The Generosity MATRIX

Here is a blog I posted almost two years ago. I thought it would be helpful to repost after last weekend’s sermon on generosity… as you work through what it means to be gospel-centered and generous. This was the basis for the chapter on generosity in my new book, GOSPEL: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary, which comes out tomorrow!

For about a year God has really been dealing with me on what generosity needs to look like in the life of my family and our church.

There seem to be 2 extremes when it comes to how Christians view their relationship with their possessions.

Extreme #1: God wants 10%; after that you can do whatever you want with your money. After the tithe, you’ve done your duty. In fact, many Christians believe that giving 10% is a key to getting God to make you even richer. If you will honor God with 10%, they say, He will heap more and more riches upon, all of which you should enjoy as His thanks for your obedience. This position is not just wrong; it is unchristian, for two major reasons.

1) This position turns God into a servant that you use to increase your wealth. You tip God, not worship Him.

2) This position sanctions a lifestyle directed at acquisition of stuff for yourself. People who believe this about money are not living as disciples of Jesus.

Extreme #2: God’s only intention for our money is that we give it away to the poor or for world evangelization. Thus, if there’s something you could give away and still survive, you should give it away. Each of your “luxuries” is the blood of the poor. After all, Jesus gave up everything for us, did He not! Are you giving up as much for the nations as He gave up for you? Those pictures on your wall? Could have fed 10 orphans in India for a month. The $87 you spend a month on AC in your home could have clothed 132 kids and put a roof on 6 African churches. Do you really love your AC more than you love the orphan’s life, you glutted, overfed, disgusting, materialistic American?

I’ve heard this described (by some) as a “wartime” mentality. In war, it is said, you strip yourself of all luxuries to provide resources for the battle, and you and melt down all your “metal” for bullets.

Do you remember that really stirring scene in the movie Schindler’s List where Liam Neeson looks at his watch and remorsefully says, “This watch… this watch could have freed 2 Jews…” This position sees the only value of its possessions as what it can do for the poor or for world evangelization. Proponents say things like, “If your kids were starving, wouldn’t you liquidate your retirement to feed them? If your children were sold in the sex trade, wouldn’t you give up everything you had to rescue them?”

I find this position inspiring (and MUCH better than the first position, to note), but ultimately also out of balance. It led me to despair, and gave me a constant, unbiblical guilt angst about my stuff. Let me explain:

  • First, I don’t know where you “end” this kind of thinking. I feel like I could always have given more. Think about it—in war, if I had no bullets and the enemy was coming for my family, I would melt down all my spoons and eat with my hands so I could have bullets to defend them. Well, in this “war” I’m in on earth, there are always more lost people and the “poor we have always with us” (John 12:8). In other words, there are always more bullets “needed.” If my children had been sold in the slave trade, and giving up my last meal and starving myself so that they could be fed and free, I would gladly do it.

But most proponents of the view, I have noticed, still have spoons. Do they really care more about their precious spoons than they do lost souls in the Sudan? If not, why not do without them? They could survive without spoons!

Sometimes this group will say “live on necessities, and give away any excess.” But then I think, “What exactly is excess? Who am I comparing myself too? Anything but unheated rice and beans, twice a day, would be excess compared to a kid in India.” If you had a turkey and desserts for Thanksgiving dinner, then you ate, by a lot of world standards, excessively! If you take a hot shower each morning, or if you have a Christmas tree, or are getting your kids anything for Christmas, you have not really “given your excess.”

500 years ago John Calvin noted the never-ending trajectory of this type of thinking: “If a man begins to doubt whether he may use linen for his sheets, shirts, handkerchiefs, and napkins, he will afterward be uncertain also about hemp… For he will turn over in his mind whether he can sup without napkins, or go without handkerchief. If any man should consider daintier food unlawful, in the end he will not be at peace before God, when he eats either black bread or common victuals, while it occurs to him that he could sustain his body on even coarser foods. If he boggles at sweet wine, he will not with clear conscience drink even flat wine, and finally he will not dare touch water if sweeter and cleaner than other water.”[1]

  • Secondly, I find this position to be out of sync with a number of places the Bible teaches about possessions, and even assumes a God-like role in regards to the poor. I’ll get to that more below.
  • Thirdly, this position ends up being, for all its spiritualized language, a form of “compulsory” giving, which Paul says is not God’s way of motivating us to give (2 Cor 8-9). When you say, “good, radically generous Christians give,” and people go out and give because they want to feel like good, radical Christians, they have given under compulsion, the compulsion of wanting to earn the identity of “good Christian.” When you say, “only radically generous Christians are really saved,” and people rush out to give to prove they are saved, they have given under the worst possible compulsion: the compulsion of works-righteousness.

