This article was first published at The LAS and was written for Christian University students.
We tend to be more stingy than generous. The first question that comes to mind when we think about generosity is ‘How much?’ This is usually a way out of generosity, a shady way of asking ‘how much can I keep?’ If we know how much we have to give, we don’t have to keep giving more.
How can we be ‘cheerful givers’ (2 Corinthians 9:7) instead of keeping as much as we can for ourselves? The keys to generosity are to remember that God provides our daily needs and that Godly stewardship means being generous givers.
One of the most fundamental untruths our world teaches us is that there isn’t enough to go around. Any economics or business students reading this will know this idea as ‘scarcity.’ Economics is all about working out how to allocate resources in a world where there isn’t enough to go around. Because we believe this lie so easily we don’t want to give up anything we have. If we give it up we might never get it again!
In contrast to this idea, the scriptures teach us that God has not made a world of scarcity but of abundance. Read Ephesians 1:1-14. This magnificent passage lays out all the gifts God has given his people. In Christ we have every spiritual blessing (1:3): redemption, forgiveness, grace (1:7), an inheritance (1:11), hope (1:12), the Holy Spirit (1:13). Right in the middle of these great gifts we read that God gave them ‘according to his good pleasure that he planned in him for the administration of the days of fulfillment’ (1:9-10, HCSB) or ‘as a plan for the fullness of time’ (ESV). That word ‘administration’ or ‘plan’ could just as easily be translated ‘stewardship.’ (Another note for any economics & business students out there: the Greek word is from the root oikos, from which we derive the English word ‘economy.’) Did you notice what God has done with his gifts? He has lavished them on us (1:8)! God, then, is a steward of good gifts, and stewardship for God means to give good gifts out of the abundance that he has.
This should reshape how we think about stewardship. Often when we talk about stewardship in our churches we say things like ‘make sure you’re not a burden on others’ and ‘make sure you prepare for the future.’ This is often said to be the wise course of action. We keep more than enough for our immediate basic needs so that we won’t get into trouble in the future. But God’s stewardship is generous. He keeps nothing for himself but lavishes gifts from his abundance on us. Godly stewards don’t store things up to guard against a rainy day (which is futile—read what Jesus has to say about it in Luke 12:13-21). Godly stewards pray ‘give us today our daily bread,’ trusting God to provide, and out of their abundance give good gifts.
This is clearly the principle Paul has in mind when he writes to the Corinthians encouraging them to be generous. He asks them to give to their brothers and sisters whose basic needs are threatened by famine. ‘[This] is not that there may be relief for others and hardship for you, but it is a question of equality—at the present time your surplus is available for their need, so their abundance may also become available for our need, so there may be equality’ (2 Corinthians 8:13-14). His appeal to them is that they might display the character of the Lord Jesus: ‘For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: Though He was rich, for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich’ (8:9). To give generously is to be like the One whom we worship. The Corinthians had more than they needed; Paul encouraged them to use their abundance to give good gifts to those in need.
How then might you be a godly steward?
Think about what you need. Do really need another Playstation? Do you really need more shoes? Do you really need another overseas holiday? Do you really need to save for a house?
Think about what gifts you could give. Could you give more to the work of mission? Could you give more to the poor? Could you give more to brothers and sisters in your church family who don’t have your abundance?
Let’s not be legalistic; it is right to delight in the good things God has given. Enjoy his creation. You don’t have to give everything away. Paul is quick to assure the Conrinthians that he is not commanding them to be generous (2 Corinthians 8:8); rather he is encouraging them to be Christlike in their giving (8:9).
The Lord says ‘it is better to give than to receive’ (Acts 20:35), because in giving you are behaving like your heavenly father. God is the giver of good gifts, and it is he who secures our daily needs for us. He has given us the rest so that we might become givers of good gifts too. How might you use your abundance to reflect the character of the Giver?