I Know Generosity. Or…Do I?

For the first time in a long time, I am seriously considering the word “generous.” I have, of course, been paying attention in big church. I have accepted Shaun’s invitation to join the generous conversation. I have known the definition of the word for years. I can use it correctly in a sentence. I even know how to spell it without depending on spell check. I understand the concept of generosity. Or…do I?

Truthfully, I have had a number of encounters lately which have informed my thinking. Right…wrong…or indifferent. During my serious consideration of generosity so far, I have concluded that the whole thing is not nearly as simple as it appears on the surface.

A quick Google search tells me that the definition of generous is “showing a readiness to give more of something, as money or time, than is strictly necessary or expected.” Hummm…really? Showing, strictly, necessary, expected…are these the words that accurately nuance the idea of generosity? This definition seems a little clinical to me. I find it lacking…unsatisfying. It suggests that “amount” is the key or that there is some measure we should strive to achieve.

The same search gives me a list of synonyms as well. It lists such words as lavish, magnanimous, free, openhanded, free-handed, ungrudging and unselfish. If I added my own ideas – I would list such things as untethered, not contingent, or to use a word we are all quite familiar with…UNCONDITIONAL.

That’s where the rubber hits the road. That is what makes the actuality of generosity so difficult. It has nothing to do with an amount or a measure. Being generous, in the truest sense of the word, requires…REQUIRES…that we remove ourselves from the equation. That’s hard to do. No kidding…that’s really hard to do.

Some of us give – money, time, talent, love, encouragement, support, forgiveness, grace…whatever – beyond that which is strictly necessary or expected because we want credit for it. We want others to see it. That’s not generosity. I’m not really sure what that is. Some of us are gratified by being heralded by the recipient of our so-called generosity. We want to be seen as the hero of the story. Some of us give in expectation of something in return. Our “generosity” is contingent upon what we get out of the deal. Our gift is tethered to our own selves and our own purposes. Some of us give because we think we have to and we don’t want to be “that guy.” Some of us give because it is the way we compare ourselves to other people. We want to feel like we are on a higher rung. Here’s the kicker…some of us give because it makes us feel good. What do we do with that? It’s true after all. It does make us feel good. We can’t help it. But is that generosity? Is it lavish, free, openhanded, or unselfish? Is it unconditional? Would we do it if it made us feel badly?

I suppose it comes down to our reasons for giving…the purpose behind our generosity. If we close our eyes…and imagine the “giving moment”…the act of generosity…and we see ourselves in the picture – we may have missed the boat. I told you it was hard.

When asked by the Pharisee to comment on the greatest commandment, Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.”

Generosity is whatever comes from that. Nothing else.

David White
Connections Pastor
Johns Creek Baptist Church

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