Living Generously

Throughout the Season of Lent we have been focusing on building a stronger sense of community within our church so that together we can make a greater impact on the world around us.  Jesus said, “They will know you are my disciples by the way you love one another.” (John 13:35)   We witness to the world by the love we have for one another within the fellowship of believers.  In fact, the word fellowship is another word for community.

In the New Testament the Greek word for fellowship is KOINONIA. Koinonia is rich with meaning.  Paul writes to the Philippian Churches, saying, “You became my partners in giving.” (Philippians 4:15)   “…my koinonia.”  So here the word koinonia means partners in giving, fellow participants in giving to advance the Good News in the world.  To the Hebrew churches Paul writes, “Keep doing good and sharing your resources.” (Hebrews 13:16)  Here the word koinonia means those who share their resources as a sacrifice of praise to God. Talking about the Macedonian churches, Paul writes to the churches in Corinth, “They begged us to let them have the joy of giving their money for God’s people.” (2nd Corinthians 8:4)  To Timothy, Paul writes, “Be generous and willing to share.” (1st Timothy 6:18)  Here Koinonia means those who are willing to share.  Koinonia involves fellowship, community, participation, contribution and generosity.  Bound up in Koinonia is the concept of living generously.  You can’t have community without it.  If we are to strengthen our sense of community, we have to talk about what it means to live generously.

Dr. Karl Menninger, the famous psychiatrist who founded the Menninger Psychiatric Clinic, talks about the importance of living generously when he says, “Generosity is one of the essential components of mental health.  We have found that generous people are rarely mentally ill.”  For your own mental health, it is essential for you to learn to live generously.  Let me explain why this is true.

There are SEVEN wonderful, incredible BENEFITS TO LIVING GENEROUSLY.  That’s what I want to share with you today.

FIRST, LIVING GENEROUSLY CREATES COMMUNITY.  Here’s how that works.  The Bible says, “Your generosity… not only provides for the needs of God’s people, but also produces prayers of thanksgiving to God.”  (2nd Corinthians 9:11-12)  When we’re generous with each other, it draws us closer together.  We learn to appreciate one another’s help and rely on it.  We become thankful for one another.  That creates community.

Randy Frazee is the senior pastor at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas.  He learned how generosity creates community from his unchurched neighbor who asked to borrow his ladder.  His neighbor later confessed to him that he didn’t need to borrow his ladder.  He had one of his own, but he used borrowing the ladder as a way to build a relationship with Randy.  Randy said, “When he borrowed stuff from me it made me feel needed.  It brought us closer together.”  So Randy decided to ask his neighbor across the street if he could borrow the guy’s shop vac.  This gave Randy an excuse to visit with his neighbor and they had such a good time, he now borrows the shop vac every Friday evening to clean his car.  The neighbor sets it out for him and when he returns it they always end up talking.  Apparently, Randy’s neighbor likes to be needed, too.  Randy’s experience demonstrates how generosity creates a sense of community.

The Bible says, “Your heart will be wherever your treasure is.” (Matthew 6:21)  In other words, where you invest your time, your energy, your effort, your money and any other resources you may have, that’s where your emotional attachment is going to be.  Whatever you invest in, that’s what you begin to really care about.  Whatever you give to, that’s what you are drawn closer to.  If you give to the poor, that will draw you closer to the poor.  If you give to God, that will draw you closer to God.  Generous living creates community.  The Bible says, “The community of believers… shared everything in common.” (Acts 4:32)  Their generosity toward one another drew them closer together.  It created community.

SECOND, LIVING GENEROUSLY IS THE CURE FOR MATERIALISMWe are living in a culture of materialism.  It’s like the goal is to get more and more and more.  Our appetite for things is insatiable.  We’re never satisfied with what we have.  We always want more.  The more we make, the more we spend on stuff we don’t really need.  We buy stuff because we think it will make us happy, but the happiness it brings fades before it’s even paid off.  People today make more money, but give away less of it to charity.

