Character Traits of the Spiritual Life: Generosity

Character Traits of the Spiritual Life:



Richard Hollerman

Do you realize that you are a steward of the Lord and that you don’t really own anything?  Do you regard your income as a trust from God and a means of carrying on His work on earth?  Are you frugal in your living so you can give more to God’s purposes?  “Have you rejected the goal of being rich in money, but made it your goal to be rich in good works?  How often have you sacrificed things you wanted in order to give to the needs of others?”[i][i]  Although generous and generosity are seldom found in Scripture, we all know what this virtue means.  Generous means “liberal in giving or sharing, unselfish. . . . Generous stresses the warm and sympathetic nature of the giver.”[ii][ii]  It can be defined as “liberal in giving or sharing” or “characterized by nobility and forbearance in thought or behavior; magnanimous.”[iii][iii]

As in all other virtues, generosity must be motivated by love if it is to be genuine.  Paul says, “If I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3).  One can give without loving, but one cannot love without giving.  “Whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:16).  Paul says that “the sincerity of your love” is demonstrated by our giving to meet the needs of others (2 Corinthians 8:8).  In fact, when you give to meet such needs, you offer “the proof of your love” (v. 24).[iv][iv]

As in so many other virtues, God has demonstrated His love by giving what we need. He gives our physical and natural blessings: “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45; cf. Acts 14:17).  Most of all, He has demonstrated His love in the giving of His dear Son, Jesus Christ: “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).  Not only did God the Father give, but Jesus the Son likewise gave—He gave His own life as a sacrifice for our sins.  “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16; cf. Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 5:25; Titus 2:14).

If God the Father gave to us and Christ gave Himself for us, should we not be willing to give ourselves to Him (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15)—and give all that we have to Him and His purposes.  After all, God owns everything (1 Corinthians 10:26; Psalm 24:1) and He deserves that we give Him everything.  We are merely stewards of God’s own possessions on earth (1 Corinthians 4:1-2).

We are to live lives of generosity—giving what we have to those in need.  This includes physical needs and especially spiritual needs.  Paul admonishes us, “So then, while we have opportunity, let us to do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Galatians 6:10).  Our primary interest are other believers in Christ (Romans 12:13), but if we do have opportunity, we are to be interested in everyone (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:15).  The apostle speaks of the believers in Macedonia, for “in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality” (2 Corinthians 8:2).  Although they were very poor, they gave liberally to the poor saints in Jerusalem (8:4; 9:1, 12).  Paul then urges the Corinthian saints also to give generously: “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (9:7).  Do we want to experience the “love” of God?  This passage says that we should be a “cheerful” or happy giver!

Most people wonder how safe their earthly financial investments are and how protected their worldly possessions are, but there is one investment that is absolutely secure.  Jesus mentions this in Matthew 6:19-21: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  A “treasure” that is in heaven is secure from all earthly calamity.

But how do we store up treasure in heaven?  Paul answers: “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.  Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed” (1 Timothy 6:17-19).  We “store up” our “treasure” in heaven by being “generous” with our earthly possessions and money, and by being “ready to share” them with those in need.  The rich man was told to sell all of his possessions and give to the poor, and follow Christ—and he would have “treasure in heaven” (Mark 10:21; see also Luke 12:33-34).

You may think that you have little, thus what can you do?  “The test of generosity is not how much we give, but how much we have left.”[v][v]  Jesus said that the poor widow who gave only two tiny coins (all she had) gave more than all of the rich who contributed much (Mark 12:41-44).  How much can you do?  The early Christians were characterized in this way: “They began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. . . . And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them” (Acts 2:45; 4:32).  This was the attitude toward earthly possessions and money that turned the world upside down!

On the great Judgment Day, Christ will evaluate us on the quality of our faith, and the question will be whether our faith (by which we are saved) has been active in good deeds in life, which includes giving to the needs of other saints or “brothers” of Christ (Matthew 25:31-46).  How will we fare on that Day?  Proverbs 19:17 says, “One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, and He will repay him for his good deed.”  God will “repay” us only if we have given to others.  While we can and should be concerned for all people, our primary interest should be other believers, since we are all severely limited in our funds (Romans 12:13).  And the greatest way to be liberal in our giving is to give to the spiritual needs of the saved and the lost.  We can give so that the Word may spread abroad and the gospel of Christ may reach out to the lost (Mark 16:15; 1 Corinthians 9:14; Galatians 6:6).  Are we generous people?  Do we have a giving attitude, one that is modeled after God, the great Giver?


[i][i] The Power of True Success, p. 97.

[ii][ii] Random House Webster’s College Dictionary.

[iii][iii] The American Heritage College Dictionary.

[iv][iv] See our book, Christian Giving.

[v][v] The Power of True Success, p. 95.

Comments are closed.