What does the Bible say about generosity?
We often think of generosity exclusively in terms of abundance in financial giving. But to be generous can also mean to have a noble or kindly spirit. Generosity is not solely about large quantities, but speaks to one's attitude and actions toward others.
The Greek term used in the New Testament and translated as "generosity" in English Bibles (haplotēs) speaks to singleness or simplicity or being free of pretense. A similar Greek term sometimes translated as "generosity" (agathos) speaks of being of good nature or excelling in a certain respect. The Hebrew term used in the Old Testament (chanan) speaks of showing favor to or having pity upon. More literally chanan refers to bending in kindness to someone inferior. Generosity is not reserved for those with vast wealth or other resources; it is something everyone can exhibit. Let's examine a few of the ways the Bible talks about generosity.
God's generosity toward us:
In relation to God, the word chanan is often translated in English Bible as "gracious" or "merciful." For example, in Genesis 33:11, Jacob tells Esau that "God has dealt graciously" with him. In Exodus 33:19 God tells Moses, "I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name 'The Lord.' And I will be gracious [chanan] to whom I will be gracious [chanan], and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy."
The Psalms include pleas for God to be gracious (For example, Psalm 6:2; 9:13; 25:16; 26:11; 51:1; 57:1; 86:3). Psalm 102:12–13 says, "But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever; you are remembered throughout all generations. You will arise and have pity on Zion; it is the time to favor [chanan] her; the appointed time has come." God is generous toward humanity. The Psalmists ask for God to be gracious or merciful because they understand their position before God and His demeanor toward His people. Apart from God they are helpless against their enemies or left in the destitution of sin. But because of God's generosity, they can receive His help.
Psalm 119:29 says, "Put false ways far from me and graciously teach me your law!" To learn God's ways from Him is an act of His generosity. Psalm 119:57–58 says, "The LORD is my portion; I promise to keep your words. I entreat your favor with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your promise." Generosity or being gracious and merciful is part of God's character. Psalm 119:132 says, "Turn to me and be gracious to me, as is your way with those who love your name."
From the beginning of creation God has been generous toward humans. He created humanity in His image and invited us into relationship with Him. Our sin separated us from God, but He generously provided a means of redemption through Jesus Christ. Even beyond that, God blesses His children abundantly.
Ephesians 1:3–14 declares: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory." We serve a generous God!
Our generosity toward God:
In response to God's generosity toward us, we are called to be generous toward Him. When the Israelites built the tabernacle in the desert, they were told: "This is the thing that the Lord has commanded. Take from among you a contribution to the Lord. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the LORD's contribution … Let every skillful craftsman among you come and make all that the LORD has commanded" (Exodus 35:4–5; 10). And the people did just that. They brought and served not out of obligation but as a freewill offering to the Lord in response to the goodness He showed them.
Second Corinthians 9:7–8 says, "Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work." Our generosity with finances, time, and talent toward the work of the kingdom of God is based on God's generosity toward us. We understand we are stewards of His good gifts and so we freely give them back to Him. We also understand that the God we serve owns "the cattle on a thousand hills" (Psalm 50:10). His resources are unlimited so we need not fear that we will be left lacking when we are generous. Second Corinthians 9:10–11 says, "He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God."
Our generosity toward others:
Often our generosity toward God is expressed in the way we treat others. For example, Proverbs 14:31 says, "Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him." How we treat others is indicative of what we believe about God.
When Jesus sent out the twelve disciples in Matthew 10 He told them "You received without paying; give without pay" (Matthew 10:10). Part of being generous toward God is sharing what He has given us with others. First John 4:19 says, "We love because he first loved us."
This generosity toward others is expressed through having an open heart and an eagerness to help meet the needs of others. It is also expressed in living as people of integrity. Colossians 3:22–23 says "Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men." The word translated "sincerity" here is the same word translated as "generosity" in 2 Corinthians 9:11. Again, generosity is not solely about abundance in giving, but about having a sincere heart.
God is a generous God and He calls us to be generous people. As we receive His love and share it with others, God's name will be glorified.