WHAT IS GENEROSITY?
You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. —2 Corinthians 9:11
Within the church, there is currently a significant “generosity movement,” but generosity is also a debated topic among Christian leaders. How we understand the role of generosity in our lives — and in the Christian communities in which we do life together — perhaps says more about our faith and our understanding of the gospel than any other single aspect of our faith.
Christian leaders tend to fall into one of three categories. Those in the first category have adopted generosity as the standard by which they live out their faith. It is the lens through which they interpret the will of God and their role in his kingdom on earth. Those in the second category embrace generosity as an appropriate substitute for the more established language of stewardship. For decades, the language of stewardship has been used to refer to believers’ responsibility to support the work of the church and to faithfully use their resources to serve its mission. Finally, those in the third category are skeptical of the notion of generosity. This group includes Christian leaders who are disillusioned by the church and its relationship with money. They see hypocrisy and sense that there is a fundamental disconnection between what the church practices and the biblical principles of stewardship that the church teaches.
These three groups view the same subject — how our faith informs our relationship to money — through three perpectives. But they have more in common than they might think.
We believe it is necessary to view generosity through each perspective and to learn where these views converge based on what the Bible teaches. Doing so will lead to a shift in lifestyle among the followers of Christ—nothing short of a revolution, one that will attract countless people who are looking for a new way to live that is not based on self-serving motives but instead represents the heart of the one who made us and generously gave himself for us.
A Working Definition
Let’s begin with a working definition of generosity. Generosity is at its core a lifestyle, a lifestyle in which we share all that we have, are, and ever will become as a demonstration of God’s love and a response to God’s grace. It is not enough for the church to talk about generosity, nor is it enough for individual Christians simply to commit to being generous. What makes generosity a real and powerful witness to God’s love is our action. Generosity flows from an understanding that all that we have, are, and ever will become is not ours to possess, and it results in sharing what we’ve been given with others for the advancement of the kingdom and the glory of God. Generosity embraces a biblical understanding of stewardship:
• God is the owner of everything.
• What we have has been given to us by God.
• The resources we possess are assets to be invested in the kingdom.
Before we can be generous, we must understand what it means to be a steward, recognizing that what we have is not ours to own and confessing that Jesus is Lord over our money, possessions, positions of authority, and talents. You can’t be generous without the discipline of biblical stewardship, and biblical stewardship demands generosity. The gift of God’s grace shapes our faith and leads to the conviction that all that we have—our time, talent, treasure, and testimony—has been given to us for a purpose. We cannot separate our acceptance of God’s grace from the practice of generosity. We are generous because God was first generous to us, freely giving his life for our sakes. As followers of Christ, we seek to imitate the one who gave himself for us (1 Thess. 1:6; 2:14). Stewardship is more than an obligation. It’s an opportunity to witness to the reckless nature of the God who gives the gift of salvation by grace to all who will receive it. Generosity is the fullest expression of the life of a steward, one who has been given a gift that must be used wisely and for a purpose, bringing glory to God.
Chris Willard, Jim Sheppard, and Robert Morris, Contagious Generosity: Creating a Culture of Giving in Your Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012).