Wealth and Generosity Revisited
by Harout Nercessian, AMAA Representative in Canada
“What does one person give to another? He gives of himself, of the most precious he has, he gives of his life...”
“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 through his poverty might become rich.”
The word “generosity” conjures up images such as that of a wealthy man, comfortably sitting behind a large desk, gleefully writing a fat check to a humbled fundraiser. Such acts of giving may or may not be related to generosity. At the other end of the spectrum, Jesus’ image of generosity is that of a poor widow throwing in a few pennies into the temple treasury.
The Bible is very generous with its views on generosity and greed.
Let’s take a closer look.
One Biblical assertion that keeps me up at night is Paul’s paradoxical claim that he is “poor, yet” makes “many rich.” To further baffle my confused logic, Paul complements his assertion with another paradox where he claims to “having nothing” and yet possessing “everything.”
What does one make of such seemingly self-contradicting statements?
Paul is materially poor yet spiritual wealthy. In contrast, the “Rich Fool,” the protagonist in one of Jesus’ parables, is materially rich yet spiritually bankrupt.
The spiritually poor mind acts out of a sense of scarcity and constantly feels in need. He suffers from an acute shortage of genuine sense of personal value, self-esteem and love. Such a person struggles to give and reach out to lift others up.
King Saul is the perfect personification of spiritual poverty. Little David had saved him from giant Goliath. Later he neutralized the Philistinian army. One would expect Saul to publicly honor David and promote this faithful servant of his. Instead, Saul noticed David’s popularity with the military leaders and the women’s public adulation of his military genius. David had stolen Saul’s glory and reputation. Fueled by jealousy and rage, Saul chased fleeing David to kill him. Had David been next to Saul on the battlefield, the king and his three sons would not have been tragically killed. Saul’s spiritual poverty, evidenced by his blinding insecurity did not serve him well.
To help the spiritually bankrupt, God operates a bus service out of spiritual poverty.
The bus that is headed to spiritual wealth takes on passengers at the poverty station, where people acknowledge their spiritual bankruptcy and yearn to be “rich towards God.” The bus traverses the life-long road of repeated cycles of self-evaluation and self-improvement, including the disarming of one’s poverty-induced scarcity mindset, self-centeredness, insecurity, fear, jealousy and greed.
On the other hand, the spiritually wealthy are men and women of genuine faith-based high self-esteem. Yet, their confidence is soaked in humility and their self-esteem is woven with fibers of kindness. Despite life’s vicissitudes, the spiritually rich remain hopelessly positive and curelessly optimistic in the Creator.
Joseph, betrayed and sold by his jealousy-driven brothers, unfairly imprisoned in Egypt was nonetheless promoted to rule over this ancient civilization. His God-given success did not dizzy him into narcissism. Instead, he forgave his repentant brothers, restoring his father’s long-lost inner peace and securing the family’s well-being. Throughout his ordeal, Joseph trusted God’s sovereignty over his life and believed that justice would eventually prevail.
The spiritually rich person is driven by a sense of abundance. He feels that he has “more than enough” and is “amply supplied.”
So, what does generosity have to do with spiritual wealth?
Genuine generosity is born to the mother of spiritual wealth. It is primarily concerned in the welfare of others and is ready to unconditionally give of herself in the form of love, time, attention and service, and where needed, money. Her self-giving to others is predicated on her submission to God.
Empowered by God-centered self-esteem and confidence, the spiritually rich are also emotionally generous. They give praise and credit where deserved. They rejoice in the success of others. Aware of God’s forgiveness, they in turn choose to be tolerant and generously forgiving.
God-induced generosity is wrapped in humility. The generous considers giving a privilege and thus cannot act condescendingly. She is not better than the recipient because all that she has is God-given. She is merely a steward. Furthermore, she acknowledges that giving to fellow humans is actually giving to Jesus, because each recipient, created in God’s image, represents Christ.
I hear loud voices of protests: “This picture of spiritual wealth is too idealistic. Too burdensome. Impossible to live.”
I join the chorus of protests and direct it at Jesus who is at the Mount of Beatitudes. Here, He is preaching his famous sermon on the Mount where he asks us to “be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”
The high tension between our abilities and God’s call to perfection is designed to drive us to seek spiritual wealth through Scripture-aided penetrating introspection, courageous and unwavering confrontation of our intrinsic flaws and a resolute effort to neutralize those flaws—all done in the context of seeking God’s assistance in a persistent, Jacob-style wrestling with God.
We do well to concede our need for spiritual wealth and embark on the life-long journey of funding our spiritual bank accounts. The results will be unimaginably rewarding for us, our surroundings and the Kingdom.