In contrast to both of these extremes, I think Scripture teaches us to view our possessions through a matrix (cue now your ‘red pill’/’blue pill’ imagery and a disturbing mental image of Laurence Fishburne with that gap in his teeth). What do I mean by matrix? A matrix is a set of principles we must hold in tension. We like rules, formulas, and black and white prescriptions. Instead, the Bible gives complementary values we should prize in our hearts. Individual decisions arise out of processing them through that matrix.

When it comes to our money, I see 6 principles the Bible puts forward. Any one of these principles, taken alone, will lead you out of balance. But holding all 6 in reverent tension can provide you with a balanced approach to your money that allows you to be freely generous with your money and also to enjoy the things that God has put into your life.

The Generosity Matrix

1. God gives excess to some so that they can share with those who have less.

Those of us who have been given more have the responsibility to share with those given less. The Bible teaches this in so many places it is hard to pick just one. The most compelling passage to me is Paul’s instruction in 2 Corinthians 8:13-15, where Paul uses the story of the manna to tell the Corinthians that those with excess should give to those with want.  We should not hoard our materials or gorge ourselves with God’s provisions today, for, at the end of each day it will all go bad, just as it did with the manna. In addition to that, numerous places in the Old Testament talk about believers’ responsibility to the poor, and James in the New Testament says that if we can see a brother suffering while we have the capacity to help him, and do not, then we cannot be people of faith. Those of us with a lot should give freely to those with little. This is both our duty and our joyful privilege. It’s why God gives us excess.

2. Jesus’ radical generosity toward us should be to us a model and a motivation for radical generosity with others.

Again, I go to Paul’s instructions on giving to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 8-9. Paul tells the Corinthian believers to think about how much Jesus has given up for them and respond accordingly.

Jesus did not merely tithe his blood, He gave all of it. Our responsibility is not to give up our 10% and go on our self-serving ways, but to pour out our entire lives, recklessly, for Him and for others, just as He did for us.

As God increases our ability to earn money, and gives us greater positions of power, we should leverage that power and money like Jesus did—not to increase our standard of living, but to increase our standard of giving. We should think of life like Jesus did, Paul says, who leveraged His position and His resources to save us, not to prosper Himself. Likewise, we should leverage our prosperity for the sake of world-evangelization, not self-indulgence. Paul says it plainly: God’s blessing on us monetarily is to “increase our seed for sowing” (2 Corinthians 9:10)/

This is, to me, an awesome and overwhelming principle. And it might be the most important of all of the principles, as it is simply responding to the generosity of Christ. As I have explained in multiple places throughout this book, Jesus says that no person who has experienced the extravagant love of Christ can be stingy with his resources. Loving others is the result of being loved by Jesus. If you love others, you will desire to see them helped, and you will joyfully give away your stuff to “purchase” their salvation.

But this principle must be balanced with the other 5 principles. If this principle is taken alone, then you wonder how you are ever “responding enough.” Whatever you give will be less than what Jesus gave for you. He left heaven and came to earth. He had nowhere to lay His head. He died a torturous death whereby He was abandoned by all His friends. He endured the Father’s wrath on our behalf. None of us can ever give as much as Jesus, so to say, simply, that He is our standard, is misleading.

At this point you might say, “But wait… doesn’t James tells us that if we don’t give to the poor and take care of widows and orphans then we’re not really saved?” (James 1:26-27; 2:14-25). Yes, it does. But the way to fix “not being saved” is not to start giving more, out of a foreboding sense of “I must do this to prove I am saved!” The way we are saved is to embrace the radical love of God for us. Scripture says repeatedly that when someone has truly embraced God’s generosity to them, they will be generous in response (Matthew 18:23-35). So yes, James is correct that those who are not generous are not saved, but he is not telling us to remedy that by starting to be radically generous. We must meditate on Christ, embrace the Gospel, and ask God to enable our hearts to really see Jesus’. We can only fix our selfish hearts by embracing the free Gospel given to us at Christ’s expense.