The cure for materialism is generosity.  In the sea of selfishness that we are living in, the church is an island of generosity.  Every time you give generously of your time, your talent, your monetary resources, you weaken the grip of materialism on your life.  You’re moving into a much healthier place to be.  The Bible says, “You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)

This is so important to teach your children.  They need to see you living generously and not just in the way you give to them.  They need to see the way you give to God or they will never learn it.  I learned it from my father.  On payday my father would write out checks for all the things that had to be paid that month and he would lay those checks out on the dining room table in order of when they were due.  The first check was always to the church.  I was about ten when I first noticed my father doing this.  I said to him, “Holy cow.  You give that much to the church?  Why don’t you give me some of that money?”  My father replied, “Because you wouldn’t make as good a use of it as they do.”  He was right.  I would have wasted it on things I didn’t really need.  I would have squandered it away.  And I would have failed to learn the cure for materialism.

THIRD, LIVING GENEROUSLY STRENGTHENS YOUR FAITH. The Bible says, “Your giving proves the reality of your faith.”  (2nd Corinthians 9:13)  There are more passages in the Bible about the importance of giving than any other subject.  God talks more about giving than he does about heaven or hell.  Why?  Because our God is a generous God and he wants us to become like him.  You would have nothing in your life if it were not for the generosity of God.  Everything we possess, everything we are, comes to us by the grace of God.  The brains in our heads, the strength in our bodies, the role models in our lives, the supportive and encouraging people who have cheered us on over the years, the opportunities we’ve taken advantage of, are all gifts from a generous God.  His generosity is intended to teach us to live generously.

The Bible says, “Whoever sows sparingly will reap sparingly and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” (2nd Corinthians 9:6)  This is the principle God has woven into all of life.  It’s true for every area of our lives.  We reap what we sow.  If we so criticism and judgment, we will reap criticism and judgment.  And if we sow it abundantly, we will reap it abundantly.  You sow words of hatred and anger, you’re going to reap words of hatred and anger.  On the other hand, if you sow words of kindness and love, you’re going to reap words of kindness and love.  Whatever you give out in life, you’re going to get back.  A farmer sows corn, and he doesn’t get soybeans; he get’s corn and more of it than he sowed in the beginning.  From one seed a stock can grow to have one or two ears on it and each ear can have an average of 600 kernels on it.  From one kernel the farmer can get 600 to 1200 kernels.  That’s quite a profit.  The more he sows, the greater the profit.

But there is risk involved.  The farmer must take a risk that what he sows will grow and mature into a harvest.  He must have faith when he sows, and so must we.  It takes faith to become a more generous person.  The Bible says, “God is able to make it up to you by giving you everything you need and… plenty left over to give joyfully to others.” (2nd Corinthians 9:8)  When we step out in faith to live more generously, God promises that he will bless us.  He will bless us in order that we can continue to be a blessing.

FOURTH, LIVING GENEROUSLY IS AN INVESTMENT IN ETERNITY. The Bible says, “Use your worldly resources to benefit others… in this way your generosity stores up a reward for you in heaven.” (Luke 16:9)  The truth is: you can’t take it with you.  You can’t take your worldly resources with you when you die.  But you can pay it forward by the compassionate use of your accumulated wealth.  You can’t take it with you but you can send it on ahead when you live generously in a way that benefits others.  Paul instructed Timothy to, “Tell the rich to use their money to do good… giving happily to those in need, always being ready to share with others whatever God has given them.  By doing this they will be storing up real treasure for themselves in heaven [which is] the only safe investment for eternity!” (1st Timothy 6:18-19)

It’s important that we invest in others in a way that helps them to learn to live generously.  Simply giving others money to bail them out, over and over and over, isn’t going to teach them to live generously.  It isn’t going to enable them to create community.  It isn’t going to teach them the cure for materialism.  It isn’t going to strengthen their faith in God.  It certainly won’t help them to invest in eternity.  We need to be very careful how we give to others.  People need to learn that they reap what they sow.  They need to learn to live generously, not with your money but with their own time, talent and treasure.  Your generosity may make you feel good, but it may not help others in the long run.  You may even be enabling them to live a life of addiction or self-indulgence.  That will never be to their benefit.  We must be good stewards of our resources.

FIVE, LIVING GENEROUSLY WILL BRING GOD’S BLESSINGSIt will bring God’s blessings in the here and now.  We don’t have to wait until heaven to experience God’s blessings when we live generously.  His blessings come to us in this life when we live generously.  The Bible says, “Give generously… and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.” (Deuteronomy 15:10) Circle the word “everything” there on your outline.  God says he will bless you in everything you do when you live generously.  God wants you to trust him to take care of you, to bless you.

