The Three Catalysts of Generosity
Growing in the grace of giving
Most people have a desire to be generous, but too often that desire never translates into a discipline. Other times the habit starts, but then it stalemates. It doesn’t progress beyond what we’ve become used to, or what God desires to do through us.
However, giving — like other spiritual disciplines — should be progressive. In other words, we don’t “arrive” in the practice of giving. We should become increasingly generous as we put Jesus’ words into practice: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
So, where do you start when it comes to generosity? Or, if you’re already giving, what’s your next step look like? As your read through Scripture, I believe you discover three primary catalysts of generosity. In other words, we see three instructions that jump-start and propel the level of our giving.
In the Old Testament, generosity was connected to the tithe. The word tithe means, “tenth part.” It’s the instruction to give 10% of our income to the Lord. Malachi said, “‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it’” (Malachi 3:10).
People in Bible times lived in an agricultural society. Agriculture was a primary source of income, and from their crops, the Lord expected them to give their first fruits as an offering to Him.
Proverbs 3:9-10 says, “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.” And Leviticus 27:30 says, “A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord.”
Agriculture is not a primary source of income for most people today, so our first fruits represent the first portion of our income. When you tithe, you sacrifice the first 10% of your income to the Lord, so that He will redeem the remaining 90% of your income. Tithing is a great catalyst to giving. It jump-starts the generosity journey as we learn to trust God with the first.
Generosity doesn’t end with the tithe. In 2 Corinthians 8:10-11, the apostle Paul gives us some helpful insight on the expanding nature of generosity. He’s challenging the Christians in Corinth to return to their former practice of generosity, and to rekindle their passion to do so.
Paul writes, “And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means” (emphasis added).
Compared to most of the world’s population, we have been entrusted with much.
Those last four words, “according to your means” give us a glimpse into Paul’s attitude toward giving. The capacity of a person’s giving is directly linked to what they earn. If your income increases, give more. If your income decreases, you’ll likely give less. The question you have to ask is, “Lord, based on the capacity you’ve given me right now, what do you want me to give?”
At the same time, capacity doesn’t necessarily mean comfort. We often think giving should flow out of what’s left over, but this kind of thinking is usually imprisoned by a focus on what we don’t have, rather than a focus on what we do have.
God looks at what we do have and expects us to be good stewards and sacrificial givers. That’s the approach the Christians in Macedonia took. Despite their deep poverty, they gave “beyond their ability” (2 Corinthians 8:3). In other words, the priority of their capacity to give was not tied to a comfort level for giving.
Your capacity to give serves as a catalyst for giving when you look at your capacity from the right perspective. What’s the right perspective? Jesus said, “from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48). Compared to most of the world’s population, we have been entrusted with much. With that much comes great responsibility.
There’s one final catalyst to generosity: gifting. One of the spiritual gifts described in Scripture is the gift of giving. In his letter to the Romans, Paul said, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully” (Romans 12:6-8, emphasis added).
If you have the spiritual gift of giving, then giving is more than a spiritual discipline or a matter stewarding money wisely. Giving is also a matter of stewarding a spiritual gift wisely. In this case, the gift happens to be connected to money. God’s instruction is to exercise this gift by giving generously. The gift of giving is a catalyst that propels the level of your giving upward.
Author and pastor Andy Stanley once said, “The value of a life is always measured by how much of it was given away. At funerals we never celebrate accumulation. We may envy accumulation, but we always celebrate generosity and selflessness. At the end of your life that is what is celebrated. Life’s got to be beyond you, not about you.”
Where are you at in your generosity journey? Do you tithe? Are you maximizing your giving capacity by giving sacrificially like the Macedonian Christians? Has God gifted you with the spiritual gift of giving? If so, how are you stewarding this gift?
As we embrace these generosity catalysts, I believe we’ll become more and more like Jesus who lived the ultimate generous life. He gave it all.