“Mine! I had it first!” As a father of four young children, I hear these words ring out in my home with unsettling regularity. My children know it grieves their father’s heart to hear them speak to one another this way. They know the Bible teaches them to “be kind to one another” (Eph. 4:32). And they know that “love . . . is not arrogant or rude . . . does not insist on its own way” (1 Cor. 13:4–5). So, why is it so hard for them to live out what they know?
Words are little windows into the heart. Often enough, when I hear the words of my children, I find myself reflecting on my own attitudes toward God. What do my selfishness and my ingratitude look like to the One who gave His only begotten Son as a ransom for my sin? What does my unwillingness to give freely of my worldly treasures say about my love (or lack of love) for the One who first loved me?
Not long ago, I was walking with a group of fellow ministers in a busy city. On the sidewalk, huddled against a building, was an elderly man holding a sign that read, “Homeless, please help!” Like the other pastors in the group, I avoided making eye contact and kept walking. At the same time, I felt intensely guilty for failing to stop to acknowledge the existence (and the misery) of another human being made in God’s image.
Generosity begins in the heart. It begins when we stop weeping over what we are giving up and start rejoicing in all we have gained in Christ.
“God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). Do we come to those words of Scripture thinking more about what they require of us than of what they reveal about the heart of God?
Look carefully at the first two words: “God loves.” God is a gracious and generous Father to His undeserving and sinful children. He doesn’t need anything from us. He is the Creator of the ends of the earth. He called forth the galaxies out of nothingness. There is nothing we have except what comes to us from the fatherly heart of God. God so loved the world that He gave. He gave us His Son at the cross. He gives us His Spirit to graciously conform our hearts to His.
“God loves a cheerful giver.” But we deceive ourselves if we assume that He loves us because we are such cheerful givers by nature. Rather, God loves ungrateful, ungodly sinners like you and me enough to make us cheerful givers. He does so by grace alone through faith in Christ alone.
So, what does it mean to be a “cheerful” giver? It means to be a joyful giver, a generous giver. It means to give without reluctance or compulsion (2 Cor. 9:7). Take a look at the wider context:
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. . . . He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. (2 Cor. 9:7–8, 10–11)
Being a cheerful giver means acknowledging that God supplies seed to the sower and bread for food, and that He is also able—through our cheerful giving—to enrich us spiritually, particularly in the grace of thanksgiving. A cheerful giver is not only a generous giver but also a grateful giver. A cheerful giver is thankful to God for His gift of salvation in Jesus Christ. A cheerful giver is thankful for every opportunity to participate in God’s work of calling sinners to repentance and eternal life. A cheerful giver knows he has nothing except what comes from the gracious hand of God—and he wants his whole life to be an unending chorus of praise and gratitude to the Father for the gift of His Son.
Are you a generous Christian? Generosity begins in the heart. It begins when we stop weeping over what we are giving up and start rejoicing in all we have gained in Christ. It begins when our treasure is laid up in heaven, not on earth. It begins when we can say, in every circumstance and with all our hearts, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!”
Rev. Lowell A. Ivey is organizing pastor of Reformation Presbyterian Church in Virginia Beach, Va.