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About this series
The Genius of Generosity
Lessons from a Secret Pact Between Two Friends
What's the secret to being truly smart when it comes to managing your finances, possessions and your very life? The Creator of all things invites you to enter into deeper levels of generosity with Him, so you can become wise in your giving and generous in living. When we begin to grasp God's extravagant love and generosity toward us, we begin to be generous toward Him and others in His kingdom. The result: our generosity becomes a visible expression of our love for Him.More from this series
Imagine, if you will, the scene. Once there was a man lost in the desert near death from thirst. He wandered aimlessly throughout the burning sand for many days growing weaker by the moment.
At long last he saw an oasis in the distance. Palm trees indicating there would be water. He stumbled forward feverishly, fell beneath the shade of the trees, finally he might quench his thirst.
But he noticed something strange about this particular oasis. Instead of a pool of water or a bubbling brook it was odd. There was a pump. And next to the pump was a jar of water. And next to the jar of water was a small parchment with a hand-written note.
The note explained that the leather gasket within the pump must be saturated with the water for the pump to work. Within the jar was just enough water for this purpose.
The note also warned the reader, “Do not drink from the jar.” Every drop must be poured down into the pump in the opening so the base of the pump can be soaked, the hard leather becomes softened, and as the leather is softened and expanded an unlimited supply of sweet water would be available.
The parchment’s final instructions were simply to refill the jar for the next traveler.
The man faced a dilemma. He was dying of thirst and there wasn’t much water but he found some. Probably not enough water to save his life but it seemed like the height of folly to take the little bit of water that he had and pour it down the base of a pump.
And so what do you do? On the one hand if the note is true and he pours it down he has all the water that he needs. On the other, if he drinks what he has he might temporarily quench his thirst but find himself in an oasis and die.
As I thought of this I have a little jar here and it has a little note. And it’s a note a lot like what he had. I’d like you to think about this jar as your life. And all the water inside this jar is all the time, all the energy, all the talent, all the money, all the opportunity. Your 401(k}, your savings account, your car, your house. It’s all that you have.
And we have this ridiculous command of God that says, “Give. Pour it out. Trust me."
And then all the promises of Scripture are how smart that is. But it requires one thing, doesn’t it?
That note better be true. And that pump better have water.
I want to give you four air-tight facts about generosity that are absolutely true that will help you and help me begin to take the kind of steps that will allow us, by faith, to say, “It’s smart, it’s wise to pour out our lives.”
In fact, Jesus is called, He poured out his life as a drink offering. Paul would use the same phrase when he talked about his life and his love for the Philippian church.
Fact number one: God blesses generous people. Some of you have been around – do not get nervous as I share these verses because some of you are going to come to some conclusions like, “What’s he saying? Is he taking us in this…?” Just listen.
And what I want you to do as I read these verses I just want you to ask and answer the question, “Does the Bible teach that God blesses generous people, or not?” I’ve got Old Testament, New Testament, the wisest man in the world, and Jesus Himself.
Follow along. First, Acts 20:35, “In everything I did,” Luke writes, “I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus Himself: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
Luke 6:38, from the lips of Jesus, “Give,” why? “And it will be given unto you.” Well how? “Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over will be poured into your cup. For with the measure or the size that you use it will be measured or given back to you.”
Solomon, the wisest man in the world, Proverbs 22:9, “A generous man will himself be blessed for he shares his food with the poor.” Are you getting the drift? Pretty strong argument. Solomon, Proverbs 19:17, “He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord,” and what does God do? When people are kind to the poor, “He will reward him for what he has done.”
Deuteronomy, Moses writes, “When you’re out harvesting your field and you overlook a sheaf,” you know? You’re harvesting your field and you, “Oh, boy, we forgot that one back there.” Notice what he says, “Do not go back and get it, leave it for the alien, for the fatherless, and the widow.” Why? “So that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.”
Turn the page if you will. Proverbs 3:9 and 10. He says, “Honor the Lord,” with what? “Honor God,” what’s it look like? “Honor God with all your wealth,” how? “With the very first fruits of your crops.” You give the first and the best. What’s the result? “Then your barns will be filled to overflowing and your vats will burst out with new wine.”
And then finally, Solomon in Proverbs 11:24 and 5, I love this one. “One man gives freely yet gains all the more. Another withholds what is justly due but comes only to poverty. A generous man will prosper and he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.”
