A few weeks ago I had a wonderful and stimulating conversation with a co-worker about giving and generosity. For the sake of the discussion he asked, if generosity is a biblical command (1 Timothy 6:8), how much is enough? How much is required to be generous? I suppose that’s what many people are looking for – something to help give clarity to generosity.
The phrase “give until it hurts” was originally spoken by Mother Teresa but instead of speaking about money, she was speaking about giving love to another. Without trying to explain what she meant, the phrase was then used to motivate people to give financially. The exact meaning seemed to be, “Don’t give at a comfortable level but give at a level that is uncomfortable or hurts”.
I understand radically sacrificial giving but I think using this cliche to guide giving is misplaced. In our desire to people give clarity to people’s giving, and for them to give freely, it mostly has the effect of motivating people in the wrong way. Rather than thinking of generosity in terms of it “hurting”, generosity should actually make us more joyful.
Take for example, people you know who are very generous people. While you might not know how much they give, you are aware that they give freely out of the excess of their resources – time, finances, and neighborly help and hospitality. Ask them if their giving feels like it hurts and you will be greeted with a puzzled look. “What are you talking about? Giving until it hurts? Giving is a joyful experience for us!” You don’t see these people wincing when it comes to letting resources flow from their hands to others. Instead, they will rarely see it as sacrifice but rather as a great settled, deep happiness.
In some ways when it comes to generosity we are pretty torn – on one hand we want clarity. We want someone to tell us what percentage or how much. Living under a system like the Israelites did seems to be so clear and cliches seem to provide some level of clarity! On the other hand, we don’t want anyone telling us how much because that sounds like legalism. Either way, we lose out on the great joy that could be presently ours by seeing the tenacious grip on our lives loosened as the gospel takes root in our hearts.