I once worked in an office with someone who said she operated out of the “Principle of Generosity.” She explained that she wasn’t greedy for sales because there’s always enough to go around, and that if she shared resources and opportunities with others, more will be returned to her.
A popular quote by “Unknown” says, “A candle is not dimmed by lighting another candle.” My co-worker was saying more. She was saying her candle burns brighter by lighting another candle.
The topic of generosity is a strong strand that runs through the book of Proverbs. Consider Proverbs 11:23-28 (ESV) below.
23 The desire of the righteous ends only in good;
the expectation of the wicked in wrath.
24 One gives freely, yet grows all the richer;
another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.
25 Whoever brings blessing will be enriched,
and one who waters will himself be watered.
26 The people curse him who holds back grain,
but a blessing is on the head of him who sells it.
27 Whoever diligently seeks good seeks favor,
but evil comes to him who searches for it.
28Whoever trusts in his riches will fall,
but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf.
I especially like this passage because it reveals four links that are often connected to generosity in the book of Proverbs and elsewhere in the Bible.
(1) Generosity is linked to action.
Specifically generosity is linked to generous action toward the poor and suffering (Prov. 22:9 above) – toward those in our own household (1 Tim. 5:8) and especially to our brothers and sisters who are in the household of faith (Gal. 6:10).
(2) Generosity is linked to reward.
My co-worker honestly stated her underlying motivation for being generous – she wanted more riches for herself. Her statement might not feel just right to you, but it is true that “generosity results in blessing” is a biblical principle.
The idea found in Proverbs 11:24-25 above that, “One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; …” is found in many others passages as well:
- “Whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” (2 Cor. 9:6, ESV)
- “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Gal. 6:9, ESV)
- “… give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:38, ESV)
This “give to get” idea makes people feel uneasy because it seems wrong to them. They link generosity with selflessness and by that mean something different than the Bible. They mean that one should give and expect nothing in return. (Note that when Jesus says, in Luke 6:35, we should lend and expect nothing in return, he means that we should expect nothing in return from man, but clearly states in the same verse that your reward from God “will be great.”)
The problem with this understanding, as you have seen, is that the Bible does link rewards from God to works and therefore validates the getting of rewards from God as an acceptable motivation for generosity. And the ultimate reward of course is that the generous Christian gets God (Matt 10:42; Matt. 25:34-39; 1 Pet. 3:8,17-19).
But as the storyline of the Bible progresses and the Gospel is revealed, it becomes crystal clear that there are other valid motivations for generosity. Generosity is linked to God’s grace, specifically in Christ, and the appeal is made over and over that God’s gracious gift of Christ to us should also be a primary motivation for our generosity.
The Apostle Paul used God’s grace as the motivator for the church at Corinth to give generously. “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 by his poverty might become rich,” (2 Cor. 8:9, ESV).
The Bible also links generous works to concern for God’s glory. That is, for those who love God, God’s glory should also be a primary motivator for our generosity. Jesus put it like this, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven,” (Matt. 5:16, ESV).
Putting it all together then, we can say that the Bible validates at least three motivators for generosity: God’s grace, God’s glory, and eternal reward (ultimately God). Negatively, we can also say, that generous works, not motivated by God’s grace and glory, will not receive eternal reward (Eph. 2:8-10; Tit. 3:4-8).
(3) Generosity is linked to trust.
Generosity that results in reward is linked to trust in God and is not linked to trust in riches (Prov. 11:28). It is important to understand that we glorify what we trust. And we have just seen that an appropriate motivator for being generous is God’s glory.
Proverbs 14:31 (ESV) clearly demonstrates this point, “Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.” When we oppress the poor, we show that we don’t believe God for he has told us oppression is wrong (Zech. 7:9-10). And our grabbing from those weaker than us shows that we don’t trust God to provide. When we are generous to the poor, we honor God by showing that we believe him and trust his generosity.
(4) Generosity is linked to righteousness.
Finally, notice that the “give to get” idea found in Proverbs 11:24-26 above is bookended with the idea that the righteous can expect good (Prov. 11:23, 27-28). So I think the link between generosity and righteousness works like this:
Because the righteous can expect (trust in) good (translated as God), they are free to be generous.
I think that’s why “the righteous gives and does not hold back,” (Prov. 21:26, ESV).
This connection between righteousness and generosity also links back to my previous argument that biblical generosity should be motivated by God’s grace. Our righteousness depends on God’s grace – without grace we would have no hope of being righteous. We have mercifully, at great expense to God, been given a righteousness outside of ourselves that we didn’t earn and therefore do not deserve (Rom. 4:3-8).
Think about it. The person who has been given an underserved righteousness (a right standing with God earned by Christ and given to believers) outside of herself cannot help but tend toward generosity. That is, generosity must flow from a person who has been mercifully given Christ’s righteousness. That is why a heart made righteous by God’s grace cannot help but share her bread with the poor.