My Two Cents on Generosity

CC BY, emilianohorcada, Flickr
CC BY, emilianohorcada, Flickr

Thought: If I had millions of dollars, I’d be an incredibly generous person.

I’m sure you’ve heard this kind of talk, especially when the jackpot swells. Wealth does indeed allow people to be generous and helpful. My problem with this rationale, however, is that we should think more money makes us more generous persons.

Now I don’t doubt that there are many who have respected their fortune by carefully weighing the responsibility of managing it—and have become more generous due to a new appreciation for wealth’s power. And there are those who have purposefully and creatively used earlier hardship as the impetus to empower others less fortunate.

These kinds of people underscore a process of building virtue and have understood that to be reckless with wealth is to disregard the noble prospects it is capable of producing.

But to assume that abundance directly translates into abundant virtue…well Jesus would quickly disagree with us.

Asian Hospitality

Let me tell you about a wonderful encounter of hospitality I had.

I was a teacher in Japan and decided to spend my first vacation in Tokyo. My American co-worker (and college mate) grew up there and was going to visit family; he asked me to come along. Lodging for me was arranged with a Christian family who gladly agreed to house me.

I was shown incredible hospitality. The entire upstairs loft belonged to me, and my host pre-stocked the refrigerator there with every imaginable treat. My clothes were washed, ironed, folded, and delivered daily. Meals were prompt and the matron’s sister baked and sent over exquisite breads for us. I was insisted upon to use the home phone to call and chat with my family back in the U.S. And despite the language barrier, we enjoyed the presence of Christ together in devotions after meals.

My friend had decided to join me the second day. Those he visited were elderly, so he opted to lodge with us and use his fluency to help us all communicate. When it came time for our departure, the patriarch handed each of us an envelope that, to our astonishment, contained almost $200 to pay for our train home—and a trip to visit them again.

Cultivated Hearts

This kind of hospitality, which I bumped into regularly as a gaijin (foreigner), is extreme by American standards. Obviously, it’s largely rooted in Japanese and Southeast Asian culture, but that lends to what I attempt to convey here. (And I should again emphasize and beg you to consider, to my point, the authentic faith I witnessed in this home.)

To think that wealth, newfound or otherwise, makes us more generous individuals really is to deceive ourselves. If you missed the point the first time: the heart must be cultivated this way.

I hope you go out of your way to accommodate others, really. But the level of generosity I described—let’s face it—isn’t quite American, culturally, for reasons I cannot explain now. When you go on vacation, is it imperative that you return bearing gifts for co-workers to show you were thinking about them? No, you hightail it outta the office just to get away from them jokers!

Gifts of the Heart

Let me be concise. I’m not convinced by wealth-induced “sudden generosity” because abundance has very little to do with virtue. Folk who have nothing but are truly generous people will share the little they have with others in need without a second thought. Did we clearly hear Jesus’s proposition—“Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). Real generosity doesn’t need wealth.

After observing the rich give their offerings and a widow place two copper coins in the temple treasury, Jesus turns to the disciples and says, “They all (the rich) gave out of their wealth,” meaning their gifts were inconsequential to what they possessed and were easy to offer. For all their abundance and the pride they derived from it, they possessed little spiritual wealth that begged of sacrifice and unadulterated devotion.

But this widow “out of her poverty, put in everything she had”—two paltry coins—and so confirms my point here.

More posts on this topic: The Perils of Covetousness, Living with Simplicity, and Why Do the Wicked Prosper? 

9 thoughts on “My Two Cents on Generosity

  1. I wouldn’t put down Americans as less than hospitable than Asians 😉
    I once worked in Massachusetts for a month and one of my colleagues went out of his way to help me get used to the place. He showed me places for cheap and good lunches, helped me when my rental broke down, hung out with me on weekends etc.

    But back to your points – yes, it is the goodness of our hearts that leads to generosity. Not wealth. It is easy to toss money into an offering bag, but it takes real love to sacrifice your precious Saturday afternoon to spend time at a nursing home…

    • How generous of you (!) but I think Southeast Asian hospitality really is a horse of a different color. I’m sure there are fantastic persons in every place; but we do find concentrations of certain characteristics and patterns that are culture-bound in places because the predominant philosophy dictates it to be that way.

      Where ya been? I’m missing reading your work.

      • Hey Mike, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and seeking lately. I did start on a couple of articles but the words were not flowing. As it is written in Ecclesiastes chapter 3, there is a time for everything.
        Right now I feel it is time for me to read, absorb and meditate.

        I’m itching to write ! So I hope and pray the time will come soon 🙂

  2. Scripture tells us that the love of money grows a tree of evil. If we are prone to greed and selfishness, acquiring a large sum of money won’t suddenly release us from that bondage; it will instead increase it. We’re sadly deceived if we believe that having money will make us want to give money. Like Mel said, giving is the fruit of a heart position, and not really about money. Money just has a way of exposing that heart position.

    • Absolutely. It’s something we really need to understand in our society. Materialism is replacing real virtue, and we’re finding it difficult to get back to shore–and absurdly normalizing that fact. Thanks for reading, Sparky.

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