Why Be Generous?

Lesson Focus:  This lesson explores reasons believers are to be generous givers.

Grace Compels Generosity:  Luke 19:1-10.

[1]  He entered Jericho and was passing through. [2]  And there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. [3]  And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small of stature. [4]  So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. [5]  And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today." [6]  So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. [7]  And when they saw it, they all grumbled, "He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner." [8]  And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, "Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold." [9]  And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. [10]  For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost."  [ESV]

The story of Zacchaeus makes several points. First, Jesus again reaches out to the unpopular tax collectors and sinners [19:7]. The gospel is for the outcast. Second, Zacchaeus provides a model response to Jesus’ initiative: joy, generosity, and the righting of previous wrongs. He represents how a disciple reacts to Jesus in a way that is pleasing to God and reflects a true relationship with God [19:9]. When Zacchaeus offers to pay back those he has wronged, he agrees to the most demanding penalty of the law: to repay four times the value of what he has taken. Zacchaeus carries out God’s will with a response from the heart. Third, the exchange between Jesus and the crowd shows that a relationship with God requires not only Jesus’ call but a response to that call. Such a response is what leads Jesus to call Zacchaeus a son of Abraham. Despite popular impressions about him, Zacchaeus has the right to know God, and he emerges as a faithful son of Abraham, unlike others in the nation who claim to follow in the patriarch’s footsteps. Fourth, as He often does, Jesus affirms Zacchaeus’s place before God, despite the questioning of others. Zacchaeus’s personal response to God and the transformation of his perspective show that his vocation is not as important as his heart. Finally. Zacchaeus is an example of a rich person who gets through the eye of the needle. He stands in contrast to the rich ruler of 18:18-23. Since Zacchaeus handles his wealth with compassion after realizing his wrongs, Jesus commends him and accepts him. The major theme of the unit is Jesus’ initiative to the lost. Jesus again associates with the despised, represented here by a tax collector. One can also see Zacchaeus’s initiative to see Jesus, and his joy at the privilege of being addressed by Jesus. In contrast stands the crowd’s wrongful murmuring about Jesus’ association with sinners. Zacchaeus reflects generosity and knows his duty to make restitution for his wrongs. Jesus accepts the sinner as a full son and reassures him. Zacchaeus is an example of a rich person who is received, he illustrates Jesus’ mission: to seek and save the lost.

[1-6]  Zacchaeus was an administrator who bid for and organized the tax collection and took a cut from the labor of his underlings. His wealth is probably related to his job and comes from the commission that such officials took from the taxes. Zacchaeus is curious about Jesus, but he does not yet know Jesus. He had probably heard reports about Jesus and was interested, like anyone might be, about a well-known figure. But there are two obstacles: the crowd is so large that he cannot get a look at Jesus, and Zacchaeus is short. If Zacchaeus is to see Jesus, he will have to be resourceful. Zacchaeus’s solution is to run ahead of Jesus and locate a better vantage point. He finds a sycamore tree and climbs into its branches because the teacher is getting ready to pass his way. Jesus makes a surprise move. Upon arriving under the tree in which Zacchaeus is perched, He looks up and addresses the tax collector by name. just as Zacchaeus was quick to run and find a spot to see Jesus, so he is urgently told to come down. Jesus uses key terms in His request. In Luke today frequently denotes the immediacy of an event or the need to respond. It has an emphatic position in Jesus’ request. The request must stay implies a stay of unspecified duration. Zacchaeus, who only wishes a glimpse of the famous teacher, gets much more: he will host the teacher in his home. Zacchaeus does as he is commanded and welcomes Jesus into his home, whose acceptance is a sign of fellowship and forgiveness.

[7-10]  Zacchaeus responds fully to Jesus’ kindness, but others present have different reactions. Now Zacchaeus is an insider despite the opinions of others. The crowd is offended by Jesus’ intention to stay with Zacchaeus. They like Jesus’ miracles, but they do not care for His personal associations. The complaint about Jesus staying with sinners shows that the crowd has learned little from His ministry. Zacchaeus’s encounter with Jesus has led him to change the way he handles money – from taking advantage of people to serving them. Zacchaeus offers to give away half of his possessions to the poor which is quite the opposite of the rich ruler’s response in 18:23. And Zacchaeus also commits to make restitution for his wrongs: if he has extorted anyone, he will pay them back fourfold. Jesus responds to Zacchaeus but his remarks are intended for everyone. He recognizes and commends Zacchaeus’s change of heart, which is evidence of genuine faith in God. Jesus concludes with a statement of mission that explains His declaration of salvation. The picture of seeking and saving the lost recalls the shepherd imagery applied to God in Ezekiel 34. Jesus becomes the instrument through whom God works. Jesus’ mission is to initiate relationships with those who do not know God and call to them to come to know Him. This passage again stresses Jesus’ initiative to seek the lost and to proclaim salvation for those who respond with faith. Like Luke 5:32, it emphasizes that one of the prerequisites of responding to Jesus is to realize that one stands in need of God. Like Luke 5:24, it emphasizes the Son of Man’s present ministry to forgive sin. Zacchaeus is like the prodigal, the lost coin, and the lost sheep of chapter 15. He is the rich person who responds to Jesus with faith, in contrast to the rich ruler [18:24-26].

Love Requires Generosity:  1 John 3:16-18.