3. The Holy Spirit must guide us as to which sacrifices we are to make.

In the more Reformed-ish circles I run in, people are often not sure exactly what the Holy Spirit does, practically speaking—beyond regenerating our hearts and convicting us of sin. Functionally, He is a salvation-causer and a glorified conscience, but that’s pretty much it. He often does not function as the Counselor and Guide-better-than-Jesus-Himself-with-us that Jesus promised He would be.

I believe the Holy Spirit guides us. In fact, in the area of generosity, I depend on it. Otherwise, everytime I hear someone speaking about some mission, I feel like, “Why shouldn’t I be a part of that?” I could do overseas missions; I could adopt international kids; I could live in a ghetto downtown; I could take in foster children; a homeless man could live in my house; I could roam the halls of the hospital after work looking for people to pray for; my house could be much smaller so I could give more money to missions.

All these things are awesome ministries and Christians should be involved in them much more than they are. But, as my friend Larry Osborne says, “Not everything has my name on it.” The Holy Spirit must tell me when a particular missional sacrifice is for me. Without that guidance, I’m not sure what I would do. I’d probably be back in that guilt-cycle, always feeling like I ought to be doing everything that was put in front of me.

This principle, however, if taken by itself, can degenerate back into “compulsory” giving. If you only give because the Holy Spirit “tells you to,” then you are not giving because you want to, but because God ordered you to and you’re scared of what He’ll do to you if you disobey.

Recently a guy I don’t know that well handed me a birthday card with a small cash gift in it. All he said was, rather tersely, “I feel like the Holy Spirit told me to give you that.” I appreciated his obedience, and was grateful for the gift, but I didn’t really feel loved and cherished through his gift. He didn’t seem to give it to me because he liked me or delighted in my happiness or to tell me how glad I was he was in his life, he was simply “obeying the Holy Spirit.” I took my wife out to eat with his gift and enjoyed that, but I didn’t get the joy that comes from having someone express their affection for you by a gift. I’m pretty sure that God doesn’t feel cherished, either, when we give to Him solely because we’ve been ordered to.

Biblical sacrifice flows out of love. It is giving up something you love for something you love even more. So, we have to balance this principle with the other 5.

4. God delights in our enjoyment of His material gifts and gives us richly all things to enjoy.

Scripture makes this point in a number of places. For example,

  • Proverbs says he gives food and wine (fruit juices for us Baptists) to gladden our hearts, not just to nourish our bodies. Food is a gift of God that is about more than just life; it is about enjoyment.
  • In John 2:1-11 it says that Jesus created really good wine at the wedding feast in Cana. He could have done the watered down, cheap and sufficient, “wartime” wine. (Again, for you fellow Baptists for whom this wine analogy is lost on, it would be like going a wedding reception with Jesus where they run out of the little ham sandwiches and Jesus makes a prime rib and shrimp buffet in their place.) The point is Jesus provided good stuff for people at the party because He loved His Father’s creation and knew that by enjoying it we would glorify God.
  • In Nehemiah 8, when the people were wondering how to express their gratitude for “rediscovering” the law, their 1st response was to weep. But Ezra and Nehemiah corrected the people, and said, instead, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (8:10, NIV). God wanted us to express our devotion by a lavish party. Couldn’t they have just gnawed on corn husks and vegetables and drank water and given the money to the poor? Yes, of course… but that’s not what God wanted!
  • Psalm 35:27 says, “The Lord… delights in the well-being of his servant” (NIV). Like a good father, God loves to watch us enjoy the gifts He has given to us.
  • When the woman anointed Jesus’ feet in John 12, Judas objected because the price of the perfume poured out over Jesus’ feet was $25,000, and that clearly could have bought a lot of food for the poor! But doesn’t say, “You’re right, Judas… Mary, come on, we’re in a war… you should ‘melt that stuff down’ and use it for war-bullets.” Rather, Jesus delighted in the extravagant, uncalled for, luxurious, over-the-top display of love. Now, you may object and say, “But anointing the feet of Jesus is different than spending $4 on a caramel macchiato for ourselves when we could drink water instead and give the money to missions.” Of course you are right, but don’t miss the point… Jesus recognized other uses for money besides just evangelism and poverty relief.
  • 1 Timothy 6:17-19 says that God gives us richly all things to enjoy. In other words, God loves it when I bite into the succulent richness of a horseradish-crusted prime rib and every taste bud screams out in thanksgiving to God. He loves it when I wake up in a hotel by the beach hearing the gentle surf and the sea breeze blowing into my room. He is glorified in the comfort I feel in a clean house on a soft bed with a well-manicured lawn. He even likes it when I enjoy the clothes I wear and fancy the watch on my arm.
  • Multiple people in the Bible God blessed with great riches, and they evidently were not expected to give them all away: Abraham; Job at the beginning and end of his life; David; not to mention Solomon… And nowhere does the Bible indicate that God quits blessing that way after Jesus came. Randy Alcorn points out in his book Money, Possessions and Eternity that it is clear that some of Jesus’ early disciples were people of substantial means. Some evidently had large houses, since they hosted early church gatherings. Rich Old Testament saints were commanded to be “be generous” and to “share;” New Testaments are commanded the same. There is no “Old Testament saints were rich but New Testament saints are poor” teaching in the Bible.

