I was walking around Venice Beach years ago on a Saturday afternoon, where the strand was busy with all sorts of “interesting” people. If you’ve ever been there, you know what I mean. I noticed one guy particularly on this occasion, sitting on the ground against a building–it looked like he may have been homeless–who had a cardboard sign that read something like: “I’ll be honest. I need money for booze.” I chuckled to myself when I read that; at least he was being honest! That sign certainly made me not want to give anything to that guy (except the gospel, which I unfortunately didn’t do at that time).
I think one of the hardest challenges we face as followers of Jesus is generosity. It’s certainly a lost art. The North American (Christian) culture teaches us to be responsible stewards of our resources* (certainly true), that we are responsible for our own failures and fortunes (certainly true in some or many cases), and that any material blessing or material failure is a result of our work and effort. I think this type of mentality is one reason why the doctrines of grace are difficult to accept, because it’s all about grace.
In the Bible, we see something radically different. We see members of the early church selling their houses (think of a modern-day home conservatively worth $300k), and donating the proceeds–yes, they gave all of it–to the church (Acts 4:34-35). I happen to think that this was not the property that they occupied with their families, but any other extra property they owned. They basically gave away whatever equity they had so the church would benefit from it. Does that kind of thing happen today?
Yes, I know, we need to be responsible with our God-given resources. But how much more responsible is it to be generous? The problem of the rich, young ruler (Luke 18:18-30) was not that he was by human standards immoral or unethical; it was that he wasn’t able to sell everything and give it to the poor, which illustrated his heart condition. Jesus never condemned generosity. He never said, how dare you give money to the homeless guy so he could buy booze and drugs! He never withheld healing a blind guy or a paraplegic in case they would abuse his generosity. He did it; and then commanded them not to sin afterwards. There’s no condition or qualification to generosity. That’s our “North American Christian” defense mechanism justifying our keeping rather than giving. If I was really worried about giving the homeless guy drug money, I would take the time to buy the guy a meal or whatever it was he needed. Obviously, I’m not saying we should be irresponsible with our money. And if my money is going to something my conscience doesn’t allow, I shouldn’t give. But we have to ask ourselves, is it because I’m just being stingy right now, or is it because I really want to be responsible with my resources?
Be generous. Give. Give till it hurts. If you don’t have anything to give (which is rarely the case if you work and live in North America), ask God to give to you so you can give to others. At the very least, give to your church. To your family. To your friends. And to strangers. But don’t do it out of guilt. Do it because you realize you already have everything. And if you’re still uninspired, watch this video. Your generosity is probably a bigger investment in the kingdom than you could imagine…
* As a caveat, I strongly advocate ministries like Crown and Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, that help Christians understand what responsible stewardship of God’s resources looks like. I’m grateful for their ministry to the church, how they’ve helped many get out of debt and experience financial freedom. And I am aware that they also advocate principles of generosity as a part of responsible stewardship.