What should generosity look like in the life of the believer? The people of God learn what it means to be generous from God, for He has a generous heart. God is not stingy or reluctant in His giving. He loves to give and is happy to bless. He takes great delight in providing for His children.
In the gospel, we are recipients of God’s lavish generosity. The cross is the standard of God’s eagerness to give. It is the guarantee that He is willing and able to provide all that we need.
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Romans 8:32
Generous Gospel, Generous People
As we receive God’s lavish generosity in Christ, we are, in turn, made a generous people. Ephesians 5:1 calls believers to “be imitators of God, as beloved children.” We imitate the compassion and generosity of our Father by taking notice of the needs of others and seeking to meet them. When we see the cross as the standard of God’s generosity, we understand that our giving, as well, should be marked by liberality, love and sacrifice. When we understand that God is happy in His giving, we too become eager and joyful in ours.
When we trust God to provide perfectly for all our needs, we are set free from fear and are glad to give for the good of another, even if it means giving to our own hurt. When we understand that Jesus entered into the poverty of the human condition on our behalf, our hearts are gripped with love and compassion for the poor. We become willing to forsake the comfort and entitlement of our circumstance and to meet them where they are. When we understand that being a child of God means being a part of the family of believers, we are happy to care for brothers and sisters in need. The gospel makes us a people of joyful, willing sacrifice.
Right Actions, Right Motives
Not only does the gospel make us a generous people, it supplies the right motivation for our giving. Even as believers, it is possible to do a right action—such as giving to those in need—for a completely wrong reason. The heart is deceitful, and as we think about what it means to be generous as God is generous, we must examine our motives.
Imagine a man who was a generous giver. He loved to help and loved to meet the needs of others. People spoke of his generosity, praised the eagerness of his heart to share with the poor, even to his own hurt. Everyone knew about this man and reasoned that God must have been very pleased with his generosity. But his generosity, despite all its benefits to the poor, was wickedness in the eyes of God.
You see, in his giving, he was always careful to make sure there was an audience nearby to take notice of his sacrifice. What the people did not know was that the true desire of his heart was to be seen in his giving. He desired to be lauded for his good works, patted on the back and applauded for his selfless devotion to the needy.
This man’s generosity was wicked because his motivation was wrong. A right thing done for the wrong reason becomes a wrong or even wicked thing in the eyes of God. Motivation is a matter of the heart, and our motivations matter to God. Jesus makes this very point in Matthew 6:1-4:
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you."
In Jesus’ day, religious leaders used their contributions to the poor as an opportunity to gain man’s praise or even the inward prize of self-congratulations for their righteous works. They wanted to be seen. Like the man in the story above, their giving was wickedness in God’s eyes because their hearts were set on the self. Jesus is clear. The right motivation for generosity is not to be seen and praised by men, but rather a desire to please God by quiet, hidden, joyful obedience.
When we understand the gospel, we are set free to give with joy from a pure heart. We no longer strive after the temporary treasure of man’s approval, nor are we consumed with the love of self. We give out of a compassionate, joyful heart that mirrors the heart of our generous Father.