The Beauty of Giving

 I love flowers. I don’t know much about flowers, but I love them.

 A few weeks ago I said something similar while hanging out with my friend Subhan. We were in his apartment; a simple dwelling without much fuss. No photographs to be found or prints hanging on the walls, just a single vase sitting on his desk with a handful of artificial flowers inside. When I saw them I simply said, “I love those flowers”. The moment I finished that sentence, Subhan’s hands disappeared behind his desk before pulling out a bundle of those same flowers. “You must have them.”

 I knew I had no choice but to take the flowers Subhan had offered. In his culture, to refuse would be to dishonor him as a host. So I half-heartedly took the package of flowers, one of the only defining features of his home, back with me.
 
“Giving is true having” – Charles Spurgeon

 Subhan was desperate to give me those flowers. There wasn’t an ounce of hesitation in him. Without a doubt, much of this reckless abandon to gift me the flowers comes from his deeply engrained Middle Eastern culture. But I think there’s also a part deep inside of him and inside each of us that know only by giving away can we ever truly have something. Spurgeon’s line on this is profound. Giving really is true having. By giving something away, by surrendering it, we strangely come into more complete ownership of that thing. “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it,” says Jesus (Matthew 10:39). Only by giving my life away will I ever truly have the life that God intended for me. All this seems backwards, and I think that’s the point.
 
 “In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.” - 2 Corinthians 8:2

 With the things of God, there’s a kind of beauty in disparity. It’s one of the things that continually brings me back to Him and His story. The meek inherit the earth. The first will be last and the last will be first. A savior born in a manger. Wailing into dancing. Beauty from ashes. Overflowing joy amidst extreme poverty.
 
 I heard this called the reverse economy of God once. It’s fitting. God always flips the narrative on its head. That’s who He is. That’s what He does.
 
 That’s also what the earliest followers of Jesus were doing in Paul’s description above. Only with God can joy and poverty equate to rich generosity. Common sense would typically lead someone in poverty not to give at all, and yet they gave joyfully and generously. In fact they “urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people” (2 Cor 8:4). But why?

“In the years of living this life of faith, I have never known God’s care to fail.” – Brother Andrew

 These early believers gave up their old lives and gained new, real ones. From that point on they were completely and joyfully dependent on God for all things. And while we believers in the modern west can relate to our spiritual ancestors in terms of dependence on God through Christ for our salvation, it’s harder for us to relate to many of the other ways they found themselves dependent on God’s provision. And yet, that’s just what they did. They were, “hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8). Despite their circumstances they were joyfully dependent on God to provide everything they could ever need. This dependency upon and faith in God to provide enabled them to live radically generous lives. If I know that God will make sure I have whatever I really need, I will be more than willing to give whatever I have away. Too often though, our lack of generosity reflects our lack of faith in God’s willingness to provide for us.
 
Not only were these believers dependent upon God to provide for them materially and physically, they were also dependent upon God to satisfy them internally. The “overflowing joy” that Paul speaks of was not satisfaction and joy in their possessions. All of their joy and fulfillment was found in their identity as adopted children of God; not in their accumulation of wealth or possessions. We would do well to learn from these early believers in this regard.

 Typically when I interact with someone new, the first thing I ask after his or her name is, “What do you do?” We think the answer to this question tells us much about the person. Based on their answer we unconsciously label their social and economic status as well as level of authority and influence. We identify people based on what they do, what they earn, and what they have. That’s diametrically opposed to God’s “reverse economy”. If we make our identity out of these things instead of our relationship with God, it’s no surprise then that we’re so hesitant to live the radically generous lives that Jesus and the early church model for us.
 
 “’Follow me,’ Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.” Luke 5:27-28
 The call to follow Jesus is a call to live generously with our whole lives. We typically think of generosity in terms of finances or material gifts, and this is true. But it isn’t the whole truth. To walk in the fullness of Godly generosity is to walk in the footsteps marked out for us in the scriptures. Mary pours out a year’s wages worth of perfume at Jesus’ feet (John 12). A poor widow put two copper coins into the offering, a gesture worth “more than all the others” (Luke 21:1-4). Jesus takes the disciples through Samaria, costing them their pride (John 4). The Good Samaritan mends the beaten man back to health, costing him time, money, and effort (Luke 10:30-35). Paul and Silas are arrested for preaching the gospel in Philippi, costing them comfort, time, and physical health (Acts 16). Jesus loves and dies for His enemies, costing Him his life.

 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” - Romans 12:1

 The call to live generously is more than a call to tithe 10 percent of your income. It’s a call to live and love radically. It’s a call to freely give what you have freely received-- your life, all of it.

Author | Jake Stephens

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