Becoming Generous

 

Jesus said, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much” (Luke 16:10).

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I sometimes think I would be more generous if I had more money. I earn a comfortable living, but I am not rich, at least not by modern, Western standards. If I made more, I would be more generous. Or so I like to think.

Jesus contradicts my thinking. He says the level of our generosity determines what we do with what we have; it is not determined by what we have. “He who is faithful in little is also faithful in much, and he who is dishonest in little is also dishonest in much.”

Think of the Macedonians. Paul writes, “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints” (2 Corinthians 8:1-4).

Or, by contrast, think of the rich fool. Jesus says when this man’s fields produced more than his barns could hold, instead of giving away the surplus with joy, he built for himself bigger barns.

The lesson here is obvious. Making more money will not make me more generous with my money. Generosity must be developed another way. But how? How does someone who by nature is selfish and self-seeking become selfless and self-giving?

Like the proverbial kid in Sunday School, I am pretty sure the answer is “Jesus.” However, this needs some fleshing out. How does seeing Jesus’s selfless, self-sacrifice for us (see Philippians 2:1-11) make me more generous? I know many people who have been the recipients of great generosity who did not become generous. On the contrary, they became more selfish and demanding. How, then, does seeing Jesus’s generosity renew and transform our hearts?

The problem with those who are not transformed by received generosity seems to be they do not see themselves as the beneficiaries of generosity. They see themselves as entitled. They regard the good they receive as their due, and often as less than their due; they think they deserved more and better. Therefore, the generosity they receive hardens, rather than softens, their hearts.

If the radical generosity of Jesus towards us is going to make us more generous, we must see it as the radical generosity it is. That means we must see ourselves as sinners justly deserving only God’s wrath. Most people today see themselves as sinners. After all, nobody is perfect; to err is human. However, few see themselves as deserving eternal condemnation. Until we see ourselves truly we will not see the true measure of God’s generosity toward us.

However, for Jesus’s generosity to have its full effect on us, we must see more than its extent. We must also see its excellence; we must see the beauty of Jesus’s generosity. Too often we think of the generosity we are commanded to show to others as the distasteful, less-than-pleasant thing God asks us to do for him because he has done so much for us. However, if we view generosity this way, it will not be long before we burn out with compassion fatigue. If we are to become truly generous people, we must come to see generosity as something beautiful and good. We must come to see that God has created us, and redeemed us, to find our joy, not in grasping his goods for ourselves, but in sharing his goods with others. We must come to believe what Jesus said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

So, we do not become more generous by making more money. Rather, we become more generous by seeing both the extent and the excellence of Jesus’s generosity toward us. As we approach Easter, I am praying that God would give me eyes to see Jesus’s sacrifice this way. I would encourage you to do the same.

 

 

 

 

 

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Faithful in Unrighteous Wealth

Jesus said, “If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth [i.e. the wealth of this age], who will entrust to you the true riches?” (Luke 16:11)

For a long time Sarah and I agreed we needed to sit down to review our finances in order to determine whether our preparations for retirement were adequate. And for a long time we didn’t do it. There were, no doubt, many reasons we never made time for the needed meeting. However, I am convinced one of the main reasons we never sat down together to review our finances was we didn’t want to change our lifestyle. We knew intuitively we were not using our money in the best way. We were not being obviously foolish; we were not racking up debt spending more than we had. But, we were spending most of what we had to subsidize a standard of living we enjoyed. We knew saving more for retirement would require us to spend less on ourselves now and we didn’t relish the idea.

Jesus’s words in Luke 16:11 call for a similar financial review. Only, it is not preparation for retirement, but preparation for eternity, Jesus has in view. Jesus is challenging his disciples to sit down to review their finances to determine whether they are being faithful in unrighteous wealth. “Unrighteous wealth” refers to the wealth of this present evil age, as Paul calls in Galatians 1. Jesus is challenging his disciples to review their finances to determine whether they are being faithful in the wealth of this age that has been entrusted to their care, whether it be little or much.

The preceding parable shows what Jesus means by faithful. It is a difficult parable. In it, Jesus points to an unrighteous manager and encourages his disciples to emulate him. This is confusing, to say the least. However, the context makes it clear Jesus is not encouraging his disciples to emulate the manager’s dishonesty. Rather, Jesus is calling his disciples to emulate the manager’s shrewdness. When the manager realized he was about to lose his job, he immediate set out to use the resources still at his disposal to secure his future livelihood. Jesus says his disciples ought to be equally shrewd. “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9). Jesus is challenging his disciples to use whatever material wealth is at their disposal now to secure their eternal livelihoods.

Such a challenge calls for a serious assessment of our financial dealings. However, I am convinced many believers do not want to do this sort of financial review because they do not want to change their lifestyle. Many believers know intuitively they are not using their money in the best way. However, at the same time, they enjoy the standard of living their current financial practices afford. They don’t want to review their finances because they don’t want to change the way they presently spend their money.

