Here is the actual Matrix I mentioned in the previous post. When it comes to our money, I see 6 principles the Bible puts forward. Any one of these principles, taken alone, will lead you out of balance. But holding all 6 in reverent tension can provide you with a balanced approach to your money that allows you to be freely generous with your money and also to enjoy the things that God has put into your life.
The Generosity Matrix
1. God gives excess to some so that they can share with those who have less.
Those of us who have been given more have the responsibility to share with those given less. The Bible teaches this in so many places it is hard to pick just one. The most compelling passage to me is Paul’s instruction in 2 Corinthians 8:13-15, where Paul uses the story of the manna to tell the Corinthians that those with excess should give to those with want. We should not hoard our materials or gorge ourselves with God’s provisions today, for, at the end of each day it will all go bad, just as it did with the manna. In addition to that, numerous places in the Old Testament talk about believers’ responsibility to the poor, and James in the New Testament says that if we can see a brother suffering while we have the capacity to help him, and do not, then we cannot be people of faith. Those of us with a lot should give freely to those with little. This is both our duty and our joyful privilege. It’s why God gives us excess.
2. Jesus’ radical generosity toward us should be to us a model and a motivation for radical generosity with others.
Again, I go to Paul’s instructions on giving to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 8-9. Paul tells the Corinthian believers to think about how much Jesus has given up for them and respond accordingly.
Jesus did not merely tithe his blood, He gave all of it. Our responsibility is not to give up our 10% and go on our self-serving ways, but to pour out our entire lives, recklessly, for Him and for others, just as He did for us.
As God increases our ability to earn money, and gives us greater positions of power, we should leverage that power and money like Jesus did-not to increase our standard of living, but to increase our standard of giving. We should think of life like Jesus did, Paul says, who leveraged His position and His resources to save us, not to prosper Himself. Likewise, we should leverage our prosperity for the sake of world-evangelization, not self-indulgence. Paul says it plainly: God’s blessing on us monetarily is to “increase our seed for sowing” (2 Corinthians 9:10)/
This is, to me, an awesome and overwhelming principle. And it might be the most important of all of the principles, as it is simply responding to the generosity of Christ. As I have explained in multiple places throughout this book, Jesus says that no person who has experienced the extravagant love of Christ can be stingy with his resources. Loving others is the result of being loved by Jesus. If you love others, you will desire to see them helped, and you will joyfully give away your stuff to “purchase” their salvation.
But this principle must be balanced with the other 5 principles. If this principle is taken alone, then you wonder how you are ever “responding enough.” Whatever you give will be less than what Jesus gave for you. He left heaven and came to earth. He had nowhere to lay His head. He died a torturous death whereby He was abandoned by all His friends. He endured the Father’s wrath on our behalf. None of us can ever give as much as Jesus, so to say, simply, that He is our standard, is misleading.
At this point you might say, “But wait… doesn’t James tells us that if we don’t give to the poor and take care of widows and orphans then we’re not really saved?” (James 1:26-27; 2:14-25). Yes, it does. But the way to fix “not being saved” is not to start giving more, out of a foreboding sense of “I must do this to prove I am saved!” The way we are saved is to embrace the radical love of God for us. Scripture says repeatedly that when someone has truly embraced God’s generosity to them, they will be generous in response (Matthew 18:23-35). So yes, James is correct that those who are not generous are not saved, but he is not telling us to remedy that by starting to be radically generous. We must meditate on Christ, embrace the Gospel, and ask God to enable our hearts to really see Jesus’. We can only fix our selfish hearts by embracing the free Gospel given to us at Christ’s expense.
3. The Holy Spirit must guide us as to which sacrifices we are to make.
In the more Reformed-ish circles I run in, people are often not sure exactly what the Holy Spirit does, practically speaking-beyond regenerating our hearts and convicting us of sin. Functionally, He is a salvation-causer and a glorified conscience, but that’s pretty much it. He often does not function as the Counselor and Guide-better-than-Jesus-Himself-with-us that Jesus promised He would be.
I believe the Holy Spirit guides us. In fact, in the area of generosity, I depend on it. Otherwise, everytime I hear someone speaking about some mission, I feel like, “Why shouldn’t I be a part of that?” I could do overseas missions; I could adopt international kids; I could live in a ghetto downtown; I could take in foster children; a homeless man could live in my house; I could roam the halls of the hospital after work looking for people to pray for; my house could be much smaller so I could give more money to missions.
All these things are awesome ministries and Christians should be involved in them much more than they are. But, as my friend Larry Osborne says, “Not everything has my name on it.” The Holy Spirit must tell me when a particular missional sacrifice is for me. Without that guidance, I’m not sure what I would do. I’d probably be back in that guilt-cycle, always feeling like I ought to be doing everything that was put in front of me.
This principle, however, if taken by itself, can degenerate back into “compulsory” giving. If you only give because the Holy Spirit “tells you to,” then you are not giving because you want to, but because God ordered you to and you’re scared of what He’ll do to you if you disobey.