If you take this principle apart from the other 5, you can easily begin to justify an indulgent lifestyle that is not honoring to God. But this is a legitimate biblical principle, and it should be taken seriously while held in tension with the others.[2]

Paul said he knew both how to be abased and how to abound (Philippians 4:11-13). Many sincere Christians seem to know how to be abased, but not how to abound. We must learn to receive both suffering and prosperity from God’s hand. My friend Larry Osborne says, “When God ‘Abrahams’ me (blesses me with prosperity), I’ll give Him thanks, enjoy it, and share it generously; and when He ‘Jobs’ me (allows me to lose everything), then I’ll thank Him, trust Him and enjoy my relationship to Him. By God’s grace, I know both how to be abased and how to abound. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” I think this is precisely what Paul meant in Philippians 4:11-13.

5. We are not to trust in riches and not to define our lives by the abundance of our possessions.

Money is the top competitor with God for 2 things in our lives: security and meaning. Many of us save up money obsessively as our security against a “rainy day;” others spend money frivolously to acquire the most up-to-date status symbols and creature comforts.

Jesus addresses both groups in Matthew 6:25-33. He tells the first group, those who see money and not God as their security, not to worry about tomorrow, because God is better security than money. He reminds the second group, those that see money, not God, as the source of their significance, that it is the presence of God, not money, that make our lives joyful, meaningful, and beautiful.

This is where real generosity starts. When we have been freed from worshipping money as our security and depending on it as our beauty, we naturally have more to give away and a greater desire to do it.

Christians who worship God, not money, prefer to live sufficiently and give extravagantly, rather than visa versa. They don’t need to have as much cash in the bank (because they trust God, not money, with their future) or bling in their house (because God, not gold, is our beauty).

Embracing my security and significance in Christ has empowered my wife and me into joyful generosity. It was when we quit worshipping money and started worshipping God that we finally had the freedom to be generous! When God became our beauty and our security, we could more easily give away our money. We quit “tipping” God with His 10% just so we could get back to the building of the 401K and the pursuit of stuff. We found God gave us more security and more significance than our stuff used to.

God doesn’t want to be tipped; He wants to be worshipped. When you start to worship Him, you’ll find an extraordinary freedom in giving.

Here again, this principle is not the sum total of generosity. If you only hold to this principle, you’ll miss out on the joy of real Jesus-style, love-motivated sacrifice. So this principle also must be held in tension and balance with the other five.

6. Wealth building is wise.

The last biblical principle I want to give to you is that it is ok, even biblically wise, to build wealth. Consider these clear instructions in Proverbs.

  • “The crown of the wise is their wealth.” (14:24)
  • “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance.” (21:5)
  • “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.” (13:22)
  • “Honor the Lord with your wealth, and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will be bursting with wine” (3:9-10)
  • “Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.” (13:11)
  • “Go to the ant, o sluggard, and consider her ways… she prepares (and saves!) her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.” (6:6-8)
  • “The blessing of the LORD brings wealth, and he adds no sorrow with it.” (10:22)

Proverbs 13:22 goes so far as to say that a wise man can leave an inheritance that blesses even his grandchildren! That’s a pretty significant wad of cash.