Now listen very carefully. This is not a give-to-get and this is not the Prosperity Gospel. This is not a formula where you can figure out, “Oh, this is how God has set up life. I’m going to figure out how to use God and somehow give so I can get more.” That’s just being selfish.
But what the Bible teaches from Jesus to Moses to Solomon to all through Scripture is very, very simple. You have limited capacity. You have limited time. You have limited money. You have limited opportunity. You have limited energy. You have limited talent. And God says to you, “If you will take those limitations and you will give the first and the best and trust Me, I have unlimited supply to help you fulfill My purpose in you and My purpose through you.”
The bright idea that comes out of this is this: Generous living produces emotional happiness, spiritual holiness, and as a general rule, material prosperity. No give to get, no playing games with God.
But people that are generous are happy. They’re, like, anti-Scrooge. When you, you just can’t wait for your husband or your wife or a close friend or one of your kids or grandkid to open something, right? You know they want it. You now they want it. You’ve been thinking about it, you checked it out on the Internet, you bought it, you can’t wait, and you’re…you know what that is? You are made to give and to bless others. And when you do, what happens? It’s more blessed to give than to receive.
But God says this is a way of life. There’s an enemy to this, though. Left to ourselves and in our flesh I’m a selfish, greedy person. I mean, I want to appear generous but protect me. Right?
Now none of you are like that but that’s just left to myself. The only antidote to greed and selfishness and the power of money, the antidote is to give. It’s when I give God the first, when I give Him the best it breaks the power of greed and that false belief that, “Just a little bit more, just a little bit more.” That it can produce security and it’ll take care of me and someday when I have, then. That false belief.
And then finally what you find is people that are generous with material things and generous with their time, generous with their talent, just the hand of God’s blessing is upon them.
Now you may be hearing what I’m saying and thinking, “Okay, now wait a second. Fact number one is God blesses generous people.” And you might be saying, “Well, I think I’m pretty generous but I’m not experiencing that kind of blessing. In fact, I got a lot of debt right now. I got a lot of pressure right now. I don’t have enough time right now. I mean, how does this really work?”
Well I did a little experiment I thought to myself, “I wonder if there’s a difference between being truly generous and just assuming or thinking that you’re generous.
I went to a little strip mall where there was multiple little restaurants and a Starbucks. And I went from person to person to person and I said, “I’m trying to find a hundred people, I have one question, it’s a survey, I just want a yes or no answer, no explanation, yes or no.”
And I had young people, old people, all kind of ethnic backgrounds and I walked around and I was scared at first but then it got to be fun. I said, “Excuse me,” and two ladies are stopping, you know? “Hey, I don’t want any money, I’m not going to do anything. It’s a survey. Can I ask you this question?” And they kind of, I said, “Here it is. Do you consider yourself to be a generous person? Yes or no?”
Do you consider yourself to be a generous person? Yes or no? If I asked you that, just right now, don’t raise your hand, don’t do anything. But just your self-talk. Do you consider yourself to be a generous person? Yes or no?
Well my very unscientific survey revealed that eighty percent of the people, at that strip mall considered themselves, very quickly, to be generous people.
Only two people said, “No.” And so I couldn’t resist, I had a follow-up question, “So you don’t think you’re generous?” “No.” Kind of like, “I don’t think I’m generous and I’m not trying to be generous, buddy. Just move on. You know, get your own coffee or something.”
Now here’s what I want you to get. What if all the verses I talked about aren’t for people who think they’re generous. What if all the verses, I mean, these are the words of Jesus, the words of Solomon.
What if, what if God really has a standard or a criteria that if you fulfill that you’re generous and these promises apply to you and if you just think you’re generous, which I’m now learning, eighty percent, at least, of the people think they are, then they really don’t apply to you.
And so let me give you fact number two. Fact number two is that God provides clear criteria for becoming or knowing that you’re a generous person. I mean, right out of the Bible you may have said, “Yes,” you may have said, “No,” but I will tell you, in about ten minutes you can know with absolute certainty form God’s perspective whether He looks at you as a generous person.
The first two are review and the last three are new. Characteristic number one: Genuine generosity gives the first and the best to God. When God looks at people, when they get the first crops, the first of their paycheck, the first blessing, the first opportunity, they come to God and say, “I recognize all I have belongs to You; I want to give You the first and the best.”
People who do that, from God’s perspective, are generous.
Second, genuine generosity is systematic and regular. So it’s not just an ooey gooey feeling or near Christmas or this person has a need and I gave them a couple hundred bucks or I helped this person over here.
