Mother Teresa once gave an interview to *Hello!* magazine. She was asked the question, ‘Is it only the affluent who give?’ She replied, ‘No, even the poorest of the poor give. The other day a very poor beggar came up to me and said, “Everyone gives to you and I also want to give you twenty paisa” – which is about two pence. I thought to myself, what do I do? If I take it he won’t have anything to eat, but if I don’t take it I would hurt him so much. So I took, and he was *so happy* because he had given to Mother Teresa of Calcutta to help the poor. Giving cleans the heart and helps you get closer to God. *You get so much back in return*.’ Generosity is not just a nice character trait that people have. It is right at the heart of what our faith is all about. C.S. Lewis defined Christianity as *‘a kind of giving’*. God has poured out his generosity to you in Jesus (John 3:16), and you are called to respond in faith and generosity to others. Each of the passages today is about blessings and curses. The key to the fullness of the blessing is generosity – ‘the righteous give generously’ (Psalm 37:21).
Be generous, always
Some people in life are ‘givers’ and some are ‘takers’. According to David, this is a key difference between the ‘righteous’ and the ‘wicked’: ‘Wicked borrows and never returns; Righteous gives and gives. Generous gets it all in the end’ (vv.21–22a, MSG).
Generosity is not an occasional act; it is a way of living. The generous are ‘always generous and lend freely’ (v.26). The Lord delights in those who live like this (v.23). You may hit problems and stumble but you will not fall (v.24). God’s promise is to bless you and your children (vv.25–26).
In today’s world, we are confronted by many ‘children begging bread’ (v.25). The bigger picture of this psalm is a vision of the entire people of God upheld by the practice of mutual generosity: giving and receiving. It was the people who followed God in generous giving to the poor that would find that their own needs were met when things took a turn for the worse. Whether financially, or otherwise, the rest of the community would support them in their need.
In today's COVID-19 world we are aware of great need both locally and further afield. God’s will for all his people is to uphold one another by ‘[giving] generously’ (v.21). Take every opportunity to give generously and you will experience the fullness of God’s blessing.
Lord, thank you for the amazing promises you make to those who give generously. Help me never to be satisfied with the level of my giving but always to seek to become more generous.
Luke 6:27, 30-31, 35–36
Be generous to everyone
Jesus spent the night praying to God. He was filled with insight as he chose his disciples. He was also filled with power to heal the sick: ‘and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all’ (v.19).
Jesus contrasts those who accumulate for themselves (the takers) and those who have generosity of spirit (the givers).
There is an emptiness about the way of life which involves becoming ‘rich’, being ‘well fed’, with lots of superficial laughter and gaining a good reputation (vv.24–26). It leaves people feeling ultimately dissatisfied and ‘hungry’ (v.25).
The way of blessing is totally different. It is the way of generosity. It may involve poverty, hunger, weeping, being hated, excluded, insulted and rejected (vv.20–22) – but it is a way of satisfaction (‘You will be satisfied’, v.21) and joy (‘You will laugh’, v.21).
Jesus calls us to be generous towards our enemies: ‘Love your enemies... If someone grabs your shirt, gift wrap your best coat and make a present of it... No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously’(vv.27–29, MSG).
Be generous to everyone; ‘Give to everyone’ (v.30). This is an attitude of generosity, ‘without expecting to get anything back’ (v.35).
As always, Jesus is only calling us to imitate the generosity of God: ‘Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never – I promise – regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind’ (vv.35–36, MSG).
Generosity towards your enemies means not only to forgive them but also to bless them. You must not speak evil of them even if you think they deserve it. You are to pray for them, bless them and speak well of them. As Nelson Mandela put it, ‘Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for your enemy to die.’ Instead, like God, be generous to everyone (v.36).
Father, help me to love my enemies, to do good to those who hate me, to bless those who curse me and to pray for those who ill-treat me. Help me to be merciful, just as you are merciful.
Be generous – like God
Again in this passage we see the theme of blessings and curses (22:6), and the contrast between ‘taking’ and ‘giving’. We see God’s continuing generosity to his people. Their life was not easy. If you have been a Christian for any length of time you have probably experienced times like these. They went through the ‘desert’, the ‘valley’ and ‘wasteland’ (21:18–20). This could be seen as a picture of life’s trials; dry patches, low spots and seeming fruitlessness.
But God gives water (v.16). Jesus said, ‘whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life’ (John 4:13–14).
By contrast, Sihon was not a giver. He was mean: ‘Sihon would not let Israel pass through his territory’ (Numbers 21:23).
Balaam was also a taker. He was after ‘the fee for divination’ (22:7). He is condemned in the New Testament because he ‘loved the wages of wickedness’ (2 Peter 2:15). Balaam’s ‘error’ was to ‘rush for profit’ (Jude 1:11).
The Israelites themselves grumbled against God and against Moses (Numbers 21:4–5). Despite all that God had done for them, they were not satisfied and rebelled against him.
Their rebellion could not go unchecked, and so God initially sent judgment on the people (v.6). God’s ultimate plan though was to redeem and bless his people, restoring their relationship with him.
They confessed their sin and ‘the Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived’ (vv.8–9).
Speaking of this incident in the desert Jesus said, ‘Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him’ (John 3:14–15). Jesus is referring, of course, to his death on the cross (12:32–33).
God, in his generosity, provides the sacrifice that enables you to know forgiveness. The uplifted snake in Moses’ day brought physical life to those who looked in faith. The uplifted crucified Christ brings eternal life to anyone who looks in faith and believes in him. You cannot earn forgiveness. Eternal life is a free gift, but you still have to choose to accept that gift. Believing is an act of the will that accepts the free gift of God (3:15).
Charles Haddon Spurgeon was one of the greatest and most influential speakers of the nineteenth century. He described his own conversion when, as a teenager, he heard a speaker say, ‘Look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothing to do but to look and live.’
‘Like as when the brazen serpent was lifted up, the people only looked and were healed, so it was with me… When I heard that word, “Look!” what a charming word it seemed to me! Oh! I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away... and I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them, of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith which looks alone to him.’
This is the generosity of God. Your call to be generous stems from God’s generosity to you. As the apostle Paul writes, ‘Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!’ (2 Corinthians 9:15).
God, thank you for your generosity to me, in providing a way back to you. Help me to look to you daily for forgiveness. Help me to drink in deeply your water of life that sustains me. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
Life for the people of God doesn’t seem very easy. They didn’t spend their days having fun playing in the sunshine. There were difficulties everywhere; hunger and thirst, aggressive neighbours and now snakes! (Not my favourite.) As Mark Twain once said, ‘Life is just one [darn] thing after another.’ God doesn’t seem to take the difficulties away, but he does help us come through them.
Nelson Mandela cited in Phil Cousineau, *Beyond Forgiveness: Reflections on Atonement*. (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass 2011) p.139. ‘Interview with Mother Teresa’, *Hello*, Issue 324, 1 October 1994. Lewis A. Drummond, *Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers*, Kregal Publications, 1992, p.23. Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790. Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.