Faith and Generosity: The Connecting Thread

Recently the Barna Group and Thrivent Financial partnered to produce a study called The Generosity Gap, which explores attitudes, understandings, and practices related to generosity. Pastors and church attendees from across denominations and generations participated in the study. Ninety-six percent said generosity is important to them, and that Christians should be generous to reflect God’s character by showing love to others, to give back in appreciation for God’s generosity toward us, and to become more like Christ.  An attitude and a discipline were the words both groups used the most to describe generosity.

These survey participants, at least, seem to have a good understanding of what it means to be generous. Some might claim that a generous spirit is part of our nature as God’s creation. In their blog for Spirituality and Practice, Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat note that generosity is a fundamental teaching in most, if not all, of the world’s religions.

According to Christian historian Tertullian, in the early days of Christianity the generosity of the disciples set them apart. In her book Beyond Belief, Elaine Pagels describes it this way: “Unlike members of other clubs and societies that collected dues and fees to pay for feasts, members of the Christian 'family' contributed money voluntarily to a common fund to support orphans abandoned in the streets and garbage dumps. Christian groups brought food, medicine, and companionship to prisoners forced to work in mines, banished to prison islands, or held in jail. Christians even bought coffins and dug graves to bury the poor and criminals, whose corpses would otherwise lie unburied beyond the city gates. . . such generosity, which ordinarily could be expected only from one's own family, attracted crowds of newcomers to Christian groups, despite the risks."

While the recent Barna study names differences in thoughts about generosity between denominations, generations, and vocations, I think there is a connecting thread between the centuries-old actions of the early Christians and the responses of the study participants. Christian generosity at its best is not just transactional: it is transformational. The early Christians were known by their care for the poor, the sick, and the grieving, possessing the characteristics named in the Barna study: attitudes and disciplines that in the spirit of Christ’s example showed love to others in gratitude for the grace they had been given and continued to receive.

Are the ways you are generous testimonies of your faith and blessings to the world?