How refreshing it is to be treated with astounding generosity! How liberating it is to be generous ourselves! Today we think about generosity as an aspect of discipleship. But, if you’re like me, we all need help with this.
How is it taught? Jesus told his disciples to teach his other followers to be generous. This was part of his great commission to his disciples to ‘teach them to obey everything I have commanded you’ (Matthew 28:19), and generosity was certainly something that Jesus had taught his disciples (telling them to give to the poor; to give their cloak to the one who asks for it; to literally ‘go the extra mile’; to give their forgiveness to a brother who sins against them and asks for forgiveness—even up to seventy times seven times!). Jesus told his disciples to teach this aspect of discipleship to subsequent disciples. But how is generosity taught? And how is it learned?
Parents will know that teaching a child to be generous (in its various forms) takes years, because generosity has to come from within, and yet generosity rubs against our natural, selfish, sinful nature. So teaching generosity begins with teaching children to be generous relationally—generous in their kindness and gentleness and forgiveness. Generosity in sharing a toy or food awakens a child to the needs of another person. Later, they learn to be generous in giving their time and money. All of this requires consistent encouragement and explanation. But perhaps the most important requirement of all is the wider context of a child knowing and experiencing grace themselves from their parents, and a child being taught how kind and generous God has been to them. A child who is raised in an environment of grace (and encouraged to imitate that kindness) is much more likely to have the internal resources to show generosity to others.
If grace is the ripe context for generosity to flourish when taught, then Jesus’ disciples should be the most generous of all people. For, by God’s grace to us in Christ, God has saved us from certain and terrible punishment beyond death; he has reconciled people who were his enemies to himself; he has adopted us into his family and made us fellow heirs with Christ himself; he has raised us with Christ to the most secure place in the universe (seated with Christ in the heavenly realms). This leaves us breathless and staggering. And if all this were not enough, God shows his generosity by the extreme cost of all this to him:
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
2 Corinthians 8:9
It’s helpful to see that in a discussion about generosity, Paul reminds us of the grace we already know. It’s also helpful to see that that grace is described in terms of Jesus giving up his riches. Further, he gives them up to the extent that he becomes poor. And he does this so that we might become rich. Paul teaches generosity by reminding us not only that God has been astoundingly generous to us, but that there was a willing sacrificial generosity from Jesus himself to pay the price for our riches.
There is no better way to teach generosity than to reflect on the magnificence of grace—both in the riches we’ve been given and the price paid to achieve our riches.
May God transform us to imitate his generous heart to us.