The following article was used in the Hope Spring 2011 Newsletter. For more information on Jay’s ministry, please view the bottom credits.
Over the past few years, I have become increasingly uncomfortable with the termgenerous giving. In spite of that, I personally like the term. Both the wordsgenerous and giving are used in Scripture, albeit not in the same place very often (Psalm 37:21, James 1:5). However, as I continue to try to personally embrace and consistently apply the concept of biblical stewardship in my own thinking and life, the use of the term generous giving has been creating in me more and more uneasiness. Here’s why.
If someone labels a man a generous giver, it seems to imply two things about that man; (1) what he gives is his to give and (2) he decides how much to give [making him generous]. Within the context of biblical stewardship, however, both of these implications would be, at the least, misleading if not patently incorrect.
Let me make this point by asking you a question. Is it appropriate to describe a person as a generous giver if what he is giving is not his to give in the first place? Let me frame the question to be even more personal. “Would you describe a man as a generous giver if what he was giving away was, unknown to you, coming out ofyour personal checking account and not his own?” I suspect you might have a few descriptive terms for him, but generous giver would not be one of them.
Consider this hypothetical scenario. Imagine a very rich man decides to give his nephew $1,000,000 in cash. He calls his nephew and informs him that he is mailing him a certified letter with a cashier’s check in it for $1,000,000 and the check will be arriving tomorrow. The next day the door bell rings and there before the nephew stands the postman. The nephew can barely contain himself as the postman asks him to sign for the letter. The postman then hands the young man the envelope. The young man burst forward grabbing the postman in an enthusiastic embrace, gushing with thanks at how generous he is and how much the nephew appreciates his kindness for giving him such a generous gift. He repeats over and over again, “Thank you, thank you, thank you, you are just so generous!”
What is wrong with this picture? The truth is the postman did indeed give the nephew a cashier’s check for $1,000,000. What is wrong is that the postman is getting all the acknowledgment and appreciation for making a gift that he merely delivered for someone else. He was in reality nothing more than the individual charged with the responsibility of delivering the gift to the proper person. I suspect the postman would have likely been quite surprised by the nephew’s overflowing gratitude for simply making a normal delivery as part of his routine duties.
Do you see my point? If we are merely stewards (managers) of our Master’s property and not the owners, then nothing is ours to give away in any amount. And if our Master, the Owner, instructs us to deliver someone a gift from His abundance of which we are caretakers, then we are really being nothing more than obedient stewards commissioned to make the delivery to the designated recipient as instructed by the Owner.
When I was a young boy there was a television show called “The Millionaire” (1955-1960). For some reason that show had a significant impact on me as a child. In the series a very wealthy gentleman named John Beresford Tipton, Jr. would randomly give one million dollars, tax free, to people that were complete strangers to him. How Tipton delivered his cashier’s checks was through his executive secretary, Michael Anthony. In each episode Anthony would deliver Tipton’s check to a different individual. The rest of the show followed what happened to the recipient because of the gift. (It was almost always a bad outcome as I remember.) As he delivered the check, Anthony would make it quite clear that the gift was not coming from him, but from someone else who insisted on remaining anonymous. He was simply delivering the gift from this unknown benefactor.
It seems to me, this is the way it should be with us and our giving. We have been entrusted with assets for the purpose of delivering them to the intended recipient as per the directive of the Benefactor. When I watched “The Millionaire,” I never thought of Anthony as being personally generous simply because he was the one delivering the checks. I only thought of him as doing his job – a fun job, no doubt.
Jesus describes this very idea in Luke 17:7-10 when he says, “Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’? But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink’? He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’ ” (nasb)
No matter how much we ultimately deliver of God’s resources to the intended recipients, would the description of generous giver ever be appropriately applied to us because, “we have done only that which we ought to have done?” Maybe instead of using the term generous giver, it would be more appropriate to use the termobedient courier. This term, I believe, more accurately describes the proper stewardship mindset we should have in delivering generous gifts from the one and only Generous Giver.
In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:16), Jesus expresses this very idea when He says, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works (the delivery of the generous gifts) and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (the provider of the generous gifts).”
As we all seek to be good and faithful stewards, carefully and responsibly carrying out the delivery assignments of the Generous Giver, may we never lose sight of the fact that at most, “We are unworthy slaves…having done only that which we ought to have done.”
As we complete the remaining days of our life-journey, may each of us come to fully appreciate and joyfully embrace the sacred honor of humbly serving our Generous Benefactor as His obedient courier.
E. G. “Jay” Link, is the President of Stewardship Ministries, a teaching, training and mentoring ministry for professional advisors and ministry leaders to equip them to effectively serve believers who have accumulated surplus, material possessions. He is the author of three books, “Spiritual Thoughts on Material Things: Thirty Days of Food for Thought,” “To Whom Much is Given: Navigating the Ten Life Dilemmas Affluent Christians Face” and “Family Wealth Counseling: Getting to the Heart of the Matter.” Mr. Link may be reached via email at jlink@StewardshipMinistries.org.