David Thomas, Brant Berglin, and Mathilde Frey provide the commentary for this week’s lesson. The audio file appears at the end of this article.
Memory Text: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16, NKJV).
The lesson this week asks us to focus on another of the traits that should be found in stewards if they are to be good stewards. That trait is generosity. To make this point, the lesson begins by quoting the best-known text in all the Bible, John 3:16 — “For God so loved the world that He gave…” and what did God give? His best, his very best, his son, the consequences of which is the redemption of humanity, making it possible for Paul to say, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Eph. 2:8 (ESV). In the gift of Jesus we see very clearly that God is inclined to be generous, as generous as need requires. And the benefits of his generosity are enormous, giving humans a real hope of escaping the brokenness of life on this planet.
The lesson then moves on to consider what an appropriate response to God’s generosity by humans might be. The obvious answer is that we should respond in kind. We should be motivated toward generosity. Indeed, a generous spirit should prompt a generous response. In this vein, a number of stories should be considered.
Luke 21:1-3 contains one of the most remarkable stories in all the gospels. Jesus was watching the rich giving their offerings at the temple when, during a lull in the giving, a widow approached. She was a poor widow, one who was afforded none of the protections society usually provides. The verses read,
Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them.”
On the face of it, the assertion is silly. There is no way the gift of a single coin or two could equal or exceed the larger gift of the rich. But the lesson here is not about money, but about attitude. This woman gave “all that she had.” Hers was a gift of total generosity for it seems, after she had given her gift, she had nothing left. Here is generosity in its fullest flower. It is no wonder that her story is told everywhere the gospel is preached.
We should be careful not to limit generosity to money issues only. Some of the gifts to God — the greatest ones — are not monetary. Look at the comment made in 1 Peter 4:10:
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (NIV).
Here is a reminder that the best gift is not money but grace. And grace should be stewarded, its record preserved and then shared. When we become the recipients of God’s grace, there should well up in our hearts a desire to share it just as certainly as if we have been given a cure for some ailment. This desire to share would normally be spontaneous.
Another good and illustrative story is the one found in Luke 7:37-47:
A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them” (NIV).
This act was considered extravagant by some present when it unfolded. But the story is not so much about extravagance as it is about great generosity driven by love. How do we measure things like that?
Behind all these stories and the instruction, or admonition, to be generous, is a principle that is described in Matthew 6:19-21, the words of Jesus, in this case talking again about material possessions but certainly a concept that can be expanded to other areas of life:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (NIV).
- Can you put this principle into your own words?
- Why are we so fascinated with material possessions in this life?
- Does wealth give security?
- Why is generosity so difficult for so many?
- Do you have any personal examples of generosity in which you were either the receiver or the originator of the actions? What feelings emerged? What effects?
In 2 Corinthians 8:8-15 there can be found some admonitions from the pen of the Apostle Paul that are worth considering:
I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have. Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: ‘The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little’” (NIV).
There is one final admonition that should be brought to mind:
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
- What do you think might be done in order to cultivate generosity in all the spheres of life?
This Sabbath School lesson & commentary originally appeared on Good Word and is shared here with permission.
David Thomas is Dean of the School of Theology and Professor of Practical Theology & Apologetics at Walla Walla University.
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Stewardship - Offerings of Gratitude.mp3
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8601