Generosity, Part 2
Generosity is honest
Because we tend to be self-deceiving, it is wise to take regular reality checks about our finances. Our self-deceiving, self-perception means that we tend to compare ourselves favourably with others in terms of our morality, but unfavourably in terms of our finances. Wherever we fit on the socio-economic scale we always tend to be most aware of the person who has a bit more than we do, and this kind of comparison makes us less likely to be generous. The deadly sin of envy is always wanting to have us.
There has been much talk in recent years of us living in an age of austerity, and, indeed, for many people this has been a tough time economically. But a reality check tells me that historically low interest rates mean my mortgage has been much cheaper than it otherwise would have been, that I have clothes on my back and food on my table – and the same is true for pretty much everyone I know.
BBC radio recently ran a series titled, A History of Britain in Numbers, which quoted some interesting statistics revealing our comparative wealth. For example, in terms of home comforts:
• Relative to income, the same amount of artificial lighting in the year 1300, cost about twenty thousand times more than it would today.
• In 1911 half of households had less than one room per person. Now most households have more than two rooms per person.
• In 1947 7.4 million households – half of all homes! – had no hot water.
• In 1970 one in six households didn’t have sole use of a WC.
Or, in terms of health:
• In 1840, about 50 in 100 deaths were of children. Now it is about one in 100.
• In 1968, nearly four in ten of those aged over 16 had NO natural teeth.
• The number of fatal accidents at work has declined in the past century by about 97% despite a near-doubling of the population.
Or, in terms of education:
• A woman’s chance of going to university in the 1920s was about one third of a man’s. Today it is 30% higher than a man’s. A woman today has about 100 times the chance of obtaining a degree as her great grandmother.
Or, simply in the amount of ‘stuff’ we possess:
• Incomes just before World War One were, in real terms only a fifth of todays, which sounds a lot more like ‘austerity Britain’ than what we are experiencing at present.
• At the Redbridge recycling depot near Oxford ten years ago, they collected about 100 televisions a month. Now they collect about 1000.
When it comes to our sense of how rich or poor we are we need to be very alert to our rate of measurement! Generosity measures not from what we lack, but from what we possess and are able to do with it, which means that even those who are genuinely materially poor are able to be generous. Generosity acts out of faith, not fear. Our financial attitude must be shaped more by generosity than by the state of the economy. We need to be honest, and generosity helps us in that.
Generosity is evangelistic
Generous people tend to be popular! I’m sure I am not alone in preferring to spend time with generous people than with skinflints – they are just more fun. Sadly, the church and Christians have often have a bad rap when it comes to generosity. In the UK at least, this must in large measure be due to the fact that there are so many old church buildings with signs appealing for funds. Appeals for the church roof and organ fund convey an image of an institution desperately looking for charitable support in order to stay afloat, rather than a dynamic community who know the limitless supply of a bountiful Father.
Of course, the reality is that through the centuries the Church has often been at the forefront of social provision, and many of the advances in education and health and social provision have been initiated by Christians. When we are engaged in such activities it is important to remember that we are not just trying to make ourselves popular! Rather, generosity on our part witnesses to the generosity with which God has treated us. As Paul puts it in Ephesians 1, He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ…in him we have obtained an inheritance. Our lives have been transformed by the generosity of God, so we are to be a generous people in response.
When we are generous it has the potential to change lives. I know my life had been transformed by the generosity of others: financial, relational and spiritual. A generous church brings positive change to the community it serves, and this is an evangelistic act.
The spiritual gift of generosity
As Romans 12:8 makes clear, some people have a spiritual gift of generosity. This is a fantastic gift to have! As with all the spiritual gifts, the only way to discover whether this is a gift we have is to try exercising it. If our generosity is fruitful this is the evidence of our gift. Moreover, as those who have been promised a great inheritance in Christ, it makes sense for all Christians to aspire to the gift of generosity. The more generous the more of us are, the more of us will discover the spiritual gift of generosity!
Generosity is joyful
1 Chr 29:9 paints a wonderful picture of what happens when God’s people are generous. As the people freely and whole heartedly offered their gifts for the construction of the temple there was an accompanying release of joy among them. Generosity and joy do go hand in hand. “It is more blessed to give than to receive” can sound a tired cliché, in response to which Spike Milligan’s quip, “All I ask is the chance to prove that money can’t make me happy” often seems more credible. The evidence is clear, however – generosity really does breed joy.
May I wish you a generous Christmas!