The better we understand the cross, the more generous we’ll be.
We (teachers, preachers, churches …) have tried all sorts of things to address the dismal giving situation in America.
Ultimately, I believe we’ve merely danced around the subject for the last few decades.
At one point, it was assumed that the reason Americans gave so little is because there is such a poor understanding of personal finance. We concluded that the common sense aspect of personal finance was lost in a generation. It was assumed that the better educated we were about debt, balancing a checkbook, and budgeting, the better motivated we’d be to share in the grace of giving.
We decided that if we help people get out of debt that they’ll start giving like crazy. As a result, more and more churches started hosting personal finance seminars. We started teaching personal finances all over the country.
But, as best I can tell, there hasn’t been any measurable fruit across America. I hope I’m wrong and I just haven’t seen the right statistics.
Perhaps, for some individuals, the effort to improve financial literacy has resulted in the fruit of increased giving. However, across America there’s not the giving renewal that I think many anticipated.
As a result, I’d say that, for the most part, we’ve simply been pruning the leaves while ignoring the core issue.
Teaching financial literacy is merely pruning the leaves. Financial literacy is only valuable when a convicted heart first submits to the generous example of Jesus Christ.
Making more money doesn’t make you more generous. Managing your finances better doesn’t make you a better giver. Learning about investing doesn’t motivate you to make eternal investments. These are tools that are only beneficial to a heart that’s passionate for God.
In fact, I bet more people have learned to be generous by reading their Bible than by attending a personal finance seminar.
Could I be as bold as to suggest that our root issue is really theological? It’s about how we view God. Specifically, it’s about how we view the cross. It’s about our inability to recognize how great a price was paid for our salvation.
There’s an unfortunate theme within evangelical Christianity that subtly claims that God exists for my betterment. It’s the idea that the pursuit of happiness is the chief end of life, and God’s primary job is to help us achieve everything we’ve always wanted. God’s your best cheerleader. God’s your most helpful butler. God’s the granddaddy who is pleased to give us whatever we ask.
See the problem?
It’s our faulty view of God and the Gospel.
We think the world is about us. We think the gospel is about us.
As a result, it’s not surprising that we’re not generous because we’ve only viewed ourselves as recipients and not participants.
By coming to this earth, Jesus Christ gave away everything. He released his grip on the equality with God that he freely enjoyed. He lowered himself by coming to earth. He died on a cross.
The longer we reflect on the cross, the more humble we ought to become.
The more we embrace his self-giving nature, the more we’re challenged to become self-giving.
The more we recognize how much he paid, the greater payment we’ll lovingly desire to make.
I think the Macedonian Christians truly grasped the gospel. Here are a few ways Paul described the Macedonian churches (2 Cor. 8:1-5):
- Overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.
- Gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.
- Pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service.
- Gave themselves first to the Lord.
They knew Chirst. They knew the level of his sacrifice. They knew the power of his resurrection.
That knowledge – personal, intimate knowledge – motivated them to be more generous.
I’d probably ruin things in Macedonia by going in and saying, “We’ll help make you more generous by teaching you how to manage your money.”
- They had extreme poverty. We have extreme wealth.
- They gave beyond their ability. We give below our ability.
- They pleaded for the privilege of sharing. We ask questions like, “Do I have to give 10%”?
I’m using ‘we’ inclusively. I have extreme wealth. I give below my ability. I don’t plead for the privilege of sharing.
Perhaps the more time I spend cultivating a relationship with the loving God, the more generous I’ll become. The more I recognize that he gave up his riches for me, the more likely I’ll be to imitate his example. I doubt my generous heart will be pricked by another class on personal finances.
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 Cor. 8:9