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Generosity Styles

of People in the Bible

By Fred Smith Jr. of The Gathering

Over the last 20 years in my role as president of The Gathering, an international association of individuals, families and foundations giving to Christian ministries around the world, I have had many occasions to talk with people about philanthropy.  Two of the most frequent questions, especially from those new to giving, are: “What is the Biblical way to give?” and “What are the best and most strategic causes to which I should be giving?”  Those are good questions and have been the source of many great discussions.  However, while I have always appreciated the sincerity with which they have been asked, I have wrestled with the value of a simplistic answer.  In fact, while I have always doubted there is such an answer, I do think there is a Biblical way of looking at the issue.  In Ephesians 2:10, Paul writes that we are God’s workmanship (poema), created in Christ Jesus to do good works.  Not only that, but the good works for which we were created have already been prepared (peripateo) for us to do.  Literally, we have been created to be visible illustrations of the invisible God in the world through doing good works that fit us.  Those good works are to be so natural to use that we “wear a path” by walking around in them.  We love doing them.  The more we do them the more we like doing them.  In other words, our unique design for giving has already been matched by our unique assignment of good works to which we give.  Not only do we not have to mimic the style of another’s giving but we do not have to feel the pressure of giving to their particular cause.  Moreover, if there are a variety of gifts then there are very likely a variety of models in Scripture for giving.  Like you, I have heard it said that the highest form of giving is anonymity or giving that is most like the widow in Luke 21 is the true Biblical model.  If Ephesians 2:10 is right then that’s not the case.  Let me give you an option to consider.  Hopefully, this is useful not only to those who give but also to those who are in the work of ministry development.

Styles of Giving

There is a diversity of giving styles illustrated in Scripture – not just one.

David A leader gives leadership gifts.  When they give, others follow their example.  Not only did he understand the importance of integrity (“I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”) but he expected others to sacrifice as well – and they did.  He is not shy or vague about his own personal commitment of gold (three thousand talents) and silver (seven thousand talents) and the effect is all the leaders of families and commanders and officials gave willingly toward the work.

Solomon:  I call this the extravagant giver.  Everything they do is large and more often than not extraordinary in size and quality.  As well, it is rarely (if ever) anonymous or even quiet.  People of unusual gifts are often exaggerated in their expression of them.  God gave Solomon a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore.  He spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five.  Men of all nations came to listen to his wisdom and his fame spread to all the surrounding nations.  And when he gave?  It, too, was part of his fame.  He didn’t hide it or shy away from recognition.  In fact, it is just the opposite.  He built a Temple and a Palace that was unlike any other in their splendor.

Elisha:  The prophet’s response to the plight of the widow was not a gift of money but the gift of an opportunity to create a short term and profitable business to support her family.  He commanded her to get all her neighbors involved in the venture (“not just a few”) by their giving her their empty jars.  She then sells the oil to pay her debts and is able to live on what is left.  That’s innovative and cooperative and we know people like this.

The Wise Men:  Some of us are team givers as they were.  We prefer working with others but we also have a unique contribution.  The wise men shared the risk and they stayed together to accomplish their mission.  As well, like the widow, they made their gift and released it.  There is no account of their calling back to Mary and Joseph a year later to find out how their gifts were being used or to see how Jesus was growing as a result of their gifts.  They came, contributed and departed.

Zaccheus:  The “wee little man” is an interesting blend of exuberance and precision.  While his life has been changed, his attention to detail has not.  He does not say he is going to give it all away out of gratitude.  Instead, he says he will give half of it – leaving himself the balance.  As well, he does not say he will repay ten times but four times.  He has a number in mind that does not allow his exhilaration to get out of control.  His new generosity has structure – and limits. 

The Widow:  I doubt any of us would have encouraged her to give to that ministry had we known what Jesus knew about the flawed leadership, the organization’s lack of vision and their misuse of money.  Yet, instead of being an example of gullible giving she is an illustration of that giver who gives and truly releases the gift.  They have the increasingly rare ability to trust that somehow God will use a flawed institution and still provide for them.

Barnabas:  The account of the early Church in Acts tells us how they sold possessions and took care of each other.  It does not say they sold all their possessions.  One of them, Barnabas, sold a field and brought the money to the apostles.  Barnabas did not sell everything over which he had responsibility.  More importantly, he was gifted with recognizing and supporting new talent and giving them the credibility they needed to get started.  Two of his “investments”, Paul and John Mark, turned out to be remarkable in their “return” for the Church.

This is not an exhaustive list.  There are several other examples of unique styles of giving in Scripture.  My only intent here is to offer up a different way of thinking about stewards and donors.  You might ask yourself which of these individuals would be most like your own style of giving.  I hope you do and I hope in doing so you begin to recognize how your giving is a part of God’s workmanship.  You might, as a development or stewardship professional, ask yourself with what kind of donor you are most effective.  With whom do you do your best work and with whom do you struggle?  What are some other implications for your and your institution?  Again, this is all part of understanding God’s wonderful plan for our design and for his design of the good works for which we were created.

Author: Fred Smith Jr. of The Gathering

Used by permission


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