Generosity, the simple act of giving, is a sometimes awkward but ever-present topic in the nonprofit world. We need folks with disposable assets to be generous in order to survive. But these benefits aren’t a one-way street; in fact, the physical and psychological benefits to the giver through the act of giving are quite tangible.
In their book The Paradox of Generosity, authors Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson chart out just how much healthier generous people are than non-generous people. Meaning you’ll probably live longer and with less risk of developing Type II Diabetes if you are generous with your time and money. Just a word to the wise.
Of course, it might seem wrong to look at the benefits to ourselves when thinking about giving our stuff away. But we need not be as cynical—or self-critical—as all that. After all, the book of Proverbs is littered with the same kind of (admittedly more heavenly) quid pro quo:
Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor (Prov. 14:21).
Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed (Prov. 19:17).
Even the Apostle Paul brings this “self-seeking” to the front page:
You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way… (2 Cor. 9:11).
So, clearly, it’s not a bad thing to reap some benefit from giving away your money. Of course, you might think, “God doesn’t need our money. He’s God.” But Professor Gary Anderson, in his wonderful little book Charity, explains the purpose and effects of philanthropy in this way: “Charity was construed as a loan to God, which was then converted into a form of spiritual currency and stored in an impregnable divine bank.”
Essentially, I deposit funds in the First Bank of Yahweh through the intermediary of “the poor,” and it is a deposit that I can withdraw when my body is tossed in the box. Now that’s an investment strategy that I can get behind!
But what does Jesus say? When speaking of giving to the poor, He notes that our giving should be “in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:4). When we give humbly, without fanfare, we receive. When we secretly disadvantage ourselves, we are publicly honored by God. This is the same path that Jesus Himself walked:
He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name… (Phil. 2:8-9).
After Jesus’ ultimate act of humble generosity—giving His very self for us—He received His ultimate reward. So will it be with us. Humbly we give; humbly we receive.
This month, all of our posts on this blog will focus on the theme of Generosity and the benefits and sacrifices that come along with it. As you read the staff reflections, volunteer stories, and client vignettes, I hope that you will be rewarded and challenged. Most importantly, I hope that you act.
Until Justice and Peace Embrace,
Christopher L. Purnell