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The Generosity Matrix

January 18, 2010

Every sensitive Christian has struggled with the tension that exists in Scripture with regard to the usage of our money.  On the one hand Scripture is full of encouragement to save wisely and with people that God blessed with wealth (Abraham, Job, Joseph, David, Solomon, the believers in the church where Timothy was the pastor); on the other hand it’s replete with commands not just toward generosity – but radical, lifestyle-altering, “sell what you have and give to the poor” generosity.

Almost everything I’m about to say is copied borrowed  from a great post from JD Greear that you can see here, but I’ll reiterate his thoughts here anyway.

When it comes to giving most Christians live in one of two extremes…

  1. The first extreme is people who think you’re simply supposed to tithe 10% of your income and beyond that you can do whatever you want with your money.  This extreme isn’t just wrong, it’s unChristian and you can’t read the New Testament seriously and still think this.  It teaches that it’s OK to live a life of self-centered acquisition as long as you religiously pump out your 10%.
  2. On the second extreme are people who think that no matter what you’re giving you should be giving more.  “How can you even think about eating out when there are dying people in Haiti?”  “Do you really love your warm showers/new pair of jeans/air-conditioning more than the impoverished of Sudan?”  In this extreme they’ll often talk about living a “war-time” lifestyle.  In war, you strip yourself of every luxury and melt down all your excess metal for bullets.  This extreme says you should do this with your money.

While the second extreme is MUCH closer to the teaching of the New Testament than the first extreme, it’s out of balance with other principles of Scripture and leads to a constant plaguing guilt.  If you try and live the second extreme then every bite of food more costly than rice grains proclaims you self-centered and guilty.  When I tried to embrace this principle in college, I couldn’t figure out where it stopped.  I was living in a 2 bedroom apartment in the Jackson, TN projects with 5 other guys and spending almost nothing but I just kept thinking things like “I could sell the sleeping bag I’m sleeping in and give five more dollars… and most of my clothes… and my golf clubs I bought in high school… and do I REALLY need a cell phone?”

The guilt here is genuinely inescapable.

As opposed to these two extremes, Scripture gives us a set of principles that form a matrix through which we view our possessions that should guide our giving. Keeping in mind that nothing short of radical giving is the call of the New Testament on our lives, here are the six principles I referenced yesterday…

  1. It’s the joyful duty of those who have to share with those who don’t.  2 Corinthians 8:13-15.
  2. We live with radical, sacrificial generosity to others in response to Jesus radical generosity to us.  2 Corinthians 8.  Jesus didn’t simply tithe his blood and say “Awesome, now I’ll go bowling.”  He gave it all.  This is what Christians give in response to.
  3. The Holy Spirit will guide us toward which sacrifices we should make. Now a lot of people simply take this principle without the others and say to themselves, “Well, if God tells me to give then I’ll give.”  Again, you can’t take just one of these principles without the others.  If that’s your only guideline then you’re not living in obedience to Scripture that just says “When you see a need, give.”
  4. God provides for his people richly and delights in their enjoyment of his gifts. Proverbs talks about God giving good wine (if that bugs you just read “grape juice”) and food for people’s enjoyment.  There are multiple people in the Bible – both Old and New Testament – that God blessed financially as a gift for their enjoyment.  Specifically, 1 Timothy 6:17-19 says that God “richly gives us all things to enjoy”.  Clearly, it’s not wrong to appropriately enjoy some of life’s pleasures that accompany wealth.
  5. Wise wealth building is OK… even prescribed.  Aside from just telling you to read Proverbs I’d also point out that saving wisely not only gives you the ability to give strategically in the future, but it’s a form of giving itself.  When I save for retirement, I’m giving to some people who will have needs in the future – Jana and my kids.
  6. Don’t look to money for a feeling of security and don’t live as if you have to have money or the things money can give you to be happy.  Don’t worship money.

The last principle is the one that has been the most instrumental in Jana’s and my life.  When we’ve been able to look at money and say “We don’t need what you can give us to be happy and we don’t need to hoard you to be safe”, we’ve been set free to give JOYFULLY and generously.

Basically, Christians should live simply and give extravagantly in a culture where most people seek to live extravagantly and end up giving simply.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Jim permalink
    January 19, 2010 1:08 pm

    I will start by saying that I am one of those people that Josh mentioned that would like to have rules to go by instead of principles. I compared what we have done through the years relative to these principles. Sometimes we did well and sometimes we did not do well at all. I would say not finding security in money is the toughest of all for me. When we had plenty of money, it was easy to say that we did not find security in money. However, making decisions in line with God’s leading and trusting the finances to follow is tough. Providing new opportunities to make good decisions and giving me a faithful, gifted spouse are ways that God is growing me in this area. I pray that God will continue to mature me.

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