Generosity should define the life of every Christian, and this is more than Christians being “nice.” As we give freely of our time, money, and abilities, we’re demonstrating our reliance on a God of unlimited resources who wants to bless others through us.
Studying the examples of faithful and lavish givers can inspire us to be more openhanded. Here are four generous people in the Bible.
1. The Widow of Zarephath
Then the word of the Lord came to him, “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” So he arose and went to Zarephath.
And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.” And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” And she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.”
And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’” And she went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days. The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.—1 Kings 17:7–16
Here you see a widow with so little food that she’s cooking her last meal before she and her son starve to death. Elijah shows an incredible amount of gall by telling her to go home and cook something for him before preparing something for herself and her son.
When I think about the excuses that I give not to be more giving, they’re not as persuasive as this widow’s would have been. After all, this is her last meal. But Elijah makes her an interesting promise. If she feeds him, she’ll find that her supply of flour and oil will not run out. But the only way she’ll discover whether this promise is true is by giving away what she has.
Christian generosity is always a response to faith.
Christian generosity is always a response to faith. While God’s Word doesn’t say that we can give and never run out of resources, it does say that we should give because we can trust the Giver of every good and perfect gift to care for us (James 1:17).
2. The Shunammite Woman
One day Elisha went on to Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to eat some food. So whenever he passed that way, he would turn in there to eat food. And she said to her husband, “Behold now, I know that this is a holy man of God who is continually passing our way. Let us make a small room on the roof with walls and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that whenever he comes to us, he can go in there.”—2 Kings 4:8–10
Elisha was Elijah’s protégé in more ways than one. Not only were they both important Old Testament prophets, they both found provision at the hands of generous women.
A wealthy woman in Shunem struck up a relationship with Elisha and invited him to eat with her family. It’s unclear if she offered ongoing hospitality or if Elisha just assumed that this was an open invitation, but this woman and her husband fed him every time he came through town.
If we were in her shoes, after a while we might be tempted to feel taken advantage of, but not the Shunammite woman. She goes to her husband and suggests that they give Elisha his own room where he can stay when he comes through town. She even lists out the amenities they need to include.
Why would she offer such generosity? The answer lies in her words. She calls him “a holy man of God,” a sign that she sees her generosity to Elisha as a generosity to the God he serves. When we learn to see our giving as generosity offered to God through the blessing of others, it can revolutionize the way we look at our resources.
3. Joseph of Arimathea
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away.—Matthew 27:57–60
A tomb like Joseph’s didn’t come cheap. It was literally hewn from the side of a hill, and it was back-breaking, time-consuming work. On top of the price, supply was limited. Someone like Joseph would purchase his tomb early—not simply to be prepared ahead of time, but to ensure they received a good plot. Joseph’s sacrifice was irreplaceable.
The last three words Matthew uses here are so telling. Joseph offers up his tomb, lays Jesus’s body in it, rolls a stone in front of it, and goes away. He doesn’t hang out waiting to be compensated or to be recognized for his altruism. He was moved and he gave. While God promises us a return for our generosity, true generosity is apparent when it expects nothing in return.
4. The Churches of Macedonia
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.—2 Corinthians 8:1-5
The church in Macedonia was impoverished. No one would have been surprised if their response to those in need was, “We’d love to help, but we’re strapped.” Instead, they begged for the opportunity to take part in the relief effort.
It’s easy to dream about the generosity we intend to show when we have the means. The truth is that God cares more about the $5 we have today than the $100 we intend to have in the future. When we can look at our time and resources through the eyes of opportunity instead of through a veil of limitation, there’s no end to what God can do through us.
We Learn Generosity Through Obedience
Too often, we want to feel generous before we act generously. True Christian generosity is an act of obedience. As we behave generously, we find that the feelings will follow—and we’ll see God’s faithfulness in meeting needs through us while supplying our own need.
Managing your resources is an integral part of generosity. Budgeting is important because it enables you to give confidently instead of simply wondering if you’re going to be able to contribute. Stewardship in the form of wise investing is helpful too. When we invest our resources wisely, we find that we’re able to give more.
WE BELIEVE IN THE CHURCH
At CDF Capital, we’re committed to helping Christians steward their resources well so that churches grow. We do all this because we believe in the church. Check out all the ways we help Christians and churches grow.