What Does Jesus Say About Being Generous?

Do you remember the way you felt when you discovered that Darth Vader was Luke’s father?

In the classic film The Empire Strikes Back, George Lucas “flipped the script” on the audience when he changed the direction of the storyline. That twist in the plot changed a lot about the way we came to see the battle waged between the Empire and the rebellion.

There are times when you think that a storyline is going in one direction and something happens to flip it and you have to go back and rethink everything that you saw, recontextualize everything. 

If you read the Gospels in the Bible, you will see that Jesus was also an expert at “flipping the script.” In particular, Luke’s Gospel highlights many of the things that changed the storyline of religion, humanity and the way that people expected God to interact with His creation.

In the Gospel of Luke, we see examples like a child being born to a poor peasant woman and then growing up to be a king. Jesus flipped the script on how you treat an enemy. He flipped the script on the role of women in his kingdom. He flipped the script on who is “in” and who is “out” of God's club. And the biggest one of all, he flipped the script about death. 

In the text we will read today, we will see how Jesus flipped the script on generosity.

Developing a spirit of generosity is essential as it allows us to grow in Christlikeness. Why is that?

To say that God is love in one breath is to also say that God is generous. We all know that you can give something to someone without loving them but you cannot love someone without giving to them. It is impossible for us to say that we love God or we love our neighbor, while not at the same time being generous toward God or generous toward our neighbor or to those whom we love. 

Let's look at how Jesus flips the script on generosity in Luke 21:1-4:

While Jesus was at the temple, he watched the rich people dropping their gifts in the collection box. Then a poor widow came by and dropped in two small coins. “I tell you the truth”, Jesus said, “this poor widow has given more than all of the rest of them, for they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything that she has.”

During this story, Jesus was sitting near the offering boxes or receptacles at the temple which were used by the people to put in their offering. 

This is the setting where Jesus is going to flip the script on the measure of generosity.

The old script goes like this: generosity is measured by the size of the gift. The wealthy would drop their rolls of coins in those offering receptacles and make a huge sound so that everyone would take notice. The script that says our generosity is measured by the size of our gift is based on an older script that goes like this: your self-worth is based on your net worth. So for wealthy people, giving a large gift in public at the temple was a double-shot of self esteem.

Unfortunately, our culture still reinforces this value. Think about your alma mater or hospitals. We tend to only put people's names on buildings or stadiums who have given the largest gifts. One of the unintended consequences of this practice is that it affirms the old script that generosity is measured by the size of the gift. When you believe and live that script, it leads to the first obstacle of generosity: shame.

Shame is the painful emotion caused by the belief that one is or is perceived by others to be inferior or unworthy of affection or respect because of one's actions, thoughts, circumstances or experiences. And when you see all the wealthy people dropping all that money in the temple and you have very little, it's just kind of embarrassing. So this woman did an amazingly courageous thing, to put in her two cents.

We too, even in just some normal things in life, can easily allow ourselves to have a feeling of being less which might keep us from being generous.

But watch how Jesus flips the script.

In verse 4, he says, “I tell you the truth this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them. For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given all that she has.” 

Going back to Luke 12:15, you will see that Jesus flips that older script, that a person’s self-worth is dependent upon their net worth, because in 12:15, what he says is this: life does not consist of your possessions. He says, life is not measured by your possessions or what you own. 

And so, if wealth is not the measure of human worth, then neither can the size of one's gift alone be the measure of our generosity. Jesus, in this story, gives us a new script. Here it is: 

Generosity is measured by the size of the sacrifice, not the size of the gift, not the numerical value, but the size of the sacrifice. Not how much one gives, but how much one has left over after they give. And the widow is a wonderful example of that.

Jesus is advocating more than simple, proportional giving.

Jesus is saying that everyone can be generous no matter how much money or how little money they actually have. 

Here is the second flip. Jesus flips the motivation for generosity.

The old script is this: generosity is an obligation. It's something I've got to do.

A requirement for generosity just doesn't work. In fact, required generosity is really kind of an oxymoron, like jumbo shrimp or plastic silverware. It doesn’t make sense. Required generosity is not generosity at all.

“Generosity is the virtue of giving good things to others freely and abundantly.”

