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Five Keys for Habits of Generosity

1 Corinthians 16:1-11

Posted by Dan Jarms on May 19, 2024
Five Keys for Habits of Generosity

As a loving community making disciples of Jesus Christ, generosity needs to be taught, modeled, and coached in our church. Jesus sets the pace for generosity not only in His heart for the needy but in giving His very life. True Christians seek to imitate Him.

I want to start out with a strong commendation: Many at Faith Bible Church have habits of generosity. I cannot express to you enough the thanks of the elders and the weight we feel to steward what is given. I am not asking you to give more; I am asking you to start training others to do what you do.

Many are consistently serving with time. Many are need-based givers: When a crisis comes, you give; when the budget lags, you give. But you don’t have habits of generosity. It’s quite possible that you have never connected habits to generosity.

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians teaches us to cultivate habits of generosity in light of the hope of the resurrection.

Foundations for generosity

There are foundations in the Scripture that point us to a heart of generosity.

  • Stewardship defines. ​ “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). I am not giving my money. I am giving the Lord’s money.
  • Love directs. Loving God and loving our neighbor are the two greatest commandments. When Jesus taught this in Matthew 22:37-38, he immediately told the story of the good Samaritan. The Samaritan saw a person lying beside the road, bleeding and dying, and gave generously to restore him to health.
  • Gospel displays. Who is more generous than God himself? “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) God is giving every moment. It’s more than habit; it’s His constant action.
  • Worship demands. ​Paul called the gift from the Philippians “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18).

In our Growth Groups we ask for prayer for health, but what is a greater threat to the soul: bad health or a stingy heart? We should also be talking about coveting, greed, generosity, and budgeting.

Those of you who have Christ-honoring giving habits of generosity need to call others to step up. Have you ever thought of how to do that?

Some of you are embarrassed about your finances and your habits. You know you waste some money. You have debt you regret. But nothing changes because you don’t ask anyone to help you address your heart and habits.

What if you think of yourself as generous, but in the spending categories on your bank or credit card statement, there is virtually nothing that displays generosity? God wants you to discover the happiness of generosity.

Here are five keys to set habits of generosity. Remember the acronym FIRST.

1. Floored by Grace.

People with habits of generosity are the kind that fall to the floor in awe and gratitude over the grace of God.

Let’s look at the context of 1 Corinthians 16: Paul has just finished a long section on the grace of God through the gospel and the certain hope of the resurrection.

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:53-57

What is Paul’s next topic after the resurrection? Giving. The grace now, and the grace in eternity in God’s presence, transform our thinking about money.

The gospels show two contrasting characters in a rich young man and Zaccheus. Both are rich. One is rich and self-righteous; the other is rich and a sinner. And Jesus actually makes generosity a litmus test of saving faith.

And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”…If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. - Matthew 19:16-22

That man was not floored by grace. He did not love God first, and his heart was full of greed and coveting. His faith was in his possessions. His was a heart of stinginess: He was afraid of what he would lose instead of Whom he would gain.

Contrast this to Zacchaeus. Jesus was journeying to Jerusalem when he saw Zacchaeus up in a tree.

“Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. …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.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” - Luke 19:5-6,8-10

People who can sing “amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me” are people who are slow to be stingy and quick to be generous.

2. Inspired by Good Examples.

Look around and see the examples of generosity of those around you.

​Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. - 1 Corinthians 16:1.

Paul had engaged in two giving campaigns for a relief effort in Judea. There had been a prolonged famine, and the poor and persecuted saints in Jerusalem needed help. Churches in Antioch and Galatia had raised money.

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. - 2 Corinthians 8:1-2

It was the joy and hope the Philippians in Macedonia had in Christ that made them joyfully generous. This takes courage and trust. Most churches were made up of working-class people, not wealthy people. This was inspiration for the Corinthians.

Ultimately Paul wants us all to look at the most generous person who exists, Jesus Christ.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. - 2 Corinthians 8:9

Jesus wasn’t just a billionaire. He as God owns it all. Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are paupers compared to Jesus.

Yet, because our sin is so great, our debt to him so large, he gave up all right to his vast immeasurable resources and took on poor human flesh in a poor human family to become a homeless penniless naked sacrifice on the cross to pay for our sin. No one can give more than Jesus.

Friend, if you held on to every penny until your death, what would your money do for you? If you filled your life with “bougie” pleasures, what would those pleasures do for you on judgment day? Turn from trusting your money, lusting for money, and hustling for money, and trust the One whose gospel is priceless.

3. Reformed Habits.

Paul ties habits and discipline to an overflowingly generous heart.

On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. - 1 Corinthians 16:2

Again, the specific circumstance is the collection for relief. But, he gives a valuable and practical instruction for generosity.

The first day of the week (Sunday) was the day of the week Jesus rose from the dead. Acts 20:7 and this verse give us the idea that this became the official meeting day of Christians. It would have been common for there to be a box or barrel for the offering and when Christians met they would drop coins in the box. That is what is meant by “store it up.”

