Biblically, generosity grows when we give as God directs (namely, comprehensively, strategically, and accountably) rather than as our passion or opportunities direct (spontaneously, unpredictably, and emotionally).
This will sound surprising to some, as the virtue of generosity is more typically associated in the popular imagination with the latter set of characteristics than with the former. A person who is truly generous, so the popular imagination conceives, will be delighting himself and others by popping off with surprising acts of generosity as the Spirit moves, like paying for the Egg McMuffin ordered by the guy in the car behind him as he tools through the McDonald’s drive-through. Here the great good is not falling into a pattern like tithing or providing ongoing funding for a project or cause, both of which smack of an unthinking formalism.
In Part I of our series, we sought to confound both the tithers and the anti-tithers by commending the practice of giving away an increasing percentage of one’s income every year.
In this second post, we seek to confound both the spontaneous givers and those who carefully and strategically invest their giving in a single area of great passion.
Fortunately there’s actually a text for that sort of confounding, namely, Alan Gotthardt’s Eternity Portfolio. I’ve previously written about the book, calling it my “if-you-are-heading-to-a-desert-island-soon-and-can-only-take-one-book” book. If you haven’t yet read that previous post, please click on the preceding link and have a go. It’s absolutely no problem–I’ll wait for you.
Dum de dum de dum…
So you’re back? Great. And better equipped to hit your next desert island, I hope.
Gotthardt’s book is not perfect, but it makes a great point:
In the Bible, God doesn’t commend random acts of senseless giving.
Instead, God really does commend specific areas for investment, which Gotthardt organizes along two axes:
- Location: Local, regional, and global
- Allocation: Reaching (evangelism), teaching (discipleship), and ministering to needs (mercy)
Gotthardt also contends that God doesn’t simply commend us for giving generously; rather, He holds us accountable for selecting investments that yield a sizable return. This means, of course, that God is holding us–not only the nonprofit through which we’re giving–accountable for what happened to the money we gave. So when we say, “Well, I give to the homeless guy on the street corner; what he does with the money is between him and God”, we’re missing the biblical giving boat.
It’s not only the spontaneous givers who miss that boat. It’s those whose invest the majority of their giving deeply and carefully in the cause that most fully aligns with their area of passion.
Such givers say to themselves and others, “I feel like I’m called to direct my giving to evangelism (or discipleship, or mercy ministry). Others are passionate about different areas, and God will move everyone’s hearts so that all of these important causes can be funded.”
This is an expressly unscriptural principle. There’s simply nothing even approximating a warrant for this approach anywhere in the Bible.
It’s the byproduct of our age of professionalization that we idolize efficiency and specialization, even in the area of being fully formed in Christ. When there are areas of Christian growth that we know to be important but that we’re not passionate about or natively good at or interested in, we turn to Paul’s Body of Christ excursus in 1 Corinthians 12 and say, “See? I’m not a part of the body that does evangelism. Instead, I’m in the part of the body that does ushering and preparing the scrambled eggs for the monthly men’s breakfast.”
When we give our time and money only to the area of our passion, we ensure that we remain Peter Pan Christians. We never grow up.
Conversely, God’s call is that not only His Body as a whole but we as individuals grow up into the likeness of Christ. That doesn’t mean that each of us does everything, but it sure does mean that each of us is active locally, regionally, and globally in ministries of evangelism, discipleship, and mercy.
What you do in each of those areas of focus is up to you–there’s certainly a lot of latitude there scripturally.
But that you do something in each of those areas of focus is the second key to giving that is guided by more than a feeling.
As this year draws to a close, why not snag a copy of Gotthardt’s book and endeavor to build your own Eternity Portfolio, paying special attention to filling in the gaps where your passions/experiences/interests have not yet led you?
In doing so, you’ll find something interesting will happen over time:
God’s passions will become your passions, and the things that before didn’t register with you at all will suddenly become inestimably precious.
And that is real growth in generosity.