In Matthew 10:8, Jesus really highlights this particular definition of generosity, when he says to the disciples, “Freely, you have received, freely give.” 

Being obligated to give good things to people isn't generosity at all. 

Here's the deal, if you're giving out of obligation, it just creates resentment. And Jesus wants to flip this script.  

In Luke 12:32, Jesus says, “...it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.” And these words come after Jesus speaks about the Father’s love for birds. They neither sow nor reap, and He provides for them. And the lilies of the field are incredibly adorned, even more so than Solomon in all of his glory. Everything that we have, is a gift from Him. And these gifts don't simply stop with creation. They continue on in what God has done for us in Christ through coming to be with us in the flesh so we can see Him and touch Him and feel Him and to give His life for us on the cross and provide our redemption. 

When you stop and think about it, just for a moment, and look at creation and redemption and just so much of ordinary life, you come to the conclusion that all of life is a gift. It's all grace. None of us caused ourselves to come into existence or into being. We are here and it is a gift. When you begin to understand that all of life is a gift and all grace, then you understand the new script that Jesus wants us to know: Generosity is meant to be an expression of gratitude. 

Whenever you and I are tangibly and deeply loved by someone, gratitude is the normal expression in response. And not soon after we feel that, out of our gratitude, tangible expressions of thankfulness begin to flow from our lives. 

When you've met someone who's the love of your life, and he or she opens their heart to you fully and completely and gives to you all that they are, and you just begin to give back. You do so, not because you're obligated, you do it because you're so grateful for the gift of this person in your life. And the same thing is true of Jesus. 

When you understand Jesus, when you experience him, when you comprehend the depth and the width and the height of His love for you, then it's just the most normal thing for you to want to give Him your time and your energy and your service and your resources and your very life.

Gratitude is the motivation for generosity. 

And then there's the third script that Jesus flips. It is the effect of generosity. Now, the old script that most of us live with is this: Generosity results in a net loss.

We can do the math. When you give God your resources, by definition you have less. And then our next question is, ”Will I have enough if I'm generous to God and other people?” That question leads to fear.

Fear is the obstacle of so many of our experiences and feelings about generosity. We ask ourselves, “Will I have enough left to pay my bills this month? Will I have enough for the tuition payment? Will I have enough for retirement? Will I have enough to get the kids through college and pay for that wedding?”

We all have these questions about fear and what Jesus says - I have a promise to offset your fear.

In Luke 6:38 Jesus says, “Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full.” You won't have less, is what He's saying. “Pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.” What Jesus is saying is, don't be surprised that you actually don't get back more than you actually gave. 

In Acts 20:35, Paul quotes: “You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Your well-being, your status, your sense of meaning and purpose in life is enhanced when you give as opposed to receiving. And so here's the new script: Generosity is a net gain.

Studies have shown that when you live a life of generosity, your blood pressure is lower, your stress level goes down, you experience less depression, you have lower levels of stress, you live longer and you're happier. 

You are more blessed when you give than when you receive. But it doesn't just do something for you. It does something for those to whom you give. 

Mark and Luke recorded this woman’s story in their Gospels and countless people have heard this story through the centuries. And God has used it to flip their script and their understanding about generosity. So just stop and think about the millions of people who have been fed and clothed because of this story. And the churches built, and the missionaries sent, and the charities funded, and the hospitals founded, and the schools established because of the generosity that emanated from this woman's gift. 

There is an incredible return on our generosity, both for ourselves and others. The new script is: generosity results in a net gain.

In your own mind and heart today, what is your primary script about generosity? Is one of these scripts really shaping and forming the life of generosity that you're living? Do you really think that your generosity is measured by the size of your gift and therefore you're kind of embarrassed a bit to even give anything at all, that you can? 

You have probably heard so many messages that you feel like generosity is an obligation and you resent it when people talk to you about it. Or maybe, you'd like to be generous, but you really believe that generosity is always a net loss. Jesus wants to help flip those scripts in your heart and life, so you can begin to live a more generous life toward God, towards your family, towards your spouse and towards your neighbors.  

We will only live a life of generosity when we understand how good and gracious God is, and begin to give and live out of gratitude.
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