Now again, if you held this principle alone and not in tension with the others, it would lead to the hoarding of wealth, something Scripture clearly condemns (James 5:1-5). We must balance responsible saving with principle #5, that we not trust in our savings for our future and # 1, that we should give of our excess to those who are currently in need and #2, that we pour our lives out for other as Jesus did for us!

Clearly, however, the Bible indicates you can save responsibly, and clearly, God made some people in the Old and New Testament fabulously wealthy.

As noted above, in the Old Testament, we have the examples of Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, David, Solomon, and Job. These men remained wealthy until they died. Examples in the New Testament are less frequent, but (as noted above), there is numerous indications that some of the earliest Christians had some coin.

It is also true, and worthy of note, that saving money and building wealth can actually increase your ability to be generous later, in at least two ways. First, having money on hand can allow you to be strategically generous when the right moment arises. As noted above, some of the earliest Christians had houses large enough to hold some of the first church meetings, and the Good Samaritan was able to give his money to the man in need precisely because he had some extra in his purse ((?)… maybe Jesus meant a “man-bag”?)

Second, the most basic principle of economics is that money creates money. Through the compound interest that accumulates on sizable savings, you can give more away over a lifetime if you invest it wisely than you could by ridding yourself of it as soon as you get it. This principle is at work in the verses cited from Proverbs above, as well as in Jesus story about the investment of “talents” in Matthew 25:1-13. Thus, sometimes the investment of a portion of your money is a more generous decision than giving it all away. You must balance this, of course, with principles # 1 (there are immediate needs around us and we should share, not hoard), and # 5 (we should trust in God, not our money, with the future).

This brings up another question: What should you do if you are in debt? Short answer is this: get out of it as quickly as possible. There are many reasons for this, one of which is you can be even more generous later. If you remain in debt, you will over the years give an extraordinary amount of money to creditors that you could have given to the Kingdom.

Should you curtail your generosity while you pay off your debt? Yes and No. I would prioritize getting out of debt, but I would never suggest cutting generous giving out of your life entirely. For example, I would never stop tithing, no matter how much debt I was in. Why? Generosity should never not be a part of your life. Generosity is part of being spiritually alive… to use the analogy of your body—even if you are sick, the body doesn’t divert all your energy to fight the sickness; it uses some of your energy for normal bodily processes. Even when you are “sick” with debt, you shouldn’t use all your financial resources to pay off that debt, you should use some of your money to be generous. Generosity is part of spiritual health. So, I’d always give a tithe. Beyond that, I’d just suggest you listen to the Holy Spirit about when and how much to share with those in need.

My wife and I currently have some debts we’d like to pay off soon, but that hasn’t stopped us from giving well beyond the tithe.

So what is the conclusion? How much should we give?

If you have a type-A personality (like mine), you are probably anxiously awaiting “the bottom line.” “So how much do Christians have to give? What is it? 10%? 30%? 50%? Or should we cap our lifestyles at $40,000 and give away the rest? How many meals out a month are OK?”

What we want so badly is a “law” or a “standard,” but that is precisely what the Bible does not give us. The Bible focuses on our heart, not the amount we are to give. When the heart is right, the giving will be right.

That’s why the Bible gives us the matrix of these 6 principles, I believe. They address 6 things that ought to be important to a Gospel-saturated, God-centered heart. You won’t find laws regarding giving in the New Testament. What you’ll find are values the Gospel-centered heart possesses. We make our decisions out of those values.

Fallen human nature loves laws.  It loves rules. It loves standards to reach. And the law is easy to preach—whether that’s giving 10%; “giving away all the excess;” living at the average American household salary and giving away everything above that; using a PC and not a Mac; drinking Folgers and never lattes at Starbucks; etc. Laws preach nicely.  But the Gospel writers always resist this temptation. The Gospel always focuses on the heart.

So, the bigger questions that we must ask about money are these:

  • What does our money show that we really delight in, that we really worship?
  • What does it show that we hold as our security?

Are we like the ravens, trusting God as our security?  Are we like the flowers of the field, finding God as our beauty?  Or do we look to money to do those things for us instead?[3]

What does what we do with our money show that we love?  Do we spend more on possessions for ourselves than we do for lost people around the world?  At Christmas time do we buy mostly gifts for ourselves, or do we give gifts that help take Jesus to those who are most in need around the world?

