Generous to a Fault
New Revised Standard Version
17 Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
19 You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.
22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.
26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
Alex was like many other little girls. She described herself in this way: “I live with my parents and brothers in PA right down the street from Philadelphia. My favorite colors are blue and purple. My favorite animal is a penguin. I like school. My favorite food is French fries and my favorite sport is soccer. When I grow up, I want to be a fashion designer and visit France.”
Alex was also not like many other little girls. She was diagnosed with cancer just before her 1st birthday. The doctor told her parents that she would never walk yet she was learning how when she was 2. Alex had a stem cell transplant when the cancer began to spread. She was 4 at the time.
Her first request after getting out of the hospital: “I want to have a lemonade stand to raise money to give to doctors to help other kids with cancer.” She raised $2,000 from her lemonade stand. Alex decided to make having a lemonade stand a yearly event.
The news about Alex and her wish to help other kids with cancer spread. Other people had lemonade stands and donated the proceeds to her cause. Each year, more and more people had lemonade stands to support Alex’s work. When Alex passed away at age 8, she and hundreds of others had raised more than $1 million dollars to help find a cure for pediatric cancer.
Raising funds for the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF) has evolved into a national movement. According to their website, ALSF is one of the leading funders of pediatric cancer research in the US and Canada having raised over $200 million so far, funding over 1000 research projects, and providing programs for countless numbers of families affected by childhood cancer.
It’s amazing how one small lemonade stand can turn into a foundation that is making a huge difference for children and families facing cancer.
The church usually speaks about generosity and stewardship in terms of how one uses their time, talents, and financial resources. This tends to be an individualistic perspective focused on what you will give, how much you will give, and how you will spend your time. The implication is that it is primarily your choice on allocation of these resources. For many people, the choice is dependent on what time and financial resources that are left after one fills their calendar, pays their bills, and gets a few things they want.
James challenges us to look at a different facet of generosity. To seek to understand generosity from God’s perspective. God, the giver of perfect gifts – the ones God sees that we need.
We know a lot about God. God is constant, dependable, and unchangeable. We may not know God’s favorite color, food, or animal (the answer is probably all of them!), but we know who God is – God’s character. Scripture gives us all the details. Knowing God is the basis for understanding God’s generosity.
James knew who God is, God’s character, God’s generosity. Her personally knew God’s greatest gift, his Son, Jesus. This knowing was the foundation of his thoughts and his directives.
James was a keen observer of human nature and the details of everyday life. He noticed the good and the bad, the generous acts, small gifts, words, and gestures in his faith community. His observations were the source of his practical advice. They formed the underlying structure, framework for building community and caring for others.
In James’ letter we find instructions that make sense about what we ought not to do related to:
· Anger management
· Use of money
· Blaming others
· Watching your tongue
· Not being a couch potato
Our tendency is to look at the ought not to dos first. But focusing on those can lead to missing why these instructions are important. To overlook what one is supposed to do.
The beauty of James is the way he intermingles the instructions on each side of the coin to keep the reader focused on how to move forward in demonstrating God’s love rather than becoming entrenched in old behaviors.
We are to manage anger by listening to the other person first, waiting to talk until we hear their concerns. A good reason to count to 10 (or more) before speaking! James knew what anger could do to a person. Anger is hurtful, belittling, and destructive. In anger we find that sticks and stones may break our bones and that mean words will always hurt us.
Doubt can often be overcome by asking in faith rather than focusing on what we don’t believe. Doubters can be double-minded. They speak from both sides of their mouth. They play one against the other, like a child going to dad when mom won’t give them what they want rather than asking God for guidance.
Managing money in a godly way happens by remembering that each person will get his or her due in God’s time. The one with the most toys doesn’t win in the end. Focusing on money and busyness distracts one from what is really important – God’s gifts and using them rightly.
We avoid blaming others by not giving in to the temptation to always be right. Your reactions and behavior are rarely someone else’s fault. No one made you do it, not even the devil. You choose, even without thinking about it, how you will deal with what or who you perceive to be wrong.
Criticism is curbed by listening a lot and not talking very much. By realizing that actions don’t always speak louder than words. That people do hear what you say and see what you do so it is important to pay attention to your own actions and words. Someone is always watching and listening.
Getting off the couch entails putting on your shoes and choosing to do something different. The grass doesn’t mow itself. Those in need usually can’t help themselves. What you do matters. What you do for God matters the most.
Of course, doing any of these things on your won is harder than the matter-of-fact sounding instructions I’ve outlined. Without God’s help, making new choices can be nearly impossible. We all need to look to God first.
Why is it James gives such detailed instructions? Many seek to answer this question by referring to verses 2-4 of the 1st chapter of James:
· Consider trials joy
· The testing of your faith produces endurance
· Endurance leads to maturity and the lack of nothing
The thinking is that God gives us trials so we can become better Christians.
This is bad theology. It doesn’t resonate with who God is – the giver of all good gifts. James writes in verse 4 that anyone who lacks wisdom is to ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly.
God has the real answers. Joy comes from knowing where to find the answers and by having confidence in the One who guides you through the trials. Maturity comes from letting go of our own way and grasping God’s hand more often and more firmly.
The key to unlocking James’ instructions is found in verse 17. Generosity comes from God not our own actions in and of themselves. The Almighty Creator provides all we need via God’s actions, word of truth, and gifts.
God gives us all we need to change the world. We have a wonderful opportunity to use God’s gifts to make a difference for others when we believe it is possible. Confidence in God builds confidence in ourselves to do and say what God would do and say.
To be giving in the way we interact with others we need to give generously of ourselves. Not in using our time, talents, and financial resources, but in the sharing of who we are. By encouraging others. In giving as God gives.
We share who we are in Christ when we speak words of encouragement, praise, and love. When we let others do things their own way even when it isn’t how we would do it we give the gift to the other of a sense of accomplishment and a contribution to God’s larger purpose.
We are to seek to be a partner with the other person rather than the one in control. Valuing the ideas and contributions of others and working together as a team builds community. In community we grow relationships and get things done in God’s world.
Taking responsibility for our own choices and actions allows others to do the same. Healthy relationships develop by owning your own stuff and letting others own theirs.
Most importantly, in all we do we are to give all praise to the Lord. To point ourselves and others to Christ, giving all credit to him for the results.
God can do far more than we could ever imagine is possible. God multiplies our seemingly small, insignificant actions into major accomplishments.
God can even take one small lemonade stand to make a huge difference in the world. Amen.