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The Generosity Journey: Getting Started

By Michael Roop

This is the second blog in a five-part series. To catch up on previous blogs, you can click here.

As a parent of young kids, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about stages of development. As the body and mind grows, new sets of joy and challenges emerge, and usually right about the time you feel like you’ve got the last stage figured out.

The authors of the New Testament use this metaphor to describe the growth of a Christian. Paul constantly writes about his desire to see his readers become mature (e.g., 1 Cor. 14:20; Eph. 4:13; Phil. 3:15). Famously, the author of Hebrews rebukes his readers for needing to feed on spiritual milk instead of solid food (5:11-14). John refers to his readers as his children (1 Jn 3:18, 4:4, 5:21).

So that got me to thinking: what are the developmental stages of generosity? With all the expertise of a 34-year-old pastor (read: not much), I think we can identify three, and we’ll tackle the first this week.

Generosity, in its earliest stage, is simply about meeting needs. The young Christian begins to see that they have a role to play in the wellbeing of their neighbors and fellow Christians. In fact, more than a role, they have a duty. At the same time, they begin to see that fulfilling this duty is a source of deep joy and humility. Who are we that we get to be part of God’s material support to others?

This represents a fundamental shift in the way we view our neighbors. Those in need were previously regarded as obstacles, or inconveniences, or worse. But the follower of Jesus has been the recipient of unimaginable compassion, and so begins to extend that compassion to others. And, growing in the realization that everything we have is a gift from God (James 1:17), the follower of Jesus feels less and less entitled to manage their stuff toward their own goals and comforts. Instead, our stuff represents the opportunity to meet needs all around us.

These needs tend to center in the local church, and in part because the local church often makes needs-based requests. This isn’t wrong; churches need to pay their bills, support missionaries and partners, and give generously to those in need. However, the messaging can, at times, reduce giving to the opportunity to meet needs, which is developmentally appropriate for the young Christian, but certainly doesn’t tell the whole story on biblical generosity.

As generosity approaches its teenage years, growth takes on the appearance of margin. The giver will look for areas of their lives to cut back, lower spending, leave more leftover once expenses are paid so that they are able to give more. While this is a good and admirable process, and essential to the development of Christian generosity, it’s not where we want to set up camp. It’s not the final goal of fully mature generosity.

In fact, we haven’t even passed into adulthood just yet. That’s where we turn next week as we continue watching the development of mature generosity.

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