Contagious Generosity

Generosity is at its core a lifestyle, one in which we share all that we have, are, or will ever become as a demonstration of God’s love and a response to God’s grace. It is not enough for the church to talk about generosity, nor is it enough for individual Christians to simply commit to being generous. What makes generosity a real and powerful witness to God’s love is our actions. Generosity flows from an understanding that all we have, are, or will ever become is not ours to possess and it results in practically sharing what we’ve been given with others for the advancement of the kingdom and the glory of God. Generosity embraces a biblical understanding of stewardship:

• God is the owner of everything.

• What we have has been given to us by God.

• The resources we possess are assets to be invested in the kingdom.

Before we can be generous, we must understand what it means to be a steward, recognizing that what we have is not ours to own and confessing that “Jesus is Lord” over our money, possessions, positions of authority and talents. You can’t be generous without an appropriate discipline of biblical stewardship, and biblical stewardship demands generosity. The free gift of the grace of God shapes our faith and leads to the conviction that all that we have — our time, talent, treasure, and testimony — is something that we have been given for a purpose. We cannot separate our acceptance of God’s grace from the practice of generosity. We are generous because God was first generous with us, freely giving his life for our sake.

As followers of Christ, we seek to imitate the one who gave himself for us (1 Thessalonians 1:6; 2:14). Stewardship is more than an obligation; it’s an opportunity to witness to the reckless nature of God who gives the free gift of salvation by grace to all who will receive it. Generosity is the fullest expression of the life of a steward, one who has been given a gift, a gift that must be used wisely and for a purpose, bringing glory to God.

The truth is that God doesn’t need our money, but he knows that our orientation toward money reflects our obedience to the lordship of Christ and how well we grasp that he is the source of all we have. As followers of Christ, our goal in life is not gaining power, possession, or prestige for ourselves. We exist, along with the entire body of Christ, to fulfill the Great Commission until Christ’s return.

Generosity offers one of the most powerful ways for us to leverage the blessings of God for the advancement of the kingdom. Best of all, when the church acts with generosity to serve others, it is a clear picture of Christ, who generously gave his life and all he had on the cross that we might find life forever.

Financial hardship has a way of breaking down the walls that separate us, even in the church. The sudden loss of wealth and security reminds people that our stated net worth on paper — our value in the eyes of the world — can change at any moment. During the last recession, people began to question what really mattered in life and think about what was of lasting value. Individuals who had placed their hope in the markets began to recognize that paper is really nothing more than paper — it has no lasting value. Two people who might have been separated by the divide of wealth between homelessness and luxury, now found themselves in the same pew, seeking the same answers: Where are you, God? What is your plan for me?

Unfortunately, history shows us that the insights we gain in these moments of clarity, when the divisions created by money evaporate long enough to reveal what is truly valuable and how much we have in common with one another, fade away all too soon. How can we prevent that from happening as our world moves toward economic recovery? How can we learn to retain the insights from the lean years when the years of plenty return?

The church has a unique message for times of economic uncertainty. Jesus provides us with an alternative approach to money that celebrates the sharing of our resources with one another. What we are describing is not an economic model that forces people to share their resources with another, nor is it a political agenda. Instead of being motivated by outside pressure, we believe that the church must begin to challenge people to behave in ways that are consistent with what we profess to believe. Why? Because the world — made up of the lost people all around us — is watching and paying attention to how we respond in times of trial and testing. As Jesus reminds us in Matthew 5:14-16: “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.” When we act in ways that are consistent with our commitment to Christ, a watching world notices. We cannot hide who we really are, and generosity reveals that our faith is genuine and true.

As we live with generosity before a watching world, skeptics and cynics will find it nearly impossible to find fault with genuine acts of generosity that demonstrate that our hearts have been set free from our love of money and things. When we give for the benefit of the kingdom, to serve others in love without an expectation of something in return, that gives them something worth talking about. Far from being a stumbling block to people, money can actually be a conduit, a connecting bridge to people outside the church.

Chris Willard, formerly the Executive Pastor of Discovery Church in Orlando, is director of generosity initiatives and premium services for Leadership Network; Jim Sheppard is CEO and principal of Generis, a consulting firm committed to accelerating generosity toward God-inspired vision for churches and Christian ministry organizations.

Adapted from Contagious Generosity by Chris Willard and Jim Sheppard. Copyright © 2012 by Chris Willard and Jim Sheppard. Use by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com

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