Generosity: The Poverty of A Rich King

The Macedonian church was radically generous in response to the gospel gaining traction in their lives. They understood that they were redeemed in order to serve the rich King who became poor for their sake, so that they might become rich; and thereby bless others through their abundance of wealth and joy in the midst of extreme poverty. God provided for them so that they could provide for the needs of others (cf. Gen. 12:1-3), despite the fact that they were among the poorest churches in the first century (AD). May our hearts reflect their radical generosity…

2 Corinthians 8:1-15 

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 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. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. 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.

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I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 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. And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”

 

The Radical Generosity of John Wesley

“[Wesley] had just finished buying some pictures for his room when one of the chambermaids came to his door. It was a winter day and he noticed that she had only a thin linen gown to wear for protection against the cold. He reached into his pocket to give her some money for a coat, and found he had little left. It struck him that the Lord was not pleased with how he had spent his money. He asked himself: ‘Will thy Master say, “Well done, good and faithful steward?” Thou has adorned thy walls with the money that might have screened this poor creature from the cold! O justice! O mercy! Are not these pictures the blood of this poor maid?’

“Perhaps as a result of this incident, in 1731 Wesley began to limit his expenses so he would have more money to give to the poor. He records that one year his income was £30, and his living expenses £28, so he had £2 to give away. The next year, his income doubled, but he still lived on £28 and gave £32 away. In the third year, his income jumped to £90; again he lived on £28, and gave £62 to the poor.

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“Wesley preached that Christian should not merely tithe, but give away all extra income once the family and creditors were taken care of. He believed that with increasing income, the Christian’s standard of giving should increase, not his standard of living. He began this practice at Oxford and continued it throughout his life. Even when his income rose into the thousands of pounds, he lived simply and quickly gave up treasures on earth, so the money went out in charity as quickly as it came in. He reports that he never had as much as £100 at one time.

“When he died in 1791, the only money mentioned in his will was the miscellaneous coins to be found in his pockets and dresser drawers. Most of the £30,000 he had earned in his life-time he had given away. As Wesley said, ‘I cannot help leaving my books behind me whenever God calls me hence; but, in every other respect, my own hands will be my executors.'”

Randy Alcorn points out that Wesley’s income in today’s dollars would be $160,000 annually. Yet, he lived on only $20,000 of it.[1]

While we may not be able to live as radically generous as John Wesley (just as few of us can live out the uncommon faith of George Muller) ,we can certainly strive to imitate the faith and generosity of our King and those who have been given the grace to reflect Him. After all, it is the Spirit of God who empowers such things! May we cultivate the grace of generosity and find God’s provision sufficient to sustain our radical self-denial and increasing ministry to the least of these–both physically and spiritually. May we put God to the test and find His grace sufficient for producing in us an abundance of joy and poverty that results in nothing short of a wealth of generosity (Mal. 3:10; 2Cor. 8).

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[1] Charles Edward White, “Four Lessons on Money from One of the World’s Richest Preachers,” Christian History 19 (Summer 1988): 24; cited in Randy Alcorn, Money, Possessions and Eternity (Sisters: Multnomah, 2003), 298-99. Cf. Thabiti Anyabwile, Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons (IX Marks) (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2012), 88-89.

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