First Mennonite Church
September 9, 2018
The Fruit of the Spirit: Generosity
Mark 12:3-9; 12:41-45 The fruit of the Spirit we find in Galatians 5, verse 22.
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity . . . (NRSV). Generosity is in some versions translated “goodness.” But goodness is often understood simply as the absence of evil. In the Bible, goodness is understood to define the presence of something good. Therefore, the word generosity captures that idea. So, what does generosity mean? Most often we equate generosity with giving money. At least it is in the context of fundraising where we hear this word most used. “Be generous. Don’t hold back; write us a check!” goes the plea. But generosity is expressed in many ways. When someone holds his or her patience despite the awkwardness of another, that shows that someone is being generous. When you are respectful and gentle despite the rudeness of another, that is a sign of being generous at heart. When you show sympathy and thoughtfulness toward someone who is sorrowing, that is an expression of generosity. When out of your busy life you take time to listen to someone who is hurting, or feeling lonely, you are generous with your time.
There are various synonyms for generosity: bigheartedness, openhandedness, liberality, unselfishness, etc. But the truth is, it’s easy to identify a generous person. The opposite of generosity is selfishness, stinginess, pinching, tightness, etc. In the Latin-American context I grew up in there is a way to describe stinginess. We say, “He never buys a banana, because he has to throw away the peel.” But we also have a saying to describe the generous. “She would give you the only bite of food she has in order to keep you from starving.”
As we may know, generosity does not come by naturally in us. I remember the fight over a toy I had with one of my younger brothers one Christmas day. He wanted the toy just as I. Neither he nor I wanted to give in. I do not remember who got the toy in the end, but I still remember fighting over the little matchbox car. You see, the little car had wheels, but the little boat, one of us got, did not. When we were children, we were very much concerned about ourselves. It’s me, mine and I. The trinity of the ego. Then when a child enters into his or her teen years, again it is all about fairness. Oh, how many times I have heard that complaint! “It’s not fair.” I get that in ASL too. (Sign it.) And when we become adults the worries about money and time are more pressing than ever. We wonder if what we have will be enough for now or for the future. And truth be told, it never feels like we will ever have enough. Therefore, practicing generosity is harder because we feel there is never enough for ourselves, our needs, or to fulfill our obligations. It goes the same with our time. Sometimes it feels like 24 hours are not enough for the day. And again, it’s difficult to be generous with our time.
But for the regenerate person, by nature of being in Christ is a generous person. There cannot be a stingy Christian. It’s just impossible. Faith in Christ and stinginess are simply incompatible. In the first place, when Christ is in our heart we come to realize that nothing we have is actually ours. Not even our life is ours; it belongs to Christ. The time we have is also subordinate to the Master. Therefore, it is Jesus, our Lord, who commands the way we use our time. I believe that is the reason Paul writes that the fruit of the spirit is generosity. Jesus was never stingy. Jesus was never so over-scheduled that he could not touch and bless the children. He was not in such a rush that he could not take time to dialogue with a Samaritan woman. And in the context of one of our passages Jesus was simply sitting and observing what was happening.
Today I would like for us to consider two stories that can show us how generosity looks. The first is what happened one day in the temple in Jerusalem. Let us read Mark 12:41-45.
41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
In those days there were 13 receptacles in which the Jewish worshipers put their offerings. As they entered the temple courts they could drop off their money into a horn-shape funnel that goes into a brass box. Some worshippers preferred to put in small change, thus making any amount resound like a large quantity as it went through the brass funnel. As Jesus sat opposite to the offering boxes, he watched how the rich impressed with their giving. After the loud and long clinking noise of their money going down the brass funnel was over, there came a poor widow. The word for poor in NT Greek is ptochos. It can be translated: beggar, destitute, homeless, or pauper. The widow came and only dropped in two pennies. What the woman gave were two coins of the smallest denomination. And then, Jesus called his disciples and began to give them a lesson on the kind of giving and generosity that pleases God. Jesus said, “She has put in more than all.” Two pennies equal more than all! God’s way of working with numbers is not our way of doing math. Here is the one who claimed to be greater than the temple and he gave his verdict. He compared the gifts given out of plenty and the two mites representing a whole livelihood.
It is kind of interesting that the institution of the temple actually existed because there were those who gave abundantly. And it seems that Jesus did not question that. Jesus saw those who gave out of the desire to be seen and heard and those who gave out trusting in God. Generosity is the most visible expression of our trust in God. And the widow gave all that she had.
Here in America we hardly talk about sacrificial giving in church. Why is that so? What is the reason we do not? It is sad to say, but the truth of the matter is that often times Christians have also been influenced by the world around them. In the world’s perspective, if you give sacrificially, you put yourself at risk. If you give sacrificially, that is, giving to the point of putting yourself at an inconvenience—say, because you give you will have to miss out one of your weekly or monthly treats or you might have to wait longer to get something or go to your vacation, you put yourself in jeopardy. The world’s message is that you should not deprive yourself of anything that you can afford. Giving sacrificially means putting God, or putting his purposes or his will ahead of yours.
Jesus said of this widow, out of her poverty she has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” The widow gave everything she had to live on.
The other story is found in Mark 12:3-9
3 While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. 4 But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? 5 For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her. 6 But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. 7 For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. 9 Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
Here again is the story of another woman. According to the gospel of John the name of this woman is Mary. She showed up at a party Jesus was attending. She broke open a jar of a very expensive perfume and anointed Jesus’ head and feet. The cost of this perfume was estimated at more than three hundred denarii. That was about a year’s income. In our day that would be, let us say at the minimum pay of $10.50 per hour that would be about $25,000.00. That’s a lot of money! It was no wonder why Judas and others were angry that the perfume had not been sold instead. They scolded Mary. But Jesus said to them, “She has done a good service to me.” And then he added, “She has done what she could.”
The billionaire Charles F. Feeney said, “I want the last check I write to bounce.” And . . . “You can only wear one pair of pants at a time.” Mr. Feeney made his fortune in the duty-free shopping industry. In 1984 he secretly began giving away his money. He then established and funded a collection of private foundations called Atlantic Philanthropies. In December of 2016 he gave away his last check of $7 million. Charles Feeney believed that the money he had acquired should be used for the common good and to provide opportunities to the less fortunate. And he gave away all his money.
Dr David Jeremiah writes: Generosity is not about what’s in your bank account—it’s about what’s in your heart.”
In the story of the poor widow Jesus emphasized that our giving to God should be done as an expression of our trust in Him. Our giving should include giving sacrificially at times. When God comes first in our lives, we can give even when it might look like putting our security at risk. Jesus said about this poor widow, “She has given all she had to live on.” Can we give to God like that sometimes?
In the other story, Mary gave Jesus “all she could.” Do we make efforts to give to God all we can? Let us remember again, generosity is not only about money. Do we give God all we can of our time, of our abilities, and of our service to others?
When we give of our money, time, and of ourselves, we declare that we depend on God. When we are generous we reveal that the Spirit of the generous God lives in us. The fruit of the Spirit is generosity. Amen!
 David Jeremiah, A Life Beyond Amazing, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2017), 105.