A Generous Life
The gospel writer Luke tells the story of an encounter that Jesus had with a rich young man, who asked the Messiah what was required to “inherit eternal life.” Jesus, knowing the man’s stingy heart, first rattled off some behaviors: being faithful to one’s spouse, not stealing or lying, and honoring one’s parents. The rich man responded that he had done all of that since childhood. Then Jesus hit him where it hurt – his lack of generosity. “You still lack one thing,” Jesus said. “Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Even as the rich man stood face-to-face with our Savior himself, he failed to realize how temporary our earthly life is, and rather than gladly doing as Jesus asked of him – he left feeling sad, because he was very wealthy (Luke 18:18-23).
It’s easy for us 2,000 years later to judge that guy. But would we do any differently? We are a very blessed modern society with luxuries unimaginable to that rich young ruler and his circle of friends.
I, for one, don’t consider myself “rich.” I drive “paid-for” cars, live in a modest home, and still consider clothes given me at Christmas three years ago “new.” Also, I am not naturally a generous person. What I do have, I honestly would prefer to keep. I haven’t given away everything I have.
Thankfully, this story in Luke doesn’t reflect Jesus’ true (or only) requirement for salvation. The gospels (“good news”) indicate all we really have to “do” to be saved from hell is to admit our sin, accept Christ as our Savior, and live for him.
So why did Jesus go for the jugular with the rich young ruler by asking him to give away everything he had and follow him? Because Jesus knew his heart (and ours too) – and he knew the very human tendency to trust in money as our provider, rather than God (Luke 16:13, Matthew 6:24). Even for those who believe in God, trusting God to provide for us can be a challenge.
Of course, while Scripture does not universally command everyone to give everything away (as Jesus did with the rich young ruler), Scripture does call us to live a generous life. One example of this generosity mandate is found in the “tithe” (tenth), a biblical pattern of giving 10% of our income toward the Lord’s work in his church – to support his servants providing ministry and for outreach to the needy.
I was raised in a Christian home, and my parents were tithers at our church. When I would make a dollar in allowance, my dad taught me to give a dime to our church and put a dime toward savings. Dimes! Hardly any money at all. But, my dad was teaching me the important 80/10/10 rule that is upheld as wisdom even by business gurus, not just by the church. Give away 10%, save 10%, and live on the rest. It’s an easier lifestyle to learn when 10% is a dime instead of $100 – but the concept remains true; and I’ve lived a blessed life giving a tenth of my finances to the ministry.
I heard a preacher suggest 20 years ago to make our giving the “first check you write.” I began doing that and continue to make that my practice (except now I text my donation), because if we wait until after the mortgage and other bills are paid, we might be like Peter fearing the waves instead of looking into the Master’s face and trusting him.
Indeed, how we spend our money reveals where our hearts are, just as Jesus taught us, “Do not store up treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven...For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
GIVING OF OURSELVES
We can give in many ways, not just money. In fact, time is a more precious resource than money. Any dying person knows that all the money in the world can’t buy more time. But how can we give our time away? Here are just a few examples.
First, as Christians -- prioritizing and investing our time to attend services and activities offered by the church, and getting involved in the ministry by participating as a greeter, or teaching preschool kids about Jesus, or as a community group leader. Ask your pastor what is most needed and be willing to try it.
Second, volunteer for a local charitable group. I serve with the Heart and Hand in Barbour County, a non-profit organization assisting the needy in our community. Thirty of us recently invested two days of our time to assemble Christmas baskets of household goods, clothing and non-perishable food items, and giving them to low-income families. I think I felt more blessed than even some of the families did! It’s the strangest phenomenon: when we give away our time to serve others, we too get uplifted and encouraged.
Finally, we can also be generous with loving kindness. When we open a door for others, smile at a stranger, or surprise someone with a thoughtful card in the mail, we are acting as instruments of God’s love.
EVEN IF IT GOES UNSEEN
The way of the world is to look out for #1 – to be selfish with our money and our time. Whenever we are generous, we buck the system, we go against the current, and people may take notice and be amazed. But even if our generosity isn’t recognized here on Earth – that’s OK! God knows our hearts, he knows our giving.
In Luke 21:1-4, we see Jesus taking notice of a widow who only put a penny into the temple offering, and Jesus praised her to his disciples for her generosity. Why? It’s just a penny. But our Savior knew it was of tremendous sacrifice for her – it was all she had in the world, and in doing so she showed her trust in God’s provision.
Time and money -- our two most precious resources. Will we be generous with them, like the open handed widow? Or walk away sad, like the rich young ruler?