Jesus and Generosity

Reading Time: 8 Minutes

God is after your heart, not your money. However, he may use your money to get to your heart.

A familiar theme in my articles on the Sermon on the Mount is that they are not a new law that places strict duties on Jesus’ followers. Rather, each instance reveals another dimension of the life of a person who is learning to live like Jesus.

The issue that everyone faces is whether to attempt to make our lives secure apart from dependence on God’s provisions or not.

Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6.19-20).

Someone may say, “Does this mean that Jesus is after my savings account?”

Jesus is not after your savings account, but he is after your heart. Similar to his instruction to “cut off your hand” if it offends you (Matthew 5.30), he is making a strong point to confront us with a serious issue of the heart, materialism.

When the church in America speaks about the decay of morality in our country, there are two or three sins that almost always seem to be mentioned. One of the sins that is almost always omitted is our greed for material things. Wealth seems to be the “religion” of America, sometimes even American Christianity.

America is obsessed with wealth and power. From magazine stands at the grocery store to programs on network TV, wealth combined with power is displayed so frequently that we don’t even notice it.

It is very difficult to escape the influence of a system that “shouts” at us from so many places telling us that we must acquire possessions in order to live a happy and secure life.

Once again, God is not after our money, but he is after our hearts. God knows that the best thing we can experience in life is a free and joyful inner self. He wants us to be able to experience a life that is characterized by trust in his goodness and love.

Jesus often used a child as an illustration. In one case he put a child in the middle of his followers and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18.3-4).

Children are a good example when we are considering whether to secure our future by the means of acquiring possessions. Their humility is reflected in their vulnerability and dependence on others for their care.

Children usually don’t worry about finances. They simply trust their parents to care for their day-to-day needs.

When we become like the children and stop seeking to make sure our bank account is big enough for the future and begin trusting God for his care of our lives, we will experience life in God’s kingdom. Remember, God’s kingdom is the effective reach of his power. Our willingness to let God be in control of our possessions is evidence that we are living according to his power and not by our own abilities.

Envy and Generosity

Jesus not only addressed how people try to secure their lives apart from God, he also spoke about how we envy what other people own.

He said, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6.22-23).

I have found a new marinade for chicken. Chicken strips spend 24 hours in the marinade. Then, they are rolled in a mixture of Italian breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese. After they come off the grill, they don’t even taste like chicken, but some delicious out-of-this-world meat.

Americans are marinaded in the quest for material objects. Everywhere our eye turns, we see another appealing object that we can purchase with easy credit. Like my chicken recipe, when we are finished, we don’t end up “tasting” anything like Jesus-kind-of-people.

Jesus advises a simple and generous lifestyle. There is literal financial freedom that comes from not conforming to the American disease of acquiring things that we really don’t need. Your credit card balance will thank you for just saying “No” to the next attractive possession that “I’ve just got to have.”

The greater reward is that of a generous inner spirit. The Greek word in the New Testament for “healthy,” can also be translated “generous.” The light that is within a generous person will be a lightness of spirit. It is a joyous contrast to a dark, controlling, stingy inside condition of envy and greed.

Living by God’s Word

Jesus summarized his thoughts and said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6.24).

Let’s not hear Jesus’ teaching as an oppressive demand from a controlling God. Let’s hear them as a truth that will revolutionize our lives.

When the devil tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread, he quoted from Deuteronomy these words, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4.4).

Jesus knew that God’s word would sustain him and that he didn’t need to take Satan’s bait and take care of his own hunger needs. (See yesterday’s article on fasting for more details.)

Jesus’ approach toward food, also works with the temptation to make our lives secure and pleasurable with material goods. God’s word will sustain our lives more than any possession can.

Notice the power of God’s word in the creation story.

— God’s word created light (Genesis 1.3).

— God’s word created the atmosphere (Genesis 1.6).

— God’s word formed the earth and created all of the vegetation on it (Genesis 1.9, 11).

— God’s word created the sun and the moon (Genesis 1.14).

— God’s word created the fish and the birds (Genesis 1.20).

— God’s word created all of the animals on the earth (Genesis 1.24).

— God’s word created humankind (Genesis 1.27).

If God’s word can create all that is listed in Genesis, why can’t living by God’s word also sustain us and give us the best life possible?

There are a large number of Bible references to the power of God’s word. In one instance Jesus said,“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6.63).

The Message paraphrase of this passage reads, “The Spirit can make life. Sheer muscle and willpower don’t make anything happen. Every word I’ve spoken to you is a Spirit-word, and so it is life-making. But some of you are resisting, refusing to have any part in this.”

Muscle and willpower are the key “tools” of people who seek life apart from God. Jesus tells us that God’s word that is given to us through the Holy Spirit is life-giving. Hearing and obeying Jesus’ word, as he sits on the throne of our heart will create in us the abundant life that Jesus came to give us.

Today’s Prayer

Dear God, we ask your forgiveness for the many ways we seek material things rather than your direction for life. Please help us to put Jesus on the throne of our lives and to live by his Spirit-word.

2 Comments

  1. I’ve been dealing and trying to come to terms with materialism the past few months.

    After we closed our business due to his deteriorating health, my husband began going to estate sales and auctions buying items he thought he could resell and profit from to supplement our income. The only catch was, once he had it, he didn’t want to part with it! Last fall, we started the process of culling out the excess to prepare for a spring sale. God took Mike home in February so the sale became mine to tackle on my own. It has not been easy.

    Upon seeing the sheer volume of “stuff” I had for sale last weekend, someone asked if my house looked empty and I had to answer honestly….no. Apart from a couple of pieces of art, the house looks like it did when Mike left here by ambulance in January. And so I ask myself – why do I still have all of this stuff? Purging in the garage and basement has been freeing – but there is still much here. How is it benefitting me and my walk with God? Is there anything inherently wrong with having a pleasing decor to live in – with creating a backyard oasis with flowers, vignettes and found objects? God gave me an eye for color and design. He put in me a need to create and build. As I sorted for sale, I had to make tough decisions about pieces purchased to be repurposed….and be honest about my abilities and strengths. I spent a lot of time praying over all this “stuff” trying to keep materialism and greed out.

    I live in an area where there are many hurting, unemployed, homeless. As I priced goods, I tried to be aware of what others might be needing and let God take care of me. My goal was to be able to do some repairs on the soffits, gutters and a new roof. That wasn’t God’s goal – but He will find a way to provide. He always does. His plan is different than mine.

    So what’s the point of all this? The point is that I want to live a Jesus-kind-of-life. I want to honor Him with the talents and gifts that I was created with. I want to be generous with my home, with my finances, with my time. I don’t want to be weighed down by material things or a constant push to earn more and have more.

    In my humanness, I really would like to retire and work creatively – writing and/or creating art – but that isn’t where God wants me for now. May I continue to seek His will and find ways to honor Him through sharing what I’ve been blessed with and not fret over what I cannot accomplish. May I continue to give Him free reign over what I have – as you said before, Bob – holding it with an open palm and not a clenched fist.

    Father God – everything I have has come from You. I thank You for being a generous giver and ask that my heart be open and ready to give as You lead. Amen

    Liked by 1 person

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