Let us begin with a quote from the old American comedian W. C. Fields: “A rich man is just a poor man with money.” Our roots and our backgrounds are diverse, but at the end of the day we are all facing eternity.
Every one of us will stand before the creator God and be judged, and those who believe in Jesus as the Son of God and put their hope in his death and resurrection will be spared. This is the gospel. How does understanding and believing the gospel affect how we use our money?
I am not from Mississippi, so when I moved here, I read up about life in the Hospitality State. The “buckle” of the Bible belt is the poorest state in the US; it is also known to be the most generous state in the US.1
Speaking from a personal perspective, I have learned a lot about being generous alongside being kind to others—and I think these are things that should go together.
Paul encourages the believer to “…give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7). Do not give time, effort, or money begrudgingly. It is probably better to not give at all if it is not in your heart.
If I do not have the heart to be generous, how do I get it? Always begin with the simple understanding that if God wants one thing and you want anything different, it is imperative to pray for a new heart.
We cannot will ourselves into having a different mind about something unless God helps us. And God has already helped us!
Do you consider the work accomplished on the cross as an act of great generosity? Or that Christ, who created the universe and all that is within it, gave up every right to the prestige of his eternal throne and took on the flesh of broken man?
Do you know that his life was filled with every temptation, and yet he was sinless? He did this so that he could die as a perfect, spotless sacrifice, satisfying the required punishment of sin according to the Law and sparing all who believe from the wrath of God.
If you know this greatest gift of generosity, your money is nothing. Your time is nothing. Your efforts are nothing. You have probably heard before, “God does not need your money,” but I am not sure it is helpful to think of giving in that way.
Maybe it is better to think on the fact that God has satisfied every need you have and wants to do the same thing for others through you.
The roots of generosity are found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us not think that we are doing something new; people have poured in to your life to guide you to where you are today.
That kind of self-giving is a form of what I am talking about, and I think it is key to understand disciple making as both a means and a form of being generous in the midst of our wealth.
A brief study of the letter of James will undoubtedly shed some light on the principles of wealth. James says that a rich man should “boast…in his humiliation” (1:9-10), not because having wealth is a sin, but that the reputation and power earned by wealth will always be lost in death or overshadowed by the great gift of the gospel. That is, wealth will always result in one being humbled.
So let us bring this a little closer to home. I am going to tell you some things I have seen in Jackson, MS, since I moved here in 2007. I have seen men who are intelligent and wise, yet homeless; a number of homeless men find their circumstances through drug abuse or bad decisions.
Other men legitimately hit some hard times and simply cannot get a leg up. I have seen families provide shelter, food, and help to men like this. A lot of times it does not end well, but sometimes it does, and every time is an opportunity to spread the gospel.
I have seen children come to church from school and do their homework tutored by men and women who have already worked 8 hours. I have seen churches come together to meet the needs of their members in some pretty unique ways.
The people who were doing these generous things plotted and planned; they devised ways to be generous in their communities.
Can we continue that work and increase it? Can we use our time here to multiply disciples, using our generosity as a testimony to the great wealth we have been given in Christ? May we find ourselves giving to someone at great cost to ourselves so we can say, “Jesus gave us something much greater than this.”
Permit me to offer one rebuke: college is not all about having fun. College provides a unique setting for fun, but the whole of it should not be defined by how many exciting things you can do for yourself. Too many of you are caught up in the stresses of college life and the balance of “relaxation.”
You must not believe there is work to be done here and now, since you design your life this way. Dare to be generous. Use this time to grow into a better human being and society will see it and respect it.
Use this time to grow into a mature believer who gives without partiality or hesitation, and society will see it and wonder. Use this time to pour into people who cannot give back to you and society will see it and scoff.
The reciprocal nature of giving is not that when you give something away you get something in return, but that with every gift you give you end up treasuring Jesus more and more.
– Michael Lamb, Contributing Writer
1. “Most Charitable States.” Forbes, 2005.