The Joy of Generosity

2 Corinthians 9:6-11

Admit it. You’ve thought about what you would do if you won one of those big lottery jackpots, haven’t you? Chris and I were talking the other day, and he says he wouldn’t want to because it would probably ruin him. Michele agreed, but said she’d like to give it a try anyway!

But as we ponder the idea of winning untold riches, we also tell ourselves how generous we would be if we won that much money – how we’d share it with our relatives and friends, how generous we would be to the church.

It reminded me of a story about a conversation between a Texas preacher and one of his church members who was a farmer. The preacher came to visit one day and they sat on the back porch drinking sweet tea and the preacher asked him, “Brother, if you had a thousand oil wells, you’d give half of them to the Lord wouldn’t you?” The farmer quickly said, “Of course I would, you know how generous I am.” And the preacher replied, “Uhuh, I know. And if you had five hundred pigs you’d give half of them to the Lord, wouldn’t you?” The farmer replied, “I sure would, you know how generous I am.” The preacher said, “I do, I do. And if you had two cows you’d give one of them to the Lord, wouldn’t you?” To which the farmer replied, “Now wait a minute, you know I have two cows.”

Isn’t it funny how generous we would be with theoretical riches, but how tightly we hold on to it when it’s the real thing? Why do you suppose that is?

Now, you can relax, I’m not going to try and talk you into being more generous to the church – so many of you already are, and I want to commend you in that. And if you aren’t, then a sermon probably isn’t going to change that. I’ve always said that generosity isn’t a matter of finances, it’s a matter of the heart. If the Lord has one, he’ll always have the other.

Like Paul wrote about the generosity of the Macedonians who gave out of their own severe poverty: “first they gave themselves to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.” That’s what the Lord really wants: you. And if he has you, then there isn’t anything else you won’t give to him.

But this morning, I want to talk about the joy of generosity. Outside of the Gospels, very few actual words of Jesus are recorded. Jesus isn’t often quoted. But these actual words of Jesus are recorded in Acts 20:35, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul writes, “God loves a cheerful giver.”

Most of what Jesus said about generosity was said outside of the context of tithes and offerings. When he gave examples of generosity, they were most often people who gave to the poor and needy, who went the extra mile or sacrificed themselves. Generosity is far more than what you drop in the collection tray as it goes by, it speaks to the condition of your heart and your love for other people.

Most of 87 year old Oselola McCarty’s life had been spent working 12-hour days doing other people’s laundry. That’s why people were amazed when she donated $150,000 to establish a scholarship fund at the University of Southern Mississippi. What’s even more amazing is that this gift represented only 60 percent of her total life’s savings of $250,000. When asked how she did it, she simply said that she lived modestly, saved regularly and gave generously.

Imagine the joy Oselola McCarty experienced when she gave away that substantial sum of money to a cause she really believed in. Let’s go for the joy of generosity. God loves a cheerful giver. He wants us to have joy in our hearts, a smile on our face and delight in our eyes when we give generously.

In 1881, when Booker T. Washington was raising $500 to buy a farm on which the Tuskegee Institute now stands, an aged black woman hobbled into the room where Washington sat. She was leaning on a cane. She was clothed in rags, and she said, “Mr. Washington, God knows I spent the best days of my life in slavery, God knows I am dirt poor, but I know you are trying to make better men and women. I don’t have money, but I want you to take these six eggs I’ve been saving and put them into the education of these boys and girls. Booker T. Washington later said, “Since the work at Tuskegee started, I have received many gifts for the Institute, but never have any touched me so deeply as the sacrificial gift of that noble woman.”

Some of the most generous giving has been done by those who could afford it the least. I mentioned the Macedonian church, but think about the poor widow whom Jesus said gave more than all the rest when she dropped two copper coins into the offering, which Jesus said was “all she had.” That kind of giving doesn’t happen out of expectation or obligation. It flows only out of the sheer joy of generosity.

I’m afraid that until we experience that kind of joy in our giving we will not truly be free from the grip of affluence in our lives. There will always be a hesitancy that robs us of what God really wants us to experience when we give.

