Generosity - A Biblical Perspective
Dr. Mathew Varkey
Words like ‘generous’ and ‘generosity’ are so familiar which refer to the virtue of giving good things to others freely and abundantly. Generosity is regarded as a virtue by various world religions and is often celebrated in cultural and religious ceremonies. It involves both attitude and action.
The present study deals with an overall view of the concept of generosity in the Bible. The main thrust here is to look into the concept which is pervaded all throughout the Bible.
Generosity in the Old Testament
While the Old Testament speaks rarely of the concept of Divine generosity, the New Testament is very lavish in using the same concept. The main exponent of the Divine generosity in Saint Paul who wrote most of the books.
Generosity in the Christian sense is God's unmerited, free, spontaneous love for sinful man, revealed in Jesus and efficacious through the vicarious death and resurrection of Him. Hence, generosity is very significant and lies in the heart of Christian faith. Generosity is a divine activity in human history and in human lives. What is the nature of generosity in Christian Tradition? For the answer we have to glance at the Old Testament first. The Old Testament speaks of God as generous toward helpless humanity and often at the same time declares that he is merciful, full of compassion slow to anger, plenteous in mercy and will abundantly pardon. The gracious love of God to man was the real foundation of the Old Testament religion. The Old Testament teaches that every creation live by the generosity of God. Generosity of God is typified mainly through the election of a special people, covenant relationship with them, the great deliverance from Egyptian slavery and restoration from Babylonian captivity. Prophet Hosea describes the love and generosity of God using the analogy of husband - wife relationship; while the loving husband restores his estranged wife out of his sheer mercy. When the prophets indict the people, they refer to God’s loving guidance and protection in the past ‘You were strangers in the land of Egypt’ is an eye opener to the people of God. God in his generosity forgives sinners who have no claim against him. The idea of generosity more than any other idea binds the two testaments together into a complete whole. For the Bible is the story of the saving act of God which is of the generosity of God. The old testament use of the word 'generosity' is intertwined with the New Testament idea that ‘charis’ is Jesus Christ.
Generosity in the New Testament
In the New Testament ‘generosity’ has a special meaning i.e. God’s self- disclosure in Jesus Christ and the self giving of himself to the whole cosmos. By the generosity of God the N.T means God’s unmerited love which takes the initiative in freely giving and forgiving, in receiving sinners and seeking the lost, in restoring the fallen and the unworthy and in giving comfort and strength to the afflicted and oppressed. God has taken initiative in intervening the human history without considering the merits or demerits of human beings, thus became the objective ground and content of generosity in every instance of its Biblical use.
Generosity in the Non Pauline writings of the New Testament
The Gospel or good news as a whole is the expression of divine generosity through the divine intervention of God in Jesus Christ. The explicit use of this concept is found in the fourth gospel, where the Christ event is identified as act of generosity as in Pauline epistles. The being and action of God was revealed and actualized in incarnation where Jesus Christ is the God ordained means by which the grace reaches men. The quintessence of God’s glory is revealed as generosity in the Johanine writings. The generosity of God in Jesus Christ is revealed in his teachings, preachings, and actions. Seeking the least, last and lost, healing of the sick and dying, bringing life to dead ones are examples of God’s generous acts. The parables of Jesus for example, Lost sheep, Prodigal son, and workers in the vineyard etc are the revelation of God’s generosity.
The name Emmanuel (God with us) connotes the free and spontaneous love of God bestowed upon human beings out of his redemptive purpose. The redemptive purpose of God that is embodied in Jesus Christ whose life, death and resurrection is identified as pure generosity of God. Our faithful action and service rendered are considered as mere duty and reward is bestowed upon us out of God’s bounty. In short, the gospels explain that the incarnated messiah Jesus - is the embodiment of divine generosity.
As the name - Acts of the Apostles - indicates, this book deals with the mighty works of the disciples of Jesus, and the spreading of the message of God’s generous acts. The inclusion of men of all castes and creed within the ‘Shekinah’ (Radiance) of God’s redeeming act found expression in the book of Acts. The success of the apostolic mission was based on the free flowing generosity of God. The miracles and wonder works explained in this book are pictured as God’s steadfast love only.
The epistle to the Hebrews speaks of Christ tasting death for every one by the generosity of God.Hence generosity is descriptive of God’s loving concern and readiness to aid all who turn to him in need.Generosity, the pivot of Biblical message intends to represent the fact of Christ – is the crux of all the New Testament Books.
Generosity in Pauline writings
A study of the Pauline writings throws more light to the understanding of this concept. St.Paul, the author of major portion of the Bible can be rightly called the efficient exponent of Divine Generosity in the Bible. Generosity is explained in connection with the Salvation History. Paul says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake, he became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich” (2 cor. 8:9). God gave his only son, because he loves us so much and the son died on the cross for us. It sets a model that generosity in God’s people should be sacrificial. The‘modus operandi’ of redemptive activity of God was vested in generosity, actualized by Jesus Christ. Since Jesus Christ is pre - existent, naturally his generosity also is eternal. Therefore Paul argues that God is the God of generosity, yesterday, today and forever. The calling and commissioning of Paul as an apostle is by the will of God. The very existence of Paul is strongly founded the cornerstone of Gods bounty. On the cross a divine exchange took place. All the evil due to us came upon Jesus and all the good due to Him came upon us. The all sufficient basis for all our provision is God's generosity shown to us on the cross. We thank God for his indescribable gift - Jesus Christ and his sacrificial death on the cross. In the epistles of Paul, generosity is applied exclusively to God’s undeserved kindness toward mankind in general through the descent of Jesus both in his birth, death and resurrected life.
The essence of Pauline theology is to narrate vividly what the Lord has done for us, and encourage us to reciprocate. Are we generous enough to meet the challenge before us? May the good Lord bless us. Amen