I understand. I too feel this pull to maintain the bliss of ignorance. However, Jesus’s words make it clear such ignorance can be damning. “If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?” This is a weighty question. The implication is clear. If you are not faithful in the wealth of this age, that is, if you do not use the wealth entrusted to you in this life in the service of your Lord, then he will not entrust to you the true riches of the age to come. This does not mean merely that your mansion in heaven will be a little less grand. This means you will have no inheritance whatsoever in the coming kingdom of God. It is not that generosity in this life earns eternal life. It does not. As Peter says, “We have been ransomed, not with perishable things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like a lamb without blemish or spot” (see 1 Peter 1:18-19). However, how you use your money here and now reveals your heart, and thus reveals your future state.

Scripture commands professing believes to examine themselves to see if they are truly in the faith. One of the best ways we can do this is by examining our finances to see if we have been faithful in unrighteous wealth. Sarah and I eventually made time to determine if we were properly preparing for retirement. How much more ought each one of us make time to determine if we are properly preparing for eternity?

 

Ridiculing Jesus

“The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him” (Luke 16:14).  

If we give Luke credit for writing a coherent narrative, we must conclude “these things” refers to the teaching in the first half of Luke 16. The Pharisees were ridiculing Jesus for his teaching about using the wealth of this age with an eye on eternity. It is not surprising the Pharisees found Jesus’s teaching ridiculous. They were, after all, “lovers of money,” as Luke plainly says. Think about what this means. As lovers of money, the Pharisees regarded money–and the comfort and security it affords–as their greatest good. In their minds and hearts, the good life consisted in an abundance of possessions. This stands in stark contrast to Jesus’s words to his disciples after they found him in conversation with the woman at the well: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34). Jesus understood the good life to consist of joyful obedience to his Father. The Pharisees, on the other hand, saw obedience to the Father as the price of obtaining true good: an abundance material goods. Like the older son in “The Parable of the Prodigal Son,” they obeyed the Father only to get the Father’s stuff. Thus, they found Jesus’s teaching on using money to serve God rather than using God to serve money to be utterly ridiculous. “Why shouldn’t we use our money to please ourselves? After all, the pleasures afforded by money are the whole reason we were serving God in the first place.”

I find this verse incredibly challenging. At first, I was shocked by the Pharisees’ temerity. Who do they think they are to ridicule Jesus? I may not always obey Jesus, but I would never dare to ridicule him. Or so I would like to think. However, the longer I meditate upon this verse, the more I see myself in the Pharisees. I too am a lover of money. I too believe the good life consists in an abundance of possessions. I too endeavor to obey, not to enjoy sweet fellowship with my heavenly Father, but to secure a generous blessing of material goods. I may not openly ridicule Jesus’s teaching on money, but I must find his words ridiculous given the ease with which I dismiss them.

What would it mean for me to use the wealth entrusted to my care with an eye on eternity? What would it mean for me to use my money to serve God instead of using God to serve money? I must have good, detailed, practical answers to these questions. This is not a concern only for elite disciples. Jesus says plainly, “You cannot serve God and money.” “If you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth [i.e. the wealth of this age], who will entrust to you the true riches?” The person who serves money, is not a servant of God. The person who uses the wealth of this age to serve himself, will not be given the true riches of the age to come. Therefore, I must take heed of Jesus’s teaching and allow it to transform the way I handle my money. To do anything less is to ridicule Jesus.

Cherished Iniquity

The psalmist says, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” I read this verse this morning in Tim Keller’s The Songs of Jesus. As I pondered the psalmist’s meaning, I came to realize the psalmist is not suggesting we must earn God’s ear. Rather, he is telling us God will not listen to our self-destructive prayers. God loves us too much to help us kill ourselves. If the desire of our heart is for something other than God’s glory and kingdom, he will frustrate, rather than grant, it. It is only when we delight ourselves in him that he gives us our desires. He simply loves us too much to do otherwise.

This is a profound truth. Far too often, despite my theology, I believe I must earn the right for God to hear my prayers. I operate as if I must prove myself to God before he will work all things together for my good. This is a gross perversion of the gospel. Paul writes, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God loved me in Christ before I had done anything, either good or evil. He loves me because he chose to love me because he chose to love me even before the foundation of the world. He calls me to repent and believe, not because I am worthy, but because he is gracious. Only when I believe this will I be free to take my hard, cold, sin-loving heart to God and ask him to renew and transform it into a heart that loves and delights in him.

If you find yourself cherishing iniquity, as I too often do, do not attempt to change your heart so that God will hear your prayers. Rather, take your heart to God in prayer, and ask him to change it. Ask him to cause your love to abound more and more, as Paul does in Philippians 1. Ask him to incline your heart toward him, as the psalmists so often do. Ask him to take away your heart of stone and replace it with a soft heart of flesh, according to his promise in Ezekiel 36.

You cannot change your heart any more than a leopard can change his spots. However, God is more than able; he is willing. You don’t have to earn the right; you simply must ask.