Notice that Paul says, “every week,” not “if you ever feel like it.” Regularity takes the temptation of feelings out of the picture. While Paul commends cheerful givers in 2 Corinthians 9:7, “God loves a cheerful giver,” he is not saying, “Don’t give until you feel cheerful.” Let your habitual giving be cheerful. We pass offering plates every week as a reminder that our worship in giving and our generosity is weekly. I know most people give by check or online. The plate comes by you empty at times. I am still glad we pass plates, because it stirs me to remember that giving is worship.

Paul also says “each of you,” not “the most stable and wealthy of you.” Every member is to have a habit of giving.

How much? It is up to you: “as he may prosper.” The phrase means in proportion to the income God grants you. The New Testament does not prescribe a number. You need to prayerfully determine what you want to give. Remember the principle in 2 Corinthians 9: “He who sows sparingly will reap sparingly. He who sows much will reap much.”

We started our married life giving 10%, and it was a sacrifice at times. Back in chapter 9, Paul referenced supporting gospel workers/pastors in the same way Old Testament Jews made offerings for priests. Those were 10%. You may not be able to do that, or you may be able to do more. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 9 to do as you purpose in your heart. Regular, proportionate, sacrificial, and generous are all descriptions of good habits of giving.

Why couldn’t the Corinthians just wait and give when Paul arrived? If they did, then Paul would have to spend valuable time making the collection, and less money would be raised. I guarantee you will be more generous if you make your percentage consistent and give consistently than if you wait for a need to arise and give what is available in your savings.

What do I give to? Three things:

  • Those in need. Missionaries and other workers who rely on our support to carry the gospel forward.
  • Those who lead. Pastors and workers who forgo other gainful employment to give full attention to serving the church and caring for the flock.
  • Those who bleed. Those who have come upon a time of deep suffering. At Faith, we use the Care Fund to care first for our members and then for the community. “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).

And remember, when you give to your church, you get back. You get back spiritual food in Bible teaching. You get rooms for kids’ classes and groups. You get comfortable temperatures and chairs. You get the supplies and furnishings needed for various areas of ministry.

4. Seek Accountability.

People who have good habits of giving should also expect accountability from the people they give to. Paul was eager to do this: “And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me” (1 Corinthians 16:3-4).

Paul wanted trusted people to go with him, keep the money safe and provide accountability. Their gift wasn’t made by bank transfer or credit card. At least two would accompany Paul to carry this weighty collection of coins and guard it from robbery or embezzlement on the trip.

If you are giving regularly with the Lord’s money, you should expect accountability from the recipients. The character component of such accountability is in the elder and deacon qualifications of 1 Timothy 3; the practical component is here.

At Faith, we are making a significant step toward best practices as elders and staff. Our goal is for any member who is an accountant, works in finance or banking, to look over our finances and operation and be able to say, “That is trustworthy management of God’s money.”

5. Take Interest in the People.

Generosity won’t only involve money, but time and personal attention. The final instructions are for the coming visits.

I will visit you after passing through Macedonia, for I intend to pass through Macedonia, and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may help me on my journey, wherever I go. For I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. – 1 Corinthians 16:5-7

Paul is sharing his plans for a visit. He wants time to invest in them. He wants to get their help. There was a deep affection: The Corinthians did want Paul to stay.

My experience follows Paul: The missionaries we support financially are close to our hearts. We pray for them, can’t wait to hear from them and want to do even more when we see them.

When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am. So let no one despise him. Help him on his way in peace, that he may return to me, for I am expecting him with the brothers. -1 Corinthians 16:10-11

Paul expected Timothy to be respected and obeyed. They should make Timothy’s ministry a joy, not a hardship, and they should supply his needs.

Application

Let’s get practical.

If you are a regular, joyful giver who has good habits with your money and your giving, we need you to take the lead in asking people how they are doing in their financial stewardship. Ask some probing questions like, “Are there any difficulties trusting God with your finances? What ways do you feel greedy? Do you have a giving and spending plan?”

If you are in a group and you don’t have habits of generosity, maybe you need to ask for help. You might need to ask for help in determining what is a reasonable percentage to give. You may have a pile of debt. You may spend way too much on entertainment. Find someone who has habits of generosity and stewardship and ask for help.

One of the things that may feel embarrassing is that you are simply not making ends meet. You are not extravagant. You want to be generous, but actually you need the church to help you get on your feet.

If you have never given regularly, start with a percentage that verges on the uncomfortable. Make the same offering for six months straight. See what the Lord does in your heart and in your finances. I really have found it true that I cannot out-give God.

There is nothing like the generosity of Jesus to stoke my generosity. Since He owns it all, and I owe Him all, His grace stands out all the more.

Dan Jarms

Dr. Dan Jarms is teaching pastor and team leader at Faith Bible Church in Spokane Washington, as well as associate dean at TMS Spokane. He has been married for over 30 years to Linda, and has three adult children. He earned his B.A. in English at the Master’s College, B.Ed. at Eastern Washington University, M.Div and D.Min in Expository Preaching at The Master’s Seminary. His other interests include NCAA basketball, gardening, brick oven cooking.

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