As followers of Jesus, our generosity doesn’t flow out of our own wealth or abilities, but is an overflow of the generosity extended to us from God. When we recognise that God has given us everything, we can’t help but share with others.
Exodus 25: 1-8
‘The Lord said to Moses,“Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give.These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; ram skins dyed red and another type of durable leather; acacia wood;olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense;and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece.
“Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.”‘
At the beginning of God’s covenantal relationship with his people, the Israelites, he asks them to bring him an offering from everyone whose heart prompts them to give. It’s easy to think that this is a lot to ask of his people. These are costly gifts. But God has just rescued them from Egypt and enabled them to defeat the Amalekites. He’s provided them with everything they need, and their freedom. He’s asking for far less than he has given them and is giving them something ultimately far better—his blessing and presence, and the promise that he’ll be their God and they’ll be his people.
Before the people give God their offerings though, they build the golden calf (Exodus 32). They take the gold earrings from their wives, sons and daughters and melt them down to make the calf, and they worship it. God is furious for their rebellion.
‘Then Moses summoned Bezalel and Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the Lord had given ability and who was willing to come and do the work.They received from Moses all the offerings the Israelites had brought to carry out the work of constructing the sanctuary. And the people continued to bring freewill offerings morning after morning. So all the skilled workers who were doing all the work on the sanctuary left what they were doing and said to Moses, “The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the Lord commanded to be done.”
Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: “No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.” And so the people were restrained from bringing more,because what they already had was more than enough to do all the work.‘
We see the redemption of God’s people when they finally come to build the Tabernacle. They overflow with generosity—giving their resources, time and effort. They give so generously out of God’s abundance that Moses tells them to stop because they have too much!
It’s then built into the Old Testament law that God’s people should always be generous and just.
‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.‘
God tells his people to leave some of their harvest so people living on the margins don’t go without. The other laws surrounding this in Leviticus instruct people to treat each other with respect and love, especially those considered outcasts in that culture–like the blind, deaf, workers, servants or women. Their generosity to the people around them shows that they trust him to provide and helps them to understand how he uses their generosity to help others.
‘One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.’
Proverbs, the book of wisdom in the Bible, reminds us that it’s wise to be generous and life goes better for us when we share what we have.
But what about in the New Testament? These laws don’t apply to us in the same way, so are we still called to be a people marked by generosity?
While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.
Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.
“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
This is high praise from Jesus indeed! He honours her forever for her generosity to him. This woman has poured out what is likely to be her most valuable possession, on Jesus. She was extraordinarily generous because she knew what he was about to do for her.
This woman’s actions are contrasted against the disciples, Judas and others there who pretend they’d have rather given the money to the poor. But she knows Jesus is about to pour himself out, completely and fully, taking on death so we can have life in him. So she pours out the little she has in response.
2 Corinthians 9:7
‘Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
Perhaps the most well-known exhortation to generosity is in 2 Corinthians 9. God delights in those who give cheerfully. It’s the same all the way from Exodus to Corinthians. And continues today. God wants us to give because we recognise what he’s doing for us, like the woman who poured out her costly perfume over Jesus.
Our generosity overflows in every occasion because we know we’re blessed through Christ! And in that, we’re able to help supply the needs of others—like the Israelites leaving the gleanings in their field. And by our generosity others come to praise God .
We have a generous God, and this overflows from him to us, and from us into the world, the world is blessed by it.
In the words of Paul, ‘Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift of generosity!’ (2 Cor 9:15).