The Home Economics of Generosity, (Part 1)
My parents and grandparents did their best to raise me to be responsible, work hard and save money. They taught me these things both by their example and explicitly in lessons that were often expressed in traditional sayings such as these:
“A penny saved is a penny earned.”
“A fool and his money are soon parted.”
“Money doesn’t grow on trees.”
“If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.”
“A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”
“Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”
“Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”
These are a some of the traditional sayings my parents and grandparents recited to me to teach me to work hard, manage money well and live within my means.
When we open the pages of the Bible, we will also find words encouraging diligent work, wise money management and living with integrity. But one of the most striking features of the Bible is how often we find words encouraging us to be generous. Jesus, rather than encouraging us to save money, warns us about the dangers of accumulating wealth.
The Bible is filled with appeals, exhortations and commands to practice generosity. It is also filled with promises of blessing and reward to those who do. From the earliest days, the people of God received instructions to be unselfish with possessions, to give freely for building a place of worship in the desert, to contribute both animals and other possessions for the daily ritual sacrifices as well as for the support of the priesthood, to provide for the needs of the poor.
Here are a few examples:
“Take from among you a contribution to the Lord. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the Lord’s contribution: gold, silver, bronze.” (Exodus 35:5)
“One gives freely, yet grows all the richer. Another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.” (Proverbs 11:24)
“Freely you have received; freely give.” (Matthew 10:8)
“Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Luke 6:38)
“God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)
Through the ages and through the recurring changes in economic systems from age to age, the biblical command to be generous has been interpreted and reinterpreted in ways that fit the context of the age. But the basic intent remains the same. God calls us to be generous, to share our wealth with the community of faith for the support of a congregation and for the carrying out of his mission. Traditionally, we understand from the scriptures that God commands us to devote to him ten percent of our income for his work through a local congregation and to give more as we are able to other worthy causes.
For most of us this is not easy. When we think about the needs of our families for food, clothing, housing, good medical care, automobiles and other transportation, education both now and in the future, insurance, savings and investments, holiday celebrations, gifts and vacations, sports and entertainment, our hearts can be filled with anxiety and our minds driven to perplexity and confusion about how we can manage it all. Where will we find the money to meet all these requirements? How can we give away our resources when it seems we are constantly coming up short to meet our family’s needs?
We can practice generosity first and foremost because God is generous. But in order to be generous, we will need to learn to manage our households well. In the long run we cannot be generous if we are living beyond our means. You cannot give away what does not belong to you. If families are going contribute ten percent of their income to God’s work, and go the extra mile with additional giving, it is going to require faith and wise management of our resources. This is what I call the Home Economics of Generosity. In this series of postings we are going to explore various challenges we face when we decide to respond to God’s challenge to practice generosity.
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