How does generosity work? All the virtues do a great gospel-centered work in us and through us to conform us to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). Generosity does its great work by creating space in our hearts for others and giving to them without the need for them to reciprocate. This work helps us to become more like Christ in our character while also causing us to flourish or live the abundant life Jesus said He came to bring.
Generosity also works in another way. In a negative sense, it works to shine a light on our own hearts exposing those places that are strongly attached to our own resources. For instance, when we reflect on what it means to be generous we have to reconcile why we can be generous with money but at the same time incredibly stingy with our time. Or how about our generosity with helping a neighbor while choosing not to forgive a friend? If generosity is a heart condition that includes all of our resources as gifts from God, then certainly we don’t get to pick and choose which ones we find easier to give away. Why is it that some resources have such a strong attachment to our hearts?
This strong attachment of the heart, the Bible calls this idolatry. Timothy Keller defines an idol in Counterfeit Gods, as
“…anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give… An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “’f I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I‘ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.'”
In the end, the thing or resource you have a tight grip on, and to lose that would devastate or even inconvenience you, is what you worship in reality. Our hearts clutch and hang on because to lose “that” means losing control or a part of me. In an age of plenty, getting generosity deeper into our hearts does a remarkable job of revealing to us how much our stinginess is connected to our fear of losing and protecting ourselves. Again, as pointed out in my last writing, when the work of generosity is viewed in a positive sense, the generosity of Christ’s life and His body and blood getting deeper into the heart leads to a more generous life getting out of you.
One of the more important signs that the Spirit is at work in you is when you realize that this can’t be done in isolation. When we live life with other people and let them speak into our lives we will soon begin to discover what our heart doesn’t want to let go of. The duplicity of the heart is frightening as we can justify hoarding resources easily. Having others in our lives keep us honest and more free from slipping into rationalizing away our stinginess. When we get to do this together in our neighborhoods and our city, followers of Christ will be known as a truly generous people.