Why Should Christians Be Financially Generous?
Being Called to Action
When you think about the gospel, a lot of things may come to mind. Hopefully the goodness and the grace of Christ are at the top of the list. After pondering what it is exactly the gospel is, you should think about what a proper response to this information should be. See, the gospel is not merely and intellectual exercise or a learned fact. It is a reality that calls all who hear of it to action. What this action looks like is the same for everyone in name, repentance and belief. The two cannot be separated. What do repentance and belief look like? Is there a marker that Scripture holds up as an example?
One of the more powerful examples of is seen in the book of Luke. It is, however, not contained in one story. Rather, it is found in the contrasting of two characters. At the end of the comparison, you see that a heart that is gripped with the gospel is a generous heart.
In chapters 18 and 19 of Luke, the stories of the rich young ruler and Zacchaeus are told. Their close proximity in Luke’s account only heightens the contrast between the two.
Luke 18 – The Rich Young Ruler
The rich young ruler is a story about a man who is seeking eternal life and the account is found in Matt 19:16–30; Mark 10:17–31; and Luke 19:18–30. Similarly to the beginning of the parable of the Good Samaritan, the question is asked: “What must one do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responded differently to this man. He noticed that he was called “Good Teacher” and responded with “only God is good.” Jesus then told the rich man that to inherit eternal life, he had to be good (i.e., keep the commandments).
This was obviously impossible since Jesus had just said only God is good. Nevertheless, the man took the bait and proclaimed himself to be good before Jesus. Specifically, Jesus asked the man if he kept commandments from those of the 10 that deal with the love for one’s neighbor.
Jesus then exposed the man’s self-righteousness by going straight to the source of his pride, his wealth. In verse 22, Jesus said: “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Interesting to note is that emptying oneself of wealth was not the prescription Jesus gave. It was to willingly distribute his own wealth to the poor and then to follow him. The man went away saddened because he was unwilling to leave behind his wealth to follow Jesus. His wealth had become his savior. His material possessions had become a hindrance that was keeping him from eternal life. This man was curious about the gospel, but wealth seemed in his mind to be a more convincing God.
Luke 19 – Zacchaeus
The story of Zacchaeus comes only fourteen verses later. The reader of this letter would, no doubt, have noticed the differences in the two accounts. Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector and, like the previous man, was quite wealthy. Tax collectors were despised among the Jews. They were seen as aiding the enemy (Rome) and it was common for the tax collector to personally profit from inscrutable collecting practices. Zacchaeus fit this mold and, like the rich young ruler, served the god of wealth. The interesting part is in the end of this account. Jesus proclaims in verse 9 that salvation has come to the house of Zacchaeus. The power of the gospel became evident in the life of Zacchaeus in the preceding verse. Verse 8 states: “And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”
Jones and Woodbridge (Health, Wealth, and Happiness) describe this scene: “The gospel changes people, and generosity is one of the best indicators of the condition of the heart. Notice that the external proof of Zacchaeus’s salvation was his generosity. For Zacchaeus, giving reflected the reality of a new heart that loved Jesus more than wealth.”
Zacchaeus demonstrated repentance and belief through providing restitution for his cheating the generous giving of his personal wealth to the poor.
Putting It All Together
Let’s get real for a moment. The point of these stories is not an amount to give, but the contrast of a heart that doubts Christ and a heart that is firm in Him. What a person does with their money is a reflection of the kind of heart they have. Here are a few steps to live generously like Zacchaeus:
1. Regularly encounter Christ.
This means you need to repeatedly preach to yourself the story of Christ and spend time with Him daily. Zacchaeus was a changed man because of it.
2. Hold your possession with an open palm.
God is the owner of all things. We are merely stewards of it. We need to structure our lives and finances in a way that is looking to the needs of our neighbor.
3. Beware of the temptation of wealth.
This rich young ruler asked the right question and even answered Jesus somewhat correctly. At the end of the day, he could not worship God and his money at the same time. You’ve got to choose who you are going to serve.
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