I realize that the title sounds oxymoronic, but it made me think of it when I read an anecdote.

Once upon a time, there was a gardener who grew an enormous carrot. So he took it to his king and said, “My lord, this is the greatest carrot I’ve ever grown or ever will grow. Therefore I want to present it to you as a token of my love and respect for you.”

The king was touched and discerned the man’s heart, so as he turned to go the king said, “Wait! You are clearly a good steward of the earth. I own a plot of land right next to yours. I want to give it to you freely as a gift so you can garden it all.” And the gardener was amazed and delighted and went home rejoicing.

But there was a nobleman at the king’s court who overheard all this. And he said, “My! If that is what you get for a carrot—what if you gave the king something better?” So the next day the nobleman came before the king, and he was leading a handsome black stallion. He bowed low and said, “My lord, I breed horses, and this is the greatest horse I’ve ever bred or ever will. Therefore I want to present it to you as a token of my love and respect for you.”

But the king discerned his heart and said thank you, and took the horse and merely dismissed him. The nobleman was perplexed. So the king said, “Let me explain. That gardener was giving me the carrot, but you were giving yourself the horse.” (Keller, Timothy. The prodigal God: recovering the heart of the Christian faith. NY, NY: Penguin Books, 2016. Kindle)

Reading the anecdote, it made me think that it’s actually possible to give either for the glory of God or the credit of self. I can give with the purpose of personal satisfaction that I may feel good about myself.

In 2 Corinthians 8:2 -5, Paul described the generosity of the church in Corinth. “In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord…”

They gave first to the Lord. Our motive and the object of our giving has to be first the Lord. This will keep our generous hearts from being selfish.

You’re selfish!

And guess what, so am I.

But the more we understand the grace we’ve received, the better we are able to exercise the grace to give. Saving grace overflows into giving grace. Freely we give because freely we have received.

Paul exhorts the Corinthian church to “excel in the grace of giving.” (2 Corinthians 8:7)

Now, the first thing that comes to mind when the topic of generosity is mentioned is money. But it’s not just about the money…money…money…

We all know that generosity involves many different facets – TIME, TALENT and TREASURES.

It is actually possible to give without being generous or at least in the spirit and attitude Paul referred it to.

We can give out of convenience – to stop a beggar from bugging us.
We can give out of guilt- because we feel bad about another’s plight.
We can give for self-benefit – to help because there’s a foreseeable return.
We can give for self-promotion – to help us stroke our already bloated ego.

What does it look like to excel in the grace of giving?

1. JOYFULLY

In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. (2 Corinthians 8:2)

Check out this equation:
SEVERE TRIAL + EXTREME POVERTY = ?

The normal answer would be anxiety … depression… anger… irritation or even grumbling.

However, the church in Macedonia responded in overflowing joy. Now… that’s grace of God in action!

2. SACRIFICIALLY

For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. (2 Corinthians 8:3a)

We’ve somehow lost the meaning of this word (sacrifice).

We’ve become such a consumer society that what makes us happy has become top priority.

If I get what I want, then I’m happy. But if my expectation does not match my experience, then I’m unhappy.

The church in Macedonia gave sacrificially. Top of mind wasn’t what they would receive but what they are able to give.

3. VOLUNTARILY

“Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people.” (2 Corinthians 8:3b-4)

Giving when it’s compulsory is not a joy. However, when it is done from a cheerful and willing heart, then it doesn’t only feel fulfilling but honors God ultimately.

I love what Sir Winston Churchill said…

“We make a living by what we get;
we make a life by what we give.”