October 15, 2021

The Generous Giver

In a previous article, we introduced the idea of Prudent Spenders – people who enjoy the fruits of their labor while guarding against materialism. But what makes up a Prudent Spender?

Prudent Spenders are Generous Givers first of all. They make room for giving generously by living with gratitude and contentment, which protects them from materialism. While most believers want to be Generous Givers, the Prudent Spender’s intentionality about spending actually enables generous giving.

Giving is so counter-cultural that many believers struggle in this area. Their struggle is primarily a heart issue, not a math problem. And most churches contribute to this struggle by the way they talk about giving. As a result, many believers become Grudging Givers.

Grudging Givers are typically motivated by guilt in one of several ways:

  • By comparing what they have to what others lack (for example, commercials with pictures of starving children can feed this motivation)
  • Through a “call to action” over something they’re not passionate about
  • By comparing their giving to an externally defined standard, such as the tithe or possibly the giving of others.

Generosity is more a function of the heart of the giver than the size of the gift. It’s possible to tithe grudgingly, which is exactly what God doesn’t want. Check out the words of Paul to the Corinthian church: “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

Tithing is important – God even accused the Israelites of robbing him by neglecting their tithes and offerings (Malachi 3:8). But Jesus clarified the priorities further when he condemned the Pharisees for observing the details of the tithe while neglecting more important matters such as justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23). The New Testament mentions tithing only in this one passage; whereas the idea of generosity is found over and over.

 

Character traits of Generous Givers

Generous Givers begin with gratitude. They recognize God as the source of all that they have, and they’re grateful for all He has provided. Their spirit of generosity is not based on their level of wealth, but rather on their thankful hearts.

Because they understand God as the source of all they have, Generous Givers are content, whether they¬† have much or little (Philippians 4:12). Contentment doesn’t mean that they stop working or lack ambition. Rather, it means that the desire for more does not drive their decisions – financial or otherwise.

This contentment leads to a greater sense of freedom. Generous Givers recognize that their finances don’t depend entirely on their own efforts. While they’re intentional about their finances, they’re not driven by the compulsion that comes with self-reliance. Relying on God as their source frees them from this. And this freedom leads them to generosity, because they recognize in faith that God will provide for their needs. We see this faith in the story of the widow at Zarephath, who used her last remaining flour to bake a loaf of bread for Elijah. God miraculously provided her flour for the duration of the famine (1 Kings 17:7-16).

Generous givers tend to be compassionate. They care about the needs of others and they look for opportunities to meet those needs. We see examples of this in Acts 2:44-45 and again in Acts 4:32-37. This compassionate generosity enabled the church to provide for those who were in need (Acts 6:1-7) and was a key element in the word of God spreading rapidly (Acts 6:7).

 

Habits of Generous Givers

Generous givers prioritize giving as a key element of their financial stewardship and planning.  This leads them to be intentional about how they spend and save. Because their heart is oriented to giving, they look for ways to free up money in their Spending Plans in order to give. They may also look for ways to increase their earning and wealth in order to be able to give more (Ephesians 4:28).

Because Generous Givers give out of a sense of gratitude, they’re not prone to talk much about their giving. They let their giving be between themselves and God (Matthew 6:1-4).

Generous Givers typically give in two different ways: systematically, and on occasion, lavishly. First, they give regularly out of the firstfruits of their income (Proverbs 3:9). For many Generous Givers, this takes the form of scheduled online giving. This systematic giving reflects the instructions of Paul in 1 Corinthians 16:2. Because they prioritize generosity in their finances, Generous Givers make systematic giving a large part of their overall giving plan.

Once in a while, Generous Givers also give lavishly and sacrificially to meet a special occasion. This can be a specific need, as it was in the case of the giving we saw in Acts 2 and Acts 4. Or it can be to take advantage of a special opportunity for giving, as in the case of Mary anointing Jesus with expensive perfume (Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 17:37-39; John 12:1-3). This giving may or may not be large in amount (see Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4) but it represents a sacrifice on the part of the giver.

 

Equipping Generous Givers

Many churches fail to equip generous givers because they focus on the church’s need rather than on the disciple’s heart. This leads to Grudging Givers, as we talked about earlier – people who give out of guilt and obligation rather than out of generosity. Such giving may help a church balance its books, but it doesn’t lead to discipleship in the area of financial stewardship. The church that’s serious about making disciples approaches giving with a focus on the disciple’s heart rather than on the church’s ledger. A need-based appeal may occasionally be appropriate (as Paul’s collection for the church in Jerusalem), but it doesn’t make a good foundation for building ongoing generosity.

A second mistake many churches make in equipping Generous Givers is that they take giving out of the context of overall stewardship. Rather than offering holistic teaching about stewardship as a key aspect of discipleship, these churches address giving as a standalone topic. Focusing on giving in isolation doesn’t help believers take the steps they often need to take in order to prioritize generosity. For example, believers saddled with debt may not have finances available to give, regardless of how generous they want to be. Believers who are overspending and not tracking their finances are not placing themselves in a position to make generosity a lifestyle.

To equip Generous Givers, then, the church must:

  1. Inspire gratitude and contentment in believers.
  2. Teach giving as a part of overall stewardship.

 

Why It Matters

Churches that inspire gratitude and contentment in their congregations will see the outworking of that in giving – not just giving to the church, but giving to each other, as the body was intended to. Creating generous disciples who give themselves first to God (1 Corinthians 8:5) will lead to the kind of community experienced by the early church as they met each other’s needs.

Discipling believers holistically in stewardship enables them not only to decide to be generous but to actually take action that leads to generosity. Believers who understand stewardship as a whole become more intentional about all they do with their finances, which creates new margin for generous giving.