What does generosity look like? There are some passages in the Old Testament that give us good principles for giving. For example built into the Law is the principle of giving your first and best to the LORD:
30 All tithes from the land, whether the seed from the ground or the fruit from the tree, are the Lord’s; they are holy to the Lord. (Leviticus 27:30)
If someone tithes 10% of their earnings are they therefore generous? In the Old Testament, those who brought the first and best to the Lord were not considered generous, but merely doing what they were supposed to do which is to bring to the LORD what already belongs to Him. Perhaps these following verses will make someone generous:
9 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:9-10)
Here we have a command to be less than efficient in the harvests for the sake of the poor and the alien. Leaving some of the harvest unharvested, the poor and the foreigners among the Israelites would have a source of food. After giving our first and best to God we are then to leave room at the margins for the marginalized. In our day we are perhaps far too efficient with every dollar accounted for in our budgets, with every minute booked up in our datebooks. Is there room at the margins for when someone needs us? We miss opportunities to be generous if not.
Do these Old Testament principles of giving our first and best to the LORD, and leaving room at the margins really capture the heart of God for what generosity looks like for the Christian? The Bible says far more about what we ought to be prepared to give when the Lord calls than what is captured in these principles from the Old Testament.
Consider the call of Abram:
1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. (Genesis 12:1)
Abram did not respond with “can you send 10% of me?” or “can I live most of my life here in my country and dedicate the last margin of my life to following you?” No; “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him.” (Genesis 12:4) Abram was obedient. Abram responded with 100%. Abram was all-in.
Consider the call of Moses:
9 The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10 So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt. (Exodus 3:9-10)
Moses did not respond with “can you send 10% of me?” or “can I live most of my life here in Midian and dedicate the final margins of my life to this task?” No, instead he said something like “send someone else please for there are many reasons you are calling the wrong person.” Perhaps many of us can relate to that kind of response to the call of God. However, after much discussion with the LORD, “Moses took his wife and his sons, put them on a donkey, and went back to the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 4:20) In the end Moses responded to the call of God with 100%. Moses was all-in.
Consider the call of Isaiah:
8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us. (Isaiah 6:8)
Isaiah did not respond with “Here I am, send 10% of me,” or “Here I am, and here I will stay until I have lived most of my life when I will dedicate what is left at the margins to your call.” No, he said “Here am I; send me.” (Isaiah 6:8) Isaiah was gung-ho and good to go once he knew that the Lord had prepared him (see verses 1-7). Perhaps some of us can relate to Isaiah in having that gung-ho let’s go attitude. Isaiah responded to the call 100%. Isaiah was all-in.
In fact you can consider the call of any one of the prophets. For example we might consider the call of Jonah:
1 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me. (Jonah 1:1-2)
Jonah did not respond with “can you send 10% of me to Nineveh?” or “let me continue to be a prophet right here in Israel, and I will go to Nineveh later and dedicate what is left at the margins of my life to Nineveh.” No, instead “Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.” (Jonah 1:3) . . . So maybe Jonah is not a good example of a generous 100% all-in response to the call of God. Jonah was all-in though; all-in a huff about God’s call and all-in a hurry to flee the opposite direction. He was also all-in a heap of trouble when the storm struck, then he was all-out when the crew threw him overboard, then all-in when eaten by a fish then all-out when the fish had enough of that. But eventually he showed up, all 100% of him to preach a message of repentance to the people of Nineveh. Even so he was all-in a flap about something good happening for these foreigners and all-out of grace. Why? Because these foreigners represented the worst enemies of God’s people at that time. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, and eventually it would be the Assyrian Empire that would be responsible for the downfall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Jonah thought that he had good reason to not respond to the call of God.
Some of us may relate to Abraham, responding with simple obedience when the LORD calls. Some of us may relate to Moses, eventually committing after spending time trying to convince God as to why we are the wrong person for God to call. Some of us may relate to Isaiah, being gung-ho and ready to go. But some of us may relate to Jonah, especially as it relates to the welcoming of Muslim refugees into our nation, and into your community, something we collectively as churches of the Cobourg Christian Network have discerned a call from God to do. Those who know me well will know I am quite shy but not shy about expressing my dislike of the religion known as Islam. While many will denounce a violent interpretation of Islam to be the wrong interpretation, the holy books and history of Islam leave room for it to be a possible interpretation. I am concerned about the effects of Islam on the Western nations in the years and decades to come. As I have said before we are called to love the Muslim, we are not called to like Islam. But when it comes to helping a refugee, do my concerns matter?
The book of Jonah ends with the LORD saying this:
11 . . . should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:11)
When it comes to loving the people of Nineveh, God was all-in. You could read Jonah again and think: “should I not be concerned about Islam, that large religion, in which there are more than 1.6 billion persons who do not know their right hand from their left?”
When it comes to loving the Muslim, God is all-in 100%. He wants to reach the Muslim with the good news that Jesus is not merely a prophet but Lord and Saviour. But you cannot reach people who lay at the bottom of the Mediterranean, or who lay washed up dead on the shores of Turkey, or who are starving as their cities lay under siege. Whatever our concerns, people need help. We have the resources and resourcefulness to help.
And we can consider Jesus who in responding to the Father’s call to cross did not say “if this cup cannot pass by me, then let 10% of me be crucified,” or “sure, the cross, but once I am old and near death anyway.” No, Jesus responded with “yet, not what I want, but what you want.” (Mark 14:36) It was not 10% of Jesus that died on that cross, He did not die for 10% of your sin or mine, He died for all of it. Jesus responded to the call of God with 100%. Jesus was all-in. And where we may have previously been able to relate to Abraham, or Moses, or Isaiah, or Jonah with respect to the call of God, here we relate to the person from Nineveh. Because of our sin we have made ourselves to be enemies to God. We do not deserve His love. We have done nothing to deserve His grace. Yet when it comes to love and grace for you and me God was all-in 100%. He still is and will be. His calling is to repentance.
So does the Bible point us to what generosity looks like? Yes, for it points us to God, and God is the best example of generosity. Is the LORD calling you? Are you in it 100%? Are you all-in? When it comes to loving you, God is.
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
Many thanks to my colleagues of the Cobourg Christian Network for the opportunity to participate in our “Better Together Refugee Sponsorship Project.” And thank you to Pastor André Turcotte for his input in pulling together this sermon.
All scripture references are taken from the NRSV.