[16]  By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. [17]  But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? [18]  Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.  [ESV]

Having shown that love is the evidence of life, John explains that the essence of love is self-sacrifice, which has been perfectly manifested in Christ and should characterize the lives of Christian people also. Hate is negative, seeks the other person’s harm, and leads to activity against him, even to the point of murder. Love is positive, seeks the other person’s good, and leads to activity for him, even to the point of self-sacrifice: he laid down his life for us. John is discussing love in general, not God’s love in particular. He is about to explain just how Christians have come to know the true meaning of love. As Cain has been given as the supreme example of hate, Christ is presented as the supreme example of love. A person’s life is his most precious possession. To rob him of it is consequently the greatest sin we can commit against him, which is presumably why the prohibition of murder is the first commandment of the second table of the law. For the same reason, to give one’s own life on another’s behalf is the greatest possible expression of love for him. Indeed, true agape love is self-sacrifice. But Christ’s self-sacrifice is not just a revelation of love to be admired; it is an example to copy: we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. We ought to do this, as a definite Christian obligation, because we belong to Christ, just as we ought to follow His example in all things and walk even as he walked [2:6], and just as, if God’s love for us is so great, we ought also to love one another [4:11]. But true love is not only revealed in the supreme sacrifice; it is expressed in all lesser givings. Not many of us are called to lay down our lives in some deed of heroism, but we constantly have the much more prosaic opportunity to share our possessions with those in need. Love is the willingness to surrender that which has value for our own life, to enrich the life of another. The transition from the plural (brothers) to the singular (brother) is deliberate and significant. It is easier to profess love for humanity in general than it is to actually show love to individuals who are uninteresting, exasperating, depraved, or otherwise unattractive. John emphasizes two factors that place us in a position of inescapable responsibility. First, we see a brother in need. Secondly, we have the goods to meet the need. If we see our brother’s need and have the resources to meet that need, we cannot stand idly by. If nevertheless we close our heart against our brother then, one thing is certain, God’s love does not abide in us. John’s final plea in this section is a reminder that protestations of love are not enough. Actions speak louder than words. Love is essentially neither sentiment nor talk, but deeds. Indeed, if our love is to be genuine, it will inevitably be positive and active.

Ministry is Fueled by Generosity:  2 Corinthians 8:3-4.

[3]  For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, [4]  begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints [ESV]

Paul says that they gave as much as they were able and beyond what they were able. He did not ask for any specified amount or percentage. The Macedonians had not prospered and given from their surplus. Instead, they gave out of their poverty more than could be expected or even thought wise. Paul emphasizes that they did this of their own accord. Paul’s primary reason for emphasizing that the Macedonians responded voluntarily is to make clear to the Corinthians that he did not constrain them in any way. They volunteered, either to give sacrificially, or to participate. Since Paul encourages the Corinthians to give willingly, he may be referring to how the Macedonians gave. The Macedonians considered it a privilege to contribute. They did not plea poverty to evade any obligation; they pled with Paul instead to allow them to join in this service. By contrast, Paul has to plead with the more affluent Corinthians to follow through on their first pledge. Paul gives the impression that he was taken aback by the Macedonians’ eagerness and generosity. They gave beyond their means and did so without Paul’s encouragement, let alone his insistence. If it comes from grace, then it cannot come from coercion. They gave beyond anything he anticipated because they gave of themselves. The quantity of what they gave does not matter to Paul, but the spirit in which they gave does. Paul never mentions the word money when talking about this project. He cloaks the whole enterprise in language that has both a formal administrative character and a theological character. It is a “ministry” which is concerned with helping in the relief of fellow believers who are struggling financially. Expressing love for the saints in material ways, whoever they may be, is one measure that Paul uses to gauge the maturity of a church’s or individual’s faith. Christians, like young children, need to grow out of their natural self-centeredness and learn to share with others. When they show evidence of this, Paul praises them profusely.

Giving is an appropriate response to grace. The one true God, who reveals Himself in creation, in the Scriptures and in His Son, is the giving God [James 1:5]. Nowhere is that seen more wonderfully than in His gift of His Son to be our Savior, the atoning sacrifice for our sins. This is the foundation of all he now writes about concerning generosity in giving. When we receive the grace of the Lord Jesus in salvation, grace gets to work in us making us more like our heavenly Father. That inevitably means we become more like Him in generous giving. All Christians are marked by increasing generosity as they grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Giving is an essential ingredient of Christian service. By giving we are able to help fellow Christians who are in need. It is a privilege to give, since in giving to them we express thankfulness to the Lord Himself. The Macedonian churches excelled in expressions of gratitude to God. They underwent severe trial, but they discovered that God gives grace to us in our trials. If we did not meet with trials and difficulties, we might never learn to appreciate the joy God’s grace and help bring. The Macedonian Christians’ joy then overflowed in generous giving as the poverty of others was brought to their notice. Although needy themselves, they counted it a privilege to share what they possessed with Christians who had even less. They did not limit their giving to putting money into the offering place. They put themselves in with the offering.

Questions for Discussion:

1.         What do we learn from the story of Zacchaeus? What do we learn from Jesus about how to treat unbelievers? What do we learn from Zacchaeus about how to respond to the call of the gospel?

2.         For John the essence of love is self-sacrifice as seen in the life of Jesus. And the expression of this love must be done in actions, not just words. Think and pray about how you can put God’s love into action in your life this week.

3.         What do we learn from the Macedonians about the attitude in giving that pleases God? David Garland writes: “The quantity of what they gave does not matter to Paul, but the spirit in which they gave does.” What is the spirit or attitude that you have when you give your money to God? What motivates you to give?

4.         What do we learn from these three passages about how to handle our money in a way that honors God?


Luke, Darrell Bock, ECNT, Baker.

2 Corinthians, David Garland, NAC, Broadman.

Let’s Study 2 Corinthians, Derek Prime, Banner of Truth.

The Epistles of John, John Stott, Eerdmans.

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