If we evaluated your life simply by your checkbook, what does it say that you love?  Where your treasure is is where your heart will be (Matthew 6:21).

If your spending shows you love the things of this world, the answer is not just to give away money. The answer is to learn more about the Gospel, and to be overwhelmed by the love of Jesus.

As I have emphasized so often in this book, love for God and for others grows as we embrace the extravagant love of God for us. As we do that, your heart will change and you will give away money with radical generosity, freely, because you love God and His kingdom more than you love stuff, and you hold God as your security more than you find security in stuff. When our hearts have been quickened to understand and love the Gospel, our natural, un-coerced reaction will be to live sufficiently and give extravagantly.

So, have you given enough? The simple truth is this: the Gospel eschews the word “enough” in any context, except in describing Christ’s work on our behalf. “Enough” will most always become a form of compulsion, which Paul says is not to be an operative motive in our giving. “Have I given enough?” is a question that pounds us with guilt and “compels” us to give more to feel good about ourselves. Paul, by contrast, says that God loves free, cheerful givers who give because they absolutely love to, not because they are compelled to (2 Corinthians 9:5).

But how can we possibly enjoy nice things or save money when so many people have never heard the Gospel?

Let me finally consider this last, very sincere, and sobering, question.

As I noted above, our lifestyles must certainly reflect the fact that we live in a world of great spiritual and physical need. However, there is a hidden, and false, premise in that question that can quickly lead to despair. That is that God has laid the Great Commission entirely on our shoulders and asked us to accomplish it for Him.

What I am going to say next could easily be misunderstood… so please hear me out:

God never made us responsible for the Great Commission; we are responsible to obey King Jesus as He goes about to accomplish the Great Commission.

Often when we talk about the needs of the world and our responsibility in light of them, we talk as if God is depending on us or in desperate need of our resources in order to accomplish His mission.  Quite simply, He is not.  Our God spoke the worlds into existence and is the God who can create everything out of nothing.  God does not lack anything for the accomplishing of His mission. He doesn’t, strictly speaking, need anything from us. It is God’s responsibility, not ours, to resource the great commission. In fact, Jesus reinforced this to His Apostles when He gave them the Great Commission. After instructing them about carrying the Gospel to the whole world, He told them to go and wait, doing “nothing” until He came on them in power. The lesson was clear: accomplishing this task is not something you can do, it is something I must do through you.

Our responsibility, as creatures and servants, is to give ourselves to God and to yield ourselves to Him for use in the accomplishment of His purpose. We don’t try to accomplish His purposes for Him, we depend on Him to accomplish His purpose through us.

How much of our money are we supposed to give back to God?  All of it—100%! Not 1 cent is supposed to be “ours,” and not His. But this doesn’t mean writing a check to the poor equaling your entire salary every month; rather, simply acknowledging that all of your money belongs to God. After you acknowledge that it is His, you ask Him what He would have us to do with it.

What He asks us to do is outlined in the 6 principles above. God doesn’t tell us to funnel all of the money He has given us to the poor. He doesn’t tell us to give it all to evangelism. God commands us, rather, to glorify Him with it, and to use every bit of it for the purposes for which He gave it to us.  That includes radical giving to the poor, but it also includes “daily bread,” some saving, and even some enjoyment.

As the sole Supplier for every one of His initiatives, God doesn’t “need” my money, in any sense, to get His work done. Certainly God commands every believer to pursue, with diligence, the Great Commission, but out of loving response to Christ, not out of an unhealthy obsession that it all depends on me. It can’t be; I am only a creature, and God is God. When Jesus gave us the Great Commission His 1st command was to wait and do nothing. Only He can supply the power and resources to accomplish this task. So, yes, I am to yield my resources, generously, to the Great Commission, but from the posture of a dependent servant, not as the Provider or the lynchpin of the Great Commission. No Christian, not even all of us put together, can sustain the full weight of the Great Commission. “He has shown you, o man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you: To do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 5:8)

What that means is that our responsibility before God vis-à-vis our money is to worship God, to obey Him, and to love what He loves. When we do, we will spend our money correctly. God provides us money for our needs and enjoyment—our daily bread—which we should use for those purposes without guilt. He also provides us resources we should sacrificially give to accomplish His mission.

