The Generosity MATRIX, part 3

This is the third and final installment of the generosity matrix. Here are parts one and two.

So what is the conclusion? How much should we give?

If you have a type-A personality (like mine), you are probably anxiously awaiting “the bottom line.” “So how much do Christians have to give? What is it? 10%? 30%? 50%? Or should we cap our lifestyles at $40,000 and give away the rest? How many meals out a month are OK?”

What we want so badly is a “law” or a “standard,” but that is precisely what the Bible does not give us. The Bible focuses on our heart, not the amount we are to give. When the heart is right, the giving will be right.

That’s why the Bible gives us the matrix of these 6 principles, I believe. They address 6 things that ought to be important to a Gospel-saturated, God-centered heart. You won’t find laws regarding giving in the New Testament. What you’ll find are values the Gospel-centered heart possesses. We make our decisions out of those values.

Fallen human nature loves laws. It loves rules. It loves standards to reach. And the law is easy to preach-whether that’s giving 10%; “giving away all the excess;” living at the average American household salary and giving away everything above that; using a PC and not a Mac; drinking Folgers and never lattes at Starbucks; etc. Laws preach nicely. But the Gospel writers always resist this temptation. The Gospel always focuses on the heart.

So, the bigger questions that we must ask about money are these:

  • What does our money show that we really delight in, that we really worship?
  • What does it show that we hold as our security?

Are we like the ravens, trusting God as our security? Are we like the flowers of the field, finding God as our beauty? Or do we look to money to do those things for us instead?[3]

What does what we do with our money show that we love? Do we spend more on possessions for ourselves than we do for lost people around the world? At Christmas time do we buy mostly gifts for ourselves, or do we give gifts that help take Jesus to those who are most in need around the world?

If we evaluated your life simply by your checkbook, what does it say that you love? Where your treasure is is where your heart will be (Matthew 6:21).

If your spending shows you love the things of this world, the answer is not just to give away money. The answer is to learn more about the Gospel, and to be overwhelmed by the love of Jesus.

As I have emphasized so often in this book, love for God and for others grows as we embrace the extravagant love of God for us. As we do that, your heart will change and you will give away money with radical generosity, freely, because you love God and His kingdom more than you love stuff, and you hold God as your security more than you find security in stuff. When our hearts have been quickened to understand and love the Gospel, our natural, un-coerced reaction will be to live sufficiently and give extravagantly.

So, have you given enough? The simple truth is this: the Gospel eschews the word “enough” in any context, except in describing Christ’s work on our behalf. “Enough” will most always become a form of compulsion, which Paul says is not to be an operative motive in our giving. “Have I given enough?” is a question that pounds us with guilt and “compels” us to give more to feel good about ourselves. Paul, by contrast, says that God loves free, cheerful givers who give because they absolutely love to, not because they are compelled to (2 Corinthians 9:5).

But how can we possibly enjoy nice things or save money when so many people have never heard the Gospel?

Let me finally consider this last, very sincere, and sobering, question.

As I noted above, our lifestyles must certainly reflect the fact that we live in a world of great spiritual and physical need. However, there is a hidden, and false, premise in that question that can quickly lead to despair. That is that God has laid the Great Commission entirely on our shoulders and asked us to accomplish it for Him.

What I am going to say next could easily be misunderstood… so please hear me out:

God never made us responsible for the Great Commission; we are responsible to obey King Jesus as He goes about to accomplish the Great Commission.

Often when we talk about the needs of the world and our responsibility in light of them, we talk as if God is depending on us or in desperate need of our resources in order to accomplish His mission. Quite simply, He is not. Our God spoke the worlds into existence and is the God who can create everything out of nothing. God does not lack anything for the accomplishing of His mission. He doesn’t, strictly speaking, need anything from us. It is God’s responsibility, not ours, to resource the great commission. In fact, Jesus reinforced this to His Apostles when He gave them the Great Commission. After instructing them about carrying the Gospel to the whole world, He told them to go and wait, doing “nothing” until He came on them in power. The lesson was clear: accomplishing this task is not something you can do, it is something I must do through you.

Our responsibility, as creatures and servants, is to give ourselves to God and to yield ourselves to Him for use in the accomplishment of His purpose. We don’t try to accomplish His purposes for Him, we depend on Him to accomplish His purpose through us.

How much of our money are we supposed to give back to God? All of it-100%! Not 1 cent is supposed to be “ours,” and not His. But this doesn’t mean writing a check to the poor equaling your entire salary every month; rather, simply acknowledging that all of your money belongs to God. After you acknowledge that it is His, you ask Him what He would have us to do with it.

