The offering container comes your way and you slip in a check with a lot of zeroes — to the left of the decimal. You sit back with a contented sigh when suddenly the music stops abruptly. You turn your eyes to the stage to see — Jesus! And he’s pointing at you.
At first you think He must be pointing you out as an example of being generous, but then your face turns a deep crimson as you realize He’s pointing you out as an example of how not to be generous.
As you slip beneath the seat with the hymnal over your beet red face, you find yourself muttering to yourself, “When could it ever be wrong to be generous?”
The Nightmare in Pew 23
It sounds like a nightmare that only some really messed up Christian could have. But it’s not unlike what actually happened in the temple when Christ walked the earth with his disciples.
And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44)
No doubt the “rich people” in the incident thought they were being pretty generous as they gave sizable donations at the temple in front of Jesus and the disciples. But we know the story well. The widow came in behind them with two mites — and got all the praise for being truly generous. The respected folk who gave sizable donations? Not so much.
Here’s the thing: I’m guessing they didn’t think they were doing anything wrong in giving their gifts. Quite the opposite, they probably thought they’d nailed it! Knocked the whole “being generous” thing out of the park.
But Jesus knew better because he knew the hearts of the givers. He knew why they gave what they gave. Only one gave when it hurt to give. All the others gave because they wouldn’t miss it. And fell short.
Nothing is easier than to deceive ourselves when it’s in our best interest to do so. And that includes our efforts to be generous.
Our Motive Matters
Why we give determines whether or not our gift qualifies as genuine generosity. Apparently, our motive matters. But there’s the rub — sometimes it’s tough to truly connect with or why, to really discern our motive for giving.
Solomon puts it like this:
All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the spirit. (Prov. 16:2)
When we reach for the forbidden fruit, we think we’re right. When we reach out to steady the ark on a cart, we think we’re right. When we slash out with a sword in the garden, we think we’re right. When we hunt down followers of that new cult of Jesus-followers, we think we’re right.
Never underestimate our ability to to make stupid look stunning — to ourselves. Everyone of us can all too easily take something good — like being generous with what we have — and turn it into something wicked — like exalting ourselves above the Giver of all good gifts.
So Should We Just Stop Giving?
So where does that leave us, never giving anything for fear of inferior motives. That can’t be the answer because God commands us to give freely. Key word — freely.
Before you next give of your time, attention, money, space, and more, ask God to reveal to you why you want to give. Pray the prayer of David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my thoughts.” Then listen for the Spirit’s reply.
If you detect ulterior motives, don’t let that stop you from giving. Let it lead you to confession. Ask and receive His forgiveness. Then give. Freely.
Let the awareness of your tendency to deceive yourself urge you toward even more intentional generosity. Let it be a generosity that gives in Spirit and in truth, a generosity that flows not from an indifferent heart of abundance, but from a sincere heart in which is found no guile.
Do you sometimes struggle with your motive in being generous? What helps to ensure your motive is in the right place when you give? Leave comment to share your thoughts.