Generosity is grace.
And because of certain circumstances in my family’s life, we have found ourselves on “the other side” of generosity and grace.
I’ve always tried to teach my children to be generous, even though I’m sure there are many times I’ve taught them imperfectly. But I’ve tried to instill within them a knowledge of the importance of giving. Even before becoming a believer, it was a core belief of mine that giving to those in need was an essential part of what it means to be a human in this world. And so I taught my children that there was no need for an overabundance of toys. I encouraged them to give to the Salvation Army buckets at Christmas time. And we would regularly seek out a family to assist during the holidays.
It feels a little funny sharing all of that with you, my readers, because it sounds arrogant. But I wanted to lay the background for what I have learned, about the importance of grace and generosity and receiving. A friend wrote an excellent post about the importance of the passage below; I want to come at it from a different angle.
Because of circumstances in the life of my family, we faced a tremendous potential financial crises. One day we were employed, the next day we were permanently unemployed, with little hope for ever gaining sustaining employment again. The upheaval of the circumstances alone were devastating, the potential for financial ruin and the inability to provide for my four children added to the seriousness of the situation.
This is where the scripture below this post comes into play. It’s found in 2nd Corinthians 8:1-9. In this passage, Paul is commending the church at Macedonia for their grace and generosity. They gave beyond their means, giving themselves first to the Lord and then giving generously to those in need and to the work of the ministry. Paul also urges them to continue this practice, not as a command, but rather voluntarily to prove that their love was genuine, and citing Jesus as an example in his gracious and generous gift of Himself to this world.
I don’t remember ever really reading this passage all the way through in a comprehensive way until this week. And by doing so, I was reminded of our family’s situation and what it has been like to be on the other end–the receiving end–of gracious generosity.
Because, in the face of certain devastation and fear of how I was going to raise 4 children alone and provide for them, I was given a tremendous gift from my friends, who are really more like family. My church, Seaford Baptist Church in Seaford, VA, as well as others graciously and generously stepped into the gap for my family and I. They were determined that we would not go hungry. They were determined that we would not be homeless, providing the parsonage for us to live in. And they were determined to help me with bills that I was unable to pay until I started to get my feet back underneath me. And to this day, they still, by God’s grace, help keep us away from financial despair.
Now, there was a problem with this. Not with their giving, but with me. I am a prideful person. Pride is something I battle every single day of my life. And to suddenly go from this strong, self-sufficient, tough person to this needy, bereft, terrified person, was a blow to my pride. A huge blow. Oh how I struggled with this! I was tremendously, tremendously grateful, to the point of overwhelming gratitude. And if it was just me, I would have probably sold all of my belongings and lived in my car, but there were my children that I loved so much and was now solely responsible for. But I struggled with being on the receiving end of this generosity. I was a giver by nature. To be a receiver was painful. A blessing, for sure, but painful. I felt so incredibly loved that it was painful to accept.
But that is the point of what I want to share with you in this post. My church and my friends lived out these verses in 2nd Corinthians 8 in such a way that they literally saved our lives. I believe that to the fullest. They gave to us with an abundance of joy just like the church in Macedonia, giving us a Christmas that we will never forget. And just like it says in verse 7, in was an act of grace. We didn’t deserve it. But it was a gift of genuine love to our family in our time of need. And I will never, ever forget it or be able to repay this gift.
But how was I to receive such a tremendous gift from these people that I loved so dearly? For one thing, I had no choice. It was our only means of survival until I could slowly begin to find some employment. But secondly, I had a lesson to learn. And my church and my friends taught me this lesson. It’s a lesson about salvation.
Now that might seem strange to throw salvation in on a post about giving generously. But remember, I was on the other side of this generosity, the receiving end. And it was hard to be loved that much, painful to be loved that much. But isn’t that just exactly what Jesus did? Follow me here. In Ephesians 2:8-9 we are told:
Do you see? It is by grace that we have been saved through faith. It is a gift of God. There is nothing, nothing you or I could do to earn this gift. It was freely given to we who were in desperate need of being saved from certain ruin. The generosity of God in giving His only son to die for us as a sacrifice for our sins, was a gift of grace from God. It is something we receive, thankfully, humbly, and with a realization there is nothing we can do to pay back God. My friends and my beautiful church taught me this.
We are doing better. We are slowly digging out of the inevitable holes that a situation like this creates financially. Just today the gas people came, which means a tremendous bill that I will have to work off. I have a job that I am praying will turn into full-time work with insurance. But we are still reliant on the gifts that we receive. I have two broken vehicles right now, and a friend is graciously letting me borrow one of their vehicles while another friend is letting me borrow one of their vehicles! (which is temporarily broken at this point, but hopefully getting fixed). The Methodist church that we are renting from has been tremendously good to us, giving us a reduced rent rate so that I can work on getting caught up and surviving. Just today, someone at church asked if we had any needs for Christmas this year, so I am fairly certain that my youngest girl will get the tennis shoes she so desperately needs, that I can’t afford to get her right now. And so you see, we continue to receive the grace and generosity, this tremendous gift that literally keeps us going from day to day.
My readers, I share this with you for three reasons. First, to urge you to give generously. To do what you need to do with your finances in order to be able to give generously, out of genuine love. I also share it with you to tell you how incredibly, incredibly grateful my family is to those who have helped us. It brings tears to remember all that we have been given, and how it has saved us, and how thankful we are this thanksgiving for each of you. And the third reason is to remind you to receive the gracious gift of salvation from our God with humility and thankfulness, that you can not earn it. It is a gift. It is a glorious, undeserved gift.
This thanksgiving, what can you as a family do, to help someone in need. Or, if you are in need, how can you graciously receive, thanking your Father in heaven for the undeserved gifts of those that love and care for you. And, if you have been given much, what can you do to return that gift of love, by giving to others in need with joy and abundance?
8:1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 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. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. 6 Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. 7 But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.8 I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 9 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 by his poverty might become rich.