It’s a compliment to be described as generous. Generosity is a universally recognised positive characteristic – a quality virtually everyone aspires to. But what actually is it?

1. What?

According to the dictionary, generosity is ‘liberality in giving‘. It’s giving above and beyond. The bible agrees and says that the person who follows the Lord ‘is always giving generously’ (Ps 37:26), with followers of Jesus urged to ‘sow generously and reap generously’ (2 Cor 9:6).

With this understanding in mind, it doesn’t take long to realise that generosity can’t be quantified, because describing an act of giving as ‘generous’ will very much depend on the resources available to the giver. For instance, it’s kind, but not generous, for a UK millionaire to give £50. But for someone who’s poor in the UK to give £50 would almost undoubtedly be described as ‘generous’. The bottom line is that only God truly knows! He knows our circumstances better than we know them and he sees the heart attitude behind every act of giving.

2. How?

Generosity is most obviously seen in the way we give money. Generous financial giving is intrinsic to the life of faith because all our resources, including finance, come from and belong to God. So when disciples give we’re giving away what isn’t really ours in the first place! We’re only redistributing resources.

Generous financial giving starts with tithing – that is, giving away our first 10% of income to the church in which we worship. But for most Christians, certainly in the affluent west, financial generosity should stretch further than a tithe. Giving a tithe is a great thing to do, but it can become legalistic – giving 10% to the penny and no more! Sometimes people who tithe can also forget that the other 90% also belongs to God too!!!

God says that when we tithe he will look after us and bless us. He also knows that giving your first 10% of income is a step of faith. He understands that we might wonder if we’ll have enough to live on for the rest of the week or month. That’s why he unusually says that we can ‘test him’ in this, to see if it works (see Malachi 3:10). It does.

3. Why?

Living generously is the best way to live. The more you give, the more impact you can have. And the more you give, the more the Lord provides, so you can give again (see 2 Cor 9:10-11). So it’s a win-win! The recipient receives and so does the giver.

Sam and I have given away at least the first 10% of our income to our local church all our married life. On top of that we give to various charities and support the education of two children in developing countries. We also give when the church has a gift day and sometimes give spontaneously to a particular need, if it seems right and we can help. There are no doubt many people who are more generous than us, but we certainly aim to live generous lives. That’s because we know that generosity is a core biblical value. And we’re convinced that living by biblical values is the best way to live.

4. When?

Generosity is a life-style. We’re not just called to live generously every now and then, but all the time. Obviously there’ll be key moments when we’re challenged to dig deep, but in the end it’s about who we are, spilling out into what we do.

At The Belfrey we ask worshippers to renew their financial giving annually. This helps us all plan our giving (which the bible says is important – 1 Cor 16:2; Prov 21:5; 2 Cor 9:7). It also helps the church plan too. At present we ask the church to do this in January.

5. Who?

Everyone who wants to live well should be generous, whether you’re a Christian or not. But for the follower of Jesus, it’s basic and core. In fact it’s a command (Luke 6:38; Luke 12:33; 1 Timothy. 6:18). Being generous is what disciples are called to be.

So how do you spot a generous person? Well, they’re normally the ones giving, not taking. Serving, not being served. They’re normally looking out for those who are struggling, sad or vulnerable. They’re thinking more of others and less of themselves. They’re normally happy enough in who they are to give themselves to building up others. Truly generous people have learned the secret that life is best lived by giving.

In the end, generosity springs from grace and is all about grace. Grace is the way God loves us – with an undeserved, unending and unconditional love. His grace is seen supremely in Christ – in the way he lived his life and the way he sacrificially died for our freedom. Grace is how the Lord gives to us. And that’s how we’re supposed to live too. Living gracious, generous lives.

The Diocese of York (of which The Belfrey is part) get this. That’s why the Diocese’s strap-line is ‘Generous churches, making and nurturing disciples’. Generous churches. Generous people. That’s what the Lord calls us to be.