groceries, I wondered to myself, “does she realize that using her gift is an act of worship to Jesus?” (Matthew 25:45)
Once, when I was preaching on generosity, I was greeting guests after the first service when a man that I didn’t know greeted me and said: “I live high on the ladder. I don’t know many people down the ladder anymore. I want to help someone. You know, who is down the ladder.” He handed me eight $100 bills.
I mentioned that experience in the second, third, and fourth services. By the time I left, my hands were full of cash.
6. Paul Applies the ‘Law of Harvest’ to Our Resources
Giving is like sowing seed. The more you sow the more you harvest. The stingier you are the less you will receive.
Those who give a lot receive a lot.
2 Corinthians 9:6
The point is this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
Generosity is really a matter of the heart and attitude.
7. Paul Shows How – and How Not – to Give
2 Corinthians 9:6-13
Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
“Reluctantly” simply means that you wish you hadn’t given. You grieve over the loss of what you gave. “Under compulsion” means feeling forced to give because of what someone will think of you, or won’t think of you, or because somebody twisted your arm to give.
On the other hand, “for God loves a cheerful giver” translates the Greek word for “hilarious” giving! Becoming intoxicated. The more you give the more you delight in giving and want to give more.
This word means that you’d rather give to buy a car for a missionary than to buy a car for yourself.
8. Be Grateful When You Receive
I learned a wise lesson about how to receive a gift from one of our church members.
My wife, Julie, and I lost our first child. We did not have much money. We were living on $1,100 per month. We’d saved up enough to have a baby. The gynecologist told us upfront that delivery would be $500.
Then, things went wrong. Emergency C-section. Forty days in the ICU.
Right after the delivery, I was with the doctor. “I’m certainly glad,” I said, “that we’d we saved up the $500 for the delivery.” The gynecologist said, “But a C-section is $1,000.” I recall sitting in a phone booth at the hospital with a handful of bills and tears in my eyes. Insurance covered only so much and Julie and I had increasing bills and no money.
One of our members, Merle Speare, called to take me to lunch. “How much do you need?” he asked. “I want to pay the rest of your bills.”
“Oh, you can’t do that,” I said. “It’s way too much. We can’t take your money. I really appreciate the offer but I can’t let you do that.”
“Why not? We’ve been blessed and would like to pass some on to you.”
“Still,” I answered, “I can’t let you do that.”
He continued “How much are you short? I replied, “$1,800.”
He reached in his coat pocket and pulled out his checkbook and wrote me a check for $1, 800. Then, he said, if any more bills come in, they are mine.”
Then he gave me this lesson, or what I like to call The Lesson:
When someone gives you a gift, simply say, “Thank you, I appreciate this gift, it means a lot to me.”
When you stumble and “hem and haw” around, all you’re doing is devaluing the gifts they want to give you. Why would you want to devalue their gift? Let them enjoy the grace of giving!
Well, Brian, thanks so much for such a great question.