Christian Marketplace Ethics Theology: A Reflection on Biblical Generosity

–       Dr. Sas Conradie

Introduction

Generosity is becoming a global buzz word. The chairman of the London 2012 Olympic Games, Lord Sebastian Coe, hailed the “spirit of generosity” demonstrated by British public during the Games while Sarah Crompton wrote in The Telegraph that “the real legacy of the Games must be that determination to be generous to each other.”[1] This is just the latest indication of what could become a principal value in the global community. But with the Scriptural foundation of God’s generosity, generous living should come natural for Christians, as an integrated part of who we are. And if the generosity of the British public made such an impression during the Olympic Games, just think about the impact if Christians across the globe will live out Biblical generosity.

Generosity in the Bible

The word ‘generosity’ does not occur in early English Bible translations. It is only since the 18th Century that the meaning of generosity evolved to denote the more specific, contemporary meaning of munificence, open–handedness, and liberality in the giving of money and possessions to others.[2] The word generosity is not used at all in the King James Version although it appears 4 times in the NIV, twice in the Contemporary English Version, 6 times in the English Standard Version. Generous is used 22 times in the Contemporary English Version, 16 times in the English Standard Version and 19 times in the NIV.

 In the Old Testament generosity or generous is used as translation for several Hebrew words:

In the New Testament the following Greek words are translated with generosity or generous:

There are other instances where the same understanding as generosity is expressed but where the specific word is not being used in the English translation. For example Mt 10:8 – “Freely you have received, freely give.”

From this cursory look at the Biblical words that are translated as generosity or generous it is clear that generosity or to be generous relates to:

  • An abundance, openness, willingness, freedom, being a blessing, not holding back of goodness, sharing and giving;
  • Giving and sharing with and care of those in need (strangers, the sick, the poor), but it is much more. It is more of a life-style that finds expression in different ways of giving and sharing;
  • Not so much about material goods but about relationships, also between givers and receivers.

Though the words generosity and generous are not that often used, it is implied throughout the Bible as characteristic of God and His people (eg Mt 25:34-46):

  • God is by nature generous who has given everything to enjoy;
  • God’s generosity finds its highest expression in the sending of Christ who showed His generosity by giving His life so that people can experience life. Jesus is also the perfect example of generous living in action as somebody who gave His life to the benefit of others without expecting something in return;
  • God calls all his followers to sacrificial generosity, free from the seduction of riches;
  • Unlike other religious traditions, Biblical generosity is not aimed at gaining merit, favour or reward. It is a response to God’s generosity and is unselfish by nature;
  • Generosity is ultimately about a spontaneous response to the grace of a lavishly generous God;[3]
  • As Dennis Tongoi emphasises, generosity should find expression in our giving to God, not to people or even ourselves.[4] “Our biggest sacrifice is therefore giving ourselves to God, then to others (2 Cor. 8:5). Wealthy people often give their money rather than themselves”;[5]
  • Christians are generous by nature because the Biblical understanding is that everything ultimately belongs to God. They share freely and abundantly of what in the end is God’s and not their own.

Christian generosity initiatives and resources

The increased emphasis on generosity in society presents the global church with an incredible opportunity to show Biblical-based generous living in action. The good news is that multiple Christian generosity initiatives and resources that facilitate and enable generosity had been developed and launched or in the process of being launched. Here are just a few:

  1. The Global Generosity Network (http://generositymovement.org/about/);
  2. The Global Generosity Movement (www.generositymovement.org);
  3. The Generosity Resources List (http://conversation.lausanne.org/en/resources/detail/12929#.URvIF-TviSp) while different resources had been posted on the Lausanne Conversation website for use in teaching and preaching, (http://conversation.lausanne.org/en/resources/browse/category/Resource+Mobilization);
  4. Campaigns such as the 40 Acts campaign (www.40acts.org.uk), Micah Challenge, Missions Africa Trust Fund and others motivate Christians to give and take steps of generosity.

Conclusion

There seems to be disillusionment with greed and selfishness in at least certain parts of global society. The question is how we as Christians will show the way through Biblically-based generous living. Such generous living is a form of mission in itself in the 21st Century. As John Bunyan said “You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” Will we take up this challenge everyday?

Dr. Sas Conradie is the coordinator of the Lausanne/WEA Global Generosity Network (http://generositymovement.org/about/) based in London. An ordained minister in the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa, Sas had been involved in various mission capacities since the 1980s. He holds a DD in Missiology from the University of Pretoria, worked in the Faculty of Theology at the University of South Africa, served as missionary in Ukraine, was assistant international director of a mission agency based in the UK and since 2010 coordinates the Lausanne Resource Mobilisation Working Group that became the Global Generosity Network. Sas guest edited the January 2013 edition of Evangelical Review of Theology that focused on generosity(www.worldevangelicals.org/commissions/list/index.php?com=tc&page=1&id=25&detailid=2575).

His e-mail address is ggncoord@gmail.com.


[1] Crompton, Sarah: ‘Keep the flame alive: The Olympic legacy and the new country we could be’ <www.telegraph.co.uk/education/keep-the-flame-alive/9467023/Keep-the-flame-alive-The-Olympic-legacy-and-the-new-country-we-could-be.html > accessed 15 August 2012.

[4] Dennis Tongoi, Mixing God with Money: Strategies for living in an uncertain economy (Nairobi: Bezalel Investments, 2001)

[5] Tongoi, Mixing, 85

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