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? 

My Favorite Christmas Gift

CC BY-NC-ND, sparkieblues, Flickr

CC BY-NC-ND, sparkieblues, Flickr

What was the best Christmas gift you ever received?

Mine is a set of Bible commentaries I wanted for about three years. I had desperately needed more study tools and was overdue for a commentary. So I subscribed to Christian Book Distributors and found a set I heard mentioned at a church conference.

The retail price for the 14-volume library was listed as $500, but the wholesaler offered it for $99! Over time I watched the price fluctuate between $129 and $79, yet I never had the extra cash, or guts, to do the deed.

Truthfully, I was trying to talk myself out of the purchase. The commentary couldn’t be as wonderful as the glowing description or as useful as the pastor had suggested. And the retail price: it probably wasn’t true—first $500, now $99? I went to my local Christian bookstore, which I knew didn’t sell the set, and had them price it. Indeed, it was $500 to purchase at face-value. Now there was only one thing for me to do: steal the deal or pretend to need something more.

I mentioned the set to my sister as something I’d like for Christmas, but only as a joke. I was certain no one would be interested in giving me books or wish to spend as much on a single item for me when there were several others to buy for; but I was wrong.

What Is This?

In the chaos of Christmas Day at my mother’s house, I was handed a heavy box from my sister and uncle, which was odd. There was no shaking this solid package. I opened it but it took me a while to figure out what I was looking at. But then I recognized that it was the commentary set, and I froze. My heart began to race and I lit up like the Christmas tree! I couldn’t believe it and felt like crying. As far as I was concerned, Christmas Day could have ended right then.

I am still asked these many years later whether I use the books, and the answer is absolutely and regularly. The volume—Barnes’ Notes On The Bible—has been one of the greatest enrichments to my Christian life. First printed in the mid-19th century, they are indeed classics on the scripture replete with academic study, reflection, and conviction.

Although the volume is still available for purchase, it can be used online free of charge—along with so many other classic sets and tools. This helps when studying and working from the computer, which I’m doing more, although I prefer books.

If there is someone you know who loves the Word of God, consider a gift that will help them study academically and develop an enhanced knowledge of scripture. It would be a gift that never stopped giving.

What was the best Christmas gift you ever received? Share your story.