We all want our children to grow up and become unselfish, benevolent and generous adults. However, it seems we are instinctively self-centered and greedy from birth, and without good role models and consistent parenting, will likely become stingy, selfish and greedy adults. In fact, even with great examples of altruism and generosity from our parents and other significant adults, we still have a tendency to be less than magnanimous in decisions about sharing our wealth.
So, how do we teach and learn generosity? Recently, I heard a church planter use a great illustration of generosity in his sermon. The young pastor explained that his three-year-old daughter loves Skittles ®, and on almost any given Sunday would have some of the candy clutched in her tiny hand. If you asked her to share one or two pieces of her precious treasure with you, she would more than likely refuse. Not even a bribe would convince her to share. The only time she might be willing to share was if she had an entire bag of Skittles ® in her other hand.
Like the pastor’s daughter, we are unwilling to share what we are grasping so tightly, because we forget what we have in the other hand. We are convinced that what we see is all we have. When we remember what we have in the other hand, the unseen resources of our heavenly Father, we generally become more willing to share.
What a powerful illustration! The pastor’s story reminded me of the biblical account of the widow who gave an offering of two small copper coins. After observing her, Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:43-44 NASB)
This is true generosity! How can you give out of your poverty? How can you give all you have to live on? You can when you know what you have in your hand is not all you have. You can when you know what you have in one hand does not compare with the One who holds your other hand! With God holding your hand, you have a lot more than a bag of Skittles ®! He is the one who “owns the cattle on a thousand hills.” (Psalms 50:10). What is in your other hand? Better yet, who holds that hand?
True generosity comes from a personal relationship with the One who gave His Only Son, and the Son who gave His all on a cross. We are able to be generous to others because He is so generous to us. Generosity therefore, it is a matter of the heart, not the head. While we can teach generosity to our children, it is not something any of us can fully understand until we experience the generosity given to us through the saving power of Jesus Christ. That is generosity beyond measure!
One of the most notable characteristics of the pagan culture in the Roman and Greek world of the first century, especially among the philosophers, was a disdain for charity. Rodney Stark, in his book, The Triumph of Christianity, notes, “Mercy was regarded as a character defect and pity as a pathological emotion: because mercy involves providing unearned help or relief, it is contrary to justice.” Into this climate came Jesus teaching that God is merciful and requires humans to also be merciful. The Apostle John wrote, “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:8) Generosity for the follower of Jesus is not optional! Our God is a generous God, and our goal is to be like Him. Generosity should be a Christian lifestyle! “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus . . .” (Philippians 2:5)
We are to be generous, not because of what we hold in our hand, but because of the One who holds our hand, and because we know He is able to “supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)