Dave Wannstedt, the former head coach of the Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins talked about the priorities he tried to instill in his children. He said, “If my kids have heard me say this once, they have heard me say it a thousand times: I was one of six kids in a three bedroom house with one car. I try to plant the seed with my kids that all this stuff is nice, but it’s really not what makes you happy. And if tomorrow all this was gone and we had to go live in an apartment and I had to coach high school football, we’d be just as happy. When I die, if I could say I gave my kids one thing, hopefully it would be their faith in God. If they have that, they’ll have happiness, and they’ll have peace, and I will be as happy as I could possibly be.”

I just love it when I hear about and meet people who are wealthy or have high paying jobs, who are successful and famous, but who are not slaves to it – who have a clear perspective on where their source of life is and who it is who is in control.

That was exactly what Paul said was the source of his contentment. When he was in prison, the Philippian church sent a gift to him. Here’s how Paul responded:

I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Phil 4:10-13)

Generosity flows out of contentment and gratitude. It is a sign that your possessions do not possess you. In fact, generosity is the antidote to greed and possessiveness. When Paul wrote to Timothy, the young preacher at Ephesus, he gave him this counsel: Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Tim 6:17-19)

 

I used to love getting presents (it’s still pretty nice), but it doesn’t even compare with the enjoyment I get from giving gifts. And when it comes to giving, I just love to be in a position to give money to someone or some cause that really needs it. Any blessing they might receive is more than doubled by how I get to feel from giving it. That’s what Jesus wants us to experience, because that is the joy the Father experiences from giving to his children.

In fact, God takes special delight in giving generously to his children. Isn’t that what Jesus is saying in the Sermon on the Mount?

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matt 7:7-11)

Generosity begins in the heart of God, and those who want to be like him are going to imitate him in that quality. Yes, we need to be generous in our giving, but it flows out of a desire to be like our God who cares for people so much that he ultimately “gave” his one and only Son.

There is a much larger picture of the generosity of spirit that we are missing if all we hear in a sermon on giving is a plea for more money for the church. If someone has to pry the money out of your wallet, then there is a basic quality that is missing in the first place, and until that generosity of spirit finds its home in your heart, your money is of no use to God. If you feel like every dollar you give to God is a dollar less you have to spend on yourself, then you probably don’t need to be giving in the first place. God loves a cheerful giver.

Paul talked about the effect that generosity has on others around us. When Paul was writing to the Corinthian Christians about sending a gift to help out their impoverished brothers and sisters in Judea, he said, 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 made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. (2 Cor 9:10-13)

Paul says three things happen when we are generous: first, God is going to take care of our needs. When you are generous with others, God will always be even more generous with you. Second, Paul says God will “enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.”

Remember the movie, The Grinch That Stole Christmas? There is that moment when the Grinch realizes that he might have stolen all the presents from Whoville, but he couldn’t steal their joy. And suddenly he understands what Christmas is about and the narrator tells us that the Grinch’s heart “grew three sizes that day” and he then rushes to return what he has taken. That’s not bad theology. Generosity has the greatest effect on us – it changes us when we get a glimpse into what God is really about.

But the third effect that generosity has is on what happens in others: they overflow in many expressions of thanks to God and God is praised. Ultimately, our generosity isn’t intended to bring thanks and praise to us, but to reflect that thanks and praise to God. It is one way I can bring glory to God. And my life’s mission should be to bring glory to God in everything I think, say and do.

Generosity is the outpouring of grace. It’s not just about money, but about the way we treat people. Do you generously bestow the gift of grace on others? Does your life reflect that gift of grace that God bestowed on you? Do others walk away from an interaction with you feeling like you have given of yourself to them, treating them with love and compassion, experiencing graciousness. That’s really what Paul was talking about in Colossians 4:6, Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

 That is the generosity of spirit that drew others to Christ, hungering for his words, fully experiencing the presence of God. That’s what people still hunger for today – to experience the generosity of God. And we become the conduits of that generosity. As Jesus put it: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38) We are God’s living object lesson – what kind of a God do you want people to think you serve?