I have realized that I can be generously selfish.
In other words, I am generous with doing what I want to do and not doing what I don’t want to do. I would rather read than vacuum. I would rather play soccer with my son than wash dishes. I would rather take an afternoon nap than dust, mow or fold laundry (the worst of all chores). I am likely not alone in this. I’m guessing that we could all describe ourselves as generously selfish on occasion. This laziness toward house chores is permissible every once in a while (though my wife might have something to say about that). However, if my selfishness were to continue, the house would fall into disarray and quickly become a place where even I wouldn’t want to live.
The last few churches I have been a part of knew that if the gospel was to ever reach to the ends of the earth it would not be accomplished on the backs of lazy Christians. The church is not in need of additional generously selfish members but, rather, believers who are just as generous as they are loving and faithful. While my wife and I lived in Kentucky, our pastor could often be heard reciting his desire for creating a generous church: “Generosity is not measured by how much we give away. Generosity is measured by how much we keep for ourselves” (Weece, 2014, 107).
We were encouraged that the church’s mission would only go as far as our generosity would take it. We often perceive generosity with a dollar sign attached to it, but John Weece’s definition helps change our perception. With this new understanding of generosity, we can see it isn’t about how much we can give but about how much we keep for our own use.
I know of another church that affirms the importance of generosity by proclaiming, “Generosity fuels the mission” (Mercy Hill Church, 2019, 7). The mission of the church will only go as far as our generosity takes it. If we can give more of our time, talents and treasures, we will have a positive impact on the mission of the church. Just imagine if everyone in your church really believed this. What if we let go of passivity (someone else will do it) and stepped up with generosity?
Paul knew that it would be the generosity of the church that would see the gospel shared to the ends of the earth. He encouraged the church in Corinth to abound or excel in generosity. My favorite translation for this passage is in the Common English Bible translation: “Be the best in this work of grace in the same way that you are the best in everything, such as faith, speech, knowledge, total commitment, and the love we inspired in you” (2 Corinthians 8:7). What might be this grace? It is a rich generosity. When we start to see that our generosity is measured by how much we decide to keep for ourselves and that it is the fuel for the mission, then we might come to be described as the early churches in Macedonia: “They gave what they could afford and even more than they could afford, and they did it voluntarily” (2 Corinthians 8:3).
How can we stir up our own desire to be more generous with our time, talents and treasures? The first thing we must do is to believe the gospel creates a cheerful giver. Zacchaeus was an extortionist. He took more than he needed. But upon meeting Christ, Zacchaeus’ heart was transformed from selfishness to generosity, and he went on to repay everyone with four times as much as he cheated them. If Christ can bring this type of transformation within Zacchaeus, surely he can change us.
We must also take seriously the spiritual discipline of simplicity. Richard Foster asserts that, “Simplicity sets us free to receive the provision of God as a gift that is not ours to keep and can be freely shared with others” (2018, 85). God has blessed each of us, but sometimes we habitually think those blessings are “ours.” When we understand that our time, our talents and our treasures aren’t ours, it becomes easier to give them up for others. We might recall here John Wesley’s famous paraphrased quote, “Make all you can; save all you can; give all you can.” These words of guidance are helpful but the passion behind this quote comes earlier in his sermon, “The Use of Money.” Wesley reveals that, “It is therefore of the highest concern that all who fear God know how to employ this valuable talent … whereof we may approve ourselves faithful stewards” (1840). Faithful stewardship and a generous heart can make a difference in the mission of the local church.
Believe the gospel can create a heart of generosity and start to practice the discipline of simplicity. Even more, preach generosity as often as you can. Likewise, try to “develop a habit of giving things away” (Foster, 91). The future of our church comes down to the level of our generosity — how much of our generous selfishness are we willing to part with so that our church can reach more and do more?
Foster, Richard J. (2018). Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. San Francisco: HarperOne.
Mercy Hill Church. (2019). The Weekender (Training Packet).
Weece, John (2014). Jesus Prom: Life Gets Fun When you Love People Like God Does. Nashville: Nelson Books.
Wesley, John. (1840). “The Use of Money.” Retrieved from wesley.nnu.edu/