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Can Generosity Hurt?

By Luke Larner | 11 May 2016 | Comments (3)

Can Generosity Hurt? - A blog by Luke Larner for Stewardship

We probably all have one of these stories. We showed generosity to someone who seemed genuinely in need. Maybe it was a homeless person on the street, or someone in a desperate situation in our faith community, a friend or family member who just needed to borrow a bit to get them by, or maybe it was a church or charity? 

And they let us down. 

They wasted it, they lied, they never gave back what they borrowed. 

I hate the churning feeling in my stomach when I realise my hard-earned cash has been wasted. Sadly it has happened more than once.  Like the time we helped out a friend in a desperate housing situation; the money they borrowed mysteriously disappeared and their housing situation remained the same. We felt pretty stupid. 

So what do we do? Do we give up and keep our money to ourselves? Do we start ‘policing’ those we give to? I believe there is another way. 

You can’t get too far into the Bible without realising that giving is an important part of the Christian faith. However, there is a side to generosity which we don’t always hear talked about in Christian circles. 

The Old Testament sets the picture that our giving should bring transformation.  It focuses not only on giving but lending to the poor and goes so far as to give us the principle of gleaning (where the edges of the harvest are left for the poor).  The panoramic view it offers is one of justice; the law of Jubilee offers a lifeline to people who are trapped in poverty. The incredible thing about Jubilee is that it gives a fresh start to everyone, whether they seem to ‘deserve’ it or not. (See Deuteronomy 15:11; Leviticus 23:22; Leviticus 25.) 

The New Testament also teaches us about giving; it encourages a strong work ethic and responsible stewardship of people’s gifts. (See 2 Thessalonians 3:6-14; 1 Timothy 5.) 

Somebody recently said to me, “I love your food bank, it means I have more money for booze”. Sometimes our generosity can hurt rather than help people stuck in bad situations. It made us think about offering debt-management/financial advice as part of the process for those who regularly rely on our food/practical gifts. We needed to figure out how to give the help in the right way and that meant getting more involved. 

So should we only give in circumstances where we know the specific details of how money will be used? 

As a Christian worker and theology student I’ve relied on the generosity of others to support my family for the past 2 years. Many workers like me feel under pressure from supporters about the way we use our time, but giving should always involve an element of letting go. Allegations of misuse of funds and/or time should of course be taken seriously, but giving financially does not give us open access to people’s private lives and finances. We should have a level of trust that there are safeguards in place covering the people we support. If we don’t have this trust, then maybe we should reconsider offering support in the first place? (see 1 Timothy 5:18, 1 Corinthians 9:7-14).

The balanced approach seems to be responsible giving, whoever we are giving to; trust balanced with good stewardship. And ultimately, we should recognise that the resources we give are not ours in the first place, we are merely responding to the generosity God has shown toward us and giving back to him. We should therefore trust that God will grow his Kingdom with what we give, provided that we have given responsibly. 

Personally, I don’t want to give up and be cynical or bitter about giving. I want to believe that God can bless our generosity and use it to build his Kingdom. And I want to keep asking his help, to teach me how to give and to receive responsibly. 

What might God be saying to you about giving and receiving at the moment?


Read more like this:

The Undeserved Car

Refugee Crisis: 5 Ways You Can Help

How To Be Generous On Holiday

Posted by Luke Larner

Luke Larner is a Chaplain to the poor, marginalised and excluded in Luton, and is currently studying part-time for a degree in theology, mission and ministry with the Church Mission Society. Also a member of God's Squad Christian Motorcycle Club, he is passionate about reaching un-churched people from a variety of backgrounds.

Follow him on Twitter: @lucaslarner


Julie Croydon

May 17, 2016 7:42 AM
A church installed a shower and provided towels and toiletries for the use of homeless people and also offered to wash and dry their clothes using the facilities installed for the church cafe. One man made money charging other people to collect and return their laundry using the church. Is this an ironic example of 'give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish, you feed him for life.' ?


May 21, 2016 9:29 AM
Great blog, quite thought-provoking. Generosity can be surprisingly difficult, we so often want to make it transactional, "I'll help you if you will help yourself in the way I think you should." We're looking for a result, a win.

I keep coming back to the conundrum: "It is more blessed to give that to receive". What does THAT mean for me? That the "win" happens when I give; whatever happens after that is irrelevant, at least to me.

But I find that hard to swallow.


June 19, 2017 7:47 AM
I think we should be led by the Holy Spirit when we give.
I don't think that we should give to everyone out of a sense of legalistic guilt.
Just look at the example of the Prodigal Son.
When he squandered all his father's money and returned home, did his father say, here son have some more money and go back to the demeaning life you were living. He did not because that would have been cruel. Instead he said you've learned your lesson, that love, obedience and respect are more important than money, come in my son.

The son had to learn that greed and materialism deprive us of community. He also learned that God's law rules the world and anyone who disobeys it punishes themselves. This is why God says loving your enemy is like heaping hot coals on their head. It makes space for God's perfect justice, which is actually harsher than human justice. That's why we need to submit to those who keep us accountable with money, and help others stay accountable also.

Christians should be careful how they give (and take) because there's God's justice behind every penny. There are wages for our sin, and real consequences for our own actions.
For example, singer Wynona Judd learned the hard way about giving due to guilt which ultimately proved detrimental for her and for those around her.

Giving is inherently transactional because it is an act of faith. But it is faith in the goodness of God that he will provide for you whatever happens, rather than in the goodness of people which the Bible says leaves much to be desired.
I speak from experience here. The most rewarding giving I have ever done has usually occurred at a time when I felt like holding back. When I felt unable to overcome my own greedy human nature, God's Spirit worked - and so it was accomplished by His grace. It was God overcoming my human nature and that was an act of perfect mercy and love on His part. The truth is that I am simply not enough to do the good works required of me and so I need to rely on the Father's grace to achieve them. That's why we need Jesus, because there's no righteousness apart from him.

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