Genuinely generous people, on a regular, systematic basis give. That 1 Corinthians, remember, 16 verse 2? Where Paul is writing to them and says, “Now on the first day of the week I want you to prepare yourself and I want you to decide in proportion to how God has blessed you, on a regular, systematic way...”
And in the New Testament times most people were paid daily, they were paid at the end of the day. Most of us get paid every two weeks, or once a month, or by commission.
And so the issue is, when I get paid, do I regularly and systematically give the first and the best to God? So that would make us generous. If I don’t do that I can feel generous but from God’s perspective I’m not.
Third criteria: Genuine generosity is proportional to our income. Notice that same passage, 1 Corinthians 16:2. He says, “Let everyone decide on the first day of the week according to,” what? “According to his income.”
God never measures the amount that you give, God measures the amount of the sacrifice. That’s generosity.
That’s why when the widow would drop in the two, small copper coins and the other people gave large gifts, He wasn’t saying the large gifts were bad. In fact, the temple couldn’t run without the large gifts. He just was saying, comparatively, this woman has given more than them.
Why would Jesus say she gave more? Because it was a greater sacrifice.
Fourth characteristic of generous people is: Genuine generosity is sacrificial. The same setting, Paul writes a lot about generosity in 2 Corinthians chapter 8 and 9. He says, “Now brothers we want you to know about the grace that our God has given the Macedonian church.” He’s writing to the Corinthians and he’s talking about the Macedonian church.
He says, “Out of their most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty it welled up in rich generosity.” I underlined those four things because I don’t, I don’t think we think about generosity coming out of that, do you?
I’m going to be generous when there’s an extreme trial. I’m going to be generous when I’m under it. I’m going to be generous when I don’t have much at all, in fact, poverty.
He said what welled out of them was rich generosity. Now notice what he says. He says, “For I testify that they gave as much as they were able and even beyond their ability.” And then notice the motivation. “Entirely on their own they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.”
And the service he’s talking about is over here these Jewish Christians, there was a famine. And they didn’t have any food. And these Christians over here said, Gentile Christians, they were new Christians and there used to be all this hostility but Christ broke that wall and they said, “We have and they don’t have so we’re going to share.”
The final characteristic of generosity, not simply the first and the best and not just systematically or proportional or sacrificial. But genuine generosity is thoughtful, voluntary, and worshipful.
Genuine generosity isn’t just hearing a series or having a, I call it a “God moment.” And I’ve them and I want to have more. But where you’re just compelled and you give and it sort of does this emotional thing and you go, “Wow.”
See, genuine generosity isn’t just thinking with your heart. It’s with your mind. And it’s an act of worship. Notice what Paul writes later in this same discussion with this church.
He says, “I thought it was necessary to urge you, brothers, to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift that you had promised.” So they said, “We want to help those Jews that are really going through it and there’s a famine and, hey, Paul, last visit, we’re going to help them.”
And Paul says, “Hey, I’m coming to collect the gift.” And so he says, “Then I’m going to come early and I just want to warn you and kind of give you a little heads up so it’ll be ready as a generous gift and not grudgingly.”
Because Paul knows human nature. I don’t know about you but I’ve made commitments and I prayed about it and God showed me and I made it at a right moment when I was really in fellowship with God and then it came around time to give the gift and I’m going, “Oooh maybe I didn’t really hear God. Maybe, maybe we could delay…” Right? Don’t you all do this stuff?
And so Paul knows that’s what’s happening. So he says, “Hey, let me just, I want it to be right from the heart. So little heads up, I’ll be there, who knows, couple weeks.”
And then he gives them this thoughtful suggestion. He says, “Remember this as you’re sort of weighing in the balance about being faithful to what you said. Whoever sows sparingly reaps also sparingly and whoever sows generously will reap also generously.”
And so it’s an agricultural world and he just brings them back like farmers. He goes, “Look if you put five seeds in the ground that, you’re going to have five stalks come up. You put five thousand seeds in the ground, you’ll have five thousand stalks and on each stalk there’ll be hundreds, if not thousands of other seeds so if you sow a little, a little comes back. If you sow a lot…”
So he’s getting, it’s thoughtful. But notice, then, it’s voluntary and worshipful. He goes, “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion for God loves a cheerful,” or literally, “a hilarious giver.”
It’s thoughtful. It’s based on the law of harvest. It’s voluntary. It’s not compulsive or manipulative and it’s worshipful. It brings joy to God’s heart.