A great picture of this, I believe, is in the story of the little boy with the five loaves and the two fish in John 6:1-14.  Here you’ve got a boy who gives everything to Jesus—all of it, 5 loaves, 2 fishes.  Jesus takes it, multiplies it, and spreads it around so that there are 12 baskets full left over. What point is being made? God is more than capable of taking even limited resources and accomplishing His plan with it.

We are responsible to give our whole lives to God and look to Him to accomplish His mission, that is, to Him who can and will do exceedingly abundantly above all that we could ever ask or think.  And what we’ll notice is that, as we give ourselves to God and live the way that He wants us to, not only is there enough to accomplish the mission, there are baskets left over that He sends home with us!

So let us take our responsibility in world evangelism very seriously, and live radically generous lives like Jesus lived for us. Let us consider that though Jesus was rich, yet, for our sakes, He became poor, that we, through His poverty, might become rich.

But let us not take upon ourselves responsibility for the world’s salvation as if we were God. We are, and always will be, dependent creatures, and that all we have are 5 loaves and 2 fishes. God has told us not to trust in what we have to meet our own needs, much less to save the world. We should look to God for both. We should take what He gives us, offer all of it back up to God, and do with it what He tells us to do.

So where do we go from here?

I can’t answer for you, but I can tell you that in response to the Gospel, my wife and I want to be radically generous—not in place of enjoying life and building wealth, but in the midst of it and all around it and on top of it.

We will not wait until we have become “rich” to be generous. Our lifestyle now will be significantly less than others who have an equivalent income to us. (Do note this: If you decide to stay out of debt, your lifestyle will be significantly behind most of your peers, as the average American is several thousand dollars in unsecured debt. If on top of that you choose to be radically generous, then you will be even further behind your peers, as the average American gives away less than 1%. When you are two big steps behind your peers, your lifestyle will look significantly different than your friends who make an equivalent wage!)

My wife I have been asking God to help us to live on less, trust Him more, to love others more, and to give more. Every year we try to increase the not just the amount, but the percentage that we give away.

We really are overwhelmed with what God has done for us. We are saved; we have an eternal inheritance which cannot be taken away, and we do not deserve one bit of it. And we live in a world where people are dying body and soul, and it is wrong to go on living as if that weren’t true. So, we want a “wartime mentality.” We want to live sufficiently and give extravagantly. We try to live simply—driving, wearing and living in much less than we “could.”

At the same time, my wife and I are committed to enjoying the provision and goodness of God, realizing that it comes from His hand as a gift of a loving Father to His children, and one He wants us to enjoy. We know He delights when we are thankful and enjoy the things He has given us, and we glorify Him by doing so.

If you take all of those 6 principles into account, I believe the life that most glorifies God in the age in which we live is one wherein you live sufficiently and give extravagantly. I believe you will be content to live simply, taking great pleasure and finding contentment in things that don’t consume a lot of your resources. As you are moved by the love of Christ for yourself and others, you probably won’t be able to think of anything you’d rather do with your money than see churches planted, people saved, the oppressed delivered, and the poor fed.

Please don’t get distracted by my description of how my family is applying these principles. Our standard is not yours. Some readers will find it woefully inadequate; others will find it beyond reach. My encouragement is for you to work through the 6 matrix principles yourself and let the Holy Spirit guide you to radical, joyful generosity, and party-like enjoyment of life.

Let me close this chapter with some wise words from King Solomon,

Do not be overrighteous; neither be overwise—why destroy yourself? The man who fears God will avoid all extremes.” (Ecclesiastes 7:16, 18, NIV).

[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill (1559, reprinted Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 1:839.

[2] For more on this principle, see Gary Thomas’ Pure Pleasure, chp. 3, 5, and 11. Personally, I find Thomas to be a little out of balance, and not giving enough weight to the Christian’s call to suffer and sacrifice. Thomas lays out the biblical case for enjoyment of God’s good gifts, though.

[3] Matthew 6:25-33

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J.D. Greear, Ph.D., is the President of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastors the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, NC. Tagged by Outreach magazine as one of the fastest growing churches in America, the Summit has grown in the past 8 years from 400 to over 5,000 each weekend. The Summit Church is deeply involved in global church planting, having undertaken the mission to plant 1000 churches in the next 40 years. J.D. has authored Breaking the Islam Code and the upcoming Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary.