Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Generous Without Excuse

by Ben Hein
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This is the second post in a short series on generosity. The first post can be found here.

Greed is a soul-killer.

The gospels tell the story of Jesus’ encounter with a rich young man (Mark 10:17-30). As far as we know from the story, this man was genuinely concerned with righteous living. In fact, when Jesus told the man that eternal life comes through keeping the moral law (i.e., do not commit adultery, do not steal, etc.), the man was able to say, “Teacher, I have done all these things since I was a child!” We have no reason to doubt him. As far as anyone else could tell, he was a righteous man.

But Jesus saw deeper and exposed a rot that was eating away at this man’s soul. “Go and sell all that you have,” Jesus said, “Sell everything and follow me.”

With his greed brought out in the open, the man had two choices: either confess his greed, sell his possessions, and follow Jesus; or accept that he was not the righteous man he thought he was.

The man’s greed consumed him, and he went away sad.

Greed, like pride, deceives the heart and blinds us from seeing our own corruption. Sometimes translated as covetousness, greed is the desire for more than we need or are due. The Scriptures speak of greed as one of the most wicked of sins. Jesus ranked it right next to murder and adultery (Mark 7:21-22). Paul considered greed appropriate grounds for excommunication (1 Corinthians 5:10-11). Greed is an evil which at its root is idolatry deserving of God’s wrath (Colossians 3:5-6).

I am a greedy man, but I don’t want you to believe it. I want you to see the meals I host for others, the acts of service in our ministry, the stories of helping people in my community. What I don’t want you to hear is the greed in my own heart which almost daily confronts me with the depth of my own sinfulness. Behind every generous act you may see in me, there are ten moments of greed-filled excuse.

“I’m too busy.”

“I’ll get to them next time.”

“I’m tired.”

“Things are tight this month.”

“They’re too needy.”

My greed blinds me daily as excuse after excuse rises from within me. Like the rich young man, I often find myself saddened by greed and inability to follow Jesus to the places he calls me.

Why are we so unwilling to really grapple with our greed? Perhaps some of us are simply ignorant, or have grown numb, to the decaying effect greed has had on our soul. Others of us may be afraid. We fear the consequences of our greed being exposed, or the risk of letting go of what we know.

As a result, we continue in a life of making excuses and never experience the joy that comes from letting go and practicing Christ-like generosity.

Robert Murray M’Cheyne was a Scottish pastor in the mid-nineteenth century. In a sermon on Acts 20:35 (“It is more blessed to give than to receive”), M’Cheyne winsomely articulated how Christ’s generosity pierces the greed of our hearts and opens us up to a life of blessed, happy generosity:

Now, dear Christians, some of you pray night and day to be branches of the true Vine: you pray to be made all over in the image of Christ. If so, you must be like him in giving. A branch bears the same kind of fruit as the tree. If you be branches at all, you must bear the same fruit. An old divine says well: “What would have become of us if Christ had been as saving of his blood as some men are of their money?”

Objection 1: My money is my own.
Answer: Christ might have said, “My blood is my own, my life is my own; no man forces it from me”; then where should we have been?

Objection 2: The poor are undeserving.
Answer: Christ might have said the same thing: “They are wicked rebels against my Father’s law; shall I lay down my life for these? I will give to the good angels.” But no, he left the ninety-nine, and came after the lost. He gave his blood for the undeserving. 

Objection 3: The poor may abuse it.
Answer: Christ might have said the same; yea, with far greater truth. Christ knew that thousands would trample his blood under their feet; that most would despise it; that many would make it an excuse for sinning more; yet he gave his own blood.

In sum, when Christ’s generosity pierces our hearts, we will see the foolishness of our own excuses. We’ll no longer be able to stubbornly resist the call of Jesus to be generous with our time and resources, for his generosity will have already pierced our hearts – and it will be joyous:

Oh, my dear Christians! if you would be like Christ, give much, give often, give freely, to the vile and the poor, the thankless and the undeserving. Christ is glorious and happy, and so will you be. It is not your money I want, but your happiness. Remember his own word: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”[1]

 Jesus, show us the depth of our own greed and idolatry. May we not be those who walk through life cold, ignorant, or numb to the corruption that is in our hearts. Break us open to see just how wicked our selfishness is. Then, being made bare before you, fill us with your Spirit and the deep application of your generosity into our hearts. Help us to know what this means: that though you were rich, you became poor for our sake, that we might become rich. Send us out with hearts made new, as those who freely give of our time and resources for your sake and the sake of others. In this, not our stuff, would you make us truly happy. Amen.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. It is clear from the Scriptures that Jesus takes our greed seriously. Do you?
  2. Do you see a tendency to make excuses in your own life? Is it an unwillingness to give of your time? Your resources? What might that say about your greed?
  3. Look at your list of resources available to you from the previous study (time, talents, finances). What do you hold onto most tightly? What might Jesus be asking you to let go of?
  4. Where does lasting happiness come from? How does generosity help us get there?

[1] Robert Murray McCheyne, The Works of the Late Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne, vol. 2 (New York: Robert Carter, 1847), 478–479.

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