What He asks us to do is outlined in the 6 principles above. God doesn’t tell us to funnel all of the money He has given us to the poor. He doesn’t tell us to give it all to evangelism. God commands us, rather, to glorify Him with it, and to use every bit of it for the purposes for which He gave it to us. That includes radical giving to the poor, but it also includes “daily bread,” some saving, and even some enjoyment.

As the sole Supplier for every one of His initiatives, God doesn’t “need” my money, in any sense, to get His work done. Certainly God commands every believer to pursue, with diligence, the Great Commission, but out of loving response to Christ, not out of an unhealthy obsession that it all depends on me. It can’t be; I am only a creature, and God is God. When Jesus gave us the Great Commission His 1st command was to wait and do nothing. Only He can supply the power and resources to accomplish this task. So, yes, I am to yield my resources, generously, to the Great Commission, but from the posture of a dependent servant, not as the Provider or the lynchpin of the Great Commission. No Christian, not even all of us put together, can sustain the full weight of the Great Commission. “He has shown you, o man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you: To do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 5:8)

What that means is that our responsibility before God vis-à-vis our money is to worship God, to obey Him, and to love what He loves. When we do, we will spend our money correctly. God provides us money for our needs and enjoyment-our daily bread-which we should use for those purposes without guilt. He also provides us resources we should sacrificially give to accomplish His mission.

A great picture of this, I believe, is in the story of the little boy with the five loaves and the two fish in John 6:1-14. Here you’ve got a boy who gives everything to Jesus-all of it, 5 loaves, 2 fishes. Jesus takes it, multiplies it, and spreads it around so that there are 12 baskets full left over. What point is being made? God is more than capable of taking even limited resources and accomplishing His plan with it.

We are responsible to give our whole lives to God and look to Him to accomplish His mission, that is, to Him who can and will do exceedingly abundantly above all that we could ever ask or think. And what we’ll notice is that, as we give ourselves to God and live the way that He wants us to, not only is there enough to accomplish the mission, there are baskets left over that He sends home with us!

So let us take our responsibility in world evangelism very seriously, and live radically generous lives like Jesus lived for us. Let us consider that though Jesus was rich, yet, for our sakes, He became poor, that we, through His poverty, might become rich.

But let us not take upon ourselves responsibility for the world’s salvation as if we were God. We are, and always will be, dependent creatures, and that all we have are 5 loaves and 2 fishes. God has told us not to trust in what we have to meet our own needs, much less to save the world. We should look to God for both. We should take what He gives us, offer all of it back up to God, and do with it what He tells us to do.

So where do we go from here?

I can’t answer for you, but I can tell you that in response to the Gospel, my wife and I want to be radically generous-not in place of enjoying life and building wealth, but in the midst of it and all around it and on top of it.

We will not wait until we have become “rich” to be generous. Our lifestyle now will be significantly less than others who have an equivalent income to us. (Do note this: If you decide to stay out of debt, your lifestyle will be significantly behind most of your peers, as the average American is several thousand dollars in unsecured debt. If on top of that you choose to be radically generous, then you will be even further behind your peers, as the average American gives away less than 1%. When you are two big steps behind your peers, your lifestyle will look significantly different than your friends who make an equivalent wage!)

My wife I have been asking God to help us to live on less, trust Him more, to love others more, and to give more. Every year we try to increase the not just the amount, but the percentage that we give away.

We really are overwhelmed with what God has done for us. We are saved; we have an eternal inheritance which cannot be taken away, and we do not deserve one bit of it. And we live in a world where people are dying body and soul, and it is wrong to go on living as if that weren’t true. So, we want a “wartime mentality.” We want to live sufficiently and give extravagantly. We try to live simply-driving, wearing and living in much less than we “could.”

At the same time, my wife and I are committed to enjoying the provision and goodness of God, realizing that it comes from His hand as a gift of a loving Father to His children, and one He wants us to enjoy. We know He delights when we are thankful and enjoy the things He has given us, and we glorify Him by doing so.

If you take all of those 6 principles into account, I believe the life that most glorifies God in the age in which we live is one wherein you live sufficiently and give extravagantly. I believe you will be content to live simply, taking great pleasure and finding contentment in things that don’t consume a lot of your resources. As you are moved by the love of Christ for yourself and others, you probably won’t be able to think of anything you’d rather do with your money than see churches planted, people saved, the oppressed delivered, and the poor fed.

Please don’t get distracted by my description of how my family is applying these principles. Our standard is not yours. Some readers will find it woefully inadequate; others will find it beyond reach. My encouragement is for you to work through the 6 matrix principles yourself and let the Holy Spirit guide you to radical, joyful generosity, and party-like enjoyment of life.

Let me close this chapter with some wise words from King Solomon,

Do not be overrighteous; neither be overwise-why destroy yourself? The man who fears God will avoid all extremes.” (Ecclesiastes 7:16, 18, NIV).

[3] Matthew 6:25-33

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