All too many Christians trust God for salvation, but they don’t trust him with their finances.  They are like the soldiers under Emperor Charlemagne, who converted to Christianity and were baptized, but as they were baptized they would hold their sword hand out of the water.  In this way they could continue to serve the Emperor and kill as they were commanded.  Christians today are guilty of holding their wallet hands out from under the waters of their baptism.  They refuse to yield the finances to the Lord’s command so that they can continue to serve themselves with it.  We are called to yield all that we have and all that we are to the Lord’s rule when we come to Christ.  And the Lord calls us to make compassionate use of our resources.

SIX, LIVING GENEROUSLY PRODUCES HAPPINESS.  The generous person is a happy person.  Jesus said, “There is more happiness in giving than in receiving.” (Acts 20:35)  That’s another way God has hard wired the universe.  The one who gives gets more happiness from giving than the one who receives what is given.  If you have kids, you know this.  Think back to Christmas when your kids were little.  It made you so happy to be able to give them gifts under the tree and to watch them open their gifts.  As the day went on, you were still basking in the happiness of giving, and they were fighting over toys or crying over a toy that got broken.  Greater happiness comes from giving than receiving.

SEVEN, LIVING GENEROUSLY MAKES YOU MORE LIKE GOD.  Our God is a generous God.  He is a gracious God. He lavishes good gifts upon his children. The Bible says, “We all live off God’s generous bounty, gift after gift after gift.” (John 1:16)  God loves you so much.  He gave his One and Only Son to die for your sins.  If we believe in Him we are saved.  If we believe in Him, we have eternal life.  If we believe in Him, we will learn to be generous like Him.  If we love God, our love will lead us to live generously. You can give without love but you cannot love without giving.

The Bible talks so much about giving.  The principle of stewardship runs all through the Bible, from beginning to end.  It says, “Everything we have has come from you Lord, and we can only give you what is yours already.” (1st Chronicles 29:14)  It’s all the Lord’s anyway.  Whatever we have to give has been given to us from his gracious hand.  The Bible says, “You will be glorifying God through your generous gifts.” (2nd Corinthians 9:13)  That’s the overarching purpose of our lives—to glorify God.  We are not here to bring glory to ourselves, but to God.

I’ve shown you the benefits of living generously.  Now let me show you WHAT IT MEAN TO LIVE GENEROUSLY?

The Bible says, “If you’re really eager to give, it isn’t important how much you are able to give.” (2nd Corinthians 8:12)   In other words, you can live generously even though you don’t have much to give.  It’s not the amount God is concerned about.  It’s what’s going on in your heart when you give.  He wants you to be eager to give.  That’s a sign your heart is in the right place.  In his letter to the Corinthian churches, Paul writes, “You must make up your own mind as to how much you should give.  Don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure.  For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” (2nd Corinthians 9:7)  This passage teaches that we are to give in four ways.  First, we are to give THOUGHTFULLY.  Decide ahead of time how much you should give, not last minute.  Think it through.  Pray about it.  Thoughtfully give.  Second, we are to give ENTHUSIASTICALLY.  That’s to be the attitude of our heart.  We are not to give reluctantly or out of a sense of guilt or fear.  We give knowing that we can’t out give God.  The more we give, the more God is going to bless us.  That’s the “you reap what you sow” principle. Third, we are to give VOLUNTARILYDon’t give under pressure.  That’s never a good idea.  And it doesn’t count with God.  He only blesses our giving when it is done for the right reasons and in the right way: thoughtfully, enthusiastically and voluntarily.  Fourth, we are to give CHEERFULLY.  That’s what God loves to see—a cheerful giver.  That’s how God gives—with joy and celebration.  He lit up the sky with angels and singing on the night he gave us his Son.  Our giving should be a joyful event.

The Bible says, “Celebrate the Harvest Festival, to honor the Lord, by bringing him a freewill offering in proportion to the blessing he has given you.” (Deuteronomy 16:10)  Let that be a guide for your giving.  Give in proportion to how God has blessed you.  And as you give, “Remember the generosity of Jesus Christ, the Lord of us all.  He was rich beyond our telling, yet he became poor for your sake so that his poverty might make you rich.” (2nd Corinthians 8:9)  As you give, remember, “We are saved because Jesus… out of sheer generosity moved to save us….” (Acts 15:11)