Three Tests of Generosity
Excelling in the grace of giving
One of the most powerful examples of generosity in Scripture is found in the apostle Paul’s second letter to the church in the city of Corinth. In the opening verses of Chapter 8, Paul directs the attention of the Christians in Corinth to the example of the Christians in Macedonia, and he basically says, “Follow their example.”
Paul opens Chapter 8 with these words: “And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity” (2 Corinthians 8:1-2).
To realize the power of Paul’s words, you have to understand the circumstances of the Macedonian believers. Paul said they were experiencing “a very severe trial.” The trial they encountered was like a crushing pressure caused by a combination of their poverty and persecution.
The “poverty” these believers experienced was so bad that we might equate it to hitting rock bottom. Yet, despite their poverty and persecution, these Christians were filled with “overflowing joy” that “welled up in rich generosity.” Simply put, the Macedonians’ overflowing joy resulted in overflowing generosity.
How is that even possible? First, it was possible because they had experiencing the transforming power of God’s grace. Verse 1 tells us about the grace God had given to the Macedonian churches. Second, they trusted in God’s goodness. They believed God, trusting in His faithfulness and ability to meet their own needs. Rather than adopting a scarcity mindset, they embraced an abundance mindset that welled up in joy and generosity.
Therein lies our first lesson. So often we turn our focus inward when we face problems. But the Macedonian believers turned their focus outward toward others. God extended grace to them, and then they extended grace to others through their overflowing generosity. Paul didn’t stop there. He continued by describing just how much the Macedonians’ joy overflowed in generosity.
“For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us” (2 Corinthians 8:3-5).
Notice that the Macedonians’ generosity was not manipulated in any way. They gave beyond their ability and urgently pleaded for the privilege of giving.
Here we find our second lesson: Paul measured generosity by the sacrifice of the giver, not the size of the gift. He never tossed out a dollar amount and said, “Give this much.” Instead, he shined the spotlight on the sacrifice of the Macedonians and their willingness to go above and beyond what anyone would have expected.
Then, Paul holds nothing back. In verses 6-9, he writes:
So we urged Titus, just as he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. But since you excel in everything — in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you — see that you also excel in this grace of giving. I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
Paul measured generosity by the sacrifice of the giver, not the size of the gift.
Again, Paul didn’t compare the size of their offerings; he only compared the size of their passion. Paul then pointed to the ultimate example of generosity: Jesus. He became poor by offering His life as a sacrifice for our sin. Jesus gave His life so we could receive eternal life.
Such a sacrifice demanded a response from the Christians in Corinth. If they felt they had too little to give, all they had to do was look at the impoverished Macedonians. If they questioned the generosity of Christ, all they had to do was look at His sacrifice at the cross. What were the Corinthian believers to do? Paul answered that question in verses 10-11:
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.
From these two verses, we discover three characteristics of genuine generosity. If there were a generosity test, these three qualities would be on the exam:
Paul reminded the Corinthians of the passion for giving they once had. He said they were the first to have the desire to give. Then Paul challenged them to rekindle that eager willingness for giving.
Generosity is more than a duty. That’s why Paul later talked about being a “cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Passion gets to the attitude behind giving. The Corinthian believers once possessed this important quality, and the Macedonians were stellar examples of passion when they urgently pleaded for the privilege to give. On a scale from 1 to 10, how passionate are you about giving?
Having a great attitude about giving isn’t enough. The Corinthians were not only the first with the desire to give, but they were the first to do it. In other words, their passion for giving was matched by their practice of giving. It wasn’t enough to love the idea of giving. The Corinthians actually put this idea into practice, regardless of their circumstances.
Paul exhorted the Corinthians to finish the work of giving by ensuring their eager willingness to give was matched by their completion of it. How faithful are you to practice generosity?
Finally, in verse 11, Paul told the Corinthians to give according to their means. The New Living Translation says, “Give in proportion to what you have.”
This is often the problem we have when it comes to giving. We focus on what we don’t have, but God focuses on what we do have. In my experience, if you’ll be faithful to give what you do have, God has a way of blessing you with what you don’t have.
Let me be clear: Getting is not the purpose of giving. But when we give with the right heart, God seems to take delight in blessing His people. His track record of faithfulness is second to none. Is your giving in proportion to the blessing God has entrusted to you?
How would you pass the generosity test? Are you passionate in your giving? Do you practice generosity with regularity and consistency? Do you give in proportion to what you have, or are you more concerned about what you don’t have?
When we practice passionate giving in proportion to what God has entrusted to us, we become vessels God can work through to help others.