Generosity & Community

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Generosity is defined as:


  1. The quality of being kind and generous.
  2. The quality or fact of being plentiful or large.

As we reflect on generosity and community this week, we often talk about giving – mostly of our money. We can find references all throughout the Bible encouraging us to give of our possessions and money freely.

Another aspect of generosity is giving of our time. This one often hurts more than money. Often times we give of our money because it’s convenient. Maybe it’s not ideal, but it sure beats the heck out of getting our own hands dirty. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about charity where you need both players – those brining the money in and those working in the field. I’m talking about the everyday grind.

Giving your neighbor a hand with some overgrown limbs; pulling over on the interstate to help someone change a tire; maybe taking an acquaintance’s kids to a ball game who couldn’t afford to go otherwise. Going out of your way to be generous with your time. Giving when there is no reward or immediate gratification. No rich friends to pat you on the back and tell you are doing the right thing. No awards, no names carved on a plaque, no recognition in the newspaper. Just plain unselfish, unbiased, generosity.

You can’t mimic someone unless you do as they do. You can’t call yourself a follower of Jesus by merely reading the Bible. You have to mimic what He did. Think of His generosity with His time. Mark 6:30-34 recounts Jesus and His disciples being hungry and tired ministering to the people. So much so that they tried to get away in a boat and get some peace and quiet. But the people saw where they were headed and ran on foot to the other side and met them there. There was no rest for the weary. Jesus could have told them to go away, but had compassion on them. He was generous with His time even when he just wanted some peace and quiet.

This is the same story where Jesus feeds  the five thousand with five loaves of bread and two fish. You can’t be generous with what you don’t have. Here Jesus obtains what He needs to be generous. If we recount the definition of generous, it’s ironic to me that you can’t have one definition without the other. You can’t be generous unless you yourself have a generous portion. That generous portion may not be as big as someone else’s and it might be everything you have left, but if you don’t have it to give, you can’t give it.

If all of your time is accounted for, you can’t be generous with your time. If all of your money is accounted for in mortgages, hobbies, and cell phone data packages, you can’t be generous with it. Get some more or free some up!

So what about community? What does community have to do with generosity. Well, at first I had no idea. Then my wife was recounting the Benjamin Franklin Effect. It goes something like this: If you do a favor for someone, you are more likely to do a favor for them again than they are to return the favor. Similarly, if you harm someone, you are more likely to harm them again than they are to retaliate. As a political note or business note, if you can get an enemy to do a favor for you, they will most likely be open to the idea of doing or offering you a favor in the future.

This is described as cognitive dissonance in which someone changes their behaviors to reconcile conflicting thoughts and behaviors they may otherwise have of you. So by getting a rival to be generous to you by doing you a favor, you may be able to have them look more favorably on you. You’ve created a sense of community without giving anything  or spending millions in lobbying.

Turn the tables and let’s take an inward look at ourselves. Deuteronomy 15:10-11 God says that there will always be poor around us so He commands us to be “open-handed” – giving without grudge. Psalm 112:5 says that good will come to him who is generous and lends freely.

As infants, we naturally clench our fists. As toddlers we continue to clench our fists on the things we cherish as we add the word “mine” to our vocabulary. As adults we must learn how to open our hand and give freely. By doing so, even if it’s forced, we subject ourselves to the Benjamin Franklin Effect and we’ll be more likely to do it in the future without thought or reason and it will be easier to do. If we give to those we might otherwise not like, think they deserve what they have, think they are dirty, smelly, or just not our type, we’ll invoke cognitive dissonance and we may end up liking them by doing them a favor.

Who knew that a community would grow stronger, people who were enemies would be friends, and the poor would be taken care of by us opening our hands and giving of our time and money?

Think of ways this week in which you can be generous with not only your money, but also with your time.


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