How Generosity Hails God’s Kingdom
Awkwardly standing in the neonatal intensive care unit, I wasn’t sure what to do with my hands. I always feel too big for my body when I’m uncomfortable in my surroundings. Forgetting myself was easy, though, when my husband and I were introduced to our soon-to-be adopted daughter. Born the morning prior by emergency C-section, her tiny body was covered in wires and leads as oxygen machines allowed her to breathe. Sitting next to us during this first meeting was the birth mother, who was struggling to come to terms with the decision to release her flesh and blood to our care. None of us could hold that sweet baby girl for fear that the stimulation would be too much stress for her body to handle.
That Saturday night we fell exhausted into our hotel bed. We had driven across seven states to get to the hospital – from far north to deep south – and spent a year and a half of our lives in a process that culminated in this moment. Our emotions ranged from joy at the new opportunity placed before us to sadness at the birth mother’s grief to quiet fear that this little life wouldn’t recover from her medical complications.
The next morning we sought peace and hope from the only place we knew to turn in a foreign place: church. We entered the 200 year-old building half hoping we could blend in, hear an uplifting sermon, and just be. Welcoming southerners had different plans, and I think a third of the congregation knew our story before the service began. After church, we accompanied a group of strangers to a nearby restaurant and engaged in friendly conversation. Between bites of pizza and salad, we discovered that my husband and I went to graduate school with the pastor’s daughter.
“Ya’ll know Laura Beth?!” the group exclaimed. And just like that, we were family.
Over the next week and a half, those church members gave us far more than we would have dreamed to ask. Gifts, monographed baby clothes, money, and a place to stay. Perhaps most happily, we enjoyed fellowship where we expected to find none. Given the stress of our situation, this was good news; my husband and I may very well have eaten one another alive from snippiness if we were able to converse only with ourselves.
Meanwhile, our church back home was working to help provide financially for our life’s new endeavor. For a while, I tried in my head to keep a running list of all we had received, but I eventually abandoned the attempt because my memory networks are not that strong. Simply speaking, we had been given too much to track.
I’ve been a Christian for as long as I can remember, and while I’ve known God is real for many years, He’s never felt more real to me than during this time of profound provision. When one or two people give generously, it’s easy to thank them and move on. When 50-60 people do the same, praise must go elsewhere.
Our experience got me thinking about the end of Acts 2, when people who had received the Word sold their belongings in order to distribute the proceeds to whomever had need. I’ve never understood that passage as being realistic, and I certainly never considered doing something similar. However, now that I’ve experienced senseless generosity (because my husband and I are nothing special that we should deserve what we have received), I see much more clearly how generosity uniquely proclaims God’s kingdom.
- We welcome the stranger in our midst
Hospitality toward strangers and outcasts is one of the hallmarks of Christ’s ministry on earth. Giving to those who have been otherwise “left out” is a characteristic of God Himself. Deuteronomy 10:17-20 reads:
“For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.”
At one time or another, we are all the stranger. God is welcoming and kind toward those without a home. Just as the sweet southern congregants did to us in our time of need, we too reflect God’s kindness when we give to others who don’t have a support system of their own.
- We show love to one another
The greatest command is to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, and strength, and the second is like it – to love our neighbors as ourselves. As John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” In the United States, circumstances that would necessitate physically dying in the place of another are thankfully few, though not unheard of (e.g. boyfriends throwing themselves on girlfriends during the Aurora movie theater shooting). But anytime we sacrifice of ourselves for the sake of another, we show love. 1 John 3:16-18 says:
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”
In an age when acquiring knowledge is as effortless as speaking a question to Siri and opinions are formed as quickly as a tweet can be typed, loving with words and speech is a lot easier than loving with action and in truth. It is one thing to sit and discuss what loving other people looks like; doing it is something else entirely. Generosity – not only of possessions but also of forgiveness and hospitality – shows love.
- We step toward true equality
The distribution of wealth in the United States is notoriously skewed, with the gap between the richest and poorest increasing steadily since 2001. In 2013, 20 percent of the US population held 88.9 percent of the nation’s wealth. Global statistics are similarly sobering. In 2016, according to a report by the Credit Suisse Research Institute, 10 percent of the world’s population owned roughly 89 percent of available wealth. While income and wealth inequality have been political and human rights issues for the past century, the Bible describes socioeconomic disparity as existing far before Jesus’ day (Proverbs 14:21; Psalm 35:10). However, the Lord’s original intent for His people included no such disparities, and His final plan doesn’t include them, either. In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul speaks to the church in Corinth about giving out of what one has. In verses 13-18, he relates:
“Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: ‘The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.’”
Before those words begin to sound too much like Communism, remember that all we have has been given to us as a gift from God. Christian generosity is tempered by Godly love, not corrupted earthly authority. To uphold one another with generosity is to bring God’s heart for provision to His people.
- We mirror grace
A byproduct of showing love through generosity is a mirroring of Christ-like grace. Just as my husband and I did nothing to earn the gifts we received, so others may not seem as though they are “worthy” of charity. Certainly, discernment must accompany generosity, but the Bible makes clear that Christ’s grace is both free and undeserved. When we set aside personal vendettas, secret jealousies, and other differences in order to show generosity to another, we offer peace and show grace that is an offshoot of the grace we received when Jesus sacrificed his life for us (Matt 5:45-47; Jas 4:6). After all, when we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8).
- We bring glory to God
Studies suggest that those with more wealth wield a dominant power over those with less wealth. This is the way of the world and is not a new problem. Both Jesus and James allude to the favoritism that wealthy people in the first century received and suggest that the people of God should act differently (Matt 22:27; Jas 2:1-13). When we welcome the stranger in our midst, show love toward one another, and give without regard to the status of the person receiving, we defy the sinful systems our fallen world has garnered. Instead, we submit ourselves to God and draw our motivation from Christ’s loving sacrifice. By so doing, we work to build God’s kingdom – which seems foreign to the friends of the world – and bring glory to God (Jas 4:4; 1 Cor 1:18; Matt 5:16; 1 Pet 3:15).
I doubt the Southern church that was so hospitable to my family knew how much their kindness would ultimately help us. I doubt they knew how their generosity would change us. Their openhandedness welcomed us, showed us love as one of their own, and mirrored grace to us. In response, we were humbled by gratitude. With our entire social circle back home, we looked for ways to pay it forward and gave thanks to God.