Thirty-five years ago Kathy and I stood at the altar and said: “I do.” We’ve been making good on that marriage promise ever since. That’s the central picture for generosity.
The deadline for filing tax returns is tomorrow, Tuesday, April 18. Filing is a fine time to discover whether you’re generous. According to a recent study by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, most Americans are not—at least not as God measures generosity.
Generous comes from the Latin adjective generosus, referring to one’s birth, or origins. It’s adapted from the Greek genesis, meaning beginning. To be generous in the ancient world meant to make good on one’s promising beginning within a well-born noble family. In coming to Christ, Christians marry into a noble family—the Royal Trinitarian God. This life is when believers make good on their promising beginning as Jesus’ bride.
God’s eternal plan has always been for his Son to “marry” us (Hos. 2:19). The son is “a bridegroom coming out of his chamber” (Ps. 19). He wraps his beloved in “a robe of righteousness” while the “bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Isa. 61:10). He pursues his bride even when she is unfaithful (Hosea). “I will make you mine” (Ezek. 16:8-14).
Jesus is the bridegroom (Jn. 3:29). He began his public ministry at a wedding and, later, compared the kingdom of heaven “to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son” (Mt. 22:2). In coming to Jesus, we’re “betrothed to one husband, to Christ” (II Cor. 11:2). In ancient times, betrothed meant married yet living apart to make good on our promise to be faithful. This life is when we make good on our promising beginning as Jesus’ bride.
That means laying down our life (Jn. 15:13). Jesus demonstrated his love by doing this. We show our love by laying down our lives, giving up all our possessions (Luke 14:33). Two become one. Kathy and I did this when we first got married. We closed our individual accounts. We opened joint ones. Mine became ours. Two became one.
This is, however, an imperfect analogy. Kathy is my wife and I am her husband. In our eternal marriage, we are Jesus’ wife. We give up our possessions, confident that our husband gives back to us what is good for us. The rest we let go. Two become one.
This might explain the early church’s unbelievable generosity. Largely Jewish, they were thrilled to be wed to their long-awaited groom. They sold all their possessions (Acts 2:42-47). They owned nothing. The poverty-stricken churches in Macedonia did likewise, considering it a privilege to give “according to their ability and even beyond it” (II Cor. 8). They were looking to the wedding banquet in eternity, when generous believers will be rewarded, adorned with jewels (I Cor. 3), “a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2).
The Apostle Paul wanted the Philippians “to experience the blessing that issues from generosity” (Phil. 4:17). What blessing? Making good on your promising beginning as Jesus’ bride. If you’re unsure whether you’re making good, review your income tax return. See if you’re becoming a bejeweled bride adorned for her adoring husband.