Recently a guy I don’t know that well handed me a birthday card with a small cash gift in it. All he said was, rather tersely, “I feel like the Holy Spirit told me to give you that.” I appreciated his obedience, and was grateful for the gift, but I didn’t really feel loved and cherished through his gift. He didn’t seem to give it to me because he liked me or delighted in my happiness or to tell me how glad I was he was in his life, he was simply “obeying the Holy Spirit.” I took my wife out to eat with his gift and enjoyed that, but I didn’t get the joy that comes from having someone express their affection for you by a gift. I’m pretty sure that God doesn’t feel cherished, either, when we give to Him solely because we’ve been ordered to.
Biblical sacrifice flows out of love. It is giving up something you love for something you love even more. So, we have to balance this principle with the other 5.
4. God delights in our enjoyment of His material gifts and gives us richly all things to enjoy.
Scripture makes this point in a number of places. For example,
- Proverbs says he gives food and wine (fruit juices for us Baptists) to gladden our hearts, not just to nourish our bodies. Food is a gift of God that is about more than just life; it is about enjoyment.
- In John 2:1-11 it says that Jesus created really good wine at the wedding feast in Cana. He could have done the watered down, cheap and sufficient, “wartime” wine. (Again, for you fellow Baptists for whom this wine analogy is lost on, it would be like going a wedding reception with Jesus where they run out of the little ham sandwiches and Jesus makes a prime rib and shrimp buffet in their place.) The point is Jesus provided good stuff for people at the party because He loved His Father’s creation and knew that by enjoying it we would glorify God.
- In Nehemiah 8, when the people were wondering how to express their gratitude for “rediscovering” the law, their 1st response was to weep. But Ezra and Nehemiah corrected the people, and said, instead, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (8:10, NIV). God wanted us to express our devotion by a lavish party. Couldn’t they have just gnawed on corn husks and vegetables and drank water and given the money to the poor? Yes, of course… but that’s not what God wanted!
- Psalm 35:27 says, “The Lord… delights in the well-being of his servant” (NIV). Like a good father, God loves to watch us enjoy the gifts He has given to us.
- When the woman anointed Jesus’ feet in John 12, Judas objected because the price of the perfume poured out over Jesus’ feet was $25,000, and that clearly could have bought a lot of food for the poor! But doesn’t say, “You’re right, Judas… Mary, come on, we’re in a war… you should ‘melt that stuff down’ and use it for war-bullets.” Rather, Jesus delighted in the extravagant, uncalled for, luxurious, over-the-top display of love. Now, you may object and say, “But anointing the feet of Jesus is different than spending $4 on a caramel macchiato for ourselves when we could drink water instead and give the money to missions.” Of course you are right, but don’t miss the point… Jesus recognized other uses for money besides just evangelism and poverty relief.
- 1 Timothy 6:17-19 says that God gives us richly all things to enjoy. In other words, God loves it when I bite into the succulent richness of a horseradish-crusted prime rib and every taste bud screams out in thanksgiving to God. He loves it when I wake up in a hotel by the beach hearing the gentle surf and the sea breeze blowing into my room. He is glorified in the comfort I feel in a clean house on a soft bed with a well-manicured lawn. He even likes it when I enjoy the clothes I wear and fancy the watch on my arm.
- Multiple people in the Bible God blessed with great riches, and they evidently were not expected to give them all away: Abraham; Job at the beginning and end of his life; David; not to mention Solomon… And nowhere does the Bible indicate that God quits blessing that way after Jesus came. Randy Alcorn points out in his bookMoney, Possessions and Eternity that it is clear that some of Jesus’ early disciples were people of substantial means. Some evidently had large houses, since they hosted early church gatherings. Rich Old Testament saints were commanded to be “be generous” and to “share;” New Testaments are commanded the same. There is no “Old Testament saints were rich but New Testament saints are poor” teaching in the Bible.
If you take this principle apart from the other 5, you can easily begin to justify an indulgent lifestyle that is not honoring to God. But this is a legitimate biblical principle, and it should be taken seriously while held in tension with the others.
Paul said he knew both how to be abased and how to abound (Philippians 4:11-13). Many sincere Christians seem to know how to be abased, but not how to abound. We must learn to receive both suffering and prosperity from God’s hand. My friend Larry Osborne says, “When God ‘Abrahams’ me (blesses me with prosperity), I’ll give Him thanks, enjoy it, and share it generously; and when He ‘Jobs’ me (allows me to lose everything), then I’ll thank Him, trust Him and enjoy my relationship to Him. By God’s grace, I know both how to be abased and how to abound. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” I think this is precisely what Paul meant in Philippians 4:11-13.
5. We are not to trust in riches and not to define our lives by the abundance of our possessions.
Money is the top competitor with God for 2 things in our lives: security and meaning. Many of us save up money obsessively as our security against a “rainy day;” others spend money frivolously to acquire the most up-to-date status symbols and creature comforts.
Jesus addresses both groups in Matthew 6:25-33. He tells the first group, those who see money and not God as their security, not to worry about tomorrow, because God is better security than money. He reminds the second group, those that see money, not God, as the source of their significance, that it is the presence of God, not money, that make our lives joyful, meaningful, and beautiful.
This is where real generosity starts. When we have been freed from worshipping money as our security and depending on it as our beauty, we naturally have more to give away and a greater desire to do it.
Christians who worship God, not money, prefer to live sufficiently and give extravagantly, rather than visa versa.They don’t need to have as much cash in the bank (because they trust God, not money, with their future) or bling in their house (because God, not gold, is our beauty).
Embracing my security and significance in Christ has empowered my wife and me into joyful generosity. It was when we quit worshipping money and started worshipping God that we finally had the freedom to be generous! When God became our beauty and our security, we could more easily give away our money. We quit “tipping” God with His 10% just so we could get back to the building of the 401K and the pursuit of stuff. We found God gave us more security and more significance than our stuff used to.
God doesn’t want to be tipped; He wants to be worshipped. When you start to worship Him, you’ll find an extraordinary freedom in giving.
Here again, this principle is not the sum total of generosity. If you only hold to this principle, you’ll miss out on the joy of real Jesus-style, love-motivated sacrifice. So this principle also must be held in tension and balance with the other five.
6. Wealth building is wise.
The last biblical principle I want to give to you is that it is ok, even biblically wise, to build wealth. Consider these clear instructions in Proverbs.
- “The crown of the wise is their wealth.” (14:24)
- “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance.” (21:5)
- “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.” (13:22)
- “Honor the Lord with your wealth, and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will be bursting with wine” (3:9-10)
- “Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.” (13:11)
- “Go to the ant, o sluggard, and consider her ways… she prepares (and saves!) her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.” (6:6-8)
- “The blessing of the LORD brings wealth, and he adds no sorrow with it.” (10:22)
Proverbs 13:22 goes so far as to say that a wise man can leave an inheritance that blesses even his grandchildren! That’s a pretty significant wad of cash.
Now again, if you held this principle alone and not in tension with the others, it would lead to the hoarding of wealth, something Scripture clearly condemns (James 5:1-5). We must balance responsible saving with principle #5, that we not trust in our savings for our future and # 1, that we should give of our excess to those who are currently in need and #2, that we pour our lives out for other as Jesus did for us!
Clearly, however, the Bible indicates you can save responsibly, and clearly, God made some people in the Old and New Testament fabulously wealthy.
As noted above, in the Old Testament, we have the examples of Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, David, Solomon, and Job. These men remained wealthy until they died. Examples in the New Testament are less frequent, but (as noted above), there is numerous indications that some of the earliest Christians had some coin.
It is also true, and worthy of note, that saving money and building wealth can actually increase your ability to be generous later, in at least two ways. First, having money on hand can allow you to be strategically generous when the right moment arises. As noted above, some of the earliest Christians had houses large enough to hold some of the first church meetings, and the Good Samaritan was able to give his money to the man in need precisely because he had some extra in his purse ((?)… maybe Jesus meant a “man-bag”?)
Second, the most basic principle of economics is that money creates money. Through the compound interest that accumulates on sizable savings, you can give more away over a lifetime if you invest it wisely than you could by ridding yourself of it as soon as you get it. This principle is at work in the verses cited from Proverbs above, as well as in Jesus story about the investment of “talents” in Matthew 25:1-13. Thus, sometimes the investment of a portion of your money is a more generous decision than giving it all away. You must balance this, of course, with principles # 1 (there are immediate needs around us and we should share, not hoard), and # 5 (we should trust in God, not our money, with the future).
This brings up another question: What should you do if you are in debt? Short answer is this: get out of it as quickly as possible. There are many reasons for this, one of which is you can be even more generous later. If you remain in debt, you will over the years give an extraordinary amount of money to creditors that you could have given to the Kingdom.
Should you curtail your generosity while you pay off your debt? Yes and No. I would prioritize getting out of debt, but I would never suggest cutting generous giving out of your life entirely. For example, I would never stop tithing, no matter how much debt I was in. Why? Generosity should never not be a part of your life. Generosity is part of being spiritually alive… to use the analogy of your body-even if you are sick, the body doesn’t divert all your energy to fight the sickness; it uses some of your energy for normal bodily processes. Even when you are “sick” with debt, you shouldn’t use all your financial resources to pay off that debt, you should use some of your money to be generous. Generosity is part of spiritual health. So, I’d always give a tithe. Beyond that, I’d just suggest you listen to the Holy Spirit about when and how much to share with those in need.
My wife and I currently have some debts we’d like to pay off soon, but that hasn’t stopped